Riker participates in an officer exchange program, becoming first officer on board a Klingon ship. As he learns Klingon ways and protocols, he grows in understanding them as a people. Things nearly escalate out of control when a misunderstanding leads the Klingon Captain to think the Enterprise has attacked them with a biological weapon, and Riker must find a way to diffuse the situation without violating his loyalty to either vessel.
Story by Wanda M. Haight & Gregory Amos and Burton Armus. Directed by Rob Bowman.
A Matter of Honor is far and away the best episode of the second season of Next Generation so far, and by simple maths, therefore the best episode of the series up to this point. We had seen Klingons before, in Season One’s relatively strong Heart of Glory, but this episode takes the concept further, featuring not a bunch of Klingon dissidents, but some “mainstream” warriors instead. The development of the Klingons as characters and a culture that we see here is Star Trek history in the making, and successfully fulfills one of the greatest promises inherent in the whole Next Generation premise.
The decision to pit an outsider (Riker) amongst the Klingons, as opposed to Worf himself, is a wise one. Riker makes for an excellent anchor to the whole story, with Jonathan Frakes doing an outstanding job bringing the character to life. There were many at the time who were not fond of Riker: he was accused of being a Kirk-clone (one parody called him “Commander Re-Kirk”) with a laughable series of romances. But the Riker we see here is confident, intelligent, tough, and principled while still showing an appropriate level of uncertainty and a sense of being out of his depth.
There is one great scene on board the Klingon ship after another, as Riker successfully deals with opposition to his appointment, bonds with the crew over lunch, and gets more at the heart of what honor really means to a Klingon. A real highlight comes when Captain Kargan begins to believer the Enterprise has secretly attacked them and demands that Riker clarify his loyalties. The drama is compelling and the dynamic between the two is powerful. “I will obey your orders. I will serve this ship as First Officer. And in an attack against the Enterprise, I will die with this crew,” vows Riker when Kargan wants him to give up the Enterprise’s secrets, “but I will not break my oath of loyalty to Starfleet!”
Kargan, unfortunately, shows himself to be a bit less impressive, unfortunately, being so ready to jump into battle. This detracts from things somewhat, and admittedly helps Riker to shine, but really by the time Riker was demanding Picard to surrender, and then later giving Kargan a chance belt him across the head as a means of saving face, I didn’t care. This story just had one awesome moment after another.
If there is a weakness to the episode it is definitely the little “subplot” with Ensign Mendon being annoying to everyone on the Bridge. It was useful because it led to the Klingons’ confusion about the Enterprise’s actions, but overall goes on a bit long, and includes an annoying scene of Wesley Crusher trying to give him a pep talk. Nobody knew it at the time, but man, that guy just about caused a breakdown of the whole Federation-Klingon alliance!
Shout Outs to the Past
Well, there is obviously the reference to Mordock, who beat Wesley into Starfleet Academy back in Coming of Age.
Setting Up the Future
Nothing in particular, except for all the material about Klingon honor and battle protocol helps to inform every future Klingon story.
• Christopher Collins, who plays Captain Kargan, was the voice of Cobra Commander over several versions of GI Joe.
• Peter Parros, who plays a tactics officer, was a regular on the last season Knight Rider.
• This is our first view of the phaser practice range. It makes the scene between Riker and Picard at the start that much more interesting, and is appropriate that it seems like Riker overall is doing better at actually shooting.
• Good Worf moment when Picard gently instructs the semi-clueless Mendon on ship protocol. He sternly tells him, “You may impress me.”
• Hmm. Riker exhorts the Klingon to maintain relationship with his father – even though it’s not too long before we will discover that Riker himself is estranged from his own father
• It doesn’t really make sense that Captain Kargan gives Riker the role to order the attack on the Enterprise, except for the shear drama of it all.
• Beaming Captain Kargan directly the Bridge was expedient, and gave Worf a great moment with a phaser, but you’d think the transporters would be able to detect whether the person they were carrying was human or not.
• Neither Geordi nor Troi appear in this episode. On the other hand, Dr. Pulaski does show up in one of those small bit roles that are usually reserved for regulars making their token appearance in an episode that they don’t feature in strongly. It’s an indication that she is clearly looked at as a regular, even though she’s not on the opening credits.
Dialogue High Point
Another example of a line that I have remembered since my original viewing of this episode: when Riker is enjoying the Klingon lunch, he is surprised when one dish is moving. A Klingon responds
Gagh is always best when served live.