Welcome back to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am doing an episode-by-episode watch, recap, and reaction and blogging about it here. There will be no spoilers for the series beyond the current episode.
For those of you that don’t want to read the long recap, I provide a quick episode summary here at the top. You can scroll down to the reaction below. My other episode recaps / reviews are HERE.
THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:
The Enterprise visits Ligon II to negotiate the acquisition of a rare vaccine from the planet’s inhabitants. The planet is people with humanoids who are by all appearances African and tribal.
The enterprise’s mission goes sideways when Lutan, the leader of Ligon II, kidnaps Lt. Yar and declares that he wants her to be his first wife. Lutan’s current First Wife challenges Yar to combat to the death. Picard has to carefully let everything play out because getting the vaccine is really important.
Ultimately, Yar kills Lutan’s wife, the vaccine is secured, and Lutan’s wife is subsequently revived aboard the Enterprise. The newly alive Lutan’s wife divorces him and picks another husband. The end.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:
Captain’s Log: Star Date 41235.25. Our location – planet Ligon II.
Starfleet has sent the Enterprise to negotiate obtaining access to a rare medicinal substance found on the planet. The Ligonians are said to be humanoid and from a highly structured society very similar to that of humans. We learn that they insist on using their own transport onto the Enterprise – rather than having the ship beam them up. After an initial group beams aboard, they roll out a red carpet for their leader to beam aboard behind them and then walk down toward Picard for negotiation.
The leader is Lutan. He and the other members of his party are portrayed by black actors. The Ligonians are wearing clothes that are vaguely reminiscent of African tribal garb, too. Lutan is surprised that Picard’s Chief Security Officer is a woman. He expresses his honor to meet Picard and his crew. He instructs his second to deliver the vaccine to Picard. Yar intercepts the delivery and states that it is her duty to deliver the contents to him. Lutan’s second tries to push past her.
Out of my way, woman!
She throws him to the floor and Lutan appears to be impressed. After Yar examines the vaccine for a few seconds, she hands it to Picard. He tells Lutan that the vaccine sample is a gift of life and that they are honored to receive it. Picard asks Lutan if his group would do them the additional honor of allowing the Enterprise to entertain them and Lutan agrees.
After the Enterprise greeting crew walks away, Lutan’s second apologizes. Lutan tells him that they are strange alien beings and that he bears not fault.
Second: But the female…
Lutan: May be exactly what I needed.
Later, Picard tells Lutan that he is aware of his planet’s achievements and the unique similarities between the Ligonian culture and “an ancient earth culture we all admire.” Picard gives Lutan art from the 13th century Chinese Sung Dynasty. Lutan accepts. He expresses to Picard the apprehension of his people on Ligon II to interact with strangers. He states though that if he feels his people are shown respect, he will return the respect by sharing their vaccine with all who need it. He sends his guards away and tells them that he will call for them when he needs them. Lutan and his second are all who remain from his party. Lutan asks to see a holodeck. When Picard asks Riker and Troi to demonstrate a holodeck for him, Lutan asks instead of Lt. Yar can participate and demonstrate defense training. She says that she would like to do it as a sign of respect.
Inside the holodeck, she demonstrates aikido. Lutan is shocked that they can create people without a soul. She explains that it is not a person but is instead generated and entirely controlled by a computer. She demonstrates aikido with the holodeck image. Lutan’s second tries to spar with the holodeck creation and is thrown to the ground. After, Yar explains that the holodeck image continues to improve, learning the tendencies of the person it spars with, until it eventually defeats the human. She explains that this form of training forces the human in training to continue improving. Lutan tells Yar that he is very impressed by her.
As Lutan and his second move to the transport deck to leave, he and Picard note their positive beginning. Lutan then asks to say a special goodbye to Lt. Yar. He then grabs her and he, his second, and Yar are teleported away.
Picard issues a red alert. He hails the planet’s surface with a message that their government has committed an unfriendly act. Then he issues an order to fire display blasts of photon torpedoes that explode above the planet’s surface – to demonstrate the military prowess of the ship. Picard asks Troi what she felt in the presence of the Ligonians. She tells Picard and Riker that all of the men in the Ligonian party felt some sexual attraction to Yar, however, in the case of Lutan she also felt avarice or ambition. Data and Riker comment that in their briefing about the Ligonians, their appreciation for patience is mentioned. Riker suggests that they wait out Lutan rather than send a rescue team to retrieve her.
A day passes without word from the planet. Dr. Crusher approaches Picard in his quarters and tells him that the vaccine cannot be replicated. She insists that he get the vaccine from the planet. At the end of their official business, she asks Picard to speak with him about her son Wesley. Picard hides his reluctance to talk about Wesley relatively well. She tells Picard that her son is interested in Starfleet operations and that he is quite knowledgeable. She then tells Picard that he is in the turbolift just outside the bridge.
