Do you have any idea how much I hated this episode when I was a kid? It’s SO TALKY! Nothing really happens and even the dangerous situations are handled casually. Let’s be honest, as a kid, we want action and monsters. Even the multi-legged creature on the man’s shoulder wasn’t really there; merely a trick to get the man to allow Spock to give him a “Vulcanian” neck pinch! (Hilarious, mind you, but lacking in even the little monster that might have improved the episode!) But as an adult I can appreciate things differently. Now, I look at this episode in a whole new light. Having lived through two decades of having working and raising kids, this episode has something altogether different to offer. My younger self could never have imagined!!
“We’d be totally disrupted!” Kirk is transporting Ambassador Fox (a man who has so much luggage, two bags have to be kept under his eyes at all times) to a peace mission on Eminiar VII. This man has the diplomatic skills of the tablecloth he has the discourtesy of calling a uniform. We’re to entrust peaceful negotiations to this guy, when he can’t even speak politely to his galactic cab drivers? After receiving a request to stay away (code 710, should anyone need it), Fox tells Kirk to disregard that request. Because why not? When you knock at someone’s door, diplomacy obviously means “force your way in, even if unwanted”. Fox beams down, immediately after realizing he can’t beam down without dropping the ship’s shields by clearly lowering the ship’s shields, as one does. How’d he pull that off, then? The main antagonist, Anan 7, quickly takes him prisoner. Anan contacts the Enterprise copying Kirk’s voice like a pro! He clearly also copies the list of people on the other end of the phone, since he knows Scotty by name. The episode also depicts Spock as a bit limited in scope. He sees people go in a room, the door closes, and no one steps out and (admittedly accurately) assumes it’s the disintegration chamber. He completely rules out that there’s another door inside, or even a door that, like an airlock, can only be opened once the first is shut. Still, he gets it right, so I can let that go. And when any action scene has to take place, it’s hilariously relaxed. Spock struts up to the bad guys, Kirk flings himself with wild abandon into enemies’ arms and when he trips one guard, it’s so casual that most 3 year olds could have avoided the stumble. (Mind you, on what kind of terms are these guards with the leader of their planet that the moment Anan looks defeated, both guards walk over to comfort him; something no one else at the table cared to do!?)
Those disruptions aside, to a lesser extent, I also question why women have to have their own “sexy music cue”. And I also wonder if General Order 24 really was to blast the hell out of the planet. Seems unlikely. But the bluff is never called, so we’ll never know. Does it make sense that Starfleet, the group responsible for the “non-interference policy” has a clause like that? General Order 24: should any planet not want our help or be open to our presence, we are entitled to blast the living daylights out of every city on the planet, wiping out women and children alike. Subsection 24.1: if any of the women have sexy music cues, beam them up to see if the Captain has any use for them!
“My haggis is in the fire for sure!” Now that is a lot to say about an episode I claim to like as an adult, but perhaps I should clarify. I think it’s an important episode with a strong lesson. In the context of the story, wars are fought by computer. I can actually see a time when this sort of thing could become a reality. But that’s not even the big take-away for me. What life has taught me is that sometimes a thing does have to break before someone takes the trouble to fix it. Maybe you’ve hired a person who is a bad fit for an organization and you know it, but it’s not until something big goes wrong that you can actually do something about it. Maybe you don’t have a process in place for a given procedure but it’s not until something is missed that you realize you need one. These same rules apply with child rearing, and Starfleet forbid you have a particularly difficult ex-spouse in the picture. Sometimes things have to break down before they can be fixed. (Or you just initiate General Order 24 on the difficult ex-spouse. That’s an option too, I suppose!)
“I didn’t start it, councilman, but I’m liable to finish it!” Calling a spade a gardening tool, the truth is, Kirk is at the front line of the problem, and he gambles heavily on the fact that Vendikar, the warring planet, hasn’t spent years building weapons of mass destruction. All seems to pay off in the end so we can accept that his actions were for the best. No, this is still not a favorite, but it does offer a reminder that failure is part of success; sometimes things have to break before we can improve on them. That’s true of negotiation as much as anything else. Still, if anyone else has a code 710, I’d say avoid the place and don’t get involved in interplanetary war. But what do I know? I’m still reading through all the General Orders in the academy handbook! ML
The view from across the pond:
I find Kirk a fascinating character. Most of the time he is a strong leader with a steely glint in his eye, equal to any foe, but he has fleeting moments of weakness. I suppose that’s human, but I would like to see him standing up for what he believes in more. There is a particularly nasty example of that in this episode when he backs down far too easily and does what the idiot Ambassador tells him, invading somebody else’s territory when they’ve issued a code 50D 0££, or whatever it is. I understand that refusing the order could land him up in prison, but look what is on the line here: he is being asked to potentially start a war and recklessly endanger his ship. His decision is thrown into sharp contrast later in the episode when Scotty shows that he has the backbone Kirk lacked, and stands firm against a similarly life-endangering order:
“I know about your authority, but the screens stay up.”
So in Kirk we have somebody who generally shows great strength but has alarming moments of weakness, but he is also somebody who shows great cunning and intelligence but has moments of sheer stupidity. I commented on this last week when he saw nothing wrong with allowing Khan to study the technical specifications of the Enterprise. This episode, having given in to the Ambassador, he refuses to allow him to beam down to the planet, citing the Ambassador’s safety as his responsibility. In doing so he misses a golden opportunity to place the idiot in the centre of the ridiculously dangerous situation he created and then high tail it out of there when things go wrong.
Instead Kirk arrives with his landing party like a bunch of invading Daleks, come to destroy another culture with centuries of history because it doesn’t conform to his empire-building norms. Frankly, as soon as he sees the silly hats he’s probably already decided to change things.
The situation on the planet is fascinating. Two civilisations have been locked in a war for so long that they have turned it into nothing more than a computer game, but this is war so people have to die. The casualty numbers are tallied up, and people willingly walk to their deaths. As an idea it’s decades ahead of its time, not just in the computer game scenario, but also in the way that war has become sanitised and automated.
The thing is, this actually makes a sick kind of sense. The culture of the planet survives. Buildings are not destroyed. A person can create art without fearing its destruction. Nature is not impacted. The only casualties of people fighting are the people. So yes, it is better than a war with bombs, but the other side of the coin is that Kirk has a point when he says this:
“You’ve made it neat and painless, so neat and painless you’ve had no reason to stop it.”
So we have a finely balanced ethical debate. I’m just not sure that the episode doesn’t sell us a warped morality, with Kirk being the one to shift the balance. He says “my people are not responsible for your agreements”, but the disruption is his fault. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Then he says “I didn’t start this, councilman, but I’m liable to finish it.” I think that’s supposed to be a rousing speech that we cheer, but no, he did start it. He swanned in and threw 500 years of tradition into chaos. It might be a nasty tradition in his opinion and in ours, but it’s not his business to make that judgement call. He’s the invader. And in the end I think Spock’s right. Kirk just got lucky. His actions resulted in peace (we assume – bear in mind who’s going to liaise between the two old enemies!) but he simply rolled the dice. Old conflicts run deep, and that “taste of armageddon” could just as easily have been a full-on banquet. On another day, Kirk the Dalek might have just wiped out two planets’ worth of people in a final war, and not just the people either. A planet is so much more than the sum of its population. I think the people of Eminiar and Vendikar recognised that. As for Kirk… I’m not so sure. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: This Side of Paradise