Star Trek: The Original Series

"Errand of Mercy"

3 stars

Air date: 3/23/1967
Written by Gene L. Coon
Directed by John Newland

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Starfleet, on the verge of war with the Klingons, sends the Enterprise to the planet Organia to negotiate a protection settlement so the Klingons won't invade the planet and set up a base there. But these people want nothing to do with the Federation or their protection—and they're convinced that they aren't in any danger. Kirk is furious when these Organian "sheep" refuse to stand up for their own way of life. The Klingons, led by Kor (John Colicos), subsequently arrive, take Kirk and Spock hostage, and threaten to subject them to a rather nasty mind probe to extract Starfleet war information.

This story finds irony in its plot, as Kirk is determined to convince the Organians to turn to violence, even though Starfleet's mission is supposedly one of peace (this is a story suited particularly well to Captain Kirk's adamant boldness). The Organians' claim to ultimately safety is proven when they turn out to be powerful beings capable of stopping at will the war between the Klingons and Federation.

The use of all-powerful, superior beings to preach a message of anti-violence to lowly humanoids is a theme that's been grossly over-utilized in Trek's freshman season, but fortunately the usage here is far better realized than in, say, "Arena." Kirk arguing vehemently for the right to engage in war is particularly telling.

Previous episode: The Devil in the Dark
Next episode: The Alternative Factor

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51 comments on this post

Sat, May 22, 2010, 7:40am (UTC -5)
I understand that "Errand of Mercy"'s anti-violence message was ground-breaking in its time, but I think that the moral is actually less strong by having the Organians be non-corporeal super-advanced life-forms who can't be harmed. If the Organians had been regular humanoids with technology on par with the Federation, but had still CHOSEN not to defend themselves, I think the message would have been stronger and more relevant.
Sat, Nov 3, 2012, 7:07pm (UTC -5)
What message would that be?

"We think nothing of anything we have accomplished on this planet. We hold our own civilization in the lowest contempt. Our regard for our own lives is so trivial that we, as a society, welcome and invite annihilation at the hands of the first barbarian horde, eager to wipe out our names from the role-call of history."

That message? It's one thing (1) to be dedicated to peace. It's another thing (2) to be dedicated to peace to the point that annihilation becomes an acceptable alternative to life. And it's yet another thing (3)to be dedicated to peace, spreading the message of peace, encouraging peace and yes even fighting to keep the peace when necessary. Option 3 anyday. A peaceful society is exactly the sort of society one should be willing to fight to share and maintain.

Not really relevant arguement in this episode though since they turn out to be super-beings after all.
Tue, Mar 26, 2013, 11:42pm (UTC -5)
"Klingons don't take prisoners," Kirk asserts, despite being held prisoner by Klingons here.

"Drink not with thine enemy -- the rigid Klingon code."

A code observed by Worf but not by Kor here. No wonder they tried to kill each other.
Fri, Apr 26, 2013, 8:02am (UTC -5)
One has to take Star Trek plots with a grain a salt. If the Organians turned out to be humaniods, vulnerable to being conquered, it wouldn't have made the message stronger. It would have more likely gave a message of the immorality of pacifism.

In the first season almost all the episodes are either super advanced beings teaching them a lesson or Kirk outsmarting a computer.
Sat, Oct 5, 2013, 10:42am (UTC -5)
Kirk had a few great moments in this episode.

His "Go climb a tree" smile. His embarrassment in the final scene over his "we ARE entitled to our war!" speech. And his dialogue with Spock on Organia.

Great, just great.
Mon, Nov 17, 2014, 6:47pm (UTC -5)
I really enjoyed watching this. The remastered version includes a couple of pretty neat battle scenes with the Klingons but they don't intrude too much, they just really emphasise that Kirk and Spock are going to be on their own for a while. It was really great watching them muck about a bit on the planet. Kirk's mutual disgust with Kor at the Organians seemingly pacifism was funny and probably in character for Kirk but feels a bit out of place against the Federation's ideas about acceptance and understanding of other cultures. Sulu was great in his brief bit as acting-Captain.

My only problem with it was that it dragged a bit in place and it stuck to the same few rooms for most of the duration. There was obviously something going on with the Organians and it was just a matter of how long until the revelation came and if that would be worth it. The planet seemed deserted except for the room the council was in and there were only ever a handful of Klingons, and even though I understand budgetary concerns it still feels lacking. The ending seems a bit simplistic but since it didn't seem to stop the Klingons being adversaries I'm just just going to believe it affects this region of space only.

John Colicos as Kor was fantastic, such an amazing antagonist but not really a villain, almost like he's playing a recurring character and it's such a shame he never came back. I really like his version of the Klingons which feel more like Cardassians than the 24th century Klingons and Kor's deviousness reminds me of the layered characters of Garak or Dukat. I was watching Generations the other day and to go from those stupid cartoon Klingons to something like this was striking.
Tue, Jun 2, 2015, 5:03pm (UTC -5)
There are a number of good comments here on this episode.

I agree with Nic that the message is confused by the fact that these non-corporeal entities seem technologically or intellectually advanced to the point where violence is irrelevant to them. That makes application of this episode to real world problems limited.

I also agree with Matrix that the episode took too long to reveal any key information to the audience. This required an overly brief wrap up, in my mind.

Still, as others said, a good pro-peace episode.
Sun, Jun 5, 2016, 12:39pm (UTC -5)
For some reason I like this episode a lot and would give it 3.5 or maybe 4 stars. The patience the light beings displayed - who embody only for our benefit. The peaceful technique of heating weapons to disable them. A path, albeit quite long term, to a future w/o war. These things are often discussed in alt media as being real. And of course, the foundation of the Klingons for future Treks!
Sean Hagins
Mon, Oct 10, 2016, 11:58am (UTC -5)
As a Christian, I would never kill anyone which includes not going to war. I appreciate the message this episode brings.

The one thing that bothers me is how Kirk can't seem to even pretend to be an Organian. He has to be restrained by Spock when shoved (come on!) I know this is still season 1, but his character wasn't very likable here

(If anyone responds to me message, I will try to answer-there doesn't seem to be a way to be notified of responses, so I may miss it)
Wed, Nov 9, 2016, 3:15pm (UTC -5)
Kirk and Spock beam down to the planet...

KIRK: People of Organia, you're in danger! The Klingons are coming! And they're evil and nasty and will brutally oppress you! If you want, we'll help you out so you can resist them.

OLD GUY: No, no, we're perfectly fine. Thanks for asking, though. We're just a simple, peace-loving people.

KIRK: Hey, I understand that this is all new to you, but trust us, the Klingons are really really bad guys, and won't care about how peaceful you are. What makes you think you'll be safe?

OLD GUY: Oh, I forgot to tell you, we're actually a super advanced race of energy beings. The Klingons couldn't hurt us if they tried. Heck, we could control THEM if we wanted to.

KIRK: Oh... well, never mind then. Hey, Starfleet wants to make sure the Klingons won't use this planet as a base of operations. Given that you hate war that much, you won't let them do that, right?

OLD GUY: Sure, no problem.

KIRK: Good. Well, nice meeting you, you guys are a lot nicer than the last omnipotent energy being I met. They made me fight a lizard-man, but I digress. Uhura, tell Starfleet "mission accomplished." Scotty, beam us up.


Seriously, for the supposed enlightened race, these Organians sure could be dishonest. OK, they never actually lied about it, and Kirk probably should have asked how they seemed to know stuff that they couldn't know, but still. For all their protestations about hating violence, they sure let it go on for a long time, even though they knew Kirk's only purpose there was to help the Organians resist the Klingons. And instead of just letting everyone know what's up to begin with, they play dumb long enough that they have to resort to violence instead. Seemed like a bunch of jerks to me.

Oh, and by the way, Mr Enlightened Superior Being, forcing your will on other sapient entities IS VIOLENCE. Threatening them with future violence in order to get them to stop fighting isn't showing off the value of pacifism. What you have done, Mr Perfection, is show everyone just how useful, just how effective violence can be. You have managed to impose your will on two separate societies based on your superior use of force and superior defensive capabilities. You taught us a lesson all right, oh Producers of Allegorical Sci-Fi. A lesson about rank hypocrisy and arrogance.

I have decided, in my personal canon, that the reason we don't see the Metrons or the Organians or any other of these pacifist energy beings in the TNG era is that the Q tortured and killed them all. And as they watched their civilization slip away into nothingness, forever removed from the face of the galaxy, their last thoughts were "gee, maybe that Kirk guy had a point." OK, so maybe I'm being cruel and nasty, but these ridiculously juvenile and poorly thought out messages are really starting to bug me.

