Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"

*1/2

Air date: 1/10/1969
Teleplay by Oliver Crawford
Story by Lee Cronin
Directed by Jud Taylor

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise becomes the newest battlefield for two bitter enemies, Lokai (Lou Antonio) and Bele (Frank Gorshin), who have been at each other's throats for millennia—a microcosm of the schism based on racial hatred that divides their world. Determined to take Lokai back to his home world for punishment, Bele seizes control of the Enterprise navigation as the ship's crew is helpless.

About the only thing "Last Battlefield" has going for it are some good intentions. The story is way too unfocused and meandering to work as reasonable allegory. Reducing racism to absurdity is certainly something that provides the opportunity to be pointed by conveying the sheer stupidity of the ideas behind pointless hatred. Unfortunately, the allegory is too preachy and pretentious and fails to say anything except in the very broadest of terms. (Prejudice has many troubling shades of grey that this story fails to acknowledge.) Only one scene stands out among the mayhem—a scene where Bele is appalled that no one recognizes the reasons for his hatred.

An extended sequence involving the Enterprise self-destruct sequence only manages to draw the story further off course. And while the director of photography's choices here exhibit an ambitious need to be atypical, the results are mixed—too often distracting rather than enhancing. Morality plays are well and good, but not when they're as haphazardly assembled as this one, which is a waste of a perfectly good opportunity.

Previous episode: Whom Gods Destroy
Next episode: The Mark of Gideon

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10 comments on this review

Paul - Mon, Apr 9, 2012 - 5:28pm (USA Central)
OK, it's preachy. But it's better than a star and a half. Certainly better than the Lights of Zetar.
Jeffrey Bedard - Sat, May 19, 2012 - 10:01am (USA Central)
Certainly this episode is not perfect, but I would rate this three stars myself. Unlike most 3rd season episodes "Battlefield" is at least trying to say something. Although the conversations about genocide, civil rights and racism are pretty vague, in spite of that I think some details regarding the affairs of Cheron can be gleamed. Granted, this is only my interpretation but at one point early in the episode Bele tells Lokai that he was "the product of our love." I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps that means Lokai and his ancestors were genetic creations of Bele's people, but for whatever reason the two skin colors came out reversed. And due to the cultural prejudices of Bele's people, Lokai's kind came to be seen as inferior.

I suppose it's possible to compare Bele's argument ("All of Lokai's people are white on the right side.") with the ridiculousness of D'Jamat's religious argument ("The expanse was created in 9 days not 10"). Yet while the cause for the Jihad in "Chosen Realm" just comes across as insulting and silly, Bele's racial hatred seems to hold more importance. I think part of it is Frank Gorshin's performance in the scene and with my interpretation for the cause of the racial hatred on their planet.

Visually, I can see Jammer's point about some of the filming choices being distracting, but outside of some of the closeups of eyes during the self-destruct sequence, I like most of the choices used. A lot of VOY and DS9 feels the same because it doesn't always seem like the directors were using a lot of different camera angles, but in this episode of TOS it feels like the director was trying lots of different things: overhead and underhead shots (not quite sure how to describe those) and even the extreme closeups during the self destruct scene are allowing the show to appear different than usual.

It's not a great episode by any means. They arrive at Cheron way too quickly after having saved Arrianus. If the two planets were so close together it's hard to understand Kirk's argument that they need to fly all the way back to Starbase 4.

But while the ending may be too extreme in the concept of the entire Cheron race having killed each other out of hatred it does provide a very striking and dark ending which usually isn't seen on TOS. Shatner's performance of a resigned Kirk "Where can they run?"), I feel, is right on target. Shatner may not be the greatest actor in TREK, but he always played Kirk to perfection.
mike - Fri, May 10, 2013 - 12:02pm (USA Central)
Preachy, yes, by 21st century stardards, but not so in 1969 when racism was commonplace. The brilliant part of this story is that the only thing that distinguishes the two races is which side of the face has the black pigmentation and side has the white. Bele's people are black on the right side and Lokai's people are white on the right side. Bele finds it stunning that Kirk and Spock ( and obstensibly us the viewer) don't notice that Lokai is "obviously" inferior. These two races have been at each others, throats for millennia over a distinction that is just ridiculously trivial to us. But of course that's the point! It may seem dated and heavy handed now to talk about racism with the kind of heated blunt dialog found in this episode, but this was 1969. Remember this was a time when a TV series with multiracial cast was controversial.
William B - Fri, May 10, 2013 - 12:55pm (USA Central)
I don't know if I think this episode is particularly good (I haven't seen it since I was around 10), but it is a pleasure to see Frank Gorshin in *anything*. My suspicion is that I'd rate it more highly than Jammer at least for honourary reasons. The allegory setup is on about the level of a Dr. Seuss story (maybe a cross between "The Sneeches" for arbitrary status markers and "The Peanut Butter Battle Book" for apocalyptic brinksmanship). That's not itself an insult -- Dr. Seuss is fantastic -- but somehow the simplistic allegory works better for 20-page picture books than an hour long live action drama.
Brundledan - Sun, Jun 2, 2013 - 2:10am (USA Central)
The terrible clothes. The terrible makeup. The terrible acting. The Batmannish zooming in and out of the red alert lights. The invisible ship. "The southern part of the galaxy". The unexplained shuttecraft theft. The arbitrary and apparently unlimited powers of Bele. Kirk's "nah, let's just see what they do" order in the final scene as aliens with arbitrary and apparently unlimited powers are allowed to trot briskly through the corridors and activate the transporter. The way the bridge crew just stands there glumly and watches as Bele zaps their controls. The extreme close-ups of eyes and lips. The self-destruct sequence that grinds the whole episode to a halt. The watch-every-step decontamination of the planet. The SECOND watch-every-step decontamination of the planet. The sledgehammer of a failed allegory that ultimately doesn't give us any useful or interesting insight into racism because its two representatives of the issue are unbelievable cartoon characters.

