Episode 22- “A Taste of Armageddon” and fucking the Prime Directive while holding on to disbelief

When I tell people that I blog about Star Trek, I generally get one of three reactions:

1.Oh, I loved that show-women, generally those I think are attractive. Guys that think I give a shit about their opinions.

2. Huh.-people approximately as apathetic as I am about things I do as I am about things they do.

3. Neat, have you gotten to the episodes where they blow something normal into fucking crazy proportions-people who casually watched Star Trek. People who want to talk to me about “Red Dead Redemption.”

Until now, I really hadn’t stumbled across these episodes. I guess “Miri” is a bit of a stretch and “The Return of the Archons” is only out of proportion because there is not enough background information for us to figure out what the fuck is really happening, but for the most part, the problems fit into the established universe and occasionally mirror conflicts and problems that existed at the time of the episodes airing.

“A Taste of Armageddon” is a game changer, but it’s an ambitious and not entirely unsuccessful one. I want to start by saying that it is legitimately a good episode. Its fun to watch, has an intriguing premise, an interesting moral quandary and a conclusion that doesn’t end up just being a kick to the balls. This needs to be said primarily because the rest of this write-up will be spent tearing this episode apart on minutiae.

The Enterprise is transporting Ambassador Robert Fox to Eminar VII to initiate diplomatic contact with the planet and neighboring star systems, as they approach, they receive a message from the planet to proceed no further. Despite Kirk’s misgivings, the Ambassador pushes for the mission to be completed, and they begin orbit around the planet. Worried about the initial message, Kirk and Spock take a couple security guards and a yeoman down to the planet to see what is going on before the ambassador beams down. Kirk leaves Scotty in charge and heads down to see what is going on.

I wonder if anything terrible is happening here.

They touch down on the planet and are greeted by Mea 3, a government official who takes them to Anan 7, who appears to be one of the leaders of the planet’s council. Anon tells Kirk that Eminar is at war with the neighboring planet of Vendikar, a conflict that has been going on for 500 years. When Anan’s assistants tell him of an attack on the city center, Kirk and Spock are skeptical, not having noticed or heard an explosion and making sure that the Enterprise did not pick up any readings of an attack from the enemy planet.

Anan then explains that the two planets conduct all their fighting with computers, one group launches an attack on the other, whose computers tally up how many people are killed and these casualties report to the mysterious disintegration chambers for their deaths. Anan explains that this long of a conflict has allowed both nations to maintain an economic presence and continue cultural growth. Of course, the problem is now that Kirk has parked his ship in Eminar’s space, they are now valid citizens and have been marked as casualties of the war. Anan confines the landing party, and attempts to bring the crew of the Enterprise down for their execution.

The story breaks in two pretty reasonable plots from here. Scotty and McCoy realize that the voice telling them to come to the planet is an impression of Kirk’s and that whatever awaits them is dangerous. Of course, Ambassador Fox believes that the military men should let him get down to the planet to complete the mission. All the while, Anan continues to plot to bring the Enterprise down, to fulfill the contract with Vindikar, so he launches a series of attacks on the ship. Meanwhile, Kirk, Spock and company are stuck in a cell and need to figure out a way to warn the Enterprise and prevent what is happening to the people of Enimar and Mea, who has been labeled a casualty.

It all gets pretty intense from there. After using his previously unmentioned telekinetic powers, Spock lures in a guard and breaks the landing party out of the cell, where they start blowing up disintegration chambers and freeing casualties alike. Anan attempts to track the group down and Kirk does battle with him before being captured. Spock keeps tearing the hell out of Enimar’s war machine and tries to rescue his commanding officer. Eventually, Ambassador Fox heads down to the planet, where, like McCoy and Scotty said would happen, he is captured and taken for disintegration. I guess this is supposed to be one of those moments we cheer for, but I just kind of thought it was a little dumb.

Do not fuck with Spock. Ever.

The whole episode wraps up in the council room. Kirk has been drug in front of the High Council to bring the Enterprise to the planet for their deaths and to answer for the destruction of the disintegration machines in the complex. When Anan tries to contact the ship, Kirk issues order General Order 24, a Starfleet command that preps a ship to destroy a planet, because little did you know, but everyone just flies around in little Death Stars. Scotty gives no hint that this is a bluff and preps the Enterprise to level every city on Enimar.

