Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Emissary
James' weekly Star Trek: TNG look-back arrives at a great Worf episode with almost no stupid bits. Here's his review of The Emissary...
This review contains spoilers.
2.19 The Emissary
The episode opens with Worf, Data, Geordi La Forge, Dr. Pulaski and Riker playing poker (wait, who's steering this damn ship!?) and being impressed by Worf's cold, emotionless demeanour during the game. And when you're playing against an Android, that's saying something. Before he can clean them all out, though, the crew is summoned to the bridge to listen to a phonecall from Starfleet Command, instructing them to collect a probe and not ask any questions until they open it.
Confused but obedient, the Enterprise follows the order. After an unnecessarily long docking and unboxing sequence, it turns out that the probe contains K'Ehleyr, a federation emissary who is a half-human, half-Klingon woman. Riker attempts to smooth talk her, but when she meets the rest of the crew it turns out she's more interested in her old boyfriend, Worf. Typical.
The reason she's joined them is that a Klingon sleeper ship from the old war – the T'Ong – has popped up on radars, about to awaken its crew so that they can fulfil their stated mission of shooting Federation outposts a lot. Unaware of the peace treaty with the Federation, they will do this with gusto, and there's no-one around to stop them except the Enterprise.
Unfortunately, passions run deep between Worf and K'Ehleyr, and they find it hard to work together. Troi offers K'Ehleyr some counsel, so she goes to the Holodeck to avoid any trademark Betazoid statements-of-obviousness and runs one of Worf's training programs to work off the aggression. Meanwhile, Worf is ordered to do the same by Captain Picard. The two Klingons meet in the holodeck and end up in a Klingon tryst, which legitimately involves a lot of blood and pain. Whatever floats your runabout.
Unfortunately, while K'Ehleyr treats it as a one-night stand, Worf seems to think they're going to get married, which is very gallant but also a bit old fashioned. The two fall out again, arguing over his obsession with tradition over emotional reality, and her denial of her Klingon nature. It's all very cleverly done.
Back on their assignment, K'Ehleyr is insisting that the best solution to the problem of the re-awakened Klingon warriors is to simply kill them all. Picard and Worf are understandably keen on an less murderous alternative.
When they encounter one another, the crew of the T'Ong are awake and attack the Enterprise. They exchange fire, and just as it seems that murder is the only option (not again!) Worf comes up with a plan: he and K'Ehleyr pose as the commanders of the ship and Worf bluffs the opposing commander into accepting that the Klingon Empire conquered the Federation.
With the Klingon opposition fooled, Worf beams K'Ehleyr onto the T'Ong so that she can begin acclimatising the crew and waiting for a Klingon escort. Although they don't say what'll happen when she tells them the real truth. Still, before they part Worf and K'Ehleyr are finally able to admit their true feelings to one another, and in the end that isn't that the real battle in this episode?
Wait, hang on, the real battle was the one between the Enterprise and the T'Ong, that had phasers and everything. My mistake.
TNG WTF: I'm sure it's come up before, but Worf's exercise opponents are so over-the-top that you can hardly believe what you're watching. I don't know about you, but when I'm planning to spar in the holodeck, I always make sure I'm fighting completely normal opponents, like Skeletor's older brother, a woodlouse-man and a Scarecrow covered in feathers. Were these guys stock character designs or did Worf come up with them?
TNG LOL: As you might expect, this episode is full of Worf deadpan ("How did you like command?" "Comfortable chair.") but it's K'Ehleyr and Data's brief exchange which got the biggest laugh from me, when she asks him whether he finds Klingon or Human behaviour more confusing and he gives a very awkward reply of "At the moment, I would find it difficult to choose." Poor Data.
Who's That Face?: K'Ehleyr is Suzie Plakson, who previously played the Vulcan Dr. Selar in The Schizoid Man. She was also the female Q in Voyager, and an Andorian in an episode of Enterprise. Oh, and she's Marshall's mother in How I Met Your Mother.
Time Until Meeting: 10:55. Nice and early. Get the important stuff out of the way first.
Captain's Log: I love the way the opening of this episode is written, with Worf's "iceman" Klingon demeanour established, only for it to get eroded over the course of the story's telling. Even though TNG has a habit of hitting reset by the time the final credits roll, the difference between Worf's attitude in the opening and closing scenes makes it feel as though there's been actual character development this time around.
K'Ehleyr is a great guest-character, too. Arguably the first Klingon since Worf with anything resembling a fully-formed personality. It's no surprise they found a way to bring her back, although it's a shame they did it the way they did. She could've been a really strong presence in the Star Trek universe, had she lived.
The plot is a good idea, but it does beg the question of why the Klingon High Command couldn't just send them a sub-space message updating them on the specifics of the last few hundred years. The idea that they were on a covert mission is also mentioned a couple of times but never resolved, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Still, that plot is secondary to the character material about Worf and K'Ehleyr coming to terms with their emotions, and as stories that one is strong. Just the idea of Worf having a softer side is an idea thick with nuance, and both actor and script play it brilliantly. If you didn't love Worf before this episode, it's hard not to by the end of it.
Watch or Skip? Watch. It's a really important Worf episode, and has almost no stupid bits.
Read James' review of the previous episode, Manhunt, here.
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