SCORE: (2/5 stars)
Kirk’s returning to his old stomping grounds, the first planet he ever surveyed. His report many years beforehand described the planet as a veritable Garden of Eden, which should be an immediate red flag for those of you watching along at home. Can we remember what happened every single time someone described a planet as an Eden? Hint: if you’re going to say happiness and sunshine, you are absolutely correct on opposite day. (Also, if you’re going to say it looks like California scrub brush and hills, you’re dead on.) Though the local peoples of the planet previously showed a peaceful agrarian lifestyle, something dark has befallen their culture in the decade since Kirk was away:
A faction of the local people are armed with flintlocks, and the away team is bound by the Prime Directive not to use their phasers to contaminate the culture. Because they wisely did not beam down any redshirts, Spock takes a shot right to the chest. He’s rushed up to the Enterprise for emergency treatment, and his injuries are severe and life-threatening. Eventually the doctors do all they can for him, and Spock enters a deep meditative trance to force his body to mend itself. He’s so deep in the trance that he requires punches to the face to awaken, which Nurse Chapel reluctantly provides.
More medical troubles are found on the planet below. Kirk is attacked by a venomous yeti-lizard hybrid called a mugato. McCoy’s medical expertise can only delay the inevitable, but Kirk will soon die. Kirk tells Bones to find Tyree, a native Kirk had befriended on the last survey, as the locals have a remedy for the mugato venom. Tyree has married a witch-doctor named Nona, who uses her guile and wiles to learn of the true power of the Starfleet officers. Her remedy cures Kirk, but she claims it also binds him to her will. (Kirk later denies this is the case, and as nothing’s really made of it, it seems like an irrelevant distraction to the plot.)
Learning that the enemy villagers started carrying guns only a year ago, Kirk and McCoy sneak into the village late at night and learn that the villagers have been supplied by the Klingons, who intend to make this planet a new outpost for the Klingon Empire. Since the enemy of the Federation is arming these peoples, Kirk decides the best course of action is to also provide arms for Tyree and his people, in order to balance out the fighting. No matter how Kirk rationalizes it, this still feels like a violation of the Prime Directive to me.
Kirk brings a flintlock to Tyree’s people and begins training them in the use of it, to Tyree’s protestations. He’s always been a peaceful man and wants nothing to do with the warring. And Nona, who earlier saw McCoy use a hand phaser to heat up some rocks for warmth, wants the power that device could give, and steals it. She attempts to use it to gain control over the enemy villagers, but doesn’t know how to use it, and is killed for her troubles, as Tyree looks on from a distance. Enraged, he wants Kirk to arm his people with as many guns as they can give. He no longer cares about peace, only revenge. Kirk is about to grant his request, but realizes finally that this is a war he never should have gotten involved with. Saddened by the loss of paradise brought about by the Klingons, the Enterprise leaves orbit. The fate of the planet, ambiguous, much like the ongoing Vietnam war.
So considering the era that Star Trek aired in, it’s no surprise that they would attempt to tackle the important issues of the day, and certainly US involvement in Vietnam was a hot-button issue. On that same token, because it was such a hot-button and controversial topic, NBC was probably loathe to take it on so directly, and so this episode’s script paid the price in quality and message. The original script had far more overt references to the Vietnam conflict, but most of those were pulled altogether, and the added plot to fill those gaps feels out of place and directionless. They had the makings of a solid episode about the evils of proxy wars, but their hands were tied and it made for a lackluster event.
- Kirk speaks of the only way to preserve life and peace is to arm both sides of a conflict, but I must disagree. This only serves to further deaths on both sides.
- Nona: And you have ways as far above firesticks as the sky above our world.
- Kirk: We once were as you are—spears, arrows. There came a time when our weapons grew faster than our wisdom, and we almost destroyed ourselves. We learned from this to make a rule during all our travels never to cause the same to happen to other worlds.
- Apella: I thought my people would grow tired of killing. But you were right. They see that it is easier than trading and it has pleasures.
- Kirk: A balance of power. The trickiest, most difficult, dirtiest game of them all, but the only one that preserves both sides.
- Scotty: A hundred what?
Kirk: A hundred… serpents. Serpents for the Garden of Eden.