Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Bread and Circuses"


Air date: 3/15/1968
Written by Gene Roddenberry & Gene L. Coon
Directed by Ralph Senensky

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Looking for the missing crew of a freighter commanded by Captain Merik (William Smithers), the Enterprise landing party beams down to investigate a civilization that is best described as a "20th century Rome." Once there, Kirk, Spock, and Bones are caught and imprisoned, and scheduled to face death if Kirk doesn't agree to turn over the rest of the Enterprise crew for use in their televised, deadly arena games.

"Bread and Circuses" is a well-executed but completely by-the-numbers episode of TOS. The show engages most every TOS cliché in the book, including Kirk getting a babe, the Prime Directive being assessed, a planet that is Yet Another Parallel Earth [TM], and the holding of The Big Three hostage, where they must use resourcefulness to escape their impending doom. Most interesting is the good work between Spock and Bones, which wants to ask the question of just which of their personal feelings their acerbic banter arises from.

Rhodes Reason makes a good antagonist as Flavius, but given the setting of a conveniently parallel Earth (an overused premise, to be sure) the whole setup is strikingly underutilized beyond its most obvious action sequences.

Previous episode: The Ultimate Computer
Next episode: Assignment: Earth

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8 comments on this review

Strider - Wed, Jun 20, 2012 - 10:21pm (USA Central)
I've read some pretty disparaging reviews of this episode, and while some of the science is a little screwy, I think there's some truly wonderful character work in it. This is Kirk at his most Kirk-like...confident, in charge, watching out for his crew but trusting them as well. I was getting tired of too many angsty, doubt-ridden, weak Kirk moments. Kirk is a strong, totally in control leader all the way through, and it's awesome.

Spock lets some emotion out--irritation, humor, anxiety--and gets called on it by McCoy, leading to a deeply emotional moment between the two as they share their concern for Kirk. McCoy is at his most bitchy and in Spock's face all the time, but still prods Spock to new levels of self disclosure.

I'm not thrilled with the treatment of the Prime Directive--up till now, didn't we understand that the PD was absolute unless they had to defend themselves? How can there possibly NOT be an exemption for that?

And I do sort of wish that Kirk hadn't sexed the slave...can he NEVER resist a woman EVER? I mean, she was a SLAVE, she can't give free consent! A new low for studly Kirk.

The Sun/Son thing, indicating that Christianity arose within the Roman Empire in this reality as well, makes sense, and I understand why they couldn't really follow up on it. It was a neat little twist that could have been more, but it's okay that it wasn't. It didn't bother me.

On a personal note, speaking as a woman, these men in these costumes are so hot I watched the episode 3 times in one day. Spock fighting in the arena in those tight pants? Whew... And I didn't realize McCoy was so tall, but he's almost as tall as Spock. Add the emotional intensity, and it was a pretty satisfying episode, despite the occasional plot ridiculousness.

Anyway, good character work...
NCC-1701-Z - Sat, Jan 11, 2014 - 2:16pm (USA Central)
And they don't even care about their phasers, tricorders and communicators being left behind on a pre-warp planet... *shakes head*
Alex - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 1:56am (USA Central)
What I found a bit hokey is that the premise of the story that involves a former starfleet captain being stranded on an alien planet where he breaks the PD, becomes the leader, and facilitates a dystopian society is repeated in two episodes that are only two places apart (Omega Glory).
Paul - Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - 8:19am (USA Central)

Technically, Merrick isn't THE leader in this episode. He's essentially a tool of Claudius Marcus, who is the leader. So, it's a little more believable.

Tracy in "The Omega Glory" asserts authority over a much more primitive society and does so with superior technology.
James - Fri, Jan 24, 2014 - 12:17am (USA Central)
One of the best lines in Star Trek's whole history:

“You bring this network’s ratings down, Flavius, and we’ll do a special on you!”
DutchStudent82 - Thu, May 1, 2014 - 9:47pm (USA Central)
ARGGG not AGAIN the "just like earth" crap.

This must be why I barely can stand TOS, aside from it's hopeless outdated looks (starships with pushbuttons, pull out scanners, earpieces THAT big, really people?, and it's hopelessly outdated technobabble (or even worse, lack of it, compared to the much more loved TNG))

But come on.. even IF I buy into the story :
-civ already knew about space, and spaceweapons and everything.
-in that case there would be NO polution by using phase weapons in front of the consul (as long as it happens off-screen)
hence :
*a wide range stun blast with the enterprise, and than just beam up, all the tech, and all the team members, and our rotten ex-captain, and the consul (now he can enjoy jail in our society instead) would be a relatively clean cut in comparising.

Would make for a short episode, but a far more logical and sensible one.
dgalvan - Wed, May 14, 2014 - 2:50pm (USA Central)
Agree with DutchStudent: this is one of those episodes where a simpler and more sensible solution is staring you in the face for the entire episode. As soon as they find Merrick, Scotty could have stunned the surrounding area and beamed up the good guys. Episode over.

Not that I would have preferred that story, but they could have at least inserted some line of dialog as to why that solution (being so obvious) wasn't available. Otherwise the viewer is just distracted the whole time thinking: "why don't they just. . .?!?!?"

Also, it seemed sort of unnecessary that Captain Merrick was left to perish on the planet. I was waiting for Kirk to order Merrick beamed aboard after they got back to the Enterprise. . . but instead they just left him there! What the heck, Kirk the jerk?
redshirt28 - Tue, May 20, 2014 - 11:49pm (USA Central)
Their phasers were comfiscated by the runaway slaves, communicators/tricorder taken by the police. The only time kirk was given use of a communicator (besides ending) there were two submachine gun muzzles inches from his head.

Beam merrick up? Why? He was dead.

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