May 16 2011 1:04pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Code of Honor”

Yar vs. Yareena

“Code of Honor”
Written by Katharyn Powers & Michael Baron
Directed by Russ Mayberry and Les Landau (uncredited)
Season 1, Episode 3
Production episode 40271-104
Original air date: October 12, 1987
Stardate: 41235.25

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise travels to Ligon II to negotiate a treaty in order to acquire a vaccine. Lutan beams aboard with his entourage, and is greeted by Picard, Riker, Troi, and Yar. Lutan has his second, Hagon, give Picard a sample of the vaccine, which Yar tries to take first in order to check it. When Hagon resists allowing her to perform her duty, she throws him to the floor, embarrassing the crap out of him.

Lutan, of course, views this as an opportunity, because he’s a suspicious-looking alien leader, and if he didn’t view this as an opportunity, there would be no plot.

After a diplomatic exchange of silly niceties, Lutan asks Yar for a demo of self-defense on the holodeck. Yar does well against the hologram, but Hagon fares less well, being tossed to the floor for the second time in one day. When the Ligonians beam down, they kidnap Yar. Data analogizes what Lutan does to counting coup—he’s being heroic by taking something from a superior enemy.

When Picard politely asks for Yar back, Lutan invites him down to the surface, where they meet Yareena, Lutan’s “first one.” She owns Lutan’s lands, which he protects and rules. Picard agrees to again politely ask for Yar back, this time at a big banquet in front of his peers.

Lutan, however, goes off-book by deciding to keep Yar and make her his first one. His existing first one takes umbrage for obvious reasons and challenges Yar to a duel to the death because, well, that’s what people do. I guess.

Result: cat fight in a jungle gym! Yar and Yareena (yes, really) have a particularly ineptly choreographed battle, using glavins—a mace with poisoned spikes. As soon as Yar (of course) wins, she beams herself and Yareena’s body to the Enterprise, where Crusher administers an antitoxin and revives her. Thanks to her dying, however temporarily, her mating with Lutan is dissolved, and she chooses Hagon, as he’s the only other Ligonian male with a speaking part.

The Enterprise gets the vaccine, and warps away.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: “Lieutenant Yar is physically very attractive.” Good thing she mentioned that, or we might not have noticed!

Can’t We Just Reverse The Polarity?: “It reads similar to early Starfleet efforts, but uses the Heglenian Shift to convert energy and matter in different… Which is actually not important at this time.” Data showing uncharacteristic restraint.

What Happens On the Holodeck Stays On the Holodeck: Yar demonstrates aikido with a holographic fighter. This leads to one of the episode’s better lines, which was sadly not followed up on: “You can create people without a soul?”


No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Yar does find Lutan physically attractive, and Lutan definitely finds her and her ability to throw his second to the floor pretty hot as well. Yareena loves Lutan because, well, everyone loves Lutan, but not enough to keep him when he tries to have her killed. Hagon has the hots for Yareena, and wins in the end, thus vindicating his constantly being thrown to the floor.

The boy!?: Picard, in order to appease Crusher, lets Wesley temporarily sit at ops. He emphasizes the word temporarily very loudly. Later on, for no reason that the script adequately—or even inadequately—explains, Riker lets Wesley again sit at ops, despite there being an entire crew complement of qualified Starfleet personnel on board.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data and La Forge’s friendship, which would become a cornerstone of the series, is on display for the first time in this episode. Data tries to tell a joke, and fails rather spectacularly.

Welcome Aboard: Jessie Lawrence Ferguson has tremendous presence as Lutan, which is one of the episode’s few saving graces. The same cannot be said of Karole Selmon, who is painfully overwrought as Yareena. James Louis Watkins falls down well as Hagon.

I Believe I Said That: “I’m sorry—this is becoming a speech.”

“You’re the captain, you’re entitled.”

Picard cutting off his Prime Directive rant, and Troi letting him off the hook.

