Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “A Piece of the Action”

“A Piece of the Action”
Written by David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon
Directed by James Commack
Season 2, Episode 20
Production episode 60349
Original air date: January 12, 1968
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s log. The Enterprise approaches Sigma Iotia II, and Uhura makes contact with an official on the planet, whose name is Oxmyx and whose title is “Boss.” Kirk explains to a rather confused Oxmyx that they only just now, one hundred years later, received the final radio transmission from the Horizon, a ship that went missing. It indicated that the ship had visited Iotia, so the Enterprise is following up, since there may have been some cultural contamination (the Horizon‘s heyday was before the Prime Directive). Terms like “galaxy” and “subspace” just confuse the heck out of Oxmyx, and Kirk amusedly says that he’ll explain in detail when he meets up with him. Oxmyx says he’ll send a reception committee to meet him—and the coordinates he provides are “the intersection down the block, by the yellow fireplug.” Scotty is able to pinpoint those oh-so-specific coordinates (probably by triangulating Uhura’s signal) and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down—

—and find themselves greeted by two guys in suits and hats carrying Tommy guns and telling them to put their hands over their heads.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Iotia seems to be a replica of early 20th-century Chicago, complete with period slang coming out of the people’s mouths. They’re to be escorted to Oxmyx, but en route there’s a drive-by hit, with one of Oxmyx’s gangsters being killed.

A rather appalled landing party is brought to Oxmyx. En route two women complain about the lack of laundry pickup and the busted street lights—they pay their percentages, they want their services.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Oxmyx is in his office playing pool. He explains that there are a dozen bosses, not counting the small fry, but Oxmyx has the biggest territory. He also orders his goon to retaliate for Krako’s hit—Krako is the most powerful of the other eleven bosses.

Spock notices a prominently displayed book: Chicago Mobs of the Twenties, published in 1992. Oxmyx describes it as “the” book. The Iotians are imitative, and apparently they built their entire culture around this book.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Oxmyx wants Kirk to supply him with weapons and resources so he can wipe out the other bosses. If he doesn’t, he’ll send them back to the Enterprise in a box. Kirk refuses, of course. Oxmyx does have the three phasers and communicators the landing party came down with, and he wants another hundred or so.

The three Enterprise crew are taken away and Oxmyx calls the ship and tells Scotty that he has eight hours to provide some fancy heaters and troops to instruct in their use or he’ll put the landing party on ice. Scotty only understands a fraction of what Oxmyx is saying.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Imprisoned in a warehouse, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy agree that they need to fix the Horizon‘s contamination, and Spock says that Oxmyx’s heart is in the right place: the planet needs to be united, preferably by a method other than multiple hits.

Kirk decides to distract the guards by teaching them a nonsense card game called fizzbin, which confuses them so much that the trio are able to take them out with a thrown table, a nerve pinch, and good old-fashioned fisticuffs. Kirk orders Spock to find a radio station and break into the signal to alert Uhura to beam them up. Kirk will do likewise, but he’s bringing Oxmyx to the ship with him.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

But before Kirk can do that, he’s kidnapped by Krako. He’s got all of Oxmyx’s communications bugged. Kirk guesses that Krako wants the same thing Oxmyx wants—but Krako’s not threatening Kirk, he’s offering a percentage of the profits. Kirk’s got a counter proposal: that Oxmyx, Krako, and the other bosses sit down and talk like reasonable people. Krako thinks that’s nuts—that’s not how The Book says to do things—so he quickly switches to threats. Kirk says no deal, and Krako puts him on ice.

Oxmyx calls the Enterprise—and is very surprised to see that Spock is back on the ship—and informs them that Kirk has been kidnapped. Spock reluctantly agrees to Oxmyx’s terms of truce and assistance in retrieving Kirk from Krako’s clutches. This proves unwise, as Oxmyx takes them prisoner as soon as they materialize.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

However, Kirk escapes all on his own thanks to clever use of a radio wire, a garbage basket, and a blanket. He rescues Spock and McCoy, and the former reports to Kirk that the computer was singularly unhelpful, as logic and facts don’t really apply here. (He ain’t kiddin’.)

So Kirk plays a hunch. He gets Oxmyx’s two thugs to remove their suits, and Kirk and Spock change into them, and head to Krako’s in a car—which Kirk drives with a spectacular lack of skill, to the point where even Spock gives him shit about it.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

A kid, wanting a piece of the action, offers to help them with their hit on Krako by distracting the two guards on Krako’s place so Kirk and Spock can take them out efficiently without a big shootout on the street. Inside, they use their phasers on two more guards, but two more get the drop on them.

