This is your only SPOILER WARNING for this article. I will be going very deeply into these episodes, so don’t read if you haven’t seen them and want to be surprised.
Significant episodes that deserve a more in-depth discussion
TNG: Birthright, Part 2
In Birthright, Part 1, Worf had learned from a Yirridian information trader that his father, Mogh, may still be alive, albeit a prisoner in a Romlulan prison camp. At first he is reluctant to believe it, and the possibility even makes him angry. This is because Mogh was believed to have died while defending the Klingon outpost of Khitometer, of which Worf was the only known survivor. Klingon warriors are not supposed to let themselves be taken prisoner, but to die fighting. If he were alive, Mogh’s family would be dishonored for three generations, including Worf’s young son Alexander.
But ultimately, he approaches the Yirridian to try to find out if the information is true. He went to the prison camp on the edge of Romlulan space, sneaking in and looking for his father. To his surprise, he first finds a Klingon woman who is far too young to have been captured at Khitometer. Worf implores her not to tell the Romlulans he is there, and he sneaks into the compound and finds an older Klingon to talk with. The Klingon elder tells him that Mogh did indeed die defending Khitometer, and that he was the lucky one. The episode ends with Worf captured by the Romlulan guards, and the Klingons who are strangely unwilling to escape, telling him “We’re not going anywhere. And now, neither are you.”
In the next episode we learn that the older generation of Klingons were those who were taken prisoner by the Romlulans. They were defending the outpost, and when they were knocked out by a weapons blast, they were captured. After interrogating the Klingon prisoners for months, the Romlulans tried to negotiate with the Klingon High Command for their lives. But the Council, of course, refused to believe that any of their warriors had been captured and brushed it off as a dishonorable Romlulan trick. There is a long history of distrust and hatred between Klingons and Romlulans.
When it became clear that they could not get any advantage from having the Klingons as prisoners, they were to be released. But the Romlulan commander who was in charge of the prison camp where they were at had a surprise coming. The Klingons knew that their families on the homeworld believed that they had died in battle, as honorable warriors. If they returned home, their children and their children’s children would suffer grave dishonor. So, they asked to stay. They were essentially already dead.
By the time Worf had arrived, they were not the only Klingons there anymore. The original prisoners had partnered off in their loneliness, made a life there, and had children. But the older generation did not have the heart to tell their children the truth. They believed that their parents, both the Klingons and the Romlulans, had come to this remote planet to escape a terrible war.
The younger Klingons had no idea who they were, of the culture of their ancestors. At the beginning of the episode, one of the younger Klingons even used the word “Klingon” as a insult towards Worf. This is how far they have fallen from their culture, their religion, and everything they are. Worf takes it on himself to teach the young people their history, which does not sit well with the Romlulan commander Tokath. Worf becomes a transmitter of the Klingons’ cultural heritage. It starts when Worf, restless at being confined to the compound, began to practice the mok’bara, the tai chi-like meditative forms that are the basis for Klingon combat, in the courtyard. Curious, some of the younger Klingons begin to imitate him. Around a fire, late at night, the younger generation of Klingons gather to hear Worf tell them stories about Kahless. When one of the more adversarial youngsters protests that something Kahless had done was impossible, Worf responds, “For you, maybe. But not for Kahless. He was a great warrior. These are OUR stories. They tell us who we are.”
It’s not just the stories themselves that are important, but that act of storytelling. Over and over throughout the series, Klingons are shown in a bar or a tavern, holding the other patrons spellbound with a tale1 of their own prowess in battle, if not the tales of Kahless. Storytelling is integral to Klingon culture and religion. Much like many, many indigenous cultures, storytelling is a sacred act. It is the well of memory, the way that the knowledge of a people is passed from one generation to another. This image of Worf telling the tribal tales to the young people may take place on a far-distant world, between non-human aliens, but any of our ancestors would recognize it instantly. And they would see the importance of it.
