“Troi, I’m your friend and you tricked me!”
This is an episode that would not be out of place in the third season of the Original Series. The characters and situations are overblown and exaggerated and the demands of the story are simplistic. It almost feels like a hold-over in the editing and execution, as well as the music (by Original Series composer, Fred Steiner). Ligon II is the only planet in the galaxy to have a plant that can be made into a vaccine to cure the dreaded Anchilles fever. The culture is highly ritualized and steeped in levels of honor not dissimilar to Klingon hierarchical structure. Their leader, Lutan, takes an immediate liking to Tasha Yar, so he abducts her.
Picard is initially appalled, but Data informs him this is considered a standard exchange for the Ligonians, a form of “counting coup.” Picard must now ask for the safe return of Yar in exchange for the vaccine, though these cultural beats are wickedly off and point to a lack of morality in the Ligonian culture. Respect for a culture requires a two-way street, and that culture must respect another culture in trade. Since Lutan and his people seem to have no such respect for Federation custom and feel no need to honor their agreement, Picard would have every right to take the vaccine and Yar by force. He doesn’t. Lutan wants to make Yar his wife, superseding his own wife, Yareena, who challenges Yar to “a struggle to the death.”
Yar, with Picard’s permission, engages her in some silly combat involving electrified barriers and poison-tipped weapons strong enough for a man but made for a woman. Let’s get this out of the way. “Code of Honor” is not a racist episode, nor does it have racist themes. I’m so sick of hearing this. It does not imply superiority on the basis of skin color, nor does it truck in elitist attitudes that would be related to the perception of skin color. What it does do (and rather effectively) is lift the veil to reveal stupid societies and dumb customs. This was way back in the first season when Picard (and others) would make incredibly obtuse statements about the superiority of the Federation compared to past governments.
The Ligonians are aliens. They are an alien culture, on an alien planet. Skin color means nothing to them. It means nothing to the crew. It should mean nothing to viewers. The poor choice of costumes might’ve shaken a few heads, and in my experience, those who seek out racism are often obsessed with it, which can be, in and of itself, racist. Oddly, the episode empowers women by way of making them the land-owners of this culture. The men are simply there to administrate. A better episode could’ve been produced with less of a schlocky feel.
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