Friday, April 17, 2020

Star Trek: Loud as a Whisper

Episode: "Loud as a Whisper"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 5
Original Air Date: January 9, 1989

Image result for loud as a whisper
via Wikipedia
The Enterprise provides transport to Riva (Howie Seago), a deaf ambassador, to peace talks on a planet which has been feuding for centuries.  Riva has a Greek chorus which accompanies him and translates his thoughts.  It's an Id-Ego-Superego arrangement as the three members represent different realms of communication.  It's very Freud, of course, but also very Trek.  Id-Ego-Superego = Bones-Kirk-Spock.

Seago, a deaf actor, approached the producers with the story idea which had initially come from his wife, a huge Trekkie.  The narrative crisis comes when Riva's chorus is killed.  The writers initially intended for Riva to learn to speak when that occurred but Seago nixed the idea.  Instead, in a last-minute rewrite, Data quickly learns sign language in order to translate for Riva.

I must say, it's a little surprising that the ship's universal translator couldn't sort out sign language.  Maybe in the next upgrade.

The morality play is a little heavy-handed but the story is different and therefore interesting.  Plus, there's good development for both Picard and Troi.  Picard is at his composed and forceful best when Riva falls apart over the loss of his chorus.  Troi gets a brief romance with Riva - it would seem few among the Enterprise's visitors can resist hitting on her.

Acting Notes

Image result for howie seago
via Wikipedia

Howie Seago was born December 5, 1953 in Tacoma, Washington.  He was born deaf, his father's side of the family having a history of hearing impairment.  Most of his acting work has been on stage, beginning with the National Theatre of the Deaf, which he joined in college.  He was the first deaf actor to perform with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, featuring in such productions as Hamlet, Into the Woods and The Music Man.  In the latter, he played Marcellus Washburn, my own part in high school.


  1. Another episode I don't remember.
    Maybe the universal translator is only an audio mechanism?
    I don't know.

    1. I guess so. I don't know if the possibility of its potential for sign language is ever explored beyond this episode. Could be an interesting thread for the franchise.

  2. A good episode that bordered on being great. I remember thinking the chorus was a little odd at that time given the level of technology available. I just put that off to how different worlds come up with different answers.

    1. Interesting point.

      The more I think about it, the more I think accessibility in general has tremendous narrative potential for Trek - any franchise, really. Move beyond the token gestures and dig into a real character. Why not? TNG danced around the issue with Geordi but never went too far down that path.