Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Loud as a Whisper”
The Enterprise transports Riva, a renowned peace negotiator, to settle a dispute that has been raging for years on a remote planet. When Riva loses his ability to communicate, the mission is put in jeopardy.
What’s the sign language gesture for “stinker?”
First of all, is the Enterprise just a fancy space limo? In the first three seasons of TNG alone it is made to ferry peace negotiators or ambassadors eight times. EIGHT times! This is a Galaxy-class starship; the flagship of the Federation. Shouldn’t it be more than just an interstellar Lear jet for fat cats?
Anyway, Riva is a genetically deaf a-hole, with a “chorus” of three who are connected to him telepathically and who speak for him: a woman who is the heart, an older dude with a beret who is the scholar, and a beefy dude with a mullet who is the penis, I mean, warrior (yeah, he’s the penis). The actor who plays Riva, Howie Seago, is deaf, but I’m not going to pull any punches just because he may be handicapped. All he does for most of the role is look like a pompus jerk, glaring at Troi and slightly tilting his head this way and that as his chorus speaks for him. Not a whole lot of acting going on there. He’s got a huge head of reddish brown hair and a full beard; together with his beady eyes he looks like a Muppet of some sort.
Riva is so full of himself he blows off Picard and company’s briefing as unimportant. “It’s always about land or property” he says, so he doesn’t need to know any further details. The only details Riva cares about is what color underwear Counselor Troi is wearing. The gang beams down to the warring planet and Riva’s chorus is quickly phasered into oblivion by a distrusting and trigger happy alien, leaving the Master Mediator with his ass hanging in the breeze. Riva becomes frustrated at his inability to communicate, and Picard does something that is totally cringe-worthy: he grabs Riva by the head and, inches from his face, shouts, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” Picard shouts to a deaf man. Nice.
Then everyone remembers Data is a machine that can learn things quickly (duh), so he learns sign language and acts as translator for Riva. Riva is all whiney about losing his chorus. Picard asks him what his secret was in successful negotiations and Riva gives him this Buddhist Yoda-ism: “By turning disadvantage into advantage.” Troi slaps him back to reality by repeating those very words to him. Riva then sees the error of his ways. And THIS is a skilled, intelligent peace negotiator? It never occurred to him to turn his disadvantage into an advantage? How did he survive negotiating the Klingon treaties? How the fuck does he survive getting out of bed in the morning?
Seago really only gets to act for a few brief scenes before the episode ends, so you don’t get a sense of his true range. They spent far too much time with his chorus (I think they all just fell in love with the idea of four people walking around representing one person), and the silly scenes where Riva puts the moves on Troi. The latter is especially egregious because she never reciprocated his feelings/lust and it didn’t impact the story at all – it was the worst kind of filler.
Early in the episode they mention Riva as this great and revered negotiator who also helped in talks between the Federation and the Klingons – this guy has been at it a long time. Then we see Howie Seago, who was no more than 30 years old when this was shot, so Riva must have started out as a nine year old negotiator (what is he, Marjoe Gortner?). Between all the producers, writers and others who read this script NOBODY caught this? And why does EVERY negotiator they bring onboard have to be someone revered or exalted. How about a newbie, or someone who is just doing a friggin’ job (like 99% of us)? This is as bad as the much overused chestnut, “So and So’s exploits were required reading at the Academy.”
The warring aliens look and act like monkeys that have been run over more than a few times, the pathetic schlubs. Poor make up and costuming here (along with poor writing and directing). Riva and his chorus look like they were outfitted at the 24th century JC Penney Spring sale, with all the glaring white they are wearing. And that stupid beret on the scholar chorus member is perhaps the worst costuming decision of the entire series (and this includes the Kazon). A beret, I mean, come on!
This was a second season episode, when there was still a lot of turmoil in the writer’s room (they should have installed a revolving door). Perhaps that explains why it went so wrong on so many levels.