Friday, February 2, 2018

Episode Review - Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (Original Series, Season 3)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.

Overview – The Enterprise is on an urgent mission when it detects a shuttlecraft stolen from Starbase 4 weeks earlier. Seeing that the shuttle is damaged and that the life support systems are failing, Kirk orders a tractor beam to bring the craft aboard. The pilot, an unusual looking alien who is white on the right side of his face, is taken into custody. He identifies himself as Lokai, from the planet Cheron. As they continue to their original heading, they encounter another strange vessel, this time transporting a member of the same planet, only he is white on the left side. His name is Bele, and he has been hunting Lokai for 50 000 years. He demands custody of Lokai, who claims political asylum. Between the two arguing with each other, Kirk and his crew soon learn that the people of Cheron live in a society where the ones who are black-right have a great deal of power over those who are white-right. They both display unique powers which leaves Kirk in a precarious position as he tries to find a solution to their millennia-arching hatred while protecting the Enterprise and her mission.

Score: 8/10 – Star Trek became well renowned for its ability to comment on social issues of the day in a way that was unique due to the science fiction nature of the show. Indeed, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” is often a cited as a prime example of this. Here, the writers tackle the issues of racism in America by creating a world where everyone is both black on one side and white on the other. The difference is in which side is which color. We are then taken into a conflict that has spanned tens of thousands of years, if not more. In the end, we see that the hatred each side had for the other doomed the civilization to annihilation. We get great performances from the two guest stars, Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio. They play their parts well, mixing anger and hatred with a sense of justice (for Bele) and sympathy (for Lokai) effectively. While the social message of this story is about as subtle as an explosion, it is still a very powerful message. There are a few parts of the story that I wish had been more fully explored, such as if Lokai had similar abilities as Bele with regard to taking over the ship. I also found the end scene of the two aliens chasing each other through the corridors of the ship to be a bit drawn out, although it was partly made up for with the stock footage of burning buildings to show how each of them envisioned the destruction of their homeworld. For its time it was an effective use of imagery. When the crew is left on the bridge contemplating and discussing the futility of the hatred that Bele and Lokai had for each other, we the audience are also left questioning the futility of hatred in our own world. That is what good television, and good Star Trek, is all about.

Relevance – 1 point. This is a tough one, and it hurts the overall scoring of this very worthy episode, but try as I might there is only one part of this episode that has any bearing on anything else in the franchise. When Kirk is forced to use the self-destruct sequence to prevent Bele from preventing the Enterprise in reaching her mission, they format of the code is the same as will be used to destroy the Enterprise in Star Trek III. Even though this episode can stand on its own, and if you miss it you will not be losing any understanding or connections to anything else in the franchise, this is still very much an episode to watch

Continuity – 2 points. Giving a point for both universe and character continuity here. For the universe, I almost took a point off for having a planet full of such powerful and long-lived beings that it was amazing to me that nobody in the Federation seemed to have heard of it before. But, space is big, so I can let that slide. Character continuity is also intact here. I especially appreciated how the scene where Lokai is trying to recruit sympathy for his people among the crew, he is discussing it with Sulu and Chekov, among others. While it was interesting that Chekov, a Russian, and Sulu, a Japanese, were acknowledging that persecution existed on Earth at that time, they had shown that Earth had largely moved on from it. Where I have to take a point away is in story continuity, and it is for two instances. First, in the just mentioned Lokai recruitment scene, he is seen speaking to four members of the crew, one of whom is Sulu. The point of view focuses on Spock listening in the hallway. We then hear Chekov’s voice in the conversation. As the camera focuses back into the room, there is no Chekov visible. Also, in the end when Spock is monitoring the movements of Bele and Lokai throughout the ship, he is able to give Kirk and the bridge crew a play-by-play description of the chase. He is able to indicate who is where in the ship and where they are headed. Then, as Lokai enters into transporter room, and everybody cannot explain why the transporters are being activated. With Spock being able to report where each of the two are, it is odd that they would not be able to make a simple deduction as to who was transporting to the planet.

Character Development – 1 point. Again, it pains me to rank this as this is an excellent episode, but this story is largely an analysis of two guest characters, neither of whom add anything to the development of any of the main characters. Everyone is very sympathetic to the situation, at least. There is one major revelation about Kirk here, and that is found in the scene where he sets the auto destruct of the ship to prevent Bele from commandeering the ship. It shows his resolve (and, possibly, his bluffing abilities). It highlights that Kirk means business here, and if it means he destroys his vessel and crew, so be it.

Social Commentary – 3 points. OK, here is where there is no doubt as to giving it full points. Racism was definitely the focus of this episode. In a time when racial tensions in the US were particularly high, Star Trek was able to address it in a way that gave everyone watching it a chance to sit back and think. A simple yet brilliant move in making both central guest characters black and white, just on different sides, was very effective at pointing out the sometimes silly nature of racism. It does not matter what the skin coloring is, there is nothing that truly separates them other than their own prejudices. Add to that is the distrust each has for the mono-colored skin colored captain and his crew who cannot possibly understand how they feel. In the end, we see what this sort of hatred and pettiness can lead to, and that is the complete destruction of their civilization. Of particular note, however, is that this message is still needed today. Perhaps it is even more relevant today, and I am not just talking about racism here. Our Western society has been embroiled in polarizing divisions for some time now. Racism is only one facet of this stone. There are so many ways that this type of mistrust and hatred can be seen, from religion to politics, from socio-economic status to philosophy. What really makes this episode powerful is that while we may have sympathy for Lokai, being the member of the oppressed group, he is not innocent here. As we see in the aftermath of the battle on the planet, both sides were guilty of fueling their hatred towards each other. Lokai had given into hatred as much as Bele did. Too often in these disputes both sides will claim to have the moral high ground, and in the end we see that neither does. No matter how justified, hatred really accomplishes little that is good.

Cool Stuff – 2 points. I am scoring a point for the memorable visual of Lokai and Bele. A quick and simple way to divide the two men from the same planet that really establishes how silly their fight is. One feels superior to the other because their colors are reversed. Both characters kept their gloves on during the episode to prevent the make-up people from having to add make-up to their hands, which is an acceptable way of maintaining costs on the show. I also want to score a point for Frank Gorshin as Bele. Gorshin was probably best known as the Riddler in the Batman series starring Adam West. It was interesting seeing him play such a different character here.

Rank – Captain (17 points). Such a strong episode that gives us a great message in a powerful way. Yes, the approach is blunt and obvious, but the execution is nearly perfect. Definitely one to watch.

If you would like to read other reviews from the Original Series, click on the link here.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

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