Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"A Matter of Honor"

***1/2

Air date: 2/6/1989
Teleplay by Burton Armus
Story by Wanda M. Haight & Gregory Amos and Burton Armus
Directed by Robert Bowman

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Commander Riker is selected to participate in an officer exchange program that allows him to be the first Starfleet officer to serve aboard a Klingon vessel. Logically, you would think this would mean a Klingon officer would serve aboard the Enterprise, but since we already have Worf I guess that would be a redundancy. Instead, we get Ensign Mendon (John Putch), a Benzite who is very anxious to please. Mendon's arrogant-seeming personality is initially an annoyance before the story demonstrates that it truly understands him and allows us to sympathize with his different way of looking at things.

"A Matter of Honor" is TNG at its pro-diversity best. It's a perfect vehicle for Riker, providing an opportunity for him to exhibit both cerebral and testosterone-driven attributes. Consider the scene in Ten-Forward where he samples what seems like the entire Klingon menu: Here's a guy with a strong stomach and a completely genuine desire to learn about and immerse himself in an alien culture. Riker does his homework.

The scenes aboard the Klingon ship give us the first of the series' first-person perspectives into the workings and mindset of the TNG-era Klingons (which is to say the Klingons as allies rather than enemies). The story makes no mistake about the fact that the Klingons are a very different culture with very different values, as in the scene where Riker and first officer Klag (Brian Thompson) discuss Klag's father, whom Klag has essentially disowned because the father was unable to die in battle during his prime. The beauty of "A Matter of Honor" is its ability to find common ground between these divergent characters through universal qualities like food, humor, and self-integrity.

The plot throws a complication into this theme when the Klingon crew finds a substance eating away at the ship's hull and believes the Enterprise is to blame (for reasons that the plot is able to almost make plausible). The only thing holding this episode back somewhat is the stubborn, unlikely obstinacy of Captain Kargan (Christopher Collins), who seems way too determined to attack the Enterprise in retaliation rather than waiting to examine all the facts. But I enjoyed Riker's clever response to Kargan's unwillingness to listen, and his ability to play by the Klingons' rules in staging his power play. Riker's demand for Picard's surrender is classic.

Previous episode: Unnatural Selection
Next episode: The Measure of a Man

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12 comments on this review

Adam - Wed, Mar 17, 2010 - 12:30pm (USA Central)
"A Matter Of Honor" is the begining of a long string of very good or (in some cases) great episodes. "Elementary, Dear Data" is another great one. The ones between "Elementary, Dear Data" and "A Matter Of Honor" are adequate or perhps slightly more then adequate, but certainly nothing special. In any case, the very good episodes this season are better then any episode of the original series (which has several good or even great episodes, but its quality is held far back from what it could have reached by the fact that each character's personality has only one aspect, in contrast to the multi-faceted and thus vastly more interesting Next Generation characters) and SO much better then the average episode of this show's first season (where the vast majority of episods are bland and each character has almost no personality).
William - Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - 7:04pm (USA Central)
The scene with Riker in the Klingon mess hall is some of the best five to 10 minutes of Trek of any movie or series.
xaaos - Mon, Nov 12, 2012 - 12:55pm (USA Central)
Klag to Riker in the mess hall: "If Klingon food is too strong for you, perhaps we could get one of the females to breast-feed you". xD rofl

Loved the scenes between Mendon and Worf. Also, the scene in Ten-Forward with all these Klingon "delicacies", Riker looked like having such a great time there. Doctor Pulaski's and Picard's faces were absolutely priceless.

And of course, the demand for surrender was pure epic!

An amazing episode, easily one of the best Star Trek episodes.
Rikko - Tue, Jan 22, 2013 - 7:51pm (USA Central)
@ Adam: Yep, I agree that there's a quality bump that starts off with "A Matter of Honor" and we can enjoy some of the best episodes of early TNG.

If the whole series was like a long movie, I was half-asleep at this point, and "A Matter of Honor" and particularly "The Measure of a Man" were the first signs that this film was something worth watching.

@ William and Xaaos: The mess hall and the "Surrender" scenes are just great! This was the antithesis of "Code of Honor". Where the latter was a racist, stereotypical and boring ep, this was smart, fun and promoted the best values of TNG.

