Interview: Jonathan Frakes On “Sub Rosa” Directing Challenge And Rethinking TNG’s “Code Of Honor”

TrekMovie had a lengthy and exclusive chat with Star Trek acting and directing legend Jonathan Frakes. We have already shared what he had to say about directing on Star Trek: Discovery season 3, working on Star Trek: Picard, and his hopes for Short Treks and Strange New Worlds.

There are still a couple more subjects to cover. Today we share the moment when our discussion turned to some of the less stellar entries from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which Mr. Frakes prompted with a question of his own regarding our coverage of a particular episode.

Jonathan Frakes: Now, are you the guys doing the “Sub Rosa” watch along?

TrekMovie: Yes.

It wasn’t my finest hour. [laughs]

Yeah, you directed that one, right?

I did.

When you’re directing something do you know is just not going to be great when you are in the middle of it?

Yeah. But my philosophy, which I’ve always held to, is ‘I’m going make the best version of this show that I can make.’ There’s nothing gained by admitting ‘Oh, my God, this story doesn’t make any sense. This is ludicrous.’ All the things that reveal themselves. If you take those notes to the producer of the show and point them out more than once, as I have done, and that producer or showrunner doesn’t feel the same way, then you’ve got to suck it up and make the best episode you can make.

As I understand it back in the ’90s on Star Trek they were making 26 a year and really with two shows they were making 52 and it was just an assembly line. And one writer said told me once that sometimes something is coming down the assembly line, and everyone can see that it’s not ready, but you can’t stop the assembly line.

Exactly, you just got to put it on the street and hope that somebody can still drive it. [laughs]

Gates McFadden as Dr. Crusher in “Sub Rosa,” directed by Jonathan Frakes

Speaking of stinkers, a few weeks ago you did one of these virtual events and brought up “Code of Honor,” and how racist it is. You have brought it up a few times, so do you feel CBS should do what some other platforms have done, and remove it from their library? Or keep it with some kind of added context? Or do you just want people to know, you think it is racist.

I thought that they had taken it out of the rotation when they sold the show.

Oh, it’s there. It’s on CBS, Hulu, Netflix, etc.

It is now. But I was told or I was under the impression that it had rubbed so many people the wrong way that it was pulled. I think they should take it out of the rotation. I think it is a great time to make that kind of – as small as it is – to make that kind of a statement would be fabulous.

So, when you log into CBS All Access and pull up Next Generation, it’s just not there. And the same with Netflix, etc.


All right. That’s a bold statement.

Well, but you make a good point. Maybe it should be included with an appropriate statement of reason. A proof of concept. This is not who we are. This is not what we stand for. It’s an embarrassment to the franchise and Gene [Roddenberry] would want us to do this. Something like that.

Jonathan Frakes as Riker in “Code of Honor”

More #FrakesWeek

There is still more to come from Jonathan Frakes. Check back tomorrow for the final entry, with our discussion of the Star Trek film franchise.

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I know many people are gonna roast me for this opinion but I believe “Code of Honor” shouldn’t be removed from rotation for two reasons. First, this would be censorship and I am against all forms of censorship, second we must take the bad with the good. This episode should be kept as an example of what absolutely not to do in the future. There are more lessons to be learned by keeping this episode rather than ejecting it. Taking it out will be the easy way, keeping it and discussing ALL its shortcomings would be the much more difficult but ultimately the more effective way.

Yeah. I would say they should put a disclaimer/trigger warning at the beginning to let the audience know that its racist. That being said, it wouldn’t really be a great loss if they did just remove the episode.

I don’t think any media should be removed from availability. Perfectly fine with a disclaimer on things, but people should be allowed to chose what they want to watch, not companies. At least not retroactively. Its be different if it’d been made but never aired.

I think it should be pulled, but not necessarily because it is racist… it’s really just not a good episode. And the fact that it’s episode #3 means that people who are just discovering this show now might get turned off by it after only the third episode. That being said, I own the entire series on Blu-ray, so as long as its still available in some form for completists like me, that’s all that matters. But Pluto TV shows “Code of Honor” every 4 days on the Star Trek channel even though they have never shown “Darmok” or “The Inner Light” or anything beyond season 4, and that’s just criminal!

Most of the first two seasons of TNG should be removed from rotation.

What about “Angel One”, the one with the woman ruling the men planet?
I honestly don’t see a point in erasing history. The episode was made, it was aired, it’s been syndicated for decades at this point. There is no point in ‘deleting’ it, and most people really wouldn’t even read much into this one episode’s racist undertones unless they have a very sensitive and easily offended nature. It was created and produced 30 years ago, it does not reflect today’s attitudes and people I think are clever enough to understand that if they happen to watch it.

