Thu
May 13 2010 6:28pm
Star Trek Re-Watch: “A Private Little War”

“A Private Little War”
Teleplay by Gene Roddenberry
Story by Jud Crucis
Directed by Marc Daniels

Season 2, Episode 19
Production episode: 2x16
Original air date: February 2, 1968
Star date: 4211.4

Mission Summary

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are conducting a scientific survey on the planet Neural, home to peaceful, pre-industrial natives. Kirk lived with them thirteen years ago on his first planetary survey, and describes the planet and its people as a veritable Garden of Eden (aside from the “ape-like carnivores” that are mentioned off-hand). As McCoy and the others collect interesting plant life, they see a group of dark-haired natives approaching on a nearby outcrop—but these men have flintlock rifles, not bows and arrows. That’s not right! They’re setting up an ambush for a group of white-haired natives (with bows and arrows), one of whom Kirk recognizes as his friend Tyree. Kirk draws his phaser but Spock reminds him that the Prime Directive forbids them from displaying such technology, so he throws a rock at the aggressors, successfully revealing his own position. Whoopsie.

They chase the three men, and Spock is shot by one of them, bleeding green blood. McCoy is able to signal to the Enterprise and Kirk orders Scotty to beam them out of there. Just as they arrive, Uhura tells the captain that a Klingon vessel has entered orbit around the planet. They can remain out of sight, but it might mean eventually breaking orbit around Neural. Spock is led away to Sickbay, and McCoy doesn’t know if he’ll make it.

Kirk thinks the Klingons are responsible for the rifles, but the rest of the bridge crew seem skeptical—they could have developed the technology on their own (albeit very quickly), and there’s no evidence that the Klingons were involved. If they had been, why not give them lasers, or phasers, or more advanced technology? Kirk snaps at them before quickly apologizing, and admits he’s worried about Spock.

Doctor M’Benga is assigned to watch over Spock, and Kirk and McCoy beam back down to the planet (this time in native costume) to suss out whether or not the Klingons are responsible for the flintlock rifles. If they are, they’ve broken the peace treaty, and that might begin an interstellar war.

They make their way to Tyree’s encampment, but suddenly a terrible costume emerges from the brush! What looks like an ill-conceived white ape children’s party costume (who would want one? EXACTLY) has been modded with a tail, a top horn, and spines all down the back. The “ape-like carnivore” pounces on Kirk, biting him. After a brief scuffle McCoy is able to vaporize it with his phaser, but it’s too late—Kirk has absorbed the poison, and the Enterprise has broken orbit and cannot be contacted. Without an antidote Kirk will die, and before Kirk passes out he tells McCoy: “Tyree. Some of his men. Cure.”

Luckily, some of Tyree’s men show up, and agree to take Kirk back to the village. McCoy wraps the feverish Kirk in animal furs and awaits Tyree’s arrival.

Tyree is delayed thanks to his wife, Nona, a “kahn-ut-tu” witch-woman in leather bellbottoms and a feathered bra top. He explains that she put a spell on him, and Nona seems pleased he’s realized this—she details the numerous other spells she has put on him in order to entrap him as a husband. Lady Macbeth here then tries to persuade him to get the “fire sticks” and rule the world, but Tyree just wants peace. She rubs some kind of plant over him, and in an agonizingly long scene we watch Tyree, her “huge, angry man,” become aroused and go nuts over her. Ughhhh. Their little Skinemax show is interrupted by a tribesman who tells Tyree that Kirk is there, and that he’s been bitten by the mogatu. Tyree is too dazed and confused by the “stimulant” to react, but Nona returns with the tribesman to the village.

She finds the cave and spots McCoy using his phaser to heat up rocks. Intrigued by this powerful weapon, she doesn’t go in, and waits for her husband to return. Tyree eventually makes it back to the village and begs Nona to save his old friend, but she refuses unless Tyree tells her the truth about Kirk. Not wishing for his friend to die, he tells her the truth off-screen, and she goes in to save Kirk.

Back on the Enterprise, Spock is fighting for his life, and Nurse Chapel is by his side, holding his hand. M’Benga enters and tells her that when Spock awakes, she should do whatever he tells her to do, no matter how odd. File that away for now.

Nona, meanwhile, puts a “mahko root,” which looks more like a piece of fossilized poo, on Kirk’s wound. She then slices open her hand and bleeds into the root, before writhing sexually and chanting over Kirk. When this scene is THANK THE GODS over, Kirk comes to, and Nona smiles mischievously. She says that Kirk is “hers” and that he can refuse her nothing now. Because you know what Star Trek needed more of? Slut-witches.

But it’s not even close to being over! When Kirk recovers, he speaks to Tyree about the weapons situation. Tyree says the rifles appeared about a year ago, but he’s sure they make them themselves because he’s seen it in their village. Kirk asks to be taken to the village and Tyree agrees, but Nona bursts into the meeting and demands the phaser technology. Tyree is embarrassed to have revealed Kirk’s secret origin but Nona says it was “the price for saving your life.” She wants the weapons to make Tyree the most powerful man on the planet, but Tyree says again that he will not kill. In any case, Kirk refuses:

KIRK: We once were as you are, Spears, arrows. There came a time when our weapons grew faster than our wisdom, and we almost destroyed ourselves. We learned from this to make a rule during all our travels, Never to cause the same to happen to other worlds. Just as a man must grow in his own way and in his own time.
NONA: Some men never grow.

Ouch! Later that night, Kirk, McCoy, and Tyree sneak into the dark-haired people’s encampment. They take out a guard and find the forge area where the weapons are made. They easily spot technology too advanced to be native to Neural. The Klingons have obviously interfered, and as Kirk and McCoy catalog the various violations present in the room they hear voices approaching. They both hide as a Klingon and a dark-haired native named Apella enter. The Klingon is telling Apella that one day he will be a governor of the Klingon empire. Unfortunately, because you can’t take McCoy anywhere, his tricorder beeps and alerts the Klingon. A scuffle ensues and Apella and the Klingon are quickly dispatched by our heroes. Two more men enter but Kirk and McCoy take care of them, too, before grabbing Tyree and fleeing into the woods.

