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Monday, July 12, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"
During the celebration of Star Trek's 25th anniversary, I manged to talk several sets of my friends into attending an exhibit celebrating that honor at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. (I lived near D.C. at the time and it was easy enough to commute up to the exhibit.) The tour was full of a number of memorable things, including a replica of Kirk's chair from the bridge, actual props used on the show and a script from "The Enemy Within" with the original dialogue scratched out and revised dialogue penciled in by Leonard Nimoy and company (I'll admit it--that was pretty darn cool to see).

One aspect of Star Trek that the exhibit also delved into was how the series commented on the social and political situations of the time. And one of the prime examples of the social commentary the show exhibited was "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." It even included a clip from the episode as Kirk and Spock sit at a conference table debating why Lokai's people are "inferior" with Bele. Basically, the argument is that Lokai and his people are black on the right and white on the left while Bele's people are white on the right and black on the left. The scene is meant to underscore (and with all the subtlety of a two by four to the head) that racism is silly and there's no logical reason for it.

That's the point of the entire episode and it's one of the more obvious metaphors the classic series ever did.

It's just too bad that's as far out as the episode is willing to think about the metaphor or even delve into the background of the issue on the alien world of Charon. The only information about Charon that we're given is that it's located in the "southern most part of the galaxy" and that this particular conflict has been going on for 50,000 years. Lokai is some kind of political dissident who fled when he was accused certain crimes, which are never quite spelled out. Bele has been chasing him for 50,000 years across the universe, but Lokai keeps eluding him. Part of this is that Lokai is a very persuasive speaker, swaying over people to his point of view and helping him to escape. Either that or he'll take what he needs for his cause, which is why he stole a shuttlecraft from Starbase 4 and how the Enterprise first comes across him.

The problem is that the script is all about telling us these things but not showing them to us. There are some potential avenues the script could explore, but it really drops the ball time and again. A lot of it comes down to the basic argument of "I'm right, the other guy is wrong" as shouted repeatedly by both men to whomever will listen. Interestingly, Kirk isn't swayed by either side in the argument, though he does attempt to listen to both sides. We have the conversation I mentioned before between Kirk and Bele, but we also see Lokai become quickly entrenched and argumentative if anyone questions what he says or disagrees with him. One scene that had potential is when Lokai is hanging out in the recreation lounge and attempting to sway members of the crew to his point of view. The episode could explore people being brought over to his side and how that impacts the crew, but it doesn't.

A lot of this comes from the pacing of the story, which is start and stop. There are several sequences that feel padded out to meet the running time, especially the early moments when the Enterprise is pursuing Lokai's invisible space ship (budget cuts for the third season, of course). There's also the memorable moment when Kirk tells Bele that the Enterprise will complete its mission first and the ship is under his and only his command. And if Bele doesn't return control of the ship, Kirk will activate the self-destruct instead. And he does. I'm guessing losing control of the ship to those kids earlier this season really put him in a foul mood because he carries through to having the ship within five seconds of destruction. It's a cool sequence and the destruct codes are later used in The Search for Spock when the Enterprise really is destroyed.

The ending of the episode also feels a bit hasty. When the episode begins, the Enterprise is headed over to Ariannus on a decontamination mission. Then they pick up Lokai and Bele and Bele tries to send the ship off course back to Charon. At this point, it sounds like Charon is pretty far out since Bele pushes the ship to warp 10 and the script indicates it could take a while to get there, even going this fast. But once we finish our mission at Ariannus, it's just a hop-skip-and-a-jump over to Charon.

Of course, once we get to Charon, the planet has been destroyed by the conflict and if left a smoldering, burning heap of a world. Lokai and Bele battle on the bridge, which could destroy the ship. Then they engage in a corridor chase through the shape, narrated by Spock. We see the two running along as images of flaming buildings are super-imposed over them. It's not the proudest moment in classic Trek, nor is the fact that Kirk lets run around the ship without sending a security team or two after them. Or that no one is guarding the transporter, allowing them to beam down to the planet and...I guess continue their pursuit for another 50,000 years. It's just meant to further emphasize how pointless the conflict really is but it ends up feeling more like the writers couldn't figure out how to end the story and this is what we came up with.

The episode is the last concept or idea to come from Gene Coon, who as I've said before is the guy responsible for Trek when it was at its best--end of season one, most of season two. He's listed as the story contributor and the episode is credited to another writer, leading me to believe that Coon didn't do much beyond the initial idea and story outline. It would have been interesting to see how different it might have been had Coon been around to do a few more passes on the script and maybe explore some of the ideas a bit further.

The story is also famous for its guest star--Frank Gorshin as Bele. Gorshin is best-known for his role as the Riddler on Batman and he does solid work here. It's interesting to see Gorshin in something different than his usual over the top role as the Riddler and while Bele isn't the deepest role, it's still solid work. The episode also features an homage to the campy classic when the red alert light goes off...the camera zooms in and out of the red alert light as the alarm sounds. Yes, it's just as disconcerting as it sounds and it makes this one an episode not to be viewed if you're feeling sea-sick.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/12/2010 01:45:00 PM | |
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