Jul 8 2010 5:35pm

Star Trek Re-Watch: “Bread and Circuses”

“Bread and Circuses”
Written by Gene Roddenberry & Gene L. Coon
Directed by Ralph Senensky

Season 2, Episode 25
Production episode: 2x14
Original air date: March 15, 1968
Star date: 4040.7

Mission Summary:

Enterprise finds the debris of the S.S. Beagle, a merchant ship, but no human remains. A nearby planet might have survivors, and the Enterprise intercepts a broadcast “once called video” (even though they’ve seen video before as recently as in “Patterns of Force,” but nevermind...). It’s a news program:

VOICEOVER: Today police rounded up still another group of dissidents. Authorities are as yet unable to explain these fresh outbreaks of treasonable disobedience by well-treated, well-protected, intelligent slaves. Now turning to the world of sports and bringing you the taped results of the arena games last night.

They watch a gladiator fight before the transmission cuts out. Spock identifies one of the gladiators as a flight officer aboard the Beagle.

KIRK: Slaves and gladiators. What are we seeing, a twentieth-century Rome?

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to the surface and and are immediately taken prisoner by a bunch of scruffy-looking guys wearing sweatshirts and sandals, like some kind of post-apocalyptic runners’ club. They are escaped slaves who identify themselves as Sun-Worshipers (which Spock thinks is weird, based on his knowledge that the Romans did not have sun-worshipers1). One of them, Septimus, fills our heroes in on the fate of Captain Merik of the SS Beagle. His post-merchant ship career seems to have taken off, and now he’s First Citizen, or Grand Douchenozzle in charge of the arena games that have been killing off the other crew members of his old ship (not to mention countless petty criminals and slaves). Septimus warns Kirk not to go into the city, but you know he’s going to be all noble and stuff so he does anyway. Septimus sends his buddy Flavius, a former gladiator, as tour guide.

They are again immediately captured, this time by the Romans, and thrown into some jail cells. Kirk demands to speak to “Merikus” (everclay, ightray?) and while the guards are gone, Flavius explains that the “word of the Sun” was kept from his people, and that’s why they’ve become subservient and acquiescing to the centuries-long loss of their rights and freedoms. GET IT? If you don’t, that’s okay, they’ll spell it out a few more times.

When the guard returns, Kirk and the others overcome their captors—only to be caught again by a huge group of soldiers, Merik among them. His Grand Douchiness introduces the Proconsul, Claudius Marcus2, and leads them away to a private conference room for a reunion. He says that Claudius Marcus knows who and what they are, which is never good news for the Prime Directive.

They are taken to a nice meal of sparrow broiled in garum3 and roast kid, presented by a blonde slavegirl. Merik explains that his ship was hit by meteors and he and a landing party beamed down to search for iridium ore. That’s how he met Claudius Marcus:

MERIK: He convinced me it would be unfair to this world to carry word of their existence elsewhere.
CLAUDIUS: Contamination. Can’t risk that. Oh, you’ll understand as you learn more about us.
MERIK: So I made the decision to stay.
KIRK: What happened to your crew? Did they voluntarily beam, come ashore?
MERIK: This is an ordered world, Jim, a conservative world based on time-honored Roman strengths and virtues.
KIRK: What happened to your crew?
MERIK: There’s been no war here for over four hundred years, Jim. Could let’s say, your land of that same era make that same boast? I think you can see why they don't want to have their stability contaminated by dangerous ideas of other ways and other places.

Uh-oh! Sounds like John Gill all over again... Claudius Marcus, however, is not interested in exposition: he demands that Kirk beam his crew down a few at a time. He knows Kirk’s ship could kill them all, but he also knows the Prime Directive prohibits them from interfering. (Clearly he hasn’t been watching the show enough to know how, erm, flexible, that Prime Directive can be.) Kirk reluctantly hails Scotty... but only tells him that it’s “Condition Green.” Furious, Claudius orders the three of them to be taken to the arena to fight for their lives.

Back on Enterprise, Scotty reveals that “Condition Green” is code for “Totally Boned,” but that it also prohibits him from interfering at all. Well, maybe he can interfere just a teeny weeny bit...

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are taken to the arena—a painted TV studio! Let the thinly-veiled indictment of TV begin! Kirk is forced to watch as Spock and McCoy battle an unwilling Flavius and some guy named Achilles for the show Name the Winner (guess how it works?). As they fight, an engineer uses dials labeled “Applause,” “Cheers,” “Boos,” and “Cat-calls” to choreograph the fight.

MASTER: Fight, you two. You bring this network’s ratings down, Flavius, and we’ll do a special on you!

Claudius Marcus and Merik both try to convince Kirk to give in and order his crew to beam down, but he seems pretty confident in Spock and McCoy’s ability to fend off the enemy. (Well, okay. Maybe just Spock’s.) Our brave gladiators are, in fact, made of complete awesome—this fight is amazing and I highly recommend watching it even if you don’t get a chance to watch much more of the episode. Their verbal sparring is top-notch. Anyway, Spock manages to punch Achilles and then nerve-pinch Flavius. Kirk refuses to give in so the victorious Spock and McCoy are dragged back to their cells.

Kirk is taken to his room. The curtain is pulled back by the slavegirl from the earlier scene! Her name is Drusilla and she likes serving food and satisfying powerful men with some hanky-panky.

