09 March 2015

Top 5 Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes - Worf

I decided it was high time to run down my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, by character. These lists are presented in chronological air date order, rather than any kind of ranking. I arbitrarily restricted each list to five episodes - four and a quarter hours of viewing sans commercials.

Because each list is limited to just five episodes, I excluded two-parters. In the case of Worf, that means no "Redemption" or "Birthright". It was hard to omit the former, because of how central it is to not just Worf, but the political landscape of not just the rest of TNG, but also all of Deep Space Nine. Alas, rules are rules, and that brings me to...

Top Five Episodes Starring
Michael Dorn
as Lieutenant Worf

"The Emissary"
6/26/89 Teleplay by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler, Story by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler and Thomas H. Calder | Directed by Cliff Bole

Not the first Klingon-centric episode of TNG, but certainly the first truly solid such episode - and the first real time that Michael Dorn got to do something other than be the Enterprise's bouncer. We finally get to see some definition to Worf's character. Unlike Spock, who was raised Vulcan and rejected his human heritage, and unlike Data, the android who wished to become human, Worf was raised by humans...and desires to be recognized as a Klingon. It's through his clashes with K'Ehleyr in this episode that we really get to understand how important that is to his self-identity.

"Sins of the Father"
3/19/90 | Teleplay by Ronald D. Moore & W. Reed Moran, Story by Drew Deighan | Directed by Les Landau

By now, we know how deeply rooted in his identity as a Klingon Worf's self-image is. What's the next step in his character arc? Tearing that away from him, of course! I didn't select this episode because it introduces several elements that will have ramifications for years to come, though certainly a case could be made for it on that basis alone. But even if you never see any of the subsequent episodes that connect to this one, it stands solidly all on its own as a compelling character study. Worf is faced with a whopper of a dilemma here. He's furious about being made a sacrificial lamb to accommodate some unseemly political machinations, and we share his outrage. And yet, "For he so loved the Empire, he gave his only begotten, er, family honor."

11/5/90 | Teleplay by Thomas Perry & Jo Perry & Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, Story by Drew Deighan & Thomas Perry and Jo Perry | Directed by Jonathan Frakes

I hesitated to include "Reunion". For one thing, it doesn't function as a standalone story quite as much as it is a payoff to both "The Emissary" and "Sins of the Father". It also feels a bit obligatory. There's a lot going on, and I'm not sure how accessible it is on its own. But when I weighed it against other Worf-centric episodes, I concluded it's too important to exclude. K'Ehleyr returns, bringing along Alexander - the product of her liaison with Worf. On top of that, there's the whodunnit mystery of who has poisoned the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council, aiming to seize control of the Empire through his assassination. The climax of the episode, though, is perhaps the definitive event in Worf's entire development, and for that alone "Reunion" is required Worf viewing.

"A Fistful of Datas"
11/9/92 | Teleplay: Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Brannon Braga, Story by Robert Hewitt Wolfe | Directed by Patrick Stewart

Holodeck episodes can be fun, but rarely Top 5-worthy. "A Fistful of Datas" is probably the most satisfying, at least of TNG, because it functions on several levels. The obvious question is, why pick this for the Worf list instead of the Data list? True, Brent Spiner completely rocks his multiple roles as Frank Hollister and his minion sons, but at its heart this is really a story about Worf connecting with his son, Alexander. It's not the only, or even the first, such look at their relationship but it's my favorite. I think anyone who ever had a no-nonsense adult in their life finally display some whimsy can appreciate the appeal of this one. I would be remiss not to also make mention of how much I love watching Marina Sirtis's Counselor Troi adopt her Holodeck character persona, Durango. I almost saved this episode for her Top 5!

11/29/93 | Written by Brannon Braga | Directed by Robert Weimer

In a typical alternate universe story, "our" character(s) go visit a place that reflects a "What if...?" deviation of "our" reality. This time, though, Worf bounces across myriad alternate universes; some in which the "what if...?" is as benign as "What if Worf hung this painting on this wall instead of that wall?" And then, like every game show ever made, each "What if...?" ups the ante. What if Worf had a romantic relationship with Counselor Troi? What if the Borg had won in "The Best of Both Worlds"? When I first watched this episode, I got what they were doing, but I wondered why they picked Worf to be the central character for it. I think, though, that placing it in the context of just this Top 5 list answers that question: it's a unique way to examine through nuance a character with such an otherwise binary worldview.

Two things stand out to me about the credits for these episodes. Firstly, four of the five have "Teleplay by" and "Story by" credits, which indicates that the story began with one or more writers, but was completed with the assistance of others. The other thing is that two episodes were directed by other principal cast members (Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes). Maybe this is just happenstance, but I wonder if it doesn't speak to the extra level of attention that seemed to go into making Worf-centric episodes feel a little bit more "epic" in scope, down to assigning his fellow co-stars to help Dorn to give some of his strongest performances in the role.

Anyway, those are my five Worf picks. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, Dear Reader!

Note: I'm doing these in cast credits order, and decided to skip Denise Crosby as Lt. Tasha Yar, as she wasn't in enough episodes to really give a strong Top 5 list. I did consider combining Crosby's Yar and Sela characters, but two of Sela's most prominent appearances were in two-part episodes that would be excluded outright anyway, per the self-imposed rule I have.

Picard | Riker | Geordi | Worf