Picard enters the bridge and calls for Wesley. When Riker says that he will escort Wesley away, Picard says instead that he can sit next to Lt. LaForge. Troi enters and the crew discuss the Ligonian culture. By taking Yar, in the face of the Enterprise’s superior technology and might, within the context of his own culture, Lutan did something honorable and heroic. According to Riker, the proper thing for Picard to do, in the context of the Ligonian culture, is to ask to get Lt. Yar back. Data points out that Picard must ask politely.
Picard asks politely that Lutan return Yar. He invites Picard to visit the planet and says that they will return her to them then.
On the bridge, later, Troi and Data formally ask Riker to submit to allowing the Captain to lead the away team personally. They explain that Ligonian custom makes Picard and honored guest – however that honor extends only to him. They further explain that by custom Lutan would rather die than violate that custom.
Picard and Troi beam down together to the planet. Lutan greets them and extends “every courtesy” to them. Picard asks for the courtesy of seeing Lt. Yar. Lutan replies that she will be returned to them tonight, at a banquet in Picard’s honor, but he again insists that he see her now. Lutan is frustrated that Picard does not understand politeness. Troi interjects that one can see the importance of honor on this planet and Lutan replies that “honor is everything.” Lutan states that if Picard asks for Yar back, in the presence of all at the banquet, he will get Yar back and that honor will be satisfied.
Yar is brought out to Picard. She is escorted by a man carrying a tall spear. Picard asks if she has been treated well and she replies that she has.
That night, at the banquet, Picard addresses Lutan. He praises Lutan for his hospitality and the safety provided. He then asks politely for the return of Lt. Yar. Lutan shocks his own assembly when he says that he cannot return Yar. Picard states that what Lutan is saying is an act of war and Lutan replies that it is an act of love. He states that he wants Yar to become his first wife. His current first wife then challenges Yar in a struggle to the death and claims it as her right. Lutan’s second says that no person has claimed that right in two hundred years. She nevertheless claims it. Picard interjects with “no” and refuses the challenge.
Lutan shouts to Picard that he will have no treaty, no vaccine, and no Lt. Yar.
After, Picard asks Yar if she had any idea that this would happen. Yar says no. Troi the interjects that Lutan is such a basic male image that it thrilled Yar when he made the announcement.
Yar: Yeah, of course it felt good when he… Troi, I’m your friend and you tricked me!
Picard interjects that they have all been manipulated, himself most of all. Troi states that this would all be easier without the Prime Directive.
On board the Enterprise, it is reported that the disease for which they need the vaccine is ravaging a planet, with expected deaths from it in the millions. Riker communicates the information to Picard.
Yar is talking with Troi. She tells Troi that she knows she can win the fight. She states that she will not take the life of her combatant but that she will be happy to embarrass her. Troi advises Picard to allow Yar to fight Lutan’s wife. He states that he wants some explanation from Lutan.
Picard approaches Lutan and expresses his puzzlement. He explains that he understands some of Lutan’s position in these matters because he knows that Yar is lovely. When he praises Lutan as a man of great importance and wealth, Lutan’s second lets slip that Lutan is not wealthy before Lutan silences him. Picard praises Lutan’s cleverness. He states that Lutan has positioned himself to lose nothing regardless of how the fight goes. Lutan states that honor is like a cloak. Picard wishes to him that his cloak protect him and further wishes him all that he deserves. Picard tells him that he will order Yar to fight.
Geordi is shaving. Data enters his quarters and asks him why he is not using the razor Data gave to him. LaForge replies that some things are too efficient. Data states that he will continue trying to solve the “human equation.” He then insists upon telling a joke. The joke does not make LaForge laugh however Data’s confusion after does. Riker then speaks to both through the intercom and tells them to prepare for Transport duty.
Picard talks to the two on the planet and tells them that he needs to know about Ligonian combat capabilities.
Yar is visited by Lutan’s first wife. Yar apparently had asked for the meeting. The Lt. warns the wife that no combat training surpasses Starfleet training. She further explains that she is a career Starfleet officer and wishes to continue to be one.
Lutan’s wife: How could you not love him? Every woman loves him.
Yar says that she is fighting for the vaccine only. Lutan’s wife then says that she will kill Yar if she can and their world has a way of making sure that she can. Yar states that on her world is a greater honor to refuse, but she is interrupted mid-sentence.
YOU ARE ON OUR WORLD!
Lutan’s wife leaves.
Troi speaks with Picard. He asks her if she can think of a way out of the situation. She cannot think of one that also provides them with the vaccine. Data and LaForge enter the room and give an assessment of the Ligonian weapons. They report that the weapons are light weight, as if made for women. They further state that some of the weapons also contain traces of old blood and of poison. Yar enters the room next and reports that she cannot convince Lutan’s wife to drop the challenge.
