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.