Kirk then gets into character and announces that the Federation is takin’ over. They don’t want to use their muscle, they prefer to be subtle. They just have one guy take over and pull the strings, and the Federation pulls their strings. Kirk calls the ship and tells Scotty that Krako is standing twelve feet in front of him all ready to help take over. Scotty gets the message and beams Krako up.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Kirk and Spock drive back to Oxmyx’s place, and instruct Oxmyx to call the other bosses. Each time he does, Scotty locks in on the person on the other end and beams them over, and then Krako beams down as well. This leads to a scene filled with mass confusion around Oxmyx’s pool table until Kirk tells them to shut up and run their planet like a business, not a criminal empire. The Federation gets 40%. But the bosses are skeptical, as all they’ve seen is three guys—even Krako, who’s been to the ship, only saw one room and three other guys and that’s it.

Krako’s thugs wake up and decide to hit Oxmyx’s place. The distraction allows Krako to take McCoy’s Tommy gun. Kirk convinces Krako to let him call the ship one more time to say goodbye. This gives Kirk a chance to demonstrate how powerful the Federation is. He has Scotty fire the phasers on stun on a one-block radius, which knocks everyone on the street out. The bosses are suitably impressed.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Oxmyx thinks Kirk should be the top boss, but Kirk insists that the Federation can’t get directly involved with something so small-time. He proposes Oxmyx as the boss, Krako as his lieutenant, and the Federation will come by once a year to take their cut. The bosses agree.

Back on the ship, Spock points out how irregular Kirk’s solution is, and also wonders how Kirk will explain the Federation coming by to take their cut once a year. Kirk says they’ll put the money back into the planetary treasury.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Of more concern is that McCoy thinks he left his communicator in Oxmyx’s office. That means the imitative and resourceful Iotians have access to transtator technology…

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently all 23rd century Federation technology is based on the transtator.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Fascinating. As in “I, Mudd,” Spock shows he’s perfectly willing to role-play in the service of the mission, although it takes him a while to get the hang of the slang. Having said that, one of the biggest laughs of an episode full of them is Spock saying, “I would advise yas ta keep dialin’, Oxmyx.”

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy looks incredibly awkward holding a Tommy gun on Oxmyx and his goons, and it’s not really surprising that Krako gets the drop on him later. He also apparently can’t keep track of his communicator.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura is monitoring radio transmissions, which probably provides her with tons of entertainment, based on the brief bit we hear when Spock and McCoy are in the radio station (I love the ad for machine guns). It also enables the latter two to contact her (to her surprise) after they free themselves from Oxmyx’s clutches. 

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty struggles mightily with the slang, and never really quite gets it—Kirk pretty much has to translate to Scotty everything that he is saying in slang for the Iotians’ benefit—though he does make a game attempt by referring to “concrete galoshes” to Krako.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

It’s a Russian invention. Chekov has the first line of the episode—”Approaching Sigma Iotia II, Captain”—and is not seen or heard from again after that.

Go put on a red shirt. Two security guards keep their “heaters” on Krako the whole time he’s in the transporter.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Oxmyx and Krako each have molls whose primary purpose is to sit provocatively on their bosses’ respective desks. Initially, Krako tries to convince Kirk to throw in with him by sending his moll over to cuddle up to Kirk. When Kirk refuses the deal, she gets up and walks away.

Channel open. “Must we?”

“It’s faster than walking.”

“But not as safe.”

“Are you afraid of cars?”

“Not at all, Captain. It is your driving that alarms me.”

Spock and Kirk discussing the pros and cons of travelling from Krako’s to Oxmyx’s via automobile.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Welcome aboard. Anthony Caruso and Vic Tayback are pretty much perfectly cast as Oxmyx and Krako. The various other Iotians are played by Steven Marlo, Lee Delano, John Harmon, Buddy Garion, Sheldon Collins, Dyanne Thorne, and Sharyn Hillyer. Plus we have recurring regulars James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig.

Trivial matters: This episode has its origins in one of the notions Gene Roddenberry had for the series early on, though it was only a two-word concept: “President Capone.” George Clayton Johnson wrote a treatment called “The Syndicate” based on that, but it never went anywhere. Gene Coon dug it up and hired David P. Harmon to write a new “President Capone” treatment, which eventually became this script. As is common, Coon sometimes did uncredited rewrites of scripts as show-runner (his doing so for “The Trouble with Tribbles” was documented in David Gerrold’s book about the episode), but since he was no longer show-runner when this episode was produced, he was credited for his rewrite of Harmon’s script.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

An Earth Cargo Ship called Horizon is mentioned throughout Enterprise, and is seen in the episode “Horizon,” complete with a copy of a book on the gangs of Chicago in Mayweather’s quarters on that cargo ship. Though it’s never stated, it’s implied that that was the ship that visited Iotia. The Enterprise novel Kobayashi Maru by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin made it explicit, despite the fact that the Iotians know about the Federation, and the Federation didn’t exist yet at the time of that novel.

