Jul 9 2009 4:54pm

Star Trek Re-watch: “The City on the Edge of Forever”

“The City on the Edge of Forever”
Written by Harlan EllisonTM
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Season 1, Episode 28
Production episode: 1x 28
Original air date: April 6, 1967
Star date: no star date (dun dun dun)

Mission summary
The Enterprise is in shaky orbit around a planet, rocking back and forth like a seafaring vessel as “ripples in time” from the surface wash over the ship. An explosion at the helm knocks Sulu unconscious and McCoy is summoned to the bridge to administer medical assistance. He gives Sulu a small dose of “cordrazine,” a powerful and dangerous stimulant, which revives him in a very good mood. Another time ripple rocks the ship and McCoy accidentally empties the entire hypospray of cordrazine into his stomach. He immediately flips out, ranting “Killers! Assassins!” and fleeing the Bridge. The drug has driven him mad, with the paranoid delusion that people are trying to kill him. He attacks the Transporter Chief and beams down to the planet to escape.

Kirk leads a landing party consisting of Spock, Uhura, Scotty, and a couple of red shirts to hunt down McCoy on the planet below. When they arrive, McCoy somehow continues to elude them among the rocks, but even they can’t miss the strange stone doughnut out in the open, “pulsating with power of some kind”—the apparent source of the waves of temporal displacement. Spock’s scans indicate that the structure is 10,000 centuries old, unexplainable by any science he knows. Kirk asks, “What is it?” and the glowing portal itself responds, “A question. Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question.”

It identifies itself as “the Guardian of Forever” and offers itself as a gateway to Earth’s past. It flashes stock footage at them on fast forward, historical images of camels crossing the desert, ancient Rome, battles fought... Ever the explorer, Kirk is fascinated by the possibilities: “Strangely compelling, isn’t it? To step through there and lose oneself in another world.”

An agitated McCoy finally appears, still screaming his head off about murderers. Spock easily subdues him with a Vulcan neck pinch. Not knowing whether McCoy’s condition is temporary or permanent, Kirk suddenly realizes he now has access to a time machine! Perhaps they can go back a day and prevent the hypo accident. The images are passing too fast to pinpoint such a precise moment though, and the Guardian only runs at one speed. Spock, suddenly remembering the DVR mode on his tricorder, begins recording the images as they zip by. Then McCoy, still hopped up on cordrazine, wakes from his nap. He jumps through the center of the Guardian of Forever and disappears. The Guardian tells them, “He has passed into...what was.”

Uhura loses contact with the Enterprise and they realize that McCoy has somehow altered the past, eliminating their timeline and trapping them on the planet. Kirk and Spock have no choice but to leap through the portal into the past, striving to put right what once went wrong. Since Spock recorded the whole thing, he knows roughly when McCoy entered the Guardian, and they time their jump so they will arrive shortly before he does—if they’re lucky.

They land in an alleyway in Depression-era New York. Their bright Starfleet uniforms and Spock’s pointed ears stand out in 1930, even in Manhattan, so they’re forced to steal some contemporary clothes from a fire escape, elude a policeman, and hide in the basement of a building. There they make plans to find McCoy, hoping that the flow of time, a temporal “backwash” (ew!), may bring them all to the same time and place. Uncertain of where or when he will arrive, or how he’s changed history, Spock will need to build a computer to access the images recorded in his tricorder.

Suddenly they’re discovered, but it’s okay because it’s a beautiful woman and Kirk has charm to spare in any time period. He tells her that they were hiding after stealing clothes because they have no money, and amazingly she offers them work: cleaning and washing at “fifteen cents an hour for ten hours a day,” which will allow Spock to purchase the vacuum tubes and parts he needs. They introduce themselves and she tells them she’s Edith Keeler, manager of the 21st Street Mission.

During dinner, Edith lectures the men at the mission on cleaning up their acts and continue their struggle to survive, because the sun will come out tomorrow:

One day soon man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom. Energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future, and those are the days worth living for. Our deserts will bloom.

She’s either a prophet or a science fiction fan, but either way Kirk is smitten. He finds her “most uncommon,” and she apparently feels the same about him. She finds them a room in her building for two dollars a week, which Spock promptly fills with electric contraptions in his efforts to “construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins.” He’s forced to “borrow” some tools from a clock repairman for a night, and Edith confronts him over the theft. Kirk defends his claim that he was going to return them by morning, which distracts her—she’ll drop the matter if Kirk will walk her home. She’s curious about him and wants some answers.

By the time Kirk gets back, Spock has gotten some answers of his own from his tricorder. He’s found two contradictory newspaper articles: an obituary indicating Edith died in 1930 from a traffic accident, and a headline dated six years later, describing a meeting between her and President Roosevelt concerning World War II. Edith is their “focal point in time” and McCoy is “the random element” that will affect whether or not she dies. They need to determine which event is supposed to happen before he arrives, but Spock must first fix the burned-out circuits to coax more information from his tricorder.

Ironically, they’re now running out of time, because the mad doctor finally pops into New York, scaring the crap out of a homeless man. He chases the man, screaming “Don’t run! I won’t kill you!” He finally catches the guy and mumbles like that guy next to you on the subway, convinced that he’s in some museum-quality reconstruction of Earth’s past:

Oh, I’d give a lot to see the hospital. Probably needles and sutures. All the pain. They used to hand-cut and sew people like garments. Needles and sutures. Oh, the terrible pain!

When McCoy passes out, the homeless man steals his phaser and manages to disintegrate himself. Well, no one will miss him at least. Meanwhile, Kirk and Edith are becoming romantically involved, though the captain is tortured by the idea that she might have to die. The next morning, McCoy stumbles into Edith’s missionary and she bustles him off for some rest, just missing Spock in the cafeteria.

Later, Spock has finally repaired his equipment and they now know how McCoy messed up the timestream. Because he saved Edith from her accident, she led a peace movement that delayed U.S. involvement in World War II. This gave Germany enough time to complete their heavy water experiments and develop the atomic bomb, ensuring Hitler’s victory. They don’t know exactly when Edith is supposed to die, but die she must; only, Kirk has one small problem: he’s in love with her. Edith is falling for Kirk, too. While flirting on the stairwell at their apartment building, Edith stumbles and the captain catches her. Spock chastises him for the rescue:

We’re not that sure of our facts. Who’s to say when the exact time will come? Save her, do as your heart tells you to do, and millions will die who did not die before.

Meanwhile, Edith has nursed McCoy back to health, and he thanks her for saving his life. He’d like to return the favor, but it’ll have to wait until after her date with her “young man.” She hopes Kirk will take her to a Clark Gable movie, but the actor’s name doesn’t ring a bell with McCoy. Kirk doesn’t know it either; when he asks her about it on the street, she says, “You know, Dr. McCoy said the same thing.” Amazed to hear that McCoy is in the Mission, Kirk leaves her on the sidewalk and runs across the street, yelling for Spock. McCoy appears at the door and the three of them have a joyous reunion, cut short when Edith starts to cross over to them, right into the path of an oncoming truck. Kirk heads for her but stops when Spock reminds him that he musn’t save her: “No, Jim!” McCoy also rushes toward her, but Kirk grabs the doctor and holds him back, eyes squeezed shut in agony, allowing Edith to be struck and killed. McCoy is horrified.

MCCOY: You deliberately stopped me, Jim. I could have saved her. Do you know what you just did?
SPOCK: He knows, Doctor. He knows.

