Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"


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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9 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.

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