"Rightful Heir"

Season Six, Episode 23
Teleplay by Ronald D Moore
Story by James Brooks
Directed by Winrich Kolbe 
Main Cast:
Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker
LeVar Burton as Lt Geordi LaForge
Michael Dorn as Lt Worf
Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner as Lt Cmdr Data

Guest Cast:
Kevin Conway as Kahless
Alan Oppenheimer as Koroth
Robert O'Reilly as Gowron
Norman Snow as Torin
Charles Esten as Divok
Majel Barrett as Computer Voice

Following his experiences on Carraya IV amid Birthright, Worf suffers a crisis of faith and takes leave of his duties aboard the Enterprise to visit a Klingon monsatery on Borath. He is astounded when Kahless appears on front of him, in the flesh, declaring that he has returned to unite the Empire. Leader of the High Council, Gowron is astounded and asks the Enterprise to escort Kahless to Klingon space to determine whether or not his claim is genuine. Worf himself is sceptical until DNA tests confirm that this is indeed the legendary Kahless. Gowron, determined not to give up his leadership, challenges Kahless to a duel and, to everyone's amazement, defeats him. The Borath clerics admit that this is actually a clone of the original Kahless, taken from a DNA sample and programmed with the memories and experience of Kahless. Although this isn't the real Kahless, his influence promises to unite a disparate empire and he is made Emperor while Gowron retains command of the High Council.


I was not looking forward to this, particularly in light of the recent Birthright, Part Two, an episode which I loathed. And whilst I certainly gagged at the references to it, I was pleasantly surprised by Rightful Heir, which proves to be an engaging, thought-provoking story about politics and religion. At times I felt the message was a little patronising, and the ending was a bit of a cop-out, but as far as Klingon episodes go, this one is surprisingly enjoyable.

I don't like Worf. Never have. So when an episode actually makes me interested in the character, then it's doing something right. Worf's crisis of faith proves an interesting note to kick off the story, although I'm still reeling from his actions in Birthright, Part Two and the fact that he's not even sure he has faith any more makes them all the worse. Let me get this straight, he destroyed that peaceful colony when he wasn't even sure of those glorious Klingon tales himself? As Captain Mainwaring would say: stupid boy. The episode took a little while to get going and during the first half the pace certainly lagged in bits.

But the return of Kahless in the flesh was fascinating and it was interesting to note that, as a hardened sceptical Starfleet officer, Worf is about the only Klingon which is wary of Kahless. He wants to believe, but he doesn't know if he should. Kahless has returned to unify the corrupt, warring Empire, which is a worthy goal if ever there was and Kevin Conway does a superb job in the role. The fact he's practically a midget next to Worf and the other Klingons is a little odd, but who cares when the guy can act? Robert O'Reilly reprises his role as Gowron, who is desperately afraid of losing his power to Kahless and he is determined to undermine him. Politics for you, I guess.

The twist in the tale is that Kahless is not actually the Kahless -- he's a clone that doesn't realise he's a clone. This poses some interesting questions -- he is not Kahless, yet he shares his genetic make-up. What do you do in that case? What if, just suppose, someone cloned Jesus or the Buddha? Ron Moore's solid script is thoughtful and intelligent with some good dialogue, but I'm not convinced the ending quite does justice to the potential of such an interesting premise. Worf decides that Kahless will be a uniting force in the Empire and that although he is not the Kahless, it's the idea that's more important than the truth behind it. And, so, Kahless is made "Emperor", although it is later implied in DS9's Sword of Kahless, that the new Emporer is merely a figurehead. The message? I don't know.

Due to Gene Roddenberry's personal hang-ups regarding religion, Star Trek has long depicted spirituality as a primitive weakness that has no place in a "civilised" society. Rightful Heir takes a baby step toward redressing this prejudiced, one-sided view but in my opinion it doesn't go far enough. The writers try to compromise by saying that spirituality is sometimes good because it unifies people and provides aspiration and inspiration. That's true (although it can and often is misused by people), but who can say that's all it is? Having read interviews with the writing staff, I know that they were patting themselves on the back having taken a slightly different stance on the issue.

But whilst acknowledging that spirituality can be a very positive thing, they also dismiss it as being nothing but the human ego's need to believe in something larger than itself. Personally, I don't buy that. In the world of Star Trek, we've encountered so many wonderous beings, from the Organians, to the Q Continuum, to the Bajoran Prophets. And yet no one can conceed that in this infinite universe, there might be some truth to the spiritual truths that have been taught for thousands of years? In Ron Moore's original ending, Worf had a vision from the real Kahless, but Rick Berman quickly nixed that idea because Trek could not be seen as suggesting that there could be any truth behind spiritual teachings. Shame he wimped out on that, because as it stands the ending makes me feel, like Worf, somewhat empty.  

Rating: 7

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