Star Trek: The Original Series

"A Taste of Armageddon"

***

Air date: 2/23/1967
Teleplay by Robert Hammer and Gene L. Coon
Story by Robert Hammer
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise investigates a planet in the vicinity of another starship's disappearance, but the crew is warned of danger as they approach the planet. Detecting no actual threat, Kirk and Spock beam down, where they are told that the Enterprise crew has been labeled a casualty of a recent attack—a simulated attack in a simulated war with a neighboring planet. Now Kirk and his crew—like generations of people before in this war—are expected to willingly walk into "disintegration chambers" where their deaths can be tallied.

This episode is a good example of an anti-war message the way only TOS could tell it. It drops the subject under a spotlight of absurdity, and has Kirk take a defiant attitude in an effort to change these people's backward ways. Ultimately, he changes their minds by giving them no choice: Either they give up the simulated war and declare peace, or they fight war with real weapons and real destruction, destroying the society they've tried to preserve. It's strangely amusing how Kirk's bold-and-brash in-your-face attitude can make a story work.

Previous episode: Space Seed
Next episode: This Side of Paradise

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17 comments on this review

Strider
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 1:52am (UTC -5)
I love that in this episode, Kirk's primary motivation seems to be irritation. He's got this "Oh-no-you-did-not-just-tell-me-to-order-my-crew-into-a-death-chamber" thing going on, and he's going to make those councilmen sorry they ever messed with him. He might have let them alone if they hadn't tried to pull that.

It was freaking awesome.

Also awesome were Scotty flagrantly defying orders, McCoy getting all in Fox's face, and Spock deciding they'd messed around enough and it was time to put an end to the insanity. "I'm going to get the ambassador and the captain." And then ordering the yeoman to knock down and sit on what's-her-head if she had to.

I also liked Spock walking in just after Kirk had turned the tables on a whole room of captors, including armed guards, saying, "I'd assumed you needed help. I see I was in error."

Although I always love Spock, this was Kirk's show. "I didn't start it, councilman, but I'm liable to finish it." SO classic.
NCC-1701-Z
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 4:03pm (UTC -5)
@Strider: I am in full agreement with you on this episode. Bill Shatner really made this episode awesome with his overacting.

Favorite line: "The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank!" I love Scotty.
NCC-1701-Z
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 4:05pm (UTC -5)
Oops...meant to put "scenery-chewing" instead of "overacting".
Paul
Tue, Sep 3, 2013, 11:10am (UTC -5)
The only problem here is that this is such a blatant violation of the Prime Directive. Granted, the aliens here have warp drive. But if Picard couldn't intervene in the middle of a Klingon civil war, what gives him the right here to completely turn a society on its head?

Don't get me wrong: I know this happened a lot in TOS. I just don't like that episodes like this happen while at other times, the Prime Directive is considered so sacred.
Moonie
Wed, Oct 2, 2013, 1:42pm (UTC -5)
I liked this a lot. A simulated computer war - great idea. As so often, the story is just the background setting for the characters to shine - Kirk, Spock and Scotty had a few great moments. I loved seeing Scotty in the spotlight, on the bridge. Fantastic episode.

I haven't watched enough Star Trek yet to be totally clear on whether or not this is a violation of the Prime Directive.
Jack
Wed, Jan 1, 2014, 3:21pm (UTC -5)
Eighteen to the twelfth power doesn't sound like a very useful way to express a big number...
dgalvan
Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 1:24pm (UTC -5)
-This plot concept seemed completely original to me! Surprising, but I'd never seen a sci-fi plot where a war was fought with simulations, and the "casualties" obediently killed themselves, all in an effort to preserve the infrastructure. It was pleasant to find such an original plot in a 50-year old TV episode. But then, I'm now curious why this concept hasn't been re-visitited in any modern sci-fi show I can think of. Am I missing an example?

-Kirk's point at the end when chatting with McCoy and Spock is key: with real weapons, people would still die, but now the ability to make war would eventually be hindered as well.

-Shatner gets lampooned a lot, but watching most of these TOS episodes for the first time, I gotta say: He is REALLY good!

You can call it overacting, but most of the time I don't think it's not really overdone. And it is entertaining in the way it is supposed to be: presenting the idea that Kirk is indeed a maverick. It's not subtle, but not everything has to be subtle to be good.

-This is yet another episode where the "aliens" look exactly like humans. Logistically understandable given the special effects / makeup limitations of the time. But still, a tad annoying.
Corey
Sat, Mar 22, 2014, 8:18pm (UTC -5)
Overacting? Shatner's not even acting. The guy perpetually radiates pure awesome.

