This episode is a mess. It’s not as balls-out stupid like “The Naked Now”—it actually has a coherent plot with twist ending—but it’s a damn mess. You will see why.
Before we begin, let’s go over the TNG rules we established in the last recap:
- For every heartfelt and affecting moment in Data’s quest to be human, there’s way too many painfully awkward/unfunny ones.
- The competence of the Enterprise crew varies greatly depending on plot requirements.
- For a scifi show, some of this tech is dated as fuck.
- Wesley is the Gary-est Stu to ever Stu.
- Pop culture ended in 1987.
- Though TNG is a feminist show in many ways, it has some hella sexist moments.
Finally, if you’ve decided to watch TNG and follow along with my recaps, a) congrats on this excellent life decision b) beware potential spoilers, as I may occasionally comment on developments later in the series.
We open with the Enterprise approaching an Earthlike planet, Lingonberry II, which possesses a rare vaccine that is needed by the Federation planet Styrofoam IV. The Enterprise are here to negotiate a treaty to obtain this vaccine.
Riker, Troi, and Picard head to the cargo bay to greet the Ligonian party. We’re told via expository dialogue that the Ligonians have a highly structured society and are “exceedingly proud.” They insist on using their own transporter device to beam on board the Enterprise, though we’re never told why other than as a plot device. Maybe to show how proud they are? “My transporter is better than your transporter, bitches!”
Now, put on your hip boots, because the shit’s about to get deep.
The Ligonians are such a clusterfuck of Orientalist stereotypes I don’t even know where to begin. The actors are all dark-skinned, donning costumes that look like Disney’s Aladdin meets an MC Hammer video. One guy rolls out, or more like aggressively kicks out, a red carpet for the man who is evidently their leader. Looky here, a new rule!
- As progressive as Star Trek usually is, there’s some racist ass shit up in here.
Picard greets the leader with what I assume is a traditional greeting in their culture, facing the other person while raising your hands. Introductions are made, and Lutan seems shocked that Picard has a female security chief. His second-in-command, Hagon, presents a sample of the vaccine to Picard. Yar intercepts saying it’s her duty to inspect the goods first, but Hagon tries to bull his way through. Yar does what Yar does and opens up a can of whoop ass. Man, these Starfleet guys are great at diplomacy. Lutan, however, seems more amused than offended. Troi speaks to Picard discreetly, recommending that he not apologize as the gesture would weaken them in the Ligonians’ eyes.
Yar inspects the vaccine, finds nothing amiss, and hands it to Picard. He thanks the Ligonians and invites them to enjoy some Enterprise hospitality. Lutan agrees, and the Enterprise party leaves. Hagon apologizes to his leader over the incident with Yar but Lutan assures him it wasn’t his fault. He believes “the female” (assuming he means Yar) may be “exactly what [Lutan has] needed.” DUN DUN DUN.
It’s credits time, and then we’re back on the Enterprise. Lutan and his retinue are in the observation room with the Enterprise crew. Picard presents Lutan with a gift, inspired by his society’s similarities to “an ancient Earth culture we all admire.” Uhhhhh… bro, you just compared these guys to an ancient society. Not sure that’s a compliment. The gift is a sculpture from China’s Sun dynasty, which Picard misidentifies as 14th century before Data corrects him—it’s 13th century. #1
Lutan thanks Picard and offers to provide the vaccine as long as the Enterprise crew offer the appropriate respect. During his speech, he mentions that the Ligonians are not as technologically advanced as the Enterprise, which throws me for a loop. They have a transporter device and must have passed the Prime Directive’s requirement of warp technology, or Starfleet wouldn’t be fucking with them. So “less technologically advanced” would suggest, say, ToS-era technology as opposed to TNG. That’s not nearly as huge of a gulf as this dialogue seems to suggest. If the writers were trying to be like, “See, ~civilized doesn’t necessarily mean technically advanced!” they missed it by a light-year. All this tableau does is conjure up super-gross colonial imagery, contrasting the futuristic, mostly light-skinned Enterprise crew and the anachronistic, dark-skinned Ligonians.
Picard asks if there’s anything else Lutan would like to see on the Enterprise, and the latter says he’d like to see the Holodeck. Picard suggests Riker and Troi accompany him, but he asks for Yar, wishing to see her demo some defense exercises. He punctuates his request with a smarmy eyebrow raise.
