Reunion #181

Klingon Ambassador K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson)—Worf’s lover from “The Emissary”—returns to recruit Picard into a mediation that will decide the new leader of the Klingon Empire. Chancellor K’mpec (Charles Cooper) suspects that one of the two candidates to be his successor—the duplicitous Duras (Patrick Massett) or the mysterious Gowron (Robert O’Reilly)—is responsible for poisoning him. “Reunion” follows “The Emissary” (with K’Ehleyr’s return and the revelation that Worf has a son) and continues the “Klingon arc” begun in third-season’s (McCarthy-scored) “Sins of the Father,” involving Worf’s “discommendation” from his birth culture. The story climaxes with K’Ehleyr’s death at the hands of the sinister Duras, an act Worf avenges by slaying Duras in a duel—a plot thread that would resolve in the fourth-season cliffhanger and fifth-season opener, “Redemption.” Director Jonathan Frakes generates a great deal of interest and excitement—despite the talky nature of the story—with the assistance of an intriguing guest cast.

Unlike the percussive fireworks of earlier Klingon episodes “Heart of Glory,” “A Matter of Honor” and “The Emissary,” “Reunion” is a political drama—with scenes of backroom scheming juxtaposed against the theater of Klingon tradition—requiring a moody and subdued score. “I called this Klingon FM,” Jones says, a description he earlier coined for “The Emissary.” “The earlier stuff was Klingon AM radio and this was FM—it got more intimate into the fabric of the Klingons. Here were their personal relationships, this old man coming in and being betrayed, and Worf’s son, and Worf defending him with the Klingon knife. I sat there with the orchestra and we were looking at each other, and it was really cool because the essence of things were showing—it wasn’t the big rhythmic treatments, it was just a story about this guy not liking that guy and the politics of that and touches of their barbaric culture, and Worf having to show some real emotion.”

Jones has kept all of his scores and paperwork from Star Trek (as well as virtually every other project from throughout his career). While most of it is in storage, he was able to locate a batch of his fourth-season “Star Trek Questions” for this box set—the questionnaires the composer gave himself to break down each episode’s literary content, in order to translate it to musical terms. For “Reunion,” Jones stated that he needed motives for “honor” and “dishonor,” for the love between Worf and K’Ehleyr (and between Worf and his son), and one for the Duras plot—the “conflict for power” was the most important element of the story.

Jones’s Klingon theme dominates, as in “Proof of Death,” wherein the Klingon “Rite of Succession” participants impale the deceased K’mpec with “pain sticks.” Bass clarinets and growling trombones set an atmosphere of suspicion and dread—and the cue concludes with an action climax as a bomb detonates in a failed assassination plot. Subsequent scenes take place aboard the Enterprise, where Jones’s instrumental colors carve out a social space of Klingon culture amid the otherwise friendly Enterprise sets. The orchestration spotlights bass clarinets, with their beguiling, serpentine timbre—low, earthy and slippery, befitting the enigmatic, dangerous Klingons and their ancient rituals and blood feuds.

Jones reprises his theme for K’Ehleyr, this time also allowing it to play for Worf and K’Ehleyr’s illegitimate son, Alexander (Jon Steuer). Worf’s “discommendation” prevents him from acknowledging paternity (lest the boy also be dishonored), coloring the story—and the score—with stoic despair and melancholy, even in its warmer moments. The story and music progress on a setting of low boil until the death of K’Ehleyr and Worf’s violent revenge (“Revenge”). Duras stabs K’Ehleyr off screen, her body discovered near death by Worf and Alexander; a hint of the low, savage chords of her “mating” music from “The Emissary” yield to ascending fifths built on descending bass notes—echoing the diminishing of her life force. “I kept messing with the fifths,” Jones says. “I think I did everything you can possibly do with fifths. Having the chords based on fifths in different tonalities against each other, ones where the bass line was shifting against it—everything I could do to pull more goodies out of that. I liked K’Ehleyr—I liked her character.”

