(airdate: October 12, 1987)
Writer: Katharyn Powers & Michael Baron
Director: Russ Mayberry [and Les Landau, uncredited]
Lutan: Jessie Lawrence Ferguson
Yareena: Karole Selmon
Hagon: James Louis Watkins
Captain's Log: The Enterprise is negotiating with the inhabitants of the planet Ligon II, who have a vaccine that the Federation desperately needs. After negotiations begin aboard the Enterprise, the leader of the Ligonian delegation, Lutan, kidnaps Tasha Yar and transports her to the surface; this is a Ligonian custom designed to show strength. Picard obeys the Ligonian ways to get Tasha back, but when the time comes to hand her over Lutan refuses, choosing to take Tasha as his mate instead. Lutan's current mate, Yareena, objects to this and challenges Tasha to a duel to the death. Tasha complies and fights the duel, killing Yareena. However, they both beam up to the Enterprise, where Dr. Crusher revives Yareena. With Yareena's death, however, her bond with Lutan is severed, and so she chooses Lutan's second, Hagon, to be her "First One", with all the rights and property that entails: Hagon is now the leader of the Ligonians, and Lutan is made Yareena's "Number Two". The Ligonians then honor their agreement to provide the vaccine to the Federation.
Whoops!: The brief struggle between Yar and Hagon in the cargo bay is awkwardly staged, with basically no time given to proceed diplomatically before Yar performs a rather odd-looking spinning throw. (And why are they in the cargo bay instead of the transporter room anyway?) The edges of the collodion used to make scars on the Ligonians are occasionally visible, even in the standard definition version. If this vaccine is so urgent, why are they headed to Styris IV at the end of the episode at only warp 3?
Why did it take so long for anyone involved on the production side to realize that maybe hiring exclusively black actors for the, um, less culturally advanced alien race and dressing them in vaguely tribal clothing would come across as looking pretty racist? [Supposedly Gene Roddenberry fired director Russ Mayberry partway through because of this, but if that's the case, why wasn't something done before shooting began?]
Classic Lines: Data: "That's from an obscure language called French. Counting coup–" Picard, annoyed: "Mr. Data, the French language for centuries on Earth represented civilization." Data: "Indeed? But surely, sir–" Riker: "I suggest you drop it, Mr. Data."
Cringe Lines: This episode is filled with clunky exposition as people explain things they already know to each other, but the prize probably goes to Picard explaining how the Prime Directive prevents them from just taking Yar and the vaccine and leaving to a group of Starfleet officers. Although they at least have the decency to lampshade it: "[I'm] not entitled to ramble on about something everyone knows."
Technobabble: Ligonian transporters use the Heglenian shift when converting matter and energy.
Casualty Report: Yar takes out Hagon when he refuses to let her examine the vaccine being proffered to Picard. But more memorably, Yar and Yareena fight in a duel to the death - a duel that not only kills Yareena (although Crusher is able to revive her) but also ends up killing an innocent spectator, thanks to the weapon's poisoned spines.
Alien Love: Lutan might have a thing for Yar. (It's not clear how much of that is just political manuevering, though.) Yar admits she found it a bit thrilling that Lutan desired her, although she wasn't going to let it get in the way of performing her duty.
Library Computer: Ligon II is an Earth-like planet, home to a humanoid species. The ones we see have dark skin and black hair. The men are generally dressed in flowing pants and tunic wraps that cross over the chest, leaving the shoulders and sides bare - although the leader, Lutan, is instead wearing a form of stole-like vest, with a bare chest showing. The women wear floor-length dresses with one shoulder bare, although Yareena's fighting outfit looks like a shiny pink jumpsuit. The Ligonians are also wearing turbans in metallic fabrics and black dress shoes. The sky of Ligon II is pinkish, while the architecture is vaguely Middle Eastern. The logo of Ligon II is a rectangle with two opposite corners removed, with a thick diagonal line and a thin diagonal line also missing partly along the rectangle; a hollow circle is located at the base of the rectangle, superimposed over the thick diagonal line.