When Riker demands the Enterprise to "surrender" he is using Klingon's laws, instead of the Federation's, we haven't seen that very often until that point in the series. And the solution ends up well for both parties, even when he received a punch for being a very clever smartass.

Really great stuff.

@ Jammer: I can't stress this enough, your writing style is fantastic.

This single line, for example: "The beauty of "A Matter of Honor" is its ability to find common ground between these divergent characters through universal qualities like food, humor, and self-integrity."...is a piece of review art. Simple, beautiful and to the point.

I wish I could write my own reviews like that =D
William B - Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - 3:38am (USA Central)
Yeah, I think this episode is just shy of being a classic for the reason you mention -- Captain Kargan is too obstinate to be convincing, and too trusting of Riker given his obstinacy otherwise.

I don't tend to think of Riker as one of the show's very best characters, but look at some of the episodes in which Riker is the lead or at least co-lead: 11001001, A Matter of Honour, The Best of Both Worlds 1 & 2, First Contact, Frame of Mind, Second Chances, The Pegasus. (The Best of Both Worlds is a Riker show as much or more as it is anyone else's, especially part 2.) That's a pretty fine set of episodes, and I'm not sure if any character on this show besides Picard can boast eight episodes of that high quality in which they are the lead, even Data (though I think Data is better written and performed overall).
Paul - Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - 12:32pm (USA Central)
@William B: Here's my theory on what happened to Riker:

Early in the series, Riker is much more important. There are few big meetings that Picard has without Riker and Riker is often the guy who takes charge in a crisis ("The Naked Now") or has some brilliant engineering idea. Riker is sort of the hero and Picard is often the somewhat stuffy commanding officer.

But as TNG became less like TOS, Riker worked less with the plots. There were fewer away missions and when there were ("The Chase", for instance) Picard leads them. Late in the series, Riker becomes more like Scotty on TOS -- i.e. the dude left to run the ship while Kirk (Picard) and Spock (Data) go have all the fun.

Ultimately, I think the creators realized that Riker was at his best as a character in shows that didn't involve Picard, and that the series generally got better as Picard really became the star. Let's face it, Patrick Stewart is 10 times the actor Jonathan Frakes is and the show got better when the Picard/Riker ratio tilted more toward Picard (except for season 7, which was just bad for other reasons).

The really strong episodes with Riker usually involved him being nowhere near Picard (BOBW, Matter of Honor, First Contact, Frame of Mind) or where there's a third character as a foil (11001001, Pegasus). And the episodes that were really Riker/Picard heavy -- the Gambit two-parter -- just didn't work.

This isn't a universal thing (Measure of a Man was probably the best use of Picard and Riker together in the series). But it's clear that at some point, the creators figured Picard was the key to good TNG and that Picard/Riker together wasn't a winning pairing.
Grumpy - Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - 4:43pm (USA Central)
William B: "I'm not sure if any character on this show besides Picard can boast eight episodes of that high quality in which they are the lead, even Data..."

Let's see, using Patrick's rundown of Jammer's 4-star episodes from "All Good Things..."

1. 11001001 -- Riker mostly
2. The Measure of a Man -- Data, Picard, some Riker
3. Q Who -- ?
4. The Survivors -- Picard, I guess
5. The Defector -- ditto
6. Yesterday's Enterprise -- Yar, Guinan, then Picard
7. The Best of Both Worlds -- Riker & Picard
8. The Best of Both Worlds, part II
9. First Contact -- Riker & Picard
10. The Nth Degree -- Barclay!
11. Cause and Effect -- Crusher's POV
12. The First Duty -- Wesley & Picard
13. I, Borg -- LaForge & Picard
14. The Inner Light -- Picard
15. Chain of Command, part II -- Picard, and I guess Riker had a subplot
16. Frame of Mind -- Riker
17. The Pegasus -- Riker
18. Lower Decks -- Sito?
19. All Good Thingsā€¦ -- Picard

For all the episodes carried by Worf and LaForge, many of them good, they couldn't quite crack Jammer's top slot. And for all the fine Data-heavy shows, he was only spotlighted in one classic. Even Picard, the de facto leading man, only clearly carried two by himself; in ensemble shows, Picard got more face time just by calling the shots, and the rest of the time he shared top billing, usually with Riker.

