2012.02.08 in The Original Series
A small landing party comes under attack from an unknown villain, and must chase it down. The hunt is interrupted by a superior being who demands that the conflict be limited to, and resolved by, a fight to the death between the person in charge on both sides.
Stardate 3045.6 places this episode shortly after the crew saw some hallucinations brought to life. This is the highest-numbered stardate yet, but I’ve already pointed out that continuity matters naught in this series, so don’t be surprised if the next episode takes place long before this one.
Kirk, Bones, and Spock are about to beam down to meet a Commodore at a remote colony, and all are in good spirits save, of course, Our Vulcan. On landing, the colony is rubble. The messages between the Enterprise and the colony were apparently falsified, a ruse to trap the flagship of the fleet. Spock detects non-human life on his tape recorder – I mean tricorder – and a redshirt disappears. This one was actually wearing red, as a twist.
Sulu can’t beam out the crew on the ground (thereby saving the Captain and Palz) due to the ship being under attack; the landing party retreats to some shelter to withstand a shelling. Jim and Spock confer on the armory’s location, and Kirk runs in a serpentine pattern before narrowly dodging an incoming charge. Sulu rings up with a report, and Kirk tells him to fire photon torpedoes, from which we get no results. It seems to me that since Sulu has the bridge, he should be fine to order that attack, but what do I know.
Jim tells Sulu to protect the ship at any cost, even the landing party’s lives. “Don’t worry about me, protect my ship!” he said, fatalistically. Spock joins Kirk at the armory, and somehow his tricorder turns into a bomb. He chucks it away, but it probably wouldn’t have done much damage anyway. Kirk has set up a mortar of some sort, and as soon as he fires one shot the incoming attack stops. Hell of a shot there, Jim. Sulu calls again to report that the alien ship just activated transporters and made to boogie out of town. Kirk orders a rescue team beamed down and the party beamed up; he’s gotta Smokey them Bandits.
Back on board and in pursuit, the Captain, the Doctor, and the Vulcan debrief a survivor. It was a sneak attack, and he’s having some trouble controlling himself. He confirms that the messages were faked, and can’t fathom why the attack happened. In Kirk’s quarters, Jim insists to Spock that the baddies laid a trap for his ship – eliminate the Enterprise, and an invasion into the sector would be unopposed. Spock deduces that the aggressors must never get home. Kirk orders faster pursuit and battle stations, and puts on his mean face.
When Sulu tells Jim that the aliens are matching their speed, he’s told as quickly back to speed it up to warp seven. This causes quite the reaction from everyone on the bridge, as if in disbelief that warp seven was even possible. Spock explains that sustaining that speed will be dangerous; Scotty adds that the ship might explode. Jim has to defend his decision to destroy the other ship as Spock strangely asks for mercy. Kirk stresses again that the home base does not yet know about the defenses at the colony, and must never find out. Sulu tells Jim that the aliens, again, are matching their speed. Kirk orders warp eight, and everybody goes
Finally, the Enterprise is about to approach their target, when Uhura reports that the ship is being scanned from a nearby solar system. The alien ship then slows rapidly out of warp; Sulu reports that the ship is floating dead. This confluence of events has no bearing on Kirk, so he gets the weapons primed and just as they approach, the bridge shudders and the Enterprise slows to a halt with the bad guys in range and on screen. Every station is dead, no power is available to anything (except life support, I note). Spock states that an “unidentified power” is holding the ship in place. The viewscreen changes to an obviously advanced visualization of some sort; a voice accompanies. This third party, the Metron civilization, has banned conflict in their system, and will only permit a one-on-one battle to the death: the winner and ship leave safe and sound; the loser dies and his crew and ship are destroyed entirely. And that’s when things took a turn for the worse.
Kirk disappears from the bridge.
In a mountainous desert, a lizard-headed, glittery-eyed, tunic-bedecked monster growls. Nearby is our adventurous hero, slow to take in the new scenario. He’s been supplied some information: the attackers are called Gorn, and the environment provided contains necessary elements for whatever weaponry the contender cares to assemble. The Metrons have also seen fit to equip each with a recording and translating device. I suppose that might come in handy while you’re locked in death battle with a space monster.
Spock and Scotty can’t figure out a way to get power to anything.
The Gorn yanks a branch off a tree; Kirk grabs a twig. The Gorn might be big and strong, but he’s a bit slow. The fisticuffs start out fairly one-sided and continue that way. Jim struggles with a medium-sized rock, throwing it from above the Gorn and missing. The Gorn answers with a boulder, and Kirk tucks tail to find some resources and talk into his Metron toy. He treats it like his log device, hoping it can deliver a message to the crew should he fail. What he doesn’t know is that the Gorn is listening to everything he says. Dun-dun-duuuuunnnn.
Spock and McCoy can’t figure out where the Metrons put Kirk.
Jim finds some bamboo and realizes how weak it is. The Gorn is assembling some sort of trap with rocks and vines. Jim comes across some diamonds, and tells the magic microphone. Then he runs further up the rocks, where he happens to get a good view of the Gorn. High atop the peak above him, he spies a boulder which looks eerily similar to the one the Gorn threw at him moments ago. Say, Mr. Gorn, I hear the Braves are looking for a new power closer.
Kirk rolls the boulder off the cliff and somehow manages to knock the Gorn right in the face with it. As he approaches to confirm his victory, however, the Gorn wakes up and casts the rock off himself. Jim runs right through the vine trap and is pinned by a rock rigged to do so. The Gorn closes in with a stabbing thing of some sort, but Jim trips him and escapes.
Spock and crew can’t figure out how to contact the Metrons.
Kirk has a limp now, and leans on a rock next to some yellow powder meant to represent sulfur, taking time to captain’s log his thoughts to the Gorn.
The Metrons contact the Enterprise to instruct our crew to make their final preparations, because he is losing the battle. And also watch live now on MetronTV! They hijack the viewscreen to show Kirk’s last moments to the bridge. Spock deduces from the screen that Kirk has found a cache of potassium nitrate; Kirk tastes it, spits it out, and smiles. Cool it, Jim, it ain’t cocaine.
The Gorn rings up Kirk on the Metron device, asking Kirk to wait for him to catch up so that he can kill our good captain. He tells Kirk that the colony was an invasion into their space, and that the Gorn always destroy invaders. Instead, Kirk grabs some of that bamboo from earlier, and a vine, and some of the powders; Spock gives the bridge crew some play-by-play. He’s no Bob Costas, but I suppose he’ll do.
Jim lays out his booty and starts working on his gun, mixing up the gunpowder and prepping a diamond as a bullet. He uses the not-a-log as a flint and lights a wick he made from his pants, and quickly points and shoots the Gorn. Got him right in the face. Before he can finish him off, though, he realizes he need not: their culture was defending its space, and it could be possible that the Earthlings were in the wrong. Yeah, as if that’s ever happened before.
The Gorn disappears, and a waifish boy in a sparkly dress shows up in its place. He’s a Metron, of course, and expresses surprise and respect at Kirk’s possession of mercy, which he calls “a very advanced trait.” He asks Kirk if he should destroy the Gorn ship, to which Kirk of course replies in the negative, interested instead in a compromise. He appears instantaneously back on board the Enterprise, and Sulu tells him the ship is a long way from where they thought they were. I guess the Metrons are pretty powerful but need to work on their aim.
This is one of the top five most famous episodes, and I’m not sure if it deserves to be. The structure is quite different from the usual episode, almost resembling a classical play more than anything produced with edits and cuts. Each act is so distinct in tone and setting, each with its own inkling of subtext, that it doesn’t feel like a television episode much at all. Except for the bad space monster costume and boulder props, that totally feels like teevee.
In act one, the prominent theme is one of vengeance in service of self-protection: if the Enterprise destroys the aggressors who destroyed the colony, an invasion will be thwarted and all of humanity (and vulcanity, I assume) will be safe from this overbearing, unknown enemy. It makes sense, but like the preemptive strikes of the Bush’s Doctrine, and Israel’s disproportionate retaliation, this approach leaves little room for error and even less for compassion.
The second act leans toward Moby Dick territory, with Kirk as Ahab and the Gorn ship as the white whale. I guess Sulu would be Ishmael? Spock is obviously Starbuck. Obviously. Warp eight is how everybody knows he’s headed off the deep end.
In the third act, we get a lot more of what we know Star Trek as. There’s a superevolved race imposing its will over our crew, an alien monster, and a familiar landscape, all contributing to the message that mercy and compassion should be at the front of our minds. Kirk’s refusal to kill the Gorn and, later, to have the Gorn ship destroyed, proves that he’s more evolved that the Metrons’ initial appraisal led them to believe. This act feels like its message was meant to speak for the full hour. Thank goodness, because until then the episode was really headed to some strange places.
By the way, I’ve been to Vasquez park, and it still looks like it did in this episode. Apparently a lot is still filmed there, but I can’t imagine who would have an easy time of it. Roddenberry stole all the best shots!