Star Trek: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Spock: "All that matters to them is their hate."

I've been bitching about the recycled plots for some time. This is not one of them.

Even though I've been writing these reviews from a current day viewpoint, this particular episode is difficult to review without talking about the 1968 context of the civil rights movement. This episode's huge message anvil is that race prejudice is both irrational and distasteful and that it leads to pointless death and destruction. And that in the semi-utopian Star Trek future, we'll be way, way past it.

Except that, interestingly, I noticed a lot of class prejudice. Kirk treated Commissioner Bele with respect, and Lokai with disdain. Bele had drinks with the senior officers, while Lokai was down in the rec room preaching to the grunts. (Interesting that, during that scene, all they showed was Lokai's shadow on the wall.) Lokai may have stolen a Federation shuttlecraft, but Bele actually stole the Enterprise, didn't he?

It's also interesting that Bele and Lokai were both such distasteful beings, when it would have been an obvious writing cliche to make Bele monstrous and Lokai sympathetic. Bele disregarded millions of lives in danger in order to take one prisoner back to Cheron, because that was all he cared about in a Les Miserables sort of way. Lokai (was giving the character the name of a trickster god an accident?) kept screaming at the Enterprise officers to kill Bele, and gave a juvenile, criminal argument as justification for stealing the shuttlecraft (I needed it, therefore it was perfectly okay for me to steal it).


What jumped out at me during this rewatch was that, whenever the two of them faced each other, they were the same color. Their simple gray clothing was identical, except that Bele's was decorated and Lokai's was not – a good choice of costume, since anything else might have detracted from the impact of those divided faces. I only wish they had gone all the way and had an African American woman playing one of the parts – preferably Bele. I've also always liked that their wild coloring was the result of a "dramatic conflict" and that Lokai was supposedly black on the "wrong side." Simplistic and yes, the entire episode was preachy, but it got the job done.

The other bit I enjoyed in this episode was the wonderful self-destruct sequence, which was repeated almost verbatim in the third Star Trek movie. Self-destruct has been referred to a couple of times before, but has never been done so decisively and dramatically before, complete with extreme close-ups of the cast, Bele, Lokai and even the computer. Would Kirk have gone through with it? He certainly appeared to be ready to do so, but personally, I hope he was bluffing.

Ben says...

When I got ready to watch this one, it was with considerable dread. The last few episodes have not been good (in fact, "not good" is an understatement). Then I started off the episode with a terrible meta-fan moment. I had a thought (not a long lasting one, but it was there) that I was so happy that Paul Kinsey had managed to get them to produce The Negron Complex. After all those problems with the Hare Krishnas and that terrible girlfriend, he deserved some success. Then I realized I was recalling an episode of Mad Men.

It says something about both this episode and my brain that I would have this thought. I think it's all good for the show (my brain is another matter altogether) because it speaks to the nature of this episode which has a really serious message delivered in really silly makeup. In some ways, the extreme naturalism of Mad Men is the exact opposite of this approach; they joke about The Negron Complex and create juxtaposition between how we talk about serious subjects on TV in 1968 and in 2012.

And make no mistake, we are talking about a very serious subject here, although I don't believe it's all about racism. I think the message may have been most obviously about racism when it first aired, but one of the reasons that this is not simply a historical curiosity is that the meaning that continues to resonate is one that argues against any form of extremism. If you listen to Bele and Lokai, you can identify threads of every extreme position which the poor old 20th century was heir to: there is racism, fascism, communism, indeed, hate of any difference at all. The hate alone is not enough; these two are willing to do anything today for the wonderful future that their victory might create. In an era of terror, this admittedly heavy-handed melodrama still really works.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 5730.2. Mercy mission to the planet Arrianus, and a forced excursion to Cheron. What was Kirk doing bringing an unknown alien on board without decontamination under those circumstances? And hey. I thought Cheron was supposed to be in an unexplored region, but they got there in five minutes.

— Lokai stole a shuttlecraft from Starbase Four. In the original version of the episode, they used a recycled shot of an Enterprise shuttlecraft. In the new version, we got the "Da Vinci."

— Bele's ship had a cloaking device. Except they didn't call it one, and we never saw the ship. Budget issues again, huh?

— Fascinating that Bele indicated that evolution was bull, an unexpected bit of scientific ignorance in a supposedly advanced being. It made me think of Bele in terms of current American politics, where racism and a denial of the validity of proven science is often a characteristic of members of the extreme right. All we were missing was Bele saying that Lokai's position in society was dictated by their holy books.

— We got a shaking zoom camera effect for the flashing light during the red alert, which was new and weird. According to Memory Alpha, that was a little homage to Frank Gorshin (Bele), who played the Riddler on Batman. This is the second Batman guest star in a row. And the third is coming soon.

— 50,000 years? Really?

Quotes:

Lokai: "I'm grateful for your rescue."
Kirk: "Don't mention it. We're pleased to have caught you."

Lokai: "You monotone humans are all alike. First you condemn, then you attack."

Bele: "You can no more destroy this ship than I can change color."

Bele: "Are you blind, Commander Spock? Look at me. Look at me!"
Kirk: "You're black on one side and white on the other."
Bele: "I am black on the right side."
Kirk: "I fail to see the significant difference."
Bele: "Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side."

Three out of four shaking zoom camera effects,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

5 comments:

Mark said...

My brother once dressed as one of the b&w aliens from this episode, for a Halloween party. Some other stranger had the same idea. They laughed, and started shaking hands. Then they noticed their coloring was opposite, so they started "strangling" each other.

Billie Doux said...

Laugh out loud, Mark. :)

tricksterson said...

While Lokai for Loki is obvious, if you play with Bele a bit you can get a dirivative of Beelzebub, Belial or Baal.

Billie Doux said...

Excellent point, tricksterson. I can't believe I missed that.

KNIGHT said...

Personnally, the pitch for this episode reminded me a little "The Alternative Factor".