Star Trek: The Next Generation: Code of Honor   Rewatch 
April 14, 2020 5:25 AM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

The leader of an alien society kidnaps Lt. Tasha Yar to force her into marriage. Not offended enough yet? Oh wait, there's more…

If only Memory Alpha could protect us like a magic cloak:

- The original concept of this episode's story, by Kathryn Powers and Michael Baron, called the Ligonians "Tellisians", a reptilian species with a culture similar to the Japanese samurai and a warrior caste called the Kadim.

- Despite having vetoed Herbert J. Wright previously writing (into a different episode) a warning shot fired by the Enterprise at a Ferengi ship that had fired at the Enterprise (objecting that Captain Picard wouldn't allow the Enterprise to retaliate), Gene Roddenberry wrote into this episode's script, when he did a rewrite of it, that the Enterprise fired at a planet with full power, as a warning.

- In this episode, the entire humanoid population of the planet is portrayed by African-American performers. In the teleplay, however, only Lutan's guards were specifically written as being African.

- This was the only Star Trek episode directed by Russ Mayberry. He left the production during filming [according to Ex Astris Scientia, Roddenberry fired him --ed.] and was replaced by First Assistant Director Les Landau.

- Doctor Crusher is seen wearing an antiquated wristwatch when she is reviving Yareena in the transporter room.

- In this episode, the floor of the holodeck is not yet covered by the familiar pattern of yellow stripes on black background; instead, the floor is covered by grey carpet.

- The Ligonian glavin appears in later episodes such as "Reunion" and "Cost of Living", slightly repainted, in Worf's quarters as a Klingon hand-weapon.

- As noted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, Tracy Tormé was embarrassed by what he called a "1940s tribal Africa" view of Africans in this episode. Tormé commented, "That episode was offensive. It was like Amos 'n' Andy in the way African Americans were depicted."

- Jonathan Frakes referred to the episode as a "racist piece of shit." At a 2007 science fiction convention in Toronto, Canada, he told the audience, "The worst and most embarrassing and one that even Gene would have been embarrassed by was that horrible racist episode from the first season 'Code of Honor', oh my God in heaven!"

- Brent Spiner regarded this episode as the "worst episode we ever did" and "an inadvertently racist episode." In a 2012 interview with, Spiner recalled, "It was just a racist episode. Maybe not intentionally but it felt that way and looked that way. It was the third episode so it was fortuitous that we did our worst that early on and it never got quite that bad again."

- According to Wesley Crusher actor Wil Wheaton, "if the cast wasn't arbitrarily decided to be African-American," the idea of the episode being racist or non-racist wouldn't have been an issue.

- Michael Dorn (Worf) does not appear in this episode. This is his first non-appearance. The only other TNG episode in which he does not appear is "Haven". At the 2013 Toronto Comic Con, Dorn referred to this episode as "the worst episode of Star Trek ever filmed," to agreement from the rest of the cast and the crowd.

- At a Star Trek panel at DragonCon 2010, Star Trek: Voyager actor Garrett Wang said this episode "stinks", to which LeVar Burton agreed, adding, "Without question." Furthermore, Wang attributed his viewing of the episode as the reason why he ended up landing the role of Harry Kim, stating that, had he watched another episode of TNG, he would have been "too nervous" during his audition, as he would have ended up being a big fan of the show: "So three times I tried watching [the series] and I realised God was telling me 'Do not watch Star Trek: The Next Generation'."

- Star Trek: Enterprise Consulting Producer David A. Goodman and Gene Roddenberry's son Rod were rare voices of approval for this installment. "As weirdly offensive as people think 'Code of Honor' is, I, at least, liked it because it felt new and different," Goodman commented. "There was some action, and it had a great score – it probably has the best score of any Next Generation episode." Rod Roddenberry stated, "'Code of Honor' is the one that people say is the most racist, but I just didn't see it. Is it the best episode ever? No. But did I enjoy the episode? Sure. I just saw them as people on a planet that happened to be of dark skin that evolved in this certain way."

- Co-writer Katharyn Powers was later responsible for the very similar Stargate SG-1 Season One episode "Emancipation". Both episodes feature a female officer being abducted and later participating in a fight to the death which both parties survive. Both episodes were also widely criticized, not only by much of the cast, but by fans as well.

