In which the moral is obvious, the characterization is great, and the remastered effects I’m not going to show you are beautiful.
Who’s ready to be hit on the head with the Aesop hammer? I know I am. This is an episode I’ve known was coming for a while, and we’re just going to have to bear with this type of thing until we can get some more like “Balance of Terror” and “The Enterprise Incident.” Anyway, on with the show!
This planet is important because it’s in a good strategic location for transfer, whatever that means when you can attain velocities marked at hundreds of times c. The Enterprise is there because there’s some sort of terrible bactereological infection they’re there to help cure. A shuttlecraft shows up drifting so they save the occupant.
Before we check out the occupant, I want to note that in order to bring it aboard, they have to depressurize the whole hangar deck. This is in stark opposition to later franchises when the semi-permeable force field is invented, which will pass objects of sufficient mass, thrust, or solidity while retaining the shipboard atmosphere. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence that force field technology in the 23rd century is or is not airtight. Given that we know from an earlier episode that the ventilation ducts aboard the ship are interconnected enough, during routine shipboard operations, and given the smooth outlines of the corridors and general no-wasted-space design of the ship, it seems like the Enterprise has no way for a single deck to recover from a hull breach. Later ships, like the powerhouse that is the Galaxy-class, have forcefield generators every ten feet or so, because it’s a flagship class, scarcity is not an issue, and being able to repel boarders or retain atmosphere is really important. The original Constitution-classes don’t even appear to have bulkheads. In fact, even the doors leading to the shuttle bay are just normal-looking doors, although hopefully they lock when there’s a pressure differential.
Granted, we’ve previously established that the Constitution-class was designed long before human society moved past scarcity economics, but you’d think that stopping a catastrophic leak on a ship which serves as your main battle cruisers was kind of important.
So anyway this alien! Unlike the situation the crew will soon find themselves facing, he’s black and white. I crack myself up sometimes, but this is not one of them. Spock is positing that the alien is a result of chimerism, like that two-color lobster, or that other two-color cat. Chimerism is pretty cool, and I choose to believe that Spock’s adamant refusal to believe in them is not, in fact, a result of the 60s not being fully up on all the weird stuff that can happen with fertilized cells, but in a dogmatic Vulcan unwillingness to admit when they don’t know something. More of that to come in Voyager and Enterprise, so you’re just going to have to live with my conclusions as baseless accusations for now.
The alien, Lokai, stole the shuttlecraft, though he’ll argue about the definition of the word ‘steal.’ Another ship is showing up on sensors, but it’s invisible. The immediate concern is romulans, but this one appears to only be invisible on the spectrum of visible light, and which disintigrated as soon as it deposited another bitonal alien, only this guy has a a bike chain as a torc. From his talk, Bele appears to be some sort of police officer, from the Commission on Political Traitors. Huh. Maybe this episode won’t be on the topic of racism it so obviously seemed like it would be, but on McCarthyism and witchhunts? Nah, that had already mostly blown over and been quietly integrated into the political system by this time. Gotta be about racism.
If you pay close attention, you can tell they’re different, because their coloration is on different sides. You should be clued into the fact because when Bele and Lokai meet up they have an angry dialogue that runs the course of Western history from the slave trade and the White Mans Burden.
Shortly after Kirk tells Bele politely to go stuff himself, because the Federation has no extradition treaty with his people, the ship starts going off course away from the planet the Enterprise was sent to save. It has been diverted to Charon, the home planet of the two-tones and their upsettingly tight pants. Hopefully, by the end of this episode we’ll have a reason why these people weren’t revisited on later franchises. With their personal shields and perfect cloaks and mental hijacking powers.
Apparently Kirk’s self-destruct code, which he threatens to use unless Bele relinquishes control, is 1 Code 1 1A, which has to be the worst password ever, unless there’s a voice recognition circuit. Which their easily might be, but still. The Future is terrible at password security. It’s incredibly telling that Kirk is not actually bluffing, unless of course he’s lying about the five-second safety circuit that prevents any command from affecting the countdown. I’m kind of split on how good an idea that actually is. However, his decision is almost correct. It’s not a good idea to allow the most powerful hull class available to the Federation to come under the control of an untouchable hijacker. The fate of the billion inhabitants of the planet is worrying and certain holocaust, weighted against the possibility of the Federation being devastated by a rogue ship.
For all its lack of subtlety, this is actually a fairly well-written episode so far. Everyone is acting exactly as one might expect them to. Nobody is being weird just for the sake of plot. And the way the reveal happens is kind of perfect. Bele talks about how obvious it is that he’s superior to Lokai. Kirk is honestly puzzled about the difference. He has no cultural context for why they might possibly be different. This bears out, historically, which I’ll count as a win for Star Trek. Raise a kid in a multicultural environment and don’t teach them poison, and if you ask them at the right age what makes two people different, it’ll be about five minutes of guessing before they even think about something so trivial as skin color, because that’s just a fucking ridiculous distinction. I expected to really hate this episode based on vague recollections of the plot, but I’m really pleasantly surprised.
Kirk manages to save the planet, Bele takes control of the ship again and this time takes out the self destruct as well. They make it to Charon, which is now a barren, uninhabited planet covered in corpses. The last two Charonians go at each others throats, their personal shields threatening to burn out the Enterprise, and Kirk manages to talk them down just long enough to get them off the bridge. Now would be an awesome time for that site-to-site transporter maneuver they alluded to earlier, to beam them down to the planet and just let them end each other, since they seem intent on not listening to any sort of reason, and absent cloning technology, their race is dead anyway. Wait, nevermind. Lokai is just going to beam himself down, but otherwise that appears to be the plan.