A Taste of Armageddon
Star Trek delivers yet another dystopia for Kirk and company to unravel,
but this one is FAR more charismatic, engaging, and entertaining than
the previous episode
"The Return of the Archons".
In fact, all things considered,
this is one of the better episodes of the season,
and it gives us quite a variety of concepts to discuss.
The Prime Directive remains largely in hiding for this season, without a proper
episode in which to define itself, which leaves us wondering exactly how many of
its 47 suborders have been invented yet. If we make one of the assumptions common
for the 23rd century, that it should only apply to civilizations that haven't
yet achieved warp drive, "A Taste of Armageddon" is in the clear. Both
Eminiar 7 and its adversaries on Vendikar have warp drive, space travel,
the ability to transport and materialize objects over great distances,
and appear to be the Federation's peers in technology.
However, at the beginning of this one, Kirk clearly feels that it is his legal duty
to respect the Eminians' wishes that they do not approach the planet. This seems
to be on par with Starfleet's stance with the Halkans in
"Mirror, Mirror", and by the 24th century
we will see similar respectful distances with large civilizations like
the Klingon Empire in "Redemption".
Can we consider this stance to be part of the Prime Directive at this time?
In any case, it is Ambassador Robert Fox who breaks this policy, commanding
Kirk and company to follow suit. Ultimately, it is to everyone's good
in the end, thanks to everyone's ability to use all their incredible skills
in other areas at maximum effectiveness, however, if a number of them had not
been on the ball, the end result could easily have been quite disastrous.
On the surface, it can easily appear that the main concept at the heart
of this dystopia - a population voluntarily disintegrating themselves
such that a computer simulated war could spare their culture and infrastructure,
would be revoltingly unacceptable to any thinking being... but I think such
an emotional response should not be assumed to be universal. This is a case
where a very different brain chemistry in the Eminians and their offshoot
adversaries the Vendikarians could take up a lot of the slack, and promote
different values and ways of seeing the universe. There's a lot of good
stuff in this direction already in the dialogue. Too bad the Eminians couldn't
have got a significantly alien look, to aid the idea along a little further.
Funky wardrobe and bizarre doors aren't quite enough.
Still, you'd think they might consider a simulation designed to destroy
the infrastructure and the enemy's ability to make war, rather than
its population. They've planned to perpetuate war, rather than to WIN it.
Best of all though, Kirk finally cuts through their dumb comparisons
of their version of war with the ugliness of the real thing, to say that
peace trumps both, and why aren't you aiming for that? What's really gone
missing here are the reasons for them to be at war in the first place,
the issues that would take this from being an intangible intellectual exercise
and make it about something.
The Gene Coon Instinct
There is a sad and disturbing way to tell whenever writing producer Gene L. Coon
has had his hand in a script. Usually, one of his core beliefs will come through
in the characters' dialogue, and though it often gets harnessed usefully,
I don't think it's really very accurate or ultimately beneficial.
Essentially, that belief is that when a Human being relaxes his efforts,
and lets his base instincts guide his actions, violence and murder will
be the result. Only by exerting the effort of his higher intelligence
can a better outcome be achieved. There was already much dialogue referring
to this idea in his first script, "Arena", but it is even more
prominent here in the second story he worked on.
And worse here, it is used to anthropomorphize the Eminians and Vendikarians,
stuffing them in the same boat with us Earth Humans.
I prefer to believe that there is an essential goodness in the heart of each
and every Human being, and that external forces and circumstance,
not least of which may be living in lack, are the elements that bring on
less than exemplary behaviour, particularly when we respond according
to our fears. That's where violence comes from. [
"The Enemy Within" got that part really right.]
If we're locked into a bad pattern, maybe it does require effort to begin the change
to get to a new place. But once out of the pattern, and in sight of a better one,
there is a more real instinct for us to settle into, one of honesty, generosity,
and putting our best foot forward in challenging circumstances. When that becomes
habit, we are at home with the real instinct at the core of our species.
In that sense, I think there's a significantly more optimistic future for us than
what Coon's pen would often indicate. And perhaps we got a much more
believable set-up and contrast for Coon's basic idea when we got to
Deep Space Nine's third season episode "The Abandoned".
Still, Coon's writing would do a lot to help
aim Star Trek in the correct direction, as has happened here with this story.
But today's plot will have to take a hit from a huge oversight.
There's a huge section of quite engaging drama where
Scotty quite rightly refuses to lower shields to allow beaming
because he correctly suspects the Eminians are poised to open fire
the moment they do. Then, two scenes later, suddenly the Ambassador
and his aide casually beam down. How did they arrange that?
And what did stop the Eminians from destroying the Enterprise?
I'm sure a bit of re-drafting on the script could have accommodated this bit,
but it's a total black mark on the story the way it is.
Additionally, I think the production team were getting a bit stressed
at this point in the series, because it would have been great to see
the Eminians' weapons firing a visual beam, but we get nothing instead.
At least the sound effects and on-set pyrotechnics are still quite good.
Well, this story still moves along at a good pace, exploring its characters
and ideas well, and giving us lots of good action and satisfying moments,
and a generally emotional and satisfying ride. Ambassador Fox looks like he's
only going to be a one-note thorn in everyone's sides at first, but he
realistically finds many other uses for himself, applies his skills,
and proves that he actually did have good ideas for making the universe
better for all in the first place. Not bad at all.
Yes, I'd have to say this episode worked better than a lot of others
this season, and helped define an angle for Star Trek's philosophy that
could keep it focused, successful, and just optimistic enough to carry on
seeking to better itself. Good show.
Read the next Star Trek review:
"Errand of Mercy"