I’ve always had a soft spot for The Gamesters of Triskelion. Maybe its aluminum foil bra-wearing Shahna that won me over; undoubtedly the sexiest outfit in the series! In fairness, she’s no Dr. Helen Noel, that’s for sure, so maybe it wasn’t her. Maybe it was Trek’s attempt at the planet Marinus, with a brain-creature in a glass case; that’s probably more like it! Doctor Who and Star Trek are the two giants in SF Fandom, and maybe it started with brains in jars? Trek went for more color, but I still like the creepy alien-ness of the eye stalks, and black and white certainly adds a creep-factor. Or maybe it was just the idea of wagering in Quatloos. I mean, who doesn’t like that word? I want quatloos to be our new form of currency. If Roger and I ever form our own society (residents of the junkyard?), I will petition for that to be our recognized currency! If nothing more, we should sell apparel; sweatshirts: 50 Quatloos! I digress…
Whatever the reason, Gamesters is a fun episode. Kirk seduces a woman with the tiniest nose in galactic history while Chekov debates on when is a good time to elbow Goliath in the gut, and decides there is no good time. He also gets his second girlfriend in the series after Who Mourns for Adonis but this mildly green-skinned Andorian seems to scare Chekov more than his toothy sparring partner. But there’s a darker tone to this episode that had eluded me as a child. Val Kill-mer is sent to rape Uhura and Kirk is so flummoxed by the event, he screams out “what’s happening to Lt. You-hear-a?” (Yeah, I listened to it over and over again!) Kirk’s seduction of Shahna-of-the-aluminum-leg-straps also entails punching her in the face to knock her out just when she was learning how to snog him. (He must have picked this move up from McCoy’s recently updated medical journal.) His shirt randomly vanishes too after a few cuts and I wondered if it beamed back to the ship of its own volution. And hey, space-Dracula pops into and out of existence as much as some of the good ideas in classic Trek. Oh, and as if that’s not enough, I once again find the ship in “standard orbit!”
So the idea is that the crew are heading down to Gamma II when they are whisked off the transporter pad and brought half way across the galaxy. Spock, ever logical, figures out what happens and plans to search for Kirk but Bones, convinced he belongs on the Bridge, tries to talk Spock out of it. Unlike Babylon 5, we’re not getting an A and a B plot but we do get to flip between what’s happening on the planet Triskelion and what’s happening on the Enterprise. On the Enterprise, Spock gets some of his best moments. When Scotty tells him that the captain vanished on the transporter pad, Spock calmly assumes Scotty means in a way inconsistent with the transporter function. This made me laugh out loud. Also, telling McCoy that he is not engaging in a hunt for “some wild aquatic fowl” also cracked me up. (Such is Spock’s grasp of a wild goose chase!) On the planet, Shahna explains that they call the nourishment … “nourishment”. This might as well have been a precursor to Police Squad.
On the planet, we get some truly epic fight scenes. Galt (aka Space Dracula) sets up a challenge akin to that if 1980’s cult favorite, Flash Gordon: Kirk has to stand on yellow stripes on the ground while his enemies stand on blue; if anyone steps out of their color, they are disqualified. Maybe Space Dracula didn’t have the benefit of instant replay or a commentatory, but Kirk is in the blue as much as Spock’s wardrobe. It’s a wonderful battle but totally comical to watch if we assume the threat is real! Nevertheless, I find this episode utterly enjoyable, but I do worry about our propensity for revisionist history. I’m already watching these with “remastered footage”; what will happen when someone complains about Kirk’s chat with Shahna? He explains that love is the most important thing on earth between a “man and a woman”. He’s right in saying that people “help each other” but one day someone is going to take issue with the insinuation that love is only heterosexual and we’ll have to buy the reremastered footage! “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” I hope so! I hope it doesn’t happen, but let’s face it… we already try to erase our past, beaming the mistakes to the other side of the galaxy in the blink of an eye! And as hard as it is to hear it, Uhura’s near-rape and an entire story about slavery makes this an episode ripe for revision.
