Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Savage Curtain"


Air date: 3/7/1969
Teleplay by Gene Roddenberry and Arthur Heinemann
Story by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Herschel Daugherty

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise crew finds itself face to face with an entity that appears and claims to be Abraham Lincoln (Lee Berger). Lincoln invites Kirk and Spock down to the surface of a planet, where they all find themselves the pawns in a game of "good versus evil," courtesy of a rock-like creature that wants to learn the difference between the two powerful forces. Surak (Barry Atwater), the master who forged the peaceful Vulcan ideology milleniums ago, joins Kirk, Spock, and Lincoln to engage in a battle to the end against four nefarious figures from history.

This poorly conceived episode might've been better titled "Arena VII: The Abe Lincoln Factor." Seriously, was it really in remotely good taste for this episode to use Abraham Lincoln as a character in such a silly adventure? I'm inclined to say no. Who really wants to see President Lincoln reduced to a hollow supporting character—especially considering that in the end he takes a spear in the back?

"The Savage Curtain" is a routine, bland hour of TOS, with the same themes we've seen over and over again. It's another in a long line of Trekkian outings where the humanity of Kirk's crew is tested—but less enlightening than most.

Previous episode: The Cloud Minders
Next episode: All Our Yesterdays

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17 comments on this review

Mon, Jan 21, 2013, 7:10am (UTC -5)
Col. Green "led a genocidal war early in the 21st Century on Earth"?

That's funny, I always thought George W. Bush did that (hey, somebody had to say that, so it may as well be me).
Thu, Mar 14, 2013, 1:56pm (UTC -5)
This episode has a lot of bad TOS cliches -- Kirk in a fight to the death, the bridge crew helpless and forced to watch, bad-guy aliens playing puppet master, weak fight scenes and over-the-top-look-how-far-they've-come moments ("In our century, we've learned not to fear words.").

But ... I still don't hate this episode and I would rate it at least 2 stars, maybe 2 1/2.

The dialog between Kirk and Lincoln makes for some good moments (I love when Lincoln compares Kirk with General Grant). The episode is also an origin tale for both the Vulcans and the Klingons (admittedly, Kahless is done badly here, but Surak is interesting). And Colonel Green has some presence as a villain.

My biggest problem with the episode is Kirk and Spock willfully beaming down to the planet, though McCoy and Scotty have a good scene where they try to talk them out of it. Scotty really grows as a character in season 3, actually.

Probably the most important thing: This episode, while goofy, isn't dull like so many other season 3 offerings.

Last thing: This is the final episode where the main cast appears together. We only hear Scotty's voice in "All Our Yesterdays" and Uhura isn't in "Turnabout Intruder".
Dan L.
Sat, Nov 9, 2013, 6:07pm (UTC -5)
So, what did the rock creature learn about good and evil by episode's end? Nothing - zero-which also describes the amount of watchable content this offers.
Thu, Dec 26, 2013, 4:06pm (UTC -5)
This episode is pretty dumb. Getting two sides to fight one another is not how you get to know these two sides. You need to see them when they're not under extreme pressure.

That being said, I actually love the beginning of this episode. If this were just an episode where Lincoln comes aboard and helps the Enterprise do something, that would have been really fun. Surak could have come along too.
Sun, Dec 29, 2013, 1:23am (UTC -5)
For me the most absurd a spect of the episode is the glimpse of Lincoln seated like he is in the Lincoln memorial monument floating around in space.It is intention getting at the beginning, but surely there was no one in the audience who thought it really was Lincoln or who did not think it was an illusion, or some alien in Lincoln clothing. How does he manage to breath in the vacuum of space?
Yet Kirk and his crew apparently think it is real. Most of us know that Lincoln was well and truly dead by the 23rd century, and by assassination. Logically he could not have been the real Lincoln but Kirk and the crew put on their best full dress uniforms and practically genuflect to him. If, I remember rightly, no one asks him how he survived assassination, and how he swiped the chair from the Lincoln memorial and blasted off into space with it. A stronger degree of scepticism by Kirk, and if if the writers could have come up with a more convincing way of introducing Lincoln in the story, then the rest of the story premise might have been more acceptable too,even if we had seen the duel in the area used too many times already
The Lincoln in space made for a striking visual opening teaser for the episode, but someone among the producers or writers should have realised how dumb or stupid it was.

