The Good: Acting, Plot, Character, Effects
The Bad: Minor production stuff
The Basics: A solid Klingon episode, “A Matter Of Honor” puts Riker on a Klingon ship with a crisis he's actually forced to solve using his own skills.
Star Trek The Next Generation tries several things that Star Trek never did. One of them is that there come several officer exchange programs. The first of these is "A Matter of Honor." The reason this episode is probably so successful is that it is simply the first attempt at such an episode. The basic idea of Star Trek The Next Generation is to explore various cultures (or aspects of our culture or world under the guise of alien races) and the direct way to do this is to force a character into another culture fully. This episode finds Riker aboard a Klingon ship and a new alien officer aboard the Enterprise.
Commander Riker decides, under the clever manipulation of Picard, to take a job on a Klingon starship. This leads Riker to learn as much about Klingons as he can. When Riker leaves, the Enterprise takes on a Benzite ensign. While Riker begins to learn the joys and hazards of working on the Klingon ship (fear of assassination, eating Klingon food), the Benzite officer attempts to make a difference on the Enterprise. In the process, the poor Benzite, who Wesley befriends, offends every major officer, especially Worf. Riker's attempts at integration are going well, until a microbiotic colony threatens the Klingon ship and the Klingon captain assumes it is a new weapon from the Federation.
What works is that Jonathan Frakes performs well as Riker. He fleshes Riker out as an adventurous, risk-taking man who is interesting to watch. And in this episode, Frakes plays that off well, keeping Riker interesting and layered. In fact, the episode is strengthened by Frakes' facial expressions and body language. Frakes is given the rare chance to use his boyish charm and present that through the character in a way that strengthens the idea of Riker's persona. Frakes wisely dishes it out among the Klingons, who are revealed in this episode to have some genuine love of live (food, women, etc.).
One of the unfortunate aspects of this episode in the Riker plot is that Riker takes on Klingons in physical combat. At this point in Star Trek The Next Generation, we know a few things about Klingons. They are strong and they have bony, armored bodies. So, when Riker is punching around the second officer of the Pagh, it's a more than a little hard to suspend our disbelief. Riker illustrates no pain over punching around a Klingon. This is especially bothersome when one takes into account the massive armor Klingons wear. Having scene the props used in this episode up close, it's hard to imagine even brushing the Klingon suits with a fake punch and not hurting one's hand! To suspend our disbelief to believe that Riker's hands are somehow stronger than armor is ridiculous.
Outside that, the episode is pretty much a success. The Benzite plot works out fine, though in the larger context of the series, it's a failure; the Benzites are replaced by the Bolians, who have the same racial profile of demanding perfection and wanting efficiency. The Bolians require less make-up. It's easy to see why the Benzites were replaced with something less prosthetic heavy, but it's somewhat disappointing that they were never mentioned again. The Benzite in this episode and "Coming of Age" (reviewed here!) are memorable enough.
The special effects with the Klingon Bird of Prey are excellent. This is the first time the vehicles from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock are prominently featured in Star Trek The Next Generation and the effects hold up quite well, even by today's standards.
More than "Heart of Glory" (reviewed here!), this is an excellent primer on Klingon culture. Here we learn a thing or two about Klingons and their society and at the same time, they are fleshed out as a very real people. Instead of being monolithic adversaries, here we are shown their ability to have fun in scenes in the Pagh's mess hall. Unlike the mindless killers of Star Trek, these Klingons have character, a desire to succeed and an ability to joke. Using Riker as the exchange officer allows the viewer to appreciate some of the nuance and depth of that exploration as he is a pretty adventurous character.
More than anything, though, this is a well-written episode. It has a solid plot, a clear growth of characterization, and an interesting sense of movement. This is a great episode to get introduced to Star Trek The Next Generation. Very accessible for non-fans of the series.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season by clicking here!
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© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.