Riker puts in a surprisingly strong showing, especially considering that his two solo shows were toward the end of the series. By that point, as Paul points out, Picard had absorbed the leading man function that had originally been intended for Riker, the ersatz Will Decker (himself a component of the first officer/smart guy/psychic triumvirate meant to replace Spock in the aborted Phase II series).
William B - Wed, Apr 3, 2013 - 11:49am (USA Central)
@Paul, very good point, and in general the shift from TOS-style "let's explore the galaxy" to the late-TNG era peacemaking/diplomatic made the Away Team hurt Riker's role in the show, too.

It is interesting that you say Picard/Riker isn't a winning pairing for the show -- I don't disagree overall! -- but two of the highlights of s1, 11001001 and Conspiracy, both play up the Picard/Riker team in a way that the rest of s1 doesn't. It's definitely true that the series moves away from this format and that the Picard/Riker team doesn't really work in action settings, though I think there are a large number of nice dialogue scenes between the two. I think they work best when in opposition to each other, though -- "The Measure of a Man," "The Best of Both Worlds."

@Grumpy, thanks for the breakdown. If I had to pick a few episodes of the show to bump up to 4 stars from Jammer's ratings, they would probably be Darmok and Tapestry; and Family is a highly-regarded episode (though I think I agree it's not at the 4 star level). So there are a few big Picard vehicles that are often ranked among the series' top 10 or top 20 perhaps worth keeping in mind. This gives Picard a big edge over Riker. Of the shows I listed, only A Matter of Honour and Second Chances are not listed already (and they are both unambiguously Riker shows); I think both are great, but wouldn't bump either up to 4 stars, though A Matter of Honour is in contention.

I think there are some Worf shows like Sins of the Father and Reunion that would be on my mind for bumping up to 4, too.

(Keep in mind I am just rewatching s2 now after about a decade -- so I might change my mind on all of these.)
SkepticalMI - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 9:20pm (USA Central)
Never really thought too much about Riker being a key to the best episodes. He doesn't really seem to have too many episodes devoted to him, but they do tend to be quite good. Frame of Mind and Pegasus are the two I immediately think of. Honestly though, I think it's better when it's him and Picard. BoBW comes to mind pretty quickly.

As for the episode itself, I noticed something really odd. At least three times there was a quick scene on the bridge that ended with Picard leaving and telling Data he has the bridge. Sounds like poor editing to me.

But can't complain too much, as this was a very good episode. I was pretty impressed with the Mendon sub-plot, something I wasn't expecting. He had a pretty interesting personality, and the episode succeeded in making him likable despite his arrogance and condescension. The fact that he still is willing to learn (and was so hard on himself when chastised) kept us from hating him. But even his likability didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying Worf intimaditing him. Great fun =)

As were the scenes on the Pagh. Yeah the Captain was gratuitously stupid, but I can't argue about it too much. Someone had to move the plot along. Frakes' acting during the dinner scene was great. Riker looked convincingly out of his element, doing his best to enjoy himself while still wondering in the back of his mind how much further things would go. His look when he saw the gagh as well as when asking if the lady Klingons were serious in their offers (and found out it was affirmative).
Jack - Fri, Nov 15, 2013 - 5:35pm (USA Central)
"A Klingon is his work, not his family"

Boy, would they ever go on to undo that...
DLPB - Wed, Aug 6, 2014 - 12:47pm (USA Central)
Somewhere along the line... perhaps this very episode... the Klingons went from a code of honour type race to a barbaric war mongering race. There is no way a race that behaved in this manner would be able to create a star ship, let alone operate it.

It's like the writers had no idea how to portray honour and strength, and thought it was all muscle and insults. Ridiculous.

Also, that Bensite(?)... No space faring race would come to the conclusion that waiting until a solution has been found was beneficial to safety.

Too many stupid illogical things like this in Trek. As ever, though, it's entertaining.
Peremensoe - Wed, Aug 6, 2014 - 2:32pm (USA Central)
The role of "honor" was not part of the original conception of Klingons, and received uneven treatment after it was introduced, but they were always "barbaric" and war-mongering. HOWEVER, as I've pointed out elsewhere, per Trek canon, they are not all warriors. Think of all the militaristic cultures in human history. A society of knights wouldn't have been able to build castles and ships, or feed themselves, either.

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