It especially bugs me in this episode, because other than that, it is absolutely fantastic. I love it. I love Kirk's disdain toward the Organians, but still willing to fight and die for them. I love Kor's respect for Kirk, even while recognizing him as a dangerous opponent. I love the worldbuilding, the intensity, the threat the Klingons represent. I love Shatner's acting in this one, showing he is far better than the ham-tastic reputation of his. I love the finality and resignation in the way he announces that this is war. Heck, I even loved the Organians other than the pretentious message at the end. I'd be fine with the entire plot if it wasn't for the hubris behind it. Fortunately, despite my complaints here about it, I refused to let it get in the way of my enjoyment of the episode.

By the way, with respect to the Klingons, obviously the aren't the Viking race that they are in the TNG era. And I can see why Matrix would compare them to the Cardassians, particularly with the emphasis on torture and oppression being shown in this episode (to say nothing about Kor's comment that everyone is watched). But, with that said, Kor still does come off as feeling pretty similar to the Next Gen Klingons. He still has a love of combat, and a healthy respect for a fellow warrior. While he's not above oppressing the people, he was outright delighted to come face to face with Kirk, and disappointed that he met in this way rather than on an equal footing. His mannerisms also seemed appropriately theatrical to me too. Just take his last line: "A shame, Captain, it would have been glorious." It may have been Kor saying it, but it sounded exactly like something Gowron would say. A small thing, but I think it does connect the two series a bit. And maybe it's why Kor was the one who survived Blood Oath and got more episodes; perhaps his character seemed to fit the new era better than the other two.
Wed, Nov 30, 2016, 8:00pm (UTC -5)
I think what's missed about this message is the strong anti-imperialism theme running throughout this episode. Kirk arrives on Organia with the expressed purpose of obtaining the planet for the Federation. Ayelborne welcomes Kirk and Spock as guests, and politely declines the "offer" to join the Federation. Spock shows disdain for the Organians because they don't measure up to the Federation's standards of progress, while Kirk shows disdain for the Organians because they do not immediately adopt Federation ideals. During the episode, we are given clues that the Organians are more sophisticated then the “D-“that Spock rates them on the richter scale, given that they are clearly aware of the Galactic community, already have knowledge of the Klingons and their economic trade status (since they know that kevis and trillium D are useless to them) and the fact that they can detect the Klingon fleet in orbit while Spock can’t with his tricorder. All classic signs of the arrogant imperialist, unable to consider another culture as superior until their own military has been humbled, even Spock isn't immune to it.

Throughout the episode, the Organians have repeatedly insisted that their people believe in non-violence, but Kirk ignores them every time, because their culture is inconvenient to the Federation. When the Klingons occupy the planet, the Organians do little more than smile. Kirk never considers that the Organians might be happy under Klingon rule, since they accept it right away and smile endlessly. Instead Kirk attempts to start an armed conflict to “help” the Organians despite their every plea that he stop immediately. As a direct result of Kirk’s actions, 200 Organians are lined up to be shot, and Kirk doesn’t show the least bit of remorse, instead acting vindicated of his own actions. Ayelborne repeats “How little you understand us” again and again as the violence that Kirk has brought to their world has nearly brought him to tears. Kirk never bothers to understand the Organians, only judging them, condemning them for not following the example of the Federation of freedom and resistance. Kirk even threatens Ayelborne with violence if he wasn’t allowed to arm himself against their wishes. By his own initiative, Kirk has intervened in the Organians affairs and turned their planet into a battlefield. This all sets up for the deliciously ironic ending where Kirk demands non-interference in the Federations affairs, rendered helpless against the culture he had dismissed as unworthy.

So I don’t think the Organians being non-corporeal beings is cop out. The Organians being more advanced then the Klingons and the Federation was hinted at from the beginning, and it was only the arrogance of these two warring cultures that blinded them. The Japanese regarded the Americans as barbarians until those invincible Black Ships steamed into their harbor and forced a treaty to be signed. The Chinese dismissed the British as inferior during the lead up to the Opium War until the British Navy forced a treaty to be signed. The Organians are only serve as metaphor for a superior culture to the already advanced future world of the Federation.

As for why the Organians assume corporeal form and maintain a primitive culture, it could serve as some kind of embassy for less advanced cultures, or perhaps that was the Organian equivalent of maintaining a garden, or Chateau. They were open to visitors until violence was brought on their world, which was intensely painful to them, which provoked the Organians to action. Unlike Skeptical, I do not see this as the Organians imposing the philosophy of pacifism via violence, but rather a defense of their own culture. If the Federation and Klingons will not leave the Organians in peace, then they will make the peace because they have the power to do so.
Peter G.
Wed, Nov 30, 2016, 9:52pm (UTC -5)
Great comments, Edax.

One thing about the imperialism angle: While we can be tempted to see Kirk as being "responsible" for the violence that ensued on the planet, I think it would be more fair to say that the Klingons began it, but Kirk escalated it. After all, assuming the Organians were not powerful beings, while they may have been happy to live under the Klingons the Klingons might have executed them for any old reason anyhow. Supposing that Kor commanded an Organian to harm another Organian, and he refused, no doubt the punishment for such disobedience would be death. And so while Kirk did initiate the overt violence, it would have begun regardless with or without him.

I think the cold war message takeaway here is that the Federation's claim of being there to protect or help the Organians was entirely self-serving, and that although their rationalization for staking a claim to Organia was different than that of the Klingons, functionally both sides were the same. The Federations true aim there was to defeat the Klingons, not to help some random race that they clearly didn't bother even meeting prior to the Klingons showing interest there. This is the crux of the problem in the episode: the Federation is already enmeshed in hostilities against the Klingons, so there is no way they can be coming in peace no matter how friendly they act.

That being said I'm a bit wary of episodes like this that seem to directly equate the Federation with the cold war United States, precisely because the Federation is supposed to actually be better - not merely claim to be better. I like this episode a lot, but I'm not crazy about using the Federation as a way of showing disingenuous morals.
Thu, Dec 1, 2016, 8:19pm (UTC -5)
Interesting commentary Edax, but I still have issues with it.

First of all, about your imperialism angle. I see where you're coming from. But on the grounds that Kirk and Spock were so sure of their own superiority that they didn't listen to the Organians, I think that's bad writing rather than intended, especially on Spock's part. Throughout the first season, Spock was written as practically a Mary Sue character. He was always the smartest person in the room, always suspected what was really going on, and always seem to be morally superior to the humans surrounding him. This episode is thematically similar to Arena, and the beginning of that episode had Spock practically spelling out the theme of the story for us in his dialogue. Thus, I have a hard time believing the writers intended Spock to be in error here. Other than Galileo Seven (where the focus was on Spock being an alien), Spock is simply never that clearly wrong or that clearly... human.

Instead, I think it was just a mistake on the writer's part. There's a mystery and a surprise reveal in this episode. Everyone knows that if you write a mystery, you need to leave clues throughout the setup so that the audience doesn't feel the solution to the mystery comes out of left field. The trick is to make the clues not so obvious that the audience doesn't figure it out immediately, and especially not so obvious that the audience figures it out and wonders why the characters couldn't do so. And I think the writers failed on that part. It was too obvious that the Organians had extra knowledge, and I think even Kirk and Spock mentioned it. But that was dropped in favor of the rest of the plot. I suspect that it wasn't intended to show a character flaw in our characters. Of course, that is just my suspicion; you are free to interpret the scene differently.

However, I am absolutely not convinced that, even if Kirk had imperialistic tendencies, that justifies the Organians own imperialism. Your justification that they were only defending their own culture seems a bit hollow, as it sounds like Hammurabi code of tit for tat, and I thought we moved beyond that line of ethos. If the Organians are truly pacifist, live and let live beings, then presumably they would want to limit their own imposition on others. And indeed, all they had to do to maintain their way of life is banish the UFP and Klingons from their planet. That's certainly justifiable, and a minimal intrusion on the other two cultures. Instead, they imposed their culture throughout the entire UFP/Klingon territory. I thought defense of culture should only intrude on other people's cultures as minimally as possible? This wasn't defense; this was spreading their dogma through the sword.

And remember my first point. All of this, ALL OF THIS, would have been avoided if the Organians had simply been honest in the first place. If they wanted to defend their culture, why didn't they try through nonviolent dialogue first?

Meanwhile, I think it's disingenuous to consider the UFP and Klingons to be two sides of the same coin, just two different flavors of imperialism. After all, the Federation knew of this planet before this episode, and knew of its strategic importance. Despite that, they were ok with simply leaving the Organians alone until situation demanded otherwise. Yes, The Federation acted in their own interest, but that interest was survival, not resources or bloodlust. And Kirk, even if misguided, did everything for what he thought were the Organians best interests. Sure, it may be slightly arrogant to say he knew what their interests were more than the Organians did, but that was partly because of the Organians' dishonesty. After all, the flip side of this episode is the Bajoran occupation. Given that a situation like that was the most likely outcome of the Klingon attack, shouldn't Kirk try to help them out? Why should he be condemned for not recognizing an outlier scenario instead of the far more likely one?
Thu, Dec 1, 2016, 10:29pm (UTC -5)
Heya Everyone!

