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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Heart of Glory (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

I think Heart of Glory is, ironically, one of the first times that Star Trek: The Next Generation is consciously trying to force its way out of the shadows of its illustrious predecessor. Episodes like The Naked Now and Justice felt like hold-overs from the classic sixties Star Trek, with little acknowledgement that the world (both inside and outside the show) had dramatically changed in the two decades since Star Trek appeared. I used the adjective “ironically”, because Heart of Glory actually sees the return of one of the most classic Star Trek aliens, and one of the most recognisable pop culture extraterrestrials.

The series bible famously stated the show had no real interest in going back to the Klingons, but Heart of Glory suggests that following up with the funky foreheaded aliens might have been the smartest thing that the first season did.

I am Klingon, hear me roar!

I am Klingon, hear me roar!

In many ways, Heart of Glory reminds me of Home Soil, so it’s no surprise that I like it as much as I do. Home Soil felt like a fairly conscious retread of the classic Devil in the Dark story, much like Heart of Glory returns to the most popular of the Star Trek aliens. However, what sets Home Soil and Heart of Glory apart from the vast majority of first season episodes is that fact that it’s willing to take these old concepts and develop them in new ways, rather than simply falling back on what were familiar patterns.

In Home Soil, the “microbrain” proved a legitimately unique life form and the terraformers seemed better developed than the xenophobic miners. Here, the Klingons seem to have dramatically changed since we saw them in the original Star Trek and in the spin-off movies. Indeed, the final movie featuring the original cast, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, would serve as a bridge to The Next Generation by seeking to explain the radical shift in Klingon culture depicted here.

Cruisin' for a bruisin'?

Cruisin’ for a bruisin’?

Roddenberry was famously reluctant to revisit the classic aliens in The Next Generation. Indeed, the official writers’ guide states:

No stories about warfare with Klingons or Romulans, and no stories with Vulcans. We are determined not to copy ourselves and believe there must be other interesting aliens in a galaxy filled with billions of stars and planets

It’s a legitimate concern, and I can see why the show would be reluctant to resort to the classic beloved aliens. I actually wouldn’t have minded a philosophy like this on Star Trek: Voyager, where it seemed that the crew was running into a familiar race almost every other week.

However, it’s hard to argue that the new races were setting the world on fire. The Ferengi had been teased since Encounter at Farpoint as a potentially shadowy threat to the Federation, but their début in The Last Outpost was pretty much a disaster. The follow-up appearance in The Battle didn’t do much to help matters. The Next Generation would half-heartedly use them as a threat once or twice more, before relegating them to tired comic relief. It would take Deep Space Nine to rehabilitate them.

Guess who is coming to dinner...

Guess who is coming to dinner…

Indeed, Heart of Glory even seems to playfully suggest that the Ferengi are less than a credible threat. When the Enterprise arrives at the damaged freighter, the crew wonder if the Ferengi could be responsible. Data puts paid to that theory quickly enough, “This is of no known Ferengi design. It is possibly Romulan.” The possibility seems to call back to the mention of the Romulans in Angel One and forward to their reappearance in The Nuetral Zone, in an episode of more symbolic importance than actual worth.

Picard, perhaps like the fans of the show, is relatively enthused by the prospect of swapping out the already worn-out Ferengi for a more familiar and menacing threat, “Now there’s a name we haven’t heard for a while.” Although the Ferengi were not involved at all, one of the recovered Klingons goes out of his way to remark, again possibly speaking for the audience, “As adversaries, the Ferengi are not very worthy.”

Things are beginning to fall apart for the Klingon Empire...

Things are beginning to fall apart for the Klingon Empire…

Heart of Glory is also a Worf-centric story. The character’s central story is only occurring so late in the season because Worf wasn’t originally planned as a lead character. Instead, the character was originally planned as a recurring staff member, making his exceptionally long tenure on two shows seem especially ironic. As outlined in the always informative Next Generation Companion, Worf was very much a last-minute addition to the crew:

Worf, the lone Klingon is Star Fleet, almost suffered from Gene Roddenberry’s insistence that “no old races”  –  that is, alien races that appeared in the original series  –  be featured at first in order to distinguish TNG from its    predecessor. Bob Justman was among those lobbying for a “Klingon Marine,” a concept the Great Bird finally agreed would show in the most obvious way the differences between this generation and the last  –  détente and even alliances with the Klingon Empire.

Still, Worf is absent throughout the evolving first-season bible and , though the character was written into the April 13 final draft scrip for “Encounter at Farpoint,” he is not present in the initial cast portrait taken on the Planet hell set on June 1, 1987.

The first published word of his existence appeared in the David Gerrold column in the July 6 issue of Starlog, one month before the series debut.