Likewise, many of our Pagan ancestors would recognize the importance placed on the ritual of the hunt that Worf insisted on performing. Even though there are replicators at the camp that can synthesize any food, Worf prefers to be more connected to the origin of what he eats. As he said “Klingons do not hunt because they need food. The Hunt is a ritual that reminds us where we came from.” And when Toq and Worf were in the jungle, and Toq had just caught the scent of their prey: “This is the moment where life and death meet. This is what we are … warriors.”
I find the scene of Toq and Worf returning after the hunt to be especially powerful. Toq has been transformed by the experience, by meeting himself in the forest, finding you are most alive in the space between life and death. His enthusiasm is infectious, and as he begins to sing a traditional song, all the Klingons join in, even the older Klingons who seem to have forgotten who they are. Tokath is horrified to see his own daughter, a half-Klingon, join in. Something about this scence is inspiring and powerful.
Toq: Today, I learned the ritual hunt. But that is not all I learned. I discovered that warrior’s blood runs through my veins. I do not know why or how, but we have forgotten who we are. Our stories are not told. Our songs are not sung.
That night, Tokath came to Worf to try to convince him one last time. After the scene in the main hall, Tokath knew he had to deal with Worf. They argued, and Tokath tried to point out that at no other point in history have Klingons and Romlulans lived in peace. Tokath had even married a Klingon woman and raised a child with her. But Worf said that Tokath had robbed them of what it is to Klingon in the first place. Tokath thought that giving up their heritage was a small price to pay for peace, but that is a point on which they would always disagree. After all, it didn’t look like the Romlulans had given up their essential identity, even if they could no longer return to Romulus. It was the Klingons who had to do all the cultural adapting. Much like in our world, polytheists are usually expected to be the “understanding” ones in an interfaith situation which involves monotheists. In reality the monotheists are being catered to in most cases and the polytheists are expected to accept being relegated to second-class status instead of being truly equal.
Worf : And what of Toq? I saw what happened to him when he caught the scent of his prey on the wind. For the first time in his life, he felt powerful. And THAT is what he has been denied living here. THAT is what you have tried to take away for him. Your may be content to sit here in the jungle and wither into old age, but Toq and the others have tasted what it is to be truly alive, and they will not give it up now!
Tokath gives Worf an ultimatum: live as one of them, giving up his traditions (his culture, his heritage, his religion, everything he is), or die. Worf chooses death, saying: “That death will be honorable. The young people will see what is to die as a Klingon.”
Later that night, Ba’el, Tokath’s daughter sneaks in to see Worf. She clearly had feelings for Worf, and throughout the episode the attraction between them had grown. Ba’el urges him to escape, telling she’ll help him do so. But Worf refused to run. When Ba’el protested to Worf that they were going to kill him, he responded, “Yes. But they will NOT defeat me.” Worf was willing to die like a Klingon, the final lesson for the young generation of Klingons in their culture.
In the morning, Tokath made a speech about how he had agonized about whether to kill Worf or not. And he had come to the conclusion that is was necessary and right to do so, because Worf would threaten the peaceful life they had built there.
Worf’s last words are “Those are eloquent words, Tokath. But the truth is, I am being executed because I have bought something dangerous to your young people. Knowledge. Knowledge of their origins, knowledge of the real reasons you are here in this camp. The truth is a threat to you.” But just is about to be shot, Toq, who had formerly been one of the most adversarial towards Worf, suddenly appeared wearing an full suit of Klingon armor and carrying a gin-tak spear, relics that the prisoners had kept for sentimental reasons. Toq declared that he would rather die with Worf than stay there, and moved to stand in front of the Romlulan firing squad. Many of the other Klingons, young and old, moved to stand with Toq and Worf, including Tokath’s own daughter Ba’el.
At first Tokath might have been willing to kill Toq as well as Worf, but he clearly doesn’t want to kill all of them. Ba’el joining the group is just the last straw. His wife, Gi’ral, convinces him to stop. The Klingons had originally stayed to avoid dishonoring their children and families on Qo’nos, she explained to her husband, but they had lost sight of the children they raised here. They should be free to leave if they wish, to live as Klingons. “This is our prison. It should not be theirs.” Tokath acquiesced.
