If you were going to set Worf up with someone, who would it be?
Worf, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s resident Klingon. Worf, Son Of Mogh and Father Of Alexander. Worf, the Federation’s surliest Security Officer. Worf, lover of prune juice and hand-to-hand combat. Worf, notorious hater of fun and frivolity. Let’s say Worf strolls up to you in Ten Forward and asks you to fix him up on a date. Who do you even start with?
Well, you can end this thought experiment right there, champ, because Worf does not ask you to do any such thing. Worf — he is likely to baritonely growl from a mouth of carnivory-friendly teeth — does not “go on dates.” If you ask him “hey man, do you party?” Worf will simply shake his head disappointedly and inform you that A Klingon Does Not Party. Worf does not court, Worf does not romance, and Worf’s fancy, far from turning lightly to thoughts of love, turns rather more heavily to thoughts of honor and duty and maybe, like, hitting some dude with a sweet-ass right cross.
So if you’re his crewmate on the Enterprise, you do not try to set Worf up with anyone — you mind your own goshdarn beeswax and keep your face pointed down at your hotel-beige comms panel when he walks behind you in a brooding cloud of grim stoicism and peaty-lilac scent.
If you’re a writer on Next Generation, though, the question becomes more urgent — you’re probably itching to come up with any kind of Worf personal storyline other than the 500th iteration of “Woe! I’m a silent warrior trapped in a world of soft smooth softboiled-egg-textured babypeople! Woe as hell is me, the loneliest dude on the ship!”
You, the writer, might then invent a kind of romantic counterpart character to Worf, identical in some ways but piquantly opposite in others – perhaps another person who straddles both Klingon and non-Klingon worlds, who struggles with the same weights of honor, tradition, and sexy Klingon rage that Worf does, but who perhaps has a better sense of humor about the whole Klingon deal.
You might end up creating the half-Klingon K’ehleyr: an old flame of Worf’s, a Federation emissary, and — as is eventually revealed — the mother of Worf’s secret son, Alexander. Or: you, the Trek writer, might realize that this same romantic role could be held by Jadzia Dax, the science officer in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
As a symbiotic species who’s lived a number of lives over the centuries, one of Dax’s previous incarnations was a minor celebrity among members of the Klingon Empire, well-versed in matters of growling and pain-sticks and gagh. Both Dax and K’ehleyr feel right for Worf; either feels like they could be his soulmate, a perhaps implausibly-perfect puzzle piece that clicks seamlessly into the character’s life, and indeed, Dax and Worf end up marrying and living happily ever after.
The Troi Who Cried Worf
But between K’ehleyr and Dax, in season seven of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the writers try something else out. Worf dates Deanna Troi, Next Generation’s even-tempered psychic Betazoid guidance counselor.
It’s a weird choice for a romance. It doesn’t feel “appropriate.” It doesn’t make any “sense.” It’s like someone spliced together half of American Gothic with half of Frog And Toad Are Friends. Through a skeptical eye, it looks almost like ill-conceived slashfic, or — slightly more generously — like a writers room that’s rapidly running out of ideas in their last season, akin to that episode of Friends (“The One With The Flashback”) in which all six of the friends nearly hook up with each other in titillatingly new combinations.
Why exactly would Worf date this Betazoid lady? He had never expressed any romantic interest in her during the six previous years of the series, so when it finally happens, it’s because he’s pushed into it by forces beyond his control. In the season seven episode “Parallels,” Worf accidentally enters a space-time fissure that sends him sliding through alternate realities, and in several of those realities, he and Troi have been married for years.
Narratively, it’s an interesting trick for the writers to jumpstart a relationship without having to create any previous emotional scaffolding. Like awakening from a sexy dream about a co-worker or platonic friend, Worf’s main reaction seems at first to be total bewilderment, then a gradual softening into “Huh… what if we did, though? Not that we should… but, like… what if we did?”