It feels strange that Worf – who would evolve into one of the most essential pieces of the show’s rich tapestry of characters, barely made it into the title credits. Given that the character was really pushed to the fore once Yar died, it seemed like pure coincidence that Worf ended up in a position where he could support stories like Sins of the Father and Reunion. And – without those episodes – the entire Star Trek franchise would look radically different.

Blaster from the past... er...

Blaster from the past… er…

Indeed, it’s a mazing how much of the future of the Klingon Empire is foreshadowed in Heart of Glory. The first season of The Next Generation often struggled to figure out how to make its ingredients gel to form an appetising piece of drama, so it’s surprising that Heart of Glory pulls the Klingon Empire into the twenty-fourth century in such a way that you can obviously chart the fictional race’s history from here to Tacking Into the Wind… with relative ease. It’s not something you can say of the Ferengi or even the Borg, and it makes Heart of Glory a wonderful and intriguing piece of television, even if it’s not quite as good as the show would get.

So far, the only real mention we have had of the Klingon Empire came from Q in Hide & Q. Trying to get a rise out of Worf, he implied that the Federation had defeated the Klingon Empire at some point in the past. While not literally true, Heart of Glory suggests that Q’s barb has some hint of honesty to it. The war between the Klingons and the Federation wasn’t a literal battle of firepower and might, but philosophical and moral conflict between two radically opposed ideologies.

Getting to the core of the issue...

Getting to the core of the issue…

The Klingons had been introduced way back in Errand of Mercy as obvious stand-ins for the Russians, and the metaphor holds. The West won the Cold War through force of will, causing the collapse and decay of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics without ever having to deploy troops or march to the East. It was a staring match with massive stakes, but eventually one side blinked. Russia eventually became a capitalist country, much as the Klingons eventually became “civilised” by Federation standards.

This is where Heart of Glory becomes especially clever. Early in the season, it seemed that the Federation was flawless and ideal, a paradise that was perfect. However, a few of the more recent episodes have criticised that idea. Coming of Age and Too Short a Season hint at institutionalised corruption, while Home Soil suggested that the Federation had been blinded to ideas outside its comfort zone by it arrogance and ego, refusing to recognise life that didn’t confirm to its own narrow standards. However, those were failures stemming from internal complacency or hubris.

The long, slow death of the Klingon Empire...

The long, slow death of the Klingon Empire…

Heart of Glory does something far more interesting. It subtly criticises the Federation on philosophical terms. The story is about three Klingons who find themselves unable to live in the new “civilised” world with human values corrupting the Empire. Worf argues that this is simple social evolution, but the episode itself is more even-handed. Worf, raised by the Federation, adopts a position that this development is inherently good. “Perhaps your dreams of glory no longer fit the time,” he tells his guests, having drunk the Federation kool aid. “They belong buried with the past.” It’s a legitimate position, and it would be easy for Heart of Glory to wuss out and concede Worf is entirely correct and Korris is just a foolish old savage.

Fortunately, Heart of Glory is more nuanced than that, affording Korris a philosophical response. “Standing here we will never know. Our answer lies out there. Our instincts will lead us.” Unlike Chang in The Undiscovered Country, Korris won’t doom millions to die because he fears change. He just wants a chance to live life on his own terms. The episode goes out of its way to get us to at least respect Korris as a man of some principle. It would have been easy to make him rude to Worf, to dismiss the Klingon as one raised by outsiders, but he is polite. He doesn’t want to spark war. He just wants to leave.

Hostages are for girls...

Hostages are for girls…

The nature of Korris’ crimes are left ambiguous enough that he doesn’t seem like an obvious criminal. Asked to explain Korris’ crime, K’Nera only offers, “Their actions threaten the alliance. They disobeyed and must be punished.” It seems intentionally vague, as if Korris is committing a crime merely by daring to think against this new “civilised” Klingon culture. Throughout the episode, Korris is generally shown to be respectful rather than ruthless.

When he picks up a child while confronted by Yar, he does not use the young girl as a hostage. Explaining how he commandeered the freighter, it’s even revealed that Korris and his men left the crew alive. “We commandeered that freighter and left the crew behind,” Konmell tells Worf. Korris and Konmell do get violent towards the end of the episode, killing two members of the crew, but it seems like an act of desperation rather than malice. It seems almost like the pair are acting on impulse and instinct rather than any conscious attempt to cause a diplomatic incident.

Peace in their time...

Peace in their time…

The first season of The Next Generation was disarmingly comfortable dealing with absolutes. Considering what an obvious villain Jameson was in Too Short a Season, the sympathetic portrayal of Korris is a minor miracle. And that portrayal allows his arguments to carry a bit more weight than usual. Korris and Konmell just want to opt out of this new utopian society, because they don’t have it within them to live within a structure that demands such conformity. “Brother,” he tells Worf, “this peace, this alliance, is like a living death to warriors like us.” It feels like tragedy.