Worf told the youth who wanted to leave that their parents were making another sacrifice for their happiness, and in return, the children must always keep their secret. They leave on a supply ship and rendezvous with the Enterprise. Worf lies to Captain Picard to protect the older Klingons, telling him that these young kids were the survivors of a ship that had crashed on a remote planet. “No one survived Khitometer.” But the way that Picard looked at him, nodded, and said “I understand.” it was clear that he knew. Ba’el, being half-Romlulan, stayed behind to live with her parents. She knew other Klingons would not accept her. This is kind of a bummer to end this synopsis on, but it has the echo of truth in it. I’ve heard people say, what do you call the child of a Jew and a Christian? The answer is: a Christian. Intermarriage can create a beautiful melding of cultures, but it can also be a method of assimilation where the lesser, or rather less populous party, loses their identity.
TNG: Rightful Heir
This is surely one of the best episodes depicting Klingon religion. Chronologically it takes places after the events of “Birthright, pt 2”. The episode begins on the Bridge of the Enterprise, where Worf has not shown up to relieve the shift before him. Commander Riker notes that Worf is never late. When he fails to answer his call on the comm, the Commander becomes worried and goes to his quarters. Riker finds Worf absorbed in prayer, the room filled with incense and candles, a fire burning in a brazier. Worf was performing an shamanistic ritual in his quarters attempting to summon a vision of Kahless, and he was clearly in a trace-like state and has lost all track of time. (side-note: how much would it suck to have your boss show up at your house and override the locks because you were a little bit late to work?)
For Pagans, we get a glimpse of Worf’s shrine to Kahless in this beginning intro. It’s housed in a little spirit house with doors in the front that open when the shrine is in use. This is a similar set-up to many Kemetic Pagan naos, an enclosed cabinet holding the altar, as a house for the God inside. This set-up, in our Pagan traditions, keeps the shrine and the image of the God, separate from the everyday, mundane reality outside, and keeps it sacred and pure. This tradition is adapted from ancient Egyptian temple practices. It was interesting to see something similar in Klingon practice, although it was only on-screen for a few seconds2.
When Captain Picard comes to his quarters to discuss what happened, Worf revealed that he in the midst of a crisis of faith. When he was in the Romlulan prison camp and began to teach the young Klingons about their history and culture, something inside of them responded instinctively. Worf stated “When I saw the power of their beliefs, I began to question my own.” Worf apologized for allowing his personal problems to interfere with his Starfleet duties, and promises it won’t happen again. But Picard asks him if there was a place he could go to explore his beliefs, and grants him leave to visit the Temple of Borath, where Kahless is supposed to one day be resurrected.
Borath is set up much as Worf describes the Caves of Nomat. The pilgrims get a small, barren chamber to sleep in, and spend their days fasting and chanting in front of a fire, attempting to invoke a shamanistic vision. After 10 days, Worf still has not had a vision. He becomes upset and disillusioned when a young man, a Klingon who is only 19 and has only been there a few days, has a vision of Kahless that Worf has been denied. He returns to his room and starts to pack, but the High Priest Korath confronts him there in order to convince him to stay.
Koroth asks him to tell the Story of the Promise. Worf recites it rotely: after uniting the Klingon people and giving them the laws of honor, Kahless saw that his work was done, so he packed his bags and went to the edge of the city. The people wept, not wanting him to go. Kahless said that Klingons need no one but themselves. He was going to Sto-Vo-Kor, but he would one day return. He pointed to a star and said he would return there; that star was Boreth. Koroth says it’s been fifteen centuries since he made that promise; what is ten days in the life of one Klingon compared to that? This, Koroth explains, is a place of questions, not answers. He encourages Worf to open his mind, unclutter the doubts, and seek out Kahless’s wisdom3.
In the next scene, Kahless does indeed appear to Worf, but to his shock, he is not a vision, but flesh and blood. Kahless declares that he has returned. He retrieves the sacred bat’leth from a shrine, and there is painting there of Kahless that looks JUST like him. But Koroth at first doubts that it is really Kahless. But Kahless tells him how he created the first bat’leth, the Sword of Honor. This story was never written down, and passed orally from High Cleric to High Cleric, so that if Kahless ever returned they would know it was really him.