Love the recent discussion! Nice to see.

After reading the comments, and running the episode through in my head (last watched around two years ago), something occurred to me: Without the meddling of Kirk and Spock, the Organians would probably have done... nothing, and billions might have died.

Now, hear me out. We heard during the episode that there was probably going to be a state of war between the Federation and the Klingons, but it hadn't happened yet. It was just probable. When the Fantastic Two head down to the planet, they are told time and again that everything is fine, just go home and we will sit here and smile. But they don't leave (eventually cannot), and keep stirring things up. And these Organians, who have let these ants run around their fake anthill, get more and more frustrated as they say "Stop, or we'll say Stop again" and the ants don't listen. Hey, they may be super duper powerful, but they are not perfect. They seem to still have some foibles. And one of them is when the ants tell them they would do as they please, over and over, they eventually cannot take it any longer (not liking the brutal, savage things they were planning on doing), and they metaphorically slam their hand on the table and say "Enough is enough! Not only are you going to listen to what we have to say, but we are stopping your war, as of NOW!", potentially saving billions...

On the other hand, if Kirk and Spock had left when they were first told to go (they still could, if memory serves), or had just become random fake townsfolk sitting in a room somewhere, the Enterprise leaves and joins the Federation fleet. They are eventually engaged in glorious battle with the Klingons and billions die in the war, while the Organians sit in their room, contemplating whatever they think about, and smile. They never got mad at the ants, so they never made a decision to intercede, because the fake anthill was still quiet and peaceful...

Since they had never gotten involved in any other war, that we know of, they probably wouldn't have now. Because, hey, we're just ants to them. And even today, we don't explain things to ants, because how could they possibly understand?

Anyway, that was the epiphany I had while reading these most thoughtful insights above.

I hope this is a great day for everyone... RT
Thu, Dec 1, 2016, 10:36pm (UTC -5)
Heh, I just recalled that the Enterprise did indeed join the Federation fleet, and they were all racing toward the Klingons when they were stopped. We just don't get to see the other ships. Would've been neat if they'd shown some other ships when they did the revamp. :) But I digress, and my point is the same even with that small...

Whoopsie... RT
Fri, Dec 2, 2016, 12:07pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G. While it's true the Klingons could have ordered the Organians to do violence against other Organians, this however that is purely speculation. At least this violence would have been the result of an Organian decision, and not the interference from a 3rd party. And perhaps, the Organians would better tolerated minor acts of violence vs a galactic war. The Organians very likely know what submitting to Klingon rule meant anyway, and it was Kirk's blind belief that the Organians didn't know any better that escalated the conflict.

@Skeptical I could see Spock as a character showing disdain for the Organians, especially when he noticed that their culture was totally stagnant. There's no logic in making no effort towards progress, to be content with the dark ages. Notice that Spock made no effort to respect the Organian's wishes, despite the fact that he got along with those damn hippies in Way To Eden.

"And indeed, all they had to do to maintain their way of life is banish the UFP and Klingons from their planet. That's certainly justifiable, and a minimal intrusion on the other two cultures. Instead, they imposed their culture throughout the entire UFP/Klingon territory. I thought defense of culture should only intrude on other people's cultures as minimally as possible? This wasn't defense; this was spreading their dogma through the sword."

I see no reason why the Organians need to follow the Prime Directive. Even though they were more advanced beings, they still carried flaws, such as the intense pain they experience around violent individuals. When the war was brought to their doorstep, the Organians became involved, even if they did not wish it. Spreading dogma through the sword implies aggression, but all the Organians did was act in self-defense and enforced a peace treaty. You can't defend a culture in a war with inaction. If the Organians just banished the two factions, they could have returned, and perhaps have attacked the Organians as an enemy, which would cause the Organians great distress, and having to continually relocate warships without trying to enact a peace treaty would have continually increase their involvement in a war.

"And remember my first point. All of this, ALL OF THIS, would have been avoided if the Organians had simply been honest in the first place. If they wanted to defend their culture, why didn't they try through nonviolent dialogue first?"

The Organians at no point were dishonest. They did try nonviolent dialogue first, rejecting the Federation's offer and accepting Klingon occupation law to prevent a conflict. Kirk ignored the Organian's decisions and wishes at every turn and continued to wage a conflict against the Klingons, and even threatened Ayelborne with "More violence then he'll know what to do with" if he could not arm himself. As for the Organians being TOTALLY honest, imagine the Federation in the TNG days just telling a pre-warp specifies, "Hey I'm an alien!" just for the sake of honesty? It's happened before, but it tends to permanently ruin the observation of the less advanced cultures.

@RandomThoughts I don't quite agree that had Kirk not turned Organia into a battlefield, the Organians might not have interfered. The Organians feel intense pain when around violence individuals, and a fleet battle over their planet could have prompted them to action. I think what's too easily forgotten is that Organia belongs to the Organians, and being the only habitable planet in the disputed zone, they would end up very involved. It would just be a matter of when the Organians have had enough of the conflict that they would act.
Peter G.
Fri, Dec 2, 2016, 3:38pm (UTC -5)
@ Edax,

My example of Klingons trying to force the Organians into violent actions was just meant as a random example of how no matter whether Kirk got involved or not, the Klingons were eventually going to start executing Organians either way. Something would have happened, somehow, that would have angered the Klingons, and they would no doubt turned to killing before long. This is all to just answer your point that without Kirk's bravado things could have been resolved peacefully. I believe there was never any possibility of life under Klingon rule being either peaceful or non-violent. It wouldn't have been as bad as a war, but it would have probably still been too much for the Organians. The only difference, I suppose, is that if the Klingons alone had gone too far the Organians might have just done something *to them* and not to the Federation. It's for the best that this isn't how it happened, since the Organian peace treaty directly laid the path towards the Khitomer Accords.
Fri, Dec 2, 2016, 5:57pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G.
No I understood what you were getting at. It's difficult to gauge what the Organians would have considered too much, since I don't think the Organians were actually killed when the mass executions happened. Perhaps they planned to pantomime the subjugation of their people to better study the Klingons? Since the Organians fully cooperated with the Klingons, there would be no logical reason for executions, so I dispute that it would be inevitable. Whilst mass murder could still happen, it would only be pure speculation at that point. The Organians didn’t even react when they were being mass executed in the episode, they were much more distressed at Kirk’s actions.

Going back to the topic of Imperialism, this acceptance of Klingon occupation vs war should have been the Organian's decision, not Kirk's. Organia was in the disputed zone, and the Organians accepted Klingon rule, Kirk really had no legitimate reason to threaten the Organians or engage in a guerrilla war on the planet, since it was now peacefully under Klingon rule. What was the Federation going to do if Kirk somehow managed to drive the Klingons off the planet? Forcefully annex the planet against the Organian’s will? It’s a strategically valuable planet that has rejected the Federation and the Federation would not allow Klingon occupation of it. Can you see just what kind of mess Kirk has potentially caused? Would the Federation have to send in occupation force to prevent further Klingon invasion? Remember, this is the only habitual planet in the disputed area, the Federation would have little cause to dispute the area unless they wanted Organia for themselves. Just how free would the Organians be if the Federation gave them no authority to decide their own fate in this Klingon-Federation war? Kirk’s offer that they had the freedom choose seems really disingenuous since when the Organians refused, Kirk provoked the Klingons against Organians while posing as an Organian.

Considering that the Klingons were just “Russians in Space”, what if the Organians wanted to be under Klingon rule? Some countries actively sought out the Soviet Union, what would Kirk or the Federation have done in this circumstance? Since the Federation disputes the territory, I suspect they would not have allowed that, perhaps even have “made Organia useless to them”.
Tue, Feb 14, 2017, 3:41pm (UTC -5)
Another great Season 1 episode with a nice twist at the end. The clues were effectively sprinkled throughout the episode that there's something special about the Organians, however they deliberately tried to appear sheep-like until the very end when war was about to break out.

One assertion: The Organians may well be the most advanced species in all of TOS Trek. I can't think of a species that has been associated with a history of millions of years of evolution. Something to debate...

The motives of peace / non-violence are presented much better here than with the Metron in "Arena" - That episode was a case of a higher being's attempt at imposing higher morals didn't come off as well as here.

The acting of Colicos as Kor was terrific - many interesting dialogues with Kirk/Spock/Organians. And I believe it is the first introduction of the Federation's biggest nemesis in the series. The Romulans were introduced in "Balance of Terror".

There is also the opposing philosophies of the Klingon Empire (communist dictatorship) and the Federation's American values of trying to help a perceived inferior society with strategic aims.