Back at the ranch jail cell, McCoy is trying his best to thank Spock for saving his life, but Spock callously disregards his gratitude as yet another pitiful human emotion. In one of the most insightful bits of character revelation so far, McCoy snaps back:

MCCOY: Do you know why you’re not afraid to die, Spock? You’re more afraid of living. Each day you stay alive is just one more day you might slip and let your human half peek out. That’s it, isn’t it? Insecurity. Why, you wouldn’t know what to do with a genuine, warm, decent feeling.
SPOCK: Really, Doctor?

McCoy looks at him with understanding.

MCCOY: I know. I’m worried about Jim, too.

Wow. That nearly brought a tear to my eye. Turns out Kirk is doing JUST FINE with hanky-panky slavegirl, but it’s the thought that counts. In possibly the most ridiculous bit of the whole episode, Kirk in his room kisses Drusilla and the camera literally pans to the fire.

Later, Claudius Marcus returns and explains that he wanted to give Kirk the decency of feeling like a man one last time before he goes to die. Kirk is appreciative, and allows himself to be escorted to the TV studio. He’s thrown into the arena with a Roman, who offers a “quick, single thrust” (didn’t he get something like that just a few hours ago?) and an easy death. Kirk stands still, but Flavius rushes into the arena to take out the Roman! Unfortunately, both he and the random executioner are then taken out by machine guns.

Kind of ups the ante on Survivor, eh?

At that moment, Scotty cues Chekov to activate a radio interruption beam, cutting off TV broadcasting. Kirk uses that chance to escape, and runs to McCoy and Spock’s cell, shooting out the lock because guns solve everything. They are then caught again at the last minute, with guards on either side. Since the guards would only crossfire each other, Claudius Marcus orders swords only.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy quickly dispatch the men, but Merik has a change of heart: he opens Kirk’s communicator and hails Enterprise, telling them to lock on his position and prepare for three to beam up. Claudius Marcus stabs him in the back. Merik falls to the ground, but tosses the communicator to Kirk just in time for the three of them to beam up in a hail of gunfire.

Safely ensconced back on the bridge, Spock laments never learning more about the sun-worshipers. And for once, Uhura jumps in and is a real communications officer:

UHURA: I’ve been monitoring some of their old-style radio waves, the Empire spokesman trying to ridicule their religion. But he couldn't. Don’t you understand? It’s not the sun up in the sky. It’s the Son of God.
KIRK: Caesar and Christ. They had them both. And the word is spreading only now.
MCCOY: A philosophy of total love and total brotherhood.
SPOCK: It will replace their imperial Rome, but it will happen in their twentieth century.
KIRK: Wouldn’t it be something to watch, to be a part of? To see it happen all over again?

 Um... no. And thank god the network agrees, because that’s curtain on this episode.

1 This is untrue. Many Romans worshiped the Greek god Helios (or Apollo), and there was an entire religious festival (dies natalis solis invicti, or just sol invicti, “Unconquered Sun”) around sun-worship on either the solstice or equinox, we’re not sure. Emperor Aurelius in particular was heavily invested in the cult. Spock needs to read up on his history!

 2 Upper-class Romans had at least three names: the praenomen (given name), nomen (family clan), and at least one or sometimes more cognomen (family name). Our friend Caesar was actually Gaius Julius Caesar (until he was deified, but let’s not worry about that right now...). Claudius Marcus is probably his praenomen and nomen. Slaves only had one name. Good job, ST.

 3 Garum is real. It’s fermented fish guts, left to rot with some salt in the sun. Think of it as the ketchup of Ancient Rome. You can still buy it in some places! Yum.Good job again, ST. Points off for them not reclining while they eat, though. And where the hell are the tunics??


I knew from the title that this was “the Roman one,” but the lack of tunics, togas, reclining benches, and underutilization of recycled Paramount uniforms kind of threw me for a loop. The weird potato sack costumes never would have tipped me off that this was supposed to be Roman. Guess I’ll have to wait for “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

The plot is nonsensical (another mysteriously totally parallel world? Really?), the moral is, well, moralizing, and the history is terrible, but there are some really great moments in this episode. For one, we get the first complete statement of the Prime Directive: “No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space, or the fact that there are other worlds, or more advanced civilizations.” That’s pretty damn cool, and long overdue. We also hear about Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development, which is almost as stupidly convenient a way to explain all these parallel worlds as TNG’s stab at it in “The Chase” (in which we get the theory that all sentient life is from seeds planted by some ancient humanoid race, and we’re all related to the same ancestor). So as far as Star Trek canon information goes, “Bread and Circuses” is amazing.

Then there are the McCoy and Spock scenes, obviously Gene Roddenberry bits, that make this episode shine. Spock and McCoy arguing while they fight the Romans in the arena actually had me laughing out loud. I generally don’t like it when characters say exactly what they’re thinking, but the jail scene between the two of them is sincerely touching. They finally confront the issue central to their little love triangle: Kirk. No matter their differences, they respect one another, and they both love and respect their friend, and that will always unite them. It is really sweet.

