Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Original Series, Season 1: Errand of Mercy

The Original Series, Season One
"Errand of Mercy"
Airdate: March 27, 1967
28 of 80 produced
26 of 80 released
Click here to watch on


The Enterprise races to Organia, the focal point of a seemingly inevitable war with the Federation's hostile, expansionist neighbor, the Klingon Empire. Their mission is to prevent the Klingons from taking over the planet and using it as a beachhead into Federation territory. The Organians themselves, however, seemed oddly unconcerned by the threat, even when the Empire arrives and begins to slaughter them. Can the Enterprise repel the invasion? And why are the Organians seemingly uninterested in their own survival?
The Organians respond quite favorably to the Klingons' promise of free Muumuus for all... 


Kevin: This episode is pivotal from a canon perspective, as it introduces both the Klingon Empire and the character of Kor, who would make repeat appearances in TAS and DS9. Beyond that, there isn't a lot to recommend this episode. The Klingons, at this point, are a two-dimensional enemy, and almost offensively portrayed. The script notes actually said "Oriental." For some reason, I always thought that the Klingons came first, then the Romulans. The Romulans make the first appearance in Balance of Terror, and they make a much better entrance. I understand the Klingons place as the USSR avatar, but at this point in their development, they are a boring retread of every other bad guy. It isn't really until Ron Moore and the TNG arc that begins with "Sins of the Father" that the Klingons get fleshed out into an interesting people. And get some of the "honor" the kids are always talking about.

Matthew: What's a USSR? Heh, heh. Well, as something of a student of the Cold War, the portrayal of the Klingons as Soviets is interesting to me. It is indeed an historical Trek curiosity that in the 60s, the Klingons are strong because they are"a unit who acts with a single purpose," and who confiscates personal property, organizes slave labor, etc. This sound very much like a caricature of the worst of the Stalinist Soviet regime. Then, later of course, we get the Ron Moore Klingons who are much more like Viking raiders than Soviet apparatchiks. Is the latter more interesting than the former? Maybe, in a smaller-scale drama. Star Trek didn't have the time, perhaps, to develop fully interesting Soviet stand-ins.

Kevin: The Organians lack of concern for their own survival is puzzling, but not interesting. And it makes the Klingons even dumber than they first appear. There's passivity and there's clearly having an ace up your sleeve. Both the Klingons and Kor are eventually reputed to be tactical masterminds. He should have at least been curious why there was no fight, if only for security reasons.

Matthew: The sci-fi story here is apparent - what if two evenly matched powers invaded, let's say, Vietnam, and found that the Vietnamese, while apparently backward technologically, had seemingly mystical command over matter and energy, and then unceremoniously ended the conflict between the two "powers?" It's wish-fulfillment on a grand scale, but unfortunately Trek doesn't have the time or the budget at this point to really develop the idea. It might seem weird to some to introduce a nemesis just to take it away. But that shows you how differently the Trek writers and producers were thinking, as opposed to westerns or war dramas.

Kevin: Finally, the resolution of this episode is supremely unsatisfying. It's a deus ex machina ending, insofar as there are literally some dei in their machina. It also had no effect on the rest of the canon, beyond naming a treaty. The Federation and the Klingons fight again, and in the Original Series. Did the Organian omnipotence stop at their system's Oort Cloud? It also makes Kirk look eager for the fight. He is understandably upset at being manipulated, but on the other hand, he is not a thoughtlessly aggressive man, and there should have been some part of him that is glad war was put off for at least another day. In the end, I didn't really care about these characters and the story had an incredible, unsatisfying conclusion.

Matthew: Well, I think we need to ask - is it credible within the confines of this episode? Yeah, probably. Is it dramatic? Maybe not as much as actually fighting is. Is it credible given what comes later in Star Trek? Certainly not. Apparently the Organians fell asleep at the 350-degree-weapon-heating switch some time during season two.

Kevin: I will say I did like the conversation between Kirk and Kor about whether Klingons and humans are really so different.


Kevin: Kirk and Spock turn in solid performances here. Their mutual concern for each other in the custody of the Klingons is credible and affecting. The Organians themselves did a pretty good job of acting detached and complacent. They certainly cast every deep voiced man over 50 they could find. With a better story, their serenity would have been less boring and irritating.

