Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Loud as a Whisper”

“Loud as a Whisper”
Written by Jacqueline Zambrano
Directed by Larry Shaw

Season 2, Episode 5
Original air date: January 9, 1989
Star date: 42477.2

Mission summary

Enterprise has been tasked with delivering a famous mediator to a planet torn by centuries of war, with strict orders not to interfere directly. When they arrive at the mediator’s planet a long distance away, Riker interrupts Picard’s re-watch of The Planets so the captain can make a “simple ceremonial greeting,” though he urges Picard to be careful. There doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about because when Picard, an exceptionally grumpy Worf, and Troi beam down, no one is there.

This rude treatment is so Riva can make a dramatic entrance, of course. He emerges and silently acknowledges them before standing in the background and letting three others arrive and speak for him: two men and a woman, who finally welcomes them. There is some confusion as each of these three addresses the Enterprise crew in turn, until they finally reveal that Riva is deaf—as his entire ruling family has been—and they are his Chorus. They each represent an aspect of his personality. The frumpy man is the scholar and dreamer; the manly man is the libido and the warrior; the woman represents “harmony, wisdom, balance,” holding the others together. Naturally, the libido takes an immediate interest in Counselor Troi.

There’s no time to flirt, though: they have to get to Solais V to save some lives. Riva and his Chorus beam up with them and Picard briefs the Bridge crew on the mediator’s unique method of communication—cautioning them to address him directly regardless of which of the Chorus speaks. During introductions, Riva and La Forge strike an instant rapport:

WOMAN: What is that you’re wearing?
LAFORGE: A visor. It interprets the electromagnetic spectrum and then carries the readings to my brain.
WOMAN: And without it, can you see?
LAFORGE: Without it I’m as blind as a stump.
WOMAN: Then your visor serves the same function as my Chorus, which interprets my thoughts and translates them into sound?
SCHOLAR: And you don’t resent it?
LAFORGE: The visor or being blind?
SCHOLAR: Either.
LAFORGE: No, since they’re both part of me, and I really like who I am, there’s no reason for me to resent either one.
SCHOLAR: What is your position on the ship?
LAFORGE: I’m the chief engineer, sir.
WOMAN: It’s a blessing to understand we are special, each in his own way.
LAFORGE: Yes. Yes, that’s the way I feel exactly.

Riva requests that Troi show him to his guest quarters and ditches two-thirds of his Chorus, his brain and his heart; he’s only going to need raw passion to communicate with her! He tells her she’s “provoking an emotional revelation” and asks her for dinner. He assures her they can lose the third wheel once they find a new way to communicate with each other. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more!

He’s much more interested in his date than the special meeting Picard has called in his honor. They try to give him all this background information on the conflict on Solais, but he’d rather wing it. He’ll figure something out, because he always does and he’s just that good. Flawless logic, really.

Riva lays things on pretty thick with barely disguised innuendo with Troi, and they manage to communicate with each other through his sign language, but the Solari—still fighting despite their cease fire—cut their date short. Riva convinces the two factions to come together for peace negotiations. He vetoes bringing a security team along for protection, settling on Worf, Riker, and his Chorus, who beam down to the picnic site he selects and help redecorate.

That may have been a tactical error. One of the Solari tries to assassinate Riva. Riker pulls the mediator out of the line of fire just in time, but the Chorus standing behind him is disintegrated, as is the assassin a moment later, killed by his own side. Riker, Worf, and Riva beam away without hearing the Solari plead for their help.

Without his chorus, they cannot communicate with Riva, who is agitated, withdrawn, and frightened. Data identifies and memorizes five signing languages so he is able to translate for the mediator.

DATA: It was my fault. I am responsible for their deaths. In my arrogance I thought no one could possibly harm the great Riva. I am such a fool.
PICARD: You are not to blame. What happened appears to have been the work of one desperate man. It may not reflect the feelings of the others.
DATA: They were more than my interpreters. They were also my friends. They were a part of me. I did not realize how much a part until now.
PICARD: We have been contacted by the factions on Solais. They want to renew negotiations.
DATA: I cannot. I will not.

Troi manages to get Riva to reconsider when she tells him she’s going to attempt to mediate for the Solari instead and asks how he would do it. He says that the secret is “turning disadvantage into advantage.” She challenges him to do the same for himself, which gives him an idea on how he can continue his mission without his translators: He’s going to teach the Solari sign language, so that by learning to communicate with him, they will also learn to communicate with each other. It will take a lot of time, but he might succeed if they want it enough. And he doesn’t have anywhere better to be.

