In which the cause of race relations is set back… actually, nobody cares that much because it’s an extremely silly episode, but it doesn’t help any.
Memory Alpha says: A mission of mercy is jeopardized when a planetary ruler decides he wants an Enterprise officer as his wife. (Please click the Memory Alpha link for detailed information.)
I think it’s probably true that any actor who has had an at all interesting career has been involved in some absolute stinkers – whether because they seemed good initially and only later turned to shit, because they did it as a favour to someone they liked or loved, or because they just needed to get paid. The proper spirit is demonstrated by Michael Caine, who, when asked whether he had seen the absolutely ridiculous Jaws: the Revenge said no, but he had seen the house in France it paid for, and that was lovely. (The best part of Jaws: the Revenge: Caine’s character, a light plane pilot, has to ditch into the sea where the vengeful shark is swimming around and attacking a boat holding the other characters. At this point we’re supposed to think the shark eats him when it has a go at the plane. Shortly afterwards, though, he swims up to the boat and they pull him on board and ask him how he escaped. Caine: ‘It wasn’t easy.’ No more is said about it, and in the next shot in the same sequence his clothes are dry.)
‘Code of Honor’ is one of those stinkers. Because the fierce and obstinate alien characters were all cast as black actors, and they abduct a white, blonde, blue-eyed woman, it comes out incredibly racist and backward and weird. This casting, which was not specified by the script (it does mention two guards as black, I don’t know why), was a whim of the episode’s director, and got him fired when Gene Roddenberry got wind of what he was doing. However, that didn’t happen until too late for a do-over, so the episode just had to be completed as it was. With that little bit of context/perspective out of the way, let’s have a look at ‘Code of Honor’ and hope that it at least helped to pay for a bit of a house in France.
The planet Ligon is the only source of a vaccine that the Federation wants, so Picard and his crew have to make nice with them. The Ligonians are depicted as very ‘proud,’ not to say uppity. They’re so difficult they don’t want be beamed into the Enterprise’s nice clean transporter rooms, they beam themselves into a cargo bay. Awesomely, before Lutan, their leader, arrives, his entourage appear and unroll a red carpet for him to walk along. They are all dressed like something out of a panto production of Ali Baba, so it’s already awkward.
Picard greets Lutan, first with what must be a Ligonian gesture, holding up their hands to each other as if in those mirroring exercises you do in drama classes, then with a handshake. I feel sure Picard has an excellent handshake, neither limp and fishy nor bone-grinding, just nicely firm and brisk. He makes introductions and Lutan is surprised that the chief of security is a woman. I find it surprising too, if only because they didn’t cast a woman who looks like a chief of security. Gene Roddenberry absolutely loved Aliens (me too!), particularly Jenette Vasquez, the wonderfully tough and fierce woman Marine. Vasquez is who he had in mind when he began creating the character of Tasha. As played by Jenette Goldstein, Vasquez is short, stocky and muscular. Our first insight to her personality comes in an early scene where she does pull-ups on a bar above her head, watching the muscles work in her arms with evident pride in her own strength. Another Marine disses her, asking if she’s ever been mistaken for a man, and she cheerfully replies ‘No, have you?’ I guess my point is, it’s completely plausible that Vasquez could kick many people’s asses (and say something smart afterwards).
The depiction of women as ass-kickers in action films, science fiction etcetera is complicated by the simple issue of physical plausibility: most women are not as big and strong as most men, and in a fight between a man and a woman, for the woman to win usually requires exceptional advantages on her part, or exceptional fuck-ups on his. If you show me a slim, willowy woman, even if you tell me she totally knows kung fu, I am going to find it difficult to believe that she can actually win a lot of fights, take down desperate criminals, etcetera. If she has obviously put a lot of time and energy into physical training, though, and it shows in the shape of her body and the way she moves, like Vasquez or like Sarah Connor in the second Terminator film, that’s a different kettle of fish. Tasha Yar simply doesn’t have that quality, and it always undermines her plausibility.
All this does, of course, have to be seen through the lens of Star Trek fighting, in which the ultimate move is to make your two fists into a club and whack someone on the shoulder with it. Demonstration, please?
Thank you Odo.