Overall an enjoyable episode and one in which a race of vastly superior beings seems to act as such - their only weakness seems to be the pain they feel when around violent beings, however they only take action when push comes to shove.

3.5/4 stars for me.
Sun, Mar 19, 2017, 10:17pm (UTC -5)
Having the Organians be non-Human is the right way to go. Humans are not capable of completely being without any emotion or suspending desires. The important part is the story - That it's ultimately senseless to fight. It never solves anything in the long run.

The quibbling about the intent of the Federation is missing the point. Deep down, we only go after what is advantageous. Of course they involve themselves where they are not wanted. Organia is of "strategic importance". That give the Federation carte blanche to be involved when they are not invited.

The only think I disliked about this episode was the flip attitude of Spock and Kirk when they were fighting the Klingons. there was no real "danger" that they would be killed. Otherwise the writing and acting was off the charts.
Mon, Oct 9, 2017, 9:36pm (UTC -5)
In-light of ST:Discovery, I decided to revisit Errand of Mercy, in which the Klingons make their first apperance. What's interesting is that this episode concisely deals with an entire war, its conclusion, and the greivances of all parties, within a mere 50 minutes. Discovery should be jealous of such wonderful brevity.

Jammer gives Errand of Mercy 3 stars, but I'd give it 4. The remastered version in particular is IMO a masterpiece.

I also feel most of the comments here (except Edax's) have missed the point of the episode: think of the Organians as any Third World nation repeatedly forced to change hands between larger powers (typically the European powers or the United States). All these powers either resort to naked colonialism, or disguise their imperialism with flowery language, a form of smug paternalism which is of course blind to the virtues, values and ways of the local culture.

Errand of Mercy thus critiques the militant colonialism of the Klingons, with the hypocritically "merciful" colonialism of the Federation (written in the 1960s, this would essentially be about the US in places like Vietnam and Indonesia). Both approaches deny the free agency of locals. Does this mean that a smaller nation should do as the Organians do and simply let themselves be conquered? That's what's radical about the episode; the Organians see surrender from a kind of utilitarian position; it's the least bloody option. Violence leads to peace anyway in the long-run, and surrender and obedience merely hastens the demise of an unjust order that will fall with time anyway. It's the old adage; the best way to remove a dictator is to ignore him and let him die of old age.

Of course this is not a stance which contemporary moralists like. Afterall, don't we have a duty to act against evil? Sure. But sometimes doing nothing is the truly radical act. Conversely, sometimes acting merely perpetuates problems. Would Iraq be better off today had Saddam been left in power (or not installed by the West in the first place?)? Would WW2 have been less bloody had Poland given up Danzig? Would Vietnam be in the same place today had the Vietnamese not resisted the US or the US not sided against the local majority? When every party is a jerk, such that acting righteously against jerks forces jerks to be bigger jerks, passivity can be radical.
Trek fan
Mon, Oct 9, 2017, 11:20pm (UTC -5)
Errand of Mercy is a terrific TOS episode that marshals several familiar Season 1 themes to introduce the Klingons and the fantastic character of Kor. I give it 3 1/2 stars out of 4.

Yes, we've seen Trek war-and-peace episodes before -- Arena, Balance of Terror, etc. -- and super-powerful noncorporeal aliens. But here we see more of the noncorporeal superbeings than ever before (Arena, Squire of Gothos, Charlie X) and the Organians are really nifty characters as a result of their depth: Not only do we get the twist that the pacifists are the most powerful people in the episode, but the story carries us deftly from identifying with Kirk/Spock's frustration at the Organians' pacifism to realizing both Kirk and Kor are in the wrong by insisting on their "right" to wage war. This idea that the most powerful people are the ones who choose not to use their power is really thought-provoking stuff.

But the episode is also very sharply written by Gene Coon in one of his stronger outings. The showdowns between Kirk/Spock with the Organians and Klingons are quite smartly written. Good Trekkian polemics here. Also the little bits like the running odds of survival from Spock, as he and Kirk try to organize a guerilla resistance, give us some nifty character interaction while establishing some Trekkian dialogue staples. I love the extreme heat attack in the climax where everyone struggles and fails to go after each other's throats, building up to the ironically funny moment when Kor and Kirk seem willing to WORK TOGETHER (Kor: "We'll handle them; I have an army!") to stop the Organians and go back to killing each other. And this episode establishes the Organian peace treaty that sets up a running Cold War (rather than shooting war) with the Klingons for the rest of TOS. And the Organians' prediction that the Klingons and Federation will one day be "fast friends" sets up Star Trek VI and the post-TOS Klingon-Federation relations.

But the real reason many of us love this episode is the introduction of the Klingons and particularly Kor. More disciplined soldiers of a militaristic empire than the cartoonish tribal warriors of the TNG era or the animalistic predators of "Star Trek Discovery," the TOS Klingons are smart and formidable opponents. Kor in particular is a worthy adversary: John Colicos stamped the Klingons for all who would follow with his swaggering entrances, his Fu Manchu facial hair, his gold sash that later finds its way onto Worf in TNG, his deliciously clever dialogue (lost somewhat in post-TOS Klingons, who speak in grunts and brawls) and his devious handling of Kirk/Spock. While I never found the Klingons' introduction here as strong as that of the Romulans in Balance of Terror, Kor's sparring with Kirk is delightful. And those lines -- "I never trust a man who smiles too much," "It would have been GLORIOUS," etc. -- really nail the ethos of Klingon dignity and delight for battle right from the start here. Kor is just awesome enough to carry the whole show even with it's repetitive elements: I'm glad the character reappeared on The Animated Series and made a full comeback (played again by Colicos) on DS9 as a Falstaffian character gone to seed yet seeking redemption. Indeed, as someone said above, DS9 seems to have taken "Errand" as a template for many of its own war episodes with the Cardassians/Jem Hadar in addition to bringing back Kor himself. Good stuff.
Sat, Nov 4, 2017, 4:27pm (UTC -5)
Response to the criticism that the Organians did not reveal themselves for so long into the episode: Besides abhoring violence, they also abhorred interfering. They were trying to stay out of it as long as they could.

The final scene was the best, where we see the ever placid Organian consul leader actually get angry. He didn't like feeling that emotional. After stopping the war, the Organians disappeared because "beings like yourselves are intensely painful to us".

Lastly, the concept of disabling weapons is very appealing, rather than trying to teach people not to be violent. So much simpler. Wish we could do that.
Mon, Dec 25, 2017, 10:28am (UTC -5)
Small detail: The look of sheer glee on Kor's face when the Organians expose Kirk's identity is priceless. No wonder Colicos was picked to play Baltar in the original BSG ten years or so later! He was so great at playing the villain!
Tue, Jun 12, 2018, 3:17am (UTC -5)
Late to this discussion, but I've long wanted to weigh in on this episode with an observation I've never seen mentioned. To start, I agree with Skeptical's points.

But more than that, Kirk makes mention of other, occupied Klingon worlds. Preventing a war means those planets will remain conquered, under (tyrannical) Klingon rule. Yes, the Klingons eventually get less oppressive, but that's generations of people living under despots.

That was the crux of Kirk's argument. Some things (freedom) are worth dying for. The Organians, however, don't give a whit about that. It's why I never liked them, or the conclusion of this episode.
Mon, Feb 18, 2019, 3:03pm (UTC -5)
Where in ssn 1 besides here and Arena have all powerful beings taught humanoids about non-violence??? Often its humanity-Kirk-teaching this lesson and others to others (A Taste of Armageddon), sometimes all-powerful beings and resisting them, such as in The Squire of Gothos and Where No Man Has Gone Before. I'm struggling to fit Kirks stance here with his stance on war in A Taste for Armageddon, I guess it kinda fits...
Sun, Apr 7, 2019, 8:17am (UTC -5)
Not a favorite. Slow moving and predictable. The Organians kept telling Kirk and Spock that there was no danger and they didn't understand, but (unbelievably) neither Kirk more Spock took the time to press them as to why they were so serenely confident - even after they demonstrated unusual powers (by knowing the Klingons' movements).

The message was certainly classic Trek, but awkwardly delivered.

I liked seeing Sulu in charge of the ship.
Wed, Jun 5, 2019, 1:13am (UTC -5)
One of my favorite episodes, it shows once again the great job of casting the show did,John Colicos is just perfect as kor.Here we have a planet of people who everyone thinks is a primitive , laboratory example of an arrested culture but is in fact millions of years ahead of everyone.
Mon, Sep 30, 2019, 8:23pm (UTC -5)
Colicos as Kor is another wonderful guest actor to grace TOS.

I've always loved his great lines in his initial appearance along with Kirk/Spock and the Organians.

"Have we a ram among the sheep?" Kor to Kirk

"I need your obedience. Nothing more."

