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ST:TNG s2e8 “A Matter of Honor”

Posted by on April 17, 2011

Mary and I have been going through all the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes from the beginning. I yell at the screen at least once per episode. Now that I have a blog, I can air my grievances about each and every episode.

The Gist:

The writers scraped the bottom of the tv trope barrel and came up with an exchange student episode! Riker goes to work on a Klingon ship while an alien of some other race you’ve never heard of is temporarily stationed on the Enterprise. Cultural misunderstandings! Gosh!


Yell at the Screen Moment:

– Before Riker leaves the Enterprise, he has some time alone with Worf to learn about Klingon culture. Worf informs Riker that while he is serving as first officer, it is his duty to murder the captain if the capt should seem to weaken in the slightest. This relationship with one’s subordinates apparently holds at every level of command on a Klingon ship, and results in Riker getting in a fight with the second officer mere moments after assuming his post. But this is not what I have a problem with. Riker tells Worf that this sounds not so great for the Klingons, or something like that, to which Worf replies that this has worked for centuries and is “the Klingon Way.” *record scratch*

Can you imagine yourself ever telling an alien that something is “the human way”? If not, the reason is probably because we don’t identify ourselves based on our entire species, but rather in how we compare to other human races. One of many, many glaring flaws with TNG writing is that the idea of nations and tribalism within alien races is almost completely forgotten. Races are treated as monolithic and single-minded (for the most part). This reminds me of the same problem applied to climates rather than cultures, the Single-Biome Planet. Forget about diversity of climate: On Hoth it snows always and everywhere. And forget about diversity of culture: Every Klingon fits into a stereotype that can be described in a paragraph or two.

This makes especially little sense with a race like the Klingons who are obsessed with combat. You’d think they’d be among the most factionalized and cavilling species in the galaxy. For a race of warriors obsessed with fighting, on the whole they get along with one another pretty well.


The verdict:

I have to say this episode was above average. The plot was contrived, but it was delivered reasonably well and you come away with a sense that Riker is now more in touch with Klingons than he was before, in a way that other crewmembers won’t be able to necessarily identify with. I hold out hope that the writers will take advantage of this planted seed at some point in the series’ future.

4 Responses to ST:TNG s2e8 “A Matter of Honor”

  1. Jen

    I frequently wonder about this as well, but I suspect the monolithic treatment of races is somewhat intentional, at least for humans. Roddenberry envisions humans who have evolved to the point where they no longer engage in petty infighting, and have turned their focus toward participation in a larger community. I’ve always thought of it as an optimistic approach – hey, look, all us humans have banded together and shared all our knowledge and now our cultural differences don’t get us into fights anymore! I can also think of occasional references to ‘the human way’ of doing things throughout the series, though it tends to be very general, sweeping stuff (like, ‘humans don’t eat their young’).

    In Klingon history, Kahless had a major role in uniting the warring Klingon factions (which, until he came along, had been happily slaughtering each other for centuries). Other episodes deal in some depth with the remaining conflicts between Klingon clans, though this tends to be political rivalry and power-grabbing rather than genuine cultural differences.

    This is cutting the writers a certain amount of slack, to be sure; maybe the motivation was just laziness. (“Shit we already have dozens of alien races to write about, we can’t be bothered to remember which half of the planet drives on the wrong side of the road.”) Speaking of Star Trek-related laziness – you know how the iPad is basically Picard’s little portable screeny thing, and it’s hailed as this hallmark of super clean and futuristic design? I heard an interview with Michael Okuda (one of the main production designers for the series), and he was saying that the main motivation behind the console & screen design in ST:TNG wasn’t futurism so much as cost; a plain sheet of illuminated plexiglass was a lot cheaper and easier to modify than a giant set with real buttons and knobs and things.

    That’s a random tangent, but I thought it was interesting… anyway! I suspect the writers felt they were adequately addressing “cultural differences” with the racial conflicts in the show and didn’t feel compelled to add that additional layer of detail; but it would definitely feel more realistic if they had. I would have loved to see a show about, like, the Klingon rural farm folk. Or the angry goth kids on that Eden-world where Wesley walked on the grass. There were a lot of roads left untrodden; maybe some fan fiction is the answer here.

  2. vroman

    Another problem beyond cultural monism, with “Its the klingon way” is that its just a cop-out. This would have been a great opportunity for some speculative anthropology. Worf could have explicitly said that Klingons value a tightly run ship more than their lives. That any wavering of command at any level is a threat to the ship, and even this small additional risk of losing a ship is considered less acceptable than sacrificing an under-performing or under-motivated officer. That would be in keeping with the ruthless logic of Klingons and be justifiable given those assumptions of the relative value of these assets from their perspective. Certainly, the reverse on the Federation side is equally dubious. The heroes consistently put their ship, a massive, massive investment of resources, on the line for practically anyone without hesitation.
    Without any of this explanation, the episode just looks like Klingons are sadists who like to kill their shipmates for its own sake, or petty power plays. It becomes just a cultural relativism, where we accept whatever bizarre practice the “others” do without question simply out of fear of being judgmental. Theres no attempt to understand what the motivations and goals are that lead to the behavior.
    Star Trek sucks.

  3. Dim

    I remember watching this episode as a kid, then making chicken noodle soup the next day and pretending that the thick noodles in the soup was the worm food that they served Riker.

  4. Dim

    @Vroman, given your lengthy analyzation of Klingon morals, I have concluded that I would definitely read any Star Trek fanfiction you wrote.

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