Briefly, Konmell goads Worf about his ties to the Federation. “Tell me, what it is like for the hunter to lie down with the prey? Have they tamed you, or have you always been docile?” Given the way that the pair refer to the “traitors of Kling”, it seems likely they believe the Federation peace has “tamed” their once beloved Empire. Indeed, Korris is quite sympathetic to Worf’s ability to work within that framework, almost recognising that Worf has an inner peace that he lacks, “Yes. To fit in, the humans demand that you change the one thing that you cannot change. Yet, because you cannot, you do. That too is the mark of the warrior. You said that I mock you. I do not. I salute you.”

Klingon to their culture...

Klingon to their culture…

It’s interesting, because – inadvertently – Heart of Glory seems to foreshadow the arc of the Klingon Empire over the never decade-or-so of television. This is no small accomplishment, specifically because the writer who would craft so many of those later episodes – Ronald D. Moore – was not even working on the show at that point. Over the next few years, we’d learn that the Klingon Empire had been rotting from the inside, hinting that maybe Korris was right.

The High Council would be revealed to be complicit in a cover-up to prevent civil war. Even after that attempt collapsed, Gowron would manipulate his way to the head of the Klingon High Council using politics rather than the more traditional avenues of Klingon culture. Gowron was consistently portrayed as a schemer and a plotter, rather than a warrior, and Moore would systematically deconstruct the notion of Klingon honour throughout his time writing for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Retroactively, that makes Korris’ situation even more tragic than it might otherwise be.

Setting a self-destructive Korris...

Setting a self-destructive Korris…

The episode repeatedly falls back on the rather impressive Klingon death roar, the notion of a long and load guttural yell that marks the death of a fallen comrade. “They are warning the dead, sir,” Data replies. “Beware, a Klingon warrior is about to arrive.” It’s a great concept and visual, but that’s only part of the reason it works so well. We hear the roar twice in the episode, but – in a way – the episode is the beginning of one long roar, the death roar of the Klingon Empire as a whole.

It’s the kind of concept that Roddenberry could never have pulled off on the original Star Trek, and it justifies the use of a familiar alien race. Indeed, it wouldn’t work half as well with a bunch of people we had never seen before. There’s something quite poetic in Korris’ instructions to Doctor Crusher about his deceased colleague’s body. “It is only an empty shell now. Please treat it as such.” To Korris, the Klingon Empire is little more.

Old friends...

Old friends…

The Empire has lost its way, and allowed its principles to be eroded by a foreign value system that is arguably incompatible with Klingon identity. The Federation has arguably killed a culture, despite its frequent claim to the high moral ground. There’s no denying that the Klingons of the original Star Trek were a threat, but Heart of Glory suggests (faintly)  that there’s something insidious and unnerving about the way the Federation “tamed” a society that it considered uncivilised.

Heart of Glory is stronger than most of the surrounding episodes because it suggests an idea that The Next Generation hasn’t quite embraced. So far, the show has a tendency to go out of its way to convince the audience that most situations can be resolved in a way that leaves most well-intentioned people quite satisfied, without the need for conflict or violence. Only Home Soil has really averted that, and the disappointment of a few terraformers to prevent genocide was a small price to pay.

Shout, shout, let it all out...

Shout, shout, let it all out…

Heart of Glory makes the daring suggestion that some people just can’t fit inside this sort of environment, and that it’s impossible to create a world that will satisfy everyone. Sometimes people like Korris end up unable to adjust to paradise, and that’s unfortunate. It is also unavoidable. It makes the outcome of the episode inescapable, and gives the whole thing a lot more depth than any happy ending would have.

It’s also worth praising Heart of Glory for the respect with which it treats Klingon culture. You would assume – on Star Trek – that respect for other cultures would be a given, but episodes like The Last Outpost and Lonely Among Us suggest otherwise. Heart of Glory treats the Klingons and their culture with respect. Unlike the Ferengi value system that exists to be mocked, Heart of Glory argues that the Klingons have a system that is merely different to our own, rather than inherently superior or inferior. That is really my idealised Star Trek morality – one that recognises that different can be respected, even when it’s something alien to us.

It doesn't phase Korris one bit...

It doesn’t phase Korris one bit…

Heart of Glory is, obviously, also an episode built around Worf as a character – a “brother lost among infidels”, to quote Korris. Worf had a great character arc, a character torn between his birthright and the society that raised him. It’s a fascinating central hook, and Korris baits it rather well here. “You have been with them,” he assures Worf, “but you are still of us.” Even though the episode ends with Worf reaffirming his loyalty to Starfleet, it does seem like he protests just a bit too much.