Back in uniform, Kirk and Spock leap back through the Guardian followed by McCoy, only a moment after they left. Their mission was successful.

GUARDIAN: Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before. Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway.
UHURA: Captain, the Enterprise is up there. They’re asking if we want to beam up.
KIRK: Let’s get the hell out of here.

This is one of the highest-praised episodes of Star Trek, for good reason. Privately, I’ve been holding this one as my ideal for the Warp 6 rating. I was mildly worried it wouldn’t hold up as well as I remembered, but it remains an incredible episode, often imitated but rarely surpassed in science fiction in any medium.

Even without the soft focus lighting, from the moment the talented and beautiful Joan Collins appears in this episode, it’s obvious that “The City on the Edge of Forever” is a love story about Edith Keeler and Jim Kirk. With the SFnal problem of the damaged timeline to contend with, unfortunately this will be a brief and tragic affair; the spaceman from the future and the woman who is ahead of her time are as starcrossed as two lovers could be. We have often seen Kirk’s dalliances with women before, but this relationship is handled differently. They flirt delicately, and in the moment that they finally acknowledge their feelings, we are deprived of witnessing their first kiss. Later, when they kiss again, it’s gentle and sweet, with Edith taking the lead.

These kisses are far from the passionate lip-locks we’re accustomed to, distinguishing their relationship as something special... perhaps something purer. As far as we know, it isn’t even consummated. Indeed, Kirk infrequently invokes the word “love” in connection with a woman, and the scenes of them strolling hand-in-hand through the streets of New York with “Goodnight Sweetheart” playing in the background could have been lifted from any romantic film of the 1930s. It’s the believability of their relationship, the strength of Kirk’s feelings for Edith, and her compassion and goodness that give the ending so much emotional weight.

If Kirk’s moral quandary and the painful resolution were all that this episode had to offer, it would still stand above many others, but there’s so much more making this an enjoyable and provocative story. The tragedy is balanced with some of the best comedic moments in the series, from Kirk’s explanation about Spock’s accident with the mechanical rice-picker to every line McCoy utters to Edith once he’s regained his mind and manners.

MCCOY: I’m a surgeon, not a psychiatrist. I am Leonard McCoy, Senior Medical Officer aboard the USS Enterprise.
EDITH: I don’t mean to disbelieve you, but that’s hardly a Navy uniform.
MCCOY: It’s quite all right. It’s quite all right, dear, because I don’t believe in you, either.

There’s another love story in play here as well: the friendships between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. With the doctor driven mad and lost in time, it is just as important to recover their friend as it is to restore their past and future. When Kirk realizes the nature of the Guardian of Forever, his first impulse is to use it to save McCoy, to prevent his accidental overdose from happening. Later, Kirk’s excitement over the possibilities of time travel and his romantic notions of visiting his past are completely destroyed by Edith’s death. Far from a temptation, Kirk wants nothing to do with the Guardian; the loss of his thrill for exploration and adventure is almost as tragic as his decision to let the woman he loves die to preserve his future. (Though I think the fact that Clark Gable is apparently forgotten in the 23rd Century is even more depressing.)

The episode ends on a somber note, perhaps a bit abruptly, but I think it’s fitting. Though outwardly “all is as it was before,” Kirk was deeply affected by his experience. He isn’t the same man he was at the beginning of the episode. They beam back to the Enterprise and leave the Guardian as they found it, alone in the ruins of an empty world. The barren landscape and the Guardian’s lonely existence hint at a dark history and implies that the time portal is not as much a boon as it might seem.

There was only one real sour moment in the episode, when Uhura deadpans “Captain, I’m frightened,” after discovering their past has been erased. This is a perfectly understandable sentiment given the circumstances, but the delivery was a bit off. Other than some nitpicky questioning of some minor plot elements (such as why they are unable to simply scan for McCoy and beam him up from the ship), this is a perfect episode all around.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 6 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: I know this one only by reputation, and all the praise is earned and then some. It’s a tour de force. This is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect episode.

I love Kirk and Spock’s friendship so much. They get frustrated with each other, but they have so much respect and admiration for one another. It’s priceless when Edith calls Spock on it: “Captain. Even when he doesn’t say it, he does.” They know just how to get each other through. When Kirk jokes that Spock must not be capable of creating the tricorder device, it’s exactly the nudge the man needed. His place is by Kirk’s side, Edith says, and she’s right. I was reminded of STII, when Kirk realizes that Spock is no longer on the Bridge beside him. It is that moment, that realization, that hits Kirk like a blow. You can feel and see that here—the strength that neither could muster without each other.

Their friendship competes with the relationship that blooms between Kirk and Edith. For the first time, we see a woman that Kirk could really love. She shares his same idealism and optimism, the same certainty that the future holds nothing but promise, and the same confidence that no obstacle is too large to overcome with the right amount of determination. I delighted in the way she saw through all of Kirk’s lies. He can’t put anything past her. And without Kirk’s ship, without his responsibilities, there is nothing to stop them. He gets a slice of a normal life, and letting that go—letting her go—is devastating. Joan Collins surprises no one by being radiant and astounding, but Shatner really pulls off something special here. He conveys so perfectly a man burdened by the knowledge that the one person that could make him happy must die. After Spock shows him the evidence, Shatner turns away and walks toward the camera, and you see tears in his eyes. When the time finally comes, he cannot watch, and then runs behind a corner, shaking, fists clenched. I teared up then and I tear up now just recalling the scene. He conveys that loss with such emotional power. I can think of few contemporary “romantic” films that comes close to expressing what he does.

Her optimism is the optimism the show often expresses: a belief that one day they’ll “take all this money they spend on war and death” and, as Kirk says, “spend it on life.” But Spock somberly reminds us that that was not the time for peace. The maturity of that statement really struck me. Peace is not a panacea to the evils of men—rather, there will be a time for it, only when men are ready to accept it can they truly move beyond their own motivations. It made me wonder what happened to the world the Guardian of Forever is on that left such a wasteland of ruins.

There are no wasted scenes, and no wasted lines. This is a piece about hope, about aspiring to do more than you think you could ever achieve. It’s about believing, even when there’s no evidence, even when there is no hope, that we can live in a better world. When McCoy launches himself through the portal and the Enterprise disappears, Kirk says, “We are totally alone.” The camera pans up to show the stars and the vastness of space. We are so small in the grand scheme of things, and he tastes just a tiny bit of what we sometimes feel looking at our own sky: trapped on our world, yet knowing the possibilities that lie beyond it just out of reach. It’s the feeling that Edith talks about in her speech to the poor, urging them that someday, when there is space travel, we will have a “common future.”

I think my favorite part was when Kirk watches the Guardian speed through the newsreels of history. He notes how compelling the urge is to “lose oneself in another world.” They, too, are watching television, and in a way they stand in for us as viewers. Star Trek is the world in which we lose ourselves and dream that dream. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the power of image and art to create the impossible. We will always dream and yearn for other worlds; it makes us human. Star Trek—especially Star Trek like this—gave us a little piece of that dream.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 6 (can I turn the dial up to 11?)