I’m not going to nitpick the history, mostly because if this episode was interested in any history it was interested in movie history. “Bread and Circuses” is a classic example of the Christian-themed Roman movies so popular in the first half of the century, from The Last Days of Pompeii to Ben-Hur (with my personal favorite, Quo Vadis?, in between). It argues that Rome fell because the empire was incompatible with the notions of peace and brotherhood espoused by Jesus’ followers, and that with more effective religious suppression Rome could have remained an empire for centuries more. This is, to put it gently, incomplete, but it’s the film narrative that I assume audiences at the time would have been familiar with and I don’t fault the episode for adopting it here (even if I do resent it a little in 2010). That said, it’s more moralizing than any of the movies I mentioned. Where does all this religiosity come from? The network?

Irritating lingering thought: what the hell happened to the slavegirl? So Kirk sleeps with her and... that’s the end of that plotline?

I would’ve given it a 4.5, if not for half-warps being illegal. It’s a solid episode, but I suspect that in the long run it’ll be relatively unmemorable.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: I remembered “Bread and Circuses” far more kindly than it deserves. I’ve always been interested in Roman culture, and it was actually my Latin teacher in junior high who introduced me to Star Trek (via The Undiscovered Country). He loved this one for some reason, and at the time so did I. But the moment the words “Children of the Son” were uttered, I suddenly recalled the “twist” ending and knew the episode wasn’t going to hold up. Since I knew the reveal, the Christian references seemed obvious to me, from calling the slaves “fishes” to the constant talk of brotherhood and peace. Uhura’s explanation and Kirk’s excitement at the delayed emergence of Christianity in this new world simply made me groan, though I was glad the communications officer managed to show up her superior officers for once. I’m also confused as to why they all think this is such a positive development in the planet’s history, considering how much strife resulted in Earth’s past.

I had somehow forgotten all about the twentieth century setting, which is kind of the whole point of the thing, such as it is. Back when I first saw this episode, reality television was mostly defined by game shows like American Gladiators, but this time I found the televised fights on Empire TV—complete with audience participation and concerns over ratings—eerily prescient when compared to the current broadcast landscape. The idea was certainly ahead of its time, and may even have been a shocking notion for 1960s audiences.

The plot barely hangs together, particularly Claudius giving the captain the use of a slave woman (so he might spend his last hours “as a man”) to Merik’s last minute, unjustified change of heart. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are imprisoned, enslaved, and forced to fight (as usual), and don’t actually manage to accomplish anything useful on the planet at all except their capture and eventual escape. It’s as though someone said, “Hey, what if Rome never fell?” and that’s as far as they took it; this might as well be an episode of Sliders. Scotty’s distraction is clever at least, but I wondered why they weren’t monitoring video feeds on the planet the way Uhura listened to radio broadcasts. It would have saved them all a lot of trouble when they saw Spock and McCoy in the arena!

Ultimately, I was just disappointed and mildly bored throughout the episode. Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development still comes off as a lazy conceit (They speak English? Really? Not even Latin?), and the concerns over cultural contamination and the Prime Directive were muddled—in order to prevent outside interference, Merik decided to stay there? I didn’t see how Merik could command so much as a garbage scow after washing out of the Academy. They mention the S.S. Beagle is a merchant ship, but it was performing a survey of the system and the crew wore Starfleet uniforms? Are they supposed to follow the Prime Directive too?

What a shame that no one ever uses Kirk’s middle name Tiberius, especially in light of Claudius’s comment, “You’re a Roman, Kirk, or you should have been.” Though that doesn’t make any sense either.

Eugene’s Rating:Warp 3

Best Line: MCCOY: “Once, just once, Id like to be able to land someplace and say, Behold, I am the Archangel Gabriel!

Syndication Edits: None officially, as this episode was kind of forgotten under a pile of tapes and never officially cut. However, the exchange between McCoy and Spock in the jail cell (you know the one) was often frequently cut out by the stations themselves.

Trivia: First, location trivia: the Children of the Sun/Son live in the Batcave! Those caves are beneath the HOLLYWOOD sign, and were one of the most-used locations in ’60s television. The Roman capital is actually the Great Dome at MIT (just like...Rome?). And finally, when Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Flavius are thrown in jail the first time around, the outside of the building is a classical-looking colonnade with “HONNEUR ET PATRIE” emblazoned on the top. This is French, not Latin, and it’s the Legion of Honor on the Left Bank in Paris.

The Proconsul’s insignia isn’t Roman, it’s actually the coat of arms of Shakespeare. Not sure what to make of that...

Ian Wolfe, who played Septimus, was Mr. Atoz in “All Our Yesterdays.”

Other Notes: The script was adapted from a version by John Kneubuhl, a playwright and television writer for shows like Thriller, The Wild Wild West and Hawaii Five-O. One draft had Spock suffer from Vulcan appendicitis; another had Kirk reveal his mission to Septimus, thus violating the Prime Directive; and in one draft, the arena doctors (morticians?) were eager to study Spock’s alien physiology.


Next episode: Season 2, Episode 26 - “Assignment: Earth.” 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 is glad her ancient history nerdness gets to shine here. She’s not so sure those eight years of Latin have paid off yet, though...

Eugene Myers is embarrassed that after four years of instruction and over sixteen years without practice, his mastery of Latin is more or less limited to “Expecto Patronum!”

Kurt Lorey
1. Shimrod
The costumes here (and later in Plato's Stepchildren) are pure Hollywood kitsch. Here, Roman, and in Plato's Stepchildren, Greek.

Should have been Marcus Claudius, too. Marcus was never a Nomen, while Claudius was. Sometimes, in modern parlance, these naming conventions are corrupted by pop culture. And of course, if he were truly an aristocrat, he should have had a cognomen as well.
Stefan Jones
2. Stefan Jones
I remember thinking this was a fun and clever episode.