Trivial Matters: Russ Mayberry, the episode’s director, was fired by Gene Roddenberry partway through filming. Apparently, the casting of entirely African-American actors as the aggressively primitive Ligonians did not sit well with the Great Bird of the Galaxy, and Les Landau—who would go on to become one of the franchise’s most prolific directors—finished the job. Also Katharyn Powers would go on to write a first-season Stargate SG1 episode, “Emancipation,” with several similar plot elements.

Make It So: I’m trying to think of a cliché that wasn’t used in this episode, but none spring to mind. A flat, lifeless hour with no kind of suspense, no interesting character development, and a plot that was aggressively paint-by-numbers. Among the lowlights are clunky dialogue, ranging from the stilted diplomatic backing-and-forthing to the clumsy exposition about the Ligonians, to the Ligonians themselves describing their culture as if it was from a textbook rather than their own experiences. Worst is quite possibly the most unsubtle discussion of the Prime Directive in the history of the show by Picard. Mercifully, he cuts it off before it becomes a tiresome speech.

The accusations of racism against the episode that have been leveled by many—most notably actors Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner and staff writer Tracey Tormé—are a bit iffy, only because the script didn’t explicitly call for the Ligonians to be played by African-Americans. If the Ligonians had been played by white people, none of the dialogue would change, and nobody would call it racist.

However, this episode doesn’t need to be racist to be mediocre.

Warp factor rating: 2

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written a mess of stuff about Star Trek. This rewatch is simply adding to the mess. Follow him online at his blog or on Facebook or Twitter under the username KRADeC.

Mouldy Squid
1. Mouldy_Squid
And this is where I stopped watching TNG during broadcast. I simply could not believe how badly this episode was made. The writing, the acting, the score, the choreography, everything. Absolutely terrible. Worse than the worst of the original series.

I came back when a close friend made me watch the season 2 finale, and I was forced to admit that perhaps the series might have some future. I eventually watched seasons 1 and 2 later in re-runs.
Amir Noam
2. Amir

Thank you so much for the YouTube link to the 2007 DrogonCon panel with Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden and Brent Spiner.

Hilarious stuff!
Christopher Orr
3. Daedalus
In retrospect, it is amazing that I continued to watch this show. I suppose I simply willed myself to forget how bad these early episodes were.
Christopher L. Bennett
4. Christopher L. Bennett
The high point of this episode is the musical score by Fred Steiner, the most prolific composer for the original series and the only TOS composer to work on a subsequent Trek TV series. His score for "Code of Honor" isn't on a par with his best TOS work, but it's still good, and it's awesome that a TOS composer got to do a new TOS-style episode score 20 years later. It's too bad Berman decided to take the music in a more "modern" direction and didn't bring back Steiner or any other classic Trek composers.

I agree there wasn't any intended racism in the script; indeed, the dialogue likened Ligonian culture to Ming-Dynasty China rather than anything African. It was the choice of the casting department and the director to go for African-American actors, and I guess it was the director's choice to have them use faux-African accents, which was probably a mistake. Aside from that, though, I always felt it was a rather progressive step for its time, since until then, you almost never encountered a humanoid-alien culture in sci-fi that wasn't Caucasian. It was a nice try that misfired.

Still, Katharyn Powers did have a tendency to write anthropologically iffy alien-culture episodes both here and on Stargate SG-1. Keith, you mention "Emancipation," which is probably the stupidest episode of that series and a serious case of Did Not Do the Research. (Women in horse-nomad cultures like the Mongols were actually far more equal than in sedentary cultures, and didn't wear veils or live in purdah. And in cultures where women are veiled and sequestered, they don't simultaneously wear plunging necklines!!!)