"I don't trust men who smile too much."
Wed, Oct 2, 2019, 8:55am (UTC -5)
I’m with Springy on this one. The confrontation scene between Kirk and the Organian leader seemed to play out the same way five or six times in the episode. The mystique built around the Organians is good, but the relentlessly quiet nature of the episode makes you wish they acted out sooner rather than later.

Shatner, Nimoy and John Colicos definitely make a feast of the morsels the script gives them. The bluster between the Federation-KE belies great parallels in the Cold War and it feels like the actors were eager to portray that angle.
Mon, Nov 23, 2020, 12:00pm (UTC -5)
Errand of Mercy

Star Trek season 1 episode 26

"Another Armenia.


The weak innocents who always seem to be located on the natural invasion routes.”

- Kirk & Spock

3 stars (out of 4)

Just down the street from the studio lot on which they filmed Star Trek back in the 60’s, is a neighborhood in Hollywood known as Little Armenia. Today the most famous Armenian family living in LA is probably the Kardashians. Twenty-five years ago, when TNG was on air, the most famous Armenian living in LA might have been Kim’s father Robert Kardashian, a criminal defense lawyer who defended OJ.

The Armenians came to LA after they were slaughtered by the Turks in 1915, in an event that some people consider a genocide. The Armenians haven’t exactly had the best luck throughout history. They’ve been ruled by empires as diverse as the Romans, Persians, Ottomans, Russians, and at the time when “Errand of Mercy” aired in 1967, Armenia was part of the USSR and ruled by communists.

As Kirk explains to Spock, Armenia was a nation of "weak innocents who always seem to be located on the natural invasion routes.”

Watching the episode today is sobering. Again, today, Armenia is on the losing side of a war. This time they lost to Azerbaijan, who defeated Armenia two weeks ago with the help of the Turks. Now the Russians have sent in troops to “keep the peace.” Well, as they say, History may not repeat itself, but it surely rhymes.

In 1965, two years before “Errand” aired, the Armenians undertook massive demonstrations to mark the 50th anniversary of their slaughter at the hands of the Turks. No doubt the good folks at Star Trek, filming just down the street from Little Armenia in Hollywood, were well aware of all this.

That is the backdrop (@Trent) for “Errand.” That is the milieu in which we get to meet the Klingons for the first time, perhaps the most famous of all aliens on Star Trek, or at the very least, a close second to the Vulcans.

I want to to echo what has been said before (@Rahul) about Kor. What a sheer pleasure he is to watch! Even more so now, after we’ve had the chance to really enjoy his company on DS9, and see that in the very end, he does indeed get the glorious death he deserves. Kor the dahar master,

That the Klingons represented the Russians on Star Trek during the Cold War (@Rahul) seems to be of little doubt. (In my review of “Balance of Terror,” I explain why the Vulcans were the Japanese, while the Romulans are the Chinese). Once the Cold War ended, and the Berlin Wall fell, the Klingons were fremenies in the ST VI The Undiscovered Country, and then reluctant allies in the TNG. The alliance with the Klingons frayed during DS9, but was eventually patched together. Then, a few years ago, when Russia was again considered evil, Discovery launched with Klingons as the primary enemy.

Today, when the Russians are back in Armenia, we couldn’t care less. And surprise, surprise, the Klingons are no where to be seen in the various Star Trek shows now on air (ST:D and ST:P).

I predict our head-space will be filled by China for the near term, and so, Picard at least will continue to have Romulans on that show. But if relations with China improve dramatically, there will even be space to include Romulans in the 32nd century on Discovery.

When people wonder how the Federation could have sent Kirk and Spock to an unaffiliated planet that was emphatically uninterested in the Federation - and how the Federation could have had those two officers run a private little guerrilla war (@Trek fan) against the Klingons even over the protests of the locals, remember, that that was the political climate in the 60’s (@Rick). That was a time when the powerful dangled trinkets in exchange for setting up a military base. As Kirk says,

KIRK: Gentlemen, I must get you to reconsider. We can be of immense help to you. In addition to military aid, we can send you specialists, technicians. We can show you how to feed a thousand people where one was fed before. We can help you build schools, educate the young in the latest technological and scientific skills. Your public facilities are almost non-existent. We can help you remake your world, end disease, hunger, hardship. All we ask in return is that you let us help you.

All we ask is that you let us help you. Uh huh, Jim, I totally believe you.

Let me echo @RandomThoughts, this has been one of the best threads I have read in a long time. If for some reason I missed citing someone, I apologize. @NCC-1701-Z, I had no idea Kor was Baltar!
Jason R.
Mon, Nov 23, 2020, 1:20pm (UTC -5)
I was thinking about this episode and reviewing some of the comments and I think an important nuance is being missed. Some complain that the Organians' pacifism is disingenuous, pompous or otherwise not worth very much in light of their status as invincible energy beings.

But I think it is important to note just what sets the Organians off. They don't care or mind very much when the Klingons are "killing" their people. This renders Peter G. and Edax's argument rather moot because it didn't matter if the Klingons would or wouldn't have turned to violence against the Organians eventually.

The Organians, knowing perfectly well they are invincible, don't classify anything the Klingons do to them as "violent" or anything to get upset about. It is only when the Klingons and the Federation are about to start killing each other do the Organians get upset enough to intervene.

The Organians' pacifism isn't naive or foolish (but for their status as space gods). It is specifically tuned to the reality of the situation, namely that they are invincible and the Federation and Klingons are not.

We don't know how the Organians would react to a situation where a truly helpless people was faced with annihilation. It is possible that their "pacifism" would indeed embrace a limited right to self defence. As others noted, halting the war was itself a form of violence, strictly speaking.
Peter G.
Mon, Nov 23, 2020, 2:10pm (UTC -5)
@ Jason R.

"But I think it is important to note just what sets the Organians off. They don't care or mind very much when the Klingons are "killing" their people. This renders Peter G. and Edax's argument rather moot because it didn't matter if the Klingons would or wouldn't have turned to violence against the Organians eventually."

Just remember that this argument was specifically about how the Federation's moral position was *assuming the Organians were what Kirk thought they were*. I was comparing the Federation to the U.S. during the cold war, and complaining that the Federation is too much like the (at the time) contemporary U.S., because they were really not honest about coming 'in peace'. At best they were coming in war, but with a superior moral position. But violence was still on their minds.

As you say, as it turns out the Organians were not in danger, but this doesn't change the moral calculus on the part of the Klingons and Federation. Kill a bunch of organians, and you're still guilty of at minimum attempted mass murder. That you didn't succeed because they tricked you is a fine point, and barely if at all exonerates the Klingons on the one hand, or the Federation on the other hand in terms of their direct stake in 'helping' the locals.

"The Organians' pacifism isn't naive or foolish (but for their status as space gods). It is specifically tuned to the reality of the situation, namely that they are invincible and the Federation and Klingons are not."

This I agree with, and in fact I think it's the point of the episode. Kirk is shown to be just as wrong as Kor in the end, because the only people in danger were the Klingons and the Federation. I don't think either side is shown to be better than the other in the eyes of the Organians; both were bent on actions that would hurt themselves. Ironically there's an almost religious aspect to this narrative, since if one believes in an immortal soul or something like that, then a plausible argument could be made that it's impossible to 'hurt' anyone other than yourself. You can kill someone, but it doesn't harm them in the cosmic eternal sense. But what you do is become a killer, which is bad for you. This episode *almost* goes there, suggesting that the Organians had to intercede on behalf of the Klingons and Federation. So you may be right that it wasn't even Kirk's escalation that did it.

@ Mal,

Thanks for the write-up and interesting comparison to the Armenian situation.

"All we ask is that you let us help you. Uh huh, Jim, I totally believe you."

If I'm not misreading you, I think this is on the same page as my argument above, that Jim's statement here is more than a little self-serving. He may completely mean it, so I'm not saying he's being tricky. But in the position he and the Federation are in it's literally impossible for any action here at all to not be self-serving. It is simply a fact that any help they render, however well-intentioned, serves the double purpose of opposing their foe and gaining more territory for themselves.
Mon, Nov 23, 2020, 7:16pm (UTC -5)
@Jason R. said, "The Organians' pacifism isn't naive or foolish (but for their status as space gods). It is specifically tuned to the reality of the situation, namely that they are invincible"

Spot on, 100% agree. Season 1 of TOS has a strong omnipotence arc. Charlie X was a surly teenage boy, made no better - and no happier - by the powers he was given by the Thasians (N.B., the name of the race ends with "ian", as do Armenian last names!). The only solution to Charlie X was for the Thasians to take him back and supervise him. The "The Squire of Gothos" take a very similar path, with the only solution to omnipotence being adult supervision.

Then in "Where no Man has Gone Before," Gary Mitchell starts up the rapid climb to omnipotence. There are no Thasians, or anyone else, around to control him, so the only solution is to kill Gary before he gets too high up on that climb. Man is not ready for omnipotence.