On Enterprise Spock has awoken, and tells Nurse Chapel to hit him. What? And you thought Star Trek wasn’t kinky enough! She does as she’s told, because he needs the pain to focus (or something...). Mr. Scott enters and drags her away. M’Benga breaks it up, though, and takes over her role slapping Spock around until he comes to, completely healed. If you thought this interlude was weird and unnecessary, well, you’re going to miss it in the next few scenes.

Kirk has taken it upon himself to show Tyree’s people how to make their own firearms, something McCoy is none too happy about:

MCCOY: Do I have to say it? It’s not bad enough there’s one serpent in Eden teaching one side about gun powder. You want to make sure they all know about it!
KIRK: Exactly. Each side receives the same knowledge and the same type of firearm.

McCoy again expresses his opposition to this, but Kirk explains that there’s nothing else they can do. They refuse to give them superior weapons, but it would be wrong of them to leave Tyree’s people defenseless against this technology. He then invokes the “20th-century brush wars on the Asian continent” (Vietnam) and uses that as a model, saying that a balance of power must be achieved, no matter the cost.

MCCOY: And if the Klingons give their side even more?
KIRK: Then we arm our side with exactly that much more. A balance of power. The trickiest, most difficult, dirtiest game of them all, but the only one that preserves both sides.

McCoy points out another uncomfortable truth: Tyree’s pacifism means he will be one of the first to die. Kirk decides to appeal to Nona, and try and persuade him to a life of violence, to save him.

And you know where this is going...

Kirk goes to Nona’s bathing pool and finds her changing.

KIRK: Nona. Pardon me.
NONA: You are here because I wished you here.
KIRK: Oh? I thought it was my idea.
NONA: Yes. They always believe they come of free will. Tyree thought the same when I cast my first spell on him.

She then uses the same plant she used on Tyree to seduce Kirk. Unaware, Tyree is hiding in the background, watching all of his. He aims his new rifle at Kirk. The captain resists Nona at first, but his mind becomes muddled by the drug and eventually he succumbs, kissing her. Tyree presses his finger against the trigger, but cannot bring himself to commit an act of violence. He throws the gun down in disgust and runs away, just in time for a mogatu to emerge from the woods. It attacks Nona, but Kirk is still drugged by the plant. It takes an awkwardly-choreographed mogatu fight before he’s able to draw his phaser and kill the mogatu.

Nona then hits Kirk on the head and steals his phaser. She runs away, and eventually comes upon a group of four dark-haired people. She shows them the phaser and promises that this device is more powerful than anything they’ve ever dreamed, and it is a gift to Apella, a man strong enough to actually use it (and not a peacenik like her loser husband). The men don’t believer her and instead all grab her, sexually assaulting her. The scene goes on for many uncomfortable seconds before Kirk and the others show up. The dark-haired men believe it was a trap, and they stab Nona.

A fight ensues between the two sides, and after some man-wrestling Tyree’s people are victorious. But Tyree has changed. Kirk has to stop him from smashing one man’s head with a rock, and he turns angrily to Kirk:

TYREE: I want more of these, Kirk. Many more! Yutan, two of those who killed my wife have escaped. Track them down. I will kill them.

McCoy tells Kirk that he finally got what he wanted, and Kirk responds that it’s not what he wanted—it’s “what had to be.”

He hails the ship and tells Scotty to replicate a hundred flintlock rifles.

SCOTT: I didn’t get that exactly, Captain. A hundred what?
KIRK: A hundred serpents. Serpents for the Garden of Eden. We’re very tired, Mister Spock. Beam us up home.

 

Analysis

This episode is an atrocity. What on earth was Gene Roddenberry thinking? Forget the mogatu, this was by far the most sexist and obscenely offensive episode we’ve seen so far. Nona the slut-witch uses sex for power over men, a violent, aggressive wolf in the fold of peaceful sheep. She embodies every awful stereotype imaginable about women’s sexuality and spirituality. In the end, she is subdued by an attempted gang-bang and murdered. Star Trek and I are not speaking right now. It needs to sit in the corner and think about what it’s done.

But let’s put the slut-witches aside for a moment and talk about the heart of the episode. “A Private Little War” is obviously intended as a Vietnam war allegory. Like in “City on the Edge of Forever,” pacifism is indicted as naïve and dangerous idea, one that will, in the end, get Tyree and all his people killed. His desire for peace is considered juvenile, and Nona constantly emasculates him to demonstrate how ill-fitted he is to be a true leader. Kirk implicitly agrees and explicitly evokes the Vietnam war as the model he’s trying to replicate here, emphasizing that what he’s doing is just because it assures a balance of power.

History, of course, has taught us a different lesson about Vietnam. Saigon didn’t fall until 1975, over seven years later, and I suppose there’s no way that Gene Roddenberry could have known. By then four to six million people (or more) had died, Vietnam was devastated by defoliants and a staggering loss of life, and any illusions about stopping the spread of communism were shattered as Cambodia and Laos fell under the red banner. I couldn’t possibly expound here in a few paragraphs (or books) why the war was lost, but it should be fair to say that one reason was because the USA’s tactics and strategies failed. Knowing this now, it’s interesting to see Kirk believe that his own strategy will be successful. To watch this episode unfold with the knowledge of how this hypothetical eventually played out is an uncomfortable and heartbreaking experience.

But it doesn’t make any sense here. Kirk is starting a civil war. He dooms the entire planet to centuries of warfare, rape, and bloodshed, for what? Why doesn’t he sit the two tribes down and have them come to some kind of agreement? Tyree’s people don’t want war, and it’s possible the other tribe might not want it if they knew what kind of people the Klingons were, and what they did to their conquered worlds. That kind of solution may seem naïve in the real world, but a show as optimistic as Star Trek should have taken the plunge. Some would say Star Trek was bold to discuss the topic at all; I wish it had been so bold as to dare to imagine that peace was possible.