It's interesting that this early Picard apologized for his speechifying, considering how much he embraced highfalutin rhetoric later on. It shows how differently the characters were initially conceived -- and how much they were trying to distance TNG from TOS, since it seemed like a conscious effort to differentiate Picard from Kirk, who was known for his big moralizing speeches.
Christopher L. Bennett
5. critter42
Again, one of the episodes I didn't see until much later. By the time I saw it (IIRC, it was well after VOY started), it was hard to believe it was even the same series.
Christopher L. Bennett
6. Reader
I love the episode. It's the only ST episode I know of in any series with an all African (or all non-Euro, for that matter) planet. I think it's completely absurd that through 5 series, an animated series, and 11 movies, the producers were so comfortable with the idea that the whole galaxy would look . . . just like them. That's what's racist, not the script or cast of this episode.
rob mcCathy
7. roblewmac
yeah so what? the planet of big old jerks is black this week. Nobody Ever mentions TOS klinons look just like Martin Landeau when he played Poncho Villa on Bonanza!
Chris Hawks
8. SaltManZ
I can't wait until this rewatch gets to Season 2, maybe 3.
Christopher L. Bennett
9. USSWylie
I don't buy the racist claim either. It's just too bad the rest of the episode sucked so thoroughly.
Christopher L. Bennett
10. Sumek
I never stopped watching TNG, but I do think it was given a chance because it very fortunately had the history of TOS and the movies behind it. Had it been an entirely new series/concept, I honestly don't know if it would have made it past the first season.
Katharyn Powers also wrote the "Dukes of Hazzard" episode "Swamp Molly," in which a strong female wrestler tricks Uncle Jesse into going fishing with her because she's supposedly afraid of being molested! (Another Dukes/TNG link: Jonathan Frakes played Boss Hogg's nephew in the season 4 opener.)
Christopher L. Bennett
11. Sumek
Chris Bennett: I'm glad you discussed the music in your post. Do you happen to know if Fred Steiner was any relation to Max Steiner?
I didn't dislike any of the music, but I would have to agree that, in going for a more "modern" sound, Berman let the composers get pretty synthesizer-heavy. I think my favorite score is for the arrival of the Borg ship in "Best of Both Worlds."
Christopher L. Bennett
12. Christopher L. Bennett
I always thought Fred Steiner was Max Steiner's son, but I double-checked just now and can't find any indication that they're related, or indeed that Max ever had children.

The synth was the choice of composer Ron Jones, who actually had very different musical tastes from Berman's, which was why he and TNG eventually parted company. What I meant by a more modern musical style was one that was less thematic and leitmotif-driven, more generic. Steiner's music, like Jones's, was strongly driven by recurring leitmotifs, as was the norm for Steiner's era. (The same era produced Jerry Goldsmith, whom Jones considered his role model.) Berman didn't like recurring themes because he thought they sounded like recycled stock music -- which is odd, because the largely themeless orchestral scores that he preferred instead, and that dominated later TNG and all the other Berman-era series, were a lot more repetitive.
Keith DeCandido
13. krad
Christopher: Thanks for the stuff on the music. I did notice the music was more distinctive when I was watching this again, but never got around to putting it in the rewatch writeup.

Sumek: Agreed on "BOBW" having great music.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Christopher L. Bennett
14. Christopher Walsh
I seemed to have completely blocked this episode from that memory o' mine. (Gee, I probably *should* have remembered Yar fighting...)

I'm looking forward to the "Where No One Has Gone Before" rewatch partly because it's one of the episodes where Data uses a contraction ("This shouldn't be..."). I wonder if that was a mistake or the producers simply hadn't decided that he would speak contraction-less.

I'm glad Ron Jones is still around: years later he landed on FAMILY GUY where he sometimes writes action music (like when Peter fights the giant chicken) that's like Jerry Goldsmith fight music on crack.

Random, this comment's been. (Like Yoda I talk, kinda, when tired.) Time to close it and post it.
Michael Burke
15. Ludon
Over the years I had wondered why I never really got into Tasha Yar as a character and why Denise Crosby semed so much better as Sela later in the series. While reading this review, I found myself thinking 'What would Starbuck have done in this situation?' then it hit me. Tasha should have been more like Starbuck - especially given what we learned about her background. True, even the '80s version of lines like "Striking a superior asshole" would have driven half the viewers crazy ("That's not Star Fleet!"), but it would have made the character more interesting. Dr. Pulaski (Season Two) was one of my favorite characters in the series because of her attitude. Tasha with an attitude might have been a character Denise Crosby could have enjoyed working with. Thinking about it, Ro Laren's attitude would have fitted Tasha nicely. Oh well, what has passed is past.
Christopher L. Bennett
16. The Chronic Rift
My problem with the episode was that it came across to me as a poor man's (a very poor man, think the apothacary from Romeo and Juliet) "Amok Time". There are elements of the show from the faking of the deaths to the manipulations of Lutan and the Vulcan hottie (whose name I forget at the moment) that just scream "rip-off", even more so than "The Naked Now".
Keith DeCandido
17. krad
Chronic Rift: Yes and no. Honestly, the shared plot elements of "Code of Honor" and "Amok Time" are ones that are pretty well-established cliches. What made "Amok Time" work was that it was our first time seeing Vulcan and that it directly affected Spock, a character we'd spent the past year growing to care about.