Well, actually it still is, but that doesn't mean it is, as Science Fiction, as dumb as a bag of hammers.

Once in a while I read a review of or commentary on an SF show in which the writer says something like "the best science fiction is really about now."

Which makes me want to hit things. What a frigging cop out! How insulting.

Yeah, "the universe may be queerer than we can imagine," but we can at least have an honest try at it.

We can try to write science fiction that deals with problems we're likely to run into, set in imaginary worlds and settings we at least try to get right.

Yeah, all sorts of bias will get in there. Bias based on our time and our culture.

But I'll take honest unconscious bias over the tiresome morality plays (lots of ST:TNG episodes) and feel-good parables (The Omega Glory).

The fact that the various Star Trek series occasionally got it right is proof that trying works.
jon meltzer
3. jmeltzer
This episode was aired way out of filming order, and was filmed just about the time of the renewal fight. Hmm. I guess Roddenberry didn't want to tweak the network until after the decision was made. I wonder if he would have changed the ending if the show hadn't been renewed? Kirk and Spock succumb to Ratings?

And I suppose it's a Good Thing the slave girl acted as though she liked her job. Starship Captains of Gor!
Paul Arzooman
4. parzooman
Even as a kid I rolled my eyes at Kirk's last line which would have sounded better in an episode of Davey and Goliath rather than Star Trek. I also remember thinking, "Not another Earth" when I saw it was Romans.

The costumes aren't the only things that stink, the sets seem half-completed. It's as if they ran out of time and decided to go with what they had.
Stefan Jones
5. roblewmac
I never even understood this episode until somebody said it's a satire of television and if it IS about televison then what's all that SON/SUN Christ stuff and why is it in the last mintue?
Stefan Jones
6. NEntuaby
Oh, wow. That is... Yikes. Kirk as heroic rapist, and converted pagans as happy ending! *Very* last century. (How in the world does the Christian moralism match with Roddenberry's normally equally-heavy-handed "outgrown such silly superstitions" take on future religion?)
j p
7. sps49
Ordered world? What? Bleh.

I do agree there were a lot of good bits in this episode, with several reinforcing the triumvirate friendship and their incorruptibility.

I remember thinking Merrick was just a weak man, allowing his crew to be consumed in games to save his own skin. His change at the end was probably due to being shamed by Kirk's example, although Claudius seemed to be holding up his part of the deal with his First Citizen.

Was Drusilla also supposed to be a bribe? I thought she was to sweeten the pot to induce Kirk to cooperate, with the dual purpose being the stated "send-off". Claudius here clearly was also acting out of respect for Kirk, who he takes for a strong leader similar to himself.

Picky notes- if the Aliens of the Week don't speak English, the episodes will make even less sense. Hanging a lampshade on it (Law of Planetary Development?) just makes it more obvious that it is a useful storytelling device/ constraint/ trope.

I think Gene L. Coon got a lot of credit for good "character driven" episodes, not Roddenberry.

And James T. Kirk didn't get the Tiberius until the animated series.
john mullen
8. johntheirishmongol
Not one of my fave eps. The whole son thing I got early and then it was just silly.
Michael Burke
9. Ludon
The lack of tunics, togas and reclining benches is one of the few things that does not bother me about this episode. Culture changes with time according to needs and taste. Even with the supposed strict control of the Roman government changes would be allowed to come about for various reasons. One reason being a means of placating the masses - letting them think they want something then allowing them to have it distracts them from the things they really want/need.

While I don't remember if the number of people aboard the Beagle had been given, I do remember (even as a kid) wondering why some of the others of the Beagle's crew had not been pulled into an opposition faction somewhere. If even the slaves know of Merik's background, then other, more interested parties would know and try to take advantage of the situation.

At various times over the years I've defended Star Trek by saying that even at it's worst it was still better story telling than many of the shows it's various incarnations had been up against. After having been reminded of this episode, I may have to rethink that argument.
David Levinson
10. DemetriosX
Like Eugene, I had better memories of this episode than it really deserves. That may be because I know so much more about ancient Rome than I did back in the 70s.

Shimrod @1 is right about Marcus Claudius being more correct. But as to Torie's footnote, the trinomina system started falling apart in the 1st century AD, largely due to the growing influx of non-Romans. Outside of the aristocratic classes, it was pretty much gone by the 4th or 5th century. Also, cognomina were not universal. Gaius Marius, who led the populares in the unrest in the generation before Caesar, never had one. Same goes for Pompey, who didn't have one until he decided to call himself "the Great".

Dining in repose also declined in the late empire. During the disastrous 3rd century, the military started to set a bit of the cultural tone, and reclining was less common in the field. It's not out of the question that it would have died out.

Garum is apparently very similar to a Vietnamese fish sauce that is often recommended to people wanting to try authentic Roman recipes. For that matter, Worcestershire sauce originally contained fermented anchovies. It may still.

The episode itself? Meh. There's a nice, snarky review of the episode by a real Classicist here.
Mike Conley
11. NomadUK
So, I guess it's time for me to not have much to add...

Clearly, this is Star Trek's version of Network -- quite a trick, as the latter wouldn't be made for eight years yet. Still, clearly the whole point of the episode, from its title to the arena set, is dark satire of network television; the Roman angle is window-dressing. It's a bit on the broad side, but I do like it; it's one of my favourite episodes.

