So the USS Exeter was lost on patrol around Omega IV years ago and now Kirk finds it. He decides to go investigate; not a bad option normally. The Omega Glory has one hell of an opener. The whole idea of beaming to a ship where everyone has turned to crystal… that was impressive. Then Jim stumbles upon a captain’s log that says if they stay on the Exeter, they’ll be dead in minutes so they have to beam to the planet if they want to survive. They beam down to… Mexico? Mongolia? The minute they landed, I thought: what’s going on?
The problem is that once they get down to the planet, all hope of a good story goes out the window. Even the virus is discarded like it just went away! It was probably that they didn’t enter standard orbit but instead chose “close planet orbit” which is evidently a mistake! And Kirk should have known something was up upon seeing Tracey. His first clue should have been, “this dude looks way too much like Simon Van Gelder and he was a madman!” (Although that was also the episode of Dr. Helen Noel so maybe he was hoping to catch lightning twice…) Still everything goes wrong so frequently, this may be one of the worst episodes of Classic Trek and it had such potential! I mean, the crystal virus… Tracey is a nutcase. He kills one of Kirk’s men with a disintegrator setting on his phaser (didn’t know they did that; nor do I know what “heavy stun” is – but phasers have it – what is that, when you need to knock someone out for more than 4 hours? 6?). Tracey just keeps getting the upper hand. Even when he has his phaser run out of power, he’s able to get an axe before Kirk can. (I mean, could there be a more conveniently placed weapon?) And Tracey’s big secret skill: he knows to always be waiting on the other side of a door. This dude must just walk from house to house, waiting at the door. “HA! I heard you say you took your mother-in-law’s dog! If you don’t side with me, I’ll tell her!” The guy is always on the other side of a door. You’d think Kirk would get wise to it but he’s thickheaded and never pieces it together.
Cloud William has been dating Nova, from Planet of the Apes, and he thinks Kirk is making a move on his woman – which just shows he’s a good judge of character. Kirk was undoubtedly going to do just that. So he smashes Kirk in the head with an iron bar which doesn’t even cause Kirk to bleed because, like I told you before, he’s thick headed! What’s also terrible is that during the scene of Kirk fighting, just when the music is getting good, … we suddenly cut to McCoy thinking he’s being clever!… then we go back to the fight. Like everything about this episode, it’s idiotic. For instance, Kirk of the Thick Head Tribe makes a comment about American Indians and suddenly it starts making sense. And when Slightly Bigger than Little Drummer Boy walk in, and now it becomes crystal clear: these people worship the American Flag! How did we not see that coming?
If you heard the needle on the record scratch, you have the same thought I had: WTH?!?! Here’s the problem: we’ve seen parallel development in that awful Nazi episode but that was because of the involvement of Federation people. Every so often we see parallel development but this feels like it wanted to be a parallel earth story and if the writers were just a bit more clever, it could have been. Instead, Cloud William has this flag and a copy of the Constitution lying around in a box for… how long? Are you telling me this is an Earth that even knew to write the constitution with the same handwriting? I mean, we don’t have one unified language on this planet, but Omega IV developed not just our language, but the flag, and the constitution? Or were we to take it that someone from Earth brought it there centuries before? (Maybe during an alien abduction?)
Clearly this atrocity of a story is designed to remind us how amazing America is, and I won’t deny I do get a swell of pride when the music plays for the flag and Kirk looks on it lovingly, but it’s not a good message. Trek wasn’t being “ahead of it’s time”, it’s being an American product saying “look how important America is”. That’s not the all-inclusive, universal belief we’ve been lead to believe is at the heart of Trek. And even Trek lore is hurt by this episode when it “seems impossible to violate the prime directive”! Does it, now? Because Kirk does that weekly. Sure, he has an excuse ready all the time, but it’s not legit. “They were stagnating!” “They were not developed.” “we just helped them along”. Sure, but what it boils down to is: they violate the Prime directive! So we don’t advance anything; I’d say we regress episodes worth of learning about a brighter future.
