Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Star Trek at 50: Errand of Mercy

Season 1
Episode 27: Errand of Mercy
Filmed:  January/February 1967
First Air Date: March 23, 1967

Karen: Klingons! It's hard to imagine Trek without the Federation's main enemies, but they didn't appear until nearly the end of the first season. And considering that this episode, and the two that followed, were late orders by the network, who knows, in a parallel universe, Star Trek fans might never have heard of Klingons at all!

Karen: When NBC picked up Star Trek, the original order for episodes was 26. The production staff was on pins and needles around the time they were filming "Return of the Archons," waiting to hear from the network if they would get an order for additional episodes to round out the season. The network had given them a small sum of money and authorized the writing of four more episodes, but not the actual production. By December 9, the word was given: three more shows were to be made. Harlan Ellison had been slowly grinding away on "City on the Edge of Forever," and they hoped to produce that soon, and they had another story outline that would become "Operation:Annihilate." But one more was needed, so again, producer Gene Coon dashed off a script and we got "Errand of Mercy," a terrific episode that is a Cold War parallel, with a small planet (country) caught in the middle of two super-powers. 

Karen: Kirk has an unusually short fuse in this episode, when dealing with the seemingly simple minded Organians, and the brutal Klingons. Maybe he just needed to go on shore leave. But really, his frustration with the Organians and their apparent inability to comprehend the danger they're in only mirrors the viewer's own. I think while many of us respect pacifism, there's a point where self-preservation must kick in; that seems to be Kirk's issue as well in his struggle with trying to get his point across to the Organians. Of course, as we later discover, the natives are not truly threatened by the Klingons, nor do they need anything the Federation can offer. But the lesson about how two super-powers, no matter what their supposed goals might be, can completely devastate a smaller, poorer nation, is obvious.

Karen: This is a pure action-adventure episode, set mostly off the ship, and this made the network happy -they were always looking for these kinds of shows. In order to cut costs, we have no McCoy and no Scotty this time around. Also, despite the Klingons attacking the ship and beaming down in force, there are few effects -we never see a Klingon ship, and the Klingons beam down off stage. Still, it's likely the viewer will never notice as the story moves along at a nice clip.

Karen: The Klingons themselves are nothing great to look at -a quick, "Genghis Khan" make-up was thrown together - but the leader of the military  force, Commander Kor, is played by John Colicos with great charm. Kor is no thug but a calculating, disciplined  man who knows very well the game they are playing. One can easily envision him as the military governor of Organia, or any number of other planets that the Klingons might bring under their heel. He is more than capable and amenable to carrying out the orders of the Empire. He's a part of the system and he recognizes this -whether he likes it or not seems perhaps irrelevant. Colicos creates a memorable adversary for Kirk. It's unfortunate he was never able to reprise the role, something the showrunners wanted to do, but could never work out (although he did play Kor on Deep Space Nine many years later). Of course, Colicos also played the villainous Baltar in the original Battlestar Galactica.

Karen: The final resolution involves more all-powerful energy beings, telling us how screwed up we are, but offering us some hope. I wonder if the Organians know the Metrons? Anyway, the Organians decided there would be no war between the Feds and the Klingons, and so the Organian Peace Treaty was instituted. This made it impossible for open warfare, but we would see the two sides compete to gain the people and resources of under-developed planets, in episodes like "Friday's Child" and "A Private Little War." In many respects, the peace treaty was a smart move by Coon -all-out war between the two space-faring cultures would have been too expensive for the show's budget. Also, once war was declared, surely all the episodes would have to revolve around it. This way, the Klingons were always a potential threat, hovering in the background.

