Spoiler Level: High
Next Gen's stories continued to improve with this gem. The Enterprise escorts peace negotiator Riva to a world that has been fighting amongst itself for 1500 years. Riva is deaf, and communicates by using a Chorus, a group of people who are in tune with him and can convey his thoughts.
According to Larry Nemecek's Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, this episode was specifically written for Howie Saego, the actor who plays Riva, after he met with Next Gen's producers. The originally draft called for Riva to learn to speak, and Saego helped to set them straight that deaf people weren't looking to be "cured" [emphasis mine]. The new ending, with Riva planning to teach the different factions sign language so they would all have something in common, is much better and much more fitting of Star Trek. The scene between Geordi and Riva, where they discuss that they enjoy being who they are and they way they were born, is touching one. It's underscored more later when Pulaski offers Geordi the opportunity to have his eyes regenerated and see normally. While he doesn't flat out refuse, he doesn't jump at the idea either; he likes the benefits of his VISOR and doesn't necessarily want to be like everyone else. It's something that I think resonates with anyone who feels like they were born "different." At times it can cause you pain, but you wouldn't want to change who you are.
Riva's choir is a very cool concept; one voice speaks for his scholarly mind, one speaks for his passionate feelings, and one speaks for all other matters. Cool idea, but man, what a giveaway for when you're attracted to someone. You can't play it down when your passion literally has its own voice. Thank God I don't have that, I'd probably get into more trouble just trying to say hello than Captain Jack. And while Deanna respects Riva, it's obvious that Riva only talking to her through his Passion choir member makes her a little uncomfortable as well. Not to mention Mr. Passion being a part of the wooing process. Ah yes, a romantic dinner together... just you, me and this other guy who's going to actually say all the romantic things I'm thinking to you. I think it would have struck me as less creepy if Riva and Mr. Passion were both attracted to her and hitting on her together; as it is, he's mostly treated like a non-person, and that inability to get into the translator's head is what makes it feel uncomfortable to me. But hey, maybe I'm just being a prejudiced 21st Century human.
This is also the first episode this season where we get off the ship and see a planet. Granted, we're not exploring it, but at least we're finally off the ship. It's also Next Gen's best looking planet to date, with what I assume is a very well done matte painting.
Lastly, Riva is said to have "negotiated several treaties between the Klingons and the Federation. Before him, there was no Klingon word for 'peace-maker.'" Which is very interesting, and of course never followed up on again. At the time this was the first clue we got as to how the Federation and the Klingons became allies. Of course we now know the Khitomer Accords from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country were the start of that alliance, and unless he ages reeeeeeaaaallly slow, there's no way Riva could have been a part of that. But we also now know that if it hadn't been for the Enterprise-C sacrificing herself to defend the Klingon outpost on Narendra III relations between the two would have broken down and led to war. So I guess it's possible to say that the Khitomer Accords led to a cease of hostilities, and it wasn't until Riva came along that they actually made peace and became allies.
Or, y'know, it might just be all inconsistent make believe. ;)