"A code of honor protects one, captain, like a magic cloak."
- Lutan, to Picard

"'Includling' the kiddlies! Now, see that's funny!"
- La Forge, to Data after his tongue slipped while telling an old and unfunny joke

"As you can see, captain, you may excel in technology, but not in civilized behavior."
- Hagon

"Damn. Where are the calluses we doctors are supposed to grow over our feelings?"
"Perhaps the good ones never get them."
- Beverly Crusher and Picard

Poster's Log:
This is the first time I've sat through this whole episode since it aired in 1987. I knew it would be awful, but it was even worse than I remembered. I suppose the depiction of the Ligonians could have been more racist, but it's plenty bad enough—so much so that it almost distracts you from the fact that this script's also got sexism bad enough to rival any that we've seen in Trek. That, and the very '60s music, make "Code of Honor" the obvious product of minds that were already dinosaurs over thirty years ago. How else can we hope to account for the fact that the producers watched the finished product and didn't immediately look at each other and say, "We must never air this."?

It's got other problems, too. In the season 4 episode "The Drumhead," Admiral Satie accuses Picard of having violated the Prime Directive nine times since taking command; this episode would seem to contain the first two or three of those!

Oh, and also, just putting a child at a bridge station while an actual situation with hostiles is going on, one episode after that same child disabled the whole ship? You sure you're not still drunk, Riker?

Anyway, Spiner's right; this is the low point of all of TNG. Worst. Episode. Ever of the entire Trek franchise? Well, I can't think of a worse TOS episode, and I haven't seen all of TAS yet. It's worse than Final Frontier and probably worse than Into Darkness, even though I really. Really hated Into Darkness. (I haven't seen Beyond yet but I'm told it's the best of the J.J.s.) IIRC it's easily worse than anything from DISCO and PIC, and worse than either of DS9's roughly-tied two worst, "Move Along Home" and "Profit and Lace".

It might not be worse than VOY's worst, which has to be "Tattoo"; that's a tough call. The racism in "Tattoo" is more fundamental to what the story is actually about, so it seems to me that it's worse in that respect. OTOH, "Code of Honor" adds sexism to the racism—but then, this variety of sexism was less unusual in the late 1980s (pretty sure there were Saturday morning cartoons with this exact plot) than was this variety of racism IIRC. Certainly if you put a gun to my head and said I have to re-watch either "Tattoo" or this one, I'd pick this one, with only momentary hesitation…hm. I'll be curious to see what others think.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Oh and hey, two consecutive episodes revolving around communicable disease :|

The only thing I enjoyed in this episode at all was the fact that the goofy yet scary Ligonian weapon is called a GLAVIN.

The "Greatest Generation" installment for this episode
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was all set to point out the SG-1 episode and make the Frink joke and you beat me to both. Well done!

Those two things are all I can positively contribute to this terrible episode.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:52 AM on April 14, 2020

The only good thing that comes out of this episode is Data utterly and forever owning Picard by calling french an "obscure" language.
posted by dry white toast at 8:58 AM on April 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

Long before I grew up and picked up on the racism, I really didn't like this episode for how it treated Yar. It had other things I didn't like and that made it actually kind of boring, but the one big thing I got tired of was how it was just assumed by everyone that Yar was attracted to Lutan and it had to be dealt with before the plot could move on. Why does everyone assume it? Why does Yar have to be attracted to him in the first place? And in any case, she's a Starfleet officer. They're treating her pretty unprofessionally by questioning her sex life in the middle of trying to get the vaccine.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:21 AM on April 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

I too have never seen this in later syndication. I wonder if they pulled it from the package. I do not remember watching it on broadcast, either. It’s not clear to me that I did see it, but if so, I have no recollection of it. I spent this viewing more or less gaping in disbelief, I mean it’s even another partial retread (of Amok Time, to be specific, although there’s a bit of Elaan of Troyius in there too).

