Plot Synopsis: Riker serves as an exchange officer on a Klingon warship.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here is reasonably promising. The Enterprise pulls up to a starbase to see routine shuffling of personnel, and we see another Benzite, just like the one in Coming of Age. Meanwhile Picard and Riker are on the phaser range and Picard tells Riker there’s an officer exchange program going on, says there’s a Klingon vessel in the area. Riker asks if he can join the program, and that’s that. Plot A revolves around Riker serving on the Klingon ship and there’s a mini-plot B involving Wes and the Benzite. While Will prepares for the transfer Worf gives him a small emergency transponder, kind of like a locator beacon. Meanwhile the Benzite notices some kind of unknown bacteria on the Klingon ship during his scans, but tells no one. Riker meets his captain and we get our first look of what the inside of their ships look like–he doesn’t get much of a chance to adjust before his second officer challenges him, and Riker has to beat some sense into him. Back on the Enterprise we discover that the same bacteria is now on the Enterprise, and that wacky Benzite didn’t report it. The twist comes when the Klingons find out that the bacteria is eating into their hull and assume they were attacked by the Enterprise. Plot A is far more interesting than plot B, and works well all the way to the end, though I do have a quibble about that.
Favorite Scenes: The scene where Riker is eating with the crew is probably my favorite. Riker is given some gagh to eat, which is pretty revolting, and to make matters worse it’s still moving. A Klingon notices his hesitation.
2nd Officer Klag: Would you like something easier?
Klag: Yes. If Klingon food is too strong for you, perhaps we could get one of the females to breast-feed you!
*Klingon laughter follows, and one of the females touches his chin*
Vekma: Mmm, he is not very attractive, but I will have him.
Random Klingon dude: They are inquisitive. They would like to know how you would endure.
Riker: Endure what?
Klag gives him a look: Them.
Riker *with a kick-ass response*: One, or both?
*More riotous Klingon laughter ensues*
This scene goes on to gives us some true insight into Klingon culture, and Riker continues to acquit himself well.
Use of Cast/Characters: Both LeVar Burton and Marina Sirtis had this episode off. Picard has several minutes of screen-time but he doesn’t do a lot except straighten out the Benzite a little, and surrender the ship at the end of the episode. This is a Riker-centric episode and so far it’s the best episode involving him. For maybe the first time you can see why he’s the first officer, he has some key abilities, including how to quickly adapt to an alien culture, gain the loyalty of others and think on his feet to salvage a tricky situation. Actually he salvages two, avoiding a battle and letting the captain save face. Worf has about as much to do as Picard: he gives Riker the transponder which helps save the day and acts as an intimidating superior officer to the Benzite. Also, the irony that we have a Klingon episode in which Worf does almost nothing is not lost on me. Wes doesn’t do much except have a couple of brief conversations with the Benzite. I hope you’ve noticed something: we are eight episodes in to the season and Wil Wheaton has barely been used at all–in fact this is the first episode that he does any more than be an ensign at the Conn. It’s obvious the writers were pretty hesitant about when and how to use him after the public reception of him in season one. It’s Data this time that has the least to do, only having a few lines, and thankfully Dr. Pulaski has the same. John Putch, Christopher Collins and Brian Thompson all do good jobs portraying the Klingons Mendon, Kargan and Klag respectively.
Blu Ray Version: The planet in the trailer seems alright. Several super-clear scenes, some with a slight amount of grain.
Nitpicks: If they are at a starbase in the teaser, why do we instead see a planet? So ok, Riker can fight, that’s fine, but are you telling me that the veteran Klingon officer couldn’t even land one shot? Later on I’m not sure why Riker, in the course of attempting to persuade the captain to communicate with the Enterprise, just decides to call him a fool. Not really the smartest tactic dude! A mini-flaw here is that the Klingon captain wants to lock phasers on the Enterprise, when of course everyone knows Klingons have disruptors. Yep, I’m a geek! When the Enterprise is repairing the Pagh, where the heck is that beam coming from? There’s nothing on that part of the ship to shoot with; this is something they might have fixed for the Blu-ray version.
Overall Impression: In a season of hits and misses, this is a palpable hit. When I was a kid I didn’t really like Riker so I couldn’t care less, but as an adult I have a greater appreciation for it. The Klingons are generally handled very well on TNG, and both episodes so far are notable and recommended. Virtually everything works, from the pacing to the plot to the characters. This episode is more indicative of the nuance that will be present in the following seasons, where character development takes center stage and ships shooting at each other in space is often avoided by out-thinking your adversary. It really seems to characterize humanity when we’ve matured a bit more as a species. Unfortunately too often it’s absent in the following Star Trek series, but that’s another topic. I do have a quibble, however, and that’s the ending. Why is it that we have to see the Enterprise surrender yet again? If this episode were the first time it happened I could forgive it, but this is at least the third where they either surrendered or were about to. I rate this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Of course the actor who played Mordock the Benzite in Coming of Age is used to portray Mendon the Benzite in this episode. If you’d like to know what all that Klingon food was, here’s a list: the gagh was actually long brown noodles, while the rokeg blood pie was turnips in pumpkin pies, dyed red. Chicken feet as pipius claw, animal organs as heart of targ, and other things such as fish, eyes, squid and octopus. Believe it or not there’s an anime reference in this episode, namely Dirty Pair. It’s made on a bridge science station monitor when Mendon first observes the sub-atomic bacteria on the Klingon ship after being chastised by Worf. The reference takes the form of “OP KEI” and “OP YURI”, and is located beneath “QUARK POPULATION” in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Brian Thompson, who played Klag, is a character actor that appears in several episodes of many sci-fi series (including the X-Files), and he’s originally from Ellensburg, Washington, not too far from where I grew up! This episode has the distinction of being the most-watched TNG episode of season 2 according to the Nielsen ratings. Finally, this episode was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup for a Series.
Missable/Unmissable? This is an episode that’s really worth seeing, particularly if you like Riker and Klingons. It’s highly recommended. That’s two good episodes so far this season and the next one is outright awesome, the first truly great episode of TNG.