“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
Teleplay by Oliver Crawford
Story by Lee Cronin (Gene L. Coon)
Directed by Jud Taylor
Season 3, Episode 15
Production episode 3×15
Original air date: January 10, 1969
Recap: David Mack
The Enterprise is en route to decontaminate Ariannus, a planet attacked by a bioweapon. Along the way it crosses paths with a Starfleet shuttlecraft stolen from Starbase 4 two weeks earlier that, judging from its movements, has been converted into a rocking chair. Kirk has the shuttlecraft brought aboard. He and Spock go meet its pilot, who collapses at their feet: it’s an alien whose face is chalk-white on the right and pitch-black on the left.
The alien is brought to sickbay, where McCoy confirms the dude’s two-tone color scheme is natural, though the Federation has no record of a world where such a species exists. They leap to the obvious conclusion: he’s a one-of-a-kind mutant.
After being revived, this exile from the planet Cheron (apparently a world of half-mimes, half-blackface minstrels) says his name is Lokai. Kirk recognizes the name of Lokai’s world and says it’s “in the southernmost part of the galaxy, in an uncharted quarter.” (If the planet’s in an uncharted quarter, how the hell does Kirk know about it? No, never mind that right now, we need to get on with this shameless morality play.)
Kirk busts Lokai’s chops over the theft of the shuttlecraft, so Lokai gets all huffy, says he’s “very tired,” and refuses to answer any more questions until he’s had a nap.
After telling Uhura to let Starbase 4 know that Enterprise has recovered its stolen shuttle, Kirk is called back to the bridge because of another approaching alien vessel. When he asks to see it, however, there’s nothing on screen but stars. The ship registers on sensors but is otherwise invisible. Spock rules out the possibility of a Romulan cloaked ship, but fails to consider that if the producers hadn’t spent so much of this episode’s budget casting recurring Batman guest star Frank Gorshin, they might have had enough cash on hand to give his character a goddamned spaceship.
Despite not being able to see anything on the main viewscreen except stars, Chekov declares, “It’s headed straight for us!” (Okay, Ensign, you’re cut off. Hand over the keys to the starship and let Sulu drive you back to your quarters.) Then he announces the tiny vessel is on a collision course with the Enterprise. Kirk sounds the Red Alert, which makes the camera zoom frantically in and out but seems to have no effect on the lower-decks crew, who ignore the whooping klaxon and go about their business as usual.
As it turns out, the ship’s rank and file had the right idea. Sulu cries, “Brace for collision!” And then…nothing happens. Spock says the space capsule disintegrated, but in so doing it deposited an alien presence. Kirk invites trouble by asking, “Where?” He is answered by a voice from behind him on the bridge: “Right here, Captain.” It’s another two-tone twit—white on the left, black on the right, and garbed in gray pajamas trimmed with muchos bling. So much for McCoy’s “one-of-a-kind mutant” theory.
The intruder is Commissioner Bele, and he’s here to arrest Lokai and return him in custody to Cheron to face justice. Kirk poops on Bele’s parade by explaining he won’t surrender custody of Lokai without proper due process. Bele argues that Lokai was convicted of treason on Cheron but escaped before his sentence could be imposed. So, he asks Kirk, pretty please with sugar and a cherry on top, may he visit Lokai in sickbay? Since he asked nicely, Kirk agrees.
It’s not a cheerful reunion. Lokai accuses Bele and his kind of enslaving Lokai’s people. Bele calls Lokai and all his ilk primitive scum who subvert every good thing. There’s a lot of screaming and hyperbole. Satisfied that the two gents are well acquainted, Kirk reminds Lokai that he’s a prisoner, and Bele that he can’t have Lokai because Cheron is not a member of the Federation or a signatory to any of its extradition treaties.
That should be the end of it, right? … Not quite.
Because his ship has been destroyed, Bele insists that Kirk drive him and Lokai back to Cheron. Kirk refuses, citing his ship’s urgent mission to decontaminate Ariannus. He sends Bele to cool off in guest quarters and tells Lokai to get some rest, “especially your vocal chords.”
Chekov hails Kirk to warn him the ship is changing course as if by its own volition. Kirk’s brilliant advice: “Put it back on course.” As if no one had tried that already. Seriously, imagine you’re Chekov. If you have a choice between making a course correction on the downlow, or bothering your captain to tell him that you’re essentially unable to perform your most basic job function, don’t you think you’d make every effort to fix the problem on your own before humiliating yourself?
