08. A Matter of Honor

Why the Dr. P Hate?

Dr. P is a refitted Dr. McCoy. Yet many fans dislike her, but love Dr. McCoy. So in the last Mission Log podcast, Ken shared his thoughts about why. To summarize, he asked if this dislike comes from the fact she…

  1. …arrives without friends – McCoy was Jim’s friend, and was presented as such. So viewers could forgive him his grouchiness. Pulaski is no one’s friend. It wasn’t even until episode seven that we learned she admires Picard and has a friend in Deanna.
  2. …was an 80s television character – In the 1960s, viewers could be handed a character like Dr. McCoy and just accept him. In the 1980s, a character had to be grown.
  3. …replaces Dr. C – It could just be that fans were unhappy about losing Dr. C.
  4. …is a woman – Is it that a cantankerous middle-aged man is more acceptable or even admirable? Whereas a cantankerous middle-aged woman is a harpie, shrew, or a battle axe?

My thoughts:

  1. …arrives without friends –  This is brilliant, but it stops short. Not only does she have no friends, but she’s needling our friends. Since the viewers have been with the rest of crew since the beginning of season one, we sympathize with the characters we know. When we see her being rude to them, we’re defensive.

  2. …was an 80s television character – I agree completely. In order for us to like an unlikable character, it can’t be just because we were told to like her. We have to have some reason to sympathize, and it’s up to the storytellers to give them to us.
  3. …replaces Dr. C – Maybe, but was Dr. C all that likeable?
  4. …is a woman –  Maybe. When I think of a cantankerous female character on TV I think of Grey’s Anatomy’s Miranda Bailey who is my all time favorite TV character and a personal hero. She starts as an unlikable character and becomes likeable through storytelling. However, she isn’t middle-aged. It might be a gender/age combo, that we’re programmed to reject middle-aged women similar to McCoy.

I don’t like Dr. P, but I never liked Dr. McCoy either. Still the way Dr. McCoy needles Spock is better than the way Dr. P needles Data. McCoy points his finger and says, hehe you’re Vulcan and you don’t have emotions. Whereas Dr. P is pointing with her thumb and saying to Picard, it’s a thing not a person.

Dr. McCoy never questioned Spock’s personhood.

Dr. Bailey would never do that. She would be cantankerous, direct, honest to the point of rude, but she would never, ever deny someone their personhood.

That is the crux of my dislike for her.

Dr. P. Not Dr. Bailey.

I will admit I was too rough on Dr. P back in Elementary, Dear Data when I called her an asshole. It’s not that she’s tripped at every step, and here to explain is Mr. Table:

Steps taken towards me liking her 

Steps in the other direction

In Where Silence Has Lease, she showed real effort to accept Data as a person despite not being there emotionally. She laughed at Data’s beard and ran out of the room. Oh wait. That was Deanna. Never mind this one.
She felt genuine sorrow over Moriarty’s predicament. She recklessly took Data with her on the shuttle in Unnatural Selection.
She didn’t complain about Picard to Dr. Kingsley when she conveyed Picard’s orders about not beaming up the kids.
On the Shuttle, she apologized to Data for being a jerk towards him when he was expressing concern.
She complemented Data as having a way with computers (and seemed to feel his personhood).

Thank you, Mr. Table.

Now let’s move onto an episode that kind of has Dr. P in it…

A Matter of Honor.

In One Word

  1. Efficient – the bridge as run by Commander Riker during docking with Starbase 179. It was the first time the Enterprise seemed part of the military.
  2. Uncomfortable – How I feel when Wesley reveals that he thinks all Benzite look the same, and when Picard said that officiousness is a Benzite trait.

  3. Annoying – the fact that all Klingon names with the exception of Worf’s start with the letter K.
  4. Bad – The work environment onboard the Pagh. The turbolift doors don’t open completely, the lighting is low and red, and there are massive support braces next to the captain’s chair.
  5. Vampire – Klang, the Pagh’s second officer, looks like a vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After I finish writing this, I’m going to check and see if he was.
  6. Optimistic – Picard’s voice when he says the thing eating away at the haul might be a new life form. This was before he ordered it scrubbed off with a tunneling neutrino beam.
  7. Cool – The scene in which Captain Kargan points a phaser at Picard, but Worf beats him to the draw while Data simultaneously steps in front of Picard.

Individuals

This episode is about what happens when we put individuals into alien communities. Playing the part of the individuals are Commander Riker and Ensign Mendon. You already know Commander Riker. He’s the guy who leans, swaggers, and looks better without a beard.

We decided back in Where Silence Has Lease that he’s a warrior, so why not put him on a Klingon ship as part of an officer exchange program?

Ensign Mendon is also in the program. He’s a Benzite coming aboard the Enterprise to learn about the Federation, which already has Benzites in it. So… there’s that.

The individual is important here because this person moves between the communities. The awkward conversation between Wesley and Mendon stresses this. After all, Mendon is asserting his individuality, saying I may look like someone else, but I’m my own person.

And since we already know Riker, he doesn’t have to prove himself to us. To the Klingons maybe, but not us.

So lets get moving between communities…

Not Community, Box

But wait. Community is, perhaps, the wrong word because its too vague an idea compared to what we see presented here. The differences between the Federation, the Klingons, and the Benzites are very clear. Almost as if there are walls between them.

So instead of calling them communities or cultures or vague, wishy washy things like that, let’s call them boxes. Then let’s imagine they are actual cardboard boxes floating in space.

Too far?

Anyway, Riker welcomes Ensign Mendon to the Federation box, laughs at him with Chief O’Brien, and then jumps into the Klingon box.

Best in Box

Then we sit back and watch these two struggle to deal with the rules of the new boxes they’re in. We learn when you know how things work in a box, you can be the best. If you don’t, you’re screwed.