Karen: It seems to me that as they got more popular (and their heads got bumpy), the Klingons picked up some of the traits of another Trek group, the Romulans. Klingons on the original show were never shown to be honorable. They were sneaky, deceitful, treacherous - basically, your stereotypical villains. But by the time of the Next Generation, we began hearing about 'Klingon honor' and tradition. I felt like this came out of nowhere -or was transplanted from the Romulans, who in the form of Mark Lenard's Romulan Commander, was a very admirable foe. Perhaps it was just the desire to give these aliens more depth and background. Who knows. But I kind of miss the guys with the droopy mustaches, who liked to stab people in the back and call the Enterprise garbage.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I believe it was Errand of Mercy that included a scene where Kirk uses dynamite to blow up a small building. That scene jumped out at me because it just didn't seem very Trek-like.


Garett said...

I loved this episode! The Klingons, John Colicos, the Organians and their surprise at the end, Spock stating the odds as he and Kirk sneak around. Colorful character contrasts.

Pat Henry said...

The role Spock plays in these episodes, as executive officer aboard a vessel with military and police powers, is always... fascinating... to watch. He is a pacifist in an obvious Cold war environment, a creature of principles but also one of loyalty and duty to his commander. They make a great team-- and they make short work of an entire legion of Klingons.

I guess I disagree with the comments about Klingons and their bolted-on retcon pronouncements of honor. For starters, I think we’ll see stirrings of that military discipline and detente in later Original Series episodes. But AFAICT the only Klingon who ever fell for that duty and honor canard was gullible Lt. Worf. All the other Klingons he bumped into were despicable and ruthless most of the time. I think they just papered over their scurrilousness the way gangsters and mobsters and pirates fancy themselves “business people.”

Anonymous said...

This is another classic episode, although I've always found the Romulans more interesting than the Klingons...maybe because they haven't been used as much. But this is the beginning of the "Organian Peace Treaty" that was referred to many times after, and as Karen said, John Colicos was great at playing a villain, whether here, on the original BSG, or even on General Hospital where he tried to freeze the world...and he was Canadian :)

Mike Wilson

Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, great episode.
Karen, interesting that you note how the Klingons just barely made it into the end of the first season. If you think about it, neither the Klingons nor the Romulans actually appeared that much in the original series.
By the way, I have mixed feelings about the roles of Kor (together with Koloth and Kang) being featured on DS9. It was kind of cool seeing those same actors reprise the roles, but I always thought it was silly that pretty much every race in the Trek universe is longer lived than humans. And it really bothered me in the case of the Klingons in particular. One would think that their lifestyle - if nothing else - would mean that they actually had relatively shorter life-spans.

david_b said...

I got to meet John Colicos a year before he passed on.., what a gentle and kind human being, easy smile, very soft-spoken. A great memory. This was a splendid episode, one of the ones you'd wish played more often.

Like most morality tales being told in Trek, you had enough great action and superb acting to keep the intensity going for 49 minutes without feeling like you just sat through a social studies class. This was no exception. The Klingons were immediately loved, and you just couldn't wait to see 'em again. I do agree about the Klingon 'honor'.., they went from pirates to native-American indian-like ('Day of the Dove') to samurai-ish (Undiscovered Country) back to ruthlessness in Next Gen, as Pat Henry mentioned.

David Warner as a 'Abraham Lincoln-styled' Klingon in ST6..? Much has changed indeed..

Great column.

Karen said...

Thanks for playing today kids. This may not be a big, splashy episode, but I like it a lot.

I think Pat really is on to something -those Klingons in Next Gen sure talked about honor a lot, but they were all still pretty much jerks! I never warmed up to Worf, because he a) seemed like a dumbass (he got better in DS9), and b) got his butt kicked by everyone. What's the point of being a big bad Klingon Security Officer if you're constantly getting beaten up?

As David also points out, it seems like the writers/producers couldn't settle on who the Klingons were. In the original series, they might have looked like Asian caricatures but they could stand in for the Soviets just as well. In ST:TMP, their look was definitely inspired by Samurai, but Jerry Goldsmith's theme seemed to recall Viking raiders, even down to the bleating horns. By Undiscovered Country, we were back to the Cold War parable. In Next Gen and the other shows, they were mostly a loose confederation of barbaric clans. I liked the cool cunning of Kor over the more brutal types to come later. My favorite depiction of Klingons was actually in the John Ford book, The Final Reflection. I sure wish the TV shows and movies had used this as their guide.