Torie’s Rating: Warp Factor 1

Eugene Myers: Ugh. I had a bad feeling when they found the tracks for yet another “ape-like” creature in the teaser. Just about the only thing I remembered about this episode was the mugato, memorable only because it’s possibly the most ridiculous costume ever seen on the series. That sort of sets the tone though, because the rest of the episode is alternately ridiculous and offensive.

I’m hard pressed to find anything redeeming about “A Private Little War.” Once again the Garden of Eden motif is trotted out and the metaphor is strained and beaten to death from the teaser to the last lines of dialogue. I think that today most show runners would say “We’ve already done the Garden of Eden, what else have you got?” But on Star Trek it must have been more like “Hey, we haven’t had a Garden of Eden episode in a while.” Comparisons to paradise and Eden are just too easy to draw, and it’s disappointing that writers weren’t more imaginative when they had centuries of literature and culture to at their disposal. At least they didn’t blame it all on the actions of a woman this time.

Similarly, the growing conflict between the hill people and the villagers is drawn just as simplistically—the enemies all have silly black hair, while the “good guys,” Kirk’s friends who don’t have guns, all have silly white hair. No surprise then when Nona, Tyree’s dark-haired kahn-ut-tu wife turns out to be unabashedly evil. The question of whether Klingons are interfering in the development of these people could have been interesting, but it almost seems incidental. They barely turn up at the end, and then they’re all but forgotten. Wouldn’t the Klingon ship try to stop Enterprise from leaving, or otherwise attempt to prevent them from helping Tyree’s people? Are there any consequences to their clear violation of the Organian Peace Treaty? Why do Kirk and McCoy call the evidence against them “People’s Exhibits” when they’re in the 23rd Century, and anyway this would be a case of the Federation vs. the Klingon Empire? How can Enterprise’s sensors pick up the Klingon ship from the other side of Neural, but the Klingons don’t know they’re there?

Kirk seems less concerned in the end with proving that the Klingons are involved and more interested in resolving the small-scale arms race by evening the playing field. This is a bad plan. For one, the Klingons seem to be teaching the black-haired villagers how to manufacture flintlocks, so just giving Tyree’s people a hundred guns isn’t going to help anything. There’s also the glaring fact that the weapons aren’t the problem. Before the Klingons turned up, both the hill people and the villagers had bows and arrows but lived together peacefully; it was only when the Klingons convinced one group of people that they could rule the planet that the fighting began. The unequal balance of power worsened the situation, but giving them the same weapons won’t end the arms race—each side will continue to improve the technology and gain the upper hand, all the way up to the atom bomb. The better solution would be to expose the Klingons’ motives and bring the two warring groups to peace talks. Has Kirk really forgotten how he resolved the power struggle in “A Piece of the Action”? He was adamant against giving away phasers then, but now he’s fine with handing over guns?

One interesting thing about this episode is the introduction of Dr. M’Benga, a specialist in Vulcan physiology. Unfortunately, he only makes McCoy look less competent, and the insights we have into Spock’s biology are kind of goofy. Spock ordering Chapel to hit him (“Blast you! Strike me!”) is not his finest moment. I did like the green bloodstains on Spock’s tunic after he gets shot though. I was surprised that McCoy didn’t investigate the curative properties of Nona’s novelty poo, since it’s unclear if it was the mahko root alone that healed Kirk from the mugato wound or whether her witch doctor gyrations had anything to do with it. Her black magic may have helped Kirk, but it made me feel a little sick.

In the end, this episode only serves as a reminder that we’re creeping ever closer to the third season...

Eugene’s Rating: Warp Factor 1

Best Line: M’BENGA (To Nurse Chapel, re: Spock): He knows we’re here and what we’re saying, but he can’t afford to take his mind from the tissue he’s fighting to heal. I suppose he even knows you were holding his hand.

Syndication Edits: None, it seems.

Trivia: The creature was actually called a “gumato,” but DeForest Kelley couldn’t say it right so they changed it.

TNG’s “Too Short A Season” was apparently supposed to be a sequel to this episode, with Kirk returning to the planet and attempting to heal the wounds of civil war.

Other Notes: Jud Crucis is a pseudonym for Don Ingalls, the original writer of the episode. (This is the man who brought you “The Alternative Factor.”) The original draft of the script had many more overt references to the Vietnam war, calling Apella “a Ho-Chi-Minh type” and he had all the natives dressed like “Mongolians.” He did not like Roddenberry's re-write and Jud Crucis is a play on “Jesus Crucified.”


Next episode: Season 2, Episode 20 - “Return to Tomorrow.” 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.


Torie Atkinson hopes the next episode has more manwiches and fewer slut-witches.

Eugene Myers spent most of this episode wincing from the horrors unfolding on his TV screen.

43 comments
Noneo Yourbusiness
1. Longtimefan
I wonder if they thought about giving the mogatu a foamy latte. If it was gassy it may have had a more difficult time sneaking up on the away team.

I remember having mixed feelings about this episode as a kid. On the one hand kid me loved the ridiculous monsters in any Star Trek show. On the other hand kid me did not get the plot but knew something was wrong about breaking the Prime Directive.
jon meltzer
2. jmeltzer
Is a zero rating permissible?

I'd forgotten the rape scene among the overwhelming badness of this thing. Yaargh. And when a stupid ape suit is the best part of the episode ...
Del C
3. del
Mogatu, mugato, mugato, gumato, let's call the whole thing off.
Ursula L
4. Ursula
You might want to put a trigger warning, for rape, before the cut. Because I suspect this recap could be quite distressing for some people to read, if they've suffered the same in real life.
Church Tucker
5. Church
Heh. I love the "Torie meets the sixties" moments. I relayed The GF her reaction to this one and she responded, "She hasn't seen many biker flicks, has she?"

