Sunday, January 12, 2014

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Balance Of Terror told this story more effectively. In that episode you've got the outright racism of Lieutenant Stiles who has learned from his family to hate the Romulans for the deaths of some of his ancestors a century ago. "There was a Captain Stiles in the space service then. Two Commanders and several junior officers. All lost in that war, sir." Stiles' attitude is contrasted unfavourably with Kirk's more enlightened perspective, "their war, Mister Stiles. Not yours. Don't forget it." Then once Spock taps into the Romulan bridge Stiles bigotry and paranoia, "we could have Romulan spies aboard this ship," becomes attached to Spock. The focus, as all Star Trek should be, is always on the Enterprise and her crew.

Contrast that with Let That Be Your Last Battlefield in which Lokai and Bele bring their aeons old dispute onto the Enterprise. The pair run around making speeches at everyone while the Enterprise crew raise their eyebrows at the aliens "primitive thinking" and simper about there being persecution on Earth once and how they, "remember reading about it in my history class."

One of the great things about
Balance Of Terror is that it reflects flawed humanity. Someone like Stiles can be a good bridge officer but a bad person. He can hate Spock for the wrong reasons but be right about what it means for galactic peace if the Romulan ship is allowed to return home. Presenting the Enterprise crew as beyond racism in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield reduces them to the status of observers. Literally considering the only decisive action Kirk takes in the story is when he sets the ship to self-destruct and makes Bele briefly return control. For the most part he stands around watching Lokai and Bele argue. Understandably he prefers to take the pair to Starbase Four where they will become someone else's problem. The Enterprise crew can see the hatred between Lokai and Bele but it's not something they can understand. This distances the Enterprise crew from the viewer because it's never explained how they reach this enlightened perspective, understandably given that the writers have no more idea than the viewer how this can be achieved; although one point in the episodes favour is that it does make their values aspirational, something which humanity should work towards.

Unfortunately the lofty post-racism of the Enterprise crew also allows the production team to avoid making an unambiguous statement condemning bigotry. Kirk needs to clearly and explicitly condemn the attitudes of Lokai and Bele in the same way he publicly dresses down Stiles. "Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There's no room for it on the Bridge. Do I make myself clear?" In
A Taste Of Armageddon Kirk gives a speech in which he admits that humanity, like the people of Eminiar VII, is a race of killers. "We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we won't kill today." Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is crying out for a speech like this from Kirk in which he compares humanity to Lokai and Bele and admits that we are flawed but work to constantly overcome the hatred Lokai and Bele feel for each other. However the script doesn't want to admit that Kirk, and by extension the audience, are anything like Lokai and Bele. This is a story which could explore the Vulcan idea of IDIC more effectively than IsThere In Truth No Beauty?
Worse, the script is determined to be oddly even handed. The anger of Lokai, the oppressed, is presented as being as bad as the bigotry of Bele the oppressor. This massive oversimplification of a complex issue might be necessary to make the episode work but in the end what should be a clear message condemning racism becomes fudged. The story ends up as a shrugged statement that bigotry and hatred are stupid but both sides are as bad as each other. In the end it's redundant to talk about the acting or the direction or the editing or the make-up because the moral lesson is the point of the episode, unlike Balance Of Terror which keeps the moral lesson as a subplot to a larger story, and the episode fails the moment it fumbles the clear delivery of it's own message. It's not clear why Let That Be Your Last Battlefield should fumble its message but it's possible that
when this episode was written and filmed in 1968 , which was a terrible year around the world, anything stronger was seen as inappropriate.

nterprise crew deaths: None.
Running total: 50

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