Best Line: Too many to choose from, but the most memorable is Kirk’s rambling explanation for Spock’s ears: “My friend is obviously Chinese. I see you’ve noticed the ears. They’re actually easy to explain... The unfortunate accident he had as a child. He caught his head in a mechanical rice picker. But fortunately, there was an American missionary living close by who was actually a skilled plastic surgeon in civilian life—”

Syndication Edits: Just after encountering the Guardian of Forever, Kirk asks Spock what it is, and he says “Unbelievable.” Kirk responds, “That’s funny”; Uhura’s line that she’s frightened; the shot of Spock nearly getting hit by a car; part of Kirk and Spock’s escape from the policeman (a shot of them running down the street); Kirk saying he approves of hobbies, and the two of them sitting down with their food; a shot of them handing in their plates after the meal; Kirk and Spock sweeping for the clockmakers and a reaction shot; the dairy truck delivering the bottle of milk, and the homeless man stealing it; several establishing shots of the mission and a restaurant to show McCoy is on the move; and this wonderful conversation between Kirk and Edith as they climb the stairs together:

EDITH: Why? What is so funny about man reaching for the moon?
KIRK: How do you know?
EDITH: I just know, that’s all. I feel it. And more, I think that one day they’ll take all the money they spend now on war and death
KIRK: And make them spend it on life?
EDITH: Yes. You see the same things that I do. We speak the same language.
KIRK: The very same. (He leans in for a kiss.)

Trivia: Not just arguably the best episode of Star Trek, which won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, this is also the most controversial, owing to the changes from Ellison’s original script (itself a winner of a Writers Guild of America award) and the final version, as well as ongoing legal battles over the use of the Guardian of Forever in merchandising and other Star Trek stories. In his draft, a druggie named Beckwith traveled back in time to Chicago via the technology of an alien race called the Guardians of Forever. Kirk was unable to let Edith Koestler die, and Spock had to step in to prevent her from being saved.

Other notes: The New York sets used in this episode were previously used for the town of Silsby in Superman and the Mole Men (1951) and the streets of Metropolis in the first season of the Adventures of Superman (1952). The Guardian of Forever appears again on screen in the animated series episode “Yesteryear,” and is also featured in many tie-in novels and stories.

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 29 - “Operation: Annihilate!” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.

Herb Schaltegger
1. LameLefty
Great recaps and commentary from both of you - thank you for sharing your insights. I don't have much to add, except that I like your appraisals of the best line. Shatner's delivery of such nonsensical/absurdist material with a straight face is a hallmark of his acting even today. But in terms of Trek, this "Mechanical Rice Picker" story ranks right up there with the explanation of Fizbin from "A Piece of the Action."
j p
2. sps49
ecmyers- can you cite what Kirk's "dalliances" have been so far? He gets a bum rap on this.

This episode is very good, but not perfect- did the tricorder suddenly lose it's playback function? And (in real life, of course) any circuit with that many tubes will work slowly and unreliably.

Harlan Ellison has chosen to be a dick about this episode ever since, in my opinion. He has written other good material, but those were one-shot episodes and short stories. Here, he has taken the offer to play in Roddenberry's sandbox, but didn't want to follow Roddenberry's rules. Bad enough, but Ellison saved publishing his side of the story for after Roddenberry's death.

I haven't seen prime sources, but supposedly Jon Collins (to whom this was just another few days' work) called her character a Hitler supporter, apparently not getting Keeler's intent. Odd.

This is one episode that also showcases Shatner's acting skills, plus Kelley's. I agree, McCoy is showcased well here.

This one is number 3 or 4 on my list of favorites.
3. trekkiechick
Without a doubt, this is the best episode of Star Trek. It's funny (love the mechanical rice-picker!) and captivating and, above all, horribly touching. Edith's speech to the men about "hope and a common future" gives me chills every time I hear it. In fact, that speech represents to me the epitome of Star Trek. That, I think, is what differentiates Trek from other sci fi, that image of a future where humanity has matured to the point where we do have a common future.
4. Black -
It is a great episode. I have to ask though, what about temporal backwash rates an ew? Do you think the term "backwash" only refers to spitting into someone's beverage?
Eugene Myers
5. ecmyers
@ 2 sps49

Kirk may get a bum rap on his love for women, but it's entirely deserved. Aside from his brief flirtations and longing looks at various yeomen and officers in skirts, there have already been a few "dalliances" and mentions of previous ones: Dr. Helen Noel ("Dagger of the Mind"), Lenore ("The Conscience of the King"), and Ruth ("Shore Leave"). To be fair, I assumed that his affair with Ruth is at least on the level of the love he feels for Edith.

Even when Kirk isn't necessarily interested in romance or sex or whatever there's something a little skeevy about his interactions with women in general, as with Yeoman Rand and even the young Miri; believe me, there are a lot more examples to come in the next two seasons. But when he talks to Edith, there isn't the impression that he wants to sleep with her or is using her in any way--he's interested foremost in her as a person, and she just happens to be pretty. They're also well matched for each other, in their compassion for others and their idealistic view of humanity. That's what makes it a storybook romance, love instead of lust.

Because Kirk is a starship captain, he can't have any sort of attachment to one person, and we're not sure if he really wants one. But as Torie points out, with Edith there seems to be the chance that they can have a future together if he can't get his own future back.
Eugene Myers
6. ecmyers
@ 4 Black -

Of course not, but therein lies the joke...
Ursula L
7. Ursula
Combining this with the episodes "Taste of Armageddon" and "Errand of Mercy" provides a rather disturbing pro-war ideal. War is necessary, in all it's bloody horror, civilizations that are peaceful rather than war-ridden are stagnant, and must be shaken up, and the peace-activist must die.

Looking at the first two, it is easier to see how Kirk could let the woman he's fallen in love with go - she also represents an ideal that he thoroughly discards, the desire for peace.

Of course, they weren't really doing that sort of character development and continuity. Which seems a shame, because if Kirk could come to admire a peace-activist for her mind, then he'd have to confront his own disturbing pro-war for war's sake attitude.
j p
8. sps49
@5 ecmyers-

A deserved bum rap? ;)

He may have flirted and danced with Dr. Noel, but there isn't anything else suggested. Messing with your crew is REALLY inappropriate. Lenore was led on- nothing more- because they were trying to use each other for information. Ruth is certainly a past girlfriend of some sort, but that's normal.

He's certainly at least visually attracted to Rand, and I think he sees her as a distraction- always having to tell himself "no, hands off!" will add to potential task overload. Miri was encouraged so he could get needed info to save many lives. The skeeziness, if you mean checking out pretty girls in miniskirts & such, is partly a sign of the times the show was made- not everyone had bought in to the equality of women.

To me, the more normal he is, the more true and tragic is the mutual attraction he and Edith feel.

Thanks for taking me seriously. I'll stop before I appear to take it too seriously.

@7 Ursula- The point to me is that if you forswear war too soon, someone who hasn't will march in and take from you all you hold dear. Stagnancy is only peaceful in the absence of an outside threat- the Organins are not meaningfully threatened by anyone, and Kirk was eventually abashed at his behavior.

Do you mean "A Taste of Armageddon" was pro-war?
Church Tucker
9. Church
Wow. This is THE TOS Trek episode, and while good, I'm now wondering if it is indeed best.

The premise is a bit odd. Keeler talks FDR out of war? After Pearl Harbor? I get the whole isolationist thing, but really?

The standout line is "Stone knives and bearskins." I know because I and a few people I later knew have used that as shorthand for "you're not giving me enough to do my job in a timely fashion."

I've apparently gone entirely off the reservation and am giving this a mere 5. The Keeler thing is at once real and forced. Too bad she didn't have a recurring role.

