Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Code Of Honor

Review James Hunt 28 Sep 2012 - 07:11

James continues his weekly look-back at TNG's first season with Code Of Honor, "...possibly the worst piece of Star Trek ever made"...

This review contains spoilers.

1.4 Code Of Honour

It's fair to say that I (correctly) remembered the early episodes of Star Trek: TNG as being a bit ropey. I don't remember them being outright racist. And make no mistake, racist is exactly what Code of Honor is.

It's profoundly disappointing that a show spinning out of the original Star Trek, which had racial diversity woven into its very DNA, could turn up an episode like this. The problems are almost too numerous to list. The Ligonians are a race of black people speaking in thick East African accents, and who appear to be ruled by their own sexual appetites. Every Male Ligonian sports a facial scar, they all dress in tribal garments, and their culture is primitive yet "noble" – they have a rigid code of honour, after all!

Yes, it was the eighties, but surely, even then, the idea of the "noble savage" was recognised as both condescending and racist? Indeed, it must have been, because the director of the episode was reportedly fired part-way through the making of it due to creative problems. Given that the script did not call for the Ligonians to be black, it's not hard to imagine what they were.

This isn't just bad television, it's openly offensive, and it seems to do its best effort to undo some of the most important lessons the original series imparted some 25 years after we're supposed to have learned them. Had it been made in the sixties, this episode would have been a disappointing reminder of the racial prejudice that blighted the era – but this was made in the eighties, when people were supposed to be more enlightened. Not writing lines where Africans say things like "A code of honor protects one, Captain, like a magic cloak." All it's missing are bones through the Ligonian's noses and the racial caricature would be complete.

As if things weren't bad enough, it isn't even well-made. The racism alone is enough to ruin the episode, but even without that, it would still be unwatchably awful, replete as it is with clunky characterisation, plotting and dialogue. One conversation sees Troi "tricking" Yar into admitting that she finds Lutan (the leader of the Ligonian delegation) sexually attractive. This, by utilising the devious gambit of asking her outright if that was the case and waiting for her reply, like some kind of futuristic Derren Brown. It wouldn't be so bad, but this piece of knowledge doesn't even serve any purpose in the story. It's merely used as some kind of titillation. I will reproduce the dialogue here purely so that you can tell I'm not making it up:

Troi: Lutan is such... such a basic male image… and having him say he wants you...
Yar: Well, yes, of course it made me feel good when he... Troi! I'm your friend and you tricked me!

Shoot me now.

The episode's denouement makes little sense, either, as Yar is forced to battle Yareena, Lutan's current wife, for her freedom (and the vaccine the Enterprise is there for in the first place). Yareena's death would supposedly transfer her wealth to Lutan, but Crusher is able to revive her moments afterwards with the Enterprise's futuristic all-purpose hypospray technology. Of course, Yareena's death also dissolves their marital contract, and she is able to choose a new mate, stripping Lutan of his wealth.

So… just to recap, the episode's ending relies on Yareena's "death" invalidating one contract (the marriage) and failing to honour another (her inheritance). Well done, everyone.

TNG WTF: Literally the entire episode will leave you with your jaw on the ground. The only way it could have been any more WTF (or more racist) is if it had played Civilization (by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters) instead of the normal end credits music.

TNG LOL: Racism is no laughing matter.

Mistakes: The biggest mistake is that this episode got made at all.

Captain's Log: Not just a bad episode, quite possibly the worst piece of Star Trek ever made. And I include season 3 of Enterprise in that assessment. If you were ever looking for an episode which ran counter to everything that Star Trek was supposed to stand for, this would surely be the best candidate.

Watch or Skip? It's actually so bad that it's almost worth watching just to make sure you have an informed opinion about how terrible it is. But if you're purely looking for entertainment, don't go within a thousand miles of it.

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, The Naked Now, here.

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This is by Far my favourite Tv Show. But i admit, when i show it to people, i skip this episode.

Say what you will about Enterprise; but i thought season 3 was far better than the first two.

Very solid take on a very poorly conceived story. TV Trek was best when it stuck to morality plays, but in CODE OF HONOR they really really really really really got it all wrong in so many splendidly horrific ways.

You forgot that it was sexist as well.

In fairness, the sexism in the episode is highlighted as being a negative trait of the Ligonians - something the egalitarian Federation humans (and in turn, the audience) are supposed to find uncomfortable.

The problem is that it just reinforces the portrayal of the Ligonians as a savage/stupid dark-skinned people compared to the enlightened predominantly white folk. So even when it's trying to make a point about sexual equality, it ends up being racist. I almost can't believe they actually showed it on TV.

My first exposure to ST:TNG was through my family renting a video of the then new series 1, which had yet to air on UK terrestrial TV. We couldn't be bothered waiting for Auntie Beeb to show it, so when the videos of the new series appeared in our local vid rental emporium, with a whole 2 episodes per tape, we thought: why not? What could possibly go wrong?

We found out pretty quickly when we watched the two episodes "The Naked Now" and "Code of Honour".

Suddenly waiting for Auntie Beeb to show ST:TNG didn't seem so much of a problem...

Just a reflection..... my own personal favourite of all the NG trek episodes was "The Inner Light". The ending made me cry - I was a bloke in my early 60's when it first aired and I don't cry easily! The sound of Picard playing the flute as the Enterprise moved off in the final shot did it for me. That episode was a total masterpiece. I'm afraid "Code of Honour" was a piece of cr*p that should have been binned at the script-writing stage.

worst star trek ever made....you must not have seen generations. honestly this episode is terrible BUT its also the best example of how the Prime Directive works. I'm a black guy honestly this was a bad episode, and yes it was mildly offensive, but it was also hilarious because it was so terrible. yeah it was was far off base from what star trek should be, but you have to keep in mind that Roddenberry signed of on these first season episodes, and this one was VERY much in the spirit of TOS.

Honestly i have seen worse, and this episode had me laughing HARD the whole time.

You could see the embarrassment in the actors faces as they delivered the dialog, you have to feel bad for Levar Burton, he starred in Roots, he should have got up in front of everyone the day of filming and said " I was in Roots, what the hell is going on here"

Why are people downvoting this comment? This is an excellent and well-reasoned point.

I just watched this, and I find it a shame that such a noble idea of sexual egalitarianism is brought down by the obvious racist allusions.
I can even appreciate certain aspects of the Prime Directive in this episode, because here it comes across as an attempt not to be colonial, versus how it is usually used (as an excuse to do nothing.)

I would have liked to have seen Lu Tan's actor in a different role, even as a villain. He's the only actor in this thing who is nailing his lines, no matter how shitty they are.

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