Lutan instructs one of his guys to hand a sample of the vaccine to Picard. For no reason I can understand, Tasha steps in between them, saying something about ‘my duty.’ My duty is what? To stop people giving the captain pharmaceuticals? The guy is like OUT OF MY WAY, WOMAN and tries to shove past, whereupon Tasha takes hold of his arm and the vaccine box and does a completely unconvincing vaguely martial arts move, swinging him around and dropping him on the floor without any visible exertion, although he must weigh twice what she does. This does not make me think ‘Tasha is super strong!’ This makes me think ‘That was so fake.’ It is possible to arrange a stunt between a small but tough woman and a bigger opponent that works, because they had to do nothing but most of the time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now I miss Buffy.
So Tasha wanted to open the box first to make sure it didn’t have anything dangerous in it, or one of those springy paper snakes, but because the way she spoke when intervening was completely diffident and unassertive, I expect they didn’t take her seriously. This is another problem with the way Denise Crosby plays Tasha – her voice is just too soft and gentle most of the time. If you’re going to be the security chief, or indeed if you’re going to be a teacher, you need to sound firm and authoritative, especially when speaking to people who don’t know you yet. If she used different tones of voice when working and off duty, that would work fine. Speaking of voices, Deanna advises Picard not to apologise for the incident, because by Ligonian standards that would look wussy – but she totally says it loud enough for the Ligonians to hear. Doesn’t that make Picard look sort of whipped to them? Poor Deanna is wearing one of the costumes Marina Sirtis hated most, a grey catsuit with a wide pink v-shaped belt riding right over the area of her hips and tum where she felt fattest.
I like how, when the guy Tasha dropped apologises to Lutan for getting his ass kicked, Lutan says ‘They are strange, alien beings. You bear no fault.’ He thinks Tasha may be exactly what he needs… BUT FOR WHAT? dun dun dun… opening animation.
The Enterprise is hosting a little reception to butter up the Ligonians, and the first thing we see is Data carrying this cute Chinese pottery horse into the observation lounge. It doesn’t have a ribbon on it or anything, but it’s intended as a present for Lutan. Picard has an awkward speech about how the Ligonians remind them of a past Earth culture they ‘all admire,’ suggesting that it would have made more sense to cast Lutan as Asian, or at least to dress the Ligonians in vaguely Chinese costumes. Anyway, he presents him the horse, and Data mildly corrects him about what century it’s from, because today’s the day Picard’s people undermine him in front of the Negroes. The pot horse is from the 13th Century. I hope Lutan realises what a big deal it is to get a thousand-year-old gift from Earth, what a huge deal it is that such a breakable item made it through the last millennium. If he does he’s not showing it, though, because he just calls it ‘thoughtful’ and gives it to his second banana to put on one side. Man, I wonder if we can get that back. He would have been just as pleased with a My Little Pony.
Then he gives a little speech in which he calls their MacGuffin both a vaccine and an antidote, which makes no sense (you give a vaccine before exposure to something harmful and an antidote afterwards; besides vaccines are for diseases and antidotes are for poisons), and says that if the Federation respects his culture they’ll be friends. They’re less technologically advanced, but have something the Feds need, so… Everyone applauds politely, but Deanna looks a bit worried and suspicious. A strange thing about the blocking of this scene is the way that Data remains standing throughout, looking as if he’s not sure where to go after putting the horse on the table. When Lutan dismisses his guards, Data turns and gawks after them.
Lutan wants to see one of the ‘wondrous holodecks,’ which he’s heard are used for training officers. I will reproduce what Picard says verbatim.
‘And used for many other things too. Commander Riker! Perhaps you and Counselor Troi would demonstrate.’
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just assume that whenever Riker enters a holodeck it’s to do something completely perverted, and everyone knows it.
But Lutan wants Tasha to show him the training stuff, and she agrees. Instead of making the holodeck look like a cool dojo (I liked that scene in The Matrix), Tasha just has it set up with grey carpet on the floor and the bare orange and black grid walls showing. She calls up the program ‘Aikido One’ and a guy dressed kinda like a ninja but in white (I apologise, I have no idea if this is normal aikido wear) and some blue crash mats appear.
Lutan marvels ‘You can create people… without a soul?’ Create ’em? She fucked one last week! (Well, I assume Data has no soul.)
The silly thing about the aikido guy is that he won’t do anything until Tasha does something to activate him, and even when she does, he doesn’t do anything very aggressive. How is that good training, especially for someone whose job may involve being attacked without warning? I prefer Worf’s D&D ‘calisthenics’ program. They spar unconvincingly, even though the high and wide camera angle would allow for a stuntwoman who actually knows some martial arts to take Crosby’s place for some shots. Second Banana doesn’t believe that a hologram can actually physically affect someone, so Lutan tells him to try and the aikido guy throws him – and it’s far more believable than anything Tasha’s done, not least because the actor gives a good big grunt. Grunting is very important.