The Ligonians are not as technologically advanced as the Federation, although they do have their own transporters, which operate similarly to early Starfleet efforts - though the Ligonian version uses the Heglenian shift to convert matter and energy differently. The Ligonians were somewhat wary of strangers, and many of the leaders were reticent about approaching the Federation. The Ligonians' history is "remarkably" similar to that of humanity's, and their society is highly structured, while the Ligonians themselves are described as "exceedingly proud". Ligonian society is generally patriarchal, with the duty of men to rule and protect; however, women are the landowners and their choice of mate determines who does the ruling. They refer to these parings as the woman being the man's "First One"; women can also have a "Number Two", who serve as second-in-command. The First One places a particular necklace on her mate, identifying that her property is his. A man can choose to change his First One to a different woman, but his former First One has the right to challenge this right of supercedence, whereby she challenges her prospective replacement to a fight to the death. Prior to Yareena's challenge of Yar, no woman had challenged supercedence for over two hundred years. [The implication, in order for the plot to make sense, seems to be that women own the land, but once they're mated the land belongs to their mate, and that if a man chooses to dissolve his pairing he gets to keep the land for some reason.] This fight involves an arena constructed with lengths of metal that enclose a set of uneven boxes. The outside lengths can be charged with some form of energy that makes them dangerous when physical contact is made. There are also four poles in the center that are also charged with energy (and which shoot up into the sky), as well as various metal lengths that can be swung on. [It's not completely dissimilar to a form of playground jungle gym.] All these metal lengths totaled 44 meters. The weapons are chosen by the challenger: Ligonian weapons include various knives, swords, staves, axes, and crossbows, many of which are dipped in a poison of an alkaloid base. They are all flexible, durable, and light, as if designed for women to use them. Tasha fought with a mace-like glove, covered with poisoned spines and with a formidable curved pick on the side.
The Ligonians live by a strict code of honor. Part of this code involves performing heroic deeds, sometimes similar to a certain Native American tribal action known as counting coup; Lutan's kidnapping of Tasha Yar seemed to fall under this heading. There are specific customs associated with such an action, which involves a strong respect for patience from the other party and a ceremony where the abducted person is returned unharmed. It's also Ligonian custom for a visiting leader to be an honored guest, with no harm to come to them; this custom doesn't appear to extend to the leader's associates, however. Ligonians consider honor to be paramount in their society, describing it as "everything". They formally greet one another by facing each other and raising both palms upward, 90 degrees from the torso [sort of a "we surrender" pose]. They applaud by hitting short sticks together quickly.
Cargo Bay 1 is a large room, filled with various barrels, crates, and other containers. It has an upper level walkway. One wall has a large panel with clear hexagons in a criss-crossing silver frame. [It almost looks like it might be a large door.]
The holodeck, when inactive, consists of a black room with a roughly half-meter-wide yellow grid pattern along the walls, and a grey carpet on the floor. [This is the only appearance of this carpet; it'll be gone, replaced with the same black-and-yellow pattern as the walls, the next time we see an inactive holodeck, in "Coming of Age".] Yar is seen to use a handheld control to operate the holodeck, rather than relying exclusively on voice commands. The aikido program Yar activates features a computer-controlled opponent who learns to adapt to a person's moves.
The Enterprise can set its photon torpedoes to detonate 1000 meters above the surface of a planet.
Anchilles fever is a very deadly disease and apparently agony to die of. Styris IV was experiencing an outbreak, with deaths estimated to be in the millions without treatment. Ligon II had a rare vaccine for the fever, but as the vaccine couldn't be replicated the Federation needed large quantities of it from the Ligonians. To this end, the Federation was negotiating a treaty with Ligon II, which involved giving the Ligonians a gift of a ceramic Chinese horse from the Song Dynasty, 13th century, as well as the events chronicled in the episode. The Federation ultimately got the needed vaccine.
Starbase 14 is near Styris IV.
Data is still working on what it means to be human. He's been concentrating on humor, although for the moment it appears he's trying to tell old-fashioned jokes without necessarily understanding what makes them funny or not. He's learned 662 jokes so far. He can occasionally make linguistic performance errors, saying "includiling" instead of "including".
Geordi uses a palm-sized razor which looks primarily like a dark-blue translucent prism, with a Starfleet grey endcap where the user holds it. It doesn't need to make contact with skin to work. He's not wearing his VISOR while he's using it. Geordi prefers not to use the one that Data optimized for him, as he believes that shaving is an art form and he doesn't want too close a shave. He doesn't like the prospect of Data trying to understand humor by telling Geordi jokes.
A small part of Tasha was thrilled when Lutan stated his desire for her. She considers Troi her friend. This episode confirms that "Tasha" is short for "Natasha". [Just on the off chance you weren't convinced.]
Troi's bikini brief accent on her outfit this week is a pale pink. She states that Betazoid blood is practical.
Picard notes he's seen his share of death, though not from Anchilles fever.
French is now considered to be an obscure language. Picard (somewhat pridefully) points out that French represented civilization for many centuries.
Final Analysis: "By our standards, the customs here, their code of honor, is the same kind of pompous, strutting charades that endangered our own species a few centuries ago." The script itself isn't particularly racist on paper, and the guest actors do an excellent job with their parts, and so, divorced from anything else, you might be forgiven for not thinking there's anything particularly offensive about this. But in the context of the real world, it's painfully clear how this equates people of African descent with barbarism and primitive behaviors. This perhaps could have been mitigated by a decent storyline, but unfortunately we don't get that either, with a bunch of posturing leading up to a not-terribly-exciting fight scene. The score (by Original Series composer Fred Steiner) is pretty good, and the cast does their best, but this is overall an episode probably best forgotten.
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Page originally created: May 21, 2020
Page last updated: August 25, 2020