OTOH, this is one of the episodes that informed the delightful (if confusing) New Voyages episode "In Harms Way"
10. Rand Al'Todd

If FDR had been more pacifist (or more conciliatory to the isolationists) he could have been willing to continue to sell oil to the Japanese, thus eliminating their perceived need to attack Pearl.

They would have been very willing to accept a US hands off policy in Asia.

As it was, Japan attacked Pearl to buy time to take the oil fields of Indonesia. Their intent was to grab for six months, then sue for a peace which preserved the new status quo.

And without Japan's attack on Pearl there was no way FDR was going to get the Senate to declare war on Germany. In fact, they still would not have - Hitler declared war on the US first.

If not for that, FDR would have been forced to divert all of the supplies and equipment going to England and Russia to the war in the Pacific.

Don't know how Russia would have held out without our aid. Could easily have ended up with Germany conquering Russia, then following up on England, then attacking us after they had the bomb and jets.

And FDR might never have been able to sell the big bucks for the Manhattan project until it was too late.
11. clovis
Am I the only person in the multiverse who doesn't particularly like this episode? The 1930s sets are unconvincing, the humour forced, the tone pompous and so on. Alright, it's still better than 'Spock's Brain' et al, but not on a par with 'Balance of Terror' and 'The Trouble with Tribbles'.
OK, it is just me.
12. DemetriosX
One of the very best episodes. Of those we've seen so far, only Balance of Terror can really compete with it, and I can only think of a couple of later episodes in the same category.

sps49 @2: It's true that Harlan has been, well, Harlan about this episode, but not entirely without justification. Beyond his basic premise, I think there are 2 lines of dialogue left over from his script. Some changes for the better, some for the worse. He was unhappy about it and wanted them to use his Cordwainer Bird byline, which he reserves for things he considers to have been ruined be editorial changes (wonderful German word for this, verschlimmbessert, basically improved for the worse), but Roddenberry refused. Since then, Paramount has played a number of accountancy games to avoid paying him royalties. As per the Writer's Guild agreement under which he wrote the episode, he still owns the rights to the Guardian and Paramount has tried to make use of it without paying him more than once.

Church @9: That's an interesting point about delaying the US entry into WWII. Rand Al'Todd covered most of the likely interpretations. Another possibility might be talking FDR out of Lend-Lease, but it is still a rather odd way to put it.
13. NomadUK
clovis@11: Yes.

sps49@8: Well argued. And, I mean, I'm sorry, but 'checking out pretty girls in miniskirts' rates Kirk the label of 'skeezy'? Puh-lease.

All in all, the best episode of Star Trek ever made — and that includes all that new lot. If it's true, as DemetriosX states, that there are only a couple of lines remaining of Harlan Ellison's original script, then whoever did the rewrite crafted a gem. I've often wondered what a feature-length film version of this episode (with a new cast, of course) would be like; maybe now that the reboot has occurred, we'll get to find out. They'll probably ruin it.

Among my many favourite lines: 'Captain, I shall need some platinum. A pound should be sufficient.' Me, too, mate.
14. John Laudun
Was anyone else struck by the resonance/rhyme of Spock saying "He knows, Doctor"? I haven't watched this particular episode in a while, but I regularly show my class on games and literature "Arena" -- after having read Frederic Brown's story of the same name -- and in that episode, for those who need a brief reminder, the crew looks on as Kirk battles a Gorn. An injured Kirk looks to be, quite literally, a lame duck, but then he figures out how to make a weapon, a primitive shotgun as it were, to defeat the Gorn. The crew watches as Kirk silently pieces things together, and Spock narrates: "He knows, Doctor. He has reasoned it out."

For those curious, the entire sequence goes from Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game," to the two "Arenas", and ends with ST:TNG's "Darmok." It's a really effective way to get students to see how small changes in details change the meaning of a story.
15. DemetriosX
John Laudun @14: I hadn't picked up on that, but I did feel a strong resonance with "Requiem for Methuselah". But we won't be getting to that for quite a while.

NomadUK @13: I got the information about only 2 lines being left over from the Memory Alpha wiki entry on this episode. According to the same source, the first teleplay based on Ellison's treatment was by Steven W. Carabatsos. Ellison wrote the second and there is no info on the author of the shooting script. I doubt they used much of Carabatsos' script since he wrote the script for the next episode we're going to see and it is abysmal. Certainly doesn't speak well for his writing skills.

If they wanted to make a feature length film of this, they'd have to go through Harlan and I doubt he'd go along with it.
16. Rocephin
Well, had to throw in my two cents on this episode which I think is great. Without wanting to get into who is in the right in the Ellison vs Roddenberry fight, I think it is an interesting question as to what is the better ending-- Kirk being stopped from saving Edith (Ellison's ending), or Kirk stopping McCoy (as actually filmed).

I understand Ellison's intent to write a SF love story, and that his message was "love conquers all" but for my money, the more powerful ending is the one that was shot-- the love story is still there, and the sacrifice Kirk makes is apparent. His giving up his own happiness for his duty is arguably the most heroic moment of the series. I also think that McCoy's outrage demanding if Kirk knows what he has just done, and Spock's "He knows, doctor. He knows." Is absolutely pitch perfect. The ending line of the episode "Lets get the hell out of here." is also absolutely perfect-- I appreciate that they did not try to hide the fact that Kirk is left scarred from this episode. (something missing, by the way, from a future episode where Kirk loses a family member)

It is unfortunate in 60s TV that they did not do more with the serial nature to show over future episodes the effect this mission might have had on Kirk, but that hardly takes away from the brilliance of this episode.

I am curious what people feel about the potential other ending that Ellison wanted?
Kurt Lorey
17. Shimrod
@10 Rand Al'Todd

I cannot agree with most of your conclusions, you misapprehend the dominant political thinking in Japan almost completely. Briefly, I will only address your points.

1. The Japanese militaristic/expansionist bloc's primary long-term concern was US economic activities in East Asia (most especially in China), which was perceived as an intrusion upon what Japan considered their exclusive sphere of influence. These concerns arose during the Versailles negotiations process beginning in 1919, which was a frustrating eye-opener for the Japanese. Japan concerns also applied to the French, Dutch and British activities as well.

2. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor for two main reasons. One, since surface action by battleship fleets was still the predominate theory in Japan (and the US), the attack was intended to force the US Pacific Fleet to retreat to its West Coast bases, diminishing any possibility of USN sorties from Hawaii against Japanese forces. Two, Japan considered the islands from the Hawaiian Chain westwards (Midway, Wake, and Guam) as strategic security risks, and increased Pan American Airways activities in building bases were viewed as a veiled attempt at a military build up aimed directly at Japan. Notice that all four were attacked in early December, 1941, although landings were only attempted at Wake and Guam due to logistical limitations.

3. While you have a point about the Senate concerning Germany, it is almost impossble to forecast what Germany herself might have done without the Japanese attack. The sinking of the innocent merchant ship S.S. Robin Moor in late May, 1941 off of Sierra Leone had already foreshadowed German intentions towards the United States. It is difficult to believe that something similar enough to the R.M.S. Lusitania sinking in 1917 wouldn't have had enough effect to sway the Senate. The debatable point is time. How long of a delay?

