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The Trek Nation - A Matter of Honor

A Matter of Honor

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 23, 2007 - 11:22 AM GMT

See Also: 'A Matter of Honor' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When the Enterprise takes on a group of exchange officers, including a Benzite named Mendon, Riker tells Picard of his interest in becoming the first Starfleet officer to serve aboard a Klingon vessel. He is assigned to the Pagh as first officer, where he must demonstrate his physical prowess against second officer Klag and eat Klingon food to demonstrate his fitness to hold the position. Meanwhile, Mendon discovers a virulent subatomic bacteria devouring the hull of the Klingon ship, but does not warn Picard while the Pagh is in range because he fails to understand the proper protocols. The Enterprise sets an intercept course to warn the Pagh, but the Klingons have already discovered the bacteria and believe the Enterprise infected them in an act of sabotage. Riker insists that the Starfleet crew would have done no such thing and says he will not break a vow either to Starfleet or to the Klingons; he will follow Captain Kargan's orders but he will not attack his own ship. Instead he tricks Kargan into sending a transponder signal that alerts Worf, who beams the Klingon captain onto the Enterprise bridge. Taking command of the Pagh, Riker demands Picard's unconditional surrender, after which he magnanimously allows Picard to assist the Klingons with repairs. Honor is satisfied, though not before Kargan punches Riker across the Klingon bridge and orders him removed from the Pagh.


Analysis: "A Matter of Honor" is a really, really fun episode that also happens to mark the beginning of modern-era Klingons. Though we saw a couple during The Next Generation's first season, this is our first extended look inside a Klingon ship and into the minds of Klingon officers, who speak almost incessantly of honor, the hallmark of Klingons on this series and Deep Space Nine. It also reconfirms Riker's value not only as an officer on Picard's ship, but as a character in this series, able to take risks and challenges that the captain either can't or won't. (It took several years for Jean-Luc Picard to grow on me the first time I watched back in the 1980s, but I was sold as a Riker girl by now.) This is Riker in Kirk mode, a mixture of swagger and speechifying that he pulls off with charm and self-confidence. He's both an excellent Starfleet officer, ambitious, focused, hard-working, prepared to do his homework even if it means eating gagh, and a terrific Klingon, swaggering, macho, natural, voracious. I just love the scene in the Klingon mess where he's laughing and posturing for the men and flirting with the women, all the while studying everyone and everything even as he's bracing himself to eat live worms.

This is a message story where the message is entirely in the story, without any summary or lecture to slow down the action or insult the viewer's intelligence. It's all about the importance of mutual cooperation and understanding, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations at its finest, but there's no statement of the philosophy nor even the wearing of a symbol to push the idea. Even Wesley's little nudges of encouragement to Mendon are tolerable in this context. Mendon is rather amusing because he's a bit like first-season Wesley, certain he knows more than officers with twice his experience (and sometimes he's right) but so unbearably know-it-all that it's hard not to want to smack him. Worf, the Federation's resident Klingon, spends the first half of the episode growling at him to keep him in line -- "Observe your station," he barks -- but its the Starfleet officers who then realize they should have paid more attention to cultural differences, for after being snapped at by Picard to follow the chain of command, the Benzite decides not to mention the bacteria he is the first to discover because he has no solution to the problem when the Klingon ship departs.

We don't learn much about Benzites as a species that we didn't pick up from Mordock, the Benzite against whom Wesley competed for Starfleet Academy admission in "Coming Of Age" - there is a rather funny exchange about all Benzites looking alike to humans and vice versa. But we learn a lot about Klingons, whom we are experiencing here as a warrior culture rather than an imperialist enemy...the fugitives in "Heart of Glory," another first season episode, aren't really representative, nor is the outsider raised by humans, Worf, even though he tells Riker he has studied every facet of Klingon society. The Klingons are doubtful they have anything to learn from a human except weakness, a fact seemingly confirmed for them by Riker's horror when Klag explains that he has broken all ties with his father because the warrior failed to die honorably in battle but was taken prisoner by the Romulans. (It's also interesting in retrospect because Riker and his father have extremely strained relations, a topic that emerges later this season.) Riker is surprised that the Klingons have such good senses of humor and they are surprised that he can laugh at himself, particularly when they're trying to goad him, suggesting that he should be breast-fed by one of their women because he could handle neither their food nor their erotic advances.

The two plots converge neatly when the Klingons believe that the Enterprise has engaged in stealth biological warfare against them, though the captain and second officer disagree on Riker's role; Kargan is certain that he is a traitor and saboteur, while Klag doesn't believe Riker would have engaged in such dishonorable subterfuge. Kargan believes that honor can only be restored if he sneaks up on the Enterprise under cloak and attempts to destroy the ship, which Riker doubts that he can do in a single pass before his Starfleet crewmates figure out where they are and shoot back. The Klingon captain is satisfied that Riker has enough honor to die like a Klingon, but an honorable death isn't really on Riker's list of priorities at the moment. Trusting that Picard and the rest of his crewmates will follow his signals, even without Troi around to tell everyone what he's feeling, Riker tricks Kargan and then gives the rest of the Klingon crew a reason to respect him. When he asks for Picard's surrender, Picard does not hesitate. It's a lovely moment between these two officers, another aspect of their teamwork on the holodeck fighting drones with phasers.

Next Gen obviously hadn't made its mind up yet about the importance of family honor as a component of personal honor for Klingons, or maybe we're supposed to assume that not all Klingons interpret their culture in precisely the same way. Kargan is spoiling for a fight even though the Federation is his ally now, while Klag seems to agree with Riker that they are honor-bound to figure out precisely what is going on before doing something reckless. Ignoring for the moment the nonsensical technobabble -- a microbiotic colony made up of subatomic bacteria? Oh, please -- the themes of the episode come together perfectly for a well-paced and enjoyable resolution that manages to put off the issue of whether Klag should engage in that time-honored Klingon tradition of assassinating his superior, even though he plays the situation better than Kargan. Sometimes you have to take your punches, as he teaches Riker.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.