Star Trek: The Next Generation: Loud as a Whisper   Rewatch 
July 17, 2020 8:35 AM - Season 2, Episode 5 - Subscribe

The Enterprise hosts the only hope to end a centuries-long planetary war: the galactically-renowned negotiator Riva. But when his overconfidence crumbles after his mission is threatened, Troi and Data must help him listen to reason.

Before Memory Alpha, there was no Klingon word for "nerd":

• Howie Seago, who played Riva, is, in fact, deaf and uses American Sign Language. He petitioned the producers to create a show about deaf people, in part to dispel untrue and prejudiced myths about them. In the first draft, Riva learned to speak overnight after a mechanical translator he used to communicate with his chorus failed. Seago suggested the ending used in the finished episode the day prior to shooting. Today Seago is a well known member of the American Deaf Community and is working as author and teacher.

• Wil Wheaton and William Shatner met for the first time while this episode was being filmed. Shatner was not kind to Wheaton, and Wheaton now tells the story of the encounter for comedy. (YouTube link)

• Dr. Pulaski raises the possibility of treating La Forge's blindness via corrective surgery. LeVar Burton had at one time campaigned for his character's sight to be restored so he could use his expressive eyes. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion suggests that this scene was added to prepare for this possibility. Following this episode, the idea was dropped, and is never mentioned again during the course of the series. Later, La Forge "grew" new eyes as a result of the effects of the anti-time distortion in the series finale "All Good Things...", and eventually had his eyes replaced with ocular implants sometime prior to the events of Star Trek: First Contact. His eyes indeed regenerated temporarily in Star Trek: Insurrection, because of the Ba'ku planet's effects.

• After this episode aired, the producers received supportive mail from both deaf and hearing people.

• Season 2 story editor Melinda Snodgrass was pleased with how this episode used Troi. She commented, "Troi got to show her claws and she gives this guy a boost."

• Maurice Hurley opined, "An okay episode. I had higher expectations than the way it turned out. It should have been more effective."

"Oh, cluck, cluck, cluck, Number One."
"You're being a mother hen."
- Jean-Luc Picard and William T. Riker, on Picard joining the away team to Ramatis III

"Our job is not to police the galaxy."
"Isn't that my speech, Number One?"
- Riker and Picard

"Data is a fine machine but he cannot take the place of my chorus."
- Riva, after Data learns his sign language

Poster's Log:
I think this is only the second time I've seen this one all the way through. I'd guess that, after the first airing, I skipped it because I remembered it as being unbearably boring, and on subsequent occasions, I noped out early on when Riva started making those unintentionally hilarious faces at Troi and I (understandably) assumed it was going to be another Troi-assault episode.

I'm glad I was wrong on both counts: Riva's merely a horndog (new headcanon: he used to work, and party, with Curzon), and the episode, while slow, isn't unbearably boring—and it's another good one for Troi. Picard too gets some great interactions with his senior staff and with Riva. I like the idea of teaching language as a path to peace, though the actual close of the episode is a little abrupt.

My impression is that the writers' goal was to convey that "deaf people can be space heroes too," and as a lesson, that's great, but it's weird then that Riva is a pretty unlikeable character for most of the running time, not just w/r/t his almost Okona-esque directness in romance. My version of this script would've dispensed with most/all of the Troi-mackin' and had one of his three chorus-helpers survive, the better to explore the interesting dynamic between those characters and the fallout of their (visually impressive!) deaths. Less dopey-lookin' warlike aliens would've helped too.

All the same, I feel like I very rarely see a deaf actor on TV who gets to do some real Acting without talking, and Seago was compelling enough that a follow-up appearance by Riva would've been nice—and fitting for the Enterprise's types of missions. But I also would've advocated for a B-story in this proposed episode, the better to keep things moving.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
My go-to joke for Riva on this rewatch was "COME, AND KNOW ME BETTER, MAN!" because he looks exactly like the Ghost of Christmas Present if he'd put on the wrong robes.

"Greatest Gen" episode link.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (17 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So their original script called for the deaf and mute hero to triumph by no longer being mute? Jesus. That makes the episode as it aired better, I guess.

This is the second of a three-episode run of guest stars who loooove the ladies, and it's pretty tiresome, but more about that next week.