4. You seriously underestimate both the resiliency of the Soviet Union after Barbarossa, and the contemporary German logistical capacity through early 1942. Germany might have suceeded obtaining their most important military and economic objectives, but the political objectives would have still failed. When it came to weapons programs, little would have changed. Hitler would still have been a major impediment to conventional weapons program implementation, and I think you over-estimate German chances of producing a viable atomic weapon.

5. What became the Manhattan Project developed without full funding from the outset. And, it was wrapped up inside of funding under the more generic auspices of cooperation between industry and resource acquisitions for the purposes of national defense. FDR wasn't "selling" anything about fissionable weapons.
18. John Laudun
I would have to say that the shot ending strikes me as more powerful than the one written by Ellison. Not to put down one of the grand masters of 20th scifi, but holding the hero back while the love interest gets killed is almost a cliche. The hero holding back someone, whom he also loves -- and doing so because another person he loves has convinced him it is the right thing to do -- and who is driven to do so out of vocational and principled investment, is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to underline the point being made.

As to the tangential discussion about whether this episode encourages militarism, I understand the line uttered here that a civilization must reach a certain maturity in order to find peace and cooperation as a way to advancement a more effective way than war and competition. (Wasn't that one of the major themes of Babylon 5, which would, may I say, make for interesting re-viewings as well.
Marcus W
19. toryx
NomadUK @ 13:

I've often wondered what a feature-length film version of this episode (with a new cast, of course) would be like; maybe now that the reboot has occurred, we'll get to find out.

You know, that's the best suggestion for a future reboot movie I've heard. Except that I agree, they probably would screw it up. And it's highly unlikely that they'd be able to get the rights for it. But still, if done well, that's a movie I could really enjoy.
20. Jon Lennox
soc.history.what-if had a discussion several years about the plausibility of the alternate timeline of "City".

My favorite conclusion was Raymond Speer's: Edith Keeler was irrelevant to the alternate timeline. The truck driver who killed her, however, was a physics student working his way through college, and also a Nazi sympathizer. Had he not been fired after his fatal accident, he would have ended up as Hitler's spy in the Manhattan project.

Also: the homeless man's son, embittered by the disappearance of his father, ended up many years later killing a young Los Angeles police officer by the name of Roddenberry...
21. Nick Mamatas
Combining this with the episodes "Taste of Armageddon" and "Errand of Mercy" provides a rather disturbing pro-war ideal. War is necessary, in all it's bloody horror, civilizations that are peaceful rather than war-ridden are stagnant, and must be shaken up, and the peace-activist must die.

It seems pretty clear from my viewings that one of the goals of this story is to disturb and in a few ways.

How many people here do not find the prospect of killing -- or allowing to be killed and having to watch -- someone you love for some "greater good" disturbing? That's the real core, to me. This episode isn't a pro-war ideal, it is the opposite of an ideal. History bleeds everyone out in the end. It's too rich a story to be used for simple propaganda purposes -- kill off'n them peace ACK-tuh-vuhsts! We's got us summa RATZIS tuh keel!

It's a shake up, not a call to action.
rick gregory
22. rickg
Of course it's disturbing to allow someone you love to be killed. That's the point. But remember, in the reality of this episode, they aren't surmising what might happen if she lives... they know what will happen. They can see the history as a matter of fact, not conjecture. Relating this to our reality and quibbling about whether her portrayal is accurate to events as we know them misses that point.

The cliched question of 'would you kill Hitler to stop WWII and the Holocaust' is an easy yes. Of course most of us would kill one evil man to save millions of innocent lives, especially when he's directly responsible for those deaths. But letting one innocent, good person die to accomplish the same thing? Edith doesn't want to help Hitler or kill people... she just wants to stop war and who can disagree with that? Plus, she's a sweet, attractive, good person. But the consequences of her noble aspirations are still terrible.

The logic of letting her die is very close to that of killing Hitler to prevent deaths, but because of who she is and her nature it's far more painful to let it happen. Kirk's emotional involvement makes us, the audience, feel this pain in more than a "oh, she's a guest star' fashion. That's the power of Spock's "He knows..." line. Kirk knows he just let a good person whom he loved die and he knows that he HAD to or many others would have died and the future he came from would not exist.
23. ChrisG
Eugene and Torie, thanks for another terrific commentary. I enjoyed your descriptions and insights, as usual.

The script controversy surrounding this episode seems to me somehow fitting, with the alternate histories and possible futures that the various versions of the script evoke. Whenever I've watched this episode since I read Ellison's original script, I find myself imagining the story with a combination of elements from the different versions. Not just the save her/don't save her ending, or the Beckwith/McCoy catalyst, but distinctive bits of characterization, exposition, and humor. There are many possible stories here, and they're all good!

As to the ending, I've come to agree with @18 John Laudun that I prefer the shot ending over Ellison's. In his introductory essay/rant, Ellison describes the shot version as a cop out to an idealized version of heroism. There's merit to that view, certainly, but I see the shot version as striking a more tragic, emotional core. Eugene and Torie really brought that out in their commentary, I thought.

Ellison's catalyst -- the drug pusher and all-around slimeball Beckwith -- is a much more engaging and plausible lead in to the story. Ellison describes how this was rejected because it showed a star fleet officer pushing drugs. That *is* ridiculous, especially given all the other horrible things they show officers doing in the series. But beyond that, the McCoy catalyst has merits too. Practically speaking, the setup characterization of Beckwith is time consuming and precludes much use for a regular character. But using McCoy also brings out the friendship among the big three that resonates through the story as Eugene notes. Kelley also has some great moments.

Ellison also crafts a horrible end for his Beckwith character, an eternal punishment that seems far beyond the crime. It has the dark and edgy thing going for it, for sure, but I admit it left a somewhat sour aftertaste that obscured the fundamental moral conflict in the story.

Great episode and script! It's a good thing we get to enjoy both.
24. Brian2
I think the current tendency to assume continuity and an attempt at consistent characterization can be misleading when it comes to deciding whether Kirk is pro-war. To a certain extent, he's whatever the current episode needs. For a viewer used to more serial conventions, it's a bit of a Rorschach test.

The practicalities of making a show at the time determined a lot of the way the stories worked. Lots of freelancers, especially since you wanted to get in established science fiction writers (Theodore Sturgeon wasn't on a writing staff, for example), so you had a series bible and kept the characters somewhat underspecified. The shows were meant to be shown without regard to order, so you weren't building up to anything. In fact, the characters on Star Trek tended to be stereotypes through and through: the Scottish Engineer, the Crotchety Physician, and so on. Spock was initially an exception, but he drifted towards Pinocchio later on. (That's why I've never related to City on the Edge of Forever myself, though I'm genuinely happy for anyone who does find more in it than I do.)

So I don't think it's determined whether Kirk is pro-war or not. But as for whether the producers of the program were, that's another question. After all, the Vietnam War was on. Oddly, I'd overlooked this influence myself, though I saw the show when it was coming out, until one of the producers gave a talk at our lab. He said that the perception at the time was that the country was on the verge of revolution because of the war. I never had that sense myself, and I think that, for all the student bluster at the time, it was mostly "establishment" panic, but it did affect the way the show was made.