As for this episode: personally, I think it's a classic, and represents the best of Original Trek. I love how the abstract tone of Original Trek lends itself well to episodes set on alien planets. DS9, TNG and Voyager struggled to create "realistic" alien cultures, whilst Original Trek simply goes for abstract, metaphor and surrealism.
Brandon
Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 6:19pm (UTC -5)
Did anyone notice that this is one of the few episodes where the red shirts actually survived?
John TY
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:16pm (UTC -5)
Enjoyable - Kirk as quasi-villain is always fun to watch.

And some nice insight on the way casualties of war can become numbers and thereby facilitate the indifference of the general public. Topical stuff given the Vietnam War, and obviously still relevant today.

But in order to achieve a dramatic conclusion the show falls into a few TOS clich├ęs. Most annoying is Kirk and co deciding they're going to dictate what's best for these people even though they've only just met them and know close to nothing about their war. Whether it technically breaks the prime directive or not, this kind of message is simplistic at best; encouraging very black and white thinking. It brings to mind many people's attitudes to ongoing (yet distant) conflicts around the world today - Israel/Palestine for example.

Anyway yes, at least no red shirts died in the filming of this episode.
John TY
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 12:58pm (UTC -5)
Actually I recall that Robert S McNamara made the comment that the US administrations he served had a very misguided/limited view of the nature and causes of the conflict in Vietnam. And we all know how that turned out.
Beth
Thu, Dec 4, 2014, 2:22am (UTC -5)
I love this episode - had never seen it before now. Kirk is awesome, Scotty is awesome, Spock is awesome, even the Yeoman and the other redshirts have a useful role to play in this episode instead of getting killed off, and I loved that Ambassador Roger Idiot McStupid Fox (what is it with Ambassadors and Commodores being such assholes??) finally learned his error and his lesson and got a chance to do his job for real, instead of being disintegrated.

Although, what happened to the Ambassador's attache? He seems to just die while propped up on his legs. WTF?

As for this whole thing being a violation of the Prime Directive... come on, pretty much every TOS episode was in violation of the Prime Directive somehow. Kirk was a man of decisiveness and bold action, and was not one to ponder about the long-term consequences of those actions. Also, I think the people of Eminiar VII lost their right to non-interference under the Prime Directive when they claimed the Enterprise as a "casualty of war". Like someone above said, Kirk might have let them be with their computerized war, but there's NO WAY he's going to let anyone destroy his ship or disintegrate his crew!

And I agree that Shatner as Kirk is excellent, especially in episodes like these. He doesn't need to be subtle and act with grace - his emotive and brash demeanour IS what Kirk is like; it embodies the passionate boldness and sometimes stern coldness of his character.

Shatner CAN act just fine, when properly directed. His Kirk in "The Motion Picture" was a flat rehashing of '60s Kirk, with no innovations in character. That Kirk was also far too cold and petty in that film, the way he subterfuged Decker's command out of transparent jealousy and a craving for control. But Shatner's Kirk in "The Wrath of Khan" became a bit more subtle and depressed, reflecting an aging Kirk who hates getting old and hates that he's a shipless Admiral, and really hates that there isn't a damn thing he can do about it. And don't tell me that Shatner's acting didn't elicit any tears or any pathos at all when, while stifling tears, he described Spock as "the most...human" person he'd ever known. Even his defeated and deflated, "No..." when Spock dies feels jarring, as the shock of losing someone you love naturally would feel. [A far cry from the pointless "death scene" for Kirk, and hilariously inserted "KHAAAN!" line by Spock, in ST: ID]. I think Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett deserve some credit for getting Shatner to hit the notes just right. Anyway... enough TWOK luuurve.

So yep, a solid 3/4 episode. Classic stuff.
Nick Hughes
Thu, Jan 15, 2015, 4:13pm (UTC -5)
Kirk does not violate the Prime Directive in this story. There. I've said it.

As the Enterprise enters the system, it's told by Eminiar VII to go away because it's dangerous to go there. Kirk initially wants to comply and leave. Ambassador Fox orders him, very firmly, to proceed to the planet. So the responsibility of what happens next is firmly on Fox, not Kirk.

Next, Kirk is informed that the Enterprise has been declared a casualty and that the crew has to beam down to get disintegrated. That's an act of war. Eminiar VII and Vendikar aren't societies ignorant of space faring races, they are aware of The Federation and have previously destroyed other Federation vessels. Kirk acts to defend himself and his crew, from the threat of an aggressor. The Prime Directive is for the protection of cultures but not those who choose to attack the Federation. However he, like any competent commander, isn't using the weapons and tactics that his opponents want him to. He takes the initiative and protects his crew; his first duty.