Tasha explains to Lutan that she can have the program provide multiple opponents ‘but really, one is enough’ because the program adapts to your style and ability and keeps challenging you. Oh, so that’ll be good for all the times when a group of ninjas considerately attack you one by one. I hate to harp on the rape gangs, but shouldn’t that background make Tasha very aware of the need to have strategies for dealing with multiple assailants? But Lutan thinks she’s a badass and tells her ‘I like you!’ and there’s a Very Dramatic Musical Sting. Tasha looks mildly uncomfortable.
Everyone goes back to the cargo bay to say goodbye. Lutan makes as if he’s just going to shake Tasha’s hand, complimenting the Feds by adopting their gesture, but quickly grabs her and beams out before anyone can stop him. Picard calls a red alert, and he and Deanna hurry to the bridge, as if there is anything helpful Deanna can do at this point – especially since she must have felt that Lutan was up to something during the reception, and let Tasha go off alone with him without saying anything. She’s really got her friends’ backs, hasn’t she?
Picard hails the Ligonians to say CUT THAT OUT and has Riker (who for some reason is running the tactical console, instead of Worf taking over in Tasha’s absence – Worf actually isn’t in this episode at all) fire some warning shots in a ‘display blast.’ Geordi (who must feel great about this episode) says they can’t trace the Ligonians’ transporter beam, and Data begins to explain how it works, then catches himself and says ‘which… is… actuallynotimportant at this time.’ It’s cute, but more self-aware than Classic Data.
Now there’s an awfully awkward part where Picard asks Deanna about the Ligonians’ intentions. She says they’re unlikely to hurt Tasha, since they’re mostly curious about her, but she sensed ‘other needs’ from Lutan. Apparently she could feel that all the Ligonian men fancied Tasha like mad, and she’s very attractive. Yep, all those black men were lusting after the blonde, blue-eyed, fair-skinned white woman. Lutan seemed to be feeling a sort of avarice or ambition on top of that. Picard asks for other comments and Data pipes up, not to say that yes, Tasha is a total babe and a firecracker in the sack, but to remind him that the Ligonians respect patience, and will probably think Picard is uncool if he keeps badgering them for an answer. They agree that the best way to handle this situation, for now, may be to wait it out.
But they’ve waited a day without any response from Lutan, and are going to see if they can scan the planet more without being noticed, and get the lay of the land. While Picard is voiceovering this, Beverly arrives on the bridge and gets out of the lift, making a little hand gesture that you might use to tell a small dog no. Wesley is just behind her, and he stays inside and sort of hides himself behind the edge of the lift door while trying to see what’s happening out there before the doors close, and it’s very, very cute to me. To Wesley, the bridge is the sweetshop, and he always has his nose flattened against the window. Alternatively, Wesley is a small dog. A beagle.
Bev goes into the ready room to remind Picard and the audience that the disease this vaccine protects against is really horrible and this is important. She also explains that the vaccine is one of those substances, like latinum, that still has scarcity value because it cannot be reliably replicated. (Bev doesn’t say that about latinum, I do. It’s why Ferengis use it as money, and keep it inside wrappers of ‘worthless gold.’ I think they just use gold because it looks pretty and gaudy.) Bev’s hair looks pretty bad in this scene. It’s very feathered, and a darker, more winy red than later on, so it looks too heavy for her fair complexion. She’s upset about the disease, and ruefully wonders where the calluses are that doctors are supposed to grow over their feelings, and Picard says that perhaps the good ones don’t get them. Perhaps because his tone was gentle and friendly when he said that, she’s emboldened to bring up the matter of Wesley.
Picard: What? Oh. Yes. Uh. All right.
Basically, Beverly wants Wesley to be allowed on the bridge. He is still lurking in the lift, so the doors can’t close and nobody else can use it! Picard calls him out, not unkindly, and Wesley swears he hasn’t set foot on the bridge. Riker appears, saying briskly ‘All right, sir, I’ll see that he leaves immediately,’ like kicking Wesley out is in his job description. Because of the angle of the shot and the tightness of his uniform, Jonathan Frakes’ bubble butt is very noticeable, which is nice if you like that sort of thing. Hugh Jass. But Picard invites Wesley to come and sit at Ops like a big boy! He doesn’t even say DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING – which I hope Wesley has the sense not to do, after last week.