Yar adopts this expression like, “Oh, my God, why can’t I be the Betazoid so I can telepathically tell Picard to say I gotta wash my hair or something?” Riker comments on Lutan’s interest in Yar and her post as security chief, adding that it’s not unusual for human women to have such professions.
HAGON: With us it is the duty of women only to own the land, and the duty of men to protect and rule it.
TROI: Much the same has happened in human history, too.
Troi is shady as hell while delivering this line, emphasizing the word “history.” Yar declares that she’d like to show Lutan the holodeck, clearly bristling at his and Hagon’s sexism. She, Lutan, and Hagon leave, while Picard and Riker share this “Oh, shit” look.
On the holodeck, Yar demonstrates some aikido exercises with a holographic sparring partner. Like most of TNG’s action sequences, it’s clumsily choreographed and super awkward to watch. After the demo, Hagon’s like, “Psssshhhh I can take this holographic asshole!” and Lutan’s like, “Let’s see some receipts.” So Hagon steps onto the mat and gets has ass handed to him by the hologram while Lutan chuckles. Yar explains more about the program while Lutan continues being smarmy. This makes Yar uncomfortable, but she has to placate him or no vaccine for Starfleet. Man, how timely is this scene? Not the holographic martial arts part, obviously, but the “guy hitting on woman and making her uncomfortable, but for professional reasons she can’t tell him to fuck off” part.
Lutan and Hagon return to the cargo bay to beam off the ship. Lutan wants to bid a personal farewell to Yar, then suddenly grabs her and beams off the ship with her. Picard calls a red alert.
An alarm wails as Picard and Troi return to the bridge. Riker gets the torpedos ready to go. Picard hails the Ligonians like, “Y’all done fucked up, now cough up my security chief before Riker here starts fucking shit up.” OK, he was more diplomatic but that was the gist of it. Riker fires a few warning photon torpedos, which explode harmlessly over the planet’s surface. He then asks LaForge if the transporter staff was able to trace the Ligonians’ transport beam. The latter says they couldn’t. Data starts rattling off inconsequential details of the Ligonians’ transport technology but shuts up when he sees everyone else’s eyes glazing over. #1
Picard asks Troi if she believes the Ligonians will injure Yar.
TROI: I believe not, sir. They seem mainly curious. In the case of Lutan, however, I did feel other needs.
Unicorner to bridge: Did someone call Captain Obvious?
Riker asks what kind of needs, and I’m wondering if maybe I was a bit premature in saying this wasn’t an idiot plot. Troi says she sensed sexual attraction from the men, emphasizing that Yar is “physically very attractive.” You sure Lutan is the one sexually attracted to Yar, sis? Between this and “The Naked Now” I’m starting to wonder about the relationship between these two. Troi adds that she also sensed something more like “avarice or ambition.” Data adds his $0.02 about the Ligonians’ respect for patience. Riker suggests waiting Lutan and co. out, and with no better ideas coming at him, Picard agrees.
Fade into the next scene, and Picard’s VO informs us they’ve waited a day and no response from Lutan. Meanwhile, the Enterprise’s sensors have located the Ligonian government compound. Dr. Crusher comes to the bridge leaving Wesley cowering in the lift, and I gotta wonder why she’s hauling the little shit with her. Where’s that galactic Babysitter’s Club again? Dr. Crusher enters Picard’s ready room where she informs him that the vaccine works fine when administered, but it becomes unstable when she tries to replicate it. She emphasizes how severe this epidemic is, so they must get more vaccine from this planet. This scene is a good example of the Picard/Crusher dynamic during moral dilemmas, with Dr. Crusher as the voice of reason and viewer stand-in while Picard takes the role of stoic, intellectual pragmatist.
Dr. Crusher also wants to talk about Wesley, because that’s totally appropriate at this time. Nobody cares about your damn kid, sis. She tries to make a case for letting the little shit on the bridge. Picard’s like, “Man, she will never shut up about this kid, will she?” and lets Wesley sit at ops by LaForge. The latter is like, “Is this real life?” and I can’t say I blame him.
Data shares more info from the briefing on the Ligonians:
DATA: … What Lutan did is similar to what certain American Indians (A/N: man, this particular line really didn’t age well) once did called “counting coup.” That is from an obscure language known as “French.”