What about “Angel One”? Frankly I think we could do with more women running this planet.

Come on, you know obvious double standards like that are absolutely fine, because women are the beneficiaries so that makes it ok. Just look at CBSTrek’s casting and story-telling, not just DIS and PIC but Lower Decks too.

30 years ago was hardly the dark ages or even the pre Civil Rights era. What is considered racist today,was also considered racist then. Especially by anyone that ever experienced racism. There was no excuse except ignorance for making that episode,and frankly not showing it doesn’t diminish the series. It isn’t as though there was an ongoing story arc that would be affected. I’m with Frakes on this one.

Angel One was a typical Trek “what if” planet of the week, where we had to confront the issue of all the things a patriarchal society imposes upon both men AND women in terms of expectations, behaviour, acceptable roles, etc, when the roles are reversed.

To me, it’s a bit clumsy because it makes its point, but does so in a very heavy-handed, hit-you-over-the head way. Oh! A planet where women are the ones that are biologically larger and stronger and have what we consider stereotypically “male” characteristics? And people are unhappy with this traditional arrangement? I’m shocked :)

Even for the late 1980s it felt a little cliché. I think this is also why Code of Honor feels weird to watch today, is that, like a lot of Season 1 TNG, it felt mired in the trappings of 1960s Trek – the sexism, the “shiny fabrics mean we’re in the FUTURE” Theiss-style costume designs. As a teen watching it new at the time, and having already absorbed TOS, it felt a little cringy.

What might have been more interesting, instead of a simple gender-roles-reversal, would have been to show a properly progressive society without 20th century human hangups, where anyone can do anything, but then again, as we’ve seen in Discovery (and will likely see in SNW) modern audiences already expect the 23rd century to be more progressive than we are now, it’s not an audience of people who were born in the 50s and 60s for whom ideas of equality were relatively new.

Kind of like THE EXPANSE – no character is really defined by their gender, you get a full spectrum of people with different orientations etc, but it’s rarely really a plot point. Bobbie Draper as a tough, competent Martian marine is believable just like Chrisjen Avisarala is believable as someone who puts on the trappings of “official” femininity, but underneath is a no-bull hardball politician / leader who hates small talk, we have characters like Praxidike Meng, a botanist who’s more concerned about their kid and only undertakes “heroic” actions in service of that goal.

It’s a shame we don’t have a thumbs up/like feature because@DataMat @alphantrion would get one from me.

I as well.

Thanks for the appreciation :))

Me too. I was just thinking that. Thumbs up, here.

I don’t want to offend anyone but why is it that white actors can play badly written, stereotypical villains and nobody cares but when POC play badly written, stereotypical villains it’s considered racism?

True equality must be taken literally and that means no special treatment, no regard to racial or cultural features. Inequality cannot be fought by a new counter-inequality… because it’s still inequality. MJ once sang it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, MLK wanted people to be judged not by the color of their skin… That’s the sort of progress I’ve always believed in…

Lutan’s skin color simply shouldn’t matter. He was a badly written, one-dimensional villain. Bad enough, but why does it have to be considered racism? If he was aan alien lizard man as originally intended, he would still be a badly written, one-dimensional villain…

Its not just that he is badly written and one dimensional. Trek is full of lame villains. Its that he portrays a lot of “savage African” stereotypes. And everyone on the “savage” planet were played by black actors, which reinforces the idea that black people are savage.

But aren‘t there still some „savage“ (I wouldn‘t use that word to describe it) tribes out there in Africa? Asides from that: yes, I do get why it‘s considered to be racist, but at the same time I don‘t. Would it be prohibited to have a planet whose leaders look and talk like Luton and his followers? Right, it wouldn‘t!

Part of political correctness is that you’re Not Allowed to Notice that.

That’s why I don’t like political correctness. You should be allowed to notice anything you want, just not make fun of it or exploit it any harmful way.

Wait till you see my hair-raising documentary on the rituals of the wild Harley-Davidson motorcycle clubs! What these savage whites get up to is SHOCKING! (sarcasm) :)

But, uh, dude, go onto Google Earth and look at Lagos, Nigeria (21 million people). Or Cairo, Egypt (20 million) or any one of dozens of other cities that have bigger populations that most US states. You’ll see… modern architecture, nightlife, industry, offices, sports stadiums, suburbs, canals, ports, beaches, cathedrals, mosques…. Africa is civilized, my friend, and it has been long before colonizers came.

