“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
Written by Lee Cronin and Oliver Crawford
Directed by Jud Taylor
Season 3, Episode 15
Production episode 60043-70
Original air date: January 10, 1969
Captain’s log. The Enterprise is en route to Ariannus to decontaminate the world, which is being overrun by a bacterial infection. Sulu picks up a Starfleet shuttlecraft flying on an erratic course—it matches the configuration of the shuttle stolen from Starbase 4 two weeks ago.
The shuttle is damaged, and the sole occupant isn’t responding, so Kirk has Sulu tractor the shuttle into the bay, then he, Spock, and a security team go to the bay to find a humanoid named Lokai, whose skin pigmentation is black on the left side and white on the right. He collapses and is brought to sickbay.
Lokai awakens, insisting his need for the shuttle made it necessary for him to make use of it. He resents Kirk’s accusations of thievery, though he is grateful for the rescue. However, he refuses to answer any further questions. Kirk intends to drop him off at Starbase 4 as soon as they’re done at Ariannus.
Chekov reports another ship, but it’s invisible, as there isn’t money in the budget for a new alien ship. The ship is built for speed, apparently, and it makes a kamikaze run at the Enterprise and disintegrates against the shields—but before it does so, it deposits another person similar to Lokai on the bridge. His name is Bele,and his skin is black on the right side and white on the left.
Bele is an officer of the law on Cheron, and he’s after Lokai. He wishes to take Lokai into custody, but Kirk isn’t quite ready to turn him over yet. Kirk and Spock do escort Bele to sickbay, where McCoy is tending to Lokai.
Lokai is a political prisoner: he is an agitator who is fighting for rights for his people—the folks with black skin on their left side—after millennia of oppression by Bele’s people. They obviously despise each other, and Kirk has to keep them physically separated.
Kirk also points out that there is no extradition treaty between the Federation and Cheron. The best he can offer to Bele—who wants the Enterprise to go to Cheron immediately—or Lokai—who wants asylum—is to take them both to Starbase 4 and let the authorities there deal with them.
After Bele is sent to his guest quarters, Chekov reports that the ship has changed course. Scotty can’t regain control. Kirk calls red alert, while Lokai leaves sickbay. Bele appears on the bridge and announces that he has mental control of the ship. He has been chasing Lokai for 50,000 years, and he won’t wait any longer.
Lokai comes to the bridge and begs for sanctuary, with Bele making snide commentary about how he always finds fools to help him. Kirk tries to put them into custody, but they’re both protected by personal force fields, apparently.
So Kirk has one last card to play: he’ll destroy the ship. Bele insists he’s bluffing, so Kirk starts the self-destruct sequence. Bele holds out until the last second and then Kirk aborts the sequence and Bele returns control to Kirk. The ship heads to Ariannus.
Kirk doesn’t put them in the brig, and he encourages the pair of them to learn about the Federation from some of its finest representatives.
Lokai takes advantage, talking to some of the crew in the rec room, telling them of the oppression he lived under. For Bele’s part, Starfleet denies his request to take Lokai to Cheron immediately—there must be a hearing, in lieu of any extradition treaty between the two governments. Bele is also appalled to realize that the crew don’t understand the significance of the difference between him and Lokai: the side of the body that is black is different. To Bele, that’s everything, whereas to the Starfleet officers, it’s an irrelevant difference.
The ship arrives at Ariannus. Scotty supervises the decontamination procedure, and then Kirk orders the ship to head for Starbase 4. Kirk invites Bele to the bridge, where it’s revealed that he has burned out navigation and the self-destruct. The ship is back under Bele’s control. Lokai shows up and the two of them shout at each other and then attack. They struggle, even as Kirk tries to convince them that fighting will just end their battle prematurely.
However, they’re almost to Cheron in any case, so Kirk proceeds the rest of the way there. Spock’s scan reveals cities, a system of roads, and lower animal life and plant life, but no sapient life. There are lots of corpses, though. Bele and Lokai are devastated to realize that the hate their people had for each other led to genocide. First Lokai leaves the bridge, then Bele chases him. They chase each other through the corridors for what seems like days before Lokai makes it to the transporter room and beams himself down. Bele follows.
Leaving them to kill each other, Kirk has Sulu set course to Starbase 4.