I’ll grant you there are two great lines, one even spoken by McCoy: “I’ve found that evil usually triumphs unless good is very, very careful!” And yet, I’m pretty sure Kirk isn’t careful. In fact, I’d say the crew is especially reckless. Spock has just been accused of being the devil and an agent of the Evil One (Kirk). So he resorts to logic and… hypnotizes Nova to bring him a communicator, which she just has to open. Why not just open it without carrying it over to him? Had he been caught, the gig was surely up! The other great line is “Liberty and freedom have to be more than just words!” That is really a good line. Except for the fact that Cloud William believes in the words E Pleb Nista! What does that even mean? (Not even sure if I’m spelling that right!) That’s like me asking Roger to send me the wacklehabba. How can he do it even if he wanted to? It has to be more than just words, Roger!!!! SEND IT!!!
Look, I don’t know what to say. Some episodes are disposable but fun. Then there are these travesties that make me wonder how Trek ever become the giant of SF that it did. This would have made a good lost episode. Alas, we should be so lucky. Now Roger, if you don’t send me the wacklehabba, I’ll be sure to e pleb nista and I’ll do it on heavy stun! From close planet orbit no less! SEND IT!!!!! ML
The view from across the pond:
The start of this episode really captured my attention. The abandoned ship with empty corridors and Kirk’s echoing announcement to nobody at all was really eerie, and the idea of the crystallised bodies with all the moisture removed was quite icky. Then we had the idea that Kirk, Spock and McCoy had been infected and could never return to the Enterprise, which hits closer to home now than it did at the time of broadcast.
“Don’t go back to your own ship.”
Down on the planet, we have another iteration of the idea of a non-advanced civilisation being contaminated by Federation technology, which seems to be happening every other week. McCoy starts talking gloomily about the “bacteriological warfare experiments in the 1990s”. I wondered why I caught so many colds when I was a teenager. Then we have the main thrust of the story: the Yangs and the Kohms. At first I thought this was a brave statement about xenophobia, arguing against the assumption that those with white skin are civilised and the “Asiatics” are savage, which was a disappointingly popular line of thinking at the time. I should have known better. After all, this episode is written by the man who took the anti-Vietnam script for A Private Little War, and turned it into a pro-Vietnam episode instead. Soon it emerges that the Kohms only appear to be the civilised ones because they won this planet’s version of the Vietnam War, and the Yangs are the righteous, noble savages, trying to take back what’s rightfully theirs. To which I say screw you Gene Roddenberry.
And it gets worse. The Yangs start spouting linguistically corrupted versions of the Pledge and the Constitution, and then bring in the USA flag. There is no attempt at explaining why this civilisation, of yet another alien race that looks exactly like us, has paralleled the history of the US so exactly, even down to the design of their flag. Roddenberry obviously didn’t care about gaping plot holes like that, because he was too busy writing patriotic trash for Shatner to shout out at everyone, destroying any vestige of the pretence that the Federation is anything other than the USA in space.
“They must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing.”
That’s the USA’s own special version of the White Man’s Burden, right there. Earlier in the episode, everyone was taking a stand against Tracey’s actions, defending the right of the indigenous people to be left alone and uncorrupted by Federation technology, even to the extent that Sulu wasn’t prepared to follow Kirk’s order and send down weapons to the planet. All that is tossed aside at the end, because the Prime Directive can apparently be tossed aside when it comes to spreading “liberty and freedom”. White Man’s Burden. What a sickening episode.
As a first time classic Trek viewer this has all surprised me somewhat, as I was under the impression that Roddenberry was lauded as a writer who envisioned a better, more enlightened future. I’m seeing that from other Trek writers, but Roddenberry’s work is little more than 1960s USA in space, and a version of 1960s USA that was already looking pretty irrelevant and revolting at the time. The sentiments he put forward in A Private Little War were woefully out of step with public opinion mere days after broadcast. That can be forgiven a bit more than this, which is astonishingly lazy in its xenophobia and zealotry. With its lack of any attempt to make sense of the aliens flying an American flag, this is little more than a propaganda film for the supposed superiority of one section of population of the USA. But in a way I think there’s something hopeful to be found here, because Star Trek eventually took flight from its xenophobic and sexist roots, and became a vision of the future we can all be proud of. After watching this, that seems like an even more remarkable achievement. RP