This was the point at which the quality of third-season TOS suffered its final collapse, and never recovered.
Lorene - Mon, Sep 9, 2013 - 10:48pm (USA Central)
When I first saw this as an 8th grader in 1969 I was awed by the allegory about racism. The two sided people was a creative way to address it in a one hour TV episode. Yes the story is simplistic. But all of the first Trek is simplistic. It was breaking new ground every week, and I still appreciate 40 years later the courage with which a weekly prime time series could go boldly where no one had ever gone before.
Jamie Stearns - Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - 10:53pm (USA Central)
This episode has been widely criticized for making its anti-racist point with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and it's true.

However, in 1969, beating people over the head with the idea that racism is bad wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

I often compare this one as a successful counterpart to the confused and too-subtle "The Outcast" as an example of what the latter should have been.
stallion - Tue, Apr 8, 2014 - 10:51pm (USA Central)
I actually enjoyed this episode a lot. Kirk was interesting to watch here. Normally Captain Kirk gets invovle with other cultures and races problems, but this time he decided to let the federation handle the problem. The cheron are obviously going through a civil right moment, but for the most part the crew just sat back and watched. After Bele took over the ship for a second time it did become a little bit preachy, but Frank Gorshin gave a great performance.
dgalvan - Wed, Jun 4, 2014 - 4:50pm (USA Central)
Agree this was a missed opportunity.

The main value of this episode was in the scene where Kirk and Spock are oblivious to the racial difference between the two aliens, and Bele revealed it was the side of their faces that were black vs. white. Also Kirk's discussion at the end that their hatred destroyed their people. Good food for thought. But the rest of the episode was filled up with nuts-and-bolts sci-fi distractions that failed to pick up on this good sociological theme of racism and hatred.

Ah well, what little allegory it had in it was memorable, at least.
William B - Mon, Nov 17, 2014 - 2:37pm (USA Central)
You know, I actually think this episode is a bit more ambitious than is given credit for by Jammer and most of the commenters. It's certainly true that the episode points out the irrational racial hatred of judging people by useless visual cues. But the episode is also pretty explicitly about how class intersects with race, and while it's not entirely successful it sort of works. Lokai and Bele are from, respectively, the less and more powerful of a set of two races apparently coexisting. According to Bele, Lokai's people are violent savages who can't take care of themselves, and Bele and Lokai's conflict is of the just policeman against the vicious, terrorist criminal. According to Lokai, Bele's people are a race of cold and heartless slavedrivers, and Lokai and Bele's conflict is of the passionate freedom-fighter against the cruel, tyrannical despot. Bele is a part of a mass machine of enslavement slaver out to protect his people, and Lokai is a killer of (apparently) a million people as part of a campaign of emancipation. And in that sense, the values of the two, and their approaches, are diametrically opposed, and the episode follows through on this: Lokai, the populist, tries to rouse some rabble among the junior officers (Chekov, Sulu, etc.) in the rec room, whereas Bele, the aristocrat, tries to appeal to Kirk and Spock's sophistication while fine dining in Kirk's quarters. What they have in common, though, is that both are obsessed with hatred of the other, screaming at the Enterprise crew to kill the other (or in Bele's case, to allow them to go back to his homeworld where Lokai can be killed); they also state pretty openly that the other is representative of his entire species (species being marked by which side of the face is which), and both believe that the other's race is evil in a fundamental way. The point, I think, is that both Bele's characterization of Lokai as an irredeemably violent savage and Lokai's characterization of Bele as an irredeemably cruel tyrant are, ahem, *mirror images* of each other, that hate is hate regardless of whether it's coming from the uprising oppressed or the defensive oppressors. Bele and Lokai actually really are class opposites as well as race opposites, but they are joined in their hate, which makes it difficult for the Enterprise crew to recognize them as different from each other; and ultimately, their respective species destroyed each other.

