Sunday, August 16, 2015

ST: TNG - Code of Honor

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Code of Honor

New life and new civilizations = exotic.
Exotic = giant black guy in turban.
Also, catfight using hairy balls. 'Cuz stuff.
It's all quite straightforward, you see.

Funny to watch how awkwardly TV shows at the time were trying to balance pandering to both ethnocentrism and political correctness. Visit a planet full of ritualistically violent primitives... and they just happen to all be black. I don't mean black with purple polka-dots or pointy ears or black with facial ridges and three hearts or whatever but just... Africans dressed in Arabian Nights costumes. It's okay, though, the Prime Directive means we respect their diversity. You couldn't get a more ham-handed attempt at inclusiveness from Diff'rent Strokes.

Still, I must say that within the idiotic core precept, the writers, cast and crew kinda made this work every bit as far as it could have. Quoth Wikipedia:
"The African theme of the episode was brought in by director Russ Mayberry, who had the Ligonians race cast entirely from African-American actors. Mayberry was fired during production by the show's creator Gene Roddenberry, and First Assistant Director Les Landau completed the episode. Star Trek novel author Keith DeCandido later recalled that this was because of the casting itself, while cast member Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) thought that it was because Mayberry was racist towards the guest stars after they were cast."

They probably couldn't scrap the damn thing already bought and paid for and so churned out one of TNG's more embarrassing low points. Hell, I couldn't even remember this one from twenty years ago. Amazingly, it comes across not just as insultingly racist and ineptly politically correct but somehow dull as well. Most scenes come across as stretched too thin, languishing in slack-jawed dialogue for its own sake, and the fights take so long they were quite obvious filler. They played it with all the dignity they could muster under the original concept's limitations but instead of portraying stilted and stiff formality they wound up with stilted and stiff scenes. Well, more so than usual.

Here's one high point, however, the little bit of Data/Picard banter on the bridge:
DATA. Counting Coup - that is from an obscure language known as French
PICARD. Mr. Data! The French language for centuries on Earth represented civilization.
Well executed and within the perpetually French-bashing medium of American pop culture a surprising and welcome relief. Of course, it's risky business to remind the patriots of any empire that theirs is only one of many which have come and gone, that their pride is nothing special.
Still, Picard's taking umbrage at this doesn't quite mesh with humanity's unified, post-tribal state in TNG as a whole, so even the best scene in this episode was sort of misplaced.

This was the third installment after the overwrought pilot and spring break special second episode. Ouch. I never realized just how shaky a start this series stumbled through.

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