TOS: S3E22: “The Savage Curtain”

In which we meet Space-Lincoln, Vulcan dogma never helps, and I am unexpectedly lenient on a really bad episode.



The Enterprise orbits a planet, ready to leave despite the an abiding mystery: how is there life on this volcanic hellhole, and why is McCoy only just finding out about it? Despite artificial power being generated, nobody’s answering Uhura, and since they can’t beam down to get a redshirt killed, they’re ready to leave. Suddenly a probe, followed by the planet disappearing to be replaced by Abraham Lincoln.

In all honesty, I feign this ignorance, because we’re getting close to the end here and I have (a) been expecting this one for a while now and (b) there are a limited number of things this could possibly be. Takers for god-like aliens testing humanity? Takers for god-like aliens playing pranks on humanity? Takers for Romulan hologram-ship? Takers for Giant Abraham Lincoln is really on a floating throne in space with his head intact?

Yeah, thought so.Okay, if Abraham Lincoln floated up to you in outer space with no breathing apparatus and greeted you by name, and promised you he was really Abraham Lincoln… the Abraham Lincoln… what are the chances you’d take him at his word? I would require proof. I would be thrilled to receive it, but I mean, come on.

Space-Lincoln promises he’s real, honest. (See what I did there?) Okay, to be fair, his image was projected and he offers to let the Enterprise beam him up to run tests, followed by a patch of verdant plainsland appearing in the middle of the planet. Also, it appears that the Federation no longer uses minutes, although I think that’s just Kirk being wry, so I won’t bother to point out every time from now until forever that they contradict the episode with Space-Lincoln. I’m not that pedantic.

Clue: the first transporter reading looked like living rock with giant claws, before settling on a human pattern. It makes a great deal of sense that the transporters would be capable of that kind of discernment, if anything outside of sick bay was capable of it. And in the defense of the episode, by now the Federation may be fairly familiar with living rock, or at least silica-based life. See “Devil in the Dark”.

If you ever wanted to see an awkward and ham-handed circlejerk about diversity, look no further.

If you ever wanted to see an awkward and ham-handed circlejerk about diversity, look no further.

Lincoln seems in every mannerism to be of his own century, lacking only the complete shell-shock you would expect from a Civil-war era president jumping to the 23rd century. Also he appears to know that Surak will be on the planet. There’s a bunch of hemming and hawing about whether the whole situation is a trap or not, where nobody is actually disagreeing but McCoy still shouts a lot, and they all beam down. Their equipment is left behind, but at least Spock gets to meet the Lincoln of Vulcan: Surak.

Here is another example where Vulcan ideology appears way more dogmatic than it should be. Spock, upon meeting Surak, states that there’s no theory whatsoever that would support it being him. Pretty sure you’ve traveled through time on four different occasions by now, Spock. You know that there’s every chance it could really be Surak, even though it probably isn’t.

Good thing nobody told Kirk about the 'living rock' readings. I mean, the place is only literally covered in rock. That couldn't possibly be important.

Good thing nobody told Kirk about the ‘living rock’ readings. I mean, the place is only literally covered in rock. That couldn’t possibly be important.

Kirk decides he won’t play along any more, so this duderino wakes up and promises answers, eventually.First, however, Ghengis Khan Colonel Greene (a player in the Eugenics Wars, apparently), Zora (a Mengele figure) and Kahless (a dirty filthy Klingon) are introduced. I was on board until the “yay diversity” train ended with “this is a Klingon so he just goes on the Evil team.” Klingon history is more varied than I want to get into now, but not in this series. In this series they’re just black guys with bushy eyebrows and a penchant for empire. We’ll definitely need a better look at them in forthcoming series.

Anyway, the Excalbian’s don’t understand the humanoid concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ which I’m actually okay with. One of the big problems if philosophy is defining those. Rather than be a pedantic buzzkill, I’ll just suggest everyone go read this short story by Eliezer Yudkowsky and consider the possibilities. The Federation is a product of an embracing of diversity, probably heavily influenced by the Vulcan IDIC philosophy.

Colonel Green has a chat with Kirk about how the Excalbians are the real enemy while his compatriots throw ambush rocks, and the fight is on. Well, kind of. Kirk declines to fight, so the Excalbians start the ship on a path to destruction, and only winning will permit the Enterprise and her crew to survive. Meanwhile, Team Evil is sharpening spears and more, while Kirk has to try to talk Surak and Spock into fighting. Surak wants to try negotiating, and while it’s not pragmatic to try to negotiate P-zombies specifically created to be evil, it’s a mark of his quality that he holds himself to the attempt.

{Scooby Doo noises}

{Scooby Doo noises}

It goes approximately as well as you’d expect. It seems like Surak is being tortured to goad Team Good Guy into action. Good doesn’t necessarily mean stupid, though. They are at least employing strategy as the head into the obvious trap, with Lincoln circling around the back while Kirk and Spock throw rocks and sticks. Too bad Surak is dead, because, with Kahless able to imitate the others fairly convincingly, there’s no reason to keep Surak alive. Or Lincoln.

What follows is a long drawn-out scuffle sequence, which begs the question, appropriately called out by the rock lobster: What’s the difference? Not that it’s a difficult question: to motivate people that the Federation calls Evil, you offer them personal power over others. To motivate people that the Federation calls Good, you offer them the well-being of others. Altruism is as fine a definition as any other, though it’s not really thorough. Still – philosophical enough for Prime Time.



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