In "What Are Little Girls Made Of", man is not ready for immortality by way of artificial android bodies. This is a theme we see again with Data's grandfather in The Schizoid Man. In "Miri" man is not ready to elongate life by biology. "Space Seed" takes "Miri" one step further, such that man is not ready to improve himself via genetics.

The solution from “Space Seed” hasn’t changed in 55 years of Star Trek - genetic manipulation is still banned throughout the Federation. On the other hand, the problem with AI and artificial bodies was temporarily “solved” by way of a ban, but that ban has now been lifted in Picard. In Picard they have avoided the immortality problem by giving Picard's new android body an expiration date.

In "Shore Leave", man is not ready for a Paradise that gives you everything you can imagine. In "This Side of Paradise”, man himself walks out of Paradise. There are still promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps. In TNG, man still wants nothing to do with Paradise, as we learn in “Where no One has Gone Before”. And while this TNG episode has almost the same title as TOS, the subject matter is closer to “Shore Leave,” as it deals with the dangers of getting whatever you can imagine.

In "Arena", man's outward expansion needs adult supervision as it collides with the Gorn. The Metrons provide that adult supervision.

And so "Errand of Mercy” is the perfect climax to the Season 1 omnipotence arc, taking head on the two sides of the omnipotence, how to control an omnipotent being, and how to control man’s assent towards omnipotence.

In “Errand,” man’s expansion needs adult supervision when it collides into the Klingons, which the Organians are forced to provide (God knows why they didn't provide it before; we could have avoided the crime against humanity that was Discovery Season 1 ;)

But more importantly, as @Jason R. says, the Organians provide one possible solution to the omnipotence problem itself, a solution that evaded Charlie X and The Squire of Gothos. The solution is self control, here in the form of extreme pacifism.

This omnipotence problem is a central puzzle in the last 55 years of Star Trek. Q is only the most famous illustration. Q addressed both sides of the problem - both how to control an omnipotent being (the Q police each other, as we see in Deja Q), and the more immediate question of how to control man on his rise up the evolutionary ladder.

Q takes a different tack from the Metrons. Instead of stopping a war with the Borg, Q lights the spark in “Q Who.” It is, in a sense, poetic justice ("Poetry, Captain. Non-regulation."). Didn’t Kirk do something similar to the peoples of Anon 7 and Mea 3 in "A Taste of Armageddon”? Didn’t Kirk snap the people out of their placidity in "The Return of the Archons”? Didn’t man walk out of Paradise?

The Shadows from Babylon 5 would smile,

@Peter G., yes I too was headed in the same direction! The only halfway reasonably part of the depiction of the Klingons in Discovery is that they, or at least T’Kuvma, actually recognized Federation entreaties for what they are:

T’Kuvma: Lock arms again those whose fatal greeting is, “We come in peace.”
Jason R.
Sun, Jan 10, 2021, 10:28am (UTC -5)
I love how backhanded the Organians are to Kirk and Spock, thanking them graciously for their "altruism". One thing that jumps out at me is just how self-serving and reckless Kirk and Spock's "help" is. They have just heard from Kor that the Klingons will punish any infraction with death. How many Organians are they sacrificing with their little munitions dump explosion? Are they helping liberate an oppressed people or seeking to use them as canon fodder in a proxy war? Even if it is in the Organians' best interests to fight back it's mighty cold to make that call for them against their will knowing that they will be the ones who pay the price. All to hobble the Klingons so that they won't have their base against the Federation. Altruism indeed! Without any revisionist cynicism I find it apparent that the episode intends for us to see Kirk's motives as barely better than the Klingons. Rather subversive!

I also think there's something to the fact that even after the Organians essentially tip their hands right from the get go (when one of the council members reveals his knowledge of the position and number of Klingon starships) Kirk and Spock remain totally oblivious until the very end. I mean supposedly these guys are at best medieval in their capabilities (notwithstanding their knowledge of space travel) yet Kirk and Spock think nothing of one of them telepathically sensing starships in orbit?! I feel like there is some kind of a metaphor there for colonial arrogance and closed mindedness when faced with a society they deem primitive or beneath them. It's hilarious that the Organians never even really conceal what is going on - they state outright "we are not in danger" . Poor Spock should have put his logic cap on and figured it out.

I also love Kor and Kirk's "you haven't the right!" tantrum when the Organians finally intervene. Coming from Kor especially it is mighty funny. This is the guy who marches onto someone else's planet and declares himself military overlord and he's making a right to self-determination pitch? It's not the argument that bothers me but the total petulance and childishness of it. I expected him to have more humor at the irony.
Peter G.
Sun, Jan 10, 2021, 11:52am (UTC -5)
@ Jason R.,

The ep is undoubtedly about the Cold War, but I'm not quite sure it's implying that Kirk is barely better than the Klingons. He does, after all, believe his intention is to bring about peace, whereas Kor outright wants glorious battle. So the sides are not exactly symmetrical. I think where the cynicism gets into it is that once the Federation is drawn into that conflict they sort of inevitably always have a conflict of interest with contested planets. There is simply no way for them to be entirely altruistic *even if they wanted to be*. So once can almost conclude that it's the war itself that soils the ability for Kirk and the Federation to keep their ethics. I do think it's important that in the episode Kirk deplores killing (for instance the executions, and the assault in the first place) but his outrage at the injustice hurls him into bravado and violence. His better instincts are turned into worse actions by the circumstances, and in a way he does need someone to save him from that. Unlike maybe Captain Garth, Kirk would not be at his best in wartime and could well descend into being too good at killing for his own good.
Jason R.
Sun, Jan 10, 2021, 12:40pm (UTC -5)
"The ep is undoubtedly about the Cold War, but I'm not quite sure it's implying that Kirk is barely better than the Klingons. He does, after all, believe his intention is to bring about peace, whereas Kor outright wants glorious battle. So the sides are not exactly symmetrical"

Well consider that at the very outset the Organian tells Kirk that his choice is to deal with the Klingons or the Federation. I think that's a sly dig at Kirk, the implication being that the difference isn't as great as Kirk believes. Later, when we learn that Klingons and humans are "amoeba" compared to the Organians, that attitude is much easier to understand since the Organians could care less about Kirk's rationalization for his own violent behaviour.

I do think there is a cold war parallel here as you stated and note that the episode aired in 1967, right around the time that public opinion was turning against the Vietnam war. Even the name of the episode, "Errand of Mercy" is incongruous as there is nothing "merciful" about Kirk's mission, even if you accept that his goal is noble. Indeed, I see the title as another dig - basically mocking the idea that proxy wars are for the good of the people caught in the middle (another theme that emerged from Vietnam)
Thu, Mar 25, 2021, 3:13pm (UTC -5)
With the arrival of the Klingons, the cold war analogy is complete. We can assume that the Federation = NATO, the Romulan Empire = the Soviets (hidden behind an 'iron curtain'), and the Klingon Empire is clearly the Chinese, rendered even more obvious by the Mongol make-up they appear in for TOS episodes.

The analogy is enforced by Kirk's curious statement early on, "I'm a soldier, not a diplomat". I don't ever remember Kirk calling himself a soldier; are we to assume that the Federation is a military outfit, and the The Enterprise is actually a battleship? Perhaps we should reformulate the 5-year mission: "To seek out new life, new civilsations, and enrol them into the Federation as new allies against our enemies". It's doubly enforced in dialogue between Kirk and Kor when the latter suggests there isn't much difference between the Klingons and the Federation. "Oh no - we are a democracy!" retorts Kirk, in what seems to be a soundbite straight out of the White House 60s style.

Despite the clear cold war metaphors, and Kirk's normal energetic assertiveness becoming belligerence and bellicosity, this episode has a lot going for it. In particular, the dialogue between Kor (a great character) and Kirk, almost united as they are in the face of Organian passivity and sang froid.

What of the Organians? Obviously, the dramatic arc dictated that the Big Reveal would not occur until the end, but there were plenty of clues scattered around in the build up, the most obvious being the repeated "We are not in any danger - you are" claim. Yet where do they fit in the 60s cold war scenario? First, they fit very well into the Roddenberry universe of toleration and non-aggression. Second, the episode dates from 1967: could the Organians tentatively represent the emerging youth movement, especially the hippies?

I enjoyed this episode very much indeed - particularly Kor and Spock. 3.5 stars
Thu, Mar 24, 2022, 4:02pm (UTC -5)
Spock poses as a Vulcan merchant who deals in kivas and trillium. Without the script, we don’t know how "kivas" is spelled. It could be spelled "kivaas," which is "Saavik" backward.
Proud Capitalist Pig
Sat, May 28, 2022, 5:57pm (UTC -5)
There’s Captain Kirk, standing in front of the Organian Council, trying to persuade them to let Starfleet set up a base on the planet for their own protection and benefit "for their children's education," and all I could think of at that moment was that old Reagan musing about how the most terrifying words to ever be heard are, “We are from the government and we’re here to help.” But I digress.