Eugene surprised me, though. "Before the Klingons turned up, both the hill people and the villagers had bows and arrows but lived together peacefully; it was only when the Klingons convinced one group of people that they could rule the planet that the fighting began. The unequal balance of power worsened the situation, but giving them the same weapons won’t end the arms race..."

Well, no. That's why it's an arms race. Not giving them arms wouldn't do much good. Pretty much the point of the episode.

Also, the Mugatu remains iconic.

Warp 5!
john mullen
6. johntheirishmongol
Of all the women in Star Trek, I thought she was one of the hottest ones. I used to see her in a lot of guest roles. Too many of the women in Star Trek had the twiggy look.

Now, as a Vietnam vet, I have to tell you your history lesson was all wrong. The idea was that most of SEA was set up like dominos and that if Vietnam fell, then the others would follow suit. When we left, that's pretty much exactly what happened. Cambodia and Laos fell shortly after S. Vietnam did. Because of that several million people died, in Cambodia a higher percentage of of the populace was killed than ever in history.
***Dave
7. ***Dave
A better question about the solution chosen by Kirk is to look back at the last time we saw Klingon's directly tinkering in a society -- "Friday's Child." There Kirk et al. managed to bring the warring factions together and demonstrate to the Capellans that the Klingons were not the benevolent party they painted themselves to be.

If that episode had followed this one's model, K/S/M would have set up Ele'en's child as a rallying point for other dissatisfied Capellans and turned it into a real civil war. Instead, they struck back against the Klingon instigator of the troubles and won the respect of both sides of the conflict, resolving it.

So, did the costumers recycle the "Apple" white wigs for this outing? That gives Tyree's people an additional frisson of innocence in the face of the serpent entering their garden.

Side note: while the Mugato was truly an awful creature (Janos Prohaska's usual critter suit turn notwithstanding), Peter David actually (and successfully) introduced a mutant intelligent Mugato as a crew member of the USS Excalibur in his New Frontier book series.
j p
8. sps49
C'mon, Torie, nothing good to say about another shirtless Kirk?

As a tween, I just accepted Kirk's reasoning, although I was sad for Tyree. I never thought otherwise on subsequent rewatches, until now. Another good job, Eugene and Torie.

The Omega Glory used to get mixed up with this episode in my head. It will be better, though.
David Levinson
11. DemetriosX
This episode is rather worse than I remembered it, mostly because all I remembered was the mugato and the guns. I wonder what the original script looked like. If they replaced all of the strong Vietnam references with sex and slut-witch material, it would explain a lot.

Also, they were obviously still busy saving money on their budget. (I wonder where it was they went so far over budget. I refuse to believe it was the space amoeba, and the gangster stuff couldn't have cost much. Was it all those tribbles?) Anyway, not only was the mugato costume bad, those "ape-like creature" tracks in the teaser were actually rabbit tracks... white rabbit tracks... from "Shore Leave".
lane arnold
12. lanearnold
----kind of prudish, aren't you torie?---slut witch?--a witch isn't a slut until she plays with the wand----perhaps nona is some kind of plant alchemist---this is one of the most dated episodes--and those wigs-- uhhhhhhh!---hey church, thanks for the link--here's one for you buddy--with a mugato too--- http://www.silverman-gallery.com/artist/seriesview/1613/334
Marcus W
13. toryx
Ugh is a pretty good description for this episode. I'd actually forgotten that it was a Season Two. I'd have thought for sure it was Season Three.

It's really sad, after so many excellent ground-setting episodes dealing the modern day (for the time) topics that this one had to fail so thoroughly. The one thing I can remember liking about it the first time I saw it was the Adam and Eve symbolism seemed so blatantly awful that I actually thought they were trying to make the opposite point. I came away from the episode thinking that it was a nice commentary about how screwed up the whole Genesis mythology is. It was only a few years later that I realized they might have actually been serious and my admiration turned to horror.

Oh well. I'm kind of disappointed they didn't come back at some point and realize what a horrible mistake they'd made. That would have been a good TNG.
Torie Atkinson
14. Torie
@ 4 Ursula

Excellent point. Done.

@ 5 Church

Church, this isn't a biker flick, this is Star Trek. How is the behavior in lurid exploitation films appropriate to what we would expect from Star Trek? Just because something may have been in the cultural consciousness doesn't mean it's appropriate for every context. I really hope that She-Devils on Wheels isn't going to be the lens by which we judge appropriate content in Star Trek.

"It was the 60s!" fails to be an excuse for every reprehensible act on this show.

@ 6 johntheirishmongol

That was exactly my point. The U.S. failed to prevent the spread of communism, and I don't see how what Kirk does on this planet is going to stop the expansion of the Klingon empire.

@ 7 ***Dave

See, why didn't they do that? "Friday's Child" had a much more optimistic ending, and one that I think could have worked here. If they had just explained to the inhabitants that the Klingons were manipulating their politics in order to facilitate conquest, don't you think that would have prompted the two sides to sit down and talk peace?

@ 11 DemetriosX

I'm wondering what the original looked like, too. Was it more of a Cold War parable, with the inhabitants of this planet just pawns of the great space powers? Anyone know?

@ 12 lanearnold

It's not an issue of prudishness. The sexually aggressive woman here is a dangerous, power-hungry witch-priestess who uses her "spells" to brainwash men into her command. When this fails, the four men from the opposing tribe assault and kill her.

It's not exactly empowering.
Torie Atkinson
15. Torie
@ 13 toryx

Agreed on every point.
Church Tucker
16. Church
@14 Torie

No, my point was that this isn't biker-flick level mayhem, which itself seems quaint these days.

It is a tad darker than, say, Friday's Child, which is part of the reason I like it.

Although I have to confess, I'm confused as to when a female character is powerful and self-actualized, and when she's a slut-witch.
Marcus W
17. toryx
Church @ 16:

Although I have to confess, I'm confused as to when a female character is powerful and self-actualized, and when she's a slut-witch.

