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Code of Honor

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 2, 2007 - 10:39 PM GMT

See Also: 'Code of Honor' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise has been ordered to Ligon II to negotiate an agreement in exchange for a rare vaccine necessary to treat a plague on a Federation planet. When the Ligonians beam aboard, the crew finds them extremely proud and formal and believe that treating them with respect is all that will be necessary to win the trust of their leader, Lutan, but he becomes fascinated with Tasha Yar and when the delegation leaves the ship, they abduct her. Picard is furious and threatens to attack Ligon, but Troi warns that the captain should instead follow strict Ligonian terms of honor and beam down to ask politely for Yar's return. Picard agrees, only to learn that Lutan intends to make Yar his first wife. This infuriates his present first wife, Yareena, who challenges Yar to a duel to the death. Seeing no alternative if they intend to retrieve both Yar and the vaccine, the Enterprise officers allow the duel to go forward, beaming Yar and Yareena aboard at the moment when the Ligonian woman is dying to save her. Once she recovers, Yareena is furious that Lutan tried to cast her aside and promotes his right-hand man Hagon, making him her first husband. The Ligonians are honor-bound to give the Enterprise the vaccine to stop the plague.

Analysis: Writers and actors from The Next Generation are on record as having found this episode at best condescending, at worst racist. Jonathan Frakes said the cast tried to get the episode out of circulation, and Gene Roddenberry supposedly fired the director because of the African stereotypes he felt were being perpetrated, though too late to redeem "Code of Honor", which regularly joins "Shades of Grey" on lists of The Next Generation's very worst episodes.

The characterization of he-man Lutan is only slightly more embarrassing than that of Troi, who implies that maybe Yar sort of asked to be snatched because she's aroused by Lutan's primal masculinity. It's hard to say which is more disturbing, the racial or sexual attitudes conveyed by the storyline. Next Gen did plenty of episodes about the Klingon obsession with honor and custom that didn't make the aliens look as backward and silly as this, and the sexual politics are somehow more forgivable when the aliens look less human - Riker points out that the Ligonians are nearly identical to humans with a history that has parallels to some of Earth's, so we are encouraged to think of them as just like us, except not.

The overall storyline wouldn't be out of place on original Star Trek - it has elements in common with "Requiem for Methuselah", in that the captain has to play the planetary leader's games in order to get a life-saving vaccine, and with "Amok Time", in that a crewmember is challenged to a mating ritual fight-to-the-death using unfamiliar weapons. Other than Troi's imbecilic phrasing of her awareness that Yar might be flattered by Lutan's respect, the proceedings don't make Yar look bad; we get to see both on the holodeck and on Ligon that she is a skilled athlete and combatant, and that she does not shirk from unpleasant duty even when the captain is willing to find a way to spare her. But it still feels very odd to have her attractiveness and agility pointed out to the audience repeatedly, as if the writers feared that viewers might not notice her competence as a security officer without having men repeatedly express admiration for her (the irony, of course, being that the actress grew so frustrated with the role that she asked to leave the series in its infancy and her character was replaced by the beefy Worf as chief of security).

It doesn't help that "Code of Honor" is extremely talky until the combat and advances at a very slow pace, but it's just as well that there aren't thrilling action sequences or a particularly skilled fight scene. It's easier to dismiss the ineptitude by assuming the performers and crew disliked the material too much to give it their all. The choreography in the battle between the women is clunky and awkward, not even exploiting how attractive they are, since the set on which they must battle - ringed with posts that at first glance suggest pole dancing - has steps and electrified staffs that make graceful leaps and athletic rolls impossible. The weapons also require a defensive battle, since they kill instantly, meaning it's more important to stay away from your opponent's than to take flashy risks.

And The Next Generation wasn't past its need to show off in this early episode: the gratuitous sequence in which Yar shows combat on the holodeck goes on too long, the Enterprise weapons must be described even though they never get used. This despite strange incompetence in sickbay, which we never see, where Crusher can't seem to replicate the vaccine that would enable the crew to pack up, get Yar and go home. This is necessary to drag out the plot, unfortunately, but Crusher doesn't come across looking like a very strong officer, choosing the same episode to make a plea for her son to be given more to do. Again I found Wesley to be one of the least offensive elements of the storyline.

If there's a highlight, it's LaForge trying to explain humor to Data. The scene constitutes a completely gratuitous moment in the drama, but one that plays sincerely, with nice warmth between the two characters and the sense that this may become a running theme. Of those introduced in "Code of Honor" it's certainly the most appealing.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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