Overview – Picard and the Enterprise are given the mission to escort renowned mediator Riva to Solais V, whose inhabitants have been locked in a long and bloody war. Riva is deaf and speaks through a telepathic chorus, and among other accomplishments he was influential in negotiating the peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. When Riva’s chorus is killed, he is distraught and feels unable to continue. With the help of Troi, Data, and Picard, he finds the solution to bring peace to the warring factions by teaching them sign language.
Score: 7/10 – An interesting story that introduces an interesting character. Riva, played by deaf actor Howie Seago, does well at giving us insight into the lives of the hearing impaired. He shows a man who is more than his handicap. Riva is treated as an honored mediator, and his deafness is a surprise to Picard and his crew. It is interesting that in the 24th Century a famous mediator would not have his record mention that he has this trait. I purposefully did not call it a disability because he has found a unique way that allows him to still communicate. His chorus is akin to Geordi’s VISOR (Geordi’s blindness also becomes a topic of discussion in this episode). Only when his chorus is killed does Riva start to unravel, and his lack of hearing becomes an obstacle to him. There is a great scene where Picard calms Riva down by emphatically telling him that he (Riva) is not alone in his struggle. The thought of Riva using his deafness to his advantage in the negotiations was suggested by Seago himself, and his teaching the Solari sign language to establish peace between them is a brilliant solution to the problem. The story does become a bit slow at times, and some of it is on the preachy side, but overall the story works well. One thing that would have been nice would have been to have the Geordi side story more fully developed, perhaps even integrated into the main Riva story. As it is, La Forge and Pulaski have a brief conversation about the options for giving Gerodi an option other than the VISOR, and it seems to be just as casually tossed aside. In essence, this scene, while giving us a possible opening to eventually replacing the VISOR, is used more to fill some time. Other than the connection of both Geordi and Riva having noticeable physical limitations, there is little else that connects this scene to the rest of the episode. It is a good scene, but feels a tad out of place in the grander picture.
Relevance – 2 points. At one point in the episode, Doctor Pulaski talks to Geordi about trading his VISOR for either ocular implants or take a riskier approach and replicating new and functional eyes for him. While La Forge says he will consider the options, it is not until Star Trek: First Contact that we see that Geordi has made the decision to go with the implants. I am also scoring a point for the first mention of the peace process between the UFP and the Klingon Empire. This is explored further in next season’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and in the 6th feature film.
Continuity – 2 points. Universe continuity might have taken a hit here for some people, as the Klingon-Federation peace process is later established to have occurred sooner than Riva’s time. Once you watch DS9, however, you learn that the Klingons will go to war with the Federation very easily, and so it remains very plausible that there have been many peace negotiations between the two over the centuries. Story wise, the continuity works here. I will have to deduct a point for character continuity. When Doctor Pulaski is examining Geordi’s eyes, he is not wearing his VISOR initially. When he asks the Doctor if she is finished, she silently nods “yes”. Geordi then replaces his VISOR. Geordi would not have seen her nod, therefor he should not have responded to her.
Character Development – 1 point. Deana Troi has the strongest connection to Riva and is instrumental in reaching him. She is the one who reminds him to find a way to turn his disadvantage into an advantage. She also has a bit of a romance develop, but it cannot progress much beyond a dinner and a kiss on the cheek. Data learns sign language, Worf expresses anxiety over meeting the esteemed mediator, and Picard has a great moment when he expresses solidarity with Riva. While all of this is interesting facets of the characters, it does very little to build any of the characters effectively, so only a single point for Troi is established here.
Social Commentary – 3 points. La Forge’s blindness and Riva’s deafness are both parts of a theme of how to handle the difficulties and disabilities we face in our lives. While many of us do not have actual physical limitations, the limitations that we face are just as real, be they emotional, intellectual, or otherwise. Since Geordi’s condition is only treated superficially here, I will instead look at Riva’s situation. Riva had become a famed ambassador and mediator, despite his deafness. His use of his chorus allowed him to achieve great things. He loses his chorus and subsequently feels helpless and weak. While it is admirable to treat his deafness as no big deal (initially), it is naïve to think of his condition as not limiting him. It does, and when he loses his chorus he is forced to rediscover his true inner strength. In our own lives, we must learn that the only true limitations that we face in life are the ones that we put upon ourselves. Riva finds a way to turn his disadvantage into an advantage. Is it too much for those of us who are not as limited to do the same?
Cool Stuff –2 points. I think the idea of casting a deaf actor as Riva was an excellent decision. It added a great deal of realism to the character that another fully-hearing actor would have difficulty pulling off. On a wildly different note, I really liked the vaporization effect that the weapons used by the Solari was quite the sight. While the effect is a little dated now (20 years later), it was impressive then.
Rank – Captain (17 points). A fine episode, even with a few hiccups and missteps. It gives us an inspirational story that leaves us with something to think about, and provides some good drama that hopefully helps us to find a way to rise above our own limitations and become something better because of them rather than in spite of them.
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