At any rate, the Enterprise backs up as if to make a three-point turn. Kirk and Spock return to the bridge, where no one has anything useful to contribute. Scotty’s in the dark, too. As the ship hurtles off-course at Warp 8, Kirk sounds the Red Alert, which once again the crew ignores while Lokai uses it as a distraction to escape from sickbay.
Bele storms onto the bridge and declares the ship is en route to Cheron under his control. He justifies his hijacking of the Enterprise by saying he has pursued Lokai through the galaxy for 50,000 years and won’t give him up now. Kirk, perhaps flabbergasted that Bele looks pretty good for a fifty-thousand-year-old man, lets Bele blather about Lokai’s crimes while Lokai whines that his cause is just and begs Kirk to kill Bele.
Kirk finally snaps and tells them they are “two of a kind.” Bele refuses to relinquish control of the ship, so Kirk orders security to place both aliens in the brig. When the redshirts try to grab the minstrel-mimes, they are shocked by the aliens’ force fields, which are impervious to phasers. Fed up, Kirk says that unless the ship is returned to his control he’ll use its self-destruct system to blow it up.
Bele doesn’t think Kirk is serious. Has he called Kirk’s bluff? Kirk boots up the self-destruct system and, with Spock and Scotty’s help, sets a 30-second detonation timer (in a series of extreme close-ups that reveal the sorry state of Federation dentistry in the 23rd century). Time for a good, old-fashioned game of Chicken, James T. Kirk style!
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that Bele backs down. Kirk aborts the destruct order at the very last possible second. We make fun of Skipper Jimmy for lots of things, but give him props for this: he never even broke a sweat. That’s some serious poker face. Bele tries to renege on his surrender, and then he tries to make a deal, but Kirk holds firm, and the ship is returned to its original course, under the crew’s control.
Kirk is so magnanimous in victory that he doesn’t even toss Lokai and Bele in the brig. Instead, he gives them a little speech about how much more civilized he and his fellow Federation citizens are, then gives his “guests” permission to roam the non-secure areas of the ship. Yeah, because that can’t possibly go wrong.
Lokai spends his free time giving speeches in the rec room, trying to drum up support (or perhaps just pity) from the Enterprise’s officers and crew. As the ship approaches what appears to be a huge, not-quite-circular piece of bluish cardboard in space (but is probably meant to be the planet Ariannus), Bele continues arguing his case to Kirk and Spock over a round of stiff drinks.
Uhura interrupts with a message from Starfleet Command, which has refused to extradite Lokai until after a formal hearing of Bele’s evidence. This seems eminently reasonable to everyone except Bele, who rails against the Federation’s sympathy for Lokai, who he derides as a member of “an inferior breed.” Spock replies that the “obvious visual evidence … is that he is of the same breed as yourself.” Bele is shocked!
BELE: Are you blind, Commander Spock? Look at me. (off their reactions) Look at me!
KIRK: You’re black on one side and white on the other.
BELE: I am black on the right side.
KIRK: I fail to see the significant difference.
BELE: Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.
Got a headache yet? After being hit over the head with this sledgehammer of an allegory, you should.
The Enterprise reaches Ariannus and completes its mission to decontaminate the planet. Kirk orders Sulu to set course for Starbase 4. Then they get punked again: Bele has once more commandeered the ship, and this time he has burned out the directional controls and the self-destruct system. Looks like the Enterprise is going to Cheron, after all.
A whole lot of speechifying and idle threats fill the next couple of minutes before Bele and Lokai start kicking each other’s asses. Kirk talks them down and gets Bele to return control of the ship by promising to let him reach Cheron with his prisoner. The ship arrives at the planet a minute later. (I guess they took the HOV express lane.)
Sensor readings tell a grim story: all the inhabitants of Cheron are dead. Lokai’s people and Bele’s people have exterminated one another. The two twits are the last survivors of their species. Kirk offers them both sanctuary in the Federation and urges them to abandon their conflict, which no longer serves any purpose.
Lokai and Bele run in circles through the ship’s corridors, getting some good aerobic exercise, while the audience is forced to watch World War II stock footage of the aftermath of the bombing of Dresden. Lokai beams down to Cheron, and Bele follows him. Kirk orders the Enterprise out of orbit and leaves the minstrel-mime and the mime-minstrel to their pointless battle.