A few moments later, the Ligonians enter the room carrying boxes. They tell her that the boxes contain weapons and that she can choose what she wishes to use. The weapons are razor sharp and poisonous.
The combat commences. The two women are standing in a small area that looks something like a jungle gym. Metal bars cross-cross their paths to one another and the terrain contains a few steps up and down in haphazard fashion. After avoiding Lutan’s wife a few times, Yar manages to disarm her by removing a metal spikes glove from her hand. The glove flies toward a male Ligonian spectator who is pricked by a spike and is then carried away. The weapons are returned to the two women.
Yar is fighting in an exclusively defensive manner. However, she finally lands a blow on Lutan’s wife. Yar lays atop the now fallen woman and is teleported away with her. Crusher treats Lutan’s wife but it is unclear if it is too late to help her.
On the planet, Lutan is now in possession of his late wife’s land. Riker asks Picard through coms if they are permitted to beam aboard the vaccine now that Picard has fulfilled his side of the bargain. Lutan allows it. Picard further tells Lutan that he will not forbid Yar from serving as his First Wife. He tells Riker, “five to beam up” and the Enterprise takes both Lutan and his Second – to the apparent surprise of both.
Lutan, his second, Picard, and Riker go to the lounge. There they find Lutan’s wife. He is outraged. Dr. Crusher insists that Lutan’s wife died and that she brought her back. Lutan is angry that his wife would dissolve their marriage in such a way. She replies that it is less painful that the way he chose to dissolve their marriage first.
Lutan’s wife approaches Lutan and removes a necklace from him. Women are the property owners on Ligon II, and the necklace symbolizes the husband’s control over the wife’s owned land and possessions. She then bestows the marriage necklace, and with it her land and goods, on Lutan’s second.
Yar: [to Lutan] How sad for you. You’ve lost everything.
Lutan: I have my honor.
Yar: It’s such a waste.
Lutan’s wife: Do you want him?
Yar: No. There would be complications.
Lutan’s now former wife announces that Lutan is now her number two and she orders him to take his place accordingly.
Picard returns to the bridge. He is surprised to see Wesley there. Riker tells him that Wesley has been manning the station for him. Picard dismisses him and tells him that he will get another chance in the future.
The Enterprise sets another course and warp speeds away.
Whew. Let’s see if I have this one right. The Enterprise visits a planet of black people, with African accents, who are something akin to technologically advanced noble savages? YIKES. Wow. There’s even a line in this episode… lemme go back and look…
My honor protects me, Captain, like a magic cloak.
I wonder if the writers room thought crediting the Ligonians with a vaccine that The Federation could not achieve on its own protected the writers, like a magic cloak, from being racists?
I do not have any issue with discussing a WIDE range of cultural practices or fictional depictions thereof. But this is racist. The writers/directors did not need to make the Ligonians African. Or dress them in African tribal garb. They’re aliens. Writing them to be Africans was *intended* to reflect on actual Africans in the real world. The writers here used to pretext of dealing with an alien culture to depict African people as less civilized. The whole thing was gross. The mid 1980s were not the mid 1950s. This wasn’t intended as ironic humor or anything. This episode was played straight. It’s not shocking to see racism in society, or portrayed on television, even in the modern era… but Star Trek is one of the very last places in which I would have expected to see it.
Making matters worse, the episode is also just really bad in general.
Troi: Lutan is such a masculine specimen. I mean, just look at him. Are you attracted to Lutan?
Yar: Well, I did feel a thrill that he picked me… wait, you tricked me by asking me the question directly?! I thought we were friends!
The episode goes on to kind of tease the idea that Yar is sexually attracted to Lutan – going so far as to have Yar say that she’d like to embarrass Lutan’s wife for challenging her to combat. Even at end of the episode, when asked about whether she would still like to consider being Lutan’s First Wife, Yar looks at him with serious sexual consideration while declining.
Honestly, I have no idea what they are doing with the Yar character. In the pilot, she got into an unauthorized fight and was nearly frozen to death by Q. In the second episode, she has sex with Data while feeling the effects of intoxication. In this episode, she attacked the Second from a civilization they just met, got kidnapped by that civilization, became sexually attracted to her kidnapper…
Maybe this is just a legal question, but I also do not understand how Lutan’s wife’s death solves their problems. When she died, she fulfilled the terms of the fight, the marriage was dissolved and Lutan obtained her wealth. HOWEVER… when she returned to life, she just gets her possessions back? If her possessions reverted back to her upon her resurrection, shouldn’t the fight terms have also failed? Otherwise, Lutan should get to keep what he inherited when she died… right?
I guess my point here is that Lutan needs a better lawyer.
Are there any positives here? Wesley is on the bridge again for no reason other than that Picard is attracted to Wesley’s mother. So… nope, don’t like that.
Data trying and failing to tell Geordi a joke was okay, I guess.
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