In which I am pleasantly surprised, a nagging question is actually answered, and the rest of the tropes you made fun of Star Trek Original Series for are employed.
The thumbnail for this episode includes Native American dress. What are the chances this will be handled with tact and taste? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
On the plus side, there are some alternate methods of storytelling at play here – we get to meet the alien artifact macguffin before any of the horrible stereotypes. Also, Kirk is the worst right now. The reason they’re here is to deflect an asteroid from destroying the planet and they only have half an hour spare time before they have to be at the correct point to do it, so he decides to take a stroll around.
I will give the episode this: they actually call a few native tribes by name, which I was not expecting. You know what, I’m going to go ahead and call this ‘remarkably racially sensitive’ for the time, which I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at. Star Trek is kind of famous for it. Anyway, on Kirk’s stroll he goes back to the obelisk, gets kidnapped by the pedestal, falls on a control console, and loses his memory while Spock explains the concept of time-sensitive missions to McCoy. And now Shatner is doing a voiceover of an amnesiatic Kirk warking up alone. Yeah, I’m no longer taking this episode seriously, despite the actual scientific merit of the astrophysical B-plot.
Instead, I’m going to talk about this in the context of “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” Recall that that movie opens with an attempt to save an indigenous species without their knowledge of interference. It would appear that the locals have entered a time of darkness recently. One could presume it has something to do with the moon-sized asteroid on a collision course with the planet, probably eclipsing the local star. (Minor note: the asteroid must be relatively recent, as an object that big would pull itself spherical over time unless it’s exceptionally light.
So it looks like part of the mandate, or at least standard mission parameters of a Starship is, at least at this point in the Federation’s explorations, to go around saving species from natural disaster, provided they can do it without violating the Prime Directive of noninterference. Or at least, Kirk does.
Okay, quick recap. Spock bruned out the engines trying to divert the asteroid. It will take them two months to get back to the planet, during which time it looks like Kirk is going to get married to the hot native chick. Too bad the former medicine chief does not like being beat out for the job by Kirk, who has been taken for a god.
Anyway, he’s still got no memory of who he is, just about simple stuff that’s part of everyday life for a Starship captain. Stuff like carving lamps out of dried gourds, or making irrigation systems, or stuff like that. You know, the kind of thing that everyone in Starfleet does every day. As the asteroid approaches, storms start on the planet and part of the tribal lore is that when the storms come you have to open the obelisk to activate the anti-asteroid deflector.
Meanwhile, Spock, obsessing over the scans for two months, has determined that the Obelisk is an artifact of a species that went around sampling primitive species, seeding them to other worlds, and giving them relics to save them from natural disaster if necessary. Which, apparently, explains why there are humans goddamn everywhere.
It should surprise nobody that they manage to get the deflector running but Kirk’s wife dies, because Kirk isn’t allowed to stay on the planet or bring a native into space with him. Or be happy. How you say? Womp womp.