Fascinating. Spock gives Bele a bit of Vulcan history, consistent with what we’ve been told, primarily in “Balance of Terror“: Vulcans used to be savage and warlike, in much the same way the Cherons are, but they saved themselves by embracing logic.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy absolutely is sure that the odd pigmentation of Lokai is a one-of-a-kind genetic mutation that couldn’t possibly be a normal thing. Spock concurs. They are proven 100% wrong when Bele shows up and it’s discovered that there’s a whole planet of these folks. Oops.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu, along with Chekov, talks about racial prejudice as an abstract and outdated concept from the 20th century on Earth. At the end, he wonders what they have left to fight for.
It’s a Russian invention. Chekov gets to report every time something goes horribly wrong with the ship. Sucks to be the ensign.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura does her usual thing of passing on messages and hailing people and stuff.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty is surprisingly quiet on the subject of destroying the ship, calmly giving his code along with Kirk and Spock.
Channel open. “All that matters to them is their hate.”
“Do you suppose that’s all they ever had, sir?”
“No, but that’s all they have left.”
Spock, Uhura, and Kirk delivering the moral of the episode.
Welcome aboard. Having had Catwoman last week, this week we get the Riddler! Frank Gorshin, who is definitely best known for his role as the Riddler on the Batman TV series and its attendant movie, plays Bele. Lou Antonio plays Lokai, while recurring regulars James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett are all here as well.
Trivial matters: The sequence for the Enterprise self-destruct was repeated almost identically in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, only in the movie, the sequence was completed.
The footage superimposed over Bele and Lokai running through the Enterprise corridors was stock footage of cities burning in Europe after aerial assaults during World War II.
The zooming in and out on the red alert signal, with the camera at a tilt, was allegedly an homage to Gorshin’s more famous role as the Riddler, as that kind of goofy camerawork was a hallmark of Batman.
Gene Coon’s outline was originally written in 1966 for the first season, but it was never used. By this stage of the third season, they were using any old crap lying around the office, so they dusted this one off and gave it to Oliver Crawford to write a teleplay based on it. As with all of Coon’s third-season work—of which this is his last—it’s under his “Lee Cronin” pseudonym.
The Romulan War novels by Michael A. Martin established that a battle took place on Cheron during the titular conflict, which was referenced by Admiral Jarok in TNG‘s “The Defector,” though if it was the site of a battle during the Romulan War, Kirk wouldn’t have described it as being in an uncharted region…
Greg Cox established in his novel No Time Like the Past that Bele and Lokai continued their conflict on Cheron, even though they were the only ones left.
To boldly go. “It doesn’t make any sense!” Whenever people write articles about how Star Trek did social commentary, this episode always comes up as a popular example of how brilliant they were at it.
And every time I read one of those articles, my teeth hurt, because this episode is just awful.
The basic message is a good one. I love the total confusion on Kirk and Spock’s face when Bele explains that Lokai is so obviously inferior because of which side of his face has the white and black pigmentation.
But that is all this slog of an episode has going for it. There’s only about fifteen minutes of story here, and it’s endlessly stretched out to an hour. Countless reaction shots as the crew wonders where the invisible ship is. Countless reaction shots as they realize the Enterprise is out of control. Simply endless closeups (including a bizarre fetish for closeups of eyes and mouths during the self-destruct sequence). Long drawn-out closeup reaction shots when Bele takes over the ship a second time. The spectacularly uninteresting decontamination procedure on Ariannus, which has absolutely nothing to do with the plot and should have happened between scenes, but no, we have to suffer through this simple procedure that goes off without a hitch because we need to fill time.
And then the final indignity, being forced to watch simply endless shots of Bele and Lokai running through corridors. And running through corridors. And then running through more corridors. And then, for good measure, running through yet still more corridors.
All wrapped around a plot that has the subtlety of a nuclear explosion, with the cherry on top being the sledgehammery bit in the rec room where Chekov and Sulu talk about the bad ol’ 20th century with its yucky racial prejudice, and thank God we don’t have that nonsense anymore. (And I’m just wondering where Stiles from “Balance of Terror” fits in…)
Okay, the episode has one other thing going for it: no one ever went wrong casting Frank Gorshin in anything, and he does a fantastic job as the hardliner Bele. An aggressively nasty turn, done in only by the doofy manner in which Gorshin runs through the corridors (which he does a lot, did I mention that?) at the end.
Warp factor rating: 3
Next week: “Whom Gods Destroy”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be curating a special New York Review of Science Fiction event at the Brooklyn Commons, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, featuring authors Steven Barnes and David Mack, as well as Tor.com’s own Emily Asher-Perrin. It will take place Thursday the 8th of September—the actual 50th anniversary—at 7pm.