Let's not make Kirk the Prime Directive violating maverick villain of the piece here: Anan VII shows himself to be quite devious, manipulative and insensitive to the anguish of others. It's only when he feels his life is threatened that he starts to lose his self control.
Shannon
Sat, Mar 28, 2015, 1:09pm (UTC -5)
More so than any other TOS episode, this is the one were Kirk has been accused by many fans of flagrantly breaking the Prime Directive. I have to disagree with that. The Prime Directive is NOT an absolute, despite what Worf said once in Pen Pals. Kirk was forced into this situation by an ambitious ambassador looking to put another feather in his cap, so I don't think the Prime Directive would require him to allow his crew to be killed. As for the Eminians, they are a warp-capable species, along with the Vendicans, that have been killing each other for centuries. Kirk didn't really "interfere" with their culture, he gave them back what war really is, which forced their leaders into considering peace. Is it a "gray area" of the Prime Directive, definitely, but a one-off case that resulted in something good... Liked this episode a lot, would give it 3.5 stars.
Vance
Sun, Jan 10, 2016, 12:09pm (UTC -5)
Thinking about today in relation to this 1967 episode, I take away a slightly different lesson from "A Taste of Armageddon."

When this episode was produced, the Vietnam War was indeed a topic of great debate. Significantly, the universal U.S. military draft was still years away. (The draft ended in 1973.) Also, MAD (mutual assured distruction) was cited as a chief reason for the nuclear arms race during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. . . If both sides have the power to kill the other completely, then neither side will risk direct military confrontations that could lead to a full-scale war.

In this current era of a seemingly never-ending war in Iraq and Afghanistan and with ISIL and al-Qaeda, we've created our own version of the Vendicar/Eminiar societies. There's no more draft now and no real debate among politicians about war policy. When was the last time you heard ANY political candidate speak with urgency about our wars? When was the last time you heard a continuous, thoughtful no-soundbite debate in Congress? If there is any, it gets the briefest media attention.

Less than one percent of the American people now serve in the military. During the Vietnam conflict, nearly ten percent of that generation served in the U.S. military. Greater than twelve percent of the entire population served during World War II. But today, when most of us are completely removed from the realities of war, our culture continues its way of life, seemingly unaffected by the longest wars in American history. American life and our individual lives continue as if there has been no war in the 21st century-- or even worse, as if our wars have no real cost or consequences. For many of us, that's close to true, I think.

At least the inhabitants of Eminiar & Vendicar took war seriously enough that they were willing to disrupt lives and die as the result of a conflict that was mostly removed from their everyday lives. Then again, I wonder: how many people had to be forced into those extermination chambers? How much public unrest or debate was there? Or was it all just fine for each citizen, so long as HIS or HER life was likely not to be inconvenienced?

That's where it seems we are today: war is fine, so long as it doesn't disrupt you in any ways significant or tiny.

(PS-- I'm not advocating for anything here, and I don't have answers. I'm just thinking aloud and wondering if others have made similar connections and come to similar or different conclusions. I appreciate this forum and hope that I have offended no one. Thank you.)
grumpy_otter
Mon, Apr 25, 2016, 3:04pm (UTC -5)
Vance, if I could attach a video clip, it would be of me giving a standing ovation to your comment. Indeed, we are so removed from war that we might as well be like the idiots presented in this episode. It is a shameful aspect of our culture that these "removed wars" have become commonplace to us. I teach history, and find my college-age students so oblivious to our wars, and so accepting of them, that I sometimes want to slap them.

Additionally, in relation to the episode, my mother always taught me that I must "respect others' beliefs." I accepted it as a child, but around about age 16 I turned to her and responded, "Not if they're stupid." And that's how I feel about this episode and the prime directive. If a culture embraces stupid beliefs, then I will NOT respect nor cooperate with those beliefs,

As to who is the arbiter of whether or not a beliefs is stupid--there are certain standards of behavior that harm no one. If your beliefs violate that, then they are stupid. At the moment, I am speaking specifically of idiots who cannot comprehend the reality of transgender individuals, and think transgender women only do it to "get at" young girls in the restroom. Those are stupid and ignorant beliefs and I will not respect them. And I will fight them as I am able.

Robert
Mon, Apr 25, 2016, 3:27pm (UTC -5)
@grumpy_otter - I thought the argument was that if we allow trans women into the girls bathroom then other people with a penis with follow suit. I didn't think we were actually afraid of the trans people, but I'm not sure. As though the only thing stopping them from entering the bathroom to do God knows what to (for some reason) unsupervised little girls is that other penis possessing people aren't supposed to go in there. But if we facilitate the allowance of this by not passing new laws... God knows what will happen. At least this is what I think Ted Cruz was saying. My day is always confusing when I wake up and find Donald Trump making sense.

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