This episode has one of the hallmarks of Star Trek that I find both frustrating and endearing--nobody knows anything about anyone they haven't met personally. Last episode, Ira Graves, the galaxy's premiere scientist, expert on biosomething cybernetics, former mentor to Noonian Soong, has never heard of Data before, no idea he existed. Data's not in hiding or anything, he's a high-ranking officer on the flagship of Starfleet. But it doesn't make the news out wherever Ira Graves is hanging out, and Graves doesn't read the trade journals, I guess. This time, we've got Riva, most famous and wildly successful mediator in the galaxy, and Jean-Luc Picard, noted historian and diplomat, has never heard about the fact that Riva is deaf and uses a telepathic chorus. That possibly useful tidbit didn't make the news when he was negotiating all his treaties, including settling the decades long war between the Klingon Empire and the Federation.

It's like that feeling when you watch a new show that's set in the past, and you realize that at least part of the decision to do that was to avoid the characters being able to have cell phones or look up things on the internet. Characters not knowing things makes for easier exposition.

Anyway, pretty good episode.
posted by skewed at 10:14 AM on July 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Er, I just realized I got my episode order mixed up. Ira Graves is featured in next episode. Spoiler? Sorry.
posted by skewed at 10:21 AM on July 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

skewed already noted the pattern of the Ladies' Man Trilogy (I haven't seen "The Schizoid Man", but I'm not worried about spoilers since this is a rewatch, so it's all good), and my take on this is that this episode does a lot that the last episode thought it was doing, but didn't really do convincingly: have an attractive man with exceptional qualities come in to do a negotiation between two warring parties and have complications ensue. Riva may be a horndog, but he at least takes the time to get to know Troi; it's not a matter of Okona meeting O'Brien's relief at the transporter and having her scamper down to her quarters to change into something more comfortable in the time that it takes him to do a cursory tour of the ship. The "chorus" was an interesting idea in terms of doing a riff on the idea of the translator, although I'm not too sure of its practicality: would Riva have been potentially hampered if even just one of his chorus had died? But that leaves the field open for the crew to do something useful; I guessed before it was mentioned that Data could probably learn whatever sign language Riva knew in about five minutes, but Troi gets to do more than just be the Human Mood Ring. The disintegration effect really was pretty cool, in a gruesome sort of way (it reminded me of the movie Teenagers from Outer Space, with the ray gun that could instantly skeletonize people), and the ending made sense.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:52 AM on July 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

(new headcanon: he used to work, and party, with Curzon)


I appreciate this episode more knowing the work Howie Seago put into making it happen, and I kinda like that is character isn't a 100% flawless guy.

Cards of the episode from the star Trek CCG:
Riva arrived in the Premiere set. Good Trek Sense, but not very useful. There was nothing like a 'casting cost' in the game at this point - you played typically one Personnel, Ship, or Equipment per turn unless it was a Red Alert, so playing a guy with one skill wasn't very good value. When the license was expanded for 1997, the designers redefined one skilled personnel like Riva as 'mission specialists' who scored extra points when they helped solve a mission. Clever.

I don't usually delve into the 2nd edition of the card game, but Tragic Turn was a pretty key card in 2004 and later, juicing up effectiveness of dilemmas in exchange for making missions to easier to solve on subsequent turns - with the crew you have left...
posted by StarkRoads at 1:03 PM on July 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I just want to let people know we didn’t all have beards back in the 80’s. After their heyday in the 70’s, they were largely supplanted by the mustache, so unless you were watching the Oak Ridge Boys or Wild America (or, you know, this show) you didn’t really see many beards on TV.

So, yeah, that’s what I remember about this episode. There was the deaf guy with his chorus, yeah, but also he had a really noteworthy beard.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:35 PM on July 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

So their original script called for the deaf and mute hero to triumph by no longer being mute? Jesus. That makes the episode as it aired better, I guess

Agreed. Though I do find the aired ending's solution works more symbolically than practically. I mean, would the warring aliens really be able to learn ASL without some intermediary translator assisting? Wouldn't it be like the most frustrating game of charades/pictionary ever? (Now picturing one of the aliens yelling "Baby fish mouth!" at Riva)
posted by oh yeah! at 5:54 PM on July 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thought I’d seen every TNG episode multiple times but I didn’t remember this one at all, and I would think I’d remember the return of the anatomical disintegration effect. I mean, I guess it makes a kind of sense that soft tissues would go poof faster but it’s a tonally weird (tho cool as hell) place for this show to go.

I feel like this setup where only one superdiplomat can end some intractable ancient conflict is well trod trek territory, and that table and torch set look like they came from a TOS episode, but I guess it’s kind of core trek values stuff, and not bad after a bit of slow start.
posted by rodlymight at 7:02 PM on July 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hi all! I'm back, I guess, after losing steam with our DS9 rewatch and threads. I decided to finally finish DS9 a few weeks ago and really missed the experience of coming to the comment threads with each of you after the episodes.

