Rob Watches Star Trek: What We Forgive

***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


EPISODE: S2.E25. “Bread and Circuses”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley


GUEST-STARRING: William Smithers, Logan Ramsey
WRITERS: Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon


DIRECTOR: Ralph Senesky
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: March 15, 1968

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

It’s always interesting to see what we forgive for a good story.

“Bread and Circuses” is an episode that wonders what lengths humanity might go to in the name of entertainment. It does this by presenting us with what is essentially an alternate Earth where the Roman Empire never ended, and now has the all benefits of 20th century tech.

But what we’re presented doesn’t look much like a modernized version of ancient Rome. We’ve got a handful of costumes from what must have been a production set in that time frame. We’ve got a few sets that look very vaguely like what they’re supposed to be. And the peaceful faction of slaves that our heroes fall in with? They’re wearing gray sweatsuits. Which means before long, that’s what our heroes are wearing as well.

This is about as clear an example as you’ll find of sci-fi on a budget. Objectively, “Bread and Circuses” just doesn’t look very good…

And yet, it works. “Bread and Circuses” is better than a lot of sci-fi flicks made 50 years later with state-of-the-art CGI. Why is that?

Because everything starts with story, and “Bread and Circuses” is a good story. It’s a little weird, and perhaps even a bit contrived. But at its core, it’s an editorial about television and entertainment that asks viewers important questions that are still relevant after all this time. And because it’s such a good story, we’re willing to forgive the tacky packaging it’s delivered in. That theory doesn’t work in reverse.

Case in point, the Star Wars prequels. When they came out, they were filled with top-line CGI depicting some amazingly creative environments. We had a big robot factory complete with big smelting pots, a planet that was also a giant city, and a humongous hive filled with space bugs, just to name a few. But the story was largely hollow. So all the special effects were hollow as well.

I’m a huge Star Wars geek. But I don’t have a problem saying “Bread and Circuses” is better than any of the three Star Wars prequels. It’s better than Rogue One, that’s for damn sure…

The episode explains the existence of an alternate 20th Century Earth on another world across the galaxy with something called “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development.” That sounds precisely like the kind of BS a writer would make up off the top of their head. Yet it’s such wildly fantastical BS that it feels like it just has to be true. And in the end, isn’t that the best kind of BS?

Not according to Gene L. Coon. Reportedly, a disagreement with Gene Roddenberry over the tone of this episode was what led to Coon’s departure as the Star Trek showrunner. (Though he would submit scripts for season three under the pseudonym Lee Cronin.) Apparently Coon wanted the episode to have more of a comedic touch, while Roddenberry wanted a more serious tone. Ultimately, however, we’re better off for what we got.

The best thing in the entire episode? The exchange in the jail cell between Spock and Bones. After dancing around it for two seasons, Bones finally starts to shoot straight with Spock. It’s clear the two are opposites in almost every sense of the word, and would not be friends outside the bounds of the Enterprise. But they’re united two things: Their sense of duty, and their loyalty to Kirk in particular.

And of course, we love them for it.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Rob Watches Star Trek: A Tale of Two Cities

***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
EPISODE: S1.E28. “The City on the Edge of Forever”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Joan Collins
WRITERS: Harlan Ellison, D.C. Fontana, Gene L. Coon, Gene Roddenberry
DIRECTOR: Joseph Pevney
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: April 6, 1967
SYNOPSIS: A freak accident sends Bones back to 1930s America, where he inadvertantly destroys the future. Kirk and Spock must restore the future, though at a great personal cost to Kirk.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

If you’ve been following along, “Rob Watches Star Trek” was covering episodes far beyond this, the penultimate episode of the first season. But as I continue to learn more and more about the Star Trek franchise, I found out I skipped what many consider to be the best episode of the original series. So naturally, I had to backtrack.

Star Trek was bound to tackle time-travel especially. Specifically, time-travel into Earth’s recent history. The temptation to juxtapose these characters from the future with America’s recent past was simply too great. In fact, by this point in the series, the penultimate episode of the first season, they had already been to that well once before. In “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” saw the crew travel back to the 1960s, the same decade the show was made. I would also count “The Return of the Archons” as a time-travel episode. Even though it doesn’t take place on Earth, for all intents and purposes it takes place in our past.

The comic book science in this episode is a little weird, but via a planet that can send time ripples into space, a drugged Bones is sent back to Great Depression era America. By saving the life of a young woman, he accidentally changes the course of history. Naturally, Kirk and Spock have to stop him via a time portal. And of course, darn his luck, Kirk falls in love with the woman in question. Thus, now Kirk must choose between his own heart and what he knows to be the rightful future of humanity.

The episode is indeed one of the best I’ve seen so far. Show creator Gene Roddenberry, William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy have all cited it among their favorites. But it’s been the subject of much controversy relating to its original writer, renowned science fiction author Harlan Ellison. Due to re-writes and cost prohibits, what wound up on screen was considerably different than what Ellison wrote in numerous drafts over a lengthy amount of time. The changes were a point of contention between Ellison and Roddenberry for decades afterward.