Generally speaking, it's when a female character uses her intelligence, wit, or wisdom to accomplish a goal, rather than relying on her body, sex, sexualized drugs or orgasmic flailing "skills" to demonstrate her abilities.
Marc Houle
18. MightyMarc
Are negative scores permissible?

This entire episode goes contrary to everything that Star Trek stood for. Humans could finally forge peace on Earth, but they can't arbitrate a peace treaty between two young cultures that *already* had a history of peace?

Picard would have done better.

At least McCoy didn't lose his senses.

The other thing that bothered me was Nona, for all the same reasons everyone else has mentioned. However, my other beef was that she's smart enough to steal the phaser, but not smart enough to use it to defend herself?!

(sigh)

I can't wait for the next episode so that I can forget this one more quickly.
Marc Houle
19. MightyMarc
And for the record, I like the ape costume.
Church Tucker
20. Church
@17 toryx "Generally speaking, it's when a female character uses her intelligence, wit, or wisdom to accomplish a goal, rather than relying on her body, sex, sexualized drugs or orgasmic flailing "skills" to demonstrate her abilities."

She's a 'witch doctor,' and using pretty detailed knowledge of herbology/psychology to accomplish her goals. She's clearly not lacking in intelligence, wit, or wisdom. Judgement seems to her dump stat, but that just makes her tragic in my book.

@18. MightyMarc "Humans could finally forge peace on Earth, but they can't arbitrate a peace treaty between two young cultures that *already* had a history of peace? "

No. Since the Organian Peace 'Treaty' they can't directly engage the Klingons, so they are forced to fight by proxy. It's actually an 'unintended consequences' thing.

Yeah, we could have had Kirk trying to convince the villagers that the Klingons weren't REALLY their friends. But that would have come across as artificial, since it was the Klingons who were providing the goods.
Mike Conley
21. NomadUK
This thread has the potential to beat out 'A Piece of the Action' in length, there are so many things to argue about!

So, easy things first:

johntheirishmongol@6, et al: The domino theory was crap, and the reason Cambodia and Laos fell was due to the destabilisation of their governments by US interference and bombing, not because of some Communist master plan for world domination. Had the US not taken up the colonial baton handed them by the French when they abandoned French Indochina, the Khmer Rouge would never have taken power in Cambodia, and those three million people would not have died.

The smartest thing the UK government ever did was to tell the US to take a hike when they tried to drag them into Viet Nam. Of course, the UK was made to pay dearly for that, and had learned its lesson by the time Iraq and Afghanistan came along.

Now, on to issues of more pressing import and difficulty:

Nitpicks:

- Choreography in the episode was not great, especially the fight scenes with the mugatu (and, yes, the costume sucked; we're all agreed), and especially the second one. The fight in the forge/storage room wasn't bad.

- Exception to the bad choreography: Spock getting shot in the back, going stiff, and plowing like a board into the ground. That was ace.

- Kirk didn't stop Tyree from braining a Villager. If you watch that scene closely, you'll see that Tyree has already killed the Villager, and is repeatedly smashing his head with that rock. It's no doubt been reduced to a complete pulp by the time Kirk stops him.

- The whole 'slap Spock to bring him around' bit was silly. But I really did like the interaction between Nurse Chapel and Spock as he lay there in Sickbay. And I like M'Benga; I think he shows up again in another episode, but, offhand, I forget which one.

Deeper issues:

(1) Re Kirk playing the balance of power gambit: Yes, I suppose this is pretty contradictory, given what happened in other episodes. The best example is 'Friday's Child', certainly, since it, too, involves the Klingons messing about.

The hole in the plot is the apparent assumption that the Klingons are going to continue supplying arms to one side, in violation of the Organian Peace Treaty, and that somehow they won't be stopped. Really, they should have used Orions or somebody as cut-outs so as to maintain plausible deniability.

(When you get right down to it, the Organian Peace Treaty is a complete pain in the arse, and just makes plotting so much more difficult. Blish again dealt with this in Spock Must Die, but unfortunately didn't manage to eliminate the Organians in the end.)

Allowing that, for some reason, the Treaty can't be enforced, I think it could plausibly be argued that Kirk's really trying the best he can to actually follow the Prime Directive. Remember, the Federation isn't supposed to interfere in alien cultures; holding negotiations between the two sides would certainly be that. Supplying them arms is interfering, certainly, but it takes two sides to negotiate, and the Villagers certainly don't seem to be in the mood to do so, as long as they have superior firepower; the Hill People will have to be able to match them first. But the Klingons will then give their side better weapons, and so forth.

And if, as we assume, the Treaty is not being enforced, and the Federation decides it doesn't want to go to war with the Klingon Empire over Neural, then Kirk can either let his friends be slaughtered or arm them. I'm probably missing something, but I don't think I see a third option that doesn't require even more massive interference by the Federation.

Ultimately, yes, this could culiminate in both sides wiping each other out. Or it might end in the two sides reaching a stalemate and deciding that they should negotiate. Who knows? It seems to be a pretty messy situation, all in all.

(2) Nona, (slut-)witch doctors, sexual healing, and all that. Well, what can I say? Between this episode and her appearance as Medea in Jason and the Argonauts, the scenic Nancy Kovack (later Mrs Zubin Mehta) and her leather bellbottoms fueled many a daydream of mine for a number of years, so I'm a bit biased, I'm afraid. Call me shallow.

Still, yes, she's obviously playing a combination Eve and Lady Macbeth here, and she's not terribly smart when it comes to choosing allies, and she certainly should have read the owner's manual for that phaser before trying to hold off a bunch of potential rapists. Clearly, she's always had a thirst for power; that's why she married Tyree, after all; she's clearly mercenary, in that she's only looking out for Nona. A nasty piece of work, is Nona, but there she is.

Empowering? No. Unusual? Perhaps. Tragic? Definitely. Unheard of? Sadly, no.

And does it excuse her attackers? Of course not. But it's certainly not unknown for soldiers to rape and pillage. That's another reason wars are things to be avoided.