I think it's a bit much to hammer Trek too hard for inaccuracies regarding Roman history. Hell, Gladiator had a budget of over $100 million and made more than its share of mistakes.

(By the way, the runaway slaves aren't wearing sweatshirts, they're clearly wearing T-shirts. Much lighter weight, and more suited to the clearly hot and arid weather.)

The snarky review pointed to by DemetriosX is excellent, and notes a number of subtle touches, including the use of 'traditional' Roman garb by the guards in the arena, whilst the 'real' guards wear more modern uniforms. I also love her use of 'Prime Suggestion' rather than 'Prime Directive'; brilliant.

(Although, really: Kirk & Co. take flak for ignoring the Prime Directive, and now, in an episode in which they actually obey it, everyone still gives them flak. They can't win for losing!)

I bow to just about everyone with superior knowledge of Latin and Roman history; both subjects were single semesters for me, a long time ago. And I failed my Latin exam spectacularly.

I can't say enough about the exchanges between McCoy and Spock, both in the cell and in the arena. Brilliant. Some of the best of the series, and the main reason to watch it.

Everyone gets captured far too easily. Shades of 'A Piece of the Action'.

It's obvious Claudius tolerates Merik only because he's potentially useful, and because he made a deal with him when he first arrived. But he considers Kirk a true equal, a real leader of men, and it's perfectly clear that he regrets having to dispose of him (the same respect for Kirk emerges from the Romulan commander in 'Balance of Terror'). As for Drusilla, it's always been clear to me that she wasn't sent as a spy at all, but a gift, from one man to another. (One can certainly argue the morality of it all, but, hey, when in Rome...)

So why does Merik save the three of them at the end, and at the cost of his own life? I think sps49 gets it basically right. Merik tried out for Starfleet, and washed out. But he knew Kirk from the Academy, and no doubt had been fighting his own demons -- the ghosts of his dead shipmates -- for years, when Kirk appeared again and reminded him of what he once could have been. That, and the clear contempt in which he suddenly realises he is held by the Proconsul no doubt awaken him to just how far he's fallen. Saving the landing party is his chance to atone for his earlier failures, and to try to live up to Kirk's example (ah, would that we all could do the same!)

And the Sun/Son thing. Yeah, well, I disliked that, too, when I was younger, and it hasn't gotten any better for me. We could have done without it. My Roman history professor (the wonderful but, sadly, now-infamous Richard Berthold) consistently espoused the theory that the Empire fell because the gods became angry when the Romans turned away from them in favour of this upstart Christian cult. I don't see any reason to doubt it.

Do the Romans of 892-IV still practise crucifixion? If not, I wonder what kind of symbol these new Christians would use? The chain links? A machine gun? Do the Nazareans still have to migrate to their home towns to file their taxes, or can they do it through the post? Do the inland revenue do withholding? Do Mary and Joseph file jointly? Do they use the long form or the short form? If the Romans do use crucifixion, do they still use nails, or have they moved on to decking screws and power drills? And what about health and safety regulations? Do they televise these things? Surely; but maybe only the highlights, as it probably makes for pretty monotonous viewing.
Marcus W
12. toryx
It certainly is different watching this episode now. I haven't seen it in at least 20 years. Back then I actually liked the Alternate History thing enough to accept the Roman society in the 20th Century thing they had going. I was also a Christian so the Son thing didn't bother me so much.

Now that the Alternate Earth has earned it's own playing card and I'm not Christian it bothers me a lot more. But I am really impressed by the way they presented television and pretty effectively predicted some of the direction it's going in (though I bet Roddenberry would be shocked at what it's become just the same) and as others have mentioned, the Spock/ McCoy interaction is great.

Personally I think someone should do an episode of a future Trek where it's discovered that the slave woman had Kirk's baby who eventually took over the empire, abolished Christianity and ruled with an iron fist for decades.

Heck, Kirk alone has probably been every bit as successful at sowing his seed throughout the galaxy as those long ago aliens in TNG.
Torie Atkinson
13. Torie
@ 1 Shimrod

Good call on the name! You're right, Marcus isn't a real nomen.

@ 3 jmeltzer

Interesting question. If it hadn't been renewed, maybe Kirk would have inadvertently done something to guarantee the extermination of the Christians on live TV? Double-punch of network-hating and atheism! Yeah!

@ 6 NEntuaby

I'm confused about that myself. My guess is either the network forced it in, or it was an obligatory homage to other depictions of Rome in cinema, the long history of which had always centered on Christianity.

@ 7 sps49

I don't think she was a bribe, I think it was supposed to be Claudius Marcus being "gentlemanly" (!!) and giving Kirk one last chance at "being a man." Or something. It's disgusting.

@ 9 Ludon

That bothered me, too. How did none of the Beagle guys escape and join the others? Are they really ALL dead after six years?

@ 10 DemetriosX

I promised I wouldn't nitpick history! But if you're going to nitpick... gladiators were disappearing by the 3rd century anyway (something about Christianity didn't fit right with murdering people for public spectacle...), so this has to be pre-3rd century Rome, rendering your objections moot. Not that it's a paragon of accuracy, mind you.