The other Klingons at the Temple are convinced that means this is really Kahless. Korath and all the other Klingons kneal before Kahless. Worf, the Federation-trained skeptic, returns to his room to retrieve his tricorder and scan the person claiming to Kahless. Kahless follows him to his room to talk. He allows Worf to scan him, and he does scan as a true Klingon, to Worf’s surprise.
When Kahless asks what else he could be, Worf points out several possibilities that we’ve seen in other Star Trek episodes like a shapeshifter or a holographic projection (Crusher will later bring up some other possibilities, from mundane notions like surgical alteration to more outlandish ones like a coalescent being). Kahless then explains how he knows Worf’s name: the vision Worf had when he was a child at No’Mat (that he and Data discussed in “Birthright, Part I”), in which Kahless told him he’d do something no Klingon has ever done before. (Which came true, as he became the first Klingon to join Starfleet.) Kahless asks if he believes now, and Worf can only say that he wants to. That, Kahless says, is a good start4.
A few days later, after much feasting and celebrations from the other Klingons, Worf still has questions for Kahless. Kahless thinks he’s answered them all satisfactorily, but Worf says that questions are the beginning of wisdom. Kahless reminds Worf that leaders don’t NEED to answer questions from their followers; the leader commands, the followers obey. Worf says that only applies is the leader is worthy of their followers’ trust. After a short argument, Worf challenges Kahless and they solve their differences with a bat’leth duel – because, Klingons. But the duel doesn’t really end with a victor, because Kahless suddenly starts laughing, to the confusion of all the spectators.
Kahless: “Is there only anger and bloodlust in your souls? Is that all that is left left in the Klingon heart? We do not fight merely to spill blood, but to enrich the spirit! Look at us! Two warriors, locked in battle, fighting for honor! How can you not sing for all to hear? We are Klingons!”
It’s a great speech, and soon all the Klingons (except Worf) are chanting “We are Klingons!”. Worf had actually been winning the fight, but everyone is now so swept up in the speech and chanting, that no one notices.
Word is already spreading throughout the Klingon Empire about the supposed Second Coming of Kahless (because of course it is!) The Enterprise is asked to pick up Kahless from Boreth and take him to the Klingon Homeworld. Gowron, the Klingon Chancellor, specifically says he wants a Federation ship to do it so that Kahless cannot “spread his lies” through a Klingon ship. Gowron meets them halfway … and he bought a sacred relic, a knife stained with the blood of the original Kahless. The priests of Boreth are horrified that he would remove the knife from it’s sacred vault, calling it sacrilege. But it doesn’t matter. After the concept of DNA testing is explained to Kahless, he consents to the test. And it is a match. He IS Kahless.
Finally convinced, Worf asks Kahless about death and what Sto-Vo-Kor is really like. But Kahless gives him a very unsatisfactory answer:“I do not have those answers. I am merely a traveler, someone who has journeyed back and forth between this world and the next. While I am in this form, I know only about this world.” Yet, Kahless’ knowledge of this world is lacking, too: He does not remember the taste of Klingon warnog, and can’t tell the difference between ‘real’ warnog and synthesized. The troubling details begin to add up.
Gowron, meanwhile, couldn’t care less about the scientific evidence. He just assumes this whole thing is a power play by the priests of Boreth. He notes that factions are starting to form in own ship’s crew, between believers and skeptics…and that may be just what the priests want. Gowron points out that it’s awfully convenient that “Kahless” first appeared to Worf…and right before Worf was about to leave Boreth for good, no less. After all, if Koroth and his sect are looking to gain some serious political clout, they couldn’t do much better than having the illustrious Worf, Son of Mogh, on their side.