Edo - it's been some time, but I think what bugged me about having those Klingons from TOS on DS9 is that they just had to go and change their appearance to the bony forehead look! I wish they'd left them alone. Good point about the longevity issue though -it would make sense for some races to live shorter lifespans than us.

Humanbelly said...

VOYAGER did have a main character from a race of advanced humanoids who had very, very short life spans ("Kes"-- was that her name?). Something like 6 years or so? Overlong in being explored, perhaps, but it was interesting new territory.

My take on Klingon culture inconsistencies? Even though later portrayed as sort of a mono-cultural empire. . . man, there had to be a LOT of kinds of Klingons, just as there were a LOT of kinds of humans. No single interaction or even sustained thread (like Worf's life) could fairly be said to contain ALL of what represented the broad array of Klingondom. Klingonhood. Klingondacity.

Well, you get what I mean. There were gonna be honorable ones, and savage ones, and crafty ones, and thuggish ones even in the limited spectrum of their Imperial Armed Forces, yeah?


(Ha-- Karen. . . can't believe you called Worf a dumbass-! Geeze, the poor guy-!)

Anonymous said...

Ah yes this is also one of my favourite Trek episodes because as a boy who doesn't like an action packed story featuring the debut of the Klingons?

Regarding the change in how the Klingons were portrayed throughout successive series, I think the idea to evolve them from simple thuggish villains to a samurai-like culture where honour was paramount was a good move. Keeping them as just another warlike species would probably have been too simple and monotonous for the writers. I believe this was also done to distinguish them from the Romulans who would become the defacto baddies later on. I also agree with HB - the Klingons being a large society would have different factions and ethnic/social groups all vying for supremacy, so that would explain the different behaviours we saw in the stories.

David_B, man, it's always amazed me to see that the best and baddest villains on screen somehow are the nicest, kindest people when you meet them in real life! RIP John Colicos, to me he was the highlight of this episode.

- Mike 'what's Klingon for pass the butter?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

HB, yep, her name was Kes and she was from a race called the Ocampa who matured really quickly and only lived about 10 or so years. That was one of the few cases of a really short-lived alien race, and actually quite an intriguing concept. However, I found Kes herself kind of boring as a character - she was a little too Pollyannish for my tastes. I preferred her replacement, 7 of 9 (and - as I have to keep explaining - it truly had little to do with her sexy bodysuit...)

Also, HB, you make a good point about the way Klingon culture was portrayed in TNG and the other follow-up series. It seemed to consist of exclusively warlike, Samurai-esque noble savages (many of whom were, admittedly, less than noble at times). Sometimes I find myself thinking (as though I have nothing but time to waste) that such a culture really could not function, i.e., if everybody is solely preoccupied with being a warrior, then where are the engineers, artisans, etc. After all, someone has to make those weapons and starships, someone has to cook their food, and brew that bloodwine they like so much. It's hard to see how a society like that could ever develop high technology, much less conquer and maintain an empire. Kind of the same thing applies to the Ferengi - they're portrayed quite simply as virtually ruthless traders and wheeler-dealers, who look at anything else with utter contempt. But again, someone has to make the goods they buy and sell, etc. (I know there were a few episodes where this was sort of addressed, one in TNG and several in DS9 with that whiny character Rom, but not satisfactorily.)

Old Mr. Still Struggling with Ceaseless Chaos said...

Nice article - good comments - and it WAS one of those great TOS episodes that etched itself in this 12-year-old viewer's mind: Action - emotion vs. reason - overblown bad guys - John Colicos's leering, sneering, sniffy, coy Kor was TREMENDOUS! - and then the Organian reveal! Loved it.

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