Star Trek Went Out Of Its Way To Create A Racist Episode

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

code of honor

The most infamous Star Trek: The Next Generation episode is “Code of Honor,” a deeply racist tale in which the leader of an entirely Black planet is so horny for Tasha Yar that he abducts her to be his mate while threatening to withhold a vaccine from a neighboring planet. From the very beginning, fans assumed that this episode (which also featured these planetary natives wearing traditional African clothing) was doomed thanks to a problematic script. In reality, it was director Russ Mayberry who went out of his way to make the planet entirely Black, a decision which actually cost him his job partway through filming.

The Plot

code of honor

To better understand everything that went wrong with “Code of Honor,” you need to know a bit more about its bonkers plot. It begins with the Enterprise traveling to Ligon II in order to secure a vaccine for nearby planet Styris IV, but things go sideways when a planetary leader, Lucan, becomes enamored of Security Chief Tasha Yar and her many skills. This causes him to abduct her and try to make her his “first one,” but another woman already has that particular honor–this results in a fight to the death between the two women, but Dr. Crusher is, fortunately, able to revive the woman that Yar was forced to fight.

Originally, They Were Lizard People

star trek gorn

It is a common assumption that “Code of Honor” was, for whatever reason, written to be so wildly racist. However, in the earliest drafts of the script, the natives weren’t Black–in fact, they weren’t meant to look remotely human. Instead, they were going to be a reptile race who lived by the titular code of honor (just imagine a Gorn samurai and you’ve got the right idea, and this draft even had a reference to Kirk tangling with one of the aliens’ ancestors).

The later version of the “Code of Honor” script made the Ligonians into humans (or at least, aliens that presented completely as human, like Betazeds). Interestingly, the only real racial note written into this draft is that Lutan’s guards were supposed to be Black. There was nothing about creating an entirely Black planet, and that only happened because director Russ Mayberry wanted the planet to have an African theme.

Mayberry’s Firing

code of honor

”Code of Honor” was only the third episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and had the potential to doom the new show before it could build a solid fan base. Gene Roddenberry ended up firing Mayberry midway through production, and Les Landau was brought in to finish it up. Mayberry getting fired is an undisputed fact, but the exact reason why he was let go changes depending on who you ask.

For example, prolific Star Trek novel writer Keith DeCandido later said that Mayberry was explicitly fired for his casting decision that needlessly transformed a bad episode into a racist episode. Meanwhile, Wesley Crusher actor Wil Wheaton has a more salacious suspicion. He believes that Mayberry got the ax because he was acting racist towards the Black guest stars he went out of his way to cast.

The Regular Cast Wasn’t Happy

In case you were curious, your favorite Star Trek actors hated “Code of Honor” as much or even more than fans. Riker actor Jonathan Frakes tried to keep the episode from re-airing and Michael Dorn expressed gratitude that he didn’t appear in the episode. Patrick Stewart later summed up everyone’s feelings, saying that there was an episode “very early on that involved a race of Black aliens that we all felt quite embarrassed about.”

Meanwhile, Wil Wheaton thought that if Mayberry hadn’t made the planet entirely Black, “Code of Honor” wouldn’t have been considered a racist episode. Data actor Brent Spiner took a philosophical view, stating that “it was fortuitous that we did our worst that early on and it never got quite that bad again.” The Next Generation effectively burned a few pancakes early on (especially in season one), and Spiner is correct: for all its rocky early eps, TNG never got that bad again. 

It Should Never Have Aired

“Code of Honor” will always be a stain on the legacy of The Next Generation, but it also serves as a stark reminder of the difference that the right (or wrong) director can make. Russ Mayberry made a single insane casting decision that transformed this into the most infamous Trek episode ever made. Trust me: if you can make it through the cringe-worthy ep to its awful final act, you’ll wish you were the one that got hit by Tasha Yar’s poisoned weapon.  

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