It’s also interesting to see how tolerant and respectful the crew are of his heritage. Picard allows him to address an approaching Klingon vessel. When Riker is uneasy about the Klingons, Picard trusts Worf to do his job. “Do you think I should have assigned a security team to keep an eye on our guests?” Riker asks his superior. “No,” Picard replies. “Worf can deal with anything that might arise.”

Sometimes the way out isn't always clear...

Sometimes the way out isn’t always clear…

It’s an interesting contrast with Picard’s suspicions about Data’s loyalty in Datalore, suggesting that the Captain might actually harbour a prejudice against androids, a point raised in The Offspring as well. The irony of the situation is, of course, that Worf is more conflicted than Data ever was. Data can’t be blindsided by emotion, while Worf seemed to hesitate when Yar confronted Korris for the first time. Ultimately, though, I like that Heart of Glory never really asks us to believe that Worf would betray the Enterprise, even if he doesn’t seem quite sure.

There are a few things that hold Heart of Glory back from being an unsung classic. The most obvious is the padding at the start of the episode, concerning Geordi’s visor broadcasting to the bridge. Given that Geordi’s visual interface never really stayed consistent between portrayals, it would suggest the production team agree that it didn’t really work. Patrick Stewart, as ever, does a great job trying to convince us how wonderful this is. “Extraordinary,” he remarks, processing the screen. “Now I’m beginning to understand him.”

The rise and (mostly) fall of the Klingon Empire...

The rise and (mostly) fall of the Klingon Empire…

However, it doesn’t really work no matter how well Stewart sells it. Part of it is because it’s not really that insightful into Geordi as a character, Picard’s observations aside. The way he sees the world is never really treated as especially unique – which is probably for the best. He’s a guy doing his job spectacularly well, his disability is not important beyond that. Geordi can do what he does as well as anybody else, regardless of his VISOR, and that is why that character works so well. I’m not sure that seeing the washed-out special effects gives me any insight into his character.

The second reason the sequence doesn’t work is because it’s in the middle of a rescue on board a ship that is rapidly falling apart. We really should me more concerned about the life signs on the ship than the way that Geordi perceives colour. Even Riker concedes as much, being the one character on the show willing to ruffle feathers. “Sir, I hate to break this up, but –“ That said, I do like how condescending Geordi is towards Picard as he interprets the data on screen. “Very good, Captain. Exactly right.” Geordi stops short of promising to beam a gold star to the bridge.

Sadly, an all-Klingon version of The Bodyguard never materialised...

Sadly, an all-Klingon version of The Bodyguard never materialised…

This padding at the start costs the episode at the end. It might have been nicer to get more insight into the corruption of Klingon culture, or to Korris as a character, or even to find out more about Worf. Instead, the finalé feels just a little bit rushed, which is quite frustrating given that the section with Geordi’s VISOR feels extraneous at best. It would be a mediocre section in a mediocre episode, but here it actually causes a bit of a pacing problem.

The production on Heart of Glory is superb. It’s great to see Vaughn Armstrong here. The actor would go on to play thirteen different characters in four different Star Trek shows, and it’s easy to see why the guy kept getting hired. He works remarkably well with the heavy make-up, expressing himself surprisingly clearly through it. Rob Bowman directs the episode wonderfully, giving it a surprisingly cinematic feeling for an hour heavy on the moral philosophy. Indeed, it was Bowman who came up with the idea of using the second level in engineering, adding a great deal of effect to that final confrontation.

Worf call home.

Worf call home.

Heart of Glory is one of the finest shows of the first season. It’s not quite up there with the best of The Next Generation, but there’s finally a sense of what the show can do with the ideas left over from the classic Star Trek. Instead of trying to replay them note-for-note, Heart of Glory suggests that The Next Generation can take ownership and develop and expand them, to push them out into a whole new and changing universe. That’s a vitally important lesson for any spin-off to learn, and it seems like The Next Generation is learning it quite late.

I suppose, better late than never.

Read our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

3 Responses

  1. Great review. I am pretty much agree with almost everything you said. Not having watched much Deep Space NIne however makes the statement on how the story arc of the Klingons played out. It is obvious from Next Generation that Ronald Moore was showing that the empire was not as honorable as it claimed to be. It seemed latter episodes went further with the honor concept,trying to pattern after the Japanese Samurai.

    Interesting insights into how the utopia of the Federation does not fit everybody. If this was intentional is hard say but it the point is true.
    This might have been D.C. Fontana’s last script for Next Generation.
    The script had two other writers,though. The last scene with Worf and
    Picard seems like it was written by her. It has the same type of humor you say between Kirk and Spock in the original series.

  2. Typo there. It was meant to be see not say,”type of humor you see”.

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