Uhura remarks, “It doesn’t make any sense.” Spock replies, “To expect sense from two mentalities of such extreme viewpoints is not logical.” I’ll forgo any cheap political jokes, no doubt to your collective surprise.
The episode ends on this not-at-all-subtle exchange:
SULU: Their planet’s dead. Does it matter now which one’s right?
SPOCK: Not to Lokai and Bele. All that matters to them is their hate.
UHURA: Do you suppose that’s all they ever had, sir?
KIRK: No. … But it’s all they have left.
The Enterprise heads for home as we… FADE OUT.
It’s all too easy to make fun of this episode. It’s campy and woefully lacking in subtlety. The absurd in-and-out zooms on the Red Alert light, which were included by director Jud Taylor as an homage to guest star Frank Gorshin’s role as The Riddler on the Batman television series, feel badly out of place. The whole thing is full of self-congratulatory speeches by Kirk and hysterical ranting by Lokai and Bele. Equally embarrassing is the sequence involving Bele’s ship, which was rendered invisible by a shortage in the third season’s effects budget. This episode is one of those most often referenced by pop culture mavens looking to mock the Star Trek franchise.
Regardless, it still has a number of touches that are worth noting. There is a unique “beauty shot” of the Enterprise during the opening credits that pushes in from beneath the saucer and ends on a closeup of the ventral dome and phaser array. Some of the angles chosen by Jud Taylor and director of photography Al Francis evoke the dramatic visual styles of the show’s first season. And the music cues by Fred Steiner are top-notch.
It would be a mistake to dismiss this episode’s commentary on irrational hatred as an outdated allegory about 1960s-era white-vs.-black race relations in the United States. Though we now have a president of mixed ethnic heritage, deep emotional divisions clearly still fester in our 21st-century society. If this episode’s message is considered in the context of ideology rather than race, the recent tragedy in Tucson makes this episode’s final exchange feel ominously prescient. Perhaps we should all stop making fun of Star Trek for a moment and try taking its lessons to heart instead.
David’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Analysis: Dayton Ward
“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” has always struck me as one of those ideas that looks good on paper, but stumbles when it comes to its actual execution. Some of Star Trek’s best episodes are thinly veiled allegories examining issues which were of interest and concern during the era of the show’s production (and which still trouble us today, but that’s a discussion all its own), and this attempt to convey such a message is thinner than most. I’m pretty sure this is one of the episodes Gene Roddenberry had in mind when he said the following during his introduction to “The Cage,” for that episode’s home video release in 1986, describing what he’d wanted to do with Star Trek when he was developing it in the 1960s:
“Perhaps I could use this as an excuse to go to those far-off planets, with little polka-dotted people, if necessary. And to be able to talk about love, war, nature, God, sex, all those things that go to make up the excitement of the human condition. Maybe the TV censors would let it pass because it all seemed so make-believe.”
Okay, so we don’t have “polka-dotted people” here, but we do have the decision to paint guest actors Lou Antonio and Frank Gorshin in a ludicrous make-up scheme of black-and-white with a perfect division straight down the middle of their faces. This seems to have provided sufficient cover to get the whole “racism is bad” part of the episode past the studio and network executives. At first glance, Bele and Lokai look like actors in a Saturday Night Live skit (“The Adventures of Othello Fellow!”), and maybe it’s just because I’ve seen this episode countless times, but to me it seems painfully obvious that the there is an earnest effort to prevent Kirk and company from even bothering to wonder why the skin colors are reversed on the two aliens, at least until Bele drops the “bombshell” on them. It almost works—almost, but not quite—thanks to some of the dialogue exchanged between Bele and Lokai in various scenes.
However, by the time Bele is asking Kirk and Spock how it is that they can’t see the plain, obvious difference between him and Lokai, anything resembling subtlety is gone. It’s interesting to note that Lokai, as a representative of the oppressed, is “white on the right side,” which on Cheron is code for “those people.” Given the climate with respect to race relations during the time in which this episode was produced, this seems an obvious decision to say nothing of a rather cunning bit of commentary on the part of the producers. Still, the entire affair is so simplistic, so (if you’ll pardon the expression) black and white, that the episode’s message is undermined by its blunt delivery.
