The original Star Trek commented on the issues of the day and Star Trek: The Next Generation carries on that great tradition. This episode is about dealing with difference and finding ways to communicate across cultures.
A Federation exchange program brings a Benzite named Mendon to the Enterprise and sends Riker to the Klingon ship, The Pagh. There are some not so subtle call-outs to racism. For example, Wesley mistakes Mendon for his friend Mendock, playing with the racist stereotype that "they all look the same." The lack of understanding of protocol, the reactions of the Captain and the Doctor to Klingon food, the curiosity of Klag when he first sees Riker, are all understood as common cross-cultural responses.
While the theme is a lofty one, I don't think this episode really pulled it off. We get to meet a Benzite but he just seems officious and annoying. There is no real attempt to explain why he might act as he does, only that it is different and wrong on the Enterprise. The Klingon captain is made to look like an overzealous idiot just to give Riker a chance to show that he can deal with a conflict of oaths in a clever and manly way.
I've always had a bit of a problem with how the Klingons are portrayed. This is an ancient culture which has thrived and conquered galaxies but they are often made to appear as crude and unintelligent. That never made sense to me and it certainly doesn't here. A single Klingon warship would declare war on the Federation? Shouldn't there be some chain of command in this case? I sometimes get frustrated with the writers because they take short cuts. It feels like they sat in a room and said to each other, let's send Riker to a Klingon ship, oooh let's put him a position where he has to take on the Enterprise. They don't seem to think it through beyond that point.
Bits and Pieces
Being eager to please is a Benzite trait and apparently this doesn't conflict with showing up your peers and annoying your commanding officer.
This week's new life form is a sub-atomic bacteria that can eat ships. They probably had enough trouble with the already established life forms to have anything more intelligent.
Apparently there is a feast before transfer. That seems like a fine idea.
O'Brien is getting some dialogue and control of the shields.
Riker is ever the ladies' man. It would have been interesting if the Klingon women had followed through.
Maybe Worf doesn't have a sense of humour. It must be a lot of pressure to represent the whole Klingon race.
When the Klingon captain says that Riker will die like a Klingon he thinks he is giving Riker a great gift. But as Klag says, humans don't seem to be as interested in dying as Klingons.
Worf: “Your second officer will assassinate you for the same reasons.”
Mendon: “Didn’t mean to offend you.”
Worf: “You didn’t...yet.”
Second Officer Klag: “A Klingon is his work, not his family.”
Captain Kargan: “Let them charge into their destruction.”