Season 7, Episode 21 - "Firstborn," or "Alexander the Late"
Firstborn is a story about Alexander and Worf, the bonds between father and son, between the older generation and the new, and the pressure a family places on their own children to uphold their traditions. It is a story about the pride and violence of Klingon society, about the weight of duty and expectation, and the way that weight can crush the shoulders of someone far too young and too innocent to bear it. It's a story about the tension between being a Klingon and being an officer of the Enterprise, and the problems of inheriting the sins of one's father, and his father before him, and his father before him, on and on to the beginning of Klingon culture.
It's also a story about time-jumping Klingons yelling at their younger selves.
No Klingon child is tabula rasa. They are all of them born with the weight of duty around their necks. And it's a sad thing. Alexander is about to come of age. Like any young Klingon, he must participate in a rite of passage, distinguishing him as a warrior and a man. Worf is rather insistent that Alexander undergo the Rite of Ascension, but Alexander--who loves water balloons and science class--will have none of it. He has too much of his mother in him. K'ehleyr told Alexander he never needed to participate in any "silly Klingon rituals," and Alexander has always held on tight to his mother's words as if it were a talisman, staving off the specters of Klingon culture.
Alexander is clearly the most sympathetic character here. I think we're supposed to take Alexander's side after we consider, in retrospect, just how brutal and unfeeling Klingon culture is. It feels almost predatory and destructive to inculcate a boy like Alexander into a culture of violence and bloodshed. I appreciate that the episode avoided making Worf an angry disciplinarian of a father, trying to browbeat his son into submission. Worf really does love Alexander, and I nodded in approval every time Worf took his son's side over the side of his culture.
The two of them come to a compromise by visiting a great Klingon festival--think of it as a kind of Klingon San Diego Comic Con. Except instead of comics, it's about violence. There are street vendors, dramatic re-enactments, some admittedly charming desplays of Klingon opera, and a good time to be had.
The episode took a dramatic shift once K'mtar shows up. Ostensibly a retainer for the House of Mogh, K'mtar saves Worf from an assassin's dagger, and then proceeds to take personal responsibility for the upbringing of Alexander. Worf, understandably, takes umbrage to the way K'mtar insinuates himself into the family. K'mtar comes off as a loyal an decent Klingon, but one obsessed with the old ways. Like some kind of 19th century samurai trying to teach a modern Japanese family the spirit of bushido, his presence in the episode always felt a little bit out of place. As a viewer, I've seen enough TNG to have developed a healthy skepticism for the "sanctity" of Klingon culture.
There's a reason for that. I don't think Klingon culture is particularly sacred or pure. We've seen far too many Klingons resort to deception, betrayal, manipulation, coercion, and cynically abuse their own code of honor to seize power from their peers. So while I couldn't give a fig about Klingon culture, I do care about Worf's culture. Klingon culture is important to Worf because it gives him a sense of identity; it is a pillar for him to lean on in difficult times. Worf is a classic Klingon, one of the rare adherents of the spirit of Klingon culture. He is honorable and loyal, and if Klingon culture gives him a context through which to practice his loyalty, then all the power to him.
Consequently, K'mtar came off--at least for the first half of the episode--like some kind of ultraconservative uncle barging into a relative's family, ordering their daughters to marry this and their sons to study that, all while tapping their knuckles on some holy scripture and declaring, "never forget where you came from!' I am, on my best day, viciously antagonistic toward such people, having known too many of them in my life. Consequently I was ready to write off K'mtar as another zealot of a hidebound culture, trying to mold impressionable children like Alexander into psychologically fractured zealots through a combination of manipulation and shame. K'mtar spends so much of the episode yelling at Alexander, telling him he's not good enough, trying to manipulate him into becoming a warrior, that I ended up hating him.
Then, about three quarters into the episode, K'mtar comes out with the kind of story twist so ham-fisted and bizarre I'd almost dismissed it out of hand.
K'mtar is Alexander. He found a way to travel back in time so he could cajole, coerce, threaten, or manipulate his past self into becoming a great warrior, so that one day, in the future, he might be strong enough to defend his father from his inevitable murder.
I don't think I was prepared to handle a revelation that shocking, and part of me wanted to roll my eyes in disdain at Star Trek for pulling out a twist like this. But the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated this twist. It made a great deal of sense. K'mtar does look like Alexander, for one. He behaves quite like I imagined Alexander would.
K'mtar being Alexander makes his story that much more sad and unfortunate. He really did grow up to be a kid who couldn't resolve his own sense of identity. Unable to reconcile himself with his father's death, he blamed himself for not being strong enough.
Why is it that the best of us are always the hardest on ourselves? Alexander going back in time to fix a problem that was never his to fix is the classic example of a child trying to recover from the trauma of losing a parent. His actions are all in vain, trying to bring his father back from a death he can't prevent, and trying to redeem himself for being complicit in a crime that was never his fault.
There's a really lovely moment at the end when Worf discovers himself father to two sons; he must console Older Alexander while also bringing up Younger Alexander. And I enjoyed watching Worf dispense the right kind of wisdom to both Alexanders. To the Older Alexander, his wisdom was mature and compassionate; to the Younger Alexander, his wisdom was that of the harmless lie. And I liked it. I liked seeing Worf handle his own problems with no outside help, and succeed brilliantly at fatherhood.
There's a whole side-arc here about hunting down the Duras sisters, cameos from DS9, and a few cool scenes of Riker being a badass, but I didn't go into them because they're mostly distractions from the main plot, which is between Alexander, Worf, and Alexander.
"Firstborn" should've been called "Fatherhood," really. It's ostensibly about Alexander's rite of passage in becoming a man, but I think this episode is really about Worf becoming a real father.