"Errand of Mercy" makes the point that there is always a situation where violence becomes necessary. Far from the "peace is the only way" treatise that I feared it would become, this episode is actually very adult in that it recognizes there will always be friction among nations, empires, Federations, over everyone's perceived right to expand. It's inevitable.

I love the comments here. What a discussion! I've read every one (including, obviously, Jammer's review). But my favorite has to be from @Skeptical, above: "Forcing your will on other sapient entities IS VIOLENCE." Spot on, Skeptical! I think Kirk and Kor allude to that in their frustrated confrontation with the Organians. Finally Kirk gets the taking-the-piss-out-of-a-smug-superbeing scene that he never got in "Arena." I saw parallels to "A Taste of Armageddon" as well. Yes, war is horrible. No one *wants* war (although did you catch Kor's priceless glance at Kirk after Kirk said just that? I was rolling). But sometimes, without getting too much into particulars throughout our history, wars simply have to be fought. If not now, then later. Even the Organians found a situation where they have to resort to violence to prevent other violence. Obviously, humanity hasn't yet encountered such powerful beings who would be able to dictate that to us (at least I don't know of any time this happened--cue Twilight Zone theme). But Star Trek is simply acknowledging the other side of the point of "A Taste of Armageddon." That being, that the only way to *stop* war is sometimes to *make* war and have it build to its ugly but logical conclusion. The Organians find all violence, particuarly war among lesser beings, to be a distasteful, unpleasant reminder of who they once were millennia ago. So they hate it, and want to stop it, sure. Interestingly, when you have as much utter power as the Organians do, pacifism and non-interference is probably the only policy you can enact to still be moral. So what does it take for such beings to finally assert their power and embark on a, well, Errand of Mercy? Mutual destruction among "lesser" species. What a mindfuck.

Now for the fun stuff. I loved Commander Kor. Brilliantly brought to life by John Colicos, his discussions with Kirk (especially when he brings Kirk to his office the first time, offering him a drink) were magnetic. This is our first real encounter with the Klingons and already they're fleshed out as stern, cold, regulated enforcers who love to taut their ability to empty information from an unwilling mind. They're standing in for government totalitarian minders here--you will follow our decrees *or else.* Colicos was perfect as the dynamic iron-fisted administrator, chewing the scenery with those gleeful expressions and lines like, "I don't trust a man who smiles too much." Touche!

As the story progress, the Organians leave Kirk dumbfounded and frustrated, but they drive Kor absolutely crazy. The idea of ruling this planet of supposed docile sheep is detestable to him, because what fun is that for him? And the scene where Kor turns the Klingons' love of surveillance against Kirk and Spock was so brilliant that I almost jumped out of my chair and cheered. As far as adversaries go, Kor is a well-realized one on Star Trek and I hope I get to see more of him. He and Kirk deserve a showdown.

If anything, that's my one complaint about "Errand of Mercy." The literal deus-ex-machina plot was handled well, but I fully agree with Kirk. The game was set, but they didn't even get a chance to play it because the episode pretty much ran out of time, preoccupied with Kirk/Organian speeches and putting Kirk and Spock in jail to stall things before the Big Reveal.

Best Line:
Kirk (to Ayelborne) -- "I'm used to the idea of dying. But I have no desire to die for the likes of you."
Kor -- "I don't blame you, Captain." (What a hoot Kor is!)

My Grade: B+
Peter G.
Mon, Jul 11, 2022, 3:55pm (UTC -5)
Just watched this one again last night, and I noticed a couple of things. First, Kor voices something I've been observing in S1 episodes, which is a distaste for people with "idiotic smiles". Kor seems to express exactly the thing that I think was being implied in Archons, This Side of Paradise, and maybe others. And what's more, I think we're meant to agree with him! That's pretty funny in itself, along with the fact that he commiserates with Kirk over how aggravating the Organians are.

And yet for all that, if you know the secret from start to finish it's possible to watch the episode from a completely different perspective and have a totally different feeling about Kirk's position. I don't even know if I can name another episode that does this to such an extent. On a first watch the viewer will definitely be just as aggravated as Kirk at these primitive screwheads, and even Kor will take on sympathetic notes as you realize how much you're as aggravated as he is. But the magic is that on a re-watch where you know everything, Kor ends up being a beloved friend coming back to grace the screen, someone you can enjoy and don't even need to dislike for a moment. And you can also smile at Kirk's befuddlement when the Organians dismiss his arguments. The entire affair ends up almost being like a parent watching a child grouse over something obvious, since Kirk's reactions are simultaneously reasonable and totally immature.

The reason I think Kirk's actions are immature is the most interesting thing about the episode, a moment I never noticed before: at the end, when Kor and Kirk are out of arguments and have blustered all they can about how they have a right to their own choices, this happens:

KIRK: Even if you have some power that we don't understand, you have no right to dictate to our Federation
KOR: Or our Empire!
KIRK: How to handle their interstellar relations! We have the right
AYELBORNE: To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you're defending?

The question breaks Kirk out of the war-minded attitude he's had the entire episode. Of course Kirk wouldn't want to defend war! But that's exactly what he's been doing. He has his reasons, and they are likely better than Kor's reasons, but it doesn't matter. Kirk had gotten dragged down into *wanting* war, and being disappointed that he wasn't going to get it. Sure, he would have avoided violence if there was another option. But in choosing violence with Spock's assistance, he clearly enjoyed it very much. The Organians are actually right: if Kirk had been completely genuine in his distaste for war then he would have thanked the Organians for finding a non-military solution to the dispute with the Klingons. And what's more, when Kirk realizes this his entire expression changes and he smiles before delivering the next line. He's embarassed, it would seem, and enjoyed realizing that he was wrong. Which does show that deep-down Kirk didn't want war, but that he got dragged into thinking he wanted it. Amazingly, Kor seems jovial at the end too, almost pleasantly musing about how it would be been glorious. Maybe that's just his personality shining through, but he doesn't seem to have hurt feelings about it or bear a grudge. What a guy!
Sat, Jul 23, 2022, 4:36pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G.
I also remember this short dialogue you’re quoting, and I agree with your great analysis of Kirk’s reaction, but what I love most about this scene is how Kirk and Kor, sworn enemies, are bonding over their annoyance with the Organians and closing ranks against them. Note that – literally as well as metaphorically – they are standing shoulder to shoulder, opposing Ayelborne, and even speaking with one voice, one finishing the other’s sentences, which symbolizes that they have actually a lot in common (a feeling Kor has already expressed earlier, what Kirk has flatly denied). Moments ago, Kor has balked at the idea of Klingons and humans becoming allies and working together (“Never!”), but that’s exactly what he and Kirk are doing in this very moment, and they don’t even notice it. On the one hand, it’s insanely funny, on the other hand it shows how limited their capacities of judgment are in this moment (which fits together with your analysis of Kirk’s reaction).

This brings me to point out that the writing is excellent in the entire episode. Firstly, we have a great character arc for Kirk, who smoothly goes from stating “Well, there it is. War. We didn't want it, but we've got it.” in a sad, defeated tone to using violence and insisting how humans and Klingons have the right to beat each other’s heads in, and then back to being embarrassed of having stepped into the trap of seeing violence as the only option and of having been so absolutely wrong in his judgment of the Organians. For him (as well as for Kor), they were the “weak innocents”, underdeveloped, passive, defenseless, stupid cowards whose world is going to be crushed in the conflict of two superior powers. He pities them (at least before he’s starting to feel annoyed with them), but that doesn’t mean that he is making any attempt to take them out of the line of fire – he’s willing to make Organia a battlefield by letting the Klingons and the Federations fight their war there. At the end, however, the Organians turn out to be far more powerful than both the Klingons and the Federation, but they also are morally superior: with the powers they possess, they’d well be able to crush both of their opponents’ armies, but they only use them to stop the fighting when they see no alternative („We find interference in other people's affairs most disgusting, but you gentlemen have given us no choice.“).
And secondly, the relationship between the antagonists Kirk and Kor is brilliantly constructed. While the hostility remains palpable till the end, their positions approach more and more, even against their will, culminating in the scene described above. Kor seems to hold some respect for Kirk, partly as “the captain of the Enterprise – a starship commander!”, but mostly because of his courage and determination. He almost regrets that he has to punish Kirk for his acts of resistance instead of ripping into the Organians. And Kirk – well, he doesn’t reciprocate the respect Kor has for him, but he sees him as a worthy opponent and makes no secret of his dislike and contempt, only to end up at his side…

One last thing: I keep wondering if I’m the only one who thinks that the Klingon lieutenant sounds as if his nose is horribly stuffed up…?
Peter G.
Sat, Jul 23, 2022, 8:22pm (UTC -5)
@ Lannion,

That's great, especially the physical structure of the last scene with Kirk and Kor's positions and voices. The Organians have already made a positive step in brokering peace, even though what we see is bickering at its most intense in the episode.