Yes, there are remote, indigenous peoples all over the world – what remains of original peoples before colonization – in pockets here and there, in Africa, but also Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines – but the majority of people on Earth live in cities now.

Yeah. I mean, it was hardly Planet Wakanda, was it? (Although even that movie invoked the “we must battle with sharp sticks over a waterfall” thing which seems out of place for an advanced technological civilization).

But the point stands – yes, taken in the abstract it doesn’t matter, but the world isn’t abstract, and viewers bring their pre-existing prejudices and social context when viewing a piece of media, so having a planet with ‘savage’ traditions being played by all-Black actors doing patently African accents can’t really be ignored.

If the planet had the same customs, but were all White British actors, or of mixed skin colours, it might have been easier to tell that story without bringing in old stereotypes. But Trek of that period definitely fell into the Planet of Hats trope – everyone on a planet is the same race (mostly), has the same haircut, has the same clothes, for Color Coded Convenience :)

Agree. Christian Bale’s portrayal of a rich, entitled villain is just as cringe-worthy in the (IMO) bad remake of Shaft but it is not subject to being censored or ignored because of his skin color. It’s (IMO) ignored because it is simply a bad movie.

there is something to the costume design as well. If he were the same one dimensional villain in a t-shirt and jeans, it doesn’t look as racist as it does when he is wearing what appears to be more African traditional inspired robes and headdress

There have been plenty of complaints about white stereotypical characters in film and TV, so you are wrong about that. I personally know Italian Americans that loathe the Godfather films,Martin Scorcese’s mob movies and The Sopranos TV show because of the portrayal of Italian Americans in them. And the writing of these films and shows is considered to be quite good.I’ve also read about Southerners that aren’t happy with some of the stereotypical portrayals of them as idiot hicks and hillbillies on numerous shows. If you think black people are the only ones that don’t like syereotypes or consider certain portrayals racist,think again.

There is no racism in “Code of Honor.” There is no attempt, even, to stereotype any type of person in that episode—not black people, not Africans. Very patriarchal cultures exist in Africa. It’s just a fact. Basing a fictitious alien society on real-life cultures is how science fiction works. It’s normal, and there’s nothing wrong with it. All fiction draws from real life. There does not exist any work of fiction that does not draw from real life.

“Code of Honor” contains no critique, implying or even faintly suggesting anything inferior about black people in general nor about African people in general. Whether one thinks that the villain is one-dimensional or poorly written is another matter, but he is certainly not a stand-in for a thematic statement about race.

yes, there is.

No, there isn’t.

Because there *isn’t* equality in the real world.

I mean, unless you live under a rock, power differentials exist in the world, between those with money / power, and those who do not.

This is why, in comedy, we talk about punching up (against people with power who are abusing it, hypocritical, etc.) vs. punching down (making fun of people who are merely unlucky, poor, disabled).

We do not have equality of opportunity in North America. The levers of power are, still, mostly held by old men of European ancestry, and there are forces of racism and sexism in our society – even internalized misogyny and racism – that would rather put the most awful white guy in charge, than a woman or a person of colour. (points outside the window at, well, everything).

This is why it’s usually OK to cast a white rich guy as the villain. Most of our real-life villains *are* rich white guys. But as a group, they are hardly discriminated against in public life, rather, the opposite; they enjoy all the advantages. Therefore, it’s karmically “ok” to punch up against an oppressor.

This is also why we have the trope of the White Ally – who gets points for using their privileges on behalf of those who don’t have any – but which can be a cringy stereotype too, just like the trope of the Magical Black Person who exists solely to impart Street Wisdom to our white protagonist. (It could be argued that Guinan was an attempt to subvert this trope.)

Things are getting a *little* better but put it this way, have you or any of your relatives had to give your teenage sons The Talk about how to behave when stopped by the police… so they don’t get shot? It is a talk that Black parents give their kids. It isn’t something most White parents ever think about.

There are groups that will not hesitate to portray people of another race as savages, violent, “untamable,” un-civilized, within the same society, so that they don’t have to confront their complicity in the creation of, and profiting from, this underclass. Google the “Willie Horton ad” as just one example.

Yes, Lutan was badly written. A lot of S1 TNG had really cringy dialogue, generally speaking. But in a country with a history of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and continuing vast disparities of wealth and power between whites and blacks, the casting and direction decisions they made on this episode were tone deaf to say the least.

