Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Star Trek at 50: A Taste of Armageddon

Season 1
Episode 24: A Taste of Armageddon
Filmed: December 1966/ January 1967
First Air Date: February 23, 1967

Karen: "A Taste of Armageddon" is a solid episode, with a strong anti-war theme that requires little explanation.War has become the norm for the two planets of Eminiar and Vendikar. They've rendered it neat and clean, and come to accept the inevitable loss of life. The pattern is so thoroughly bred into them, after hundreds of years, that they don't even think about stopping it. Until Kirk forces them to.

Karen: This is another strong message episode, filled with just enough action to keep the kids and the network happy. Coming during the Vietnam War, it clearly had much to say about the dehumanizing effects of war. The writer, Robert Hamner, is quoted in Marc Cushman's These are the Voyages as saying, "At the time, the military was developing the neutron bomb. These were designed to kill people without harming the buildings. It was like big business going to war. 'Don't destroy the factories, just kill the workers!' I thought it would be terrible if a neutron bomb were developed. It would take all the devastation out of war and just leave death...That was the whole idea of the script when I walked into Gene Coon's office."  Coon worked with Hamner to tighten the script and add more action, work on Kirk's motivation and eliminate or revise some of the scenes that would be too costly to shoot. He also wrote the "we're not going to kill today" speech that Kirk gives at the end. All together, the episode is fairly emblematic of what Trek would come to be recognized for, philosophically speaking.

Karen: However, by this episode, we start to see certain patterns appearing in Trek: a civilization that is out of order and Kirk and company decide they must intercede; the landing party cut off from the Enterprise; the Enterprise under attack and unable to assist the landing party; Kirk destroying a machine to put an end to the problem. We got most of this with "Return of the Archons" and we're seeing it again here. This formula can be forgiven when the episode is a good one, but is quite noticeable when it's a lesser effort ("The Apple" for example).

Karen: Besides Kirk getting to be the man of action in this, Spock gets his moments too. When the landing party is captured, we see the Vulcan utilize his mind meld ability in a new way, reaching through the wall of the room they are being held prisoner in to contact the mind of their guard and control it, getting him to open the door. I think Trek could have run the risk of making Spock into their deus ex machina if they had abused his mental abilities, and a lesser show would have done this. But thankfully it was used sparingly, and at the right times. We also got to hear Nimoy deliver the line, "Sir, there is a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder" before applying the Spock nerve pinch. Just beautiful.


Garett said...

That's interesting about the neutron bomb. Isaac Asimov said, "Such a neutron bomb or N bomb seems desirable to those who worry about property and hold life cheap." My impression of this episode is that it had a good message, but wasn't that exciting. The Spock scenes you mention added some flavour. I'd take Return of the Archons over this one.

Anonymous said...

Kirk takes a pretty big gamble in this one. Here's two societies who are pretty darn committed to war, and Kirk takes the gamble they'll choose peace... While essentially knowing nothing about attitudes and conditions on Vendikar.

I've generally considered the inspiration for this episode was the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Eminiar war room is reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove, which was itself modeled on a war room in the Pentagon. Glad Kirk didn't have to deal with any of the psychotic characters in that film...

"We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day..."

Anonymous said...

I like this one, although when I first started watching Star Trek (back in the 80s) I kept missing this episode in syndication, so I think it was one of the last ones I saw.

But David Opatoshu was a solid character actor, and I always like Barbara Babcock, plus there's the anti-war message, so I'd call this one above-average.

Mike Wilson

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, what a week so far - just swamped with work, and the rather swampy humid weather is not helping. Finally got a little time to catch my breath this evening, so I've been leaving comments on several posts...

Anyway, this is indeed some pretty quintessential "message Trek" here. And Karen, this one, like Return of the Archons for that matter, also showcases another of those patterns you mentioned, one of the most obvious in fact: the tendency of Kirk and co. to flagrantly violate the Prime Directive (I believe, in an episode of Voyager, Capt. Janeway, when speaking of the good old days of Kirk's era, once rather charitably characterized it as "playing fast and loose").

