Life With Klingons: “A Matter of Honor”

Marie Brownhill
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Continuing on our journey into TNG season 2, we’re revisiting “A Matter of Honor.” In brief, this is largely a Klingon episode, and fortunately, as with “Loud As a Whisper,” it is a Pulaski-light episode. We also get to see Commander Riker come into his own as the Power of the Beard grants him more gravitas or something similar. That gravitas is particularly important in this episode because Riker will be participating in an officer exchange program; he’ll be filling in as First Officer on the I.K.S. Pagh, and if this seems strange to you, it’s incredibly weird for Riker. However, before we get to the Klingons, we have to suffer through an interlude with Crusher and a returning John Putch as Mendon, a Benzite. Putch previously played Mordock, the Benzite Starfleet Academy candidate from “Coming of Age,” and the script slyly nods at Putch’s return by having Crusher ask how the Benzites tell each other apart. It’s a little cringe-worthy but certainly nowhere nearly as much as Mendon’s overweening ego, and we get all of this interaction before the main credits.

The cold open is a harbinger of things to come. No time is wasted in “A Matter of Honor.” Even the walk-and-talk sequence with Worf is tightly focused on the differences between serving on a Federation vessel and the expectations of a Klingon crew, and cultural differences will be the major theme of this episode. From Riker’s shock at being expected to assassinate his captain to Mendon’s “helpfulness,” “A Matter of Honor” explores how different cultures will both clash and come together to achieve a given goal, and this is Trek at its purest, even unto the good-natured ribbing about Klingon food. Approximately a million years ago, I studied abroad in France, and my host family absolutely DELIGHTED in trying to frighten the American with odd food choices. I remember tasting a few clams only to have one of them open its shell and start scooting around the plate, and I’m sure that my face was only slightly more scandalized than Riker’s when the Klingons serve him still-living gagh. Overall, I love the way Riker uses humor as a cultural bridge. Finding commonality in the face of difference is a driving force in the franchise, and really, this episode is a great example of what makes Star Trek what it is.

I’d also argue that “A Matter of Honor” is the first episode that gives us the Klingons as we come to know them throughout TNG. Yes, yes, I realize that the trend started with “Heart of Glory,” but “A Matter of Honor” really establishes that Klingons are people and not archetypes or one-dimensional villains as they were in TOS. Perhaps that, more so than the leaps in special effects or technological understanding, encapsulates the difference between the eras of TOS and TNG. Sure, Kargan is ridiculous; there’s no logic in his determination that the Enterprise attacked his ship. However, even if Kargan’s leap makes no sense to us, and indeed is not intended to make sense to a non-Klingon, his conclusion grows out of his Klingon mindset. At least, I choose to give writers Burton Armus, Wanda Haight, and Gregory Amos the benefit of the doubt on this point. The moment is a fantastic look at just how deeply culture influences thought.

Riker’s solution neatly demonstrates how much Riker himself has learned. He plays with the concepts of honor and disgrace, and credit to Johnathan Frakes, at no point does Riker mock the culture. He understands and respects their culture, which is why he allows Kargan to regain some of his dignity. Klag, Vekma, and the rest of the Klingons recognize the gambit for what it is. Brian Thompson and Laura Drake are fantastic here, even if Christopher Collins chews through the scenery like it’s Rokeg Blood Pie. All in all, the episode finishes on a very satisfying note.

Rating: Four Bat’leths and a Mek’leth

Stray Thoughts from the Couch

  1. Is it just me, or does the phaser range look a whole lot like multicolored Pong? Also, it is beyond clear that neither Frakes nor Stewart have any idea what to do with their bodies during that entire scene. That said, the interplay between Picard and Riker is note-perfect. Picard cleverly insinuates that Riker should volunteer for the exchange program, and Riker, fully aware of Picard’s gambit, takes the bait. This is one of the first scenes that proves the cast is really beginning to gel into the group we will come to know and love in future seasons.
  2. Colm Meany returns in this episode, wearing the correct uniform and showing us some of the snark that will characterize Miles O’Brien in later seasons of TNG but even more so in DS9.
  3. While Worf has not achieved his Final Hair Form, he’s got some great moments in this episode, from his thinly veiled threat to Mendon to his observations on Klingon culture. It’s a great look at what will make the character great, even if he’s not entirely there yet.
  4. The episode mostly drops the Mendon story-line, frankly to its credit. Mendon exists primarily to irk Picard, misunderstand customs aboard the Enterprise, science dump the bit about the neutrino beam, and give Wesley a moment to be friendly. When compared with the Klingon plotline, Mendon simply suffers, but Worf gets a chance to shine.
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