PICARD: Mr. Data, the French language, for centuries on Earth, represented civilization.
I think you meant colonization, broseph. #7 (Admittedly, this seems redundant in an episode that is basically one gigantic #7). I’m genuinely wondering if the writers were trying to be as offensive as possible. Even in 1987, this is some bullshit.
Data tries to debate this but Riker strongly suggests he drop it. Dammit Riker, this is one time I wouldn’t want Data to shut up. Data goes on to add that counting coup was generally considered a heroic action, and the Enterprise crew believe this was likely Lutan’s motivation. Troi speculates that Lutan is so far up his own ass he’d be willing to kill in the name of his own self-image, because you really need to be an empath to see this. Dr. Crusher asks why kidnap Yar, and Troi replies that she “may have represented his riskiest prize.” You guys really had to hash out this racist bullshit to conclude that Lutan is a self-absorbed douchebag? Really?
I take back everything I said about this not being an idiot plot. Idiot plot, ahoy!
As if on cue, Lutan chooses this moment to finally answer the Enterprise’s hails. He’s like, “Bitch, turn on your space Facetime” (Spacetime?). Picard’s like, “Pics of Yar alive and well or gtfo.” Troi wants to speak to Picard so he puts Lutan on hold. Because the Enterprise crew are apparently experts now on the Ligonian Code of Honor (sup, episode title), Riker and Data tell Picard that the proper thing for the latter to do now is to politely ask for Yar back. Picard’s like, “Bitch what?” but goes along with it. In return, Lutan invites the crew to visit the Ligonians on the planet and they’ll give Yar back.
The next scene begins with the bridge crew debating as to who should lead the away team. Data the Ligonian Expert seconds Troi’s recommendation that Picard go, as per the Ligonian code of honor. Riker objects on grounds of the captain’s safety, but Data and Troi assure him of the Ligonian custom that a visiting leader is treated like an honored guest.
Cut to a matte painting of what I assume is the Ligon government building, which is more Aladdin realness with less catchy music. (Yes, I know Aladdin was released five years later so I’m not making any “copying” accusations, simply pointing out similarities in
Orientalist messes imagery).
The only nod to anything sci-fi-ish here is a glowing blue fountain in what appears to be the main courtyard. Lutan walks in and welcomes Picard and Troi to his “Centerplace.” Accompanying Lutan is Hagon and the first Ligonian woman we see, Lutan’s “First One” Yareena. Picard asks to see Yar, and Lutan assures him she will be returned to him at a banquet Lutan is holding in Picard’s honor. Picard is like, “Now, asshole.” Lutan acquiesces but remarks on Picard’s difficulties with basic politeness.
PICARD: Such as the politeness of saying “please” before abducting someone?
LUTAN: The expression “please” is used only when requesting the person back.
Wait, what? We know universal translators + convenience in filming a TV show are the reason why every alien civilization the Enterprise encounters speaks English, and I can buy this conceit on a basic communication level. But when you get down to the nitty-gritty, there are many idioms and specificities of different languages that can’t be directly translated. While it’s believable that the Ligonians have a similar term to “please” in their language, it’s presented here as if it’s used in the exact same manner and translates in the exact same way. And yes, let me nitpick on another minor detail in an episode full of much more egregious stupid.
A guard hauls a resisting Yar into the room. The latter assures Picard that she’s been well treated though she seems to be giving the guards a hard time. Yareena echoes Yar’s assurances. Picard and Lutan passive-aggressively dick around for a bit, end scene.
Fade in at the “banquet,” which is the clusterfuck you probably imagined it would be. I haven’t seen this much disparate stereotypical “tribal” imagery in one place since Coachella. A guy in a sequined vest and durag juggles what looks like machetes for everyone’s entertainment. Several guys in robes and turbans click together sticks as a kind of percussion instrument. Lutan and Yareena sit on a raised dais, with an empty chair on Lutan’s other side. Once again, the only vaguely scifi-ish touch to this scene is the blue “torches” behind the dais.