Speaking of Bele and Lokai, I have to wonder how Bele is able to make the Enterprise change course through the power of his mind, but Lokai apparently has no comparable ability to take the ship in a different direction, or at least cancel out what Bele’s doing. And what about those “personal shields” of theirs? Are they some kind of artificial field, or a naturally-occurring phenomenon unique to the people of Cheron? How is it generated? What’s its power source? Do they need to carb up, eat spinach, or drink Gatorade to replenish any vital liquids, vitamins and minerals?
I won’t bore you with nitpicky details about other things, such as how the black and white makeup covers their eyebrows and even frosts the hair at their temples (Whoops! Too late!), and instead say that Lou Antonio does a commendable job portraying the persecuted fugitive Lokai. His impassioned pleas to Kirk and, later, Sulu and other members of the Enterprise crew make you wonder what he and his people endured on Cheron at the hands of the “white on the left side” folks.
However, it’s Frank Gorshin who gets the hat tip for this episode. It’s too easy to compare Bele to Gorshin’s portrayal of The Riddler from the Batman television series, especially since the costume he wears is very similar to the “Bat-villian’s” ensemble. Still, Gorshin dials back by several notches any of his Riddler persona, playing Bele as very cool and reserved. This only serves to heighten the impact when Bele’s emotional control cracks and finally crumbles while confronting Lokai.
The story for this episode would mark the final contribution to the original series by Gene L. Coon, who by this point was working under an exclusive contract at another studio, but continued to write stories for the third season under his pen name of “Lee Cronin” as part of the arrangement he had made to be let out of his contract with Star Trek.
One thing that everybody seems to remember from this episode is the “self-destruct sequence” ordered by Kirk as a means of forcing Bele to give him back control of the Enterprise. The sequence would be repeated almost verbatim fifteen years later when Kirk orders the ship’s destruction—for real, this time—in 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It’s an interesting little exercise here, but ultimately pointless, since we all know the ship’s not really going to blow up. Also, the extreme close-ups of everyone involved in the process show us that Leonard Nimoy missed a few whiskers when shaving that morning. On the other hand, it does give the late, lovely Majel Barrett some extra “talk time” for the episode, as she provides the voice of the ship’s computer. Still, the whole thing is incredibly long and drawn out, and is one of several problems plaguing this episode.
“Such as?” I can hear you asking.
Well, for instance, the scenes of the “Starbase 4 shuttlecraft” during the teaser. Raise your hands if you saw the markings that read “U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701/7.” These scenes are actually footage originally filmed for the first-season episode “The Galileo Seven,” and this same footage was reused for pretty much every subsequent episode that features scenes of a shuttlecraft in space. For the “remastered” edition of the original series, the CBS Digital special effects team rendered unique effects for each episode with shuttlecraft sequences.
Hey, at least we got to see the shuttlecraft, which is more than we can say for the vessel Bele arrives in. As Mr. Mack noted up above, the commissioner’s “invisible ship” was a product of the frugal budgetary atmosphere which surrounded the series in its final year. While the notion of an invisible vessel isn’t unique to Star Trek, one has to wonder about the usefulness of such a feature if the craft can still be detected by another ship’s sensors.
Once more the specter of a tight budget rears its ugly head in this episode. Yes, it’s a bottle show—an episode filmed entirely on standing sets in an attempt to contain production costs—which makes the notable lack of crew members wandering the halls even more noticeable in those scenes where Bele is chasing Lokai through the ship. Okay, there is that one dude Bele runs over, but otherwise? The place looks deserted. The other insert scenes with people in the corridors are taken from other episodes. The dead giveaway there is the difference in fabrics used for the uniforms for the first and second seasons versus the third year. Interesting continuity note: Even though Bele is supposed to be chasing Lokai, you can see that the scene of Frank Gorshin running through this section of corridor looks to have been filmed before Lou Antonio’s. Why? There are visible scuff marks on the deck as Lokai runs past, which are actually left by the crewman Bele knocks down while giving chase.
Pacing, budgetary, and story problems aside, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” does stumble in its attempt to present an uncomplicated allegorical take on a complex sociological issue. However, one can argue that there are times when simple, frank discussion is desirable, as recent events have so harshly reminded us. As I mentioned to Mr. Mack just the other day when we were exchanging notes on this episode, though we might find fault with—and even find a moment to poke fun at—the messenger, the message itself is still worth delivering.
Dayton’s Rating: Warp 2.5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.
David Mack is white on the left side.
Dayton Ward is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.