With only a few minutes before the casualty deadline with Vendikar is reached, Anan starts to get nervous and Spock shows up to the council room to help Kirk take command. In a dramatic flourish, Kirk follows the Prime Directive to the letter and destroys the machine that tallies death and leaves, explaining to Anan that without the horrors of real war, leaders have no reason to attempt to reach peace. Leaving Ambassador Fox behind to attempt to set up peace between the two planets, the Enterprise leaves for more fabulous adventures.

Don't make me combat roll at you.

Now, although it still seems like such an egregious error, I’m willing to generally overlook Kirk’s dismissal of the central code of Starfleet. He’s a livewire, a guy who plays fast and loose with what his idea of right is, and he wants to shove American, I mean Federation, policies down everyone’s throat. His gambit is necessary to prevent more deaths from occurring, but it is such a major disruption to how two worlds have grown over nearly a millennium that it is something of a huge offense.

That really brings us to the real problem with “A Taste of Armageddon” and the beginning of this write-up, which is mainly that this episode is latently ridiculous. I mean, the disintegration chambers are a pretty good idea, and it is a fairly exciting episode with lots of good Kirk and Spock moments throughout, but the plot hinges on totally ridiculous idea. We are meant to believe that 3 million people die on Eminar every year because of the war with Vendikar. This war has been going on for 500 years. That’s 1.5 billion people. On one side.

Get on the phone and call Vendikar.

I know that the whole episode is a Cold War analogy, but it’s just too much of a stretch. There’s no reason to believe that the two planets would not have attempted to reach something of an agreement at any point in the conflict that was ravaging their planets. I understand that there is a level where we should suspend our disbelief, particularly in symbolic science fiction, but the premise has been stretched beyond the point of belief and it calls the entirety of the episode into question.

“A Taste of Armageddon” is quite good, but it rests on an idea that requires viewers to throw away any form of common sense. It forces you out of the story, which is a major mistake for any fiction, but for one that depends on a diverse crew flying around space solving the universe’s problems, it’s a real killer.

Random Notes

“Our haggis is in the fire for sure.” I get it, you’re Scottish.

“The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank!”

No Sulu.

Spock is a real bad ass in this episode, blowing up disintegration chambers, nerve pinching, and leading disguised troops. Damn, it’s good to be a Vulcan.

Next Up- “This Side of Paradise” which sounds like an episode I’ve already seen. My mind is going.

Episode 21- “Space Seed” and the birth of a villain, Solid Snake, and “OK Computer” being played at the end of the Eugenics Wars.

“KHHHAAAAAAAANNNN”

It’s probably the most enduring line in Star Trek history, a scream of primal rage from the normally in control Kirk. I’ve never seen “Wrath of Khan,” but I know everything about that moment. It painted Khan as a villain of the highest order, a man that can prove to be much more than just a match for Captain Kirk.

So, how did Khan come about? It’s a question that “Space Seed” answers and in all honesty, it’s a strange introduction. While plumbing the galaxy, the Enterprise comes across a floating derelict vessel. After running some initial scans and realizing it’s a ship from the early 1990s, they decide to beam aboard, maybe to see if they can find “Nevermind” on cassette, and to learn a little more about the Eugenics Wars that were a total bummer when I was 4.

Khan, on his way to see "Jurrassic Park."

Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and crewman of the week Marla McGivers beam aboard and find a group of mesh dressed guys and gals in cryogenic sleep. Of course, Kirk decides to start waking people up, with something like no thought put into the repercussions, and after they wake the leader, he quickly goes into cardiac arrest and they beam him aboard the Enterprise.

Khan is healing ridiculously quickly and McCoy is impressed, but after some research, Spock is skeptical. He identifies the ship as the Botany Bay (is that a hint or is it a HINT?) and knows that it is from the 1990s, which interests Kirk. Meanwhile, Khan starts trying to learn the layout and workings of the ship and prepares to kill McCoy for no fucking reason, before meeting with McGivers who is instantly smitten. Kirk is concerned about their relationship, but he doesn’t put a ton of thought into it, inviting Khan to appear at a dinner he is having in the newly unfrozen man’s honor.

Nothing says give it up to a super-human like a space-"Bump It" and an engineering uniform for the ship's historian

There are a couple of weird issues going on. Music cues and generally odd acting make Khan into a huge villain from the beginning, which kills a lot of the potential drama in the situation. McGivers gives it up to the dictator really quick too, which I guess is required for an hour long drama, but it feels pretty abrupt. And, of course, McCoy opts to tell no one about almost getting his throat fucking slit by the dictator they just brought on board.