And as far as the healing power of orgasmic ritual, well, why not? I would assume that that part of it is just that: ritual, built up over centuries (millennia?) by Kunutu 'witches'; no doubt it has something to do with overcoming the pain of the knife cut. The actual biochemistry going on between her blood plasma and the mako root is what fixes Kirk, and the rest is for show. Shrouding the cure in sorcery and mysticism keeps the peasants in their place, and protects the position of the Kunutu in society.

So, all in all, this really has always been one of my favourite epsiodes. It's grim, it's sad, it's tragic, it's unpleasant, it doesn't have a happy ending. And it has Nancy Kovack. What's not to like?
Marcus W
22. toryx
Church @ 20:
She's a 'witch doctor,' and using pretty detailed knowledge of herbology/psychology to accomplish her goals. She's clearly not lacking in intelligence, wit, or wisdom.

Right. And if she'd simply used her herbs and knowledge without sexualizing it all the time (not to mention attempting to manipulate men by seducing them) that'd have been fine. But all of her 'witch doctor' craft included a sexual element which is where she becomes a slut-witch. It suggests to some (including me) that without the sexual element she'd be powerless.
Church Tucker
23. Church
@22 Toryx "It suggests to some (including me) that without the sexual element she'd be powerless."

Um, how? She's got that whole leaf thing. The men are the ones who are portrayed as powerless before her. Yeah, she's employing her sexuality which seems to be required with the mango-root thingy, but what are you asking her to withhold? The sexual subtext is a requirement. Kinda the point, really. Snake in the garden, possible influence to Kirk, yadda yadda yadda.

Are sexually active females now slut-witches? Cause there's LOADS nowadays. Can't wait to see Torie do BSG. Or whatever.
Madeline Ferwerda
24. MadelineF
Church: I ran into this "it makes sense in the book/episode/fiction" thing in the Turtledove story thread, too. It misses the point. Who cares what invented people do? What matters is that real people in the 60s chose to back a crazy BS storyline that underlies a lot of oppression, and that people in 2010 don't get why that's a bad thing.
Church Tucker
25. Church
@21 NomadUK

Mostly agree, but:

"Re Kirk playing the balance of power gambit: Yes, I suppose this is pretty contradictory, given what happened in other episodes. The best example is 'Friday's Child', certainly, since it, too, involves the Klingons messing about"

It was a different situation. In Friday's Child we had, apparently, one tribe that spanned the planet. Here we have different ones that are already being played against each other.

And yeah, the Organian Treaty was like The Pill for drama. Part of my appreciation for this ep. is the way they deal with it. I do like your idea of Klingons using proxies to do the proxy work, but then the Feds should do the same, no? And then, no story.

@24 MadelineF

I missed that one, have a link? I'm not clear on your point here.
j p
26. sps49
@21 NomadUK-

Cambodia and Laos had their own preexisting problems, including Communists. But the US bombing was limited and due to:

1. Soviet bloc cleverly makes an agreement with the US State Dept. to limit Vietnam theater to Vietnam; Laos and Cambodia are off-limits.

2. VC is told the coast is clear; route the Ho Chi Minh Trail just over the border in L&C.

3. L&C are not strong enough to prevent this encroachment.

4. US bombs Trail targets in Laos and Cambodia.

Jungle does not equal Phnom Penh city center.

Back to Kirk, et al.- is there no "I'm telling on you!" clause in the Organinan Peace Treaty? I can't believe they would b eon board with this.
Mike Conley
27. NomadUK
sps49@26: If you want to call an illegal bombing campaign that spanned 11 years and dropped in excess of 2.5 million tons of ordnance on a nonbelligerent country 'limited', then I guess that's up to you. In any event, it's fairly clear that this, plus the US involvement in the deposition of Sihanouk and the invasion of Cambodia after his removal, was key to the Khmer Rouge getting the support they needed amongst the peasants in the countryside and led to their eventual victory and the subsequent slaughter.

As for the Organians, being virtually omniscient, I can't imagine they wouldn't have known about the situation on Neural. Perhaps they simply don't bother intervening unless full-scale interstellar war is about to break out, which leaves the door open for all sorts of proxy operations, up until the real shooting starts.

Again, Blish deals with this issue in Spock Must Die!, but, as I recall, the solution effectively removes the Klingon Empire as an interesting adversary.
Madeline Ferwerda
28. MadelineF
Church: to repeat the point: 1. You're arguing that within the Star Trek story it's totally cool for Nona to be a slut-witch. 2. This is a common argument found in many discussions of this sort of thing, which misses the point. 3. The point is that real people in the real world decided to support a calumny that affects other real people in the real world.
***Dave
29. R. M. Smith
What ruined this episode for me was the gossly illogical ending.
Kirk and McCoy had gathered clear evidence of what the Klingons were doing, and, as far as was shown in the episode, still had that eveidence.
The logical thing to do was to turn it over to the Organians!!!! There would be nothing the Klingons could have done at that point as they would be in clear violation of the treaty: problem solved.
It makes sense that Spock is removed from the bulk of the episode, so that he is not present to point out how illogical Kirk's final decision is. Not to mention that it is a clear violation of the Prime Directive, which supposedly all Star Fleet officers are sworn to give their lives rather than violate.
The only reason I can see for the ending as presented was so that the episode could be changed into pro-war (Vietnam war) propaganda by NBC.
This outraged me when I first saw the episode, when it was first aired, and still does today. To me Star Trek was about the superiority of reason, logic, and compasion in soving problems.
Instead this episode was used as an excuse to promote someone's political agenda, though I'm not sure whose.

If not for the ending I might have given this a warp 3, despite the apalling costuming. The 'evil witch' character is a clasical character type dating back at least to Shakespeare's Macbeth. In fact the Nona character has more than a passing similarity to Lady Macbeth. One can certainly critisize the use of such a stereotype, but Star Trek is hardly to blame for the stereotype's existance. I will agree that they might have been a bit more creative in this regard, but such personalities (vain and self centered) are certainly not uncommon.
But because of the illogicaly forced ending turning the episode into blatant propaganda, I also would only give it a warp 1.
Church Tucker
30. Church
@28 MadelineF No worries, you're not repeating a point (here, at least. Still would like a link to the other discussion you referenced.)

