“The Magicks of Megas-Tu”
Written by Larry Brody
Directed by Hal Sutherland
Animated Season 1, Episode 8
Production episode 22009
Original air date: October 27, 1973
Captain’s log. The Enterprise takes a journey to the center of the galaxy in the hopes of seeing matter being created. A kind of matter/energy whirlwind sucks the Enterprise in. They can’t break free of it, so they try to get to the center of it. They find themselves in a place that Spock describes as being outside of time and space. All systems on board start to fail, including life support.
A creature appears on the ship who looks like popular conceptions of the devil and restores ship’s power. He calls himself Lucien and a friend, expressing glee that humans finally found him. He transports Kirk, Spock, and McCoy off the bridge, leaving a stunned Sulu, Arex, and Uhura behind.
They’re on a world called Megas-Tu where Lucien can manipulate pretty much everything. It starts as a desert, and then becomes a forest paradise. He explains that some of the people of Megas-Tu traveled to Earth in its ancient past to guide humanity.
Suddenly, Lucien panics and then sends Kirk, Spock, and McCoy back to the Enterprise, worried that they might be discovered by his fellow Megans.
Since magic seems to work here, Spock decides to draw a pentagram and use magic because it’s logical. Sure enough, he’s able to move a chess piece with his mind. Soon, the rest of the crew starts to make things happen. But Lucien reappears in a panic, saying they shouldn’t be messing with this stuff, because they might be discovered.
Turns out there’s no “might” about it—the other Megans do discover it and take the bridge crew and puts them in a re-creation of Salem, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. They’re tried as witches, accused of being the most violent species by Asmodeus.
Asmodeus tells the rest of the story that Lucien left out: humans tried to use the Megans for their own ends, or called them witches and devils, including tormenting them in the place they settled, to wit, Salem.
Kirk believes they should have a chance to defend themselves, and Spock offers himself as counsel, as he is not actually of Earth. Asmodeus agrees. First Lucien testifies that he appreciates that humanity helps each other and works together, not being alone like the Megans are. Then Kirk testifies to the fact that humanity is more advanced than they were centuries ago. He also points out that the Enterprise’s records show how humanity has advanced.
There is a vote, and Asmodeus reads the verdict: the Enterprise came to this place by accident and they’ll be allowed to leave, but Lucien will be confined to limbo. Kirk refuses to accept that, and at Spock’s urging he fights back with magic. He’s willing to die to fight for Lucien, even after Asmodeus points out that he was also known as Lucifer.
And it turns out that the whole thing was a test to see if humanity truly had advanced. They all share a drink and the Enterprise goes back to normal space.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently the center of the galaxy gives you access to another dimension where magic works. Sure.
Fascinating. Spock is fascinated by the center of the galaxy, even though none of it makes anything like sense.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy mostly just complains a lot.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu uses the magic of the center of the galaxy to create a woman. Uhura says, “Good luck,” but then Lucien interrupts before anything can happen. It’s not clear if this is Sulu’s one true love, his mother, his sister, the grown-up version of his daughter, some random chick he saw on a ferry once, or what.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura gets to tell everyone that the ship isn’t working.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty gets to complain that the ship isn’t working.
“These are the defendants, as representatives of the vilest species in all the universe: treacherous humanity!”
Asmodeus’s opening statement during the trial.
Welcome aboard. James Doohan voices both Scotty and Lucien, while George Takei does both Sulu and the other Megans. Ed Bishop, best known as the star of UFO, provides the voice of Asmodeus, while Nichelle Nichols does Uhura.
Trivial matters: This is the first of two writing credits for Larry Brody on Trek, the next coming twenty-two years later when he wrote the story for Voyager’s “Tattoo.”
Brody’s original pitch was that the Enterprise would find God in the center of the galaxy. He had previously pitched it during the live-action series’ third season, but it was rejected. He tried again for the animated series, and Gene Roddenberry reportedly loved the notion. However, the network wasn’t comfortable with God being found, so they changed it to the devil.
Amusingly, the next time the Enterprise goes to the center of the galaxy will be in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and this time they do find God, or at least an entity claiming to be such.
Although the Megans claim to have settled in Salem and were accused of being witches and were burned for it, in fact nobody was burned as a result of the Salem witch trials. Those who were condemned either died by hanging or in prison.
To boldly go. “Knowledge is freedom.” Another animated episode that reminds you of other stories, both before and after this was made, but none of the comparisons are favorable. It comes across as a retread of “Who Mourns for Adonais?“—figures from mythology turn out to be powerful aliens—with some of “Plato’s Stepchildren” mixed in—particularly the part where our heroes get the antagonist’s magical powers. And Trek will go to this well again, both in Star Trek V—finding a figure from mythology as a powerful alien at the center of the galaxy—and TNG‘s “Where No One Has Gone Before“—going to a weird part of space where thought becomes reality.
And ultimately, it’s less interesting than any of them, which is pretty damning, especially considering how bloody awful “Plato’s Stepchildren” and the fifth movie are.
As a general rule, when I do these rewatches, I write the plot summary as I go along, often having to pause in order to get it all down. I didn’t hit the pause button once while doing this one, because everything happened so friggin slowly! There are two action sequences, which are both spectacularly uninteresting, and between them we have endless monologues by Lucien and Asmodeus explaining the Megans’ backstory. At no point do they explain how the center of the galaxy can go from a point where matter is created—which is actually a nifty scientific concept, worthy of the Big E’s overall mission—to a wibbly wobbly funky-colored area of space with whirlwinds that serve as dimensional portals that take you to a place where magic works. Because that totally makes sense.
I like the fact that the crew is utterly unmoved by the fact that Lucien was known as Lucifer on Earth. Kirk’s arguments for humanity are compelling ones, and he acts like you’d expect a rational 23rd-century human to behave. (Would that we could say the same for his first officer, whose drawing of a pentagram on the deck of the Enterprise may be the nadir of Spock as a character.)
But ultimately, this is a tiresome plod of an episode that goes nowhere interesting or sensible.
Warp factor rating: 2
Next week: “Once Upon a Planet”
Keith R.A. DeCandido will have short stories in several 2017 anthologies: Baker Street Irregulars (featuring alternative Sherlock Holmes tales) in March, Aliens: Bug Hunt in April, Nights of the Living Dead (co-edited by George Romero) in July, and both TV Gods: Summer Programming and Joe Ledger: Unstoppable in October.