Great article! I'm glad she also mentioned my theory that the Christianity stuff is probably the result of cinematic history rather than any deeply-held belief on the part of the writers. I am not a Christian but I have a ridiculous soft spot for those old movies, and I guess that's the only reason it didn't bother me. I consider it a trapping of doing anything "Roman" in the '60s--you have to have the Jesus stuff, it's just a package deal.

@ 11 NomadUK

Hurrah, someone else liked it! All the hate, man. I'm not saying it's genius but I thought it was a lot of fun.

With Gladiator they weren't mistakes, they were design choices. I looooove that the movie insists Rome had this American-style historical moment of wanting to return to a populist(!) republic. HAHAHAHAHA.

I wouldn't say Kirk obeys the Prime Directive here. In the end, they beam out IN FULL VIEW of all those guards. If they were allowed to do that, they should've just beamed out at ANY point leading up to the ending.

I like your explanation of Merik's behavior. I think I'll take it.

And that doesn't sound monotonous at all... I'd watch it!

@ 12 toryx

Kurt Lorey
14. Shimrod
Well, Pompey derived from a non-Roman, Italian family and so couldn't claim a clan name (cognomen) because the patricii were a closed caste.

Gaius Marius was an eques, not a patricii, and so not able to claim a clan name either.

I agree that the closed status of the patricii led to a steep decline in both the numbers of the gentes (clans) and in the numbers of the members themselves. And, Augustus began a trend that certainly changed this further beginning in the early Imperial period.

Certainly Roman culture was so successful because it was so adaptive. So, it would not be surprising to see the traditional Roman garb change as the demographics shifted and the Empire expanded. Frankly, I doubt anybody went without pants along the Rhine or the Danube very often. Same for Britannia.

Actually, trying to theorize on just how Roman culture would have changed had they been more successful in absorbing the large migrations/invasions of the 3rd century onwards might prove quite entertaining and interesting. In fact, taking the Byzantine path might also have led to multiple re-centerings of the political capital (over time) and allowed for a resurgence of a previously assimilated culture group (or groups).
Mike Conley
15. NomadUK
Torie@13: Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

You're up for watching multiple days of slow, agonising death on a cross, but you're squicked by Kirk insemenating alien babes across the stars? There really is no accounting for taste!

Good point about the beam-out, though; hadn't thought about that. Oh, well. Prime Directive, Schmime Directive.
j p
16. sps49
Re: dining in repose, I've tried that while watching TV from the sofa. Not comfortable with it, whether lying sideways or lying straight back like Hedonism-bot (who was on last night's new Futurama, yay!).

@ 13 Torie-

"Design choices"? You sound like the "It's not a bug, it's a feature!" people.

And the beam-out violation is on Merik, not Our Heroes.

@15 NomadUK-

I still count just 2 Kirk inseminations; here, and "Wink of an Eye".
Church Tucker
17. Church
Coming in with a solid Warp 3. (I'm low again!?)

It's a solid episode, but nothing special. The ending is a bit cringe-worthy (even as a kid I thought as much.) The interplay between the various characters redeems quite a bit of it, though.

@Eugene "Back when I first saw this episode, reality television was mostly defined by game shows like American Gladiators..."

Back when it aired, reality television was boxing.

@Torie Good call on the beamout. I didn't catch that myself, so I'll let it go as "story is done, time to GTFO."
Torie Atkinson
18. Torie
@ 14 Shimrod

My beef with the costumes was more that, if I had been flipping through the channels, they don't look Roman by any standard I've heard (cinematic or historical).

Adaptive is right. The empire lasted as long as it did for a reason. I wonder, too, what a more historically accurate theory of 20th-century Rome would look like.

One thing that struck me about this episode was Septimus' explanation that a (very limited) system of entitlement took the wind out of rebellions. Once they recognized that slaves had basic rights to healthcare and food and whatnot, the slaves had a lot more to lose by rebelling. It sounds like the natural extension from that is more a strict caste system than overt slavery...

@ 15 NomadUK

I like violence!

@ 16 sps49

Sorry, when I do lighting design I always joke "It's not a mistake, it's a design choice!"
David Levinson
19. DemetriosX
Shimrod @14: Familial cognomens were hardly exclusive to Roman patrician gentes. The Tulii Cicerones alone are enough to show that. It was really more a question of clan size during the earlier republic. The gens Marius was obviously never large enough to warrant distinguishing between various stirpes or, perhaps, two prominent Marii of the same praenomen at the same time. In any case, by the late republic personal cognomens were fairly common, though not universal.
j p
20. sps49
I still can't find my 2nd season blue box, so I've been trying to remember- but when presentes with Drusilla, Kirk says (to the proconsul, apparently) that "It won't work!" I don't think he is referring to his Little Captain, either.

I may have been incorrect in my post @16; although panning to a fire is 60's for "ohh, yeahhhh", Laura Goodwin is not convinced.

And wow, some of y'all know a lot about ancient Roman stuff. I may be more interested in whether they did wear pants in Dacia than who got three names, though.
Kurt Lorey
21. Shimrod
@19 Romans. Always with the exceptions. DemetriosX, I bow to your greater breadth and depth of Roman geekiness. ;)

@18 Torie. I hear ya.

Roman slavery was really nothing like the transatlantic African slavery system, or even the Moslem-style system. Still, some entitlements wouldn't have hurt in lowering rebelliousness in certain quarters.
Torie Atkinson
22. Torie
@ 20 sps49

That's why I don't think it's a coercive bribe, but what Claudius perceives as mercy to a dying man.