They leave Riva alone on the planet to do his thing, and Picard takes a rare moment to commend Troi on earning her pay for the week.


I have always loved the premise behind this episode, of a telepathic chorus hearing and speaking for a deaf person. One psychic individual that performed this task would be interesting enough, but three people each representing a different aspect of Riva’s mind is simply fascinating. I think the idea is explored in a very compelling way, though it is not without its logistical flaws. Chief of these is the idea that Riva is able to read lips—which only works if he also understands English, since the universal translator won’t be able to help him. However, I’ll just accept that he does understand English, since he negotiated peace with the Klingons and the Federation.

This episode doesn’t suffer from many of the problems that have ruined other episodes. The teaser is intriguing and well-paced, despite the ominous fade out on an empty room, and the B-story (Riva’s attempts at romance) is closely linked to the A-story, although arguably, this episode doesn’t really have a B-story. Instead, we get some glimpses into the lives of the crew that provide some seemingly superfluous details but add to their characters: Picard’s fascination with an astronomical puzzle, Worf’s unease with the mediator who gave the Klingons a word for peace (way to throw him under the shuttlecraft by outing his feelings in front of everyone, Troi!), and of course Geordi’s continuing struggle over his vision.

This brief subplot of him having the chance to restore his vision doesn’t return in the series, if I recall correctly—and you’d think they’d be aware that Pulaski has successfully performed the procedure—but he does opt for artificial eyes in First Contact. Clearly it comes up only because Riva presents an opportunity to discuss disability, but it bothered me a little that Geordi seriously considers it after telling Riva that he’s happy the way he is. Then again, if the VISOR causes him pain, getting rid of it would hold some appeal.

But the real success of “Loud as a Whisper” is that it is the first time Counselor Troi is really able to shine. Her place on the ship is no longer in question as she contributes to the completion of their mission and helps Riva work through his crippling guilt, self-doubt, and grief. She does such a good job, Picard even commends her for it, while all but apologizing for the fact that he thinks she’s been useless so far. (“You read me well enough to sense how I feel about you and what you do on this ship.”) We can all tell, Picard, and that’s part of why Troi hasn’t been very special until now. And though she first catches Riva’s none-too-subtle eye because she is an empath, her Betazoid powers actually have very little to do with the breakthrough she makes with him.

One interesting note for discussion: The Enterprise is not supposed to interfere with the conflict on Solais V, and Riker even flat out says, “Our job is not to police the galaxy.” This surprised me because I thought that was exactly what they were supposed to do, or at least what they have been doing. It seems they’re finally getting a grasp on what they want the Prime Directive to be, and how it might apply even to other spacefaring races.

In short, I found this to be a riveting and thoughtful episode, and I give it high points for making Troi into a real and interesting character for once. I have questions over whether the Chorus members have unique personalities and are allowed to pursue their own lives and interests in any way (Do they get days off or have relationships?), but that isn’t a nitpick, I’m just musing over the implications of what I still think is a fairly original, compelling conceit.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: I’m going to lump Riva and his entire Chorus together on this one, which is only fitting. though I like that they are each wearing variations on the same outfit, I don’t think any of them are particularly inspired. It’s interesting to observe that the Scholar is distinguished by his funky cap, and Passion by his useless armor, no doubt meant to suggest his warrior aspect. But something about Riva’s hair and robes just makes me think of him as Jesus, which is not an altogether inappropriate comparison given his role here.

Best Line: Data (translating for Riva): “Thank you. Thank me? Ah!”

Trivia/Other Notes: Actor Howie Seago (Riva) really is deaf, and petitioned the producers of TNG to make a show that would help clear up myths and prejudices about deaf people. He also proposed the resolution used in the episode a day before it was filmed, thus avoiding an ending that would have defeated the entire purpose of the episode, in which Riva learns to speak overnight. The episode was well received by both deaf and hearing people.

The episode includes one of the rare instances in which live video monitors were used on the Bridge in the series. They appear again in “A Matter of Honor” and “All Good Things…” and are incorporated in Star Trek Generations.

Previous episode: Season 2, Episode 4 – “The Outrageous Okona.”

Next episode: Season 2, Episode 6 – “The Schizoid Man.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.