The grown-ups confer about how the Ligonian culture informs what they should do. Data gets to drop the episode title in his dialogue, and irritates the captain by calling French an obscure language. Picard gets a bit harrumphy and Data is about to argue the point before Riker advises him to drop it. It is a silly line, though – I don’t know from what perspective French could be considered all that obscure, especially as they’re still speaking English, which ate French in the eleventh century and thus doubled its vocabulary. Unless of course we’re watching through the Universal Translator and they’re all talking Esperanto. (Which is still related to French and the other Romance languages – the name means ‘hopeful,’ and the connection to the French ‘espérer’ is obvious.) Or they’re all speaking their own different languages, and everything Data says is actually a stream of modem noise or binary.
The point is, nicking Tasha like this is supposed to be heroic, and Lutan is going to think he’s King Dick for doing it. Deanna thinks his overweening ego might drive him to kill someone for the sake of his own status. Lutan finally gets in touch, and Riker and Data tell Picard that the appropriate thing now is to ask nicely to have Tasha back. Picard, while obviously wanting to tell him where to stick it, butters up Lutan a bit more, and gets an invitation to visit and pick her up.
The next little bit revolves around how protective of his captain Riker is – Deanna and Data both argue that sending the top man is the best way to get taken seriously, but Riker is dead against Picard leaving the ship, because after what Deanna said he doesn’t trust Lutan not to try to kill Picard if things go south. Data says that goes against Ligonian rules of hospitality, which would only protect a leader, not a second in command, I don’t know why, other than to make sure Picard has to go and do this. Riker concedes, but warns Picard that if he gets hurt he’ll put him on report *twinkly eyes, twinkly eyes*. Deanna beams because she thinks Will is adorable.
Matte painting time! Picard and Deanna beam down to Lutan’s tacky, tacky house, where they meet his wife Yareena (so he likes chicks with Yar in their names). There is a show of politeness and diplomacy, and the fact that Lutan thinks Picard should understand his different rules of manners and honour without explanation, and honour is everything, and isn’t this the Klingons? I can never remember what this episode is about when I read the title because it just makes me think ‘Klingons.’
Tasha is brought in, and she seems tetchy but unharmed. There’s supposed to be a banquet tonight at which Tasha will be returned, which is obvious bullshit, or at least it won’t be quite how Lutan makes it sound. Picard makes a very nice speech requesting the return of Tasha, and this is really dragging out. Lutan makes a speech in turn, very smug and self-aggrandising… and then announces that he cannot part with Tasha, claiming that he has fallen in love with her and wants her to be his wife. His current wife is pissed and claims her right to challenge the interloper to a catfight fight to the death. Picard rightly calls bullshit, but Lutan gets all shouty and says that if they don’t do it this way, they get nothing.
Picard, Deanna and Tasha have a chat about the situation, which involves Troi tricking Tasha into admitting she was flattered by Lutan laying claim to her like an object with no rights or will of her own. Which, again, seems fantastically implausible for someone who grew up constantly and justifiably afraid of being raped. Forced marriage is a form of rape for crap’s sake (which is why… no, I’m not going to get into how utterly depressing Sela Yar is right now). Deanna says Tasha must like Lutan because he’s ‘such a basic male image.’ Deanna, I do believe you’re assuming Tasha likes big burly manbears too, and we had pretty clear evidence last week that that’s not her type at all. Tasha is loudly indignant that Troi tricked her, but I think she should be more embarrassed that she fell into such a simple trap.
Deanna comments on how simple this situation would be without the Prime Directive. Picard says that had crossed his mind, but I’m a bit confused about how the Prime Directive applies in this case. I thought it was the rule saying ‘we don’t contact or interfere in the development of pre-warp cultures, even if this means abandoning them to a ghastly fate which we could easily prevent, like pandemics or world war or zombie apocalypse.’ (Because I recently read World War Z and have been watching The Walking Dead, naturally I love the idea of the Enterprise having to intervene on a planet undergoing a zombie crisis. I have a wonderful mental image of Data walking implacably along with three or four zombies hanging off him, futilely trying to bite, until he eventually gets fed up with them spoiling his uniform. Stop it. Stop it. STOP IT.) The Ligonians have already been contacted, and telling them to get stuffed and getting Tasha out of there by force if necessary wouldn’t be interfering with their development. The real thing limiting their options is the vaccine being held over their heads, because a lot of people will die horribly if they don’t get it, and that matters… as long as those people belong to warp-capable cultures. Otherwise fuck ’em, right?
