A Matter of Honor
The Plot: Thanks to a new Federation officer exchange program, the Enterprise now has an annoying blue guy working on the bridge. While Picard and Riker are playing Duck Hunt in the Holodeck, Picard mentions that Starfleet is looking for someone to extend the program into the Klingon Empire. Riker says he'd be down with that, and Picard calls his bluff by immediately signing him up for a stint on a Klingon Bird of Prey. Riker bones up for the trip by chatting with Worf and eating amusingly gross Klingon delicacies. Just before he leaves, Worf gives him an emergency homing beacon that he can use to transport out of there if some bad shit goes down, as it almost certainly will.
On the Bird of Prey, Riker makes a good first impression by kicking an officer's ass, thus establishing his right to hang out on the bridge. He befriends some of his new crewmates and learns the niceties of Klingon social life: eating giant live worms, getting sexually harassed by the female crewmembers, and sharing sad yet manly Robert Bly-type bonding sessions with the guys.
But the good times can't last forever. Back on the Enterprise, the blue guy discovers a metal-eating alien parasite on the ship's hull. The Enterprise gets rid of the stuff without too much trouble, then zooms off to warn the Bird of Prey. Unfortunately, the trigger-happy Klingon captain interprets the Enterprise's approach as an attack and gets ready to fight. He grills Riker for inside information he can use to attack the Enterprise; Riker refuses to comply, but promises to fight on the Klingon side if it comes down to a battle. In the nick of time, however, he tricks the captain into activating Worf's homing beacon. The Klingon captain gets beamed to the Enterprise. When Picard hails the Klingon ship, there's Riker, chilling in the captain's seat, having orchestrated a bloodless coup of the whole damn Bird of Prey. Picard admits that this is totally boss but makes Riker come home anyway, thus completing the shortest, if arguably the most successful, tour of duty in Klingon/Starfleet history.
Thoughts: This episode rocks out with its cock out. It was of the first episodes to provide an in-depth look at the new, improved Klingons of the movies and TNG, as opposed to the old-school Klingons who were basically guys in glittery orange makeup. Klingon Society 2.0 borrowed (or, depending on your point of view, stole) elements from John M. Ford's 1984 Trek novel The Final Reflection, especially the idea of Klingons being all about honor and saving face. The earlier episodes of TNG showed some of this stuff through Worf, but here we get to go on board a Klingon ship and get totally funky. The plot is simple but surprisingly clever, with Riker ultimately saving the day with cunning rather than violence (after first throwing some dudes around, of course). Also, this episode provides the classic line, "Gagh is best when eaten live," and who the hell can't get behind that?
The race elements in Star Trek get more disturbing the more you think about them. I mean, you've got the Vulcans, who are made up to look quasi-Asian and are supersmart, emotionless masters of Zen philosophy and mystical martial arts. The evil Fu Manchu side of Asian stereotypes is neatly covered by the Vulcans' evil counterparts, the Romulans. Then you've got the Klingons, who are played by black actors and/or white actors in tons of brown makeup, and are basically noble savages who fight all the time and only understand primitive concepts of honor, battle, and glory. (And don't get me started on the Ferengi. They've got big noses, they really love money, and on Saturday Night Live they were played by Al Franken. What. The. Fuck. People.) The alien races in Star Trek, as in countless other sci-fi sagas (including many that are nominally more sophisticated), provide an opportunity to safely explore human racial stereotypes by transplanting them to nonhuman characters, who can then be uncritically pigeonholed. All Vulcans are smart and emotionless, all Klingons are violent and primitive, and so on.
And yet, even knowing about the racist subtext going on, it's hard not to love episodes like this, because everyone's clearly enjoying the Klingons so damn much. There has to be some kind of genetically-triggered instinct causing nerds to love Klingons without question, because I can feel it clicking on in the nuclei of my own cells whenever Klingons show up. Of course, part of the nerd appeal is obvious: the complex, layered Klingon culture provides a whole new exciting set of things to memorize! Learn the names of Klingon weapons! The history of Klingon cuisine! The whole damn Klingon language! It's a cornicopia of factoids. Beyond that, opposites attract, so of course shy, non-physical nerdy types are fascinated by primitive tough guys who think with their fists. See also the bottomless nerd popularity of Chewbacca, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Wolverine, and pretty much all superheroes.
In conclusion: Klingons? Totally awesome. Even Andrew gives this one a thumbs-up.
Next: "The Measure of a Man." Another classic.
Too Short a Season
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