"The point is that real people in the real world decided to support a calumny that affects other real people in the real world."

Not sure how to parse this. You object to anything bad happening in fiction? You think such depictions are support? Help me out here.
Mike Conley
31. NomadUK
RMSmith@29: The logical thing to do was to turn it over to the Organians!!!!

Well, yes, I think we're all agreed on that. But, as I said, to think that the Organians don't know about this seems unreasonable. So perhaps there's another reason why that solution doesn't apply.

Or it could be because Gene Roddenberry, for the most part, couldn't write his way out of a paper bag.

The only reason I can see for the ending as presented was so that the episode could be changed into pro-war (Vietnam war) propaganda by NBC.

Well, maybe. But I really don't think you would have found many pro-war sympathies in Gene who, after all, served in WWII. And the episode really doesn't come across to me as a pro-war episode at all: really it's more about the painful futility of it all, and the tragedy that's inevitable when Great Powers interfere in other cultures for their own purposes. Quite anti-VietNam, actually.
David Levinson
32. DemetriosX
I suspect that the original script for this episode may have had a more anti-Vietnam approach, though I can't be sure. (The native bad guy being directly compared to Ho Chi Minh might indicate otherwise, but who knows.) In any case, I wouldn't be surprised if the network went absolutely bug$&%§ and insisted on a more pro attitude. That would leave Roddenberry to rewrite it to meet the network demands as best he could, while still getting away with as much as possible. He might not have been pro-war, but I imagine Gene was enough of an old-school liberal to be able to at least say there are arguments for the US presence in south-east Asia. Maybe an attitude not unlike Kirk's, though probably not so callous or cynical.

What we wound up with was a script that was being pulled in diametrically opposed directions and left in the hands of a less than competent writer to fix. It's no wonder this episode was as bad as it was.

We'll get to revisit all of this again when we get to "The Enterprise Incident", but the handling was obviously a lot better and the network attitudes seem to have been slightly different, too. That probably says something about changes in the public attitude over the intervening months.
Torie Atkinson
33. Torie
@ 23 and 30 Church

Just because a woman is depicted as sexual doesn't mean that's a positive, empowering depiction. Nona's sexuality is inextricably linked to her aggressive hunger for power. She manipulates Kirk, betrays her husband, and betrays her people. She's pretty obviously a villain, and in the end she's punished for her behavior with sexual assault and murder. It doesn't have to be a conscious gambit on the part of the writers to "prove" something about women--it almost never is, and that's what speaks volumes. But those kinds of depictions of women are meaningful and damaging.

Actual empowered female characters tend to have personalities and interests (other than sex). The best example I can think of in Star Trek is "City on the Edge of Forever." Edith Keeler has values, goals, and motivations. She's a person with thoughts and opinions, like any person out there. It's not like Star Trek can't pull off a decent female character, and that's why it's so disappointing when they fall back on these ridiculous stereotypes.

And as a tangent, I've written on BSG before.

@ 31 NomadUK

I find it fascinating that you think it's an anti-Vietnam piece. My immediate reaction was that it was pro-war--ambiguously and almost tragically so, in the sense that war is awful and tragic but deeply necessary--but pro-war nonetheless. I'm not sure the tragedy of the episode outdid Kirk's repeated insistence that despite the inevitable, the arms race and civil war were "necessary," which my gut reacted pretty violently against.

@ 32 DemetriosX

You're probably right, of course. This episode just feels to me so diametrically opposed to everything that Star Trek stands for--peace, even in unthinkable scenarios; communication over conflict; and logic over impulse.
Church Tucker
34. Church
"Nona's sexuality is inextricably linked to her aggressive hunger for power. She manipulates Kirk, betrays her husband, and betrays her people."

Yes, exactly. Her unfolding willingness to betray (ultimately) everyone makes her a fascinating character.

It's not the most flattering portrayal, if you look at it exclusively in terms of sex (or gender, as the kids say these days) but why should it be? As you mentioned, there are plenty of women depicted as being better role models. You can not like the character (I certainly don't) while appreciating her AS a character.

There seems to be a strain of criticism that's more political than (what's the word here? Dramatic? Theatric?) I get that. I get my haunches up a bit every time the WhiteGuyDatingTheBlackChick gets offed. (Wash, Billy, this one's for you.) But I make a joke about it and move on. (And hope that Dee shoots herself in the head.)
Torie Atkinson
35. Torie
@ 34 Church

Nona's every action is in pursuit of the goal to have sex with the most powerful man on the jungle planet. That's not a "character," that's a two-dimensional stereotype. All you ever see her do is rub herbs on men, talk about how she wants firesticks, and then get assaulted and killed. Evil characters are compelling when they have dimensionality and complexity. Nona's got one goal and one aspect to her personality. She does not, to me at least, qualify.

And I didn't say there were "lots" of examples--Edith was the only one I could think of.
Andrew Belmont
36. rosetintdworld
#5 Torie: Re: Fully-fledged female characters: Occasionally (and I do mean very occasionally) Uhura and Chapel, especially in spotlight episodes like "Mirror" and "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" And certainly Number One, who was completely made of awesome and a role model to young women everywhere. Which, as we all know, caused the network to call for her immediate resignation. Meh.

I have to say, though, the exceptions prove the rule on this one. I've been re-watching (but rarely commenting) with interest, and while I've been pleasantly delighted, if not surprised, with the show's optimism and spirited defense of human nature, the gender politics continue to strike me as regressive even for the 60s. Oy. They may be the one aspect of the show I had actually over-romanticized.
David Levinson
37. DemetriosX
@36: The gender politics look very regressive from a modern point of view, but for the 60s they weren't. Not that they were all that progressive either. We did see women in professional roles, though they often wound up succumbing to their "feminine weaknesses".