On the ship, Bev, Riker and Geordi read the news – there are major outbreaks of the disease the vaccine could prevent (or cure? Are people who are already infected out of luck?), and it’s getting worse. What awful/convenient timing.
Down in the tacky, tacky house, Yar is sure she can beat Yareena – she doesn’t want to kill her, but to embarrass her, for accusing her of being a great big homewrecker. That’s kind of obnoxious of you, Tasha. Yareena has already been hurt and humiliated by her husband publicly rejecting her in favour of you. She lives in a shitty rigid patriarchal culture where her identity and security depend on her marriage, whereas you have the freedom to do and be what you want. You have a cool job with lots of travel and hot colleagues. Try to be the bigger person. Picard doesn’t want her to fight, but Troi does. He says she’s the last person he’d have expected to be in favour of this, which sounds as if he just means ‘because you’re a gentle person who tries to solve problems without violence,’ but she retorts ‘Betazoid blood is also practical,’ as if it’s a race issue and he was saying Betazoids are kind of pussies about fighting. Deanna’s manner in this conversation is very assertive, standing up straight and looking Picard dead in the eye, speaking firmly without sounding strident or angry, and why can’t Tasha do that?
Picard goes to talk to Lutan again, and acts very matey and all-lads-together and comments on how ‘lovely’ Tasha is. He also says that his role as captain requires him to be a bit of a eunuch, and do you hear that distant barking sound? It’s Jim Kirk, in the Nexus, laughing. There’s an awkward and broadly offensive conversation about the value of women, which on Ligon is primarily economic. It was mentioned earlier (but I didn’t think to note it) that the women are the ones who own land. Their menfolk manage it and boss them around and so on, but it belongs to them and so Lutan’s wealth and power depend on his having a land-rich wife (insert Michael Palin saying ‘huuuuuuuge tracts of land’ in Holy Grail).
Lutan is a huge asshole – he believes he stands to lose nothing, whoever wins the challenge fight. So he doesn’t care if Yareena dies painfully. Can he inherit her land if she does? And is he aware that Tasha doesn’t own shit? She might be a high-status trophy wife simply because he stole her from a powerful adversary in a very daring way, and her looks make her rare and distinctive, but status doesn’t put food on the table. He says that a code of honour protects one like a magic cloak. Picard agrees for the challenge to go ahead and toasts Lutan, saying ‘may your magic cloak bring you all that you deserve.’ I particularly like this because it’s similar to what I say to my students before exams: ‘I hope you all get the grades you deserve.’ With one inoffensive phrase I get to say ‘I hope the kids who really tried this year succeed, and the ones who messed around fail miserably.’ And I say it with a smile, just like Picard here.
Next, a weird, weird scene in which Geordi has his visor off and is shaving with an electronic gadget. He is doing this in the middle of his living room. I have no idea in the world why he isn’t in the bathroom with his eyes on looking in the mirror, other than ‘we didn’t have a bathroom set,’ or why he appears to be doing this on getting home from work, or during a break, rather than before his shift starts. Should he even be doing this while they’re in a state of red alert? Surely nobody cares if your chin gets a little bit fuzzy when lives are at stake. Data pops in and asks him why he’s using that razor and not the one he adjusted ‘to perfect efficiency.’ Geordi claims that shaving is an art form and technological perfection is too efficient. I do not know what the fuck he’s talking about, because he is using an electronic shaver. If he were standing there with a basin and ewer of warm water, a pot of shaving soap and badger brush, and a cutthroat razor which he had to strop before he started, he’d have a leg to stand on. Also some valuable antiques.
This is the first scene that establishes Geordi and Data as close friends – until now, most of Data’s interactions have been with Riker, who has been providing him with a modicum of social guidance, and with Wesley, who looks up to him. Just in case we don’t quite get it, Data addresses Geordi as ‘my friend’ twice. They discuss Data’s continuing efforts to be ‘more human, and not such a dork all the time’ (thank you John Connor, and I’ve just realised I am referring to Terminator 2 quite a lot in these reviews). He is still having trouble with humour, and starts to tell a joke.
