Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Matter of Honor   Rewatch 
July 27, 2020 6:51 AM - Season 2, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Riker excitedly volunteers for an officer exchange posting, but soon realizes he can't have his gagh and eat it too.

The Memory Alpha system has operated successfully for centuries:

• Maurice Hurley recalled, "'A Matter Of Honor' was just a good idea. It dealt with a social problem. One of the things that the old Star Trek did which the new Star Trek can't do as well, was make comments on issues… You take a show like 'A Matter Of Honor' and say, 'We're going to do a little culture swapping,' so we explore what it must be like to be the only black face in a room of forty white people. That must be kind of tough. That's what Worf, in a sense, is doing. He's the only Klingon on a basically Human ship. So we said, 'Let's spin it. Let's put somebody on an all Klingon vessel and see how that works.' What's it like to be a fish out of water? What is it like to be the only white face in a meeting in Harlem? That's got to be a little funny, a little different, a little tense. That's how that show started, it was a way to look at a contemporary social problem and give it a spin."

• Director Rob Bowman remarked, "Jonathan Frakes and I really got into that episode. That was a fun one to do. I think Jonathan was waiting to do something that was rough and had action, and it also had the bonding between he and Klag. Every day was Jonathan and I doing high-fives and trying to put forth on film all the energy and spirit and adventure that was in that script. It was great to do. I guess there's a spirit inherent in the Klingons that seems to push it forth in a certain direction with the characters and with the camera. I was going through my divorce at that time, and was escaping into the world of space for some happiness. Probably helped me to concentrate a little better. I know I was very aggressive at that point, so we put that on screen. When we did the fight on the bridge, I wanted to be as rough as I could possibly make it. We even had to pare it down a bit, because what we had in mind was too much."

• Among other Trek roles, Brian Thompson would later play another Klingon on another Bird-of-Prey in Star Trek Generations. While conflict with the Enterprise is averted in this episode, in that film the Bird-of-Prey is destroyed in battle with the Enterprise, which is under the command of Riker.

• According to prop master Alan Sims, the gagh was actually long brown noodles, while the rokeg blood pie was turnips in pumpkin pies, dyed red. He used chicken feet as pipius claw, animal organs as heart of targ, and other things such as fish, eyes, squid, and octopus. Most of the things Sims bought at the Asian market.

John Putch (Mendon) also played Mordock in "Coming of Age" and one of the journalists aboard the Enterprise-B in Star Trek Generations.

• Despite O'Brien stating that he would be afraid to serve on a Klingon ship, he would volunteer to serve onboard the IKS Rotarran ten years later in DS9: "Shadows and Symbols".

• "A Matter of Honor" was given a 12.2 rating on the Nielsen Television Index, the highest rating to that point on TNG, making it one of the most watched episodes of the series at that time.

• This was the last of five Star Trek projects to be adapted into View-Master reels.

"He is not very attractive, but I will have him."
- Vekma, about Riker

"Ensign Mendon… you may impress ME."
- Worf scolding Mendon

"Actually, I learned quite a bit."
"Apparently, not when to duck."
"When not to duck would be more accurate."
- Riker and Picard, on Riker's return with a bruised face

Poster's Log:
Calling Mr.Encyclopedia—are officer exchange programs like this actually a thing between different national militaries? (This particular exchange program will appear twice more in TNG, in both cases with Klingons serving aboard the Enterprise.)

Anyway, this is a huge one for Klingon stuff—I forgot how good Brian Thompson is in this—but it's also a huge one in support of the argument that the Federation is unable to restrain its cultural imperialism. I'm primarily thinking of Riker repeating "But he's your FATHER!" to Klag; he should know better, given his rank (and his own relationship with HIS father, though in fairness that hasn't been established yet). Not to mention his remark about "maybe you SHOULD" show emotions like Humans do. He's lucky to still have a throat after all that. Wesley was thankfully less pushy with Mendon.

I always thought Cpt. Kargan seemed downright immersion-breakingly unhinged, like a Klingon Buck Turgidson, but since it was played straight, it didn't speak too well of the Klingon officer corps. Seems like the Peter principle might be a lot worse for them. (OTOH, Picard made it sound like the reason the Pagh was the ship Riker went to was simply its proximity; could've just been bad luck.) The actor who played Kargan, Christopher Collins, will return in a few episodes to captain another ship that threatens the Enterprise and will again be bamboozled by an Enterprise officer who's stuck on his ship and seemingly willing to die there in combat against the Enterprise. (Different writer, in case you were wondering.)