For his part, Worf is caught in the middle. He desperately wants to believe that this is really Kahless, but he knows logically that it doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, the more time he spends around Kahless, the more oddities Worf begins to notice about him: Kahless seems to have a lot of gaps in his memories. He knows the stories that have been written down in scripture, but he can’t remember the fine details that someone who was actually there would remember. He can’t tell the difference between a synthesized Klingon drink and a real one, even though it should be obvious to anyone who’s drank it. And when Gowron finally confronts him, and they engage in combat…he loses. Gowron hands the Klingon Messiah his ass in front of all his followers, and then just smugly strolls away5.
The confrontation between Kahless and Gowron was preceded by a great scene where we get to hear another Klingon parable. Kahless recounts it as if he was there, but Gowron confronts him on the details, which reveals more gaps in Kahless’ memory.
Kahless: Long ago, a storm was heading for the city of Quin’lat. Everyone took protection within the walls except one man who remained outside. I went to him and asked what he was doing. “I am not afraid,” the man said. “I will not hide my face behind stone and mortar. I will stand before the wind and make it respect me.” I honored his choice and went inside. The next day, the storm came, and the man was killed. The wind does not respect a fool. Do not stand before the wind, Gowron
Gowron: What was his name?
Gowron: 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?!?
Behind closes doors after the duel, Kahless is disturbed by the outcome of the battle. He’s clearly in shock, because the the result of the fight doesn’t mesh with what he knows about himself. Koroth and the other priest immediately reassure Kahless, and attempting to do some damage-control, say they will tell people that Gowron used a dishonorable tactic to win. But Worf is angered, the house of cards came crashing down. He demands to be told the truth or he’ll kill them all. Koroth finally admits the truth; that this Kahless was cloned from the blood of the original Kahless and given the memories of Kahless that were recorded in their sacred texts.
Poor Kahless, being from the Klingon Middle Ages, basically, doesn’t even know what a clone IS. Worf has to explain it to him. He snarls “They grew you in a test tube like some kind of FUNGUS, then programmed you like a MACHINE!” This episode is about Worf’s journey, so we don’t get to really explore what Kahless feels about this revelation, unfortunately. I would have liked to seen more from Kahless, what kind of mindf*ck must that have been on the poor guy? But Kahless just goes silent, trying to absorb and process the new information, while Worf and Koroth argue.
Worf is horrified, but Koroth tries to say that the prophecy of Kahless’ return never specified the MANNER of his return. Maybe this was how it was always meant to be. Who can say what they did was wrong? Worf bluntly replies “I am.” In the argument, when Koroth says the Klingon people need something to believe in, Worf angrily replies that they do not need a false God. His emphasis is on the word “false”, not “God”, which again emphasizes that Klingons see Kahless as their God, even if they usually don’t use that word and they believe that their ancestors killed their Creator-Gods. Koroth says that Kahless is still the last hope to unite the Klingon people. If you aren’t a rabid Star Trek fan, the Klingons had recently suffered through a disastrous Civil War that was manipulated by the Romlulans, and has been filled with political corruption and in-fighting for years. Hell, the last Chancellor, K’empek, was poisoned, which is a very dishonorable and un-Klingon tactic. But this scheme of cloning Kahless and passing him off as the real thing seems like a very dishonorable way to counteract the dishonor in their society. But we never really address the philosophical issue of if more dishonor can undo the rot and decay eating at the heart of Klingon society.
Some of the best scenes in this episode are, surprisingly, between Worf and Data. Like in “Birthright”, Data approaches Worf, in two different scenes, to discuss the nature of faith and spiritual experience. After the conversation with Korath, Worf goes to the holodeck. Kahless’ shrine program is still playing, and two of Gowron’s warriors are sitting and praying, waiting for Kahless to return. Data, ever the curious observer of human(oid) behavior, stands respectfully apart from them and watches. It is Data who explains to Worf that they still believe in Kahless, despite his humiliating defeat by Gowron. Worf calls them fools, and Data asks if Worf has lost his faith, if he no longer believes the real Kahless will return. Worf doesn’t know what to feel anymore. Then Data tells him that when he was first activated, he had a crisis of faith of his own. He was told by the Starfleet officers that activated him that he was only machine, but Data choose to believe that he was a person. That he could become more than a collection of circuits. Data, the logical android, had to make a leap of faith, and he uses those very words himself when talking to Worf, which clearly comforts and inspires the Klingon. It’s a very touching and powerful scene.
