Today we reach "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (01/10/1969)
Here's the podcast:
Eric gets the first shot:
I've always been amazed and disgusted that “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” seems to be the most recognized Star Trek episode among non-fans. This is, as we discussed in the podcast, probably because Lokai and Bele are so striking visually. In any case, I'm sure this episode was a well-intentioned effort to make a statement about slavery and racism, but being so blatant and campy, it is very difficult to take seriously.
I suppose an argument could be made that racism based on the side on which a person is white or black is no more ridiculous than racism based on overall skin color. But was it necessary to have a sharp dividing line running vertically down the middle of the Cheronians' bodies? It's this kind of crap that has earned the third season such contempt. Apparently, no effort was made to be the least bit subtle or metaphorical, including naming Lokai, the dissident, after Loki, the troublemaker in Norse mythology.
To be fair, though, I did like is the end of the episode when Lokai and Bele return to Cheron and find it a radioactive wasteland. The footage of the burning cities was from World War II, which seems apropos and a bit poignant.
One point of interest is that the destruct sequence shown in “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” was reused (a gratifying nod to consistency) in Star Trek III. Also of interest is that while two key producers, Bob Justman and Gene Coon, left the series after this episode, Fred Frieberger (Executive Producer for the third season) said that it was one of the episodes he was most proud of working on.
I'm inclined to say that “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” could have been a really good episode if it had been done with a deft hand, but even if that had been the case, the racism/slavery theme may have been overused by this point in the series.
So to quote Forrest Gump: “That's all I have to say about that.”
Here we have yet another Third Season episode where something decent and perhaps even thought provoking could have been produced but it just wasn't in the cards. Between the lack of new original stories and inevitable "short timer" syndrome that surely must have set in by this time in the show's run, the lack of well-developed stories and production values isn't that surprising.
As usual, there are bits and pieces of the episode that are compelling. We want to hear more about how things got to where they were with Lokai and Bele's home world. Perhaps there was no budget for this, just like Bele's invisible space craft. Ahem. Also good is the scene where Kirk bluffs Bele by setting the ship to self destruct, something that is repeated of course in the third feature film. The scene is good, if a bit too drawn out. The problem for me is that later on, Bele just burns out the computer that does the destruct function. People just shrug and the show goes on. The ending is somewhat compelling where the two just continue to fight on a dead world, complete with stock burning building footage from WWII.
Besides the totally sledge-hammered approach to racism, the other part that bothered me in this episode is the way that the main characters of the Enterprise crew just seem ineffectual. Like I mentioned before, after Kirk gets Bele to back down following a tense scene where the ship is nearly blown up, Bele comes back later and uses his powers to break the computer. Kirk and the others barely react. Spock seems more interested in giving a speech about how superior his people are in the area of, uh, human rights than Bele's is. The subplot, if you can even call it that, is this mission to decontaminate a planet. Kirk's dialogue makes it sound as if this is a life or death situation. When the job is done, we are left with the impression that the Enterprise is just a galactic garbage truck and taxi service. "All right Captain, we've picked up the toxic waste on this forgettable planet, NOW can we get moving?" Mono colored trash indeed.
Eric covered the issue of having the two characters with the SO obvious faces and its symbolism. I also love the way we get to overhear Lokai ranting to some of the crew and the reactions are just dumb-sounding. Kirk makes it sound like their part of the galaxy has no interplanetary strife at all when clearly it's not the case. No wonder Lokai and Bele seem unimpressed with humans.
The new effects help by re-doing the shuttle craft footage so it isn't so obviously recycled from a previous episode.
And I just can't bring myself to quote anything from Forrest Gump.
Next time: “The Mark of Gideon”