“I’ve found that evil usually triumphs, unless good is very, very careful.”
SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
This episode of Star Trek initially looked quite promising. The ka-tet beam aboard an apparently abandoned starship orbiting an alien planet and find that the crew have all turned to salt. The last log report tells the ka-tet that they are doomed unless they beam down to the planet; they promptly do so, and find a crazed starship captain who has violated the Prime Directive by interfering with the lives of the warring natives, the Coombs and the Yangs.
Hurrah! A mysterious virus! Evil starship captains!
Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. My thoughts on the episode can basically be summed up in one sentence:
This is really, really stupid.
The first half is only standard Star Trek Stupid: some claims about the virus that sound a bit scientifically suspect, a non-realisation that water is a chemical too, and a reference to the “bacteriological” wars of the 1990s. Which we’re still waiting for…
(OK, that last one isn’t really stupid. But if you’re going to put dates on the apocalypse, you should really make it A Long Way Away.)
But then the story descends into what I can only assume is a form of Cold War propaganda, because, honestly, there’s no other way to explain the actual weirdness of what happens.
You see, it turns out that the Yangs are Americans descended from other Americans who lost a biological war against the Coombs (who are Communists) and were driven out into the wild.
Wait, what? What?
And, no, I’m not talking about descendants of humans on Earth who have somehow wound up on a strange planet. I’m talking about actual aliens, who a) happen to look exactly like humans, b) happen to speak pretty good English (and it’s made perfectly clear that this is not a result of Evil Starship Captain’s cultural contamination), c) happen to have had exactly the same political development at some distant point in the past, and the same Cold War, and the same names for the opposing sides (Yangs = Yanks) and d) have the same frickin’ flag as the Americans on Earth. Oh, and the same Pledge of Allegiance and Constitution.
I’m sorry, is anybody actually supposed to take this seriously? Or am I missing something vital? Is it all a subtle allegory or something like that? Because to me it looks astonishingly unsubtle even for Star Trek.
And then came Kirk’s rousing speech on the theme of How the Constitution Must Apply to Everybody. Of course. Translation (for the waiting audiences of 1968): “We’re better than the Communists! Captain Kirk says so! So it must be right!”
Later, Spock asks if Kirk has not himself violated the Prime Directive through his Rousing Speech, and Kirk, essentially, goes, “It doesn’t count if it’s about freedom.”
I give up. Sarcasm fails in the face of such blatant lunacy.