|It’s so bad.|
Would you believe it actually gets worse?
Let’s square away the obvious right away. “Code of Honor” is catastrophically, disgustingly and inexcusably racist. I don’t think anyone disputes that. Jonathan Frakes describes it bluntly as a “racist piece of shit”, and his castmates emphatically agree: Michael Dorn calls it “the worst episode of Star Trek ever filmed” while Brent Spiner muses that “It was the third episode so it was fortuitous that we did our worst that early on and it never got quite that bad again”. Somewhere along the way, somebody, most likely an assistant casting director or wardrobe designer, made the absolutely unthinkable decision to make the Ligonians an entire culture of space Africans, when they had never once been specified as such in the original script, and on top of that has them kidnap a white woman. Story editor Tracy Tormé points out the obvious, saying “Code of Honor” features a “1940s tribal Africa” depiction of Africans. Even Gene Roddenberry, a man not always known for his enlightened and progressive view of nonwestern, nonwhite societies, fired the director halfway through filming for being racist to the cast, although he was apparently fine with the rest of the episode.
The bottom line is nobody important wanted this episode to happen, and indeed *everyone* important was trying desperately to ensure that it didn’t happen. So let’s take it as read that “Code of Honor” is utterly abominable at a conceptual level, try to forgive the people we’ll be spending the next seven years with (because it really wasn’t their fault) and take a look at everything else that sucks about this repulsive train wreck. The first thing we notice after stripping away the most obvious hideousness is that the plot is basically an apathetic retread of “Amok Time”, with a member of the Enterprise forced to fight in ritual combat, with the clandestine administration of a neurosuppressor agent to one of the combatants a key part of the battle. Not only does it eschew absolutely all of the complex sexual and world-building themes of “Amok Time” in lieu of fantastically shitty and racist ones, as Wil Wheaton points out, “Code of Honor” aired the week after “The Naked Now”…Which was another twelfth-rate rehash of an Original Series episode. Not exactly the message the all-new Star Trek striving to stand apart from its iconic forebearer wants to be sending three weeks into its run.
But for me the worst part of all of this is that this is an episode I once actively sought out and looked forward to seeing. Let me, uh, try to explain: I was badly, badly mislead by Starlog magazine in this case, and I don’t think I’ve quite gotten over that even now. “Code of Honor” was not an episode I saw when I was first introduced to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I didn’t watch it when originally aired, or even during the syndicated reruns various networks would often run in later years.…