Several works of tie-in fiction have dealt with the aftermath of this episode in various ways. DC’s second monthly Star Trek comic had an arc called “The Trial of James T. Kirk” in issues #7-12 written by Peter David, and one of the witnesses was Oxmyx. He returned McCoy’s communicator untouched. Contrariwise, Shane Johnson’s The Worlds of the Federation had the Iotians adapt the transtator technology and the culture turned their imitative tendencies toward acting like Starfleet personnel. The New Frontier: No Limits story “All that Glisters…” by Loren L. Coleman established that Iotia had become a Federation world and a few Iotians had joined Starfleet, including Jodd Pako in that story and the recurring character of Makk Vinx in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series, both of whom talk like 1920s gangsters. The TNG crew travelled to Iotia in the story “A Piece of Reaction” written by Mangels & Martin for the tenth and final issue of Marvel’s Star Trek Unlimited comic. Iotia has also shown up in several of the role-playing and video games and a few Strange New Worlds short stories.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

The first notion the Deep Space Nine writing staff had for the 30th anniversary episode in 1996 that eventually became “Trials and Tribble-ations” was to do a sequel to this episode, with a situation similar to that proposed by Johnson in Worlds: Iotia was now a planet full of people dressed like and acting like 23rd-century Starfleet personnel.

Quark offers to teach Odo how to play fizzbin in the DS9 episode “The Ascent,” which raises the question of whether or not it was Kirk or the Iotians who marketed the game after Kirk made it up on the spot in this episode. The game shows up periodically in other bits of tie-in fiction, including most hilariously in Diane Duane’s novel The Empty Chair, in which McCoy gives us tournament fizzbin, which also involves copious imbibing of Romulan Ale.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Kirk and Spock putting their feet up on Krako’s desk is an homage to a similar scene in Little Caesar.

In addition to James Blish’s adaptation in Star Trek 4, this episode also received the fotonovel treatment, complete with an introduction by Anthony Caruso, who wrote it in the style of Oxmyx.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

The ending of this episode inspired the plot for the Enterprise episode “The Communicator” when Reed accidentally leaves his communicator behind on a pre-warp planet, and the crew has to deal with the consequences.

To boldly go. “Okay, you three, let’s see you petrify!” The notion of using existing backlots and costumes and standing sets that were available to the Desilu Studio to save on costs for Star Trek episodes was hardly a new one at this point. It’s what drove the structure of “Miri,” “The Squire of Gothos,” “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” “The Return of the Archons,” “The City on the Edge of Forever,” and “Bread and Circuses.” Only “Tomorrow” and “City” were truly legitimate uses, as the crew actually travelled to the 20th century, leaving the others to provide either slim-to-no justification (“Miri,” “Archons,” “Bread”) or a deliberate impersonation (“Gothos”).

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

“A Piece of the Action” takes the latter-most of those routes, as we get a society that deliberately patterned itself after a book on Chicago mobs. Best of all, since it’s based on a second-hand account (one written seventy years after the events described in the text), you have an in-script justification for why the streets look like a backlot (they were imitating something described) and why the characterizations are so exaggerated.

Whether or not the episode actually works really depends on how funny you find it, because the episode is pure cheese from start to finish. At the very least, you know that from jump, as it’s impossible to take any of it entirely seriously—though the danger, at least, feels real thanks to the hit at the top of the episode that claims the life of a thug.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Me, I think it’s hilarious. I mean, it’s absurd, but it so completely wears its absurdity on its sleeve, I can’t bring myself to care all that much. William Shatner is having so much fun playing dress-up and acting all gangster-y, Anthony Caruso and Vic Tayback chew every bit of scenery available to them, and Leonard Nimoy remains the world’s greatest straight man. To be fair, he gets serious competition in the straight-man derby from Lee Delano, whose dazed expression while Kirk teaches him fizzbin is comedy gold.

If you don’t think it’s funny, then it’s a lot easier to see the holes in the story. My personal favorite is Spock and McCoy falling for the oldest trick in the book and beaming down to Oxmyx only to be captured again. Just in general the changing face of the upper hand in any given scene gets more than a little absurd by the end. Also, Kirk and Spock went to Krako’s with phaser pistols, but it’s the little hand-phasers that Krako is looking at after he captures them. And McCoy is totally wasted in the episode—even his banter with Spock in the radio station feels perfunctory.

Star Trek, season 2, A Piece of the Action

Still, it’s a fun little romp that isn’t required to be anything more than that. This isn’t how you’d want every episode to be, but it’s a nice diversion.


Warp factor rating: 6

Next week:By Any Other Name

Keith R.A. DeCandido had way too much fun writing Makk Vinx in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers story “Security,” which appeared in the trade paperback Wounds. He was also the editor of both No Limits and the S.C.E. series, so the presence of two smart-talkin’ Iotian mooks in Starfleet is pretty much entirely his fault, since he let Loren L. Coleman get away with it—twice! (In addition to writing the fateful story in No Limits, Loren’s also the one who put Vinx on the U.S.S. da Vinci in “The Demon.”)


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