In any case, even though the resolution of the A-plot becomes pretty predictable pretty soon, the episode moves fast and maintains good tension, and has interesting new characters throughout. The B-plot focusing on Mendon seems like the sort of thing that they could have botched, but it turned out quite nicely from a worldbuilding, Starfleet-procedural standpoint. IMO, too, the writing and performance of the character just worked: walking the line between annoying and cute. (Plus, Worf pulling rank is never not the best.)

That phaser range must be at least two decks deep! Makes sense, though. (We'll see it once again, in season 4.)

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
It's absolutely possible that whichever Klingon admiral named the Bird of Prey in this episode actually named it after the identically-spelled and similarly-pronounced Bajoran spiritual concept. I think Klingons and Bajorans might have a few kind of profound things in common…and now that I say that, it strikes me as weird that DS9 didn't get into that, like at all IIRC. Memory Alpha OTOH tells us that "It is perhaps interesting to note the similarity between the name of the Pagh and the Klingon word pagh. pagh can mean 'either' or 'or', and is also the word for 'zero' or 'nothing'." Now there's an honorable ship name: the I.K.S. Nothing.

Actual headline from July 16th, 2020: "Bacteria that eats metal accidentally discovered by scientists" (CNN)

"Greatest Gen" episode link.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (28 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cards of the Episode a-plenty from the Star Trek CCG: they mined this episode heavily in the Premiere set and never went back, basically:
Microbiotic Colony will damage your ship if you're running a pretty insufficient crew.

On the Klingon side we get Kargan, Dukath, Klag, and Vekma. 3/4ths of which were lousy one-skill commons, later to gain utility as mission specialists.

Similarly, there's our boy Mendon, who looks like Mordock, who looks like Mendon...clever that they figured out a way to make "The Mordock Strategy" a thing in the game even though it was never clear in the episode what kind of strategy it was, or in what context it was used.

Wait, what episode was I talking about?

Rounding out we get Klingon ship of the line I.K.C. K'Vort and the more specific I.K.C. Pagh. There are cards a bit later on to take advantage of having a 'matching commmander' on your ship.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Klingon players in Second Edition would really wanna take Riker along, providing four skills and good stats for low cost, with a very handy ability to pick up skills from Klingons.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:25 AM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes officer exchange programs are a thing.
posted by some loser at 7:59 AM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Had a lot of fun with this one. It says something about Brian Thompson that he can play a Klingon--or even a Jem'Hadar--and still remain innately Brian Thompsonish. I get what you're saying about Riker, but that's small stuff next to Wesley's "how do you tell each other apart?" moment. (At least he's been dialed down from Super Wonder Kid.) In general, though, this is a big Klingon episode, as you said; I'm pretty sure that this is the first time in canon that it's established that officers can rise in rank by "assassinating" (later expanded to winning a duel with) their superiors, something that had previously been established for the Terran Empire in TOS' "Mirror, Mirror." (In general, the Terran Empire seemed to have been modeled to be very Klingonesque, as they both featured agonizers, for example, although I think that the Terrans actually had them first.) It's fun to compare this ep to others that take place primarily aboard a Klingon ship, as in DS9's "Soldiers of the Empire", where Worf actually gets to fight such a duel, and "Sons and Daughters", in which a new crew member aboard a ship has much less fun at mealtime. [Please note: some spoilers for future continuity in those links, especially the latter one which spoils part of Worf's character arc in TNG.]

Random beta canon thing: if you want more of Klag, he's in some of the novels, along with other Klingons from here and there.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:40 AM on July 27, 2020

During my time in the UK Royal Air Force (1990-2007) exchange posts were certainly a thing, and were often very oversubscribed with applicants because of the perception that the posts on offer involved experience outside that usually available (which is why the RAF set them up). The majority were with the USAF but I met or worked with French, South African, Canadian and other nationalities during my service. An exchange would typically be for a full tour of duty (nominally 3 years) so for posts requiring fluency in the host-nation language that might mean a four-year commitment, which might actually be seen as slowing down your career (as you'd have done one job in the time your peers did maybe two.)

