The shuttle crew of Spock, Sulu, and Uhura (a singularly unique teaming for this cast, I believe) come in possession of an ancient "stasis box," in which time stands still, making it the most perfect time capsule ever made. It's a rare remnant from the ancient Slaver Empire that was destroyed in a war with its subjugated population a billion years ago.
The box is a valuable scientific find, and also a beacon for other boxes like it, and it detects another box in the wondrous Beta Lyrae system. The shuttle lands on an ice planet to locate the other box, but the team is ambushed by Kzinti pirates, who want the box's mysterious contents. Held captive by the Kziniti (carnivorous lion-people who despise herbivores like Spock and who have among them a haggard-looking Kzinti who is a telepathic mind reader), the shuttle crew must figure out how to outsmart the Kzinti, which ... well, is not the toughest assignment of all time.
The Kzinti open the box and hope to unlock the secret of the ancient weapon they find inside, which initially resembles a green football gun. The weapon changes form and function depending on the setting that's selected, and most settings are fairly unremarkable, easily matched by the Enterprise's current-day technology. But there is one setting that is far more dangerous and destructive than the others — like a hand-held nuclear bomb gun — and it's for this reason it becomes crucial to keep it out of the Kzinti's hands.
This is a fairly intriguing premise, nearly undermined and yet made goofily entertaining by the Three Stooges sensibility in how it unfolds. To combat the telepathic Kzinti and hopefully gain an advantage, Spock tells Sulu to think of vegetables rather than meat (since the Kzinti hate herbivores and don't want to read their minds), and tells Uhura to act dumb (since Kzinti women are dumb and not worth mind-reading). Meanwhile, a series of turned tables where our heroes escape and are recaptured (Uhura thanklessly gets shot and held hostage not once, but twice) allows the Kzinti to get their hands on the weapon a second time. But the weapon also has a built-in robotic AI that has awakened and activates a self-destruct that blows up the Kzinti when they pull the trigger. Ha ha, morons.
This gets a pass for being silly fun, but the Kzinti are literally too stupid to live, and this is yet another TAS episode that seems to have deeper ideas lurking in its closing final lines than what we actually watch unfold for the duration of the episode. Spock's musings on a new war that was almost sparked by a weapon from a billion-year-old dead society is an idea that hints at a message far grander about the intersection of past and present, and is far more interesting than the middling plot mechanics we actually get. It's like TAS has these unpursued asides that serve as more cerebral concepts than it knows what to actually do with. But what we have here is amusing enough to recommend.
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