It all proceeds pretty logically and interesting from there. Spock’s interaction with Khan during the dinner is fun to watch in typical fashion and the moment when the super-human breaks is interesting enough. Pretty soon, everyone on board knows Khan is a little more than the mysterious funny-talkin’ guy from good old Earth and is instead, Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically modified human who managed to rule most of Asia during the Eugenic Wars before freezing himself with many other super-humans and fleeing to the galaxy for parts unknown.

"It has been said that social occasions are only warfare concealed."

So, the threat has definitely amped up. Khan recruits McGivers to his side, breaks out of his quarters, makes his way to the transporter room, gets aboard the sleeper ship and wakes up his super-humans for a good old fashioned Enterprise take over. He shuts down the engine, locks up communication and shuts down the air-flow to the bridge, taking everyone but Kirk into an interrogation room and putting the captain into a dangerous decompression chamber. He tries to forcibly recruit the crew but they remain dedicated to the plight of Kirk and the safety of the Enterprise.

Then, things start making less sense.

McGivers, without any real sense of a motivation or dedication to the guy she just started blindly following, rescues Kirk with the help of Spock, and they start to try to retake the ship. Kirk floods the interrogation room with a neuro-toxin and races Khan to the engine room. And, what happens next? Why, it’s a good old round of Kirk smack-down. In typical Star Trek fashion, Kirk brawls with his opponent before beating him down with what appears to be the handle of some sort of computer. Control of the ship is restored and Kirk has a trial for the would-be conqueror.

"Get out, before I switch sides again!"

 The trial goes the way of “The Menagerie” with Kirk saying “I know you took my ship and all, but why don’t I just drop you off at this abandoned planet and hope that your unbelievable skills will stop you from ever posing a threat to the Federation again.” Khan takes the deal, and McGivers dodges a court martial by opting to go with the super-man. And that’s it. It’s a clean and tidy ending for an episode with huge stakes and an appropriate threat to match.

The big thing to really ask about “Space Seed” is how did Khan become a cinematic villain of the highest order? He’s certainly more than confident. He plays against Kirk well in the dinner scene and the fight he has in the engine room is…no different than every other fight Kirk has had in the engine room. He’s charismatic and is able to lead men effectively, super-human or not. Really, there’s not a lot else. I guess he’s strong. Also, he remembers the ‘90s.

Basically, I just don’t know. Once again, I’m not really in a position to ask the question without having seen “Wrath of Khan,” but there’s nothing really here to grab onto. Khan is a memorable villain in a memorable episode, but he’s no more engaging than, say, Trelane from “The Squire of Gothos” or the Romulans from “Birds of Prey,” or even the Talosians in “The Menagerie.” The plot he sets in motion is about as dynamic and dramatic as every other plot we’ve seen, but it’s done in a way that is interesting and shows the threat he presents. It’s sort of sad to say that Khan works because he is competent and formidable, but that just might be the case. Although we have seen interesting and fun to watch villains before, Khan presents a threat that can match and even overcome Kirk. One on one, Khan can beat him at his own game on his own turf, and more than that, he’s no god. Khan is essentially the Liquid Snake to Kirk’s Solid Snake. He’s tougher, more skilled and probably more experienced. Kirk has to be more than Kirk to defeat him.

So who's Psycho Mantis? Obviously, the Gorn. He loves Super Mario Sunshine.

The framework is there that would make Khan into a formidable villain. For now, he’s the star of a memorable interesting episode. “Space Seed” remains an episode for fans to look back on, but it also stands up well, showing that a significant threat and a formidable plan can (gasp) make an episode interesting.

Random Notes

In the multiple rewritings of this episode, there were enough ‘90s jokes to make me look like a nostalgic millennial navel gazer. That had to be avoided.

I really didn’t understand the benefits of having all the super-humans wear mesh all the time.

“We can be against him and admire him all at the same time.” “Illogical.”

Sulu isn’t in this episode. I also, barely remember to keep track of this.

There’s a weird moment after the bridge runs out of oxygen when Kirk is counting the men for his captain’s log. There are 8 people splayed around the cabin, but Kirk lists maybe five of them. Because Shatner don’t give a shit.

Next up: “A Taste of Armageddon” which featured some really sweet hats in the preview.