Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Original Series, Season 2: A Private Little War

Airdate: February 2, 1968
46 of 80 produced
48 of 80 aired


Kirk and company visit a planet from Kirk's own past, one he visited as a young member of a Federation survey team. There, he befriended a young Tyree and learned about the culture of the hill people, becoming their friend. Now, the planet is riven by conflict - the townspeople neighboring the hills have somehow obtained anachronistically advanced weapons, with deadly consequences. Can Kirk unravel the mystery of their unexpected firepower, or will this tinderbox of a world explode into a conflagration that engulfs them all?
That's one horny critter...


Matthew: This episode is a real tragedy in my book. There was so mugh right about it, but at the same time so much dreadfully wrong. We get an intelligent explanation of the Prime Directive. We get an interesting parallel to the Viet-Nam war. We're introduced to a black character with real intelligence and charm. We get very nice character interaction between our Big Three. We get very nice character interaction from the supporting cast. So what the heck goes wrong?

Matthew: Well, sort of like The Apple, we get an alien culture that lacks credibility, and wears hideously awful wigs. Apparently, this species is split between the hill people and the village people. They are distinguished by the color of their hair. The village people are seduced by the Klingons to... kill the hill people, I guess. Not that the hill people seemed to pose any threat to either territory, commerce, or anything else. But "there are pleasures" to killing, so I guess that explains it.

Matthew: The hill people, on the other hand, display an insufferable brand of dopey mysticism. They live in the thrall of the rare Kahn-nu-tu women, who "help leaders rise to greatness." Whatever that means - given the fact that the hill people live in a state of hand-to-mouth subjugation. These women also have mastered herbs and potions, using their powers to heal grievous wounds with rubber dog doo, whilst accompanied by unbelievably juvenile bongo drum playing. Just what the hell is Nona's motivation, anyway? If she were going to cotton to the strongest man in the region and use her powers to make him a leader, why did she stay with Tyree for so long? He is a panty-waist pacifist, much to her obvious irritation. Either she's the suckiest Kahn-nu-tu woman on the planet, or she's seriously conflicted. It seems like a potentially complex and interesting character was wasted as a cut-rate femme-fatale trollop.

Kevin: I think the basic problem is that they forgot to tell a good story to convey their allegory. For all the reasons you cite, the story of these people is supremely uninteresting and unsatisfying. They have managed to portray people irrationally, and perpetually at war with each other, like Eminiar and Vendikar in "A Taste of Armageddon." Maybe it's a pitfall of primitive people being displayed in TOS. I get the same sense of boredom in Friday's Child that I do here. Tribal people at war aren't really interesting.

Kevin: I also agree with what you said about Nona. Nothing she does makes any sense. Why betray Tyree to the Klingons? How does she even know about them? Why is she wearing a Muppet skin? So many unanswered questions.

Matthew: OK, that said, there is a nice little side story of Spock being injured, and Kirk's concern for him is touching. Spock gets beamed up to the planet, and we are treated to an appearance by Dr. M'Benga, who, for the purposes of this plot, is an expert on Vulcan physiology (apparently, he was on vacation during Journey To Babel). It's always nice to see a person of color in such a position of respect and expertise in 60s television.

Kevin: As always, Star Trek does its best work on diversity when it delivers it with the least fanfare. The absence of anyone being shocked or commenting on Dr. M'Benga makes the underlying point about his capacity for the job all the more powerful.

Matthew: On the other hand, the Vulcan "recovery" trance is ridiculous, climaxing with Nurse Chapel being instructed to smack Spock violently. Because, you know, being this vulnerable and dependent upon the violent impulses of passersby totally makes sense as an evolved characteristic. Scotty barges in to stop this insanity, because apparently Scotty makes a habit of barging into Sickbay and messing with people.

Kevin: Is it slash with it involves a heterosexual couple? In any event, Spock begging Chapel to smack the shit out of him has to be worth something in someone's BDSM fantasy playbook.