@ 21 Shimrod

I know, Roman slavery was unlike any other system. Many slaves were prisoners of war, and the spectrum of how bad it was ranged hugely. Some were closer to indentured servants, some very much weren't. They later earned a pretty decent number of rights, and were able to sue for cruelty, but it was still slavery. The Christians didn't have a problem with slavery itself, so I don't think it would have disappeared under Septimus' rule.

Interestingly, children had it pretty terrible in the empire. They were considered property much like slaves, and parents were a child's absolute master.
Stefan Jones
23. Tom Nackid
Torie, I think you are missing the point with the whole costume issue. This culture is the Roman Empire as if it continued for a millennium longer than it did on Earth. I'm an American but I don't where the same clothing Washington and Franklin wore! The producers of the "Gladiator Show" or whatever it was called probably had no better idea of what their traditional fore bearers wore than real-life Hollywood TV show creators have of what the Founding Fathers wore--that is sketchy, "common knowledge" concepts limited by budget and time for research. In other words the "show within the show" was a spoof of typical cheezy television.
Stefan Jones
24. Brian2
Interesting they should name a ship SS Beagle, since Star Trek bears more than a little similarity to A.E. van Vogt's The Voyage of the Space Beagle. The Space Beagle, named after HMS Beagle, which Darwin sailed on, was on a mission to explore interstellar space, and encountered various aliens and civilizations. One of the stories collected in the book appeared as early as 1939, and the fix-up itself was published in 1952. The book was well known, and it's difficult to think it wasn't a large influence on Star Trek.

The Space Beagle stories have certainly influenced anime, games, and movies. For whatever it's worth, it's been claimed that one of the stories was also a strong influence on Alien; van Vogt sued over it, and Fox settled out of court.
jon meltzer
25. jmeltzer
Since costumes have been mentioned:

1960s network standards didn't permit the display of navels, so Drusilla's slave girl costume carefully covered hers.
Torie Atkinson
26. Torie
@ 23 Tom Nackid

No, I get it. I'm just saying, if you're trying to a "Roman" episode so that people flipping from channel to channel tune in, shouldn't you have the Hollywood trappings of Rome? The Nazi planet had exact Nazi uniforms (fresh from the Paramount storage closet!). Why are these guys wearing Walmart T-shirts with chains drawn on them?

@ 24 Brian2

I didn't know that! I should go check it out.

@ 25 jmeltzer

...really? Navels? I thought I remembered them in "What are Little Girls Made Of?" but you're right, they're delicately hidden there, too. Is the code listed online somewhere? I'm really curious about what other naughty spots we can't see.
Mike Conley
27. NomadUK
Torie@26: As I recall, the underside of breasts was a big no-no, as well.
Church Tucker
28. Church
@Torie Yeah, navels were a big hang-up back in the day. "I Dream of Jeanie" was notorious for avoiding that problem.

Interestingly, Trek was able to get away with it in "Mirror Mirror" for which I can only attribute that it was the 'bad' universe, so inherently condemned.
Stefan Jones
29. Tom Nackid
Torie wrote:

"No, I get it. I'm just saying, if you're trying to a "Roman" episode so that people flipping from channel to channel tune in, shouldn't you have the Hollywood trappings of Rome?"

Oh Torie, so young, bless your heart ;) Back in the 60's people didn't flip from channel to channel. Where I lived we considered ourselves lucky if we got all 3 networks to come in! No child, we carefully planned our TV viewing using the TV listings in the newspaper. (Think of a newspaper as kind of a limp, less interactive iPad.)Or, if you were well healed and and dedicated TV watcher you might have had a subscription to a thick little magazine called "TV Guide". I won't even get into how long it took the rotating antenna on the roof to pick up a new station as it chugged slowly around on its motorized mount.

OK, I was born in 64 and didn't actually start watching Trek until reruns in the early 70s, but "flipping from channel to channel" was still decades in the future for most people!

PS: I hope you don't mind me kidding you. I always look forward to your and Eugene's reviews and insites. Keep up the good work!
Torie Atkinson
30. Torie
@ 27 NomadUK

I mean at least that's the flip side of the boob coin. It kind of makes sense. I associate navels with babies. Not exactly sexy.

@ 28 Church

They were already victims of the dark one.

@ 29 Tom Nackid

You could have made that point without the condescension, but it's taken. As a kid I certainly flipped from channel to channel (there were maybe 15?) by flipping back and forth on the dial. Granted, that was in the futuristic '80s.

If it illuminates my ignorance at all I should mention that I haven't had television in nearly a decade. It's never been part of my adult life.
Stefan Jones
31. Tom Nackid
Any condescension was purely meant to be satirical. The point is cable TV and remotes vastly changed the way networks went about attracting audiences. I apologize if you felt slighted. That was not my intention.
Mike Conley
32. NomadUK
sps49@16: You're forgetting 'The Paradise Syndrome', old boy. And I think there were likely others, but they weren't explicit or obvious.
Stefan Jones
33. FDRLincoln
This episode is what I had in mind during our "Omega Glory" discussion when talking about Roddenberry as a writer.

As on Omega IV, the "parallel earth" thing is pushed too far here. There are serious problems with the plotting and story set-up, although they aren't as bad as "Omega Glory." The budget was clearly a problem in this episode, and like much of the second season, it seems like a story written in order to raid the wardrobe department at Desilu.

