Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Sins of the Father”

sinsofthefather113“Sins of the Father”
Written by Ronald D. Moore & W. Reed Moran (story by Drew Deighan)
Directed by Les Landau

Season 3, Episode 17
Original air date: March 19, 1990
Star date: 43685.2

Mission summary

The Enterprise crew welcomes a new Klingon officer, Commander Kurn, who will be filling in for Commander Riker temporarily as part of the Federation-Klingon Exchange Program. Kern has no sooner beamed aboard than he requests to begin his duties, and he ingratiates himself to the Bridge crew by demanding that they actually perform their jobs with efficiency and professionalism. The crew is stunned to have such a competent disciplinarian serving as first officer.

Captain Picard is impressed, considering that “it may be healthy to shake up the status quo occasionally.” But not everyone is so receptive to the Klingon first officer’s style of command. After Wesley and LaForge whine to Riker, he attempts to intervene on their behalf.

RIKER: Your knowledge of our systems and procedures is very impressive, Sir. I would like to make one suggestion, sir.
KURN: A suggestion?
RIKER: When I served aboard the Pagh, the hardest part for me was recognizing and adapting to the demands of the crew. They needed an iron hand. I imagine it must be very difficult for you to work with a crew that is so different. I would be happy to guide you in that regard, if it would be helpful.
KURN: No, Commander. It wouldn’t.
RIKER: This is not a Klingon ship, sir.
KURN: No, Commander, it is not. If it were a Klingon ship, I would have killed you for offering your suggestion.

Kurn is unfailingly polite to one crew member, however: Lieutenant Commander Worf, who of course views this as a gross dishonor. After Kurn makes one snide comment too many at Worf’s expense at dinner, the security officer confronts his new first officer in his quarters and calls him out on his dishonoring ways.

KURN: I find you to be a capable Starfleet officer. A credit to your ship.
WORF: Yet you dishonor me at every opportunity.
KURN: Have I? I did not know that being polite to a Starfleet officer would bring dishonour on him.
WORF: I am a Klingon.
KURN: Really? Perhaps your blood has thinned in this environment. I simply don’t want to hurt you.

Worf is all too happy to show Kurn that he can fight like a Klingon, which delights Kurn. He was only going easy on Worf to test him to see how Klingon he is. You know, the way a younger brother might tease an older one. Which he is, by the way — Worf’s younger brother! He had been left behind at a year old when Worf and their parents left for their brief but ill-fated trip to the Khitomer Outpost. When Worf was rescued by a Starfleet officer, he was informed that he had no surviving relatives, and when Kurn’s family didn’t return, he was adopted by another Klingon family.

Kurn had specifically requested assignment to Enterprise to seek out Worf so he can challenge the Klingon High Council, which has accused their father Mogh of betraying the Empire to the Romulans and causing the deaths at Khitomer. Picard refuses Worf’s request for leave to defend his family’s honor, opting instead to divert the ship to the Klingon capitol and stand by his side.

Worf and Kurn, serving as his brother’s cha’DIch (like someone’s second in a duel) but not revealing that they are related, face off against Duras, who has brought these charges against their father. During a recess, the Council leader K’mpec recommends that Worf drop the challenge and sneak away to avoid risking his life; if he loses the challenge, he will be killed as a traitor himself. Meanwhile, Picard rallies the Enterprise crew to dig into the details of the Khitomer massacre, and Kurn is ambushed by Duras and his goons, who know he’s Worf’s brother. Kurn survives, but Worf will need a new cha’DIch. Picard accepts this honor.

The investigations on Enterprise reveal that something is definitely being covered up, and Dr. Crusher finds out that there was another survivor of Khitomer besides Worf, his nanny Khalest. When Picard visits her, she confirms that Mogh was no traitor, but he had suspected someone of collaborating with the Romulans and followed him to Khitomer. Though she doesn’t know who the real traitor is, she agrees to come back with Picard and pretend that she knows something.

Her presence is enough to prompt K’mpec to come clean: Duras’ father was the traitor, but his family is so powerful, revealing this would have destroyed the Council and plunged the Klingon Empire into Civil War. Mogh was just a convenient scapegoat, since Worf was in Starfleet and they didn’t think he’d mind. Picard is scandalized and refuses to allow his officer to be killed over a lie, but Worf suggests a compromise. He will accept discommendation — effect acknowledging his father’s guilt — if they allow Kurn to live and don’t reveal his true lineage. K’mpec accepts the deal.

At least Worf gets to smack Duras before he is ritually shunned by all the other Klingons, including his brother. They will live to fight (and die) another day.



Perhaps it’s shameful to admit this, but I never liked the Klingon episodes of TNG all that much. I knew that they were good, probably some of the best, but I just wasn’t as interested in Klingon political machinations and culture as I was in visiting strange new worlds. (This is one reason I don’t read much fantasy versus science fiction.) But looking back, I appreciate these stories much more as a viewer and a writer. I now understand that in a sense, these episodes are exploring new worlds and civilizations as much as, if not more than, more sf-nal stories about first contact. Perhaps they are even more satisfying in the long run, because while most people aren’t going to encounter new alien species, we can all learn about and relate to new cultures.