Wikipedia says, regarding the differences between the Ellison script and the one that got produced:

Part of the reason for this controversy was a subtle but important change in Edith Keeler's character. In the original script, she was a social worker with a vague hippie philosophical bent, while in the final version, she was changed into an all-out war protester. The version that was aired carried the implication that anti-war movements were harmful to the future of humanity. This was particularly aimed at the anti-Vietnam movement that was gaining momentum at the time. When producer Robert Justman was asked if the episode was intended, "to have the contemporaneous anti-Vietnam-war movement as a subtext," he replied, "Of course we did." This new thematic element criticizing the anti-war movement ran counter to Ellison's strongly held anti-war views, established in many of his writings.
j p
25. sps49
@23 ChrisG-

I agree that Eugene and Torie did an excellent job on this episode; belated kudos to them!

I also agree with everyone that Ellison wrote an excellent story. But it was for someone else's world and needed serious revision to become Star Trek. I think he'd be happier if he just accepted that.
26. ChrisG
@25 sps49

Yes, the personal side of that controversy has become a sordid thing, all twisted up with bitterness and viciousness and grievance, on both sides. It's best let go. (Although Ellison writing angry is a thing to behold.)

I think the episode in its many versions raises some interesting artistic questions that are fun to ponder. I love the episode as aired but enjoyed the other approach as well.

I do see what you are saying about fitting the world and agree that the Beckwith thread doesn't have the same *feel* as the world projected in the series. It's interesting, though, what this difference seems to hinge on. Even though star fleet officers commit crimes in the series that are arguably much greater than Beckwith does, they always have grandiose motives. Beckwith on the other hand is interested in money and personal gain. I'm skeptical of the idea that "star fleet officers" don't act a certain way (whereas other groups often will), and it would have been good for the series or its sequels to explore that tension. And I think that kind of character realism could be made to fit in the world better than it might seem.
Melissa Ann Singer
27. masinger
DD (the one with the Spock fixation) took this to camp:, which is part of a trilogy that revolves around this episode and contains numerous other episode references. She began reading it before she left and it was interesting hearing her talk about it, because she has seen some of the references episodes but not all . . . and she has not seen "City on the Edge of Forever" because it just hasn't come around in syndication yet.

I'll be interested in seeing her reaction to the actual episode when she does see it; will knowing what will happen blunt the power of the story? Given that the episode is about "knowing what will happen," I feel like I'm participating in an experiment, and I wonder when "City" will pop up for late-night taping.

I knew something was up when she asked me what cordrazine was . . . .
rick gregory
28. rickg
"The version that was aired carried the implication that anti-war movements were harmful to the future of humanity. "

Wrong. Yes, Vietnam was certainly background. But the episode is set in a time before WWII. Vietnam was a conflict that many were against and still more were unsure about. WW2, in contrast, was seen as a just war against an evil power that was doing very bad things. You cannot analyze this episode without taking into account the way that the two wars were viewed.

Remember that most people who fought in WW2 were in their mid-40s when this aired. This was only 22 years after the end of the war... someone who joined at 18 in 1941 was 22 at the end of the war and 45 or 46 when this was on TV. For someone in their 20s today this episode seems like ancient history because it's 2 or 3 of their lifetimes ago, but most people in middle age at the time this aired were teens and adults and clearly *remembered* the times this episode hearkens back to. The mid-late '30s were not something from a history book, it was a part of their earlier lives. It's like the 90s are to today's 20 year old - a memory, perhaps a bit dim, but there.

For those people, this episode recalls a time where the choice was much, much clearer - let one good person die to ensure the defeat of an evil regime or... not. It sounds simple, but when you're confronted with the person herself... it's anything but simple. That's the power of the episode - the justness of WW2 wasn't in question to those who fought in it. But still... when you KNOW Edith has to die for the world to avoid a very bad fate it's hard. It's not the clean, philosophical debate people engage in - it's very immediate and gut-wrenching.

To claim that this episode directly maps to Vietnam is revisionist claptrap. You could not avoid 'nam in the late 60s, but to see this as a Vietnam apologist's work is silly. It's more complex than that.
C.D. Thomas
29. cdthomas
There's more to Ellison's strong stand against Paramount than what some perceive as pissiness -- During 1960, there was also a WGA strike:

The 1960 WGA strike against the Association of Motion Picture Producers (AMPP) lasted 20 weeks and 6 days – one week less than the longest WGA strike in 1988.

The WGA was striking over the writers’ right to receive revenue for the sale and license of movies to television.

Eventually, the studios agreed to pay:

* $600,000 to the writers’ pension and health benefits funds
* 5% of studio income from pre-1960 movies on television
* 2% of studio income from post-1960 movies on television

Additionally, writers for film and television got a pay bump in their minimum rates over the subsequent 4 years.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, writers got a 4% royalty on all re-runs forever. Prior to this, writers received 140% of their minimum rate for the first 5 domestic re-runs.

Under this collective bargaining agreement, writers were also entitled to income from derivative uses of their work, which is the basis of the present lawsuit:

"Paramount has earned millions exploiting the 'City' teleplay since it was aired in 1967," the suit said. "Yet Paramount has not accounted to Ellison or paid him for such exploitations as it is required to do under the 1960 MBA (minimum basic agreement) and 1966 Amendment."

Now you can say what you like about Ellison's personality, but never accuse him of ignoring what a contract and a WGA agreement said. Especially when canon-frakkin', TOS plot-recycling Paramount decides to make time-travel and alternate universing the basis for the reboot. Since Ellison invented the only other reliable TOS mechanism for time-travel other than slingshotting around a sun and Mr. Atoz, the timing of his lawsuit was a warning: If you use my IP (and no matter how many writers changed his script, his name was the one on the screen), PAY ME. Simple as that. Also, with the derivative "Crucible" ST book series in 2006, he waited a proper interval to at least give Pocket Books the chance to account for the profits.

Paramount got taken to the woodshed for its creative accounting and misuse of IP during the Coming to America/Buchwald trial, so there is precedent for a writer not finding them completely trustworthy. WGA is also named in the suit because they didn't push for an accounting -- union agreements are only as good as their enforcement. This is all to say that those of you who want to dismiss Ellison as Mr. Cranky, go ahead, but what he's doing is pro forma for a man who doesn't want to lose control of the income his work brings. That earns him respect in my book.
C.D. Thomas
30. cdthomas
Now I went on a tangent - what I was going to talk about was that back when I first watched the entire series, I thought Kirk's heartbreak here was the rationale for him being a bastard and cad to women, later on.

Unless he had space amnesia (or, in the third season, just being so damn tired of it all) that let him fall into a woman's arms, as long as she was too primitive to challenge him or too isolated to live in his daily life), Kirk would never love like that again.

Recall that in his last canon appearance (Generations), he's regretting not popping the question to that unseen woman in his horse-friendly bucolic redoubt, not to mention Carol Marcus, and po', po' Lori Ciani. (That's in the ST:TMP Roddenberry novel, for you kids.)

When he let Miss Keeler die, part of him IMHO died with him. That's why that barely-controlled chauvinism and piggishness became out of control. I guess that once the writing staff did that story, no matter how much a pain-in-the-ass it was to stage, they felt they didn't have to approach that level of seriousness, engagement and compassion again.

Instead of his mistress the Enterprise became his wife, and Spock his permanent wingman, to remind him that no matter where he took off his boots, the Enterprise was where he had to go home to every night -- Kirk had sacrificed his true love to it, so why trifle with any other woman who couldn't measure up? That's why the slash vibe hit heavy after City -- holding McCoy back was Kirk's vow of emotional celibacy, through the deepest of sacrifices.
Torie Atkinson
31. Torie
So many things to think about here!

