***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***
SERIES: Star Trek
EPISODES: S3.E15 “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Frank Gorshin, Lou Antonio
WRITER: Oliver Crawford, based on a story by Lee Cronin
DIRECTOR: Jud Taylor
ORIGINAL AIR DATES: January 10, 1969
SYNOPSIS: Captain Kirk and the Enterprise are caught in the middle of a racially charged conflict between a planet’s government and a race subservient beings.
By Rob Siebert
We weren’t supposed to get to this episode for several more months. But in light of recent events it seems rather apropos.
My understanding is this is generally regarded as the “racism episode” of the original Star Trek series. Obviously it’s a little heavy-handed, as you might guess from the half-black and half-white look of the aliens. Nonetheless its message is noble. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent racially charged protests, it’s one we need now more than we have in a long time.
“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” introduces is to Lokai of the planet Cheron, the leader of a planetary rebellion seeking to liberate his race of over 100,000 beings. Soon, the Enterprise is joined by Commissioner Bele (pronounced like “real”), who refers to Lokai as a political prisoner.
Instead of summarizing the events of the episode, I’ll refer you to dialogue in a specific scene that perfectly encapsulates the conflict.
The following takes place while Captain Kirk and Bele are all in sick bay checking on the condition of Lokai. Bele wants to take Lokai back to Cheron, as he’s considered a political prisoner. Naturally, Lokai wants nothing to do with him…
Lokai: “He raided our homes, tore us from our families, herded us together like cattle, and then sold us as slaves!
Bele: “They were savages, Captain. We took them into our hearts, our homes, we educated them.”
L: “Yes. Just education enough to serve the master race!”
B: “You were the product of our love. And you repaid us with murder.”
L: “Why should a slave show mercy to the enslaver?”
B: “Slaves? That was changed thousands of years ago. You were freed.”
L: “Freed? Were we free to be men? Free to be husbands and fathers? Free to live our lives in equality and dignity?”
B: “Yes you were free. If you knew how to use your freedom. You were free enough to slaughter and to burn all the things that had been built!”
L: [To Kirk] “I tried to break the chains of a hundred million people. My only crime is that I failed. …”
B: There is an order in things. He asks for utopia in a day. It can’t be done.
L: “… To you we are a loathsome breed who will never be ready. Genocide for my people is the plan for your utopia!”
B: “You insane, filthy little plotter of ruin! You vicious subverter of every decent thought. …”
Later, Spock asks Bele about the nature of the conflict. He responds with, “It is obvious to the most simple-minded that Lokai is of an inferior breed. … Are you blind, Commander Spock? … I am black on the right side. Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.”
In a truly wonderful moment of television, Kirk and Spock tell Bele they see no significant difference between the two “breeds.”
MEANWHILE, IN JANUARY 1969: Richard Nixon is sworn in as the 37th President of the United States on January 20.
Near the end of the episode, the Enterprise discovers the entire population of Cheron has been wiped out from war. Lokai and Bele, now the last of their kind, beam themselves back down to the planet to continue waging war on one another. Their hate is all they have left.
While admittedly hokey-looking and filled with expository dialogue, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” is a picture-perfect example of how you can still make great television on a slim budget. They didn’t need fancy alien costumes or elaborate special effects to make this work. All they needed was some simple face paint and two gray bodysuits.
In hindsight, I wonder what happened when Lokai and his people started to rise up. How much did it look like what we’re seeing on the news right now? Were there riots? Looting? Were there any who looked like Bele that stood by the rebels?
To think, until a week or so ago I only knew this episode as “the one with Frank Gorshin.” Gorshin, of course, played the Riddler on the 1960s Batman show.
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.