One thing about Kirk refusing to reciprocate Kor's admiration for him is that this admiration is borne of the theoretical knowledge of Kirk's reputation, along with his first-hand knowledge of Kirk's spirit. Both are a matter of regard for Kirk as a warrior. Kirk *cannot* reciprocate so long as he maintains he's against war utterly: it would seem to him inconsistent to say he hates war and yet to admire a warrior. It would almost be like saying he admires murder. And yet it's really not like that at all, since it seems to me perfectly normal for someone excellently trained in the martial discipline to admire such excellence in someone else. But there's a trap here: admitting you admire a warrior does admit to that an extent there's something about war you admire as well. Not the killing itself, perhaps, and not the wanton destruction; but maybe the skill, the ingenuity, the determination. And in Kirk's case, he seems very much to enjoy challenge and victory as well, which go along with his general MO in TOS. So in a way there is no totally honest way Kirk could decry war in all its aspects. To admit that Kor is a great opponent would be to admit he does have a warlike aspect in himself, which of course he does. But what that *does not* mean is that Kirk wants to participate in murder. A similar theme is touched on in Space Seed. And I think it's instructive at the end that Kirk realizes he was close enough to Kor in his admiration of martial skill that he could be fooled into demanding war itself. The Organians, for better or worse, were indeed right that humans and Klingons are relatively primitive in the sense of enjoying conflict, and not ready for real relations with Organians. See you again in a million years...
Sun, Jul 24, 2022, 4:06pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G.
One million years? Wow, that's optimistic...
Great explanations why Kirk can't reciprocate Kor's admiration. Another point might be that he is abhorred by Kor's acts of violence: the use of the mind-sifter on Spock, the execution of the hostages etc., which seem to prove the negative image of Klingons he already has in his mind.
It's really amazing how much depth there is, how much is going on between the lines here...
Thu, Dec 15, 2022, 8:51pm (UTC -5)
Yes, please leave us. The mere presence of beings like yourselves is intensely painful to us.
Tue, Feb 14, 2023, 8:53am (UTC -5)
I think it's pretty easy to justify Kirk's actions, given what Kirk knew at the time. He wanted to leave the Organians alone, but that simply wasn't an option. He gave them the choice "Federation or Klingons" -- because he knew there wasn't a third option. And, given that choice, "Federation" is clearly a better option -- how many people did Kor already massacre? And the Mind-Sifter?
Of course it's self-serving. Another way to express that would be "win-win". Is it only moral if you lose?
Yes, it's paternalistic. What do you do when you see someone making a bad choice out of ignorance (the Organians simply cannot conceive what Klingon occupation will mean - brutality, enslavement, and death)?

And, of course, Kirk is wrong. Because the Organians are running a massive deception. And perhaps there were enough clues. Probably Spock's subconscious is composing "Anomalous Behavior in a Pre-Warp Society" for presentation at the 45th Xenoanthropological Conference on Risa. But, Kirk and Spock are the absolute tip-of-the-spear in an interstellar war and have other things on their mind.

Ultimately, Kirk realizes the questionable moral position he's taken, and makes his peace with the Organians peace. Kor seems to resign himself to the inevitable, but he clearly misses the glory of battle.

I'm not sure the Organians are that much superior. First (spoiler alert), after 900 years of observation (ENT: Observer Effect) they seemed unable to predict how Kirk and Kor will behave. Are they that stupid? A better approach for them would have been to simply reveal themselves at the outset (why didn't they???) and say: "Any ships entering our system will be neutralized. Now take your petty war elsewhere!" Rather than an unarmed Armenia, wouldn't Organian interests be better served by being an armed Switzerland?

And, if "paternalistic" is inherently bad, then what about the Organians imposing their peace? isn't that a massive quadrant-wide imposing of their will upon others -- with the threat of violence, no less? Non-lethal violence, to be sure, but still violence? if they can maintain a quadrant-wide peace, surely they could have easily enforced a "leave us alone!" policy for their own system.
Thu, Jun 22, 2023, 1:58am (UTC -5)
It’s really interesting to read through the comments and try to sift out what exactly it is about this episode that bugs me. Maybe I need one of those mind-sifter things.

But I think there’s two ways of looking at this episode that run parallel to one another, but require different standards. On the one hand, there’s the rich allegorical territory this episode occupies. There are dozens of possible real world analogies to choose from, but it seems the proxy wars of the Cold War, particularly Vietnam are the most likely inspiration and message target. When talking about the possible allegory here there’s a ton of cool ideas to focus on. I really enjoyed the idea above that the Armenian genocide was a partial creative catalyst. I think a case could also be made for the Philippines, particularly during the war being a hotly contested battle ground fought over by the imperial Japanese and the Americans. But in any event, the idea that these larger powers essentially begin fighting their war whether the organians want it or not, and both don a faux-paternal attitude towards the seemingly backwards organians is definitely reminiscent of the real world political attitudes often directed towards the smaller states unfortunate enough to be caught between two opposing sides who are essentially told what’s best for them, even as the bombs are falling.
On the other hand, there’s the episode and story itself which needs to be taken as it’s presented on its own terms, and here is where I get a little annoyed. As far as I see it the organians whole attitude in this episode is a weird combination of obstinance, self-absorption, and condescension. They deliberately present themselves as rustic, vulnerable, renaissance-fair loving villagers. It’s a strange and unexplained deceit, and in so doing they place Kirk in an impossible position. He has two choices: leave and become morally complicit in the brutal subjugation of the organians, or stay and try to find some path to getting through to these seeming dunderheads at the risk of himself appearing to be an aggressor. From Kirk’s perspective he can either be a tacit participant in the organians suffering or he can run the risk of being labeled an imperialist. But what kind of choice is that? Kirk can no more walk away from a group of helpless people about to be preyed on than he could put a phaser to his own head. His code of ethics would never permit such an act of injustice to go unchallenged, especially as an apparent act of moral cowardice. So what is Kirk to do?
Then we have the organian’s point of view, and this is where I really have an issue. The organians it would appear are placing the federation and the Klingon empire on the same moral footing. This is ridiculous. Let’s explore this a little bit. Whether it’s TOS, TNG, or DS9, whenever we see Klingons or we’re on a Klingon ship the only people we ever see are…Klingons. Why would that be? I mean, the KE must span many light years, and encompass dozens if not hundreds of habitable worlds. Most, if not all, of these worlds would have indigenous non-Klingon populations one would assume. Yet, clearly the KE isn’t incorporating non-Klingons into the political, social, or military infrastructure of their society. So what’s happening to these native peoples? Well, if what was happening on organia is any indication, it seems most likely that the worlds conquered by the Klingons end up suffering a pretty gruesome fate, most likely including large scale depopulation or even planetary-wide ethnic cleansing. The best case scenario for a conquered planet would be some sort of second class status within the empire, I think slavery would be highly probable, and of course any political dissension would be met with extreme measures, we see this directly on organia. So with this in mind, we can get back over to the episode wherein two people, one human and one Vulcan, both alien species who represent a diverse, multi-planetary voluntary alliance are pleading with the organians to accept their help in the face of what is most probably going to be a brutal and murderous occupation by a conspicuously ethnocentric military empire. While Kirk and Spock could be viewed as arrogant(maybe they should have jumped to the wild conclusion that these frail old men were actually gods in disguise. How silly of them.) I think Kirk’s, and by extension, the federation’s intentions are generally life affirming. Obviously the federation has something to gain from organia too, but it’s sought through exchange not conquest, through voluntary assent rather than violent assault. Yet the organians draw a moral equivalence here? As I said, ridiculous. Being unable to determine nuance doesn’t make you a superior being, it makes you kind of a dope. Intentions matter, motivations matter, goals, values, philosophies all matter, not being able to distinguish between a philosophy of peace and a philosophy of genocide is just absurd, especially for a “super advanced being”.
Let’s look at it from another point of view. Presumably Kirk, Spock, and the federation brass have some knowledge of how the Klingons do business. I would say it’s a safe bet that the Klingons want to use organia as a base to expand their empire, or more specifically, to conquer and massacre additional planets/peoples, the federation knows this, which is probably a major component to their conflict with the KE, and this is probably why Kirk is so adamant in his appeals to the organian council. But had Kirk agreed to leave, and the Klingons had taken over and used organia as a staging ground for another invasion, wouldn’t the organian’s refusal of the federation be in essence collaboration in the oppression, enslavement, or even genocide of that next world? The next planet of robe wearing, preindustrial goobers that land in the Klingon’s sights, do they warrant consideration? The