Matthew: I liked Shatner's performance quite a bit as well. When he is placed inthe sort of cognitively dissonant position of being upset over not being allowed to fight, the conflict shows up well.

Kevin: John Colicos did really well as Kor, I thought. The Klingons as written aren't that great an enemy, but Kor was well portrayed. He was a good mix of military pragmatism with just a hint of dictatorial enthusiasm that made him, in a vacuum, an interesting villain. As I mentioned above, his scenes with Kirk were particularly entertaining. He is constrained by a weak story, but he really takes a scene over, given the opportunity, and that's something of a Herculean accomplishment when sharing the stage with William Shatner.

Matthew: Colicos made this episode for me. Whatever story problems there were, whenever Kor was on the screen, it was impossible not to be entertained. He didn't physically twirl his mustache, but damned if he didn't act like he was. Wily, charming, menacing, thoroughly entertaining. A bravura performance.

Production Values

Kevin: This is an episode that definitely benefits from the Blu-ray version. The absence of any attempt at a Klingon fleet is a noticeable gap in the original episode. The Organians true form might have been interesting if we had not seen similar effects a dozen times before when encountering the surprisingly long list of non-corporeal beings who inhabit the galaxy.

Matthew: Really, all we get is one Klingon battlecruiser at the beginning of the episode. It does help the episode, but it's not a drastic improvement over the original effects. This was a pretty light remastering.

Kevin: The boxes in the armory were clearly spray painted corrugated cardboard, and all in primary colors for some reason. I suppose, though, if Klingon decor gets florid in any place, it would be in the weapons department.

Matthew: The disruptor was cool, but I think it is a re-use from the disruptors in "A Taste of Armageddon."

Kevin: The Organian village was the use of another sword-and-sandal backlot at Paramount, but it gave the village a little dimension which was nice, and the number of extras made it actually appear as a complete village.

Matthew: Yes, I definitely felt that the backlot served well as a society at a D- on the Richter Scale of Culture. We need to get one of those for ourselves. I wonder where Indiana would rate?

Kevin: You and I need to take a trip on the South Shore Line, get off at Gary, and wander around as if we are on some backwards alien world.


Kevin: Overall, I am going to give this a 2. The story is weak, the production is adequate, and the acting carries the few highlights of the episode. I wanted to give this a 3, but the story was both weak, and boring. I've considered the possibility that I am being overly harsh in regards to the Klingons because I am viewing them through the lens of the three-dimensional people they would become, but I have decided that I don't care. The Romulans had half the people and screen time in their first time out, and managed to establish a formidable but nuanced enemy. If I know you can do it well, I am going to be harsher on you for doing it badly.

Matthew: I'm going with a 3. I think the story functions well enough as a Cold War allegory within its milieu. We can't fault this particular script for things that were or were not done afterward. It is true that certain concepts are not fully explored. But the downright dastardly performance of Kor was enough for me to put it in average territory. That gives us a low average combined rating of 5.


  1. I just saw 'Day of the Dove', which was the heaviest Klingon episode I've seen so far, and the first I've seen where the Klingons have a definite 'look' as opposed to just way too much bronzer. But the vibe I got from that 'look' was blackface, so I'm surprised that the original theme of the Klingons was 'oriental'. I always suspected that was the motivation behind the Romulans/Vulcans, while the Klingons had a weird 'Afrikaans' thing going on. Or maybe that's something I got from Next Gen, and Warf's whole 'proud Black Man' shtick?

  2. Is it "Blackface" as mush as "Latino-face" or "American-Indian-face?" Speaking of which, if you want to see a pretty bad example of white people dressing up as Indians, check out "The Paradise Syndrome."

    It's a weird thing - if they had hired all black/latino/whatever actors to play a villain, they'd be singled out as racist. But if tey put all white actors in as a "darker skinned" villain, they're also racist. And if all the villains are light skinned, they're racist.

    I think the take away is that the era in general was racist. So there's really no way to win. Maybe the best you can say is that Star Trek broke a few racial boundaries on TV by making minority characters prominent and non-subservient/villainous. The worst you can say is that they didn't behave in a manner that was 30 years out of step with the time.