Star Trek TNG: Loud as a Whisper
"Then Riva, the mediator is..."
- Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Riva's chorus
So, we turn now to Star Trek: The Next Generation and Picard’s crew as they tackle disability issues. In this episode, a war-torn planet is finally ready to make peace after 15 centuries of planetary war. The mediator is Riva, who is deaf and communicates through hand gestures and a three-piece chorus, the scholar, the intermediary, and the libido. When Captain Picard speaks to the chorus as to how it works, Riva shouts “Speak to me!” through the libido, which I thought was poignant. He wants the crew to address him, not the chorus. In particular, Riva takes to liking Counselor Troi, who has empathic abilities. He also likes Geordi, who says that since his VISOR is a part of who he is, he doesn’t resent it.
He arranges a date with Counselor Troi, and explains that (via sign) words are not important, but the meaning underneath them. Since the conflict has lasted so long the details don’t matter, and the solution will have to be personal to both sides. He then meets with the delegates after being beamed down, and his chorus is shot by a rebel who interrupts him. As they fizzle away, Riva becomes frightened, and they quickly beam up.
Jean-Luc Picard becomes frustrated by Riva’s angry frantic gesturing, and tries to calm him down: "Listen to me! You are not alone! We are all in this together... now." This frustrates Riva even more and he demands to be taken back to his planet. Troi surmises that he is feeling guilty, and fears he’s lost control. Picard gets a clever idea and sends Data to learn his sign language, which he does at android speed, and from the ship’s computer.
While Data can interpret for Riva on the Enterprise, he refuses to go down to further the negotiation: "Data is a fine machine but he cannot take the place of my chorus." Instead, he takes Deanna Troi, who he trusts the most. Thus, each crew member insists him differently.
While teaching her some of his negotiation tactics, Riva says (now through Data.) that the trick is to “turn disadvantage into an advantage.” When Troi asks why he can’t do that, Riva gets an idea to teach both sides his sign language, hoping that ‘by learning to understand him, they’ll understand each other.
This episode really showcases disability issues in action, and its about communication, which is my field. We see Riva go through his comfort zone to culture shock, loss of control, and again to learn to let people try to understand him. Too often, (Far be it for me to speak for Deaf Culture.) when we are too long at ease with adaptive mechanisms, we retreat, fearing our flaws may be exposed our that we have no one to understand. However, by realizing the factions now had a common experience in him, he rejoins negotiations confidently in the end.
It’s a wonderful piece of pre-ADA (1989) disability drama. I was pleased to learn that the actor who played Riva, Howie Saego, is actually deaf and uses American Sign Language. It had a classic feel to it, with Data and Troi coming together to help; and shows the uniqueness and world of Deaf Culture, if only by Riva’s example. Sometimes, we have to let people into our world, if they are there to help. We can learn more including others than we can excluding them out of arrogance and misplaced confidence. If I were to rank it, it’d probably be the third best disability episode of Star Trek as a whole. First comes later, with the second in my opinion being the previous review.