This had structural similarities, yes, but no different from a thousand other like stories. The problem was nothing to really hang yourself on characterization-wise, since the only real character work going on was Data trying to tell a joke to La Forge in a scene that had nothing to do with the rest of the episode.

And the Vulcan hottie was T'Pring. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
rob mcCathy
18. roblewmac
I don't know that I ever stopped watching it was never high on my list and the next I rember is the "royle"
Martin Jarvis
19. Boscot
Any episode where Ryker doesn't have a beard is automatically a bad one.
Christopher L. Bennett
20. The Chronic Rift
krad: That's my whole point. When the show premiered, we were told that with the technology available, with the show being in syndication, and with the stable of writers being brought in, we'd get tales that could not be told on the original series. Instead, we got these derivative stories that didn't do anything new and certainly weren't any different than the original series, other than being not as good.

It wasn't a very good start for the series. Season one was a very bumpy ride. I'll be curious to see your thoughts on "Where No One Has Gone Before", "The Battle", "11001001", "Too Short a Season", "Heart of Glory", and "Conspiracy". They stand out, for one reason or another, as better episodes of the season, IMHO.
Christopher L. Bennett
21. Ellynne
Live and learn. I would have guessed this was a "bad by commitee" episode (and not the best of commitees, either). Guy A thinks it would strike a good, moral tone to have a completely nonwhite planet (and, just to strike the right note of inclusiveness, keep commenting on how amazingly similar this planet and its culture is to one from Earth).

Guy B likes this but wants to make sure their are references to how these people are more refined and cultured than the Federation ones.

Meanwhile, Guy C wants a story where Yar gets some screen time and be established as fighter at least as tough as Kirk ever was.

Guy D just wants a cat fight.

Guy E, who was only half-listening to both groups, suggested these two stories be brought together by having a guy from the planet wanting to marry Yar.

F caught the poor intern writer (who was already drowning in all these plot requirements) to make some suggestions about what kind of villain they needed.

G didn't make it to the meeting but did pass on a memo that the women on the planet of the week had better be assertive and have power and influence because they didn't want accusations of Kirk's kind of sexism.

So, too many cooks, and none of them listening to each other or thinking about what the end result would be.

To find out it didn't happen that way . . . THAT'S scary.
Christopher L. Bennett
22. Ensign Jayburd

"I'm looking forward to the "Where No One Has Gone Before" rewatch partly because it's one of the episodes where Data uses a contraction ("This shouldn't be...")."

It turns out it's one of many. Brent actually said, "Yes, Captain. I'm fine," at the end of Datalore! You know, the episode that actually established that Data could not use verbal contractions...? Brent Spiner probably used on average 1 verbal contraction per episode.

@Ellynne, you forgot about guy producer and/or guy casting director who didn't stop to consider whether using an all-black cast as the aliens-of-the-week would be considered racist or not. Frankly, I can see both points and I'm still torn about it. @Reader is right that most aliens on the show were white and/or based on euro-centric cultures. Maybe this episode was intended to be different. But Frakes and Spiner were there, and they seem to agree that the show was an embarassment. The bottom line, though, is that it wasn't a very good story. I did like the actor who played Lutan, though. I thought he did a very good job with bad material.
23. jlpsquared
This is one of the very few episodes I didn't see until years after the original run, and when I did, I couldn't believe it was the same series. This one is bad for 1st season TNG. The Naked Now was oscar material compared to this.