In the next scene Worf calls Koroth, Kahless, and Gowron to the Observation Lounge, where he reveals what Kahless is. Gowron crows that he’ll have Kahless and the priests put to death. But Worf says that it doesn’t matter, that the cloned Kahless will still have enough followers to plunge the Empire into another Civil War. The words “leap of faith” is used again, as Worf says that the Klingon people need something to believe in, something bigger than themselves, and they will accept Kahless even if they know he is a clone.
Worf proposes a comprise – that Kahless be made Emperor (there has not been an Emperor for three hundred years ). The political power would stay with the High Council, and the Emperor position would be ceremonial, a figurehead, like the Queen of England is today. Essentially, Kahless becomes the Klingon pope – the moral leader of the Empire. Worf also says that they should tell the people the truth of Kahless’ origins, but that even if he is not the true Kahless, he is the rightful heir to Kahless. And there we have the episode’s title, folks!) Gowron is at first unhappy with this arrangement, and seems close to saying he would still fight him, until Worf tells him that he would fight him, and his brother Kurn (who is on the High Council and has many followers) would fight him, and the Klingon Empire would fall back into another Civil War.
Worf says to Kahless: “Real power comes from within the heart. You would have the power to mold the Klingon heart. You could return them to honorable ways, as in the original teachings of Kahless, which are within you. It would be a great challenge, if you have the courage to accept it.” When Kahless says that this arrangement is acceptable and asks Gowron to “help him usher in this new era”, Gowron at last kneels to him, as does Korath, and finally Worf, for the first time in this episode. Knowing the truth about Kahless, Worf accepts it. Worf has found a balance between rationality and faith for his people and prevented another Civil War, but he still does not know what to believe, as his parting conversation with Kahless reveals. It’s heart-breaking, really.
“Rightful Heir” is one of Star Trek’s most transparent takes on Christian beliefs in the bodily resurrection of the messianic Jesus. It offers at least a mild critique to those who continue to believe to believe in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary, yet it resists any facile rejection of Christianity. The final scene between Kahless and Worf could easily stand as the episode’s ultimate stance on the issues it raises: If the moral teachings of Kahless (and, by analogy, other messianic teachers) are true, what difference does it make whether they return or not?
More important, “Rightful Heir” offers a complex portrait of Klingon beliefs about death and the afterlife. We learn that Klingons believe strongly in the existence of life after death, in physical locations where the dead continue to exist in some kind of continuity with earlier incarnations. The righteous warrior dead live on in a place called Sto-Vo-Kor, reminiscent of Valhalla in ancient Germanic religion. … Disgraced Klingon warriors instead go to a place of suffering and disrepute known as Gre’thor, guarded by a mythic figure named Fek’lhr6.7
Kahless’s parting words to Worf are, “Kahless left us, all of us, a powerful legacy. A way of thinking and acting that makes us Klingon. If his words hold wisdom and his philosophy is honorable, what does it matter if he returns? What is important is that we follow his teachings. Perhaps the words are more important than the man.” This is clearly meant by the writers to be aimed at Christians who are awaiting the Second Coming of Jesus. But the discussion about faith and doubt can be applied to any religion, even if we aren’t waiting for the literal rebirth and resurrection of our God(s). This episode was always one of my favorites, but now that I am a (hopefully) more mature adult, and have been through several of my own dark nights of the soul, it touches me on a much more personal level. I empathize with Worf’s feelings and his journey here.
