Spoilers for a show more than 25 years old.
One of the story lines in this excellent episode of TNG shows Worf refusing to allow his blood to be used to save the life of a Romulan. He is asked to reconsider by Beverly, Riker and Captain Picard. Worf refuses all, but tells Picard that if ordered, he will comply. Picard said he didn’t want to order Worf to donate his blood and when Worf stands firm, Picard backs down, and the Romulan dies. Definitely not a very Star Trek moment where Starfleet and Starfleet officers are supposed to be above reproach.
I listened to the recent Mission Log podcast on this episode where they discussed this story in depth. The problem that I have with this discussion and with most discussions on this topic is that the main assumption that everyone makes when talking about this is that these character are “good”.
When it comes to good and evil, it is good to start with some preset definitions. I have always loved the Dungeons and Dragons alignment chart. I know some people have issues with it, but I think it is really well laid out with “good vs. evil” on one axis and “lawful vs. chaotic” on the other axis.
So we assume that our heroes are some form of “good”.
Lets set some definitions while we discuss this.
Good – altruistic, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others.
In the range of “good vs. evil” there is grey area, which is referred to as Neutral.
Neutral – with respect to good and evil have compunctions against killing the innocent but may not make the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others depending on the circumstances. Neutral people are committed to others by personal relationships or “by the code or rules that they live by.”
I would say that in the good/evil scale, Worf fits right into the Neutral category. I don’t even think I need to expand on the definition, as I think Worf is perfectly described in this definition. The part of the definition of Neutral in quotes is a part I added to make more sense to the Star Trek world. People don’t just act on their own, but rather they have rules that are followed. Though there are different rules for different people. Humans, Klingons and Ferengi all have a code, but they are vastly different. In this case, Worf is torn between his Klingon code and his Starfleet code and he even admits that by saying he knows what his training as a Starfleet officer tells him he must do, yet, he doesn’t. He will act of ordered to, but he will not volunteer.
This is a concept that Beverly cannot understand. Her character is solidly on the side of “good”. Riker is an enigma, which is for another day. He can be good or neutral depending on the day, which I guess technically makes him neutral, but in this case, he cannot see past the “good” view to see what Worf is going through.
On the other hands, Picard sees and knows what Worf is going through because Captain Picard is not “good”. He is most definitely Neutral. His Starfleet training and command experience demands that he remain neutral. He doesn’t act on personal relationships, but rather based on his laws, which is absolute to him.
The other axis is “Lawful/Chaotic”
Lawful – Law implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. Those who consciously promote lawfulness say that only lawful behavior creates a society in which people can depend on each other and make the right decisions in full confidence that others will act as they should.
The definition of Lawful is one that fits Worf perfectly as well as Picard.
The opposite is chaotic.
Chaos implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility. Those who promote chaotic behavior say that only unfettered personal freedom allows people to express themselves fully and lets society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them.
In the area of command in Star Trek, you can argue that Captain Janeway was forced into a more Chaotic behavior for the sake of her ship. In TNG, Riker is more of the Chaotic naturein comparison to Picard’s definite Lawful stance.
When it comes down to it, Picard and Worf are both Lawful Neutral characters though their Laws are different. Picard’s law is the Prime Directive. With the Prime Directive, at times hard decisions need to be made including letting people or even civilizations perish as not to violate the Prime Directive. With Worf, that is the second level of laws, his first is Klingon honor as shown in The Enemy. He is willing to let the Romulan die as a matter of honor for his family and culture even through his Starfleet training tells him the opposite should be done. Picard, as a Lawful Neutral character himself, understands this and stands down.