As for the Rascism charge, the few black star trek fans I know seem to like this episode. There is something to be said that of ANY science fiction I have ever seen, this is the only non-caucasian actors to portray a culture I can think of off the top of my head.

@ Christopher Bennet. The music of TNg is something I am immensily interested in. I agree with you but would go further and say that the music of TNG got so bad in the last 3 seasons that I would dare to say it actually hurt episodes. I think DS9 didn't suffer in the same way because it NEVER had good music. TNG had 4 years of Ron Jones and a not-terrible McCarthy, but after Jones left, the quality plummeted. There are episodes that I can barely even watch anymore. One episode I think of the top of my head is "starship Mine" from season 6. I felt like I WOULD have loved that episode, but the music was so bland and boring it really took the "umph" out of the action scenes.

Anyways, that is my biggest critique of Berman and how he destroyed
Star Trek.
Christopher L. Bennett
24. DPC
In season 4, the suits wanted to change the feel of the show. Ron Jones was fired... and the other composers, who all put out great works, now had to - what seemed like - replace their orchestras with a room full of frogs eating a pint of beans. Seriously, "farting frogs" describes the new tonal style for seasons 5-7 and it definitely drags episodes down. "Power Play" being a prime example of the new style not fitting the material at all... Chattaway and McCarthy both know their stuff, as did the sublime Jones, so something else was the cause of the downhill quality of the music...

And yet "The Next Phase"'s score was perfect...

It doesn't help that many stories of 5-7 are one-dimensional and flat, but even for the better material the music brings them down... :(

Jesse Lawrence Ferguson does indeed steal the show. Every scene he's in he puts in a sincere performance that makes me feel for the character. From what I've seen of him in other shows, he's a solid character actor. "Code of Honor" might be drek-filled Trek, but he does make the story watchable. And, wow, the Blu-Ray does the story justice as well...

As for story tropes, Shakespeare once said there are only so many... (and it's how the tropes are used and innovated on that make theater/tv/writing good, trite, bad, etc...) Season 1 TNG often has reused aspects of TOS ("Heart of Glory" has "Space Seed" as a reference, as Worf freely tells the Klingon survivors all about the ship while someone else looks up their history and finds out that, oops, they're bad guys. But the motivations, handling, etc, of "Glory" are much different, and as such it's not so face-smackingly obvious that the same trope was used...
Christopher L. Bennett
25. Paulito
One of the biggest Trek mysteries to me is why people insisted (and still insist) on describing Denise Crosby is if she were the sexiest woman who ever lived. She was so spectacularly average it always baffled me. Troi and Crusher were the hotties.
Christopher L. Bennett
26. Eben Brooks
I actually was good friends with Katharyn Powers (and, to a lesser extent, Michael Baron) while they were writing this episode. I read the original script. It's actually good.

Also, Katharyn became Story Editor for Stargate SG1 starting with season 3--the point at which, many of my friends say, the series actually started making sense.
Christopher L. Bennett
27. Happytoscrap
This episode would have still been bad....but I would have enjoyed it much more if they used the music from Pon Farr during the Tasha fight scene.
Christopher L. Bennett
28. Electone
So many years later and I still find myself returning to this rewatch page to read people's notes and share my thoughts. Having caught this one on TV the other day, I have to agree with most of the posters here that it is a dreadful episode. Awful, acutally. Perhaps horrible. Definitely terrible. I can't think of one reedeming aspect, performance or tidbit from this monstrosity. An embarassing, ridiculous plot, and horrid acting across the board highlight what could have been a series-killing episode this early in the show's run.

That's as kind as I can be about "Code Of Honor" and I'm a huge fan of Season 1.
Christopher L. Bennett
30. JohnC
During the girlfight scene, Yar keeps grasping the metal bars that are part of the arena. All the other chick had to do was tap Yar's fingers with her weapon, which looked like it was borrowed from the set of Conan the Barbarian, and that would be that, since the barbs were poisoned. Small detail, and I wouldn't bother mentioning it except it was apparent for pretty much the entire sequence. How difficult would it have been to tell Crosby to stop hanging on... ?

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