Geordi goes ‘Ohhh no’ and tries to bolt for the door, but Data darts in front of him and then backs him across the room, implacably and affectlessly reciting the joke, as I laugh helplessly because physical comedy with Brent Spiner is always a good time. Here is Data’s joke:
A man goes to a store to buy some kidneys. He says to the shopkeeper, ‘I’d like a pound of kiddle-ys, please.’ The shopkeeper says, ‘You mean kidneys, don’t you?’ The man says, ‘I said kiddle-ys, diddle I?’
I LIKE THAT JOKE. But Geordi doesn’t agree, saying it’s ‘too old’ (I suppose because they’re finally on the metric system) and Data didn’t tell it very well. True, but I think the rather stern voice he was using was partly because you were trying to run away from him! Data asks how you know when something is funny and Geordi claims it’s not explainable, you just do. Well… I agree that whether you find something funny is a visceral and immediate thing, but you can certainly explain it after the fact, even if that kills the joke. Ahem.
Data’s joke works because a) people with speech impediments are funny to people without them, because people are basically a bit cruel and like to be reminded that they are better off than others, and b) doing something nonsensical according to a logical and internally consistent pattern, like substituting ‘iddle’ for ‘n’ in words, is funny because it’s incongruous, and incongruity is a huge part of humour. Amusement is as much about surprise as anything else – I believe this comes back to our fight or flight impulse. When surprised we are tense for a moment, however brief, and when we realise that the surprise is something harmless and silly, the tension is released as laughter. Also, I remember a ruder variant of this joke being used in a Monty Python sketch, wherein a man exchanges the sounds of ‘b’s and hard ‘c’s, and when he realises he’s doing it says ‘I am a silly bunt.’ Here the additional humour arises from the use of a strongly taboo word in an incongruous and innocuous context, and the fact that through verbal dexterity, it is possible to trick people into thinking of an offensive word without saying it at all.
Oh lord, I’m starting to sound like Data. I know I’m terribly pedantic and verbose. But I think my point here is that, so often, when Data asks Geordi to explain something human to him, Geordi claims it’s inexplicable, and it’s not. When Geordi does try to explain or define these things, he often talks in circular and self-referential terms, as in ‘Descent, Part 1’ where Data asks him what it’s like to get angry. Geordi says that when he gets angry he feels aggressive, which is no help to Data. Why not describe the physical sensations of anger (feeling hot, your heart beating faster, your hands involuntarily closing into fists) and the things anger makes you want to do (hit someone, say something hurtful, otherwise assert power over the person making you feel angry – and if the reason for your anger isn’t a person you can try to dominate, the anger often impels you to do something destructive instead, like smashing something, which does give you some sense of power and release of tension, and again, this comes back to fight or flight)? These things can be explained and the fact that Geordi either doesn’t see this or can’t be bothered to do it means he’s kind of an unhelpful friend to Data. On the other hand, what do I want? I’m asking an engineer to explain emotions and humour.
Data says that perhaps the problem lies with Geordi – ‘inclu-ddling the kiddle-ys’ he has told 662 jokes and – and Geordi starts to laugh, saying that that is funny. But the reason Geordi is laughing is because Data fucked up. He’s laughing at him. Once again, people are basically a bit cruel. Mel Brooks said ‘Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.’ Data’s little face as Geordi laughs is a study. He tries to say something else which I don’t quite catch (sounds like ‘the tongue’), gives up, forms half a smile which collapses – but then, like Geordi, becomes serious as Riker’s voice comes over the intercom summoning them to the transporter room for an away party.
In the tacky, tacky house, Picard wants Geordi and Data to analyse Ligonian weapons (I’ve just remembered why the word ‘Ligon’ is bothering me, it’s a variant of ‘liger,’ a lion-tiger hybrid bred for its skills in magic), from the point of view of Tasha having to use them in a fight. Data wonders if this could be an attempt at a joke (so he is beginning to grasp the principle of incongruity), but no, unfortunately not. They don’t know yet which weapons will be used in the fight. I would think that a good strategy would be to ask for a fight without weapons, to remove any unfair advantage Yareena might have through familiarity. Everyone just wants to see the women slap and scratch each other anyway, right?
Data’s question gave Picard pause, though, and he admits that it does sound like a joke, given that they are the more powerful party and could take what they want easily. Now it’s time for a mini-lesson on the Prime Directive! Picard claims that this is what this is about (I thought it was about the vaccine) – and admits that he’s on the verge of making a speech. Troi says that as captain he’s entitled, but he says ‘I’m not entitled to ramble on about something everyone knows’ and toddles off. And so no justification of what this nonsense has to do with the Prime Directive is given!