I have to ask about some oddities too. Who is the woman on the bridge that wears a command colored uniform, but sits in for Spock at his science station? Why did Kirk wonder if they were even in the same dimension? (Perhaps another bit of continuity: a transporter malfunction is what sent him to the Mirror universe, after all.) And why couldn’t Shahna go with him in the end? I think both Doctor Who and Star Trek have dropped the ball when they get the opportunity to have an alien on board: imagine experiencing the universe anew from the eyes of a character like Shahna? Her closing monologue really made me long for a follow up story with her; it was set up for a return that never happened. Often I find myself confounded by the ending of some episodes when Kirk and the Federation swan in and basically teach other races why their ways are wrong and the Federation’s are right, but since the Providers are kidnapping people and enslaving them, I have to agree with Jim this time. I’m glad he arrived when he did, but I bet he still has that visit to Gamma II to wrap up.
Still, I wager 100 quatloos that it would have been a better ending if Shahna joined the crew! 200 quatloos, even!! Do I hear 300??? ML
The view from across the pond:
A motley bunch has been assembled on Triskelion, for the amusement of some god-like aliens. As usual, when sci-fi features aliens with god-like powers, they aren’t very nice people, and these ones are behaving like the Romans, keeping slaves, and training them up to fight in the arena. Keeping an eye on proceedings is Galt, who appears to be dressed like a vampire and has a nasty skin condition.
As well as having to fight, Kirk, Chekov and Uhura are expected to mate. When that creepy guy starts coming after Uhura we only get to hear her struggles rather than see what is happening, which is a wise choice on the part of the director, as it’s essentially an attempted rape scene. For Kirk and Chekov there isn’t that implication. Instead Kirk has to tame an Amazonian woman, who looks grumpy all the time, presumably because her silver pants are chafing. Meanwhile, Chekov’s “selection” is played for laughs, as it appears to be a man in drag (with apologies to Jane Ross, whoever you are).
Back on the ship, Judge Judy is at the helm this week.
Tiresomely, McCoy and Spock are arguing again. Spock is clearly in the right this week, and his logic is sound, despite McCoy labelling his thought process as no more than a hunch (which it isn’t, and even if it were, it’s a better hunch than McCoy’s). Why is McCoy always hanging around on the bridge like a bad smell anyway, undermining Spock with his idiot comments? I know he’s a popular character, but I just can’t warm to him. For a start, he’s a racist:
“Who said anything about a mutiny, you stubborn, pointed-eared…”
Meanwhile, down on the planet, Kirk has little difficulty taming his “selection” and is soon smooching with her. The old smoothy knows all the tricks, holding up a tray to show Shahna her reflection and saying “that’s beautiful”. He teaches Shahna about love, telling her that “on Earth, we select our own mate”. Kirk, of course, selects many, but here he is just using her to get what he wants. She is his means of escape. Uhura and Chekov have also been busy with their “selections”. Uhura has given hers the cold shoulder, while Chekov has tied up the man in drag. He’s an interesting character, Chekov. He seems to just have a laugh wherever he goes. Just look at his face whenever Kirk is having to fight to the death. Chekov just sits back and enjoys the show. I’m surprised he didn’t think to bring popcorn. I think he might be psychotic, but he’s great.
The one fighter who doesn’t get selected for the mating programme is that poor dude who has to wear fake vampire teeth all day long, presumably disqualified on the grounds that he can’t do any kissing.
As for the gods of the planet, they are as much a prediction of the future as a reflection of the past, particularly the obsession that grew around reality television. The “gamesters” are the unseen viewers, gambling on the results. I’m not quite sure what their currency is, but it sounded to me like “two thousand pot noodles are bid”. I suppose that’s as good a way to gamble as any. A wager is Kirk’s means of escape, but before he leaves there’s time to spread
America’s the Federation’s brand of imperialism:
“You will educate them and train them to establish a normal self-governing culture.”
That’s another troublesome planet sorted out, its culture overwritten in favour of another capitalist democracy (and yes, Star Trek does show us a capitalist future, just one that’s generally based on barter economies instead).
“We have done the same with cultures throughout the galaxy.”
It’s a mixed message in the end. We are shown that slavery is bad, but that’s not exactly a revelation, or any kind of food for thought. We are also shown that any culture that views reproduction and love in a different way to us needs to be changed. As a vision of the future, Trek can never quite see past 1960s USA. RP