“Arena” is the first of a few “Star Trek” episodes I’ll be reviewing this week. On Facebook I did some “Trek Requests” and this was the episode requested for “The Original Series.” The other two episodes will from “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine.” I’ll save which ones they are until I review them. Suffice to say “Arena” was very enjoyable though it still has the same problems I noticed when I first watched the episode as a young child.
The episode was directed by Joseph Pevney with the teleplay by Gene L. Coon and story by Fredric Brown.
The story involves the crew of the Enterprise arriving on the outpost Cestus III which is under attack from the Gorn. A dying survivor tells them how they were attacked leading Kirk to pursue the Gorn ship until they are stopped by the Metrons who transport Kirk and the Gorn Captain to the Arena where they can face each other using the resources on the planet so the conflict between the two ships will no longer be happening in Metron space. From here the story unfolds as Kirk must MacGyver his way out the situation and learn what bigger purpose he it being put up to by the Metrons.
The Pros: Cestus III – Cestus III is a warzone. We see that chemical weapons were used on Federation troops and the Outpost is a wasteland we also hear about the slaughter of women and children but due to the nature of the episode we aren’t able to confirm it. It is war and like war there is a fog. Luckily through quick thinking by Kirk, he and Spock are able to fight back though the red shirt is killed. It’s a very strong start to the episode and shows just what is at stake and what motivates Kirk in his desire to stop and destroy the Gorn vessel.
Sulu – Sulu is in charge of the Enterprise at one point when Kirk and Spock go down to Cestus III and he does a great job protecting their ship and keeping the Gorn at bay until Kirk and Spock are able to be beamed back aboard again. Sulu was eventually made Captain for a reason, the guy is great in a crisis.
Spock – Spock not being emotional is good as he points out that Kirk doesn’t know what happened or why they became under attack, what he misses is that the enemy has never communicated with them at all. Spock is implied to be right though on not destroying the vessel when it is found that the Outpost might have been placed in Gorn Territory and that it will be a situation for diplomats to handle.
McCoy – McCoy sees the consequences of fighting the Gorn too and makes an appeal to civilization to the Metrons to stop the fighting of Kirk and the Gorn Captain. They are ignored but when they are shown the fight the Gorn Captain says the Outpost was in their territory which changes McCoy over to Spock’s perspective of not attacking first.
Captain Kirk – Captain Kirk shows what he is famous for in this episode (no he doesn’t sleep with the Gorn) he MacGyvers a makeshift gun that defeats the enemy Gorn Captain after he’s exhausted all other traps against the Gorn…and after he shows Mercy which impresses the Metrons who appear to him and which later leads to a Kirk Speech where he tells Spock that in 1000 years maybe they will be an enlightened species, so they’ve got a little time. Kirk’s humor, passion, anger (the destruction of the outpost) and compassion (sparing the Gorn Captain) are on display here and show why he is one of the most popular Captains in “Star Trek.”
The Gorn Captain – The Gorn Captain has a great design and he is clearly alien. For him mercy is giving Kirk a quick death and any intrusion into their territory warrants a threat. The Captain is strong and powerful and is only stopped by a diamond fired from a gun. It’s a shame the Gorn weren’t used more as they have a great design and are one of the more intriguing lesser used species in “Star Trek” along with the Tholians.
The Message – The message is that mercy is important when you’ve defeated your enemy and to not leap to conclusions in war. The message is kind of wrong in regards to the outpost though as we never see the Gorn communicate with the Enterprise and to reason with another to understand a person you have to talk to them. The Gorn do not talk to the Federation as far as we can see until the Metrons force their captain onto the planet. Also, if there were women and children slaughtered on Cestus III than the Gorn involved were evil. There is nothing that can justify the killing of innocents and that is where mercy can be missed, as we have no guarantees the Gorn wouldn’t do it again elsewhere. The core message of not rushing to judgement is important though as the Outpost wouldn’t have been built if the Federation had known it was Gorn space (assuming the Gorn are telling the truth, just like have to assume the Federation soldier was telling the truth about women and children being slaughtered…we don’t know fully yet in either case).
Okay: The Metrons – Another God Species trying to teach the “lesser” species a lesson about compassion towards one another and mercy. I really don’t like the transcended species trope as it simplifies the issues and in most cases the folks like the Metrons stand by while real life atrocities are going on so all their talk of Enlightenment usually doesn’t mean much in regards to their actions outside those who enter their sphere. Still, one of the earliest uses of this trope so I’m putting them down as okay and not a con.
The Cons: Pacing – The episode is really slow. It starts out strong when Kirk and Spock are on Cestus III under fire but most of the action on the Enterprise is passive watching of either the Gorn ship or of the Gorn Captain and Kirk fighting on the planet. This episode should have been 35 minutes ideally or given us more character moments like when Kirk and Spock were discussing the attack and what might have lead to it and what must be done. Those were the strongest moments in the episode outside of Kirk’s ingenuity.
This is classic “Star Trek” and well worth watching, even though it isn’t my favorite episode and I do take issue with the Metrons approach to life, the pacing and that the Gorn are just presented as bad guys if we only take how they react to Kirk and what happened on the outpost. There was the potential for much more complexity this episode than we got, though I really like the idea and watching Kirk MacGyver his way out of a situation is always fun to watch…and the horror of Cestus III really raises the stakes in the episode and kept me interested even with how slow the episode felt at times.
8 / 10. Solidly good.