Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: A Matter of Honor

Airdate: February 6, 1989
33 of 176 produced
33 of 176 aired

Introduction

Commander Riker volunteers for the officer exchange program, resulting in a posting on the Klingon battlecruiser Pagh. Little does he know that this new assignment will put him on a metaphorical collision course with his the Enterprise, when the Enterprise seems to infect the Pagh with a space-borne microorganism that threatens to tear the ship apart. To which flag will Riker maintain his loyalty - and will anyone survive?


Shoot the curl, Number one. Gleam that cube!


Writing

Matthew: There is not a whole lot of science fiction here. The story could have been about an American naval officer serving on a Japanese boat. Riker heads over to the Klingon ship to see how weird their food is, how weird their women are, and how weird their command structure is. On the flip side, we get a B story revolving around how weird the Benzites are. Sounds pretty weird, huh? In the end though, it's just kind of unsatisfying. The only vaguely sci-fi aspects of this tale are the fact that they're on spaceships with aliens, and that a subatomic organism is threatening their vessels. I don't quite know how quarks and leptons can engage in cellular respiration, but whatever.

Kevin: I agree. I get on an intellectual level the pairing of Riker on a Klingon ship/Benzite on the Enterprise stories, but in practice it didn't really gel. They're both supposed to be fish out of water, but Mendon comes off as so haughty right away that it's hard to empathize with him. Also, they really don't report a crisis until they have a solution? What if it's a warp core breach in progress? I understand that point of trying to explore how other races might approach problems, but sometimes the human way of doing things isn't just because it's the human way of doing things, it's the way of doing things in a way that experience indicates will be successful.

Matthew: The character story with second officer Klag was pretty decent. It set up the whole "dying with honor" thing better than the previous Klingon episode had. Ron Moore will run with these martial themes in future shows. Overall it's a nice story, and is interesting to reflect on when it comes time for "The Icarus Factor." Riker counsels Klag to bury the hatchet with his father, if only because it is his father. Will he take his own advice?

Kevin: I agree this is the far more satisfying part of the episode, and the hour may have been better had we left the Enterprise behind entirely. It would heighten the sense of isolation for Riker, and been a novel approach. How many episodes feature almost no time on the Enterprise? It would have also given two characters with some obvious rapport a little more time to interact. Klag comes back in a series of post-DS9 novels about the Klingon Empire, and it's easy to see why an author would choose to follow up on his story.

Matthew: Riker's "solution" to the problem of split loyalty and fighting the Enterprise was a little too cute. When they introduced the transponder near the beginning of the story, the astute viewer gets the feeling "gee, I wonder if this will come back in this episode..." Captain Kargan's reaction to the infestation was kind of stupid, which made the whole scenario feel sort of forced. It would have been better if the Enterprise had been implicated in something bad - like infecting a space station and killing an entire crew or something. We could have enjoyed a mystery, and Riker could have actually had some internal conflict over it. But this is undercut by seeing both crew's perspectives. What we get is just a story in which we wonder how Riker will weasel out of things.

Kevin: That bothered me even as a kid. Wouldn't Riker standing by and allowing the Pagh to attack the Enterprise be a violation of his oath? Would any reasonable commander trust Riker in this situation? It's a student exchange program, not a new career. There's no reason if Kargan seriously suspects the Enteprrise of wrongdoing to allow Riker to continue as his first officer. In concert with a baseless overreaction to the microbe threat, makes Kargan laughably stupid. No one is going to take seriously the idea committed that kind of sabotage. Had the threat been a little more subtle, maybe an espionage plot, that could have worked. Even allies spy on each other. There could even have been a neat reveal that Picard and Riker were played by the Starfleet higher-ups into providing the cover for a separate covert spy mission. As it stands, the threat of the microbe is odd, and Kargan's reaction inane.


Acting

Matthew: Frakes does a Yeoman's job here. His food scenes were enjoyable to watch. He had a nice bravado and charm, and he portrayed an effective "everyman" thrust into a weird situation. The rest of the main cast doesn't get lots to do, and no one sticks out. This is really a show about Riker and guest stars.

Kevin: I agree. I particularly enjoyed the scene of him sampling food in Ten Forward and then on the Pagh. His gusto was infectious and it was clear Frakes was having some fun. The difference between the replicated and live gagh was also a nice touch, that no matter how hard you try, there is no substitute for personal experience with a foreign culture.

Matthew: John Putch plays Mendon... a character pretty much identical to Putch's previous portrayal of Mordock. He seems alien. That's about all I can say. The performance really didn't stick. It wasn't bad, but it didn't transcend the writing, either. Mordock was better. Christopher Collins plays Kargan. He will also play the Pakled captain in an upcoming show. It was pretty good, as Klingons go. The best guest performance has to go to Brian Thompson as Klag. This is the guy who often plays the silent brute in things (he played the alien bounty hunter in X-Files) - and it's too bad. He can read lines well, emote effectively, and generally just sell a performance. I guess he got typecast because of his face and build. He did end up playing five Trek roles in total, so someone must agree with me.

Kevin: Mendon came off as too pompous to be likable, and it makes his story drag. I did like that the way they acknowledge the same actor was playing both parts. It's a neat little factoid about Benzites. I thought Collins was a little over the top as Kargan, but that may have been the writing. The line "They are in CONFLICT!" is a hard one to sell. I agree wholeheartedly about Thompson as Klag. He does get typecast as the strong, silent type, but I have to say, I always liked him when I saw him. It's easy for a character like that to read flatly, and he never does.

Production Values

Matthew: The Klingon BOP is always nice to see, and they built some nice sets for the interior. These all look new for TNG, which is a nice treat. The effect on on the "rust" was nice, as were the Okudagrams which analyzed the rust. We get to see some real food (or real alien food, anyway), which is a rarity thus far in Trek. It looked nice. Overall, I'd call this episode slightly above average production-wise. The camera choices tended towards dark scenes, which was a little drab.

Kevin: I really liked the diagrams of the microbe as well. The lighting on the bird of prey was a shade too dark, especially for TV. On a bigger, brighter movie screen that looks more atmospheric, but overall, it kind of killed the detail work they obviously put into the ship. I did like the camera angle on the star-drive section. That was neat, but I wonder where the camera was. I also figured the Enteprrise computer used a suite of sensors to construct an equivalent of a false color image. That's not actually a camera angle from somewhere off the ship, but a flawless simulation of what such a camera would see. One other note about the phaser range. It's easy to see why they made the choices they did, but somehow, I always liked it. Especially when Worf and Guinan are there in Redemption. The stark little platform in a pitch black room somehow worked. The moving particles of light look a little dated now, though.

Conclusion

Matthew: This is a below average story in my estimation. The acting and production values are competent, but they don't elevate this relative yawner above a 2. You just need to show me more to really get me on board. There have been a bunch of bigger idea stories in Season Two, and maybe I'm spoiled now. Would this have been a 3 in Season One? Of course, the scale should be objective. But I can't help but feel that the game has been elevated now, and this kind of show just won't cut it any longer.  So a 2 it is.

Kevin: This is a tough call for me. I like Riker in this episode, and I'm a sucker for the Ron Moore-style of Klingon story, but for the reasons you articulated, Matt, this episode does fall flat. None of the sources of tension really play well, and in the end, a few nice bits of conversation over fresh gagh do not a good episode make. I reluctantly agree with the 2, for a total of 4.

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