Anyway, as Worf once said, “We do not speak of it”. Just terrible.
posted by mwhybark at 10:41 AM on April 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's still in syndication. I'm sure I've seen it on whatever cable channel it is that shows TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT nightly.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:11 AM on April 14, 2020

I agree 100% with your assessments: worse than "Move Along Home" and "Profit and Lace", and at the very least rivals "Tattoo." The thing is, those episodes all occurred when their series were fairly well along ("Move Along Home" was DS9 S1, but ten episodes in, and I'd push back against that one being particularly bad; its main sin IMO was that it made the characters look silly, which some Trekkies just can't abide--see also "Spock's Brain), and this is the third episode of TNG. It sort of follows the pattern of a reworked TOS episode, as it's very roughly like "Amok Time" (on preview, mwhybark also picked up on this)--the crew gets involved in the customs of another planet, resulting in a death duel that's really the result of someone's scheming--but, you know, just not nearly as good, thanks to the appalling (and not really explained, even by the usually meticulous Memory Alpha) decision to make the Ligonians all-black. I mean, the episode would have been bad even if they'd had more diverse casting or even gone with lizard people per the original script (proto-Cardassians?), but the inexplicable decision just takes the badness to a new level. And the question is, why did Gene Roddenberry, who created one of the most diverse casts in SF at the time (and for some time after) with the TOS crew, greenlight this?

I think that the answer might lie in the concept of "Roddenberry's Box", a term coined by the late Michael Piller, who co-created DS9 and VOY and will eventually be an exec producer of TNG. tl;dr--the Box was Roddenberry's way of filtering out stories that didn't fit his concept of TNG, as expressed in the TNG writer's bible and individually rejecting pitched story ideas. (Piller's trick--although he doesn't describe it as a trick, and oddly insists that he liked the Box--was to rephrase or reframe a given story so that Gene would approve it.) The problem with a filter, though, is that, if something passes the filter, it's generally assumed to be OK. Roddenberry was quite insistent that humanity had evolved past its most serious problems, but that didn't apply to any given alien society, and something tells me that Roddenberry--who, brief reminder, put an African-American woman on the bridge of a capital ship, something that probably didn't happen on any terrestrial ship of the mid-1960s--assumed that there would be no problems with the story as it was, once he'd made the changes to it that he wanted, and didn't pay attention to the casting.

As to whether the episode could have been saved, I dunno. As I said, it's pretty much a reheated "Amok Time", without the advantage of centering around the breakout character of the show. The basic premise, that the ship gets involved in the sticky politics of a planet and can't just nope out of there because the planet has something that they really, really need, has been done before, but there are better ways of doing that, not only avoiding racism but, you know, having your security chief say that the guy who kidnapped her is kinda sexy. (Yeesh. In general, so far, the show seems to go out of its way to de-butch Yar, no matter how ludicrous the set-up.) About the only thing in this episode that really worked for me was the combat arena; it ditched the usual arena/octagon setup for something where you could see a whole martial art strategy evolving around it, using the bars for your advantage and your opponent's disadvantage.

One other thing that I find interesting is that this is one of two episodes in S1, and actually all of TNG, that Michael Dorn isn't in; I wonder if he and LeVar Burton flipped a coin to see who could call in sick. Speaking of Roddenberry's Box, my theory is that, both because of Worf's non-human nature and that he was originally kind of an incidental character (in the first edition of the writer's bible, he's still being referred to as "Klingon Marine"), he didn't have all the restrictions that the other characters had, which may be why "Heart of Glory" is my favorite S1 episode.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:48 AM on April 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


It's just. fucking. dumbfounding. Like, there is no reason to make these aliens African-ish stereotypes and no reason for them to be indistinguishable from Black humans. Absent that, it would still be trash, but in a run-of-the-mill S1 way. The episode might even have had something interesting to say about the way that cultural codes of honor can be used simultaneously as virtues and as shifty legalistic loopholes. But they went with... this... bigoted garbage bonfire instead.

Gene. Gene. Mister Roddenberry. Mister Gene Roddenberry. No, man. Just... no.
posted by sugar and confetti at 12:00 PM on April 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

So as a young person who read a lot of books but didn't hang out with other people who did, I was often intimidated by things like symbolism and subtext, because I often missed them or lacked the literary background to catch them. So when I watched this, I remember thinking, I must be missing something important that smarter people than me saw, because otherwise it just seemed really racist and kinda dumb. And Star Trek wasn't supposed to be those things.