Yar is escorted in and takes a seat on the empty chair at Lutan’s side. Picard gives a speech praising and thanking Lutan for his hospitality, ending with a request that Yar be returned to him. Lutan pays more lip service to Picard’s respectful behavior but says he cannot part with Yar. Instead, he’d like her to become his new First One. Everyone is shocked and appalled, but none more than Yareena, who issues a challenge to the “right of supersedence.” It is soon revealed that this right will involve a fight to the death between Yareena and Yar.
Picard refuses the challenge, and Lutan is like, “Fine! I’m taking my vaccine and leaving!” Picard’s hands are tied, it seems. Later, he and Troi meet up privately with Yar. Picard asks if she knew of Lutan’s intentions, and she says she didn’t. In a truly bizarre exchange, Troi attempts to goad Yar into admitting she is attracted to Lutan, with the objective of getting Yar to think over the situation “completely and clearly.” Not only does this tactic not make any sense at all, but furthers the mentality that men can be controlling douchebubbles to women but we’ll lap it up as long as he’s attractive. #6 Troi reflects on how much easier this would be without the Prime Directive. I would’ve suggested a better script, but I guess that works too.
On the Enterprise, Dr. Crusher confers with Riker about the epidemic. They’re predicting deaths in the millions, much like viewers’ brain cells while watching this episode. Riker informs Picard of this info, which he then passes on to Troi and Yar. Yar believes she can easily win the challenge although she doesn’t intend to kill Yareena. Picard assures Yar she doesn’t need to do this, but she insists because the vaccine is so urgently needed.
Picard goes to find Lutan and overhears a convo between the latter and Hagon. Hagon wants to know why Lutan is so obsessed with Yar when Yareena can offer him many things, particularly her lands and wealth. Picard walks in and shmoozes Lutan by getting his best MRA on, needing only a fedora to complete the ruse. It works, and Hagon spills that Lutan is not as wealthy as he appears. Picard concludes that Lutan has nothing to lose re: this challenge—if Yareena is defeated, Lutan gets her lands, and if Yar is defeated, nothing will change.
On the Enterprise, Data goes to see LaForge, who is in the midst of shaving his face with a futuristic space razor. Data asks LaForge why he doesn’t use the razor Data has adjusted for “perfect efficiency.”
LAFORGE: Shaving is a human art form, Data. Technological perfection can shave too close.
Hey asshole, tell me if shaving’s still an art form when your ass is performing contortionist feats in a dorm shower stall while trying not to shred your legs with whatever razor is on sale at galactic Long’s.
Data insists on telling LaForge a shitty and unfunny joke, LaForge says it’s a shitty and unfunny joke, Data defends himself, he’s told 662 human jokes, yada yada. Data mispronounces a word in a silly way and LaForge starts cracking up. Guys, I’m sorry I bitched about the stupid Lingonberry plot. Please take us back to Lingonberry! #1 plus new rule:
- TNG writers should never attempt humor. Ever.
Riker summons Dumb and Dumber, and the two beam down to Ligon. Picard wants them to find out everything they can about Ligonian weapons. Data asks why, and Picard informs him of the challenge fiasco.
DATA: (to LaForge) Could this be human joke number 663?
LAFORGE: Negative, Data.
OK, that was funny.
The group hem and haw about the Prime Directive for a bit, giving Picard an opening to pontificate.
PICARD: By our standards, the customs here, their code of honor, is the same kind of pompous, strutting charades that endangered our own species a few centuries ago.
Sup #7 plus new rule:
- When it comes to distancing this utopian future from present day, holy overcompensation, Batman!
Meanwhile on the Enterprise, Riker is informing some peons that the captain wants Yar beamed back immediately should her life be in danger. Riker asks the transporter chief if he’s got their people on the ship’s sensors. The latter answers in the affirmative, and we see a little schematic of the Ligon government building with the away team members as little dots.
Yar meets with Yareena, telling the latter that she did not accept the challenge out of a desire to be Lutan’s First One, but because the Federation needs the vaccine. Yareena doesn’t buy it and won’t call off the challenge. Meanwhile, LaForge and Data inform the others that they found traces of a deadly poison on the weapons. Picard inquires about the metal poles in the courtyard outside, but Data is uncertain. He does rattle off some useless trivia about them, though, which everyone sort of humors. #1 Yar walks in and reports the upshot of her meeting with Yareena. Yareena thinks Yar loves Lutan, which the latter heatedly denies. She does mention being attracted to him, and I cannot for the life of me understand why the script keeps harping on this point. Some clumsy manifestation of the Not Gays™? If so, it kind of fails since it’s entirely possible that Yar can be attracted to Lutan and to
Troi women. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. New rule!
