Star Trek: The Next Generation: Rightful Heir   Rewatch 
September 3, 2021 3:23 AM - Season 6, Episode 23 - Subscribe

Kahless the Unforgettable is back…and he's pissed that Worf doubts his resurrection.

Memory Alpha left us, all of us, a powerful legacy:

• When pitching the story, James E. Brooks dubbed it "Jurassic Worf", in reference to the 1993 film Jurassic Park.

• While Brooks' pitch focused on intrigue among the clerics, Ronald D. Moore decided to take the story in a different direction by examining spirituality and faith in the 24th century. Moore explained, "I thought it was a real nifty idea and I thought it was an opportunity to do a show unlike others we've done. The subject wasn't something that we tackled, so I was eager to do it. I wanted to do something interesting. I'm very proud of the script. It deals with faith and belief that we don't normally deal with on Star Trek."

• The character of Kahless originated as an Excalbian illusion in TOS: "The Savage Curtain."

• Rick Berman recalled, "I had a lot of fights with Ron about this. The character of Kahless and the backstory and the dialogue of Kahless were all a little bit too on the nose Christ-like for me. We had a lot of long debates and eventually it was modified by Ron in a way that I think made it much better. I think he not only solved my problems but made the [episode] better."

• In a line cut from the episode, Data revealed that Kahless' death occurred 1,547 years prior to the episode (822 A.D.). In another, the crew considers whether the Kahless clone was a plot by the Duras sisters or the "B'nok faction." Alexander's absence was explained as a visit to Worf's adoptive parents on Earth while Worf showed Kahless his quarters. Additionally, Worf interprets his entrance into Starfleet as the fulfilment of Kahless's prediction that he would do what no other Klingon had done before, with Kahless expressing pride in Worf as a worthy warrior who has upheld his status as a Klingon even living among non-Klingons. A scene is also included depicting Kahless's arrival on the Enterprise, where he greets Picard as a worthy warrior based on Worf's stories and moves on from his initial assumption that Deanna Troi was intended as a "gift" for him.

• This episode marks the final appearance of Gowron on Star Trek: The Next Generation. His next appearance is in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The House of Quark".

• The monastery of Boreth is further explored in the Star Trek: Discovery episode "Through the Valley of Shadows".

"It's a pity that you didn't try the holodeck instead of setting fire to your quarters."
- Picard, to Worf

"Worf, no offense but I have trouble believing that the man that I escorted from deck eight is supernatural."
- Riker, when Kahless comes aboard the Enterprise

"What was his name?"
"If you were really there, you should be able to tell us the name of the man who stood outside the walls. Describe him to us. How tall was he? What was he wearing?!? What color… were his EYES?!?"
- Gowron and Kahless

Poster's Log:
There's a lot to like here: the story is tight, Kahless is written with an appropriately jolly-yet-menacing quality, and we get a surprising number of Great Moments with Mr. Gowron. Not sure why, then, this has never been a standout ep for me; maybe it's too talky, or the stakes for Worf aren't heavy enough. That said, this IS one of those TNGs (like, well, every Cardassian episode) that retroactively gets more interesting after you've seen DS9 once or twice.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Fans of MST3K may recognize Alan Oppenheimer (Koroth) under all that makeup as the villainous Dr. Hale of Riding with Death's first  episode  …half. Oppenheimer also plays the doomed captain of the U.S.S. Odyssey in DS9.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
BEVERLY: [knowingly disobeys orders and causes a political incident]
PICARD: Beverly, I am... disappointed.
WORF: [is late to work for first time ever]

This is a good Worf Episode! The whiplash between Worf being the least respected member of the crew and also literal kingmaker for the entire Klingon Empire is kind of hilarious. I'm starting to suspect that maybe Starfleet doesn't respect the Klingons, like, at all? But let's put that aside for a moment, because this isn't just a good Worf episode; this is a good hair episode. We don't often get to see a range of glorious Klingon locks under decent, non-guttering lighting. The forehead ridges are doing a lot of heavy lifting here, too. And the eyebrows. Anything above the eye line, really. And Gowron. Gowron's entire face is a treasure.

Anyway, the Klingon makeup is spectacular here, there aren't enough Emmys, etc.
posted by phooky at 5:22 AM on September 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

Oppenheimer also plays the doomed captain of the U.S.S. Odyssey in DS9.

So the Odyssey was carrying Tripolodine when it exploded? That explains a lot.
posted by Servo5678 at 6:30 AM on September 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

I found this far too gimmicky when I saw it as a teenager, but now it seems worth the silly premise to at least try something different. I think there must have been a deleted scene in the script showing Worf screwing up again because of his spiritual malaise, otherwise Picard's reaction is just completely inappropriate.

Watching this made me think of how necessary it is to do some decent world-building, without which everything to do with Klingons seems made-up as they go along (which of course is exactly what they did). Just plopping this episode down with basically nothing except previous mentions that Kahless is the Klingon Jesus would never fly on a modern show. But grading on a mid-90's TV scale, it's pretty enjoyable.

I think I had the same criticism along the lines of what Rick Berman from the notes, in that I don't believe Kahless should have been a figure that Klingons worship, definitely not kneel down to. Kahless should have been a god more in the Greek-hero tradition, not a Christian-messiah type. If the show as aired mostly addressed Berman's concerns, I'd be really interested to see what Kahless was doing originally, getting his feet washed by Klingons?