Turns out: nope!
posted by emjaybee at 12:17 PM on April 14, 2020 [9 favorites]

I have such a hard time rewatching the first couple seasons of NextGen for a lot of reasons, and tend to stick to a handful of fave episodes that I rewatch over and over. I just...don't have great memories of the first time, and this is a perfect example of why. I mean, for years my life revolved around Saturday night, watching this show, but yikes stripes beechnut gum were some of them indefensible. (Also, shallowly, I hate the jewel-neck uniforms like burning.)

Also, can I clarify--this is listed as Episode 4, but it seems to be Episode 3? I tried the previously, but it just took me to the unwatchable Naked Now.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:48 PM on April 14, 2020

The episode numbering dichotomy is due to Encounter at Farpoint being a two parter. Memory Alpha presumably numbers this as 4, and CoB presumably properly followed that convention, whereas I did not. The Naked Now is indeed the preceding episode.
posted by mwhybark at 1:21 PM on April 14, 2020

I was not looking forward to this episode and it may have been even worse than I remembered. Like, wow.

But hey, they can only get better from here.
posted by rodlymight at 6:54 PM on April 14, 2020

I think that the answer might lie in the concept of "Roddenberry's Box" [...] Roddenberry was quite insistent that humanity had evolved past its most serious problems, but that didn't apply to any given alien society, and something tells me that Roddenberry--who, brief reminder, put an African-American woman on the bridge of a capital ship, something that probably didn't happen on any terrestrial ship of the mid-1960s--assumed that there would be no problems with the story as it was, once he'd made the changes to it that he wanted, and didn't pay attention to the casting.

Mm, enlightening way to look at it. So, he drank his own kool-aid, in a sense, and forgot his audience and the actual zeitgeist (as opposed to his imagined in-universe one) in which the episode would air. That might very well explain it.

"Move Along Home" was DS9 S1, but ten episodes in, and I'd push back against that one being particularly bad; its main sin IMO was that it made the characters look silly, which some Trekkies just can't abide

One could almost say that "Move Along Home" is DS9's "Naked Now," in that they made the very strange decision to make THESE characters in THIS show look silly so early on—and all for an episode whose story is, as near as I can tell, completely pointless. I'm all for silliness in Trek, but it should contribute something, even if it's just further insight into characters we know well in other respects (like what Vic Fontaine or Captain Proton, both inarguably silly, did for their associated main-cast characters). IIRC the writers wanted "Move Along Home" to demonstrate the alien-ness of the Gamma Quadrant, but that never really became a salient aspect of the GQ later on. (Which isn't "Move Along Home"'s fault, of course.)

To un-derail, I'm sure if I rewatched "Move Along Home" again in the near future, I'd be fine with it—by comparison with TNG season 1!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:59 AM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Even silliness with no real purpose is fine if it's fun enough. *hums Take Me Out To The Holosuite*
posted by sugar and confetti at 10:56 AM on April 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh heavens. the sexism, the lethargic pace, the criminal misuse of Yar outside the sexism, the overly-complicated and arbitrary plot, and one of the more embarrassing fight scenes to grace the entirety of Star Trek, would ensure that, even if the racism had been scrupulously avoided, this would still be garbage. Maybe, they just packed all their worst impulses into one episode, and the rest of the season will be brilliant? A boy can dream.

Also, the Glavin.... If you are going to equip your duelists with a clumsy hand weapon covered in poison spikes, you might attached to them a little more securely. And maybe place the spikes in such a way that you were less likely to hit yourself instead of your opponent? Maybe some sort of netting between the audience and the duelists? Just a suggestion. “Safety regulations? Our Honor forbids them!”

Maybe most gallingly, I can see the seeds of a really good episode in this huge mess, but they clearly made every effort to not have that happen. This is a good argument for a diverse writers room.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:09 PM on April 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Checked this one out on VHS from the library when we were kids and even then we knew it sucked
posted by StarkRoads at 5:05 PM on April 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Rachel Watches Star Trek
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:26 PM on May 26, 2020

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