Re: which ending is better, the original or the shot one: my money's on the one they filmed. Ellison's ending is a much better SFnal ending, but it's just not Star Trek. Kirk's final action seems tritely heroic, but there's more going on there--he gives her up and he gives up the possibility to have a normal life, because he is more in love with the future that her death made possible. To have him try and save her would undercut the incredible idealism that the show constantly evokes. Edith is a wonderful character. She's smart, strong, funny, and she's compassionate--she's Kirk--and yet he must ensure her death to allow their shared vision of the future to proceed. To give in and save her would be giving up that future, and Kirk cannot and would never do that.

@ 7 Ursula @ 24 Brian2

Sorry, I'm with rickg here. It doesn't map to Vietnam and I don't really see how it could be perceived as a pro-war sentiment. Remember this part:
SPOCK: Because all this lets them develop the A-bomb first. There's no mistake, Captain. Let me run it again. Edith Keeler. Founder of the peace movement.
KIRK: But she was right. Peace was the way.
SPOCK: She was right, but at the wrong time. With the A-bomb, and with their V2 rockets to carry them, Germany captured the world.

She was right, and peace was the way, but at the wrong time. Peace then would have meant obliteration and Hitler's conquest of the world. I don't see a scenario in which Hitler wins as a pro-war one. WWII is possibly the most clear-cut war we've ever fought, and peace does not always mean "not fighting." Sometimes peace must be fought for. But if there were ever a "moral" war it was WWII; I don't see a moral equivalency between that and Vietnam.

That said, they do avoid fighting at all costs, and not-fighting is only possible because there is a balance of power. Remember that the "peace" they have in the future isn't so much not-fighting as an understanding of mutually assured destruction.
Torie Atkinson
32. Torie
Oh, and two totally minor ideas of interest:

1. Their time travel precipitated the events that led to her death. Talk about guilt.

2. If only he could have taken her with him to the future! She wouldn't have continued in that time to begin the peace movement, and she could've seen the future she always dreamed about.

It makes you wonder why he never tells her the truth about himself and his future. All her dreams come true. It's not like she'd live to tell anyone else!

/idle speculation
33. NomadUK

1. How so? She died in their timeline anyway; they'd just never heard of her. Time travel only precipitated Kirk getting involved in her death. Even if the time loop was required, everything was as it should have been.

2. You don't mess with the timeline. Cf. Ray Bradbury, A Sound of Thunder.
34. Michael S. Schiffer

1. On some level, does the fact that time travel is involved make a difference? Kirk had a choice (and he knows the past can be changed due to events earlier in the episode, so he can't fall back on determinism). Would the principle be very different if he had to choose between inaction to save one person and the destruction of the Enterprise (and perhaps the Federation) in his present?

The decision is made (slightly) easier on him by the fact that the immediate consequences are so horrible. Imagine if somehow Edith Keeler's actions were somehow going to cause, say, the UK and France to shut Germany down when it reoccupied the Rhineland. (Hard to see the causal chain there, but then Germany's conquering the entire world with A-bombs on V-2 rockets is probably more a nightmare than logistically practical-- though of course a realistic German victory would have been quite bad enough.)

That might avert World War II (or at least the European theater)... but still lead somehow to a future with no Enterprise orbiting the planet, and perhaps no Federation. Kirk's duty to save his ship, fleet, and home would presumably be the same; I doubt picking and choosing among timelines for the best one on some absolute scale is something Kirk would feel qualified to do, and he'd lack sufficient information in any case. At least this way Edith's death means something in the near term as well as saving Kirk's world.

2. Kirk was prepared to bring a 20th century denizen with him back to the future rather than let him die in "Tomorrow is Yesterday"-- and ultimately did so in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home". But in this case (IIRC) they had no control over their time travel, and no way of requesting help from the Guardian-- it appeared that they could only go back when the timeline was restored.
35. NomadUK

1. Certainly, time travel makes a difference. It seems to me that the time-traveller is ethically obligated not to alter the timeline to any significant degree (what that means is admittedly difficult to pin down, but, hey, this is Star Trek). By going into the past and saving Edith, Kirk destroys the future — his future, all of Earth's future, the future of hundreds of other planets — and condemns millions to death.

If he has this choice in his own timeframe, he can't know a priori whether saving Edith would destroy the Enterprise or not, unless someone comes back from the future and tells him. But that's another story.

And if, in the early 1930s, Kirk saving Edith would lead to a slightly lesser German victory but still destroy the future, his choice has to be the same, though it will be even more painful for all that, since the consequences of his not making the same choice would be, arguably, less intolerable than a total Nazi victory.

What if saving Edith leads to a future in which the Federation exists, but, somewhere during the 200 years the Nazi state withers or is replaced by a more benign government? Say Enterprise is even there, but, hey, everyone on board speaks German, even Scotty.

Then what? Same answer. You know he'd do it.

2. Ye-ess. Well, ST IV was, at best, mildly entertaining dreck, so I tend to ignore it. Had it been written by Harlan Ellison, maybe we'd have something to discuss.

As for 'Tomorrow is Yesterday', I suppose they covered themselves with the 'no significant contribution' finding, but, really, it's not clear what the correct answer in that situation is. Kirk probably shouldn't have put a tractor beam on the jet in the first place. On the other hand, if the jet had fired a missile and damaged Enterprise sufficiently to cause her to crash, the resulting matter-antimatter explosion could quite likely have killed millions. Likewise, self-destructing would have had the same result (the self-destruct results in the films are utter rubbish; when that M/AM containment goes, you're going to have a multi-megatonne blast, not just a disintegrating ship breaking up in the atmosphere; the low bound is the 100MT estimate from 'The Doomsday Machine', and even that seems a bit low to me, given that 23 grammes of antimatter yields about 1MT).

So, given those constraints, Kirk probably took the path of least damage to the timeline and beamed the pilot aboard, hoping he'd be able to figure something out later.
j p
36. sps49
Two things-

1) I keep separate Ellison's writing separate from Ellison the litigator.

2) Especially if Bob Justman said it, I can see City using WWII and Nazis allegorically to state that "peace activism isn't necessarily correct, look at the isolationists in 1940".
Jeff Soules
37. DeepThought
@sps49 #36

The Wikipedia citation just says that Justman said the Vietnam protests were there as a subtext, not what he meant by that. With just the one little citation, I see no reason to take the immense Wikipedia-quality speculation surrounding it as coming from anyone related with the show.

The version that aired said that "Hitler rules world = bad." Does it comment about peace movements generally? Sure -- Kirk and Spock agree that peace absolutely is the answer, that the "anti-war protester" is right; it's just that it can only be the answer once the world is ready for it. There's plenty in Trek (even some of the same episodes that people are erroneously citing here as pro-war; or e.g. "Balance of Terror") to show that Roddenberry (the decorated WWII veteran) was anti-Vietnam.

GR was probably also anti-hippie; but I'd speculate that's because he saw them as a waste of energy -- young people squandering their opportunities without creating anything impressive; too busy getting high with joints to go to the stars in rockets. (This explains "This Side of Paradise.") But anti-hippie is not pro-war; it's worth remembering that most of the Vietnam protesters were NOT hippies, and that increasing involvement of the hippies in the anti-Vietnam-War movement actually hurt the anti-war cause because it turned off the mainstream folks. (Nixon was quite happy to tar all the protesters with the "freaks" brush.)
Jeff Soules
38. DeepThought
Quoting Ursula @ #7.