Before departing the Worf-and-Troi-are-married-universe, Worf gives alternate-Troi a kiss, explicable possibly as a kindness to her, but equally explicable as a tentative fumbling toward a kind of relationship demo version. When Worf returns to the prime universe, he then restarts the demo, inviting Troi-prime to join him for dinner and champagne.
And for her part: why exactly would Troi date this Klingon guy? She had likewise never expressed any interest in him, and the strongest case one could really make for their dalliance is that we know Troi likes Riker, and you could conceivably argue that Worf is sort of like a version of Riker that’s even taller, thicker, hairier, and with a more richly-textured forehead.
Like Worf, Troi seems to give the relationship a shot largely because the universe nudges her into it. At his suggestion of a champagne date, Troi appears a bit bewildered herself, but acquiescent enough to go along with this possible courtship — a slight smile, raised eyebrows, a surprised-but-not-unpleasantly-so mien of “oh, is it that kind of dinner?”
The episode cuts off just as the dinner begins, leaving the rest of their evening to our imaginations and fanfic. But based on the next episode to advance their relationship, we can assume that nothing too spicy happened on this date — in the season seven episode “Eye Of The Beholder,” Worf exclusively calls Troi “Counselor” instead of “Deanna,” which: you don’t call your GF “counselor.”
In that episode, Worf and Troi finally get together in the prime universe of the show. There’s kissing, there’s sex, there’s breakfast the next morning, there’s a dreamy sigh from Troi that they should have done this a long time ago, but — oh, psych! — it turns out, in the last few minutes of the episode, to have merely been a long hallucination that Troi was having due to a particularly horned-up cloud of plasma.
Once again, the universe propels Worf/Troi forward rather than their own hearts. But: once again, they try taking little tiny baby steps toward a relationship, even without the excuses of sexy spacetime fissures or sexy warp nacelle plasma. Worf ineptly tries asking Riker how Riker would feel about Worf dating his ex-GF, and Troi drops a hint to Worf that maybe the plasma clouds weren’t the only steamy things in her hallucination, ha ha, wink wink.
We don’t finally see an honest-to-god relationship happening under their own volition until the series finale, which begins with Worf and Troi on the tail end of a romantic stroll down a holodeck beach, discussing their nascent attraction and how to navigate it. So: three episodes of a Worf/Troi romance, and only one of those three actually takes place in the “real world” of the show. Why bother writing it at all?
It’s safe to say Worf and Troi are not “soulmates,” however you might choose to define such a term. Troi can’t fathom Worf’s outsized, almost cosplay-level obsession with Klingon culture, and Worf clearly doesn’t have the constantly-turgid dim breeziness of Troi’s eventual husband, Riker. They’re just two weird pinballs that happen to clack together for a second before they carom off into different corners of the game. And it’s this that makes Worf/Troi one of the most realistic relationships in Star Trek.
Klingon to Hope
There’s no great love story between Worf and Troi. Their involvement doesn’t have the same narratively “perfect” fit of K’Ehleyr or Dax — it’s just a good-natured attempt to try out a relationship that any fresh-out-of-the-academy ensign would have told you was bound to fail. Does it have the permanence of Worf’s marriage to Dax, the one that I earlier mentioned ends with “happily ever after?” No, but then, neither does that marriage — I lied about the happily ever after. Dax dies shortly thereafter, and Worf again returns to lonely bachelorhood just as he did after K’ehleyr’s death on Next Generation.
Most of our relationships are imperfect, and most of our relationships end — all of them do, if you take death into account. Few of our relationships have the satisfying symmetry that the writers of a space opera might want to pen for a rapt audience. And that’s fine. We spend our lives searching for love, and not all our loves are going to be the seven-seasons-and-a-movie love of a Troi/Riker pairing. Quite a lot will be Troi/Worf: awkward and stuttering attempts at romances that are unlikely to work out, just in case they surprise us and do.
You Trois; you Worfs: take comfort in this as you open your hearts to the unknown. Is your nascent relationship doomed to end? Maybe, sure. But give it a whirl. See what happens. Why not? Date the Klingon, everybody. Date the Betazoid. Happy Valentines Day.