Matthew: I am a bit flummoxed by the overall message of the tale, to boot. In the end, Kirk "solves" the problem of Klingon interference by arming the hill people with the same anachronistic weaponry. He delivers a homily regarding Earth's own history two equally balanced powers fighting over an under-developed territory, and the only solution that avoided all-out war being a balance of power, a stalemate "brush war" that continued "bloody year after bloody year," until a way to peace was found. So... Star Trek is endorsing the US policy of "containment" during the Cold War? I don't get it. And what about the Organians?

Kevin: Having mentioned A Taste of Armageddon earlier, I am now ever more flummoxed by this ending. Eminiar and Vendikar were equally armed, and as a result were engaged in perpetual war, a war Kirk violated the Prime Directive to stop. If he were going to interfere, why not reveal Klingon involvement or try to get the sides to work together. The only problem there I suppose is that trying to resolve a conflict would have required creating a credible one in the first place.


Matthew: For as bad as the writing was at times, there was a fair amount of good acting on the parts of Shatner and Kelly. We get a very good debate between Kirk and McCoy over the Prime Directive, the politics of Cold War, and the morality of arming the people of the planet. At times the debate was impassioned, and the actors delivered the lines with gusto. Also very good was the apparent emotional bond between the characters.

Kevin: I particularly liked McCoy in this episode. He seemed most comfortable in the environment, so I bought his outrage the most at its passing. He even seemed comfortable in the absurd costumes. It oddly catered to his country doctor persona.

Matthew: Spock, unfortunately, gets sidelined by a silly B story, in which he is unconscious for the lion's share of his screen time. It was greta to see Dr. M'Benga and Nurse Chapel, however.

Kevin: This is one of those times where Leonard Nimoy deserves some sort of purple heart or whatever its acting equivalent is. He was clearly trying to add some urgency to his desire to be slapped around, and while it failed, it's not his fault. When you realize that "Spock's Brain" isn't too far in the offing, you really get some sympathy for the man trying to wring something, anything out of some of the lesser scripts.

Matthew: The wigs on the natives were bad, but good actors should be able to trump bad wigs. No one did, however. Nona was shrill and irritating, and Tyree was a milquetoast dip-twit.

Kevin: I found Krell sadly lacking. Even on a bad day, Klingons of this era should dominate the room. Kor's bombast, Kang's gravity, and Koloth's deceptive effeteness fill the screen in their episodes, and even with limited screen time, Krell should have made a stab at doing the same. It would have made his influence over the villagers more plausible.

Production Values

Matthew: Where to start? The Mugato (pictured above), was one of the weaker "giant creatures" on TOS. And that's saying something. The Mahko root, AKA "Rubber Poop Poison Cure," was beyond stupid-loking. As mentioned, the wigs were awful, awful, awful. I can't be sure, but I think they may have been re-uses from "The Apple.

Kevin: I swear I will never understand the pantheon of wigs on this show. Even cheap wigs can look decent, properly done. It really diminishes my opinion of the costume people. When they are on, they are on. You have only to look to Theiss-designed gowns or the Romulan uniforms or the Starfleet uniforms themselves to see some really interesting fashion that serves the show both aesthetically and, in cases, plot-wise as well. But when they are off...sheesh. Visions of the be-wigged Silvia from "Catspaw" will replace the whale in my nightmares.

Matthew: On the other hand, we see a re-use of the Organian sets for the village settlement, which was nice. Plenty of outdoor shots in TOS's traditional location look fine as well.


Matthew: I've compare this to the notable stinker "The Apple" in spots, but I'm going to give it a 2. It doesn't completely sink under the weight of its awful parts. An interesting Cold-War allegory is at work, and the principal actors make their scenes bearable. It's a low 2. But it has enough redeeming facets to escape the ignominy of the 1 rating.

Kevin: This has a few small things to recommend it. Some nice dialogue between Kirk and McCoy, and the nice introduction of secondary character that beef up Star Trek's bona fides as a trendsetter and barrier breaker keep this out of the dregs, but it's still not a good episode. Worst of all, and I've said this before, it's boring, the greatest sin a television show can commit for me. It gets a 2 from me, for a total of 4. Sad, as there are a couple of kernels of great ideas, very Star Trek ideas, but the execution was DOA. 

1 comment:

  1. You tell me what happens if Nona never does?