Monday, March 6, 2017

Deep Space Nine 6x3 "Sons and Daughters"

rating: **

the story: Worf reunites with his son Alexander, who's struggling to integrate into Klingon society.

what it's all about: This is an episode I've struggled with for twenty years.  The return/introduction into Deep Space Nine of Alexander is something not to be considered lightly.  Alexander was a significant recurring character in Next Generation, who almost existed outside the sphere of his father (Worf).  Theirs was a difficult relationship at the best of times, and when we last saw them together ("Firstborn") Worf came to a tentative peace about that.  So, in his third season as a regular in a different series, Worf finally meets up with his son again...and things aren't any better than they ever were.

There's a difference, though, and it's a big one.  Child actor Brian Bonsall, who portrayed Alexander in nearly every other appearance, has been replaced with a noticeably older Marc Worden.  It'd be one thing if Bonsall had played the part long enough to have reached puberty, but he was still just a kid when he last appeared (and "Firstborn" actually features a different actor playing a time-traveling adult Alexander for most of the episode, eclipsing Bonsall's final turn in the process).  Worden's Alexander is older but wimpy, painfully inept, and reconciling what the character has become with how we last saw him is a large part of how to interpret "Sons and Daughters."

I used to hate the idea of the new Alexander.  I thought it was a terrible mistake, one that came off as clumsy and dismissive of everything that had come before it, or merely needlessly duplicative.  The fact that Alexander makes only one more appearance in Deep Space Nine (a few episodes later, "You Are Cordially Invited") is an odd legacy for a series that usually went out of its way to develop characters like this.

But it's still kind of interesting.  This Alexander isn't really so different from the host of Ferengi who appeared and evolved throughout the run of the series, notably a different father-and-son combo, Rom and Nog.  So in essence, "Sons" is kind of a war story that couldn't otherwise be told in a series that had already gotten past that point with the two characters (two others, Sisko and Jake, too, come to think of it) who would've otherwise best exemplified it.

"Firstborn" featured an Alexander who'd just begun considering the possibility of embracing his Klingon heritage.  This was a kid who'd previously been raised by a mother who wanted to keep him as far from it as possible, an extension of an arc that had otherwise been cut short by her death.  Part of it was always about Worf, and his own feelings of alienation from a childhood that found him raised by humans, which forced him in the opposite direction his son later took.  He became obsessed with all things Klingon, and so he became an exemplar Klingon.  Alexander, not so much.

So to illustrate that, when Alexander finally embraces his father's life, it's bound to be awkward.  He comes at a disadvantage.  It's kind of good that he looks so different in this appearance, because a huge leap is necessary to see him struggling where he'd always resisted.  Although only a few years have passed, a lot has changed.  Worf lost a family when the Enterprise-D was destroyed (Star Trek Generations), and his life spiraled out of control.  In a lot of ways, since he ended up so important to two different Star Trek series, Worf's life was always going to be hard to keep track of (he still appears in both First Contact and Insurrection despite appearing in Deep Space Nine at the same time, with minimal effort to explain how).  So imagine how chaotic Alexander's life was during the same period.

Despite that, Alexander made the most important decision of his life, and make the commitment he'd long avoided.  Of course it makes a good war story, a family reunion under the worst circumstances.  This is not the best franchise episode set aboard a Klingon ship.  It doesn't have to be.  The more I think about "Sons," the more it makes sense.  Of course Alexander would stumble, badly.  If the story seems haphazardly executed and sort of dropped in out of nowhere, maybe that's how it should feel, the only way Alexander's story would continue.  By the end, he's at last proven himself, and been accepted into the House of Martok (there's a number of things worth discussing about that, but this is already a pretty lengthy write-up), the same as his father before him.  It only seems appropriate that Alexander effectively vanishes from this point, because he's finally found peace with himself, his father, and his future.

That's the kind of closure worth celebrating, even if in a muted way.  Also muted is the return of Tora Ziyal, Dukat's daughter.  A few episodes in the future she becomes hugely important, but here she's just kind of thrown into the mix to help round out Alexander's story, as Kira struggles with Dukat's overtures.  It would almost have made a better lead story, and Alexander's the supporting material, given what happens later.  But I guess it's also kind of appropriate, because unlike Alexander, Ziyal's story was never her own...

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Too specific to appeal to fans of Klingon stories in general.
  • series - Somewhat tangential to the war arc.
  • character - A big moment for Worf and Alexander.
  • essential - It's the closure Alexander needed, just not the way anyone ever imagined it.
notable guest-stars:
Marc Worden (Alexander)
J.G. Hertzler (Martok)
Marc Alaimo (Dukat)
Melanie Smith (Ziyal)
Casey Biggs (Damar)
Gabrielle Union

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