It probably got worse as the series went along. Near the beginning, we have the prosecuting attorney in Kirk's court martial, at the end we have Janice Lester.

But don't forget this was a period in which products being marketed to women could have the tagline "My wife, I think I'll keep her" or show a woman bent over her husband's lap being spanked for some domestic infraction. In fact, those are ads that still ran a good 5 years after Trek went off the air. It's easy to forget just how far things have come since then.
Mike Conley
38. NomadUK
Torie@35: Nona's every action is in pursuit of the goal to have sex with the most powerful man on the jungle planet.

No, her goal is power. The means to her goal are herbology and having sex with the most powerful man on the jungle planet.
Jeff Soules
39. DeepThought
@DemetriosX #37 --

The gender politics look very regressive from a modern point of view, but for the 60s they weren't.

That's part of why I think it's great to see analysis of Trek's gender politics -- instead of brushing it off as "Oh, it was the '60s," it helps to better characterize what the '60s were, the same way that talking about (say) the class politics of The Count of Monte-Cristo helps illuminate the time as well as the work. By talking about these things, we get a better appreciation for the show as a product of its time (slut-witches and all), and that's both important and interesting.
Madeline Ferwerda
40. MadelineF
Church: Come on, we've all argued on the internet before. You pretend that you're an idiot who can't grasp the meaning of comments that reflect poorly on you--or google site search for that matter--to get me to explain everything to wear me down while you believe yourself to look reasonable. Without engaging the argument, you never have to back your statements.

It's all about what propaganda you find acceptable in your entertainment... R.M. Smith can sluff off the "powerful women get power through their sexifying, and rape is an acceptable answer to that" message, but can't stand the pro-war stuff. You in your arguing here are actively supporting the anti-woman message. Too bad; I don't see anything worthwhile about this episode that would balance the bullshit, so I have to wonder where you're getting your valuation.
Torie Atkinson
41. Torie
@ 36 rosetintdworld

Nurse Chapel is indeed made of incredible awesome, and she would have been a fabulous #1.

I agree that the gender politics here have been more regressive than even I was expecting. I will go from being bowled over by the progressive racial politics to being hugely disappointed in the 19th century gender politics. It's fascinating and really illuminating in terms of what these people were able to get away with (or were willing to even try to push) in '67.

@ 37 DemetriosX

Oh god, I really hope that advertising isn't the gauge by which we measure progress. If it is, we're all doomed. Ads targeted towards women right now are all about falling in love with your cleaning products and getting your Stupid Husband (tm) in line. *shudder*

But yes, what you said.

@ 38 NomadUK

Does she actually want power? She doesn't seem to want any power herself, she just wants to be sure she's married to the most powerful guy. Which doesn't seem to have any perks... any power she has seems to be from her ancestral heritage.

@ 40 MadelineF

If he wants to play naive, there's no reason to rise to the bait. Let's move on.

I will say that while this episode was atrocious, the next one features some totally awesome Nurse Chapel, an interesting female astrobiologist, and a powerful female alien. It's like a godsend after this one.
Mike Conley
42. NomadUK
Torie@41: Well, I'll have to grant that in an idyllic society in which the two neighbouring cultures have no obvious conflict, the idea of power and its exercise may be somewhat abstract. But, clearly, she would have influence over Tyree's decision-making from behind the bed -- er, throne. One would imagine that such influence might not extend to issues much more significant than which party in a dispute got the extra goat, or how many grapes to make into wine versus sultanas, or some such, but, still.

Once the peaceful relationship between the Villagers and the Hill People is destroyed by the introduction of weapons and the subverting of the Villagers by the Klingons, however, suddenly power becomes a much more tangible commodity. At this point, our Nona suddenly realises that she may be able to obtain much more than she could before (Lady Macbeth contemplating the possibilities as wife of the new Thane of Cawdor).

Certainly she isn't very good at it, but, then, she doesn't get much time to learn the ropes.
Church Tucker
43. Church
@40. MadelineF "You pretend that you're an idiot who can't grasp the meaning of comments that reflect poorly on you"

No pretending involved. I'm genuinely an idiot. If I'm asking for more info, I really mean it.
Tim May
44. ngogam
I don't know if I ever saw this one, but I remember reading Blish's adaptation. Having just watched the episode, my main thought is the same one I had after reading the Blish story - never mind Kirk's response, what exactly was the Klingons' plan in the first place? As far as I can tell, it goes

Step 1: Incite the villagers against the hill people and supply them with primitive (but increasingly sophisticated) weaponry made to look as if it's been produced locally.
Step 2:
Step 3: Galactic conquest!

The thing is, Neural just isn't that similar to Vietnam (real or imagined). It's not in contact with any other planets, so it can't push over any dominoes. Even if Apella takes over the whole planet & swears loyalty to the Klingon empire, it's hard to see how the Klingons can derive any advantage from this as long as they're at least pretending to obey the treaty. The Federation will be unhappy because the Neuralians' development has been interfered with, but it doesn't have any strategic importance.

You might be able to come up with an explanation that makes some sense of this (say, by hypothesizing a clause in the treaty that lets the Klingons take over if they're invited in by a planetary government) but the episode doesn't make any effort to do so.
***Dave
46. neer
"Unfortunately, he only makes McCoy look less competent."

Excuse me, but how did you deduce this? McCoy leaves after performing the surgery on Spock, M'Benga simply has to keep a watch on Spock as we are told that Vulcans have the power to heal themselves!!

McCoy bashing seems to be the norm among Star Trek reviewers but please give the man some credit. Just a few episodes back he performed a difficult surgery in less than ideal conditions. And the patient was a Vulcan no less.

The whole track regarding Spock was just to show his Super-Vulcan powers. The man can Nerve -pinch, mind-meld, mentally control his pain, wield the sword, hypnotise, and even heal himself! Really Shatner was right in complaining that it was becoming too much of a Spock-Show.

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