Now, I think the implication for the civil rights era is an appeal to compassion for everyone. And as far as that goes, the episode makes an important point. And certainly, I think that there is some need for "balance," that hatred and violence is not automatically justified from the oppressed any more than it is from the oppressors. I go back and forth on whether the episode sets up a false equivalence here, because someone forced into slavery hating his slavemasters is far different, and far more justified IMO, from a slavemaster hating his slave for disobedience. However, over the top as it is, the "1 million people" figure listed of the people who died in support of Lokai's cause at least makes it seem as if Lokai's crusade for freedom of his people most likely had some big unethical actions. So I don't know. The "1 million people" figure is also, it should be noted, Bele's version of events, which is not confirmed by any in-episode story; in the episode, Lokai is certainly a bit of an obsessed madman himself, but I kind of think that Bele comes off far worse, and the episode's pushing the equivalence leads to weird effects (which are only balanced out, and then some, by the implication that millions or more died because of Lokai). Lokai ultimately is just trying to get away from Bele and Bele is bringing Lokai in to get executed; Lokai is a little bit closer to just wanting to be free and escape the cycle of violence, though Bele's presence seems to agitate him back into wanting political action. The episode suggests, probably unintentionally, the ways in which white collar and blue collar criminals are sometimes treated differently: Lokai, the episode's oppressed criminal, steals a shuttlecraft to escape and Kirk continues to insist for most of the episode on his plan to bring him to Starbase 4 to face charges, largely because Lokai acts frazzled and angry, whereas Bele steals the entire Enterprise with all hands on board to accomplish an illegal extradition, and then Kirk just talks him down and the Starbase indicates that they will probably agree to Bele's request, because Bele can put off some degree of sophistication and carries some authority. I think, notably, Kirk is mostly humouring Bele at this part in the story, recognizing that Bele can retake the Enterprise if he wants to, but still, it's a pretty interesting contrast.

The episode does actually undermine some of its own points, because in spite of the suggestion that the two races are FUNDAMENTALLY THE SAME SPECIES, that Lokai and Bele's obsession with their petty physical differences as indicative of inner worth is ridiculous from any objective viewpoint, well, Bele has ridiculously powerful mind powers which can take over the Enterprise and send it hurtling through space at super-speeds and Lokai can't. My girlfriend helpfully, somewhat jokingly/somewhat seriously, suggested that maybe the difference is because Bele has more education, ha, which fits with the general political content of the episode. I can buy that. Still, it's kind of weird, and without more information directly confronting whether Bele and Lokai's apparent power differential ultimately does mark them as different species, it's hard to say that the Enterprise crew's reflexive assumption that their physiological differences are purely superficial is necessarily correct. It doesn't mean that a physiological difference that allows for super telekenesis powers in one and not the other would give Bele's species a right to enslave Lokai's, but it would change the episode's message a fair amount, and I think it's fair to say that this is something the writers probably just overlooked, in their giving Bele superpowers for mostly plot purposes. On the other hand, this exchange is kind of interesting:

SPOCK: Change is the essential process of all existence. For instance, the people of Cheron must have once been mono-coloured.
BELE: You mean like both of you?
KIRK: There must have been a time, long ago no doubt, when that was true.
(Intercom whistle)
KIRK: Excuse me. Kirk here.
SCOTT [OC]: We're orbiting Ariannus, sir.
KIRK: Very good. Commence decontamination procedures when ready. Advise when complete.
SCOTT [OC]: At once, sir. Scott out.
BELE: I once heard that on some of your planets people believe they are descended from apes.
SPOCK: The actual theory is that all life-forms evolved from the lower levels to the more advanced stages.

Now, the science of all this is, ahem, dubious, but let's presume that all the statements in this section are true. In that case, Spock's statement that life forms evolved from "the lower levels" to the "more advanced stages" suggests that Bele and Lokai are more advanced than humans -- the analogy, I suppose, is that Bele and Lokai are to humans and other monocoloured species what humans are to apes. This actually fits the fact that Bele, firstly, has extreme super brain powers, and secod that Bele and Lokai are apparently extremely long-lived. They are "more advanced" than humans -- and yet are still trapped in a cycle of hatred which they cannot escape. I think the point here is that hatred, racial prejudice, long-term effects of class differences and the resentments that come from this, etc., are not things that the intelligent are immune from: anyone, who is not careful to check themselves, can find themselves destroyed by this.

The scene where Bele expresses shock that no one can recognize the difference between him and Lokai is indeed effective. I think that many of the individual scenes with Bele and Lokai work, too. The ending is, uh, heavy-handed, yes, but there's a certain poetic desperation in it all. Frank Gorshin, probably best known for playing the Riddler in the Adam West Batman series, brings the proper self-assured disgust to his role as Bele. I do agree that the episode has several weaknesses, some of which I've mentioned, some of which Jammer and the others on the board have mentioned. The self-destruct sequence is a *huge* detour which kills the episode's tension. In general, Bele's extreme superpowers are not taken seriously enough by the narrative; it may or may not be true that Kirk could do something about them, but there is something frustrating that Kirk et al. don't even try to figure out an alternate way of dealing with Bele, some kind of way of preventing him from taking the ship over again. The episode's pacing is slow and it's somewhat more fun to talk about than to watch, and not actually hard-hitting enough to make up for this lack of fun. Still, I think it's got a fair amount going for it. I think I'd say 2.5 stars.

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