When Worf arms himself with a Klingon bat’leth and removes his Starfleet communicator, Jones’s low, churning melodic line (1:49–2:20) captures the “wheels turning”—of Worf’s interior psychology, and perhaps of justice and fate—as he decides to avenge his mate. Interestingly, the bass line sounds like cellos and basses, but there are no low strings in the orchestra, only violins—bass clarinet and keyboards carry the low register. The sequence climaxes in violent combat as Worf slays Duras in a fair fight—scored by exciting action music stylistically reminiscent of “The Best of Both Worlds.”

The final cue, “Father and Son,” underscores the episode’s touching denouement, as Worf reveals to Alexander that they are indeed father and son. Gentle and moving, it is an unexpected yet fitting end to Jones’s scoring of Star Trek’s venerable “space Vikings.”

Final Mission #183

During a shuttlecraft journey to Starfleet Academy, Wesley Crusher crash-lands on a lifeless planet along with Picard and a mining shuttle captain, Dirgo (Nick Tate). They discover a vital water supply protected by an alien booby trap that injures Picard and kills Dirgo, leaving Wesley to take charge of the situation. “Final Mission” was the send-off for The Next Generation’s young Wesley Crusher, a character who divided fans during the course of the show. With its expansive location shooting and a situation that truly tests the young ensign’s abilities, the episode “rehabilitated” Wesley, who would return as a guest star in four later episodes. Nick Tate (a regular on the ’70s sci-fi series Space: 1999 and later a much-in-demand voiceover artist) lends a strong performance as the stubborn and impulsive Dirgo, providing a great dramatic foil for Wesley until his grisly death midway through the episode.

“Final Mission” is one of Jones’s most elaborate and cinematic scores for The Next Generation. With the opening shuttle crash, lengthy “Desert Trek,” action-filled encounters with the booby trap, sci-fi “B” story (in which the Enterprise tows a radioactive garbage scow away from an inhabited planet) and the core father-son relationship between Picard and Wesley, the episode allowed more room for “set piece” cues than three or four regular episodes combined. Not to mention a strong emotional undercurrent for the sendoff of one of the series’ original characters (a deliberate attempt not to repeat the disappointing departure of Tasha Yar).

Early in the episode, at the start of the “Desert Trek,” the camera (mounted on a crane) pulls up and back to show the expansive location (at a dry lakebed in San Bernardino County). The onscreen production values inspired Jones to write a score to match: “‘This is really a film cue, a film moment,’ I said to Peter Lauritson. ‘Let’s make this more cinematic and let’s stop saying we’re doing TV here and admit it’s a film.’” A rising and falling bass line underpins moody minor chords and a lonely trumpet. Often in film music, devices may be simple, but essential for conveying the storytelling: here, the listener senses the characters’ hopeless, repetitive walking (the steady, churning bass line), sinking into the ground (the low brass), calling for help (the trumpet) and sizzling in the sun (violins, echoing the trumpet line—also an allusion to the melody bouncing off distant mountains). Jones ties all of this together in a musically coherent piece lasting less than two minutes.

For the Wesley-Picard relationship, the episode teaser reprises the “Academy” theme Jones had introduced in “Ménage à Troi” for Wesley’s acceptance at Starfleet Academy (“Good News”), but the balance of the score features all-new material. Jones remains particularly proud of the emotional music he wrote for Picard’s moments alone with Wesley, who had long annoyed fans due to his penchant for saving the day. Here, Jones’s music—coupled with Wheaton’s performance—evokes a vulnerability that validates Gene Roddenberry’s original intentions for the character. “It played the father-and-son relationship that he had with Picard,” Jones says of the music.

