Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Loud as a Whisper

A famous Klingon peacemaker causes trouble on the Enterprise in this episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation

This review contains spoilers.

2.5 Loud as a Whisper

You know how some episodes of TNG are so nondescript that you can barely remember seeing them? Yeah, this is the exact opposite of that.

The Enterprise is dispatched to collect the famous mediator, Riva, so that they can transport him to mediate a dispute on Solais V. Before the away team beams down, Troi senses Worf’s inner-turmoil. He denies it, although the ever-tactful Troi drags the truth out of him, and he reveals that before Riva negotiated treaties between the Klingon Empire and the Federation, there was no Klingon word for “peacemaker” (trivia: there are still no Klingon words for “slippers”, “decompress” or “fringe”).

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When they meet Riva, the away team is surprised to discover that he is deaf and mute, and communicates through a “chorus” of three aides, who represent different parts of his psyche: passion, intellect and token woman. Riva, ever the professional, instantly demonstrates what a massive creeper he is by ignoring Picard and Worf and going on about how attractive Troi is.

Back on the ship he continues in much the same vein, basically abusing his diplomatic powers to get her to go to dinner with him. Eventually she relents, although it’s still creepy. This is full-on sexual harassment in the workplace! He even dismisses his intellect and wisdom aides, which is essentially the Riva equivalent of saying “let’s skip dinner.” Luckily they don’t, and mid-meal Picard calls Riva to the bridge to chat with the warring parties, who have broken their ceasefire.

Riva somehow talks them into laying down their weapons until he arrives, and picks a place to meet them. Unfortunately, as the talks begin, one of the faction members flips out and shoots Riva’s chorus. They’re vaporised! In an unusually graphic manner (you see bone and everything). The shooter’s mate then kills him, crying for forgiveness, but Worf and Riker are already hotfooting Riva out of there.

Back on the Enterprise, no-one can talk to Riva (who either can’t or won’t write) so Picard forces Data to learn sign language. Riva’s feeling both angry and guilty that his friends died, and declares that, as impressive as Data is, an emotionless robot is unable to serve as his voice. He withdraws from negotiations!

Meanwhile, the episode was apparently running short because Pulaski hauls Geordi into the sickbay and offers to try and give him more organic-looking eyes, and even give him his normal eyesight back using cloned eyeballs. Geordi, who mere MINUTES ago was telling everyone he was happy to be who he was (and already turned down free eyeballs from Q once before) says he needs some time to think about it. Don’t take too long, says Pulaski, it’s a one-time only operation (for some reason). Geordi heads away to think about it, and it literally never comes up again for the rest of all TNG. Presumably that means he decided not to go through it with.

Back with Riva, Troi says she’ll do the negotiations in his place, and asks for his advice. He tells her to turn a disadvantage into an advantage, at which point a lightbulb goes on above his head and he decides that teaching the factions to communicate with him through sign language will be the path to peace. Okay then! The talks resume and before the Enterprise leaves, Picard calls Troi in to congratulate her actions. (Presumably he means not slapping Riva in the face when he made yet another pass at her. I’m speculating, but come on! There are rampant dogs that show greater subtlety.)

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TNG WTF:  There are only a few mildly bizarre things in this episode. The chorus is a somewhat offbeat idea, but they follow through on its execution so it never becomes too hard to believe. The scene with Pulaski offering Geordi back his eyes comes out of nowhere and never goes anywhere. But the real WTF moment comes when the evil faction member shoots Riva’s chorus and they completely disintegrate, skin-first, right down to their skeletons. What the hell kind of gun is he using?!

TNG LOL: This episode has possibly the worst pre-credits cliffhanger ever. Most of the time something big happens to keep you hooked through the over-long title sequence. In this episode, Worf, Troi and Picard beam down to Riva’s home and stand around silently looking slightly awkward. Riva isn’t even there. Literally nothing happens. It’s so strange that I actually laughed out loud.

Other amusing moments: Worf excuses the distorted signals from the warring factions by saying “the quality of the transmission is very poor”. Which probably had a lot of TNG fans nodding in agreement with imagined subtext (although to be fair, the last few episodes have been far, far beyond Season One.)

Time Until Meeting: 16:13. A briefing! Although the prepared discussion is interrupted about two lines in by Riva, who declares the backstory unnecessary and runs off to meet Troi for dinner, leaving Picard to utter a rather forlorn “Meeting adjourned.” Poor Picard.

Captain’s Log: Hey, how about that. The third actually coherent episode in a row. I think that’s a record! There’s quite a lot of depth here as well. Riva isn’t very likeable as a character – he’s self-assured to the point of being arrogant and overbearing, but that backfires on him later in the episode when his chorus is killed. Even just the idea of the chorus is very memorable, even if they don’t do a huge amount with it, although the exploration of Riva’s deafness is well managed and addresses certain concerns felt by people with disabilities (i.e. his anger at Picard speaking to his helper, rather than to him).

That said, it does occasionally get a bit heavy-handed. Riva’s chat with Geordi veers dangerously close to being “a very special Star Trek scene” where he can finally feel that being blind doesn’t make him any less of a person. And if it wasn’t clunky enough, it’s completely undermined by his later turmoil at being offered the chance to maybe get a pair of real eyes, in a scene that goes absolutely nowhere.

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Still, as episodes go it’s got very little in the way of obvious weaknesses, although I do wonder if it wouldn’t have been helpful to know a little more about the parties he was trying to mediate between. As it is, we barely learn a thing about them, and that makes the stakes for the episode lower than they could be.

Watch or Skip? Again, in terms of Trek’s overall mythology, it’s skippable. But let’s be honest: this is what Star Trek is about. Diplomacy, communication, mutual understanding, all that stuff. If you don’t like this kind of episode, then you’ve hitched your wagon to the wrong series. Watch.

Read James’s look back at the previous episode, The Outrageous Okona, here.

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