TREK-A-DAY: A Taste of Armageddon
EPISODE TWENTY-THREE: A Taste of Armageddon
Yikes. This episode actually dropped my jaw, no mean feat given how much sci fi I’ve consumed over the years, but here we are. The crew recieves orders from yet another over-powered diplomat, who demands they beam down to a planet which is sending out a hard “STAY THE HELL AWAY!” message. They arrive to find a pristine, futuristic utopia (which of course means everything is fine!) only to be informed that the planet is at war with its former colony and that now that the ship is in orbit, they are all in danger. Seconds later, there’s an attack in the middle of the city…only nothing happens. And here’s where we go to crazy-town USA:
The wars are fought mathematically on computers, essentially constituting a digital war; each planet declares where the attack would land and the computer runs a simulation of the damage and casualties. But rather than actually blow shit up (they’ve been at this for 500 years), the people registered as casualties in the attack REPORT TO A DISINTEGRATION CHAMBER FOR DEATH. It’s an incredible concept, one that is used in various ways throughout sci fi (Ray Bradbury has some excellent stories about ideas like this) but it’s the execution here that got me: everyone is super calm about it (though distressed to find they’ve died), but nevertheless meekly report to the chambers for death. It’s sterile and horrible, evoking the disturbing efficiency of the Nazi’s genocidal Final Solution, but a creepily voluntary one. The habitants of the planet are convinced this is the only way to perserve their civilization by removing the horrific messiness of war (one can’t help but see their point knowing how much culture is destroyed in every war, from architecture to all the lost artifacts in the Sacking of Baghdad).
Kirk and Spock are, of course, horrified by this and proceed to execute a fairly standard “escape captivity” plot with one important catch: the Enterprise has been declared a casualty and thus Kirk has the ship (in the very capable hands of temporary Commander Scotty!) to worry about as well…and thus makes good on a threat he made to Anon-7 the leader of the planet: “I can destroy your planet.”
And Prime Directive be damned, that’s exactly what he orders the Enterprise to do: he gives them two-hours to negotiate or the USS Enterprise WILL LEVEL EVERY CITY ON THE PLANET.
Kirk basically became Grand Moff Tarkin.
His gambit is successful, leading to the destruction of the war computers, forcing the planet to confront the actual horror of war, rather than their clean, sterile war game and both combatants fold. After a chilling speech in which Kirk lays out what war is and why he brought it to their doorstep. This was a really fascinating character study and one of the reasons why Kirk will always hold the title for the most active captain. He doesn’t hesitate to order the destruction of the planet and force them into a situation that will bring Total War to a planet. Everything works out, but his willingness to do this is shocking and a little scary. In an awesome way. Not until Commander Adama will we get such unbridled badass captaining (with some exceptions, of course, where our Trek captains make epic calls…what gets me is that this isn’t a season finale, a major enemy, or a movie. It’s just something Kirk did in the course of his day. Ultimately once they took control of the planet they could have beamed out and left them be…instead he made a pretty epic call and won the day).
Incidentally, we also get the first official mention of the United Federation of Planets. Nifty.
A great episode that doubtless wanted to remind its viewing audience that a Cold War is exactly that: a lot of posturing and threats…but actual war is horrific, messy, and uncontrollable. There’s a reason we must do everything we can to avoid it. Great stuff.