This is the first canonical Star Trek I’ve watched since Star Trek Into Darkness (I also watched the first episode of the fan-produced Star Trek Continues, which deserves its own post), and during the episode I found myself thinking about the many differences between the TV shows and the rebooted franchise. This episode and the ones that follow dealing with Worf and his family’s honor and political strife in the Klingon Empire are much more Star Trek than what J.J. Abrams has crafted: they are quiet (except when the Klingons shout, which is often) and contemplative stories that thoughtfully flesh out the complicated motivations and rich heritage of an alien race that was previously portrayed as nothing more than stock villains.

These are stories about people, and whether I care about what’s happening on the Klingon Homeworld or not, I care about Worf and how those developments affect him and his friends, and I’m rooting for him as he plays his role in the outcome. The way he straddles his loyalties between Starfleet and his Klingon heritage is just as compelling as Spock’s struggle between his human and Vulcan sides.

I had forgotten that TNG had this callback to the second season’s “A Matter of Honor.” It provides an interesting counterpoint to that episode, and I think it’s wonderful that Kurn has obviously put in as much research on his new crew as Riker did. One might excuse him if he’s less interested in mollycoddling the Enterprise crew and meeting them on his own terms, as he does have other motives here; in fact, I like to think he has done this research in order to understand Worf and the life he leads more than just attempt to make a good impression. Although there are some funny cultural disconnects in this episode, I never feel like we’re having a laugh at the Klingon’s expense, as in, say, Star Trek VI. Kurn isn’t backwards or misunderstanding some nuance of culture; he gets it, he just doesn’t care for it.

I found the dichotomy between Klingons and the Federation one of the most interesting aspects of this episode. Kurn is demanding and thinks the crew is soft, pointing out that the ship is built for comfort, and he isn’t wrong. Picard and Riker do run kind of a loose ship, though they get the job done when it counts. What I like best is how much Picard respects Worf and his birth culture. Either the captain knows a bit of Klingon already, or he’s gone out of his way to learn it to accept the role of cha’DIch. (Probably the former, unless he was hoping Worf would ask him. Awww.)

I’m less comfortable with the idea of Picard diverting the ship from its current mission, whatever it is, to accompany Worf on his personal mission, even if he justifies it as in the best interests of the Federation. I guess it’s good they weren’t in the middle of anything important? He also devotes a fair bit of resources to investigating the Khitomer massacre (and I’m tired of this trope too, that they have uncovered something that was missed for decades). And why did they have to work to figure out what the charges were, when the Council eventually just told them?

Ironically, if they hadn’t gotten involved, the secret would never have come out, and the threat of Klingon Civil War would have died quietly, along with Worf and Kurn. And in a further irony, it’s interesting that Picard’s willingness to go above and beyond for one crew member — which never would have happened on a Klingon ship — is what saves Kurn’s and Worf’s lives. This gesture, however ill-advised, does highlight the fact that even though Worf has accepted discommendation, he still has a family on Enterprise.

I don’t quite buy the hypocrisy of K’mpec saying at one moment “the Empire will not be destroyed for one family’s honor,” but also admitting that the Duras “family is powerful. If the truth were known, it would shatter the Council, most certainly plunge us into civil war.” Perhaps this is just the seed of corruption that will ultimately destroy them, but it doesn’t make sense to not take some action against the Duras family. And I’m also not entirely clear on why Duras was working with the Romulans. I don’t remember if this is explained later in the whole saga, but it seems like an important question, and do you want this family in such a position of authority in your government? Really?

But what I’m getting from this is that even if you don’t understand why Klingons do what they do, they have their reasons and you should respect them.

Here’s a parting question: Why don’t commbadges have a silent mode? If you’re in the middle of a Klingon trial or ceremony, you should probably make sure you aren’t going to receive any calls. I’m just saying.

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

DarwinThread Alert: Charles Cooper (K’mpec) previously played the Klingon Korrd in Star Trek V. Not only did they recycle the actor, but they recycled his wardrobe — he’s wearing the same cloak and medals he had in the film the year before!

Best Line: KURN: How long has the bird been dead? It appears to have been lying in the sun for quite some time.
LAFORGE: It’s not dead, it’s been replicated. You do understand that we cook most of our foods.
KURN: Ah, yes. I was told to prepare for that. I shall try some of your burned replicated bird meat.

Trivia/Other Notes: Ron Moore has stated that it was Patrick Stewart’s idea for Picard to know the cha’DIch ritual, so Moore wrote one into the script.

Moore cites this as a turning point in the franchise that opened the door for more continuing story arcs in Star Trek. (It also started the trend of introducing family members we’ve never heard about…)

This was the first appearance of the Klingon homeworld on screen, which was visualized by art director Richard James, set director Jim Mees, and cameraman Marvin Rush — setting the tone for the Klingon aesthetic for the rest of the franchise. The beautiful matte painting of the Great Hall and the First City, created by Syd Dutton at Illusion Arts, is still being referenced and recycled.

Tony Todd reprises his role of Kurn in “Redemption, Parts I and II” and “Son of Mogh” (DS9), and he makes another appearance as an older Jake Sisko in DS9’s fan favorite “The Visitor.”

We see the “captain’s mess” for the first time, which fittingly looks just like a conference room.

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 16 – “The Offspring.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 18 – “Allegiance.”

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.