Casting the “savage” alien race with entirely African-American actors, insisting they use African-English dialects, and dressing in 1940s Sinbad turbans and harem pants to play into old tropes about Dark Savage Africa.

I can’t see these people as aliens AT ALL. They are, at best, Afro-Caribbean people dressed in Broadway show costumes. I suspect everyone watching the episode in North America – programmed as we are, from a million TV shows, to see Black people as either criminals or plucky underdogs, did not see “aliens” either.

They could have cast White actors. Or actors of multiple ethnicities. Or, like every other alien race on Star Trek, used facial prosthetics and makeup to make them look visibly alien no matter who was underneath.

But they made a choice to punch down and reinforce stereotypes instead of thinking it through to make it clear that it was the savage behaviour that was being criticized, not the people.

I’ve got to agree that removing the episode from circulation doesn’t show us how to better ourselves, it just erases the mistake and pretends like it was never made. I’ve never been a fan of revisionist history, though.

I agree, it smells like censorship and revisionist history.

“Code of Honor” being removed is censorship.

There are racist stereotypes in the episode so maybe it was the right thing to do.

What was the right thing to do? “Code of Honor” hasn’t been removed.

Yup. It’s on Netflix right now.


Curious that Frakes is calling for removing something from a library, This is Banned Books Week for the American Library Association.

sub rosa is an experience… they should rifftrax that one… and code of honor is so weird and racist but should not be removed or banned or burned… it is what it is… and it’s a part of trek history… maybe an explanation from paramount for viewers who need such things.

ftakes is the best…

There’s nothing the least bit racist about “Code of Honor.”

It doesn’t try to imply anything racist about black people or about African cultures in general. It doesn’t even stereotype them. Are there African cultures that are extremely patriarchal? Yes. And if they were the inspiration for the patriarchal culture in “Code of Honor,” that does not imply that “Code of Honor” is stereotyping all African people any more than movies casting people with Southern accents to play Southerners, or Latinos to play Latinos, or Russians to play Russians is an attempt to stereotype the aforementioned. Look at how many Trek fans complained about a Hispanic man (Ricardo Montalban) being cast to play a South Asian. Are all of those fans racist for wanting a form of type-casting? No, they’re just people who want things to be on-the-nose. The mere act of basing a fictitious culture on a real-life culture with similar attributes is not racist. It’s just not. Everything in fiction is inspired by things in real life. People experience things in real life, and they write stories about it. That’s how it works.

“Code of Honor” makes no derogatory statement about any group of people, with the possible exception of people who are extremely patriarchal. And, even by most liberally applied definition of racism, critiquing a culture for being patriarchal is not racist.

In addition to the excellent points below, we can also ask how far it can go. Trek has already been remastered. Should it go back and erase all the miniskirts in TOS? Change all those “no man”s to “no one”s?

I guarantee you there’s no shortage of people who want that.

We’re living in an era when people have forgotten that cultural mores change over time in ways that are very often, if not always, prompted by and reliant upon advances in technology.

We’re living in a time when the prevailing sociopolitical ethical regime encourages people to be ignorantly judgmental, where the attempt to understand and empathize with past mindsets is an endeavor punishable by reputational assassination. It is a time when groupthink is enforced in Hollywood, not unlike the McCarthyist era of the 1950s, with virtue signaling as the modern-day analogue to anti-communist credentials.

But the very people who cast judgment today on our ancestors and predecessors will, themselves, be subject to future judgment for practices, habits and beliefs that they take for granted as normal today. And, if they’d lived in the past, they’d have done as their ancestors did.

Which is all to say that we’re living in a time of deep hypocrisy and intellectual stultification.

Ironically, TOS would have been the perfect format in which to hold up a mirror to present-day Social Justice culture.