Combining this with the episodes "Taste of Armageddon" and "Errand of Mercy" provides a rather disturbing pro-war ideal. War is necessary, in all it's bloody horror, civilizations that are peaceful rather than war-ridden are stagnant, and must be shaken up, and the peace-activist must die.

This is a misreading of these episodes. They're actually both very anti-war.
The whole point of "Taste of Armageddon" is that war is bad. These societies are stagnant because of their complacent commitment to mass suicide via war simulacrum. Only when these people confront the horrors of a war being actively fought will they finally suffer enough to end it. Sanitized war becomes perpetual war. (There's a pretty Vietnam-relevant message). Kirk wants war to hurt, because that alone will bring peace.

Neither is "Errand of Mercy" pro-war. The evolved people in the episode are the ones who are beyond war, who detest violence; and they won't suffer an actual war to happen. Kirk's support for war comes from a kind of teenage machismo, a sign of humanity's immaturity, and when he has the space to reflect, he is frankly humiliated.

Kirk is (temporarily) pro-war in this episode, but look at the circumstances. The Organians aren't stagnant because they are peaceful; they're peaceful because they are stagnant. Kirk is aghast that the Organians will happily live as slaves to a galactic empire that will erase their culture. He also needs them to help defend his own way of life. That may rightly be condemned as self-serving and showing no respect for the Organians' individuality and subjectivity; but he's trying to prosecute a war of survival that he didn't initiate or choose. That's far more nuanced than a blanket pro-war position.

Looking at the first two, it is easier to see how Kirk could let the woman he's fallen in love with go - she also represents an ideal that he thoroughly discards, the desire for peace.

Except that a world ruled by Hitler would not be a world at peace. It would be a world of continual genocide, coupled with systematic repression of working people and blanket murder of anyone who expressed thoughts that ran counter to the fascist government. That may be the absence of war, but it absolutely is not peace.

And that's the real message of these episodes:
Peace is more complicated than pacifism, or refusing to fight. You can't negotiate with the Klingons, with Hitler. "Not fighting" them isn't meaningful peace; it's appeasement (however inappropriately used that phrase is these days).

Peace is forged in fire and blood. The challenge (of maturity, of courage, of justice) is to maintain strength to dissuade real threats (thereby avoiding war), without using it to crush the weak for empire. To be strong, while being magnanimous and respectful enough to befriend and champion the weak, truly without self-interest (which no superpower in history has yet done). But that's the peace of Roddenberry's dream: a real peace, but guaranteed through strength, rather than luck.
Church Tucker
39. Church
@38 DeepThought

"The Organians aren't stagnant because they are peaceful; they're peaceful because they are stagnant. Kirk is aghast that the Organians will happily live as slaves to a galactic empire that will erase their culture."

No, the Organians will happily live regardless of what anyone does to them. Remember that nothing *really* happened to the ones the Klingons *executed.* They're sort of the ultimate Civil Disobeyers. (Dissidents? Whatstheword?)
Jeff Soules
40. DeepThought
@39 Church

Er, yes. I was describing how the situation appeared to Kirk. (That had been clearer before I cut a lot of the comment trying to get it to a more manageable length).
The Organians aren't stagnant either; but the front they present to him makes them seem so, and you can't blame him for believing the ruse set for him by a race of superbeings (even if he is woefully undercurious about what's going on).
Church Tucker
41. Church
@40 DeepThought

" I was describing how the situation appeared to Kirk"

Ah, I should have realized that.

It does raise the question of why they bothered with the whole techno-primitive facade in the first place. Another one of these 'testing' super races? Does it always get that boring when you're pure energy, or whatever?
Torie Atkinson
42. Torie
@ 41 Church

You know, I got the impression that some kind of humanoid race discovered the Guardian of forever--and abused its possibilities such that they destroyed their entire civilization.

I like to think that he's one exception to the space douche rule, but maybe I'm giving them too much credit. :)
j p
43. sps49
@42 Torie

I thought almost the same, except substituting the Guardian's makers for discoverers.

At around the same time I read Gate of Ivrel and thought "Oh, the qhal are like the Guardian's makers!" Because even I caught the ruined planetscape surrounding the glowy donut.
Torie Atkinson
44. Torie
@ 43 sps49

Wouldn't that have made a great story in and of itself?

It really is a shame that they never revisited this. I can see it now: the Enterprise is in some situation so terrible that they have to go back in time and change one thing without destroying everything else. And then decide whether it's worth it...and perhaps include a subplot of those who want to use the Guardian for evil rather than good...

*wistful sigh*
45. Dacole
Very very very good episode. Didn't have time to read through the entire comment section so this may have been all ready noted but Star Trek has been, rightly most of the time, been described as being to wrapped up in the idealism of the sixties (B5 was often described as Star Trek without the idealism) this episode shows the folly of that argument. Here we see Spock and the rest of the crew realizing that pacifism isn't always the answer and that there are some times that you have to fight, some battles that must be fought. This is a level of maturity that most of the sixties idealists didn't have.
MC Pye
46. Mez
Black (#4), ecmyers (#6) Does "backwash" really refer to spitting into someone's beverage!? This is certainly not a use I've heard, though my experience may be older, or in a different group.

rickg (#28) "WW2, in contrast, was seen as a just war against an evil power that was doing very bad things."
There's a bit of retrospectoscope in there. See the mid-1939 "voyage of the damned" story of the refugee ship SS St Louis, one famous of several examples. Check the contemporary US discussions, say 1936-1941, or even after September 1939. (70th anniversary start of WWII week after next!) Films like Casablanca were made to try and gin up animus against Germany, rather than just Japan. As Rand Al'Todd (#10) pointed out, Germany and Italy declared war on the USA (Dec 11) because of their alliance with Japan, not the USA on Germany. (Meanwhile the UK ("and therefore Australia") declared war on Japan on December 8th.)
Eugene Myers
47. ecmyers
@ 46 Mex

That's one of the colloquial meanings of "backwash":
48. Francine
Good evening. Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.
I am from Kenya and now teach English, give please true I wrote the following sentence: " She is injected to and rejected by dutch."

With love :p, Francine.
49. trekmynd
Great episode ,great reviews, Just had a coupla thoughts...while Spock accesses both ''realities'' via his ghetto-rigged tricorder (just how he's able to do this is never really explained...more starfi magic, I guess) neither he or Captain Kirk take up the possibility of SEVERAL different outcomes of Edith's fate. I mean, why is there only two possible outcomes, when ANY intervention could result in a plethora of possible outcomes? For instance, the appearance of Kirk might have changed her goal. He could have subtly guided her toward a different goal or study that would have changed what sort of impact she might have had in her lifetime...but I guess that's interfering...y'now that Prime Directive thingy which Capt. Kirk tirelessly obeys...oh wait...ahem

My only other quibble with this episode ( and it's a small one) is that Edith is going with El Capitan to see a Clark Gable film. Trouble with that is, if the year is indeed 1930, then she would even know who Clark Gable was yet. His first movie was The Painted Desert, which was not released until April of 193. His first film where he had a prominent
Role August of that year (Night Nurse). It's more likely she would have taken him to see Gary Cooper in The Virginian, a movie true popular with the ladies of that time. Jim would've liked it. There's horses. :-)
50. Scurran
Terribly overrated episode.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment