Saturday, November 03, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 18 (Arena)

There were several differences between Star Trek and the subsequent series.  For instance, it seems that Captain Kirk was a lot more willing to chase and destroy an attacking ship.  Way back in Balance of Terror, Kirk decided that the Romulans couldn’t get back and report on the Federation’s defenses.  It makes sense, even if you don’t agree with the method.  If the ship can’t report on what happened, the Romulan Government is left guessing and assuming that their ship didn’t complete its mission.

In Arena, Kirk makes a similar decision.  The Gorn attack and destroy a Federation outpost on Cestus III.  The Gorn also attempt to lure the Enterprise there to presumably destroy them.  When that fails, the Gorn retreat with the Enterprise giving chase with the intent of destroying the Gorn ship, thus preventing them from reporting to their superiors.

Before the Enterprise can destroy the Gorn ship, both captains are beamed down to an asteroid.  An alien race calling themselves the Metrons addresses the Enterprise (and, presumably, the Gorn ship) explaining that both captains will fight to the death.  The winner will be allowed to leave on his ship.  The ship of the losing captain will be destroyed.  The asteroid contains everything either captain could need to defeat the other.

The Gorn captain is able to fashion a dagger whereas Kirk initially tries dropping boulders on his opponent.  Kirk eventually realizes that he can make a crude cannon, eventually defeating the Gorn captain.  Kirk refuses to kill, though, which impresses the Metrons.  A representative of the race agrees to let both ships go.

The original series was sold as a western in space.  It would make sense that there’s a certain amount of fighting.  There was also a moral aspect.  Here, Kirk admits that there’s a time for fighting and a time for mercy.  It may have served a purpose to destroy the Gorn ship in battle, but to kill the Gorn on the asteroid?  Maybe not so much.

It occurs to me that Kirk’s original motive was to prevent the Gorn from reporting back to their government.  By sparing the captain, that could still come to pass.  The captain would even report back to his superiors that Kirk showed weakness in letting him live.

The episode was somewhat drawn out in  that much of its running time was dedicated to the fighting.  Even the battle on Cestus III seemed unnecessarily long.  In the end, we see that Kirk doesn’t have to kill the Gorn to win.  There’s very little debate as to the morality of inflicting pain and death on your enemies.

When the crew gets to watch the two captains, it comes to light that the Federation may have encroached on the Gorn’s territory.  Even that had little screen time.  You’d think that someone would have mentioned negotiations getting underway at the end of the episode.

Come to think of it, I’m surprised that this isn’t a bigger concern.  It’s a big galaxy and there are bound to be lots of other powers out there.  The Federation has already had to deal with the Romulans and the Klingons are also out there.  You’d think someone would have asked around before setting up a colony or outpost on some random planet.

It’s still an interesting episode.  I can forgive certain aspects of the episode, given that it was the 60s and the show hadn’t really been developed that well yet.  This is one of the episodes where I imagine a certain amount is lost on me because of context.  I can imagine someone explaining something that was going on at the time that might be informative.  Some aspects of the series were dependant on context while others were timeless.  I think this may have been one of the more context-dependant ones.

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