The back-up plan is that if Tasha’s life is in danger, they’ll beam her away, although the transporter chief (not yet O’Brien) hasn’t yet been able to adjust things so that this will be possible. Pah! O’Brien would be able to do that, easy peasy.
Tasha has called Yareena to meet her, although Yareena doesn’t see the point. Tasha wants to warn her that ‘there is no physical training anywhere that matches Starfleet, especially its security people.’ Tasha, I will accept that when I see you take down a Klingon, and not just Worf, an actual fully paid-up Klingon who thinks you just called his mother a bitch. Yareena is confident that she’s ready to fight. Tasha claims her acceptance had nothing to do with Lutan, because she’s a career officer (and thus, I presume, not about to settle down on one planet, as opposed to ‘career women can’t get married’), but Yareena argues that she must love him, ‘every woman loves him.’ Ha! Oh dear, what an informed attribute. Lutan is not that attractive. Tasha says it’s about the vaccine. I hope so, T. But Yareena’s basically too pissed off to care about anything Tasha says, and she’s all ‘I KEEL YOU’ and storms out.
In another tacky room, Deanna asks Picard to let her help him, as his counsellor. He asks what would be a way out of this, and she says ‘With the vaccine? None.’ You are no fucking help, D. And can I just say again that this whole thing could have been avoided if you’d said something about what you picked up from Lutan during the reception. Geordi and Data come back from checking out the weapons. They report that they’re strong and flexible, light as if designed for women to use, and soiled with blood and deadly poison. AWESOME. They even know what kind of poison, a fast-acting alkaloid toxin. I would like to know whether they determined that with tricorders, or whether Data licked it. There’s some stuff in the yard outside that is probably going to be assembled into a ring for the fight. (I am vaguely reminded of Anne Boleyn being disturbed by the sound of the scaffold for her execution being built outside her room in the Tower.)
Tasha comes in and reports that Yareena’s not backing down, because she loves Lutan ‘without reservation. And she thinks I love him too.’ Data is standing right beside her as she says this and she turns her head slightly towards him as she says this last part, although then she darts it away again. He is watching her really closely. (I’m just going to read too much into that, if you don’t mind.) Data is curious, and asks if Tasha does love Lutan. She says, exasperated, ‘Of course I don’t, Data! As Troi pointed out to me, I’m attracted to him, but that’s entirely different.’ I really, really wonder what Data is thinking now. Possibly ‘So are you going to have sex with him and then dump him without an explanation, too?’
Before this conversation can get any more interesting or embarrassing, Riker comes through on Picard’s commbadge to say that their scanning of the planet is now accurate enough to see people assembling outside for the rumble in the jungle. Picard offers Tasha one last chance to step down, but she is confident and determined. Red boxes of weapons are brought in for her to choose from, and they are nasty-looking – and as Geordi points out, poisoned. Outside in the courtyard, Yareena is warming up in the ring (she knows about grunting), and there’s a snazzy light show.
Up on the ship, Riker recaps for people who just tuned in ten minutes from the end of the episode, and invites Wesley to sit at Ops and help. FFS, Riker! That little dork hijacked the ship last week! I don’t care if he’s cute, he’s on probation! Data gets beamed back on board, and checks that he wasn’t seen leaving. Picard’s sent him to explain The Plan to Riker – and apparently there’s another Plan which Picard pre-arranged with Bev.
The away team file out beside the ring. Tasha’s put on a black sweatband, and her weapon is absolutely ridiculous – it’s a gauntlet with a hook at the end and spikes all over it, that she obviously has to hold straight upright to stop it sliding off her arm. Honestly, I’d rather have a big stick. She swings it really close to Geordi’s face as she passes him, too! Yareena comes out in a shiny hooded robe, just like a boxer, and takes it off to reveal a horrible shiny pink catsuit. She has a stupid gauntlet weapon too.
So the idea is that the women are supposed to dodge around and between a sort of jungle gym arrangement of metal posts, swiping at each other. Despite Tasha’s bullish confidence before, she is playing this totally defensive, trying to stay out of Yareena’s way. Yareena gets her cornered and tries to force her own gauntlet into her face (because the spikes are tipped with poison that will kill her almost instantly, she doesn’t even need to give Tasha a major wound to kill her, just scratch her with a poisoned part of the weapon. This is even lamer than Quidditch). Tasha manages to break her hold, though, and the weapon is knocked off Yareena’s hand and bounces off one of the poles, which seems to be electrified. It flies into some poor bastard’s lap, and when Lutan orders it returned, we see that it scratched his stomach, so he dies. A pause is called while Yareena is disarmed, even though Second Banana said at the beginning that the combat would not be interrupted.