I found it pretty amusing when Worf's solution is to basically turn Kahless into Queen Elizabeth II, a ceremonial monarch who can wave at people during parades, encourage everyone to keep a stiff upper lip (forehead ridge?).
posted by skewed at 7:16 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Watching this one the other day, I realized from Kahless' pontificating that his basic message is that all the Klingons need is a little Fight Club to regain their joy for combat in their lives and magically they will have honor again.
posted by Fukiyama at 7:20 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's interesting that Berman thought that the episode was successfully dejesusized, because the very first thing that came to mind when I saw this episode the first time was the Shroud of Turin. A few years before this episode aired, there was renewed interest in the Shroud, and carbon-dating tests were run on the cloth... which proved that the Shroud dates from the 13th-14th century. Nevertheless, the presence of what looked like blood stains on the cloth, and the promise of cloning research (Jurassic Park was published in 1990), led people to speculate about the possibility of something that's either sacrilegious or blasphemous, I can never keep the two straight. What if, as the song goes, God was one of us? (Of course, the franchise already has Alien Space Jesus, aka Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, but there are many worlds with room for many Jesii.)

The interesting thing about this ep is that, unless I missed something, no one ever brings up the possibility of time travel. (Ironically, given how Boreth will next be used in the franchise.) Nor is Q, who's easily capable of retrieving anyone from anywhere or anywhen. But there's been some other explanatory lines cut from the ep, so maybe they were trying to avoid a Lower Decks-type "not a dream! not a hoax! not an imaginary story!" laundry list. As is, it's a good Worf story, about his losing his religion and trying to get it back, and ending up wielding a surprising amount of power within the Empire for a guy wearing another country's uniform. And it's a good Gowron episode, as well, which of course is not to say that Gowron is remotely a good guy, now or ever; he's obviously worried about losing some of his power. But, he's as canny as ever, and spots a weakness in Kahless' story that none of the true believers, or even the literal kingmakers in the clergy, thought to question. And he's good with a bat'leth, too. WRT the combat rankings in this ep, it's Gowron, then Kahless, then Worf, but Worf does a lot better in his two rematches against Gowron in DS9; it's not at all improbable that he spent some quality time in the interim studying the blade, as it were.

Couple of other things:

- I took Picard's harsh words toward Worf as his knowing what that crewmember needed to motivate himself to get the help that he needed. There's also the matter that having Worf seriously lose his shit is pretty scary.

- Beta canon has more to say about the clone emperor in Kahless by Michael Jan Friedman, which purports to tell the real story of the original, and even has a neat twist at the end. WRT Jesus cloning, there's a book titled The Last Day [spoiler for a big plot twist on the cover, which tells you something] that I've started re-reading; it's not particularly well-written, but there's enough plot crack to make the exercise worthwhile.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:25 AM on September 3, 2021

Do we ever see Kahless again? I remember him being mentioned a couple times in DS9, but it seems like the Klingons basically ignored him and went back to business as usual. Also, I feel bad for the guy: he is told that he's basically god, then he finds out he's just a clone. That's gotta hurt, and he seemed pretty bummed about it.

posted by Saxon Kane at 12:52 PM on September 3, 2021

he is told that he's basically god, then he finds out he's just a clone.

Some days you're Space Jesus, others you're the imitation of Christ.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Rightful Heir" is kind of a weird episode for me. On one hand, it's actually pretty important as the climax of Worf's crisis of faith story arc. On the other hand, this episode is maybe the most blatant of Trek's one-and-dones. Bad enough that Kahless only gets a few mentions after this, as Saxon notes. But to have it be Kahless the Unforgettable (!!!), who's appearance was going to trigger a civil war, and then he got restored to the throne? That's just too much plot to leave on the table. I imagine they had grand ambitions for Kahless when they did this one. I wonder why they didn't follow up on DS9 more, especially when the Klingons got so much love there. (Addendum: Thinking about it, I imagine that though Worf's faith had been restored, they found it inconvenient for the Empire to be similiarly restored. Oh well.)
posted by Stuka at 3:59 PM on September 3, 2021

Well, there are some big questions about what the Empire really is, or was, or should be, from the perspective of the Klingons and others. The outcome of Star Trek VI, post-Khitomer Accords, should have been that--in line with the whole "end of the Cold War" metaphor--the Klingon Empire ceased being a hegemonic power, and may have undergone some other changes as well, in the manner of the Soviet Union devolving into Russia and breakaway republics. The choice of Gowron, in DS9, to unilaterally nullify the Khitomer Accords and revive the days of old with attempted conquest of some of the old territories might be in line with the idea that "we have an emperor again, why not a real Empire?"; it might also be about Gowron trying to regain or extend his own popularity in the face of an extended challenge for same by the clone, who seems to be pretty charismatic despite his relatively modest bat'leth skills.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:46 PM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's always kind of amazed me that there has never been an entire Klingon-focused ST series. Between TNG and DS9, they've certainly given us enough bits of well-fleshed-out backstory from which to craft a very interesting and entertaining series. Even a limited series.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:11 AM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I feel like the Ferengi are the only species regularly used for comic relief more than the Klingons. You could maybe do a Klingon-centric show now, but during the heyday of 90s TV-Trek, I think they were too much of a punchline.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:42 AM on September 4, 2021

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

Klingons a-plenty, including the spoileriffic Kahless, Koroth, Torin, and Divok. Decipher claimed in Official Pocket Player's Guide that the line they added to Divok's lore box about tribbles was part of the official canon, whether this was 'true' in any sense, your guess is good as mine. There's also the mission Investigate Disturbance (where Koroth can use your Clone Machine) and the ship of the line U.S.S. Galaxy.

In the Second Edition of the game several of the above return, including U.S.S. Galaxy, Koroth, High Cleric of Boreth, Kahless, The Greatest Warrior of Them All, and Divok. We also get some new Klingon affiliation support cards such as The Promise, We Are Klingon, and the surprise standout Bat'leth, which (possibly as an oversight) could be played in any deck and at 0 cost was one of the most efficient ways to counter Center of Attention or Rogue Borg Ambush, among others.
posted by StarkRoads at 11:30 AM on September 4, 2021

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