A Matter of Honor (ST:TNG Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 8)

Rewatching ST:TNG after a 20-year break.

Riker accepts a temporary assignment as first officer of a Klingon vessel. “A Matter of Honor” offers a thoughtful, enjoyable dramatization of differences between Federation and Klingon culture, and a good B-plot in which Wesley helps a visiting officer adapt to routine operations on the Enterprise.

It’s a nice touch to have Riker using his fists, his culinary tastes, and his sense of humor to earn the respect of his Klingon crewmates during their downtime, while back on the Enterprise an uptight, seething Worf lectures a smarmy blue-headed exchange officer about the way things are done in the Federation.

Worf’s plan of slipping Riker a spy gadget seemed a bit un-Klingon. While I appreciate how Riker used the gadget in an unexpected way, it was just too convenient that the Klingon captain demanded to hold it at just the right time. Perhaps the writers could have come up with some dialogue in which Riker manipulated the captain into taking the device, but I recognize that rhetoric is Picard’s domain.

Riker’s final act as a Klingon officer involves letting himself be punched by the Klingon captain. The writers apparently felt that we needed to be told Riker let himself get punched on purpose, but I appreciate that Riker only says so after Picard teases him about not having learned when to duck.

Some good world-building in this episode. I loved the early conversation between Riker and Picard as they practice target-shooting on the phaser range.

Some of Kargan’s actions seem under-motivated. Star Trek VI went out of its way to remind us that Kirk is brooding over the death of his son at the hands of Klingons, and treated his suspicion of Klingons as a character flaw he needed to overcome. Although this episode spends time developing the relationship between Riker and his second officer Klag, we don’t have much time to get to know the captain Kargan, so his unfounded suspicion of the Federation doesn’t look like it flows from a specific worldview distorted by personal experience.

The first Klingon-focused TNG episode, the first-season “Heart of Glory,” suffered from an uneven script that doesn’t hold up in comparison to the upcoming Klingon Civil War story arc; however, one strength in that otherwise weak episode was the time devoted to a tragic character study of the band of rogue Klingons.

We get more of this development in the talky but still successful B-plot, which pairs Wesley with the aforementioned smarmy blue-headed exchange officer, whose over-achieving and perfectionist tendencies present their own set of challenges. Wesley’s empathy helps us see Riker’s actions, though prompted by a very different set of circumstances, as similarly empathetic, which invites us to rethink the Klingons.

After Mendon, the aforementioned smarmy officer, tells Wesley, “I imagine my methods must seem foolish to you,” Wesley replies, “They’re different. But that’s what this exchange program is all about. You learn the way we do things and take that information back to your command. It’s up to them to decide which is better.”

I’ve noted before that for a TV show noted for celebrating diversity, I’ve been surprised at how frequently the early episodes dismiss alien civilizations as beneath contempt:

  • opportunistic and insensitive Bandi from Encounter at Farpoint
  • devious and ratlike Ferengi from The Last Outpost
  • pointlessly feuding Selay and Anticans in Lonely Among Us,
  • the Planet of Sexy Black Stereotypes in Code of Honor
  • the Planet of Litigious Blond Joggers in Justice (who actually get to lecture Picard in their own defense, so perhaps that shows progress)

No Troi or LaForge in this episode, but a good scene with Pulaski as she looks on, horrified and amused, as Riker tries various exotic Klingon foods. O’Brien gets some good moments. Some good closeups of computer displays, some good views of various parts of the Klingon ship set.

“A Matter of Honor” is great Star Trek, using fish-out-of-water humor, sci-fi action, and ensemble-driven empathy to flesh out the Federation as an optimistic society that does more than tolerate differences, but seeks them out as learning opportunities.