They get back to fighting, with Tasha still dodging and being so shit at footwork that she ends up on her back at one point. Yareena somehow manages not to kill her despite it being ridiculously easy. From the sidelines, Second Banana blurts out ‘Careful, Yareena!’
What part, incidentally, of any of this is like any old Earth culture, let alone 13th Century China?
More unconvincing chick fighting. Lutan looks nervous. Picard looks cool but stern. Denise Crosby is so fucking clumsy. She manages to wound Yareena, who falls – then throws herself on top of her, and the two of them are beamed away. In the transporter room, Dr Crusher darts in to to treat her with hyposprays. Tasha says that they’re too late, she’s growing cold (that was bloody quick), but Bev retorts that that clashes with her instructions and presses on. You can see in a couple of shots that Gates McFadden is wearing a gold wristwatch, which I suppose is an error, but on the other hand, maybe Bev wears a watch just as vintage jewellery – it might be a family heirloom, like that candle with a ghost in it that fucks people, only not as DISGUSTING. Tasha is very upset, murmuring ‘No, no.’
Picard tells Lutan to quit his bitching, since they’ve played by the rules. Lutan complains that Tasha is gone, and she’s supposed to become his wife; Picard says he won’t stop her if she chooses to take him up on that. Second Banana points out that Lutan now has all Yareena’s land and money, and he chuckles and gets all happy, and I just want to smack his face. Riker’s voice asks if they can have the vaccine now. Well, yes.
Back on the ship, Picard leads Lutan and Second Banana onto the bridge, where Riker tells them they’re wanted in ‘the lounge’ which sounds so swank and unmilitary, but then we know of these people’s devotion to their recliners. Yareena is there, still being cared for by Beverly, but conscious and alive. Lutan is furious to see that his wife who loves him was not horribly killed in single combat, and says that the agreement is off – no treaty, no vaccine. Picard and Beverly, though, point out that Yareena was, however briefly, clinically dead; the fact that Bev managed to resuscitate her doesn’t alter that. Bev invites him to try the poison himself if he doesn’t believe them. You badass, Beverly!
Here we find out that Ligonian marriages also include the ‘until death do us part’ condition – Yareena and Lutan’s marriage is over. He protests that this is witchcraft, and a shitty way to get out of a marriage; she points out that it’s less painful than what he set up for her. She puts her arms around his neck, and for a moment I think oh fuck, is she going to say she still loves him? but she is just reaching for the clasp of the gaudy necklace he’s wearing, which she removes. Yaaay. But then, disappointing me vastly, she goes over to Second Banana and gives him the necklace just because he said ‘Careful, Yareena!’ while she was fighting. So now he has all her property, even though he did everything her dick husband told him, setting her up to get killed! Ugh!
Tasha says to Lutan, ‘How sad for you. You’ve lost everything.’ She’s not, to my disappointment, mocking him; she actually seems to feel sorry for him. He responds that he has his honour; she says it’s ‘such a waste.’ Yareena asks ‘Do you want him?’ and Tasha says ‘No… there would be… complications.’ As opposed to ‘SHIT no!’ and cackling with laughter. Yareena says that in that case, Lutan can be her number two. And… I’m not touching that. Second Banana says smugly to Picard ‘Well, Captain, you may excel in technology, but not in civilised behaviour.’ Picard smiles nicely and thinks ‘Get off my ship, you appalling little goit.’
Back on the bridge, all set to sail off to a new adventure, Picard goes ‘What?’ Wesley bolts out of his chair and Riker jumps in, saying sheepishly ‘Yeah, Wesley, he’d been manning that station for me, I forgot.’ Picard thanks Wesley and says that he’ll get another chance. Perhaps he’s just so relieved this episode is over it’s put him in a good mood. Data goes over and sits down in his chair that Wesley usurped. And off they go!
That episode is fucked up.
I think my favourite part of the whole thing is that Data is capable of making a slip of the tongue. For a while there, TNG seeded in some nice little bits of ‘Data is more human than he thinks,’ and this seems like one of them.
And since we didn’t see him, it’s Time to Check In With O’Brien. What did you do while all this tomfoolery was going on, buddy?
‘Got drunk and watched Braveheart.’