Monday, September 26, 2016

The Next Generation 7x21 "Firstborn"

rating: ***

the story: Worf and Alexander have a final reckoning (in this series, anyway).

what it's all about: Of the episodes that tried to follow the final season mandate of looking for character resolutions ("Descent, Part 2," "Attached," "Journey's End," and the later "Preemptive Strike"), "Firstborn" may be the most bold.  In a far less significant way, it's kind of Next Generation's version of Deep Space Nine's brilliant masterpiece "The Visitor."

The longer Alexander was in the series, the more problematic he became.  You can see a conscious de-emphasis of the character the longer he's around, even in episodes where he should have been a natural presence ("Rascals").  Fans tend to remember Wesley Crusher as the annoying youth of the series, but it really was Alexander all along, and it's because he was horrendously one-note, and no offense to Brian Bonsall, but he was played by a child actor far too young to bring anything meaningfully dramatic to the series.  It always fell to Worf to redeem their scenes, but an exasperated Worf only goes so far (and is by far the least interesting version of the character).

"Firstborn" finds a clever solution to this dilemma: Instead of focusing on Kid Alexander, his future self is brought into the picture.  Frequent guest-star James Sloyan becomes one of the most interesting Klingon actors of the series in one appearance, proving beyond a doubt that Alexander could have been interesting, had anyone bothered to try, which is what "Firstborn" is all about.  Too often the series didn't really try to flesh out his perspective.  Well, this episode is all about it.

What's also interesting is the intersections with Deep Space Nine going on.  For one, there's an appearance by Quark.  For another, one last series appearance by the Duras Sisters, who had last appeared in that series' "Past Prologue" (they would finally meet their fate in Star Trek Generations, a fact that's usually overlooked in franchise lore).  It's oddly appropriate, because Deep Space Nine would later have one of its rare major creative missteps by undoing all the good work "Firstborn" accomplished with Alexander.

This is the last Klingon episode of the series, and it's a good one, an intimate one, and handily sums up everything you need to know, in case the rest of it had somehow eluded your attention.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Crossover appeal?  Check!
  • series - Since I don't want to call it a classic, a mark must be taken from somewhere, and it's between these first two categories.  It's a toss-up, so I'll take one away here, because that overall series Klingon arc doesn't need this to feel complete.
  • character - It's the best Alexander episode.
  • essential - It's a better Worf episode, and by Alexander episode standards, that says a lot!
notable guest-stars:
  • Brian Bonsall (Alexander)
  • Armin Shimerman (Quark)
  • James Sloyan
  • Gwynyth Walsh (B'Etor)
  • Barbara March (Lursa)

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