Thu, Apr 10, 2014, 3:27am (UTC -5)
This episode would have fit right in with season 1TNG
John TY
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 10:09am (UTC -5)
Lol at Jammer's second paragraph. I think they could have made a whole series out of shamelessly killing history's noblest figures!

At least this inspired a pretty good Futurama episode.
Sat, Sep 6, 2014, 3:25am (UTC -5)
Interesting that one of the villains chosen for the battle of good vs evil is the one and only Kayless(sp?)the father of Klingon Warriorism acting like an unhonorable cheater.
William B
Tue, Jan 20, 2015, 3:15pm (UTC -5)
Home stretch!

I think Jammer's review basically says most of what I want to say. There is an interesting, maybe not entirely developed, philosophical debate between Surak and Lincoln about how best to respond to evil: Surak recommends leading by example, passive resistance, pacifism in general, and Lincoln basically argues that they have to be as devious and ruthless as the enemy in order to beat them. As it turns out, neither survive the hour. Surak's being butchered because he puts up no fight at all is something of a cautionary tale. Valuing peace is noble and honourable, but it might get you killed if it's not counterbalanced. I also get a feeling that this episode's FICTIONAL Lincoln's being stabbed in the back was meant as some sort of weird poetic justice for his especially "sneaky" campaign suggestion. Or, maybe not.

In general, WHO IS BETTER -- GOOD OR EVIL?!?! FIGHT! -- is one of the dumbest ideas to come out of this series. At least "Arena," for its flaws in execution, had the point more or less be that Kirk had to show he could use his brains rather than brute force, and so the point was something more akin to what Q tested Picard with in "All Good Things" (on a much smaller scale): not "are you good?" but "can you expand?" The episode's closing conversation comes down to, "good" and "evil" actually use similar tactics to each other in war, so what is the difference? The difference is fighting war for protection of oneself and people one cares about, and fighting for the sake of spoils. Great.

You know, there are a lot of "aliens try to understand human concepts through testing them out" episodes in various series, and not many of them are good. Still, in an episode like TNG's "Allegiance" or "Liaisons," neither of which are exactly classics, for the flaws in the aliens' methodology it's more or less clear at least to an extent what information they think they're gaining. Not only do the aliens pit "good versus evil," but they actually pit...two real people and two imaginary people created out of whatever likely limited understanding those people had of the real versions of those people, again four imaginary people who are viewed as the worst of the worst, and thus are also presumably not really understood all that well. I'm not saying that "the genocidal Col. Green" was probably a great guy and Kirk just doesn't understand him, but I think if one is going to pit opposite philosophies (as if "evil" was a philosophy), one should at least make sure one gets real representatives. Kirk is surprised that Col. Green acts like a reasonable person (at first), even though Col. Green is a) not real, and b) is based on Kirk's (or maybe Spock's) imagined version of him. If the aliens can really just create whole people with the ability to self-determine, why do they need Kirk and Spock to fight at all? Can't they just scan their brains and then run simulations to their hearts', or rock-creature equivalent of hearts', content?

Kirk also says:

"It was so hard for me to see him die again. I feel I understand what Earth must have gone through to achieve final peace."

I mean, this statement seems to imply that "final peace" came about as a result of Lincoln's death, which is ridiculous even if the episode didn't also introduce a 21st century genocidal dictator.