Another form of exchange is that nations often offer places to each other at their military academies, not only for basic officer training but for advanced staff courses. The UK's Advanced Command and Staff Course has something like a quarter or more of its several-hundred annual places filled by non-UK officers.

Actually, this is an odd nit-pick I have about Star Trek; we've seen Starfleet Academy as a venue for officer training, but we've never seen any suggestion that there's ongoing training for more senior officers. In a number of military forces I'm familiar with, promotion to Major or Lt-Col, or equivalent, either requires or leads to advanced training such as the ACSC. Also, I would imagine Starfleet would want to have some form of specialist training to qualify officers for starship command, as (for instance) the Royal Navy does for submarines in the form of the infamous 'Perisher' course.

So, given the proliferation of Trek spin-offs, who's up for Star Trek: Captain School? (Oh good grief, it would end up being known as Top Phaser, wouldn't it?)
posted by Major Clanger at 8:47 AM on July 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

Per the discussion in the previous episode, I'd settle for Star Trek: Enlisted and have them talk about some of the special courses and schools that way.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:03 AM on July 27, 2020

On March 3, 2269 Starfleet established an elite school for the top one percent of its command officers. Its purpose was to teach the lost art of ship maneuvering and to insure that the handful of beings who graduated were the best command track officers in the galaxy. They succeeded. Today, Starfleet calls it Starship Ops School. The officers call it: TOP PHASER.

I bet there are folks here who can make this really pop with authentic Star Trek terminology.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:22 AM on July 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think at the end when Kargan has been transported to the Enterprise, he wanted to be stopped but was unable to not pull his weapon as a matter of honor. He telegraphs his intent when pulling his weapon, doing a seriously overdone gesture as he produces it, not to mention loudly yelling that Riker tricked him.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:24 AM on July 27, 2020

The officers call it: TOP PHASER

I get the reference, but don't we already have this in Red Squad?
posted by Servo5678 at 10:10 AM on July 27, 2020

Red alert zone!
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:15 AM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

“I feel the need—
—the need for a conference room meeting!”
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:19 AM on July 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

I get the feeling that Red Squad may have been officially disbanded once their leader got hopped up on space speed and got himself and nearly the entire squad killed, not to mention a Defiant-class ship destroyed.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:27 AM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seems weird that both Mendon and Riker are wearing Starfleet uniforms for the officer exchange. I assume that Mendon should've been wearing a Benzite uniform but Riker wearing a Klingon uniform would've been entertaining.

Red Squad is made up of academy cadets. Top Gun (and our hypothetical Top Phaser) is a graduate program for experienced officers (Maverick and Iceman are both lieutenants). Given what we've seen of Starfleet battles, I assume the instructors at Top Phaser will be just as astounded as the ones in Top Gun were when one of the officers reports engaging the enemy while inverted.

Top Phaser was one of the unmade Star Treks I came up with for my mostly defunct novelty twitter account, though what I wrote above took more thought than I put into the tweet.
posted by ckape at 12:36 PM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is the first good Riker episode as far as I can recall, he has really made the role his own at this point.

Mendon's behavior makes me deeply uncomfortable. That's all.

The last bit when Riker goads Kargan into knocking him over in order to help Kargan save face is nice, but Klag's acknowledgment to Riker that it was a good idea makes it seem like everyone knows the whole hyper-macho Klingon culture is bullshit, but at this point they just gotta keep on with the charade. Maybe life on a Klingon ship is just a never-ending series of almost getting everyone killed in trumped-up psuedo-conflicts, and then one crewmember flinches and everyone subconsciously decides whether it was a good play at that point, and if so, they all just laugh it off and pretend the whole thing never happened, and if it was a cowardly flinch, they razz the hell out of him, shortsheet his bed, put worms in his gagh, etc. That's the only way Klingon culture makes sense to me, otherwise they are supposed to love death in combat more than anything and they'd just all be dead.
posted by skewed at 1:27 PM on July 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

The one thing from canon that makes me think that the Klingons don't necessarily love death in combat above all else is something that Kang says near the end of "Day of the Dove", "only a fool fights in a burning house." It's oddly pragmatic for a culture that's supposed to be obsessed with honor and glory, but it suggests a safety valve that keeps them from throwing their lives away in futile and stupid gestures: some kind of mutual (and maybe, or probably, tacit) agreement that the fight would not likely result in either an honorable or glorious outcome.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:58 PM on July 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