Ensign Mendon is an example of being screwed. He didn’t learn proper Enterprise bridge protocols. He sidled up to Picard instead of Worf and blew it when he was supposed to report the new lifeform chewing away at their haul. Plus, you know, he walks around telling people he could do their job better.

Riker is well on his way to being best in box.

First, he did his homework by interviewing Worf and eating Klingon food in Ten Forward. Then he deals with Klang on the bridge right in front of the captain, and later he deals with the sexual innuendos and invitations during dinner. All of which gains him the crew’s respect.

But the question is can he keep that respect if the box he’s in clashes with the box he’s from.

Clash of Boxes

The answer is you better believe it.  Here’s how: in the Klingon box loyalty is key, so when Kargan demands intel on the Enterprise defenses, Riker refuses to give. He proves his loyalty. But when he vows to die with the crew of the Pagh he proves loyalty again.

Then Riker takes it into some next level mint. He shows us a person who knows the rules of both boxes in conflict can manipulate the outcome.

He doesn’t want the Pagh to sneak up on the Enterprise and shoot it, but he went through all that loyalty proving trouble. He can’t turn betrayer now. So he…

  1. …accepts the First Officer’s right to get rid of the captain, which is totally cool in the Klingon box. He activates the emergency transponder and gives it to Captain Kargan. Picard thinks it’s Riker and beams him away.
  2. …assumes command of the Pagh, decloaks, and demands the Enterprise surrender. He knows that Picard will trust him and surrender, but he also knows that the Klingons won’t trust him unless he leads them to victory. And winning via forfeit is still a victory of sorts. He’s working in both boxes at the same time.
  3. …helps Kragan regain respect of his crew. Once he’s back on board, Kragan looks bad because the first officer got rid of him, so Riker gives him the old growl and doesn’t duck when the fist comes. Now everyone’s happy.

Overlapping Boxes

It all sounds nice and neat–culture and communities as boxes–but there are all these contradictions in the story that messy it up.

For example people can’t just up and leave their boxes behind. Boxes form identities and worldviews, so when you enter a new one you bring the old one with you.

That’s why Riker doesn’t want to shoot the Enterprise. He’s still the guy from the Federation box.

Plus Kargan’s analysis of Riker is just foolishly wrong, right? He thinks Riker came on board to die because it is the expectation of any officer to die at any time. Maybe in the Klingon box, but not in the Federation box. We the viewers know this and it feels clearly wrong because we do.

So, leaving one box doesn’t mean you leave your box and that means they overlap, and if they overlap how can they be boxes?

But wait it gets worse.

What Walls?

The whole metaphor of boxes only works if there are clear divisions between the different groups. I mean they have to be completely different. So Riker eating Klingon food in the Federation box just tore that box to shreds, right? Because now the same food exists in both boxes.

Yea but that’s an exception, says Steve, the guy in my head who’s always letting me know I’m full of mint. I wish he would just leave me alone. Steve! Leave! Me alone. But he can’t because I just made him up.

OK, Steve-o, fine. We’ll throw that one out. We’ll find other examples of sameness in both boxes. Dr. P explains that Federation people and Klingon people are basically the same. “Their beliefs are rather brutal, but usually, what kills us kills them.”

A random Klingon on the Pagh says almost the same thing. “Like you, I have a mother and a father. They look like me, I look like them.”

There! The people in both boxes are basically the same.

And there’s honor in both. Riker feels honor bound to uphold the oaths he made to Starfleet.

There’s a need to interact with different people in both.

There are captains.

And Laughter.

And so on and on and on. There are too many similarities to say that there are clear black and white differences between the Federation community and the Klingon community and without that kind of contrast, bye bye cardboard boxes.

I sure liked them.

Bye bye Individuals too.

What?

Well if you think about it once Riker leaves the Enterprise community and enters the Klingon community, he’s not exactly the same guy. That’s why the gentleman, I mean, warrior tasked with escorting Riker to the bridge (like he’s Marvin the robot) is staring at him.

He’s never seen a human, and though Riker asserts his role as officer, you get the feeling that to the warrior, he’s still just a Federation human. That’s why the female warriors are giving him the eye at dinner. He’s not the same guy because now his identity is alerted by the perception of the new community that surrounds him.

Just like Riker and Picard altered Mendon by relating his eagerness to please to his race.

The individuals aren’t individuals because the communities are defining them.

Let’s take a moment and look at what that leaves us with…

A big mess in which differences exist, but they aren’t neat and boxed up. They slide together like giant globs that mix and mix, and it’s here that I realize that I’ve listened to Leonard Cohen’s the Future too much.

Morals, Messages, and Meanings

  1. Just because people look similar doesn’t mean they’re the same
  2. When in Rome do as the Romans do
  3. If you want to be loved in a foreign culture, eat the food. – Let me just say from personal experience, this is soooo true
  4. Despite cultural and racial differences, people are basically the same
  5. A individual is not their culture and their culture is not that one person
  6. Learn foreign cultures in order to negotiate conflicts
  7. Don’t judge people based by preconceived notions
  8. Respect the org chart

Does it hold up?

Yes.

Good episode. Maybe the second best so far this season. (Elementary, Dear Data will be hard to beat).

It’s not without problems. I’m not a big fan of the Klingon set. It all seems melodramatic. The Klingon food is a little over the top, and Riker’s sure to handle it in a way that makes it look worse. I wish Worf was a better teacher towards Mendon. I wish Kargan wasn’t such an idiot.

But overall I it’s an interesting story, and a good use/development of Riker. (Just when I started complaining he had nothing to do.) The Klingon crew is interesting. It’s the first time I felt there was something more beneath the surface of a Klingon character.

I could easily watch it again.

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09. The Measure of a Man >>