So, I've decided to join in on the TNG threads for awhile! TNG is the only Trek I watched during its original airing, as the other series largely overlapped with my being in college and young adulthood and just generally not watching TV. But TNG was the only show my whole family watched together and so it holds a special place in my heart.

Interestingly, I haven't really rewatched the show since those original airings, except occasionally seeing it in reruns.

Diving right in - I actually remember this episode as I have been hearing impaired since I was four years old and have worn hearing aids for 40-ish years. On rewatch, I was quite frustrated with the way the show just glossed over the death of three characters who were reduced to nothing more than plot objects.

How could you have a telepathic symbiosis with three other people, who have been trained their entire life to be your 'voice' and then just 'get over it' when they are killed? Perhaps I missed some lines of dialogue, but it seems like every character just kinda went, 'Well that sucks that you lost your tools, so let's see how else we can make this work.' Riva should be destroyed over the loss of three people who have been in his head for his entire life!

When I was rewatching the episode, my memory was that one of the three translators would die, which might have been more plausible in terms of keeping the plot moving towards a resolution. Then they could have explored Riva's grief and have him worry that it would be impossible to continue, as he was missing a vital component of communication, be it 'reason,' 'emotion,' or 'harmony.' In that situation, the two living translators could also have mourned with Riva and the viewer (or at least, this viewer) wouldn't be left with the feeling that Riva was quite callous. Finally, Troi could still have had her moment to challenge him to work creatively from a disadvantage.

Also, although this is way less important and less jarring, as a hearing impaired person I noticed many times that Riva seemed to be able to understand things people said when they were not looking at him, even though the show took pains to note that he was completely deaf. Lastly, I think Riva would hate Picard for shouting at him when they are unable to communicate via sign language. That's excusable from a plot standpoint at least, because that is what people do when you tell them you can't hear them, even though what's usually needed is enunciation and articulation more than volume.
posted by Slothrop at 7:00 AM on July 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

I didn't get exactly what the extent of Riva's telepathy was. Like, was it just the 3 translators who were telepathically reading Riva's thoughts and communicating whichever one fell into their aspect-role? Surely he had to be 'hearing' people telepathically, not lip-reading since everyone is speaking different languages but hearing whatever the universal translator is transmitting.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:36 AM on July 18, 2020

Well, that introduces the difficult question of how lip-reading works w/r/t the universal translator. My own headcanon resolution was that what the UT actually does is somehow psionically modify how listeners both hear and see what's coming out of the speaker's mouth. (We have precedent for devices with psionic effects, even in TNG's season 1 with the thought-maker, and later with the resonator in "Gambit.") But IIRC that conflicts with something that was established about the UT in ENT or DISCO or maybe PIC.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:46 AM on July 18, 2020

P.S.-- Welcome back Slothrop!!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:46 AM on July 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I wish like hell that I still had, or could find, someone's very meticulous and well-reasoned explanation of why the universal translator couldn't possibly work (basically, it's purely impossible for any translation system to perfectly translate, on the fly, a previously-unheard language, or even a modestly-variant dialect of a known language), so it gets slotted under "space magic."
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2020

Considering you hear the translation coincidental with the person speaking, there must already be some mild time-travel involved in the Universal Translator's operation.
posted by ckape at 12:42 PM on July 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I just want to let people know we didn’t all have beards back in the 80’s.

Riva is lookin' pretty Bee Gees with the flowing white robe.

Is Body Positive Geordi a better character than Awkward Geordi?
posted by StarkRoads at 6:12 PM on July 18, 2020

I'm a few episodes ahead in my rewatch and I think Awkward Geordi knows he's awkward, because Wesley will go to him for advice on his love life, and I'm just like, "Wes."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:48 PM on July 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

The fact that LeVar Burton wanted Geordie to be a more charismatic and expressive character, and the producers wanted him to be an awkward goober with hidden eyes, and he still managed to be a fan-favorite, says a lot.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:59 PM on July 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

I thought it was interesting that the chorus seemed to be following a id/ego/super-ego model, without actually using those words.

I would have loved to hear more from the chorus about what they thought about this arrangement. Maybe follow Ego and Super-ego for a scene as Riva and Id went off with Troi. What do they talk about when they're not with Riva?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:03 AM on September 1, 2021

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