My headcanonis is that the hyper-macho Klingon culture is a reactionary movement that arose in the last century, in the face of repeated defeats and disasters. Sort of a "Well we tried being clever, and see what happened. Time to go all Klingon Robert Bly."
posted by happyroach at 2:04 PM on July 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

My headcanon works alongside that nicely I think, I've always had the dual idea that Klingon Warrior Culture is not actually the basis for their society (it can't be, not if they have spaceships and clothing and stuff*, and we see a Klingon chef in DS9 and he's far from murder-y), it's just pure military propaganda put out by the Klingons both to intimidate others, and to imbue their own grunts with a suicidal fervor. The only reason Starfleet thinks that's normal Klingon culture is because they largely only contact the military, and Worf is just doing his 'isolated diaspora' thing, trying to be the most 'Klingon' Klingon without a Klingon there to let him in on the trick. There's also a caste system in play I think too, but can't say for certain.

(*The flip side to this is also wonderful, where in fact they have a warrior/death cult culture in all aspects of life, and a Klingon spaceship factory is intentionally extremely OSHA unfriendly and the principal in a Klingon school is a total badass who killed all the other teachers to get there.)
posted by neonrev at 4:10 PM on July 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

I'm late to the party but yes, officer exchange programs are totally a thing. During my time instructing at Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston we had a British submarine officer going through the program.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:52 PM on July 27, 2020

That's an interesting idea about a Klingon caste system! Generations of prejudice and and arranged marriages could fractionalize a society, and non-Klingons rarely encounter the non-military caste.

If the Romulans could have Remans inserted, why not several Klingon technical castes? Like, instead of glory in death, creating the best weapon possible is a life's goal, or for scientific research that creates better technologies for combat.

For the flipside, you'd need rapid maturity and high fecundity for it to be sustainable. The technical castes may have tend to a different mental maturation trajectory whereas the military caste might just essentially be like zerglings?

And by entrenched prejudice, only members of the military caste can hold public office? I couldn't see a political caste.
posted by porpoise at 6:48 PM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

There is eventually an episode with a Klingon scientist who implies that Klingon machismo violence culture permeates academia as well, iirc. Also one where a crewmember is studying command courses, I think.

Always liked this one. Riker is peak Riker, you can easily see why people would follow him (and that he’d be a mean poker player). Then you’ve got your fun loving Klingons, always a good time. And I forgot how stone cold deadpan hilarious Worf is here.
posted by rodlymight at 6:51 PM on July 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

For the flipside, you'd need rapid maturity and high fecundity for it to be sustainable.

The good news is you won’t have to wait too long to find out.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:01 PM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is discussed on TV Tropes under 'Klingon Scientists Get No Respect', noting for Trek that there are indeed allusions to this being a fairly recent trend in Klingon society, and that in fact there are references by Klingons to science being a battle against ignorance.
posted by Major Clanger at 4:37 AM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Not much I can add to the discussion of the episode, but I love the discussion of Klingon society! It seems like something that would have been explored in some sort of Trek novel somewhere. As I would imagine I attested at some point in our DS9 rewatch, Worf is one of my favorite Trek characters, maybe my absolute favorite (Major Kira and Garak are way up there, too). I think Worf got the most character arc of any Trek character, probably partly due to having more episode appearances than any other actor, but perhaps also due to having more serious life events than any ST character I can think of. I don't want to go into those too much on the risk that I might be spoiling some things for other readers...

I do like the idea mentioned upthread that Worf may be leaning harder into some of the Klingon cultural ideals than most other Klingons due to his constant need to define himself as Klingon. The Dax characters allude to this in DS9, for instance. My assumption is that the writers may have been inspired at times by ideas we have of bushido, the samurai social code from pre-industrial Japan. I don't know if any TNG rewatchers read the comic Usagi Yojimbo, but the way samurai and ronin are handled as characters, and the way other characters treat them in that book (which is developed with historical sources by the creator, Stan Sakai), provides a reasonable template for thinking about how a Klingon society could work. Warriors have the most social status and try to assert and maintain that status through extremist values, while others in that society try to live their lives without attracting too much attention from those warriors.
posted by Slothrop at 8:02 AM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I forgot how stone cold deadpan hilarious Worf is

Michael Dorn is excellent at comic relief.

That's an interesting idea about a Klingon caste system!