The episode’s climax, “Final Mission, Part I” and “Part II” segue from the emotional scoring to fast-paced action—and back again: “The action material was the hard part. You have to map these things out and decide where you’re going to go. You don’t just build a building by accident. As you look at it, the theme changed from the woodwinds and it was more bold with the French horns—that was a moment where something shifted, it wasn’t just, ‘I ran out of stuff for the woodwinds to do.’ A lot of what I see [on TV today] is just midrange strings and pads, nothing else.”

Jones also wrote spectacular action cues for the “Shuttle Crash,” the climax of the space barge sequence (“Lethal Exposure”), and the costly initial encounters with the booby-trapped water supply (“The Fountain” and “Silent Scream”). “It was tough to score, because I only had so many resources and there were so many great moments,” Jones says. “I did everything leading up to the crash sequence with the B orchestra, because I had to save some shekels for Wesley saving the day towards the end.”

Episodes like “Final Mission” ate up a great deal of The Next Generation’s budget (while thrifty, yet equally powerful, episodes like “The Drumhead” balanced them out) but have endured as remarkable examples of the show’s production quality. After Jones left Star Trek, the occasional “cinematic” episode would often cry out for the emotional impact that only melodic, vibrant music can bring. As Jones demonstrated, correctly realized thematic music need not detract from a tone of subtlety and maturity.

Data’s Day #185

“Data’s Day,” in which the android officer records a day of his life aboard the Enterprise for a cyberneticist’s research project, again demonstrated the ability of The Next Generation’s writers to stretch the show’s format. While the plot includes a confrontation with Romulans, the episode focuses on Data’s study of human relationships and his interaction and observation of common shipboard activities and rituals—primarily a wedding, but also the birth of a crewmember’s child. The episode introduced the character of Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) as well as Data’s cat Spot; both would appear in later episodes. Alan Scarfe (appearing here as Romulan Commander Mendak) would also appear in TNG’s “Birthright” and the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Resistance.”

Ron Jones’s score for “Data’s Day” is brief, but one of his most beautiful. He based the bulk of the score on a lilting, lyrical theme that reinforces Data’s essential innocence. Introduced in the first cue (“Voice Mail”), it permeates the score: “This is very Debussy, Afternoon of a Faun—idyllic,” Jones says of the theme.

In answering his “Star Trek Questions” for this episode, Jones expressed his goal for the score as “the exploration of humanness.” Melodically, he aspired that the Data theme would be “something warm, but not sad. Strong, on course but not in your face. Child-like but not ‘childish.’ Simple, easy.” Harmonically, Jones described the approach as “simple, but in cases of confusion or stress, dissonant.”

The Data theme plays against the Romulan motive in “Course Correction” and becomes foreboding in “Intuition,” when Data suspects that Vulcan ambassador T’Pel (Sierra Pecheur)—later revealed as a Romulan spy—is hiding something. Jones also casts the Data theme in a mysterious, low-key variant as Data investigates the apparent death of T’Pel in a transporter accident (“Observation”/“Deduction”/“Remains”). The event takes place off screen, leaving Jones to provide intense underscoring for the mishap while Picard and Riker monitor the situation from the bridge.

The episode’s climactic confrontation with Romulans (“Bear Gets You”) once again allowed Jones (following “The Neutral Zone” and “The Defector”) to explore his Romulan theme (appearing here for the last time in the series). Fans may be surprised to learn that the composer did not keep previous episodes’ themes in his head: “I had to pull out all my themes when I reused them. I had a very thick folder of themes and they were always very closely related, so there might be a fraction of a division between the DNA of one and the other. The Romulans were played colder and more orchestral and the Klingons had Alpine horns and lots more percussion, a more primitive sound.”

“Bear Gets You” features exciting passages of chromatically moving brass triads, in the best Korngold-cum-Williams tradition: “I think I had four horns here, which is an odd combination because if you have a triad you have to figure out where the fourth’s going to go, whereas if you have six, you know you’re going to just double everything.” Jones returned to his Data theme for the show’s finale (“Understanding”/“Becoming”), spinning his lilting motive off into a wonderfully lyrical bookend for the episode.