And yes, I *love* that "multi-legged creature" bit. I remember at one point my brother and I kept repeating that every time we saw a spider or insect anywhere and attempting our own similar (not nearly as funny) turns of phrase, as in: "Hmm, there is a small multi-legged creature crawling on the wall. Please hand me the multi-legged creature elimination implement."

Pat Henry said...

I don't know that this one qualifies as a Prime Directive moment-- first, because I'm not sure the concept had been completely fleshed out at this point but, second, because you had a Federation ambassador driving a lot of the action, which means this wasn't one of those pre-contact societies the PD was designed to protect. This was apparently a society with which the Feds had diplomatic ties. But speaking of that, it is remarkable how many of these episodes are driven by some grouchy ambassador douche (Galileo Seven) or grouchy commodore douche (Stone, Mendez) breathing down KIrk's neck and causing trouble. He pretty much brushes them aside most of the time.

Karen said...

Pat, I'm glad you brought this up about the Prime Directive, because when I was doing this write up, I started to comment on the Prime Directive, and then caught myself, because I was pretty sure it wouldn't apply here -after all, they were going to Eminiar 7 to establish relations. So the Feds must have thought the planet was developed enough to contact. I think the Prime Directive only applies to cultures pre-warp capability or space flight capability -something like that. I looked up the Prime Directive online and there are a lot of different takes on it though - I think over the years, the different series used it in a variety of ways to move stories along.

I do find it a bit insulting that the later series sort of 'looked down' on how Kirk and company had dealt with the situations they encountered -I recall Picard referred to it as 'cowboy diplomacy'. These guys were opening up the frontier! Most of the time, they didn't have the luxury of calling Starfleet and letting them make the decision. Kirk had to make a decision then and there. That's one thing I find refreshing about these original episodes, and something I felt was missing from the later series. Kirk does take a big gamble here, but as he says, he's pretty sure the Vendikans will be just as terrified by the threat of real war that they'll be ready to make peace. You know, J.T. sure had some pretty big balls. Good thing he was always right. :)

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, Trek was at its best when it took on heavy subjects like war, slavery, and social inequalities all neatly wrapped up in a bow of action, scifi, and goofy aliens (sometimes to avoid the censors).

This is certainly the case here in this episode. The issue of Kirk and company violating the Prime Directive on occasion versus what Picard and later captains would do is also interesting. Personally, I felt that in most instances Kirk's instincts were right on the button; his actions and those of his crew laid the foundations for Picard later on.

- Mike 'placing ad for green alien dancing girls' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

On the Prime Directive, I'm not going to go down the rabbit-hole of consulting online sources, but just based on the various episodes of all Trek series that deal with the topic, there really doesn't seem to be any set criteria for when it applies or even who has to adhere to it: there's an episode in the first season of TNG in which a few guys from Earth get involved in a movement to overturn the social order on some planet (where females are dominant), and one of them tells Riker (I think) that the Prime Directive doesn't apply to them because they're not members of Star Fleet (while it would seem to me that something like the PD would apply across to board for all Federation citizens). The whole thing about it only applying to pre-warp cultures seems generally accepted, but in an episode of Enterprise in which they first discussed the need for some kind of rule like the Prime Directive (one of the few episodes of that series I kind of like), the whole discussion was precipitated by an encounter with a race far more technologically advanced than humanity - they had three genders and treated one of them poorly, which led to friction when the chief engineer became friends with one of the "inferior" gender. And of course, in the original series interfering with other cultures, be they pre-warp or not, seemed to be the whole point.
By the way, Karen, in that episode of Voyager I mentioned above, Janeway wasn't really "looking down" on Kirk, Spock, Sulu, etc. - she actually seemed to wish things were still like that.

Anyway, speaking of rabbit-holes, sorry for the digression...

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