- Star Trek is kind of a mess when it comes to LGBT representation or lack thereof.
Hagon and some guards bring in several weapons for Yar to choose from. She selects a gold club with poisoned spines on it. The group hear a mild commotion outside and head to the window to check it out. It’s Yareena practicing on some kind of raised dais of varied levels with metal poles sticking out of it. She swings and jumps around the poles like a particularly violent and dangerous pole dancer. Several green lasers buzz to life, surrounding the dais like a railing with 4 laser beams in the middle extending up into the sky.
Back to the Enterprise. Because this episode wasn’t shitty enough, Wesley shows up on the bridge. Riker invites the little shit to sit at ops, then heads to the transporter room where he and Dr. Crusher meet up with Data. Data’s beamed back to meet in person because Picard is worried their communications will be intercepted. There’s been no indication so far that the Ligonians are capable of this, and the Enterprise gang didn’t seem to have a problem with discussing potentially sensitive info over the comms before—oh, fuck it.
As Data starts informing Riker and Dr. Crusher of Picard’s plans, we cut back to the planet. The challenge is about to begin. Yareena shows up like a champion boxer ready to step in the ring, donning a pink lamé catsuit. Yar is clad in her uniform and a Karate Kid-esque headband.
The challenge begins and it’s as awkward and fake-looking as you’d imagine, with lots of dramatic grunts dubbed in. Yar knocks Yareena back into one of the laser beams, which sizzles on impact and throws Yareena’s club out of her hand. The club lands on an unfortunate spectator, piercing his skin and killing him instantly. A couple attendants haul him off and combat continues once Yareena has her weapon back. Hagon expresses concern for Yareena, which warrants a suspicious look from Lutan. Eventually, Yar wins the challenge, piercing Yareena with her club. Suddenly, Yar leaps on Yareena and the two are immediately beamed up to the Enterprise. Dr. Crusher immediately rushes to the transporter to revive Yareena.
On the planet, Lutan and Picard quibble over the challenge. Lutan challenges the results but Picard is like, I upheld my end of the bargain, now cough up that vaccine. Riker fronts like he’s beaming a medical team down, but beams up the away team plus Lutan and Hagon. Picard escorts the latter two into the observation lounge, where Yareena waits, alive and well. Lutan flips shit, claiming their agreement is null. Picard, however, counters that Yareena did indeed die before Dr. Crusher revived her and offers to provide receipts should Lutan want them. Yareena reminds Lutan that upon death, a “mating agreement” dissolves. She names Hagon her new First One and asks Yar if she wants Lutan. Yar says no, so Yareena appoints Lutan her Second One. Sucks to be you, Lutan!
The Ligonians return to the planet, and we fade in to Picard entering the bridge. He sees Wesley at the console and is like, dafuq? Riker hastily covers for the kid, and Picard assures Wesley he’ll have another chance to sit on the bridge. The Enterprise warps on out of here, and that’s a wrap.
In addition to “Justice” (bet y’all really looking forward to that recap now, huh?) “Code of Honor” is thankfully the most racist tomfoolery we will see on TNG. As this was the era before the Internet and social media, I’m uncertain if there was significant blowback from viewers or the writers just learned from their mistakes, but I’m glad they did. This was just a cringefest from start to finish, even discounting how poorly it aged. Remember how I speculated that maybe the writers were trying to do a whole “~civilized doesn’t always mean technically advanced” kind of thing? Well, the ending of this episode did absolutely nothing to show that. The Federation weren’t humbled in any way, nor did the Ligonians prove the Enterprise crew’s perceptions of them wrong. Furthermore, after all that hemming and hawwing about the Prime Directive, the Federation ended up meddling in the Ligonians’ shit anyway—their interference directly led to a change of leadership, and Yareena would not be alive if not for Starfleet’s medical technology (Lutan’s disbelief upon finding her alive suggests that nobody else has ever come back from that poison before, at least that he knows of.)
Well, at least this recap is over now and I can go back to ignoring this episode’s existence again. Next time, the writers turn their critical eye toward capitalists, and that’s a target I can get behind.