Friday, August 21, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"A Matter of Honor"

The second season is when Riker becomes the swashbuckling hero who finally convinces us Starfleet would continuously promote to captain as opposed to just telling us that is who he is during the first season and hoping we will take the writers’ word for it. It does become difficult to do as he refuses four separate commands (In “Death Wish,” it is revealed Riker was offered Command of Voyager before Janeway.) yet chooses to stay in his cushy Enterprise position.

One may argue he was angling for Picard’s spot, but consider the way the military works. The entire purpose of serving as an officer is to gain experience for the next, higher rank. The military drums out those who cannot or will not cooperate with that. If riker had refused promotion for seven years in the US Navy--to say nothing of the fifteen years he remained a commander--he would have been looking for another line of work in no time.

I understand for the sake of drama they wanted to keep him on the show for the entire run. In many ways, he filled the Kirk role for TNG while Picard created an all new type of captain. That is, by the way, one of the big reasons I have never participated in a Kirk versus Picard debate. The two of them may have different styles, but when a brash, Kirk-like response was needed, there was Riker to pull it off. But I digress. My complaint is they should have not made it clear right off the bat Starfleet was eager to promote Riker but he kept refusing. The timid reaction to working without a net does not fit with the rest of his personality.

There will be will plenty of chances to discuss that later. For now, Riker is eager to participate in an officer exchange program with the Klingon ship Pagh. The Enterprise is also participating. They get a Benzite named Merdon who is an arrogant know it all, but eager to please. You may recall a Benzite was chosen over Wesley to enter Starfleet Academy in “Coming of Age“ even toughed not score swell. For whatever reason, Starfleet is hyper to affirmative action Benzites into key positions. Merdon messes up protocol, nearly causing a ship-to-ship battle with the Pagh, so one could argue Merdon was in over his head. Somehow, I suspect his screw up was an existential critique of affirmative action, sort of like how Barack Obama’s mention of the post office’s inefficiency is an argument against government run health care.

Merdon’s story is only a contrivance to create eventual conflict for Riker. The heart of the story is the thawing of the cold war between the humans and klingons just as the real Cold War was sputtering to an end. The big picture was not presented until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country<. This was a more personal story. A bit heavy-handed at times, such as when both riker and the Klingons express surprise each has a sense of humor. It reminded me of Ayn Rand’s Congressional testimony in which she claimed the Soviets never smiled. At least the TNG exchange had some historical allegory. Not that Maurice Hurley is a fan of Ayn Rand. Or ever heard of her, for that matter. He did move on to Baywatch and Baywatch Nights after this. Neither was a bastion of philosophical thought outside of wondering why Pamela Anderson carried a floatation device when shehad those boobs which probably work much, much better.

Note the irony that one of the klingons says he refuses to see his father because he was a POW of the Romulans who was not allowed to die an honorable death. He is home, alone, set to die as a weak, old man. Riker scolds the Klingon for not wanting to see his father even though it will be revealed a few episodes later Riker is estranged from his father, too. The exchange makes Riker look like a hypocrite. Surely the subsequent episode was already planned at this point. There was an opportunity to foreshadow Riker’s difficulties with his father, but instead the usual motif of humans lecturing aliens for practicing their culture rears its ugly head.

What makes that even stranger is riker is expected to abide by the Klingon tradition of a first officer’s duty to kill the captain if he becomes weak or ineffective. So Riker and Starfleet are going to abide by a tradition of murdering the incompetent, yet are upset by different family dynamics. The former does not offend their sensibilities, but the latter does? Unreal. It does come up as a plot pit when Riker has the captain beamed to the Enterprise in order to take over the ship. It is a plan to avoid a conflict when the captain believes his ship has been sabotaged when, in fact, is infected by a corrosive organism. One wonders how the captain’s capture does not dishonor him since he is supposed to be killed by tradition, but I will let that one go.

I liked this episode. Like “Day of the Dove” in TOS, it expands upon the Klingons as being more than just gereneric, warlike bad guys. Riker, too, finally comes into his own as a tough, cunning character. I do not much buy into the notion “A Matter of Honor” was meant for us to sympathize with Worg since Riker’s experience on the Pagh is allegedly Worf’s daily experience on the Enterprise. It is made clear Worf struggles to be a Klingon because has become so ingrained in him. He is only praised when he adoptts human characteristics. That is pretty much what Riker insisted the Klingons on the Pagh do, as well.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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