Reportedly, Ellison’s version of “The City on the Edge of Forever” would have introduced a crew member who we learn is involved in an illegal drug trade, and eventually kills another crewman. He’s thus sentenced to die on a nearby world. Said world was to have been the home of nine-foot-tall men, the Guardians of Forever, who are in possession of a time machine. The doomed crewman would steal the time machine and change history, thus necessitating Kirk and Spock’s pursuit. The altered reality would apparently have included an Enterprise manned by renegade space pirates.

But most notably, in Ellison’s version Kirk can’t bring himself to let the Edith Keeler, his love interest played by Joan Collins, die. In the end, Spock makes the choice for him. In the final product, the decision is taken out of both their hands as Edith dies when a truck accidentally runs her down.

This episode underwent re-writes from the likes of D.C. Fontana, Gene L. Coon, and finally Gene Roddenberry himself. I think the ending wound up better for it. Both Ellison and Roddenberry’s endings took the decision out of Kirk’s hands. But the big difference is I think Ellison’s ending makes Spock look needlessly cold. Is he saving a hell of a lot more people than he’s hurting in the process? Yes, absolutely. But intentionally letting someone die is still not a good look for one of your heroes.

In the end, we’re probably better off with the episode we got, as opposed to Ellison’s original vision for it. The only one of his ideas I might have kept in is the one about the space pirates on the Enterprise. But that’s just because I like alternate universe stories. Mechanically, I’m not even sure how you weave that into the episode when it already has so much to accomplish without it.

For those curious, the original teleplay for the episode is available on Amazon. Like City itself, it serves as a nice little peek into what might have been…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Rob Watches Star Trek: Klingons and Gene L. Coon

***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

EPISODE: S1.E26 “Errand of Mercy”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy
GUEST-STARRING: John Colicos, John Abbott

WRITER: Gene L. Coon
DIRECTOR: John Newland
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: March 23, 1967
SYNOPSIS: Kirk and Spock work to convince a peaceful world to fight back against occupation by the war-hungry Klingons.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

There’s a beautifully hysterical moment in “Errand of Mercy” where the lead Klingon asks Kirk about the Federation Starfleet. Kirk, with the most sarcastically pleasant expression you’ve ever seen, simply says, “Go climb a tree.” (It’s at 29:14 on the Netflix version.)

You just know they wanted to write something like, “Go f#$k yourself.” It’s even got the same number of syllables. But somehow, William Shatner makes “Go climb a tree” work. You might call him a bad actor. But in that moment he was a goddamn genius in my book.

In this episode we meet the Klingons, whose presence in the Star Trek Universe has allowed them to transcend the show and gain a place in the collective pop cultural consciousness. Not bad, considering they started out as dudes covered in bronzer with vaguely racist facial hair. What’s more, based on wardrobe, it looks like they opted to invade a planet that looks a little bit like a Renaissance Fair on Ugg Boot Appreciation Day. But who am I to judge?

When I watched this episode, I noticed a name that’s continued to pop up over the course of “Rob Watches Star Trek”: Gene L. Coon, who has also been known by the pseudonym Lee Cronin. Thus far, we’ve seen him involved in the writing on episodes that brought us the Prime Directive, the famous episode about racism, Khan, the epic piece of camp glory that is the Gorn, and now the Klingons. These are all elements indelibly woven into the fabric of Star Trek. So while Gene Roddenberry may have created the show, Coon played a pivotal role in making it great. Much like an Irvin Kershner or Lawrence Kasdan did for the Star Wars universe.

As it turns out, Coon wasn’t just a writer on the show. He served as the showrunner for the first season and much of the second. He would ultimately leave the show over the direction of an episode called “Bread and Circuses,” which we’ll get to at the end of season two.

As for the Klingons themselves, they were conveniently created as a war-hungry authoritarian culture. One doesn’t need to jump through a lot of plot hoops to put them against Kirk and the Enterprise. I confess it’s somewhat unsettling to see them with, as Coon called them, “oriental” features, i.e. their facial hair. Supposedly they were a metaphor for the Japanese during World War II. Though I don’t think we can discount that the Vietnam War was happening at this time…

There’s a bit of deliciously twisted irony toward the end of this episode. Obviously “Errand of Mercy” is all about violence and war. We’ve got the peaceful Organians who are impossibly placid and neutral, caught in the middle of this war between the Federation and the Klingons.

Though they’re bound and determined to destroy one another, the two sides do end up coming together for a common cause: When the Organians use mysticism to prevent them from fighting, Kirk and the Klingon Governor Kor both insist they have the right to wage war on each other. Think about that. They’re standing up for their right to kill each other.

C’mon, Kirk. I’d have expected that from a Klingon. But you? Captain, I’m surprised at you. You’re better than that.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Rob Watches Star Trek: Glory, Thy Name is Gorn

***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
EPISODE: S1.E18 “Arena”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
WRITERS: Fredric Brown (Story), Gene L. Coon (Teleplay)
DIRECTOR: Joseph Pevney
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: January 19, 1967
SYNOPSIS: Captain Kirk is trapped in a fight for his life against a reptilian creature called a Gorn.