This is made almost explicit in DS9 Once More Unto the Breach. Basically, Martok holds a deep grudge against Kor for rejecting his admission into the officer's ranks, entirely on the basis that he is "low born". Kor rationalizes this to Worf by saying if they are to remain Klingon, these distinctions must matter.

They never use the word "caste", but I think the meaning is pretty clear, especially when Kor talks about the royal blood that runs through both his and Worf's veins.
posted by rocketman at 8:36 AM on July 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

This is made almost explicit in DS9 Once More Unto the Breach. Basically, Martok holds a deep grudge against Kor for rejecting his admission into the officer's ranks, entirely on the basis that he is "low born". Kor rationalizes this to Worf by saying if they are to remain Klingon, these distinctions must matter.

They never use the word "caste", but I think the meaning is pretty clear, especially when Kor talks about the royal blood that runs through both his and Worf's veins.

Yes! This exactly, I couldn't remember the exact episode, I also feel like Kor references their royal blood in the Sword of Kahless episode, and I think Worf's brother is more explicit about the effects of discommendation being something analogous to having a royal title stripped and it all got a bit muddled.
posted by neonrev at 7:37 PM on July 28, 2020

Worf's brother is more explicit about the effects of discommendation being something analogous to having a royal title stripped and it all got a bit muddled

Kurn and Gowron, in different episodes, tend to recite the same boilerplate about it involving lands being seized, accounts frozen, losing a seat on the high council, etc. By the time of DS9, the House of Mogh has a seat on the council and I always wondered why no stories came out of that. Who was in that seat? Kurn? As a Starfleet officer, Worf can't take that seat and influence law on his homeworld. There's nobody else left in the House, is there? And if the House had that seat, why was Worf always blindsided about Klingon affairs such as invading Cardassia? He's not on the mailing list for announcements?

These are things I ponder at 2am during sleepless nights watching Star Trek on Netflix.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:30 AM on July 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

By the time of DS9, the House of Mogh has a seat on the council and I always wondered why no stories came out of that. Who was in that seat? Kurn?

It was Kurn, and a story did involve it: DS9 "Sons of Mogh", the last Kurn episode. As far as Worf not being in the loop? Serious answer: the events that led Worf to be on DS9 were all due to Founder infiltration of the Empire, and thus probably came as a surprise to 99.9% of all Klingons. Less serious answer: everyone in Worf's family knows that he's so hyperfocused on his job, he just never reads his space-e-mails or star-texts.

And though it may seem like he should've taken the time to check on the status of his house before Kurn arrived on the station, it's also the case that Worf was said to have been disenchanted by the Empire's leadership (by Dax, after "Sons of Mogh" IIRC though I don't recall which ep), which could then extend to just tuning out all Klingon politics, like I do in the grocery checkout lane when I see any of the British royals being paraded before my eyes in a transparent attempt to further erode Americans' resistance to despotic rule in preparation for the full maturation of the "unitary executive" philosophy hey where are you guys going
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:19 PM on July 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

by Dax, after "Sons of Mogh" IIRC though I don't recall which ep

Oh yeah, I remember that. It's Ezri Dax that says it to him because she's a step removed from Klingon culture, so she can look at it more objectively. Here's the full speech:

"I think that the situation with Gowron is a symptom of a bigger problem. The Klingon Empire is dying, and I think it deserves to die. I see a society that is in deep denial about itself. We're talking about a warrior culture that prides itself on maintaining centuries-old traditions of honor and integrity, but in reality it's willing to accept corruption at the highest levels. Who was the last leader of the High Council that you respected? Has there even been one? And how many times have you had to cover up the crimes of Klingon leaders because you were told it was for the good of the Empire? Worf, you are the most honorable and decent man I have ever met and if you're willing to accept men like Gowron, then what hope is there for the Empire?"
posted by Servo5678 at 9:27 AM on July 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

One thing that helped me understand Klingon society a lot better once I got it was that the Empire was Game of Thrones before GoT existed; it's a bunch of separate tribes who have unified for mutual defense and conquest (that would be why Kahless was so unforgettable--he got the separate Houses to stop fighting each other), but are also almost constantly jockeying for power and relative position in the High Council; it's possible for someone to rise through sheer personal merit and accomplishment, as Martok eventually did, but it's hard to do so.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:29 AM on September 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

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