Monday, March 13, 2006

Star Trek: Armageddon Now
by William S. Kowinski

This two-parter at Soul of Star Trek is exploring issues of evil, the cycle of war and the role of choice. Evil from the outside was explored through the 1968 third season original series episode, Day of the Dove. A different source of evil is up next, as portrayed in the first season story, A Taste of Armageddon.

This episode is also directly related to issues of the time, though in a more complex way than might be obvious to those who see it today. And today’s viewers may see related issues relevant to the warfare of this time.

Let’s jump right into the episode now, and suggest some of its specific influences and ideas afterwards...

The Enterprise is approaching the system in Star Cluster NGC321 with Ambassador Robert Fox aboard, who is intent on opening diplomatic relations the planet Eminiar VII. Spock informs Kirk that the only information on the planet came from the U.S.S. Valiant fifty years earlier, which reported a technologically advanced civilization that had not ventured outside its solar system, and was then at war with a another planet in the system. But the Valiant then disappeared here, and was declared missing in space.

Enterprise hails are finally answered with Code 710, meaning that under no circumstances is the ship to approach the planet. Ambassador Fox insists they ignore it. “It’s their planet,” Captain Kirk says, but Fox orders him to proceed. (The vaguely stated reason is that thousands of lives have been lost in the vicinity and the Federation needs reliable relations in the system.)

So Kirk, Spock, an ensign and a security detail beam down to a matte painting, representing an advanced city. They are greeted by a small delegation, led by radiant blond Mea 349, played by Barbara Babcock (later of Hill Street Blues fame, who did voices on several early TOS episodes, and appeared again in “The Tholian Web.” ) Kirk and Spock are surprised there is no hostility, though Mea tells them there is danger. They don’t see any. The danger exists, she warns, but “it would be morally incorrect to do less than extend our hospitality.”

The people of Eminiar, who tend to accessorize their futuristically form-fitting body suits with colorful draped fabric, are shown with the trappings of a highly civilized society. This is especially true of the leader of their Council, Anan 7 (David Opatoshu), with his goatee, cultured language, and pants with legs of different colors.

Anan informs Kirk and Spock that Eminiar has been at war for 500 years. “You conceal it very well,” Kirk observes. Spock sees no evidence of warfare. The planet is prosperous, peaceful, advanced. Yet Anan tells them that they suffer losses of one to three million dead a year from direct enemy attack from Vendikar, the “third planet in our system,” originally settled by them, but now an advanced, ruthless enemy. (Earth is of course the third planet in our system, and America was settled by Europeans and people of other continents as well.)

Their conversation is interrupted by an attack. Though they hear nothing, Kirk asks why the Eminiarians don’t take shelter. “There is no shelter,” they are told.

A room with computers and a large display opens up and there is much activity, Mea is horrified that there has been a hit in the city, but the landing party can’t detect any falling bombs, etc. Kirk contacts the Enterprise and Scotty reports all is quiet on the planet. But at the computers, Anan and a military aide note a hit ---“just as it happened, 50 years ago.”

Kirk suggests it is all a game. “This is no game,” Anan says. “Half a million people have just been killed.” He orders a counter-attack.

“Computers, Captain,” Spock realizes. “They fight their wars by computers, totally.”

“Of course,” Anan says.

“Computers don’t kill people,” Kirk exclaims.

“Their deaths have been registered. Of course they have 24 hours to report to our disintegration machines,” Anan says calmly. “You must understand, Captain, we have been at war for 500 years. Under ordinary conditions, no civilization could withstand that. But we have reached a solution.”

Spock suggests the attack was theoretical, but Anan insists, “Oh no, quite real. An attack is mathematically launched… I lost my wife in the last attack. Our civilization lives, but people die. Our culture goes on.”

“You mean your people just walk into a disintegration machine when told to?” Kirk says.

“We have a high consciousness of duty, Captain.”

“There is a certain scientific logic about it,” Spock observes.

“I’m glad you approve,” Anan says.

“I do not approve,” Spock corrects him. “I understand.”

Anan then tells Kirk the Enterprise has been classified destroyed. All persons aboard must report to the surface to be disintegrated. The landing party will be held until they surrender. (They aren’t among the casualties.) “If possible we will spare your ship, Captain,” Anan says. “But its passengers and crew are already dead.”

So at this point in the story the build-up--the mystery of what’s really going on—is over. Now the question is what is Kirk going to do about it.

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