By Rob Siebert
Trekkie-in-Training

I picked a disconcerting point in history to be watching Star Trek for the first time. One of the things that’s so great about this show is it’s tackling of cultural and ethical questions, issues of violence and nonviolence, etc.

Star Trek looks at humanity’s future with a hopeful eye. Kirk, Spock, and the others are by nature very pacifistic. And as we saw a few weeks ago, they’ve long since outgrown issues of race like the ones we see on the news nowadays. In “Arena,” Kirk and another creature called a Gorn are placed in a fight-to-the-death conflict resolution scenario. A powerful alien force deems both races uncivilized. Thus they’re placed in a violent situation befitting such a demeanor. Of course, in the end Kirk proves them wrong. About humans at least. So Star Trek predicts humanity will ultimately rise above its more violent tendencies. Cooler heads will prevail. Logic and compassion will win the day.

Keep in mind, this episode aired in 1967. More than 50 years later, are we any closer to being like Kirk? No. Not really. Certainly not if you take to heart all this COVID craziness, and then the fallout from George Floyd’s death…
Oye. Talk about a sobering train of thought.

Keep in mind, this episode aired in 1967. More than 50 years later, are we any closer to being like Kirk? No. Not really. Certainly not if you take to heart all this COVID craziness, and then the fallout from George Floyd’s death…

Oye. Talk about a sobering train of thought.

MEANWHILE, ON JANUARY 19, 1967: Major Bernard F. Fisher of the United States Air Force becomes the first to win the Air Force Medal of Honor. The prior year, Fisher had landed his plane in South Vietnam to prevent a fellow soldier from being captured by North Vietnamese forces.

Not so sobering? The goddamn Gorn!!!! I absolutely love this friggin’ thing. Not since “The Cage” have I seen Star Trek really embrace that campy, ’60s sci-fi glory. It’s not hard to see why that whole sequence with Kirk and the Gorn is so fondly regarded.

Here’s my question: Would it have been better to just have the Gorn be nude, as opposed to putting it in that weird loin-cloth thing? I understand it’s supposed to be a ship captain. But going with the “its okay for animals to be naked” logic works for characters like Chewbacca. Why can’t it work for the Gorn? (Although I’m guessing far less thought was put into the Gorn.)

Apparently our latest Earth-like planet isn’t the only one in the universe that looks like the deserts of Los Angeles County. Apparently Star Trek shot in this area so much that a prominent rock formation has been affectionately named “Kirk’s Rock.”

Frankly, it deserves that distinction for this episode alone. Are you gonna tell me that entertainment gets any better than this? I don’t think so.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Rob Watches Star Trek: Khan!!!

***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:
S1.E22 “Space Seed
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Ricardo Montalban, Madlyn Rhue
WRITER: Corey Wilber, Gene L. Coon (Additional Teleplay)
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: February 16, 1967
SYNOPSIS: The Enterprise encounters a ship containing selectively bred super-people from the 1990s. Among them is the villainous Khan.

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

So this is the famous Khan, eh? As in The Wrath of Khan. I knew what older, white-haired,movie Khan looked like via pop culture osmosis. But I never knew there was a dashing younger model.

The theme of “Space Seed,” as I see it, is about the question of just how far man has evolved. How far have we come from the era of the savage beast toward the peaceful society of our dreams?

Try not to chuckle, or even look out the window as you ponder that.

There’s also a poignant kind of double-irony at play here. Khan tells Kirk that man hasn’t evolved much since his time. But in the end, it’s Khan that ends up trying to take the Enterprise by force. Kirk is the one who ends up showing him mercy, even gives his people their own world to inhabit. So while still not perfect, Kirk, Spock, and the others suggest that humans have in fact become that higher-functioning society.

On the flip side, “Space Seed” clearly knows there’s a good chance this move will come back to bite Kirk. And indeed it would, in movie form..

That was also a hell of a fight between Kirk and Khan. Very reminiscent of…wait for it, because you know I had to mention it…Batman ’66. But this has a great one-on-one factor going for it. Whereas the Batman fights were usually with a bunch of henchmen. Khan himself is pretty formidable. The way that red-shirt sold the shot for him after he pried the door open? Very epic in a campy, ’60s sort of way.

Not a great episode for the ladies, per se. We’ve got Lieutenant McGivers being seduced by the obviously abusive Khan. He uses her feelings to emotionally blackmail her into betraying, for all intents and purposes, her own people. Then we’ve got Uhura getting smacked across the face by a henchman. I can’t say that was easy to watch. But that’s why they’re the bad guys, I suppose.

One person it was a great episode for? Bones. Star Trek, or at least what I’ve seen of Star Trek, hasn’t really been high on “bad ass” moments. That’s not really what the original series was about. But Bones sure as hell gets one when Khan emerges from hyper-sleep in the med bay.

“Either choke me or cut my throat.” God damn. He even tells the guy HOW to cut his throat! No lie, Bones might be my new favorite after that.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.