“Heir” understands that just because we pray for something (or, for atheists, just because we yearn for something really, really hard), that doesn’t mean we expect our prayers to be answered literally. When Worf travels to Boreth, he’s trying to regain the unquestioning devotion to Klingon culture that defined much of his life. He grew up apart from his own race, and that outsider status, as a Klingon in the Federation, meant that his knowledge of who he was supposed to be came purely from books and theory. He aspired to be the purest, most idealized version of Klingon-hood, and it was inevitable that when he’d finally reconnect with actual living Klingon culture, he would be disappointed. His time teaching young people in “Birthright”—young people who, while still being raised by Klingon parents, were still in their way as orphaned from their society as Worf had been—reminded him of the purity of faith he once had, while at the same time failing to resolve the disillusionment that has been eroding that purity ever since he got involved with actual Klingon politics. So he goes to Boreth, because that’s what a Klingon in spiritual crisis is supposed to do, and he gets exactly what he’s supposed to want, and it gets awkward.
There is a period of time when Worf does believe, but it’s telling that what converts him (for a while, anyway) is Beverly’s scientific proof of the new Kahless’s connection to the old one. (She matches his DNA with the sword blood DNA, and of course, they match.) Worf has passed beyond a point where he will blindly accept anything—he wants to believe, he says to Kahless, but the fact that there’s a gap between wanting and actual belief shows how much he’s changed over the years. He brings Kahless aboard the Enterprise to transport him back to the Klingon home-world, and tries to convince the rest of the crew that it’s possible they’re witnessing a true rebirth. Worf seems convinced himself, but it’s a conviction he sheds at the first sign of doubt, when Kahless, supposedly the greatest Klingon warrior to ever live, loses a fight to Gowron. When Worf learns the truth, he’s so amazed by the gall of it that he laughs. The knowledge, the final nail in the coffin of his belief in Klingon idealism (First the government lets him down, now Jesus?) could’ve made him bitter, but doesn’t; and after talking with Data, of all people, he realizes that this is an opportunity. Just because Kahless isn’t “real” won’t stop people from believing in him. And the Klingon people desperately need someone to believe in.
The episode deals with the potential ramifications of a savior reborn, bringing Gowron back into the picture and showing how reluctant a political leader would be to embrace a spiritual power—but mostly, this is Worf’s show. He watches, he considers, and in the end, he’s responsible for guiding the Klingon empire back on its course. He begins the story adrift; then he gets what he thinks he wants, and realizes it isn’t what he needed it to be. But instead of losing his way again or giving up entirely, Worf realizes that faith is what matters, not the fulfillment. His own faith goes from an unquestioning devotion to something more mature. He respects the ideals Kahless represents, without the need to invest in the man himself. That gives him the maturity to recognize what the others fail to see: The cloned Kahless is still a symbol of what could be. For someone who’s spent much of his life blindly worshiping a culture that continually failed to deserve such commitment, Worf is someone who understands how important ideals can be, even if they remain forever outside your grasp8.
I have to give props to Kevin Conway, who plays Kahless to perfection in this episode. The scenes with both Kahless and Gowron really steal the show. Gowron’s speech to Picard about how you can’t kill an idea and if they don’t stop the idea of Kahless’ return here it will travel throughout the Empire live a wave is very convincing. Gowron’s crazy bugged-out eyes and hammy performance is always worth a laugh, but in this episode his over-the-top performance seems to fit as a politician threatened by the supposed return of a God-King who would depose him.
The third and last post about Klingon religion will examine a some of episodes from Voyager and Deep Space Nine. That post with face Klingon ideas of death and the afterlife even more deeply. See you then!
1DS9 “Blood Oath”. DS9 “The Sword of Kahless”. TNG “Birthright, Part 2”. VOY “Prophecy”.
2 This isn’t the only image of Kahless in Worf’s quarters; in several episodes we see a statue of Kahless wrestling with his brother Morath, which supposedly went on for 7 days and 7 nights, because Morath had told a lie which dishonored their family. Conflict between brothers is also a common mythological theme on our planet.
6Religions of Star Trek. 2001.Page 169.
7 Some might think that Fek’lhr is analogous to the Christian Devil, and in fact the con-man Audra insinuated the same thing in the TNG episode “Devil’s Due”, but the Klingons must not conceive of Fek’lhr this way. In The Original Series episode, Day of the Dove, Commander Kang tells Captain Kirk “We have no devil.”