Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1, Episode 19 – “Arena” – The Dilemmas of War and Power of Mercy

Star Trek Arena

   “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.

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Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1, Episode 14 – “Balance of Terror” – Seeing Yourself in Your Enemy

Romulan_commander_and_Centurian

  We continue Leonard Nimoy Week with my favorite episode so far of “Star Trek: The Original Series.” The episode is “Balance of Terror” and is the episode that got me into the “Original Series” in the first place, as the first time I’d seen it I hadn’t been impressed. In this we learn about the Vulcans, Romulans and Humanity’s past and present…and Nimoy’s performance as Spock is a major part of it.

   “Balance of Terror,” was directed by Vincent McEveety and written by Paul Schneider.

     The story begins with outposts going silent along the Romulan Neutral Zone, where Humanity and Romulans had once fought a war with Nuclear Weapons and have never seen one another as they communicated the treaty. As one of the last ouposts is attacked the Enterprise Crew glimpse the Romulans and one of them suspects Spock as the enemy. From here the crew must stop the Romulan Warbird before it returns to Romulus as it’s victories could re-ignite the war.

The Pros: The Romulans – The Romulans are awesome and this was the episode that made them a favorite to me. They are honor bound, clever, hierarchical and driven to be the best in all things. They are also extremely passionate showing that they left Vulcan because they rejected the Philosophy of Vulcans and went their own way. They are independent and powerful. They are my favorite Empire and Species in “Star Trek,” and it’s a shame they have yet to have a good movie where they are the great antagonists they deserve, like they were this episode.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is really great in this episode, especially in regards to the ship combat where we are shown what each ship is seeing and from it how they are balanced. Both have strengths and weaknesses and those play a part in how the Commanders strategize against one another.

The Newlyweds – There is a couple getting married at the beginning of the episode, and the husband dies in the battle against the Romulans. You feel it too as they have chemistry with one another and we are given time to know them over the course of the episode. He was a good red shirt…and his death establishes just how deady the Romulans are.

The Battle – This is related to the cinematography but both ships are limited in the same way the ships were in “Wrath of Khan.” The Romulans only have impulse power but can cloak, they have one powerful shot but it doesn’t have the extended range federation lazers do, and the Enterprise has speed that the Warbird lacks. This makes for a great battle especially since it has costs in the end with Centurion dying first and later the crew of the Romulan Warbird and of course the husband of the newlyweds on the Enterprise.

Lieutenant Stiles – This guy is the hothead who hates Spock for looking like the enemy as his family was killed in the Earth-Romulan War and he sees this as his chance for revenge. In the end he changes though when Spock saves his life making him realize how small minded he had been.

Centurion – Centurion is the Romulan Commander’s mentor and similar in role to how Bones is Kirk. They are old friends and it seems like their families know each other. They discuss what was done and the risk of war as well as the benefits and fallbacks of what was accomplished.

Spock – Leonard Nimoy is great in this role as he takes on Stiles bigotry by educating Stiles that he is right to fear as the Vulcans were once warlike and similar to humans. He also saves Stiles life and justifies it as the logical thing to do showing that even when he was heroic he was humble and reserved to Stiles who was always arrogant and angry. He is Stiles’s teacher this episode and also helps Kirk in the battle against the Romulan, and sadly due to one of Spock’s mistakes nearly costs them the ship too. We see in this just how imperfect he is, though he is a great person and officer. I chose this episode for Leonard Nimoy Week for a reason.

Captain Kirk – This episode has some of  William Shatner’s best acting range. We see the sympathetic happy man who is about to be the overseer of a wedding, we see the good when he stands up to Stiles’s prejudice with, “Leave any bigotry in your quarters; there’s no room for it on the bridge.” we see the conflicted soldier facing off against an equal adversary, we see his goodness when he offers to save the Romulan survivors before the ship is destroyed and when he mourns the loss of life. This is really a fantastic Kirk episode.

The Romulan Commander – This guy deserves his own section and is on par with Kirk as the focus of this episode and rightfully so. In this man we see a man who is driven by duty to commit wrongs (destroying the outposts) when he wants nothing more than to return home. Everything he does is so they won’t be defeated but that they will arrive back to Romulus safely. Sadly it is duty that does him in though he realized how similar Kirk and he were and mourns the friendship that could have existed in another world and time.  “I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend,” So glad that Mark Lenard played Sarek later in the series and in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The guy is an amazing actor and was a huge part of why this episode was unforgettable.

The Message – There are a few messages this episode. One is the wrongness of prejudice (the Stiles and Spock arc) and the other is that even enemies may find just how similar they are and that war happens when that is forgotten and they only exist as the enemy. It is powerful and we see in the Romulan Commander and Kirk a friendship that might have been as both as seasoned commanders who rule by more than duty and see the bigger picture of all that is at stake in how they act in the Galaxy.

    This is my favorite episode of “Star Trek: The Original Series,” and to any person into sci. fi., is the episode I usually recommend. Leonard Nimoy is fantastic at Spock and we come to know the Romulans through him when he reveals the Vulcan’s Colonial past and the wrongness of prejudice in how Stiles treats him. We also see the price of conflict and war with the death of the husband on the Enterprise and the death of the Romulan crew of the Warbird. This is “Star Trek” at it’s best and is a must see for anyone who is a Trekkie and loves the show.

Final Score: 10 / 10.