I would think it normal that future generations judge the previous ones, but yes, with understanding. We can view past works as historical artifacts (or understand them as works of subcultures, not the mainstream culture, etc.) – but do we need to celebrate and promote them? We don’t censor Birth of A Nation, but we don’t put it on TV every year at Christmas, either. As a society, even when it was first released, that movie – originally titled The Clansman – was seen as racist and inflammatory. It is part of the history of cinema, and of American cinema specifically, we can study it, but we don’t need a lot of soul-searching to place it within the context of racist propaganda, alongside Triumph of the Will and other works – it was seen as such even in its own time. What I find disturbing is that you readily fall onto the trope of “Hollywood” like there’s some sort of all-powerful cabal that controls people’s minds. Even a cursory examination of reality shows us there ain’t no such thing. And never mind the hint of anti-Semitism underneath those ideas, which tend to run parallel to ideas about Who Runs The Banks etc etc… it ignores the reality that Hollywood is just an industry like any other, that puts out commercial products for sale, and like any industry in a capitalist society, there are some people who have gained enormous wealth, and many others struggling to get along. Most films and TV shows fail! Film pitches and treatments languish in hell for years, even decades. Most pilots never go to series! Most actors struggle for a long time to get anywhere, and many drop out! Most internet ads have microscopic click-through rates! “Hollywood” can’t control anything beyond what sandwiches they get from catering, much less people’s minds. (And sometimes not even that!) Even so-called “blockbuster” movies barely turn profits! How could an all-powerful cabal fail to make Steve Guttenberg a star?? :) People that blame “Hollywood” (concept in quotes) ignore the fact that every other country also has domestic film and television production, and I guarantee you that in Canada, it has to fight to stay alive, because our country is small, funding sources are few, and we’re largely dependent on tax breaks. The stuff that stays on the air is not Progressive Woke TV but period mystery dramas and stuff involving white families with cowboy hats and horses. A lot of our media companies (news especially) tilts center-right to right; I can count maybe one or two papers that are identifiably progressive/lefty, in a country of 36 million people. There are in Canada maybe, tops, a handful of internationally known, highly successful actors and producers, and everyone else does whatever they have to do to scrape by. It’s easy to blame this fictional idea of an all-powerful Hollywood, when there are other industries that are much bigger, and have much bigger, direct impacts on people’s lives. Such as: The insurance industry that wants to deny you healthcare due to pre-existing conditions; The oil and gas lobby that sabotage any progress in sustainable energy; military budgets that make up the majority of spending, even if you’re not actively at war; for-profit schools & the student loan industry; the private courier companies that want to eliminate or privatize the Post Office… Namely, every industry that wants the freedom to exploit working people for profit, by pushing back against every form of progress gained at great cost (even people’s lives) during the 19th and 20th centuries — the right to form unions, to have livable wages, consumer protections, public services, affordable housing, environmental protection, universal healthcare… instead of making up shadowy enemies, you can point to actual corporations who employ actual lobbyists who convince Congresscritters to vote their way, because the USA doesn’t have publicly financed elections, that make your life tangibly worse. If you want to point to villainy in Hollywood, you can point to the same stuff that is horrible everywhere that people get power — horrible treatment of subordinates, abuse of power (Roger Ailes anyone?)… and more specifically, the long-term, systematic exclusion of minority actors and creators, and the lobbying efforts of multibillion-dollar companies to extend copyrights into near-infinity (and beyond), robbing the public domain of hundreds of works. (Imagine if there was Bach Inc. that demanded a slice every time someone played a cello suite). But since TOS, the show is basically *about* social justice – they go to planets that are expies of Modern Day Earth and often have slightly disguised versions of our social problems – racism, totalitarianism, war, overpopulation. The questions they deal with are those of ethics, not “might makes right.” Was Anton Karidian / Kodos a villain, or a tragic figure, who was forced… Read more »

Nobody has suggested celebrating “Code of Honor” on any particular grounds, for any particular reason. So, this is a non-issue and something of a straw man argument. And this is not to imply that there is anything wrong with “Code of Honor.” There’s just been no proposal to celebrate any particular aspect of it. Though, I’m fine with celebrating it as Trek in general. Even campy Trek episodes get celebrated.

Watched the DS9 today where First Minister Shakaar comes to the station for a conference and Worf and Odo are running security and wished they’d worked in a bit where Worf found Beverly’s ”
“sexy” candle somewhere and freaked. :P

Shakaar, when the earth moved

Fortunately I have the blu ray versions of all ST TNG seasons. This whole racism thing is getting tiresome. For one, it does not exist because on a biological level we are simply one race. Discriminating based on race is a tad difficult, when you’ve got only one choice.

Secondly, these are black actors playing some alien race. Looking at how Klingons, Romulans or Ferengy are portrayed you could find specific nationality based characteristics in these alien races. The 1960 Klingons could definitely be seen as caricatures based on Russians.

Hell, we could erase all of 1960’s Trek because Kirk can be quite the sexist (by our standards) in more than one episode.

People should get of their high horses and quit this laughable and hypocritical whining.

 For one, it does not exist because on a biological level we are simply one race. Discriminating based on race is a tad difficult, when you’ve got only one choice.’

yeah, right

unfortunately that ep traded on a stereotype of african tribesmen straight out the 30,40s b movies.
you would think gene and co would have know better back then but even they didn’t see what was wrong.