Jones’s “Star Trek Questions” provide a source for the exact breakdown of his A and B orchestras for this episode. Union rules allowed for recording a maximum of 15 minutes of music during each three-hour session. Star Trek scoring sessions typically recorded (up to) 15 minutes of the A orchestra playing music requiring the largest orchestral forces. After a one-hour break (lunch or dinner), the smaller B orchestra would record the remaining cues. For “Data’s Day,” Jones’s 37-piece A orchestra (recording just under 15 minutes) consisted of: flute, oboe, two tenor and two alto saxophones, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, four percussion, two keyboards, 10 violins and one bass. The B orchestra (recording two minutes of music) remained relatively large in this case, with 29 players: two alto and two tenor saxophones (the four players also doubled flutes, clarinet and bassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, two percussion, one drum, piano, 10 violins and bassoon. For the O’Brien wedding ceremony, Jones used a C group consisting of Japanese koto and shakuhachi to record one minute of ambient source cues (not included on this box set).

Devil’s Due #187

Picard intervenes when a woman identifying herself as an ancient demon named Ardra (Marta Dubois) lays claim to an entire planet that has made a “deal with the devil.” “Devil’s Due” was originally written as a story for the aborted 1970s Star Trek Phase II television series, based on a concept reportedly floated as a story for the original Star Trek. It evinces Roddenberry’s fascination with god concepts (containing some similarities to the original series episodes “Who Mourns for Adonais?” and “Catspaw”) as well as measures of good and evil (in the Star Trek animated series episode “The Magicks of Megas-Tu,” the Enterprise crew encounters Satan and finds out he is a misunderstood friend to humanity). Roddenberry was not alone in this interest: “Devil’s Due” was one of the highest-rated episodes of The Next Generation, with a huge audience tuning in to view a story promoted as “Jean-Luc Picard vs. the Devil.”

Because of the episode’s limited scope (with just a few matte painting shots composited with extras running to depict a planet in chaos) and the low-impact appearance of Ardra (Dubois plays her roughly the same way Barbara Eden did Jeannie’s evil twin on I Dream of Jeannie), Jones knew his music would be vital to create the extra dimension the episode needed to “sell” the idea that Ardra was a real threat—and that her magical “bag of tricks” might actually be a supernatural power. “I enjoyed this one—I really took it into a different direction,” Jones says. “I was listening to [John Williams’s] The Witches of Eastwick at the time and I was really trying to play that vibe. Playing magic. Their thing was we have all this technology but we can’t figure out magic, and maybe this woman really is magic. That was my job, to create the feeling that there might be magic. I wish they’d left it that it really was magic.”

Jones’s score is one of his most theatrical for the series, by turns chilling, diabolical and playful. He showcases a fluttering, spine-tingling motive for Ardra in two cues when she toys with Picard, first on the Enterprise bridge (“Contract”), then in his quarters at night (“Seduction”). The composer provides a trilling gesture for Ardra’s uses of her “power”: “I remember there was this evil woman who was a sorceress so I had this kind of witch scream for her,” Jones says. “It was partially whole tones and partially not—a really weird scale.” Jones created a variety of effects for the score, including avant-garde string techniques for an appearance of the Klingon demon “Fek’lhr” (which contradicts a line in the original series claiming the Klingons “have no devil”), and a bubbling cauldron of woodwind effects for the planet Ventax II as it descends into chaos. “It was E-flat contrabass clarinets, bassoons and B-flat bass clarinet, and sometimes horns on top of that,” Jones says. Two harps added to the “supernatural” palette.

The score climaxes in grand Star Trek fashion as “Contract Dissolved” begins with the diabolical motive for Ardra before segueing to one of Jones’s quintessentially soaring and romantic themes for the Enterprise—yet with a hint of magical uncertainty to suggest that Ardra may not be out of commission for good. — 

Disc Twelve »