OVERALL RATING: D-. ACTING: B. DIRECTION: D. WRITING: F.
THE SHOW: The third episode of TNG's first season is yet another example of the great discrepancy between TNG's acting talent and its writing talent--a problem that will plague the series (all the way through the "Chain of Command" horrors of Season 6).
"Code of Honor," a story about primitive black people and their violent tribal mating rituals, is perhaps the worst script ever written, by anybody, for any TV show. It is stupid, mindless, racist, sexist, gratuitously violent and ill-conceived from start to finish. Yet the episode is "watchable"--because Patrick Stewart swallows his British pride and manages to be inventive with some of the worst dialogue ever written--and the other actors do passably well, acting it out, with special kudos to Denise Crosby for maintaining her dignity in a role that is only a few cuts above some piece of garbage you might find in "Hustler" magazine about female wrestlers.
The Ligonians (a primitive, kind of African-looking tribe of black people) hold the only antidote for a plague on Styris IV. These primitive black people turn out not to give much of a crap for the fate of the people on Styris IV, but they do have some low-level native cunning at exploiting the situation for purposes of satisfying their own carnal lust.
The Enterprise is thus dragged into a blackmail situation wherein the planet's chieftain, named Lutan (Jessie Lawrence Ferguson), wants his current "first wife" Yareena (Karole Selmon) to engage in physical combat with the Enterprise's chief of security, Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), for the privilege of being his wife, and kidnaps Lt. Yar for this purpose. The time is 1987. Let's be real. This ain't the 24th Century. Or, maybe the time might be better identified at 1887, maybe even 1787. Ronald Reagan is President. The 1960s are over. We're in Rollback City--as in roll back the clock and undo all the human rights advances of the last two decades.
They even have Captain Picard shouldering up to the patriarch Lutan, at one point, and implying that, if he weren't her commanding officer, he might be in Lt. Yar's underpants himself. (Granted, he's trying to save her life--but that's not the subliminal message of the scene. The sublim is a boys' locker room pin-up of the Enterprise Chief of Security. Picard comes across as agreeing with Lutan's view of Tasha Yar as a nice piece of meat.)
How this racist garbage got onto the airwaves is a major mystery. L.S.D. in the Paramount canteen coffee pot? An F.B.I. plot? Maybe Powers and Baron (the writers) are psuedomyns for William Casey and J. Edgar Hoover--no, I think Hoover was dead by 1787. This may be the work of the younger White House operatives who were also training assassins in this country to go back to El Salvador and slaughter nuns and priests and rebellious peasant schoolteachers by the thousands. Where was Oliver North when this episode was written? Are his whereabouts accounted for? Was this the incident that put Reagan's supplier, Manuel Noreiga, on the White House S-list? Did he drug Paramount?
The plot twist in the end, where Lutan gets his comeuppance and "first wife" Yareena gets all the property (and gets to award it to her choice of husbands) hardly salvages the impression we are given of African-Americans that they don't care about white people suffering a plague on another planet and are consumed by sexual lust. It's a surprise to me that African-American actors LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge) and Michael Dorn (Lt. Worf) didn't walk off the set and never come back.
The "honor" of the title ("Code of Honor") is non-existent. Guest stars Ferguson and Selmon can possibly be excused for participating in this racist romp, on the grounds that times were tough for non-regular black TV actors in 1887. As for the white folk--producers, directors, actors, all--who put this show on TV, since they can't all be racist pigs--god forbid--it might have been one of these deals like you have on Star Trek sometimes where aliens take over the bodies of otherwise loyal and upright and humanitarian Starfleet officers and make them do bad things.
I don't much believe in censorship but I wouldn't mind seeing this episode permanently shelved. The producers ought to have at least apologized to the African-American community. Or maybe they could arrange a deal where the episode is only aired in re-runs in the white areas of South Africa.*
TERGIVERSATION METER READING: I'm giving it a -9 (on a scale of -5 to +5), that is, way off the chart, for its racist, sexist outrages, while granting it one point for its honesty. Honesty is something--and it gets harder and harder to come by as we proceed into deep space. It might be viewed as a sort of campy comic book piece: "Afro-Space Queen meets Blonde Godzillarena."
Tergiversate (tur-ji-ver-sat): 1. To use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate. 2. To change sides; to defect; apostatize. The Tergiversation Meter scale runs from -5 (very defective) through +5 (unambiguous, true blue philosophical humanism with no negative subliminal messages).
*NOTE: This review was written before the election of Nelson Mandela to the Presidency of South Africa, in South Africa's first free and multi-racial election, in 1994. I thought I'd leave it alone. It says what it says.
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