Rightful Heir (TNG)

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Episode: 146
Production No.: 249
Season: 6
Aired: 1993-05-17
Stardate: 46852.2

What would happen if Jesus (or Mohammed) returned to Earth? "Rightful Heir" is a strongly allegorical story that centers around the idea of a famous prophet returning to lead his people to a new age of glory, and raises significant questions about the nature of faith, identity, and what something such as The Second Coming of Christ would truly entail.

The episode begins with Worf in a spiritual crisis. After liberating a group of Klingon prisoners of war from a camp in the Carraya system ("Birthright, Parts I and II"), Worf finds that he has a disturbing lack of faith, and attempts to fast and meditate in an attempt to have a vision of Kahless. This practice eventually impacts on his duties as an officer; due to this, he is granted a leave of absence to explore his spiritual beliefs, and heads to the Borath monastery to meditate. Borath is quoted in ancient Klingon scriptures as the place where Kahless the Unforgettable prophecized his own return, over a millennium earlier.

At first, Worf has no more success at Borath than he did on the Enterprise. However, during one meditation Worf sees Kahless, and is shocked to discover that he is not a vision, but there in person! Kahless proves that he is the genuine article by recounting the Story of the Sword, a tale passed down orally between the Borath clerics and no one else. Naturally, Worf is highly skeptical of Kahless' legitimacy, but accepts the possibility that he has truly returned.

The Enterprise is summoned to escort Kahless to the Klingon homeworld, and on the way is intercepted by Gowron, the ruler of the Klingon High Council. Gowron also possesses strong doubts about Kahless' identity, and brings with him a test: a knife, said to be stained with Kahless' own blood. Doctor Crusher runs a genetic test and finds the DNA to be an exact match; this eliminates Worf's doubt, but Gowron continues to be unconvinced. He is sure that Kahless is an impostor intended to be used by the Borath clerics to overthrow the government.

Meanwhile, Worf revels in his new-found fervor and begins to question Kahless about such matters as the afterlife, but Kahless responds that he has forgotten much in the time that he has been gone, and that when he is in the living universe he knows only of that reality. He notes that Worf's purity of heart is what summoned him to appear, and wants Worf to help spread his word to the people, saying that they have become decadent and dishonorable, fighting in petty civil wars. This makes Gowron even more suspicious, as Worf has strong political allies and would be very useful to the clerics for swaying public opinion in their favor.

Gowron confronts Kahless, defying and provoking him into a knife fight, and succeeds at knocking him to the ground -- something which should not be possible, as Kahless is supposed to be the strongest and bravest warrior of all time. With this revelation, Worf's faith vanishes, and Kahless himself is deeply confused by his defeat. Worf demands to know the truth from the Borath clerics, who admit (under threat of death) that they used DNA from the knife to create a clone of Kahless, and then implanted memories corresponding to the ancient texts into him. They challenge that this may be in fact how the prophecy was meant to be fulfilled, and urge Worf not to reveal the truth to Gowron.

Worf cannot lie, though, and tells Gowron of the reality of the situation. At first, Gowron means to kill both the "Second Kahless" and the clerics, but Worf convinces him that it is too late; already, crewmembers from Gowron's own ship are praying to Kahless, convinced that he has truly returned despite his defeat at Gowron's hands. Worf also notes that Kahless truly is needed at a time when the Empire has lost its sense of direction and has degenerated into corruption and chaos. Gowron agrees to a compromise: he will retain political control of the Empire, while the cloned Kahless will be installed as a figurehead Emperor for the people, the "rightful heir to Kahless".

This episode raises fascinating questions about what the return of someone such as Jesus would do to the world. Divisions of belief were strongly present among the Klingons in the episode, all of whom shared a common heritage; such divisions would be magnified hundreds of times on the Earth, where thousands of cultures all vary in their religious beliefs. Holy wars would no doubt erupt everywhere; no wonder Revelation is such a gloomy book in the Bible.

But the episode throws an even more interesting question into the mix: what if Jesus were cloned and resurrected in that manner? I can't even begin to imagine the existential and metaphysical questions posed by such an event. Would the act of cloning Jesus invalidate the concept that he is the son of God? Would some consider it a valid way of actually fulfilling the prophecy? No doubt many would say that only the physical aspect of him would be cloned, and thus the clone would simply be another man, but even the ramifications of that are astounding -- a sort of "grandson of God"?

Due to the lack of serious action (other than a couple of brawls), this episode is often underrated, but I find it poses a great deal of fascinating dilemmas to ponder. Even if you are not a fan of Star Trek, I highly recommend it for its philosophical value.

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