It is an interesting footnote that Kirk's version of Kahless is pure evil. At the end it's more or less stated, in case it hadn't been clear, that the various monsters and heroes were created out of the minds of Kirk and Spock -- so that Kirk views the Klingon messiah as a figure of pure malice reveals, in retrospect, something interesting about Kirk's cultural biases against the Klingons, understandably since their warlike expansion is being as destructive as it is. In reality, I think it's true that Kahless' philosophy is damaging -- he does seem to value war and expansion and glory -- but the "real Kahless," whether it's the clone we eventually encounter or the mythological one Worf describes, would view treachery and stabbing someone in the back as the worst of transgressions. It highlights the way the 1980s-90s Trek complicates the assumptions in the original series, and retroactively both TNG and The Undiscovered Country suggest that Kirk's earlier perspective on Klingons was distorted, if not wholly inaccurate.

I took a few weeks trying to think of something to say about this episode, and I'm still coming up mostly empty. 1 star.
Sat, Jul 4, 2015, 9:55pm (UTC -5)
This episode could have been better had the writers actually come up with a reason for Evil losing to Good other than Kirk being amazing at hand to hand combat. Evil has a tendency to turn on itself and it seems reasonable to me that at some point, possibly with the right push from the Good group, the Evil group would have self-destructed due to infighting.
Sat, Aug 15, 2015, 10:00am (UTC -5)
I kind of liked this episode. Most of it. It was interesting seeing Kirk and Spock meeting their heroes. I wish Col. Green had been telling the truth when he offered to work with Kirk instead of fighting, maybe making the evil guys more 3 dimensional rather than cardboard cutouts.

What bothered me was the ending. They have the good guys 4 on 2 but they lose because Kirk beats them up and they run away? That was weak. Guess the writers ran out of ideas.
George Bush
Tue, Dec 15, 2015, 3:17am (UTC -5)
Col. Green "led a genocidal war early in the 21st Century on Earth"?

That's funny, I always thought Osama Bin Ladin did that (hey, somebody had to say that, so it may as well be me).
Jason R.
Wed, Jan 27, 2016, 2:06pm (UTC -5)
Some people need to purchase a dictionary and look up the word "genocide".
Wed, Jan 27, 2016, 2:09pm (UTC -5)
@Jason - To be fair, Osama Bin Laden was TRYING to kill all the infidels, he was just really bad at it (with the notable exception of 1 good day followed by years and years of hiding in holes).
Wed, Jan 27, 2016, 3:05pm (UTC -5)
I don't understand the philosophical idea behind this episode. The question the episode posed was whether good will prevail over evil. At the end of the episode the creature said that the methods behind achieving peace (the good) were the same as the methods behind evil, both being murder. Seriously, how is that an answer to the question which of the two would prevail?

Or did I misunderstand? When the creature said ''which of the two is stronger'', did it mean 'will fighting for evil (selfishness) lead to victory, or will fighting for good lead to victory?'
If that's what it meant, then, well... this whole episode must've been about how survival instinct overpowers selfish goals. But that's not the idea I got from the episode, as it kept going on about good VS evil.

At the end, Spock gives a pointless summary of the facts, rather than insight into what it was all about. Not only that, but the philosophical idea that good and evil often use the same methods isn't reflected upon either. It seems like the episode didn't know what theme to go with, and what story to tell. Such a shame.
Andrew Taylor-Cairns
Sun, Feb 7, 2016, 9:36am (UTC -5)
Well in the midst of a lot of season 3 episodes that were fluff/out of character/ridiculous/boring (delete as applicable), The Savage Curtain was OK. I was certainly entertained, but there just wasn't much substance here.

It was much better than watching The Way to Eden last night before bed, where I was worried about having song montage nightmares. Now that is a monstrosity of an episode, and I would advocate giving it a minus score.
Tue, Apr 5, 2016, 2:24pm (UTC -5)
At the point that they introduce evil historical figures I actually thought that they would have a philosophical debate and wondered if the episode just gets bad rap for the inherent silliness of the concept. Once it turn out it's another battle to the death... Yeah. I do give credit for developing Vulcans but this isn't just a silly episode, it's rather pretentious one as well.

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