But like "Omega," this episode has some very positive features.

**Great interaction between the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triumvirate

**Dark satire of the TV industry

**Proconsul Cladius Marcus is one of my favorite Trek villains. He's corrupt, narcissistic, and power-hungry...but he's also intelligent, clever, sarcastic, and witty. His baiting of Kirk about the Prime Directive is one of my favorite moments in all of Star Trek..."from what I understand, your ship could lay waste to the entire surface of the world...but there's that prime directive in the way again, can't interfere (smirk)". I love that.

This episode has a lot of problems, but it is entertaining.
Stefan Jones
34. formerly DaveT
FWIW, I think Tom Nackid @29/@31 has a good point. In the '60s, people watched television shows the way they (today) go to movies. You scheduled your viewing, you sat down, and you watched it all the way through. You weren't doing other things, you couldn't pause or rewind or fast-forward through the commercials, and you shushed anyone in the room who tried to talk while the program was on. There was no point in channel-surfing, because (a) there were only 3 or 4 channels, and (b) you already knew what was on all of them, and had made your choice.

Star Trek was competing for viewer share with the other shows on in the same time slot, but TV as a whole was only competing with reading a book, playing a board game, doing a jigsaw puzzle, reading the paper. The medium (especially in color) was sufficiently novel that it didn't have to be very good to win -- kind of like the earliest video games.
Michael Burke
36. Ludon
Having been a child back in the 60s I can say that 'channel surfing' did happen but it was done only under certain circumstances such as keeping up on breaking news or trying to follow two sporting events at once on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Otherwise, you had your viewing planned. Remember, this the was pre-home video era. If you wanted to watch The Wizard of Oz you had to be in front of the TV that Sunday evening or you'd miss it until the next year's showing.

The limited capabilities of TV back then caused problems for the viewers and the networks. The space program was big news so all three networks carried the countdown and launch activities live. But. What happens when a Gemini launch gets put on a 2 to 4 hour hold and a network had a BIG football game on the schedule? Split screen or window within the screen technology was put into use. The ultimate in scheduling conflicts has to be the Heidi Bowl.
Probably the biggest audience reaction since Orson Well's War of the Worlds broadcast.
rick gregory
37. rickg
Bit too sensitive there Torie - it was pretty apparent Tom was joshing. But, to your point about the uniforms... they didn't always have the budget on TOS. It's one reason Klingons don't have facial ridges, etc but are basically made up to look slightly dark and dangerous.
Eugene Myers
38. ecmyers
@13 Torie

Good point about the Prime Directive and beaming out in front of those guards. (I have some similar issues with the next episode.) Of course, Claudius probably just had the guards killed for seeing something they shouldn't have.
Eugene Myers
39. ecmyers
@17 Church

I also gave it a Warp 3! And excellent observation about the reality TV of the Sixties. :)
Eugene Myers
40. ecmyers
@20 sps49

I didn't think the panning to the torch was meant to be suggestive (though it may have been) but to show the passage of time and imply that he spends the whole night with the slave girl, akin to cutting from Kirk and Marlena kissing to Kirk pulling his boots on in "Mirror, Mirror".
Church Tucker
41. Church
@39. ecmyers

Oh right.

Whew. I get concerned when we're out of sync.
Mike Conley
42. NomadUK
ecmyers@40: Sorry, but Kirk pulls his boots on after the cutaway in 'Wink of an Eye', not 'Mirror, Mirror'. Even with his phenomenal prowess, Kirk never finds the time to get the lovely (if a bit over-coiffed) Marlena into the sack; the energy density between the two universes is rising just too fast!
Eugene Myers
43. ecmyers
@42 NomadUK

Whoops, you're right! Hopefully he had time to catch up with the other Marlena in his own universe.
Stefan Jones
44. filkferengi
I enjoyed the tv commercials.
David Levinson
45. DemetriosX
filkferengi @44: I don't remember the TV commercials from this episode, but I wonder if they were inspired by an Ernie Kovacs routine. He did a bit as a Roman newscaster complete with commercials. You can see part of it here.
j p
46. sps49
@40 ecmyers

I'm pretty sure that cutaways like that are (were) meant to be Hays Code for "oooh, they're gonna


Re: changing channels- in the 70s, before getting cable (HBO, USA, CNN, TBS, and the Australian Rules Football network) channel changing was restricted when at Grandma's or somewhere with those tall rotating antennae (antennas?). At home we, especially my middle brother, would zip that dial from 4 to 7 to 10 and maybe 32 so fast that our parents would come over to put a stop to it before we broke the switch. No VCR, so if two good programs were on that was the method.
Church Tucker
47. Church
@sps49 Aussie football! Loved that bit of ESPN filler. Go Hawks!
Stefan Jones
51. javierv
this story is real i believe in a way... aliens have made deals with our govt(people for technology), we do have a modern day slavery with some benefits like social security and healthcare but overall its same as slavery, and there are benovolent aliens who let the slavery continue just like kirk and spock and company just leaves after they escape, they didnt stop the tyranny like they couldve, they didnt rescue the slaves or wake them up. they just left...
Stefan Jones
52. TheOtherMike
It's SOL INVICTUS, not Sol Invicti.

Kirk's middle name was never given in the original series; that "Tiberius" business was an invention of the animated series from the early 70s.

And Scotty didn't black out just the TV broadcast, he killed the electric power to the whole damned place.

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