Monday, August 27, 2012

Errand Of Mercy

Here come the Klingons, finally. They've become such an integral part of the later films and television series that it's a surprise to realise they arrived after the Romulans, 26 weeks into the first season. Like the Romulans in Balance Of Terror, the Klingons have a duel purpose. They add depth and danger to the Star Trek universe. Now we know the Federation shares borders with two hostile races. Also, in the same way the Romulans acted as a mirror for Spock, the Klingons define Kirk by being everything he isn't: cruel, brutal, and vicious. “Professional villains,” as David Gerrold describes them in The World of Star Trek, “Klingons do all the things that humans pretend they don't - only Klingons are proud of it.”

Kirk, and Kor the Klingon commander, most clearly demonstrate their mirror image relationship in their attitudes to Organia. The Klingons don't offer the Organians a choice, they just arrive and take over. However Kirk isn't offering a choice either. His orders are to deny Organia to the Klingons. “ We can be of immense help to you.” Kirk tells the Organian Council of Elders. “In addition to military aid, we can send you specialists, technicians. We can show you how to feed a thousand people where one was fed before. We can help you build schools, educate the young in the latest technological and scientific skills. Your public facilities are almost non-existent. We can help you remake your world, end disease, hunger, hardship. All we ask in return is that you let us help you. Now.” It's a sincere but conscience saving offer from the Federation. The planet Organia is in a strategic location. Regardless of what the inhabitants want the planet is going to be the subject, and location, of a fight between the Klingons and Federation. Kirk's offer of assistance is little more than, “come on in, the war's lovely,” and the one response Kirk, and the Federation can't deal with is the Organians', “not today thank you.”

It's only Organian intervention which stops the war. Imagine an episode where the Organians don't turn out to be aliens with god-like powers. Just committed pacifists with blue goats whose society has never risen above the medieval level. The Klingons would fight on Organia for the sheer joy of fighting. The Federation would fight and agonise about it afterwards. As Kirk puts it, “another Armenia, Belgium... the weak innocents who always seem to be located on the natural invasion routes.” They would convince themselves that war on Organia was unwanted but inevitable. Or, as Spock says, “curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”

On a more personal level Kor also acts as Satan to Kirk's, well let's not take this metaphor too far. He's not just interested in defeating the Federation, and Kirk, he wants to bring them down to his level in the process. He tempts Kirk. Listing the qualities they share and inviting Kirk to agree, and admit the two have more in common than either of them does with the Organians.

KOR: ...You of the Federation, you are much like us.
KIRK: We're nothing like you. We're a democratic body.
KOR: Come now. I'm not referring to minor ideological differences. I mean that we are similar as a species. Here we are on a planet of sheep. Two tigers, predators, hunters, killers, and it is precisely that which makes us great. And there is a universe to be taken.

Kor is played with considerable relish by John Colicos (appropriately for Biblical metaphors, Kirk's Satan goes on to play the Judas of humanity in Battlestar Galactica); all eyebrows and smirking. It's a textbook example of how to play a proper hissable villain. There's none of the tortured nobility Mark Lenard bought to the Romulan commander role in Balance Of Terror, but here that wouldn't be appropriate. Colicos makes Kor fun, a Klingon you love to hate, and like all good villains he can go from ordering the apparent deaths of 200 Organians to offering Kirk a drink while waiting for the inevitable clash between the Klingon and Federation fleets. At the end of the episode Kor has a lovely moment when he tries to persuade the Federation to join forces with the Klingons against the Organians. “Captain, it's a trick. We can handle them. I have an army.” He says, forgetting that seconds ago he was angrily denying Ayelborne's prophecy of Klingons and the Federation becoming friends and working together.

As Ayelborne John Abbott has a more difficult role. He has to be convincing, and consistent, as both a simple peasant and also another alien with god-like powers. He manages it very well. His line, “as I stand here, I also stand upon the home planet of the Klingon Empire, and the home planet of your Federation,” may be one of the most effective in the episode. It's delivered with a quiet conviction and leaves no room for doubt. Ayelborne is not lying, or bluffing, he really does have the power to do everything he claims, and yet he also clearly regrets interfering in the affairs of other races. If Ayelborne's, “as I stand here...” is one of the most effective lines in the episode then his, “we are terribly sorry to be forced to interfere, gentlemen,” as he walks into the scene, is one of the sweetest. Ayleborne may have god-like powers but he's unfailingly polite. Claymare, Ayleborne's associate, also makes a good impression. He's the grumpy old man of the Organians who actively scolds Kirk and Kor. “We find interference in other people's affairs most disgusting,” he says, and, “we do not wish to seem inhospitable, but gentlemen, you must leave.” It would have been easy for all the Organian actors to follow the lead of John Abbot when deciding how to play their characters, and match Abbot's tendency to underplay strong emotion. It's nice that they didn't because it makes the Organians more interesting to watch.

Depending on how you count them, this is at least the fourth set of god-like beings the crew of the Enterprise have encountered: the Metrons, Arena; Trelane and his parents, The Squire Of Gothos; Gary Mitchell and Doctor Elizabeth Dehner in Where No Man Has Gone Before; Charlie and the Thasians in Charlie X. Like the Thasians, the Organians reveal themselves largely to stop the plot before it gets out of control. Star Trek cannot be about war with the Klingons. That's not the series NBC bought. And it's probably not a series Desilu could afford to make. Anyway, Star Trek doesn't tell on-going stories, although later spin-off series will.

Writer Gene L. Coon does use the god-like alien idea to put two interesting spins on the plot. Firstly it allows him to restate one of his favourite messages about not judging by appearances. Previously used in Arena, where the Gorn are not the terrible aggressors they at first appear to be, and The Devil In The Dark. More importantly the Organians reformat the Klingons and make it possible for them to be returning foes.

Look at the Romulans. Currently they are stuck on one side of the neutral zone with the Federation on the other. To reappear one side or the other must breach the neutral zone. Any script with the Romulans must, or at least should, waste time explaining why each new trespass does not result in war. Worse, if one side or the other allows multiple breaches of the zone then they start to look weak. Why tell us that breaching the zone is considered an act of war, if that's not what's shown on screen.

Without the Organians the Klingons would be the same. The Klingons hate the Federation (and the Federation probably hates the Klingons). The Klingons are in competition with the Federation for resources. Why doesn't every encounter with the Klingons result in war? Well there's this alien race called the Organians who won't allow the Federation and Klingons to fight. Essentially what Gene Coon does is introduce the Klingons, clearly define them as top baddies, and then defang them without weakening them as characters. This is all done in full view of the audience it's really a very clever piece of writing.

Organia itself is a puzzle box planet. A mystery for the viewers to ponder while Kirk and Spock are distracted by more pressing issues. The inhabitants are clearly flagged up as unusual from the beginning. They show no interest in Kirk and Spock as they beam down from the Enterprise. Council member Trefayne is able to sense Klingon spaceships in orbit. Ayleborne simply walks in to the Klingon headquarters to free Kirk and Spock from their cell. If The Devil In The Dark was about Gene Coon trying to hide his plot twist in plain sight, it's difficult not to wonder if the opposite is true here. Is it possible Gene Coon was also aware the god-like alien plot had worn a little thin? The oddness of the Organians is laid on very thick. As if Gene Coon wanted to write a script where the reveal was the only possible solution. If Kirk wasn't so worried about the Klingons he'd have noticed something odd about Organia straight away. The Organian Council Chamber has doors which open and close by themselves. Not something anyone would expect to find in a, “primitive society making progress toward mechanisation.” Kirk's obviously got so used to the ones on the Enterprise that he doesn't register their presence here. 

Enterprise crew deaths: None. To quote Ayelborne, "No one has been killed, Captain."
Running total: 26

No comments:

Post a Comment