Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series: “A Private Little War”

“A Private Little War”
Written by Jud Crucis and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marc Daniels
Season 2, Episode 16
Production episode 60345
Original air date: February 2, 1968
Stardate: 4211.4

Captain’s log. The Enterprise has arrived at Neural. Kirk led a planetary survey to the world as a lieutenant thirteen years ago, and he, Spock, and McCoy have beamed down to examine the local flora, which has many spiffy medicinal properties. Spock sees the footprints of a bear-like creature known as the mugato.

Kirk and Spock see three dark-haired locals with flintlock rifles, which surprises Kirk, since the last time he was here, they were a peaceful people whose only weapons were bows and arrows. He also sees four other white-haired locals—including his friend from the last time, Tyree—walking into an ambush. Kirk throws a rock to distract the rifle carriers, but then they give chase. McCoy hears the commotion and calls the Enterprise, but before they can be beamed back up, Spock is shot.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

McCoy, Chapel, and Dr. M’Benga work on Spock in the transporter room, unable to even wait to get him to sickbay. And then the ship goes to red alert—Uhura reports a Klingon ship in orbit. Kirk and Scotty rush to the bridge, where Chekov reports that they moved to the other side of the planet, and Uhura picked up a routine transmission from the Klingon ship that makes no mention of the Enterprise, so they’re safe for now.

Kirk downgrades to yellow alert and orders Chekov to keep the planet between them and the Klingons. The bridge crew speculates madly about how they went from bows and arrows to flintlocks in thirteen years rather than the twelve centuries it took humans.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

McCoy reports to Kirk that Spock needs to heal himself at this point. M’Benga interned in a Vulcan ward, so Kirk can leave Spock under his care while McCoy beams back down with Kirk. McCoy can determine if the Klingons are there for the same reason the Federation was: to use the native flora for medicinal purposes. But if the Klingons have violated the treaty, Kirk needs someone there he trusts as much as he trusts Spock.

Changing into native clothing, they beam down, when they are immediately attacked by a mugato. McCoy manages to hit it with a phaser, but Kirk is bitten—and the mugato bite is poisonous. Unfortunately, the Enterprise is out of range in order to keep hidden from the Klingons. McCoy can keep Kirk stable for a while, but he has no cure.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

They’re found by several of Tyree’s people, and before going unconscious, Kirk says Tyree has a cure. They’re escorted to the encampment, where McCoy keeps him warm in furs and by using his phaser to heat a few rocks until Tyree—who is now the leader of the hill people—returns.

For his part, Tyree and his wife Nona observe the villagers with their “firesticks.” Nona thinks they should obtain such weapons, so they can fight back. But Tyree is optimistic that the villagers will return to their friendly ways. They talk in exposition for a bit, Tyree half-joking that she put a spell on him to make him marry her, her saying that as a kahn-ut-tu woman, men seek women like her to gain power. In truth, she used a local plant as a “love potion,” and she gives him some now to make him lustful for her.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Their sweet passionate nookie-nookie is interrupted by one of the other hill people who tells them—well, tells her, Tyree is a bit distracted—about Kirk and McCoy.

Nona arrives to see McCoy phasering rocks. She then asks Tyree for everything he can tell her about Kirk—but he promised to be silent, and they became blood brothers. However, Nona is his wife, and she demands to know everything about Kirk, or her remedy for his poison won’t work.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Chapel holds Spock’s hands while he’s in a healing trance. M’Benga informs her that he’s conscious, but all his mental energy is being focused on healing the damaged tissues, so he can’t communicate. When the readings start to fluctuate, M’Benga tells Spock (who can hear him, even if he can’t acknowledge) that someone will be with him at all times. He then tells Chapel to call him as soon as he wakes up, and also to do whatever he says to do immediately. As it turns out, what he asks is for her to hit him, and after initially refusing, she does so. Spock is cured! Hooray!

Nona uses a local root, her own blood, chants, and a ridiculous dance to cure Kirk. It seems to work, as Kirk wakes up long enough to say he’s tired and fall asleep. McCoy takes the root away and sees that there’s no sign of the bite—not even a scar. The cut on Nona’s hand is healed as well. According to Nona, they have shared blood and he is hers now. According to Tyree, legend says that a man can refuse a woman no wish after that particular ritual.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

The next morning, everyone wakes up, and Tyree and Kirk have a happy reunion. Kirk had hoped that Tyree would find a kahn-ut-tu woman to cure him—Kirk is rather surprised to find out that he married one.

Tyree fills Kirk and McCoy in. The villagers have been making the firesticks for about a year now. Kirk wants to see them, but Nona wishes Kirk to give them phasers. But there’s a more fundamental issue: Tyree refuses to kill under any circumstances. Nona is furious—she thinks it is better to fight than to die.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Tyree, Kirk, and McCoy sneak into the village. They subdue a guard, and Tyree takes a rifle with him. They find a forge, but also items that couldn’t possibly have been made there, including some industrially produced items.

Apella, the leader of the village, meets with a Klingon, Krell, who shows him a new “improvement” on the rifle, one that will mean fewer misfires, and he promises more improvements on his next visit. Krell brings Apella to the forge, where they find Kirk and McCoy. There’s a donnybrook, and the trio manage to escape the village, despite the locals firing on them.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Kirk shows the hill people how to use the rifle they’ve confiscated. McCoy can’t believe he’s doing that, worrying that he’s doing what Nona wants, but Kirk says she wants superior weapons, he only wants to give them equal weapons, a balance of power. It’s the only way to preserve both sides. McCoy is justifiably concerned that this will just plunge the planet into an endless war.

Kirk is also concerned that Tyree won’t fight, so he goes to Nona, walking in on her after she’s taken a bath. She uses the love potion on him before he can even start to talk to her. Naturally, Tyree walks in on them right as they smooch. He comes very close to using the rifle on them, then realizes how easy the rifle makes it to kill the people he loves, and he leaves, casting the rifle aside.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

After Tyree leaves, the mugato attacks, but Kirk is too smitten to even notice. The mugato goes after Nona, and eventually Kirk regains his senses enough to phaser the mugato. But he’s still woozy, and so Nona clubs him with a rock and takes the phaser.

Tyree stomps angrily into the encampment, saying he left the rifle behind. McCoy points out that leaving such a weapon just lying around is a really bad idea, so he takes them back to find a woozy, phaser-less Kirk.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Nona finds four villagers, and offers to give them a phaser. All they see is a sexy kahn-ut-tu woman, and they try to gang-rape her. Tyree, Kirk, and McCoy see that, and the villagers assume it’s a trap and kill Nona. A massive fight breaks out, and Kirk has to stop Tyree from beating one villager to death with a rock, while McCoy is winged by a rifle shot.

Tyree is devastated by Nona’s death, and demands that Kirk give him more flintlocks. Tyree intends to kill all the villagers for what they did to his wife.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Kirk orders a beam-out, saying he’ll need Scotty to fashion some flintlocks—or, waxing poetic, serpents for the Garden of Eden.

Fascinating. Vulcans can heal themselves by putting themselves into a coma and focusing all their energy on the process. When they come out of it, they need to be slapped a lot. Either that, or Spock is just into that kind of thing…

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy gets to play Kirk’s conscience, and without Spock around, it’s basically all shouting. He also doesn’t check to see if anybody’s watching him phaser rocks, which pretty much leads to the entire episode’s conflict.

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura shows off, knowing the answer to how long it was between the development of the bow and arrow and the flintlock. She also eavesdrops on the Klingons to determine that they don’t know they’re there.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty walks in on Chapel beating up the first officer, and yanks her off him. M’Benga comes in then and finishes the job of tenderizing Spock’s face while a confused Scotty looks on. Only after Spock fully wakes up does M’Benga explain what’s happening, and Scotty mostly just looks really really really confused.

It’s a Russian invention. Because Sulu isn’t in this one (George Takei was still filming The Green Berets), Chekov has to stand by the helm to say how they’re moving, since the helmsman is an extra who doesn’t have any lines.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Nona believes in seducing men via hallucinogenics, apparently not trusting her bare midriff, groovy eye shadow, and impressive cleavage to do the trick.

Channel open. “What are you doing, woman?”
Disappointingly, this is not something anyone says to Nona, but rather what Scotty says to Chapel when he sees her giving Spock a beat-down.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Welcome aboard. Ned Romero plays Krell—he’ll return to Trek on two of the spinoffs, playing Native characters in both TNG‘s “Journey’s End” and Voyager‘s “The Fight.” Michael Witney plays Tyree, Nancy Kovack plays Nona, and Arthur Bernard plays Apella.

Stuntman and animal impersonator Janos Prohaska plays the mugato, his only billed role, though he previously played a couple of the background aliens in “The Cage” and created the Horta for “The Devil in the Dark.” He’ll return in “The Savage Curtain” as Yarnek.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Booker Bradshaw debuts the role of M’Benga in this episode; he’ll reprise the role in “That Which Survives.” Also back are recurring regulars Majel Barrett, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig.

Trivial matters: The original story was by Don Ingalls, but he used the pseudonym “Jud Crucis” (a play on “judicium crucisaccording to Ingalls in a Starlog interview) by way of objecting to Gene Roddenberry’s script.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

The mugato was called “gumato” in the script, but it was changed to accommodate DeForest Kelley’s complete inability to say “gumato” properly. The closing credits still say “gumato,” as does James Blish’s adaptation in Star Trek 10.

The names of both the planet (Neural) and the Klingon (Krell) come from the script; those names were never spoken aloud on screen. The treaty that the Klingons have violated is the Organian Peace Treaty, established in “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and which was signed following “Errand of Mercy.”

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

Jeff Mariotte wrote a novel sequel to this episode taking place shortly before The Motion Picture entitled Serpents in the Garden.

The events of this episode are shown from the Klingon perspective in the third issue of the IDW comics miniseries Blood Will Tell by Scott & David Tipton and David Messina.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

M’Benga will go on to appear in numerous pieces of tie-in fiction (with a variety of first names, including Geoffrey and Jabilo), most notably in The Vulcan Academy Murders and The IDIC Epidemic by Jean Lorrah, One Small Step by Susan Wright, The Lost Years by J.M. Dillard, Traitor Winds by L.A. Graf, Death’s Angel by Kathleen Sky, and the Vanguard novel series by David Mack, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore. Alternate universe versions of M’Benga also appeared in Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire by Mack and The Tears of Eridanus by Michael Schuster & Steve Mollmann in Myriad Universes: Shattered Light.

To boldly go. “Touch me again, and this small box will kill you.” Allegedly, one of the objections Don Ingalls had to Gene Roddenberry’s script that led to his choosing a pseudonym was that his original had more overt Vietnam references. Reading that, I shudder at the notion that somewhere out there in the ether is a version of this story that’s even less subtle than the one that aired, which I wouldn’t have believed possible.

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

In the abstract, this has the potential to be a decent Vietnam allegory, with two larger powers messing around with a primitive planet. But the analogy doesn’t entirely work here, because Kirk’s solution makes absolutely no sense.

Actually, before we get to that: what the Klingons are doing makes no sense, either. The plan is obviously to annex Neural and make it part of the empire. Why are they doing it so slowly and subtly? If it’s to not draw attention—well, okay, but that ship has sailed once the Enterprise shows up. But what are they gaining by this action? Do they want to start a war that will wipe the people out so they can move in without resistance? If that’s the case, why something so primitive as flintlocks? What’s the endgame?

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

And now that the Enterprise has shown up, why is Kirk’s solution to arm Tyree’s people? They go on at great length about how the Klingons have violated the treaty, but you know what you do when a major power violates a treaty? You report it to your government. Sure, they can’t report to Starfleet right away because they don’t want the Klingons to know they’re there, but McCoy recorded everything in that forge. They now have evidence that the Klingons have broken the treaty. So instead of adding more guns to a situation that already has too many of them, which never ever makes it better, why not leave orbit and inform the admiralty, who will inform the Federation Council, who will call the Klingon Empire on their bullshit?

On top of that, we’ve got all the nonsense with the kahn-ut-tu women and Nona’s ridiculous healing gyrations. It’s not as bad as “Friday’s Child,” at least, but it’s still pretty offensive. Oh, and I love how the good people (Kirk’s friend, generally peaceful) have white hair and the bad people (enjoy killing, work with Klingons, gang-rape Nona) have black hair. Symbolism!

Star Trek, Original Series season 2, A Private Little War

I was hoping to at least enjoy the mugato (I even have a little stuffed mugato on my desk), but man, does that creature not translate to HD well.


Warp factor rating: 3

Next week:The Gamesters of Triskelion

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be at Farpoint 2016 this weekend in Timonium, Maryland, alongside fellow Trek scribes David Gerrold, David Mack, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Dave Galanter, Howard Weinstein, Robert Greenberger, Aaron Rosenberg, Glenn Hauman, Allyn Gibson, Richard C. White, and Steven H. Wilson; Klingon language creator Marc Okrand; actors Sean Maher and John Morton; and tons more. Keith will be doing panels, a practical self-defense workshop, autographings, a reading, and also performing with both Prometheus Radio Theatre (Friday night) and Boogie Knights (Saturday morning). His full schedule can be found here.


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