Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) star Jonathan Frakes recently described the season 1 episode “Code of Honor” as an “embarrassment” during a virtual appearance at GalaxyCon.
Frakes, who played William T. Riker, appeared alongside fellow TNG cast members Denise Crosby, who played Lt. Tasha Yar and Sela, and John de Lancie, who played Q.
At around 10:35 in the video below, while discussing the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Frakes brings up “Code of Honor” asking, “Are we going to just wipe right through Code of Honor? Is that what you plan on doing here?”
The moderator Patty Hawkins responds, “We’ll talk about anything you want to talk about.”
Frakes responds, “The embarrassment heaped upon us in season one, mostly on Denise.”
Crosby then adds, “Can you imagine playing that right now in this climate?”
Frakes then states, “That’s what I’m trying to lead the witness to.”
Hawkins then interjects, “You have all said that and I think we are all in agreement that maybe there was some good intentions in there somewhere and it got buried along the way.”
Crosby, shaking her head, replies, “Nah. Nah.”
For those who don’t know, “Code of Honor” was the fourth episode of TNG’s first season.
In it, the Enterprise crew arrives at Ligon II where a vaccine is being produced that the Federation dearly needs to cure the Anchilles fever on Styris IV.
On Ligon II the humanoid aliens are depicted by an all-black cast and are outfitted with what looks to be random African styles of clothing.
The episode kicks into gear when the leader of the Ligonian people, Lutan, kidnaps Tasha Yar, played by Crosby, in order to secure her hand in marriage.
Frakes had previously described the episode as a “racist piece of shit” during a panel at Vegas Con back in 2011 according to Trek Movie.
Michael Dorn, who played Worf, described the episode as “the worst episode of Star Trek ever filmed.”
Brent Spiner, who played Lt. Commander Data also referred to the episode as “racist” in an interview with Trek Movie. He stated, “There is that one episode that we all knew was bad very early on. The one where Denise [Crosby] was captured by the tribe of space Africans [laughs]. It [“Code of Honor”] was just a racist episode. Maybe not intentionally but it felt that way and looked that way.”
LeVar Burton, who played Geordi La Forge said the episode “stinks” during a 2010 DragonCon panel.
Not only have a number of Star Trek actors criticized the episode, but there was also controversy when it was being made. According to Star Trek author Keith R.A. DeCandido the episode’s director Russ Mayberr was fired by Gene Roddenberry in the middle of filming.
DeCandido explained, “Apparently, the casting of entirely African-American actors as the aggressively primitive Ligonians did not sit well with the Great Bird of the Galaxy, and Les Landau—who would go on to become one of the franchise’s most prolific directors—finished the job.”
Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher, recalled that the Ligonians “were not explicitly described as entirely African American in the script, but were cast that way at the behest of director Russ Mayberry.”
Wheaton added that Mayberry “apparently went on to be so offensively racist and treated the actors so poorly that Gene fired him before the episode was completed and handed the directing responsibilities over to then – First AD Les Landau.”
However, Wheaton would also add, ” Code of Honor is not an especially good episode, but it’s not as overtly racist as I recalled. I mean, it’s certainly not as racist as “Angel One” is sexist, and if the Ligonians hadn’t been arbitrarily determined to be entirely African American, it wouldn’t have even been an issue.”
DeCandido concurred, “The accusations of racism against the episode that have been leveled by many—most notably actors Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner and staff writer Tracey Tormé—are a bit iffy, only because the script didn’t explicitly call for the Ligonians to be played by African-Americans. If the Ligonians had been played by white people, none of the dialogue would change, and nobody would call it racist.”
What do you make of Frakes and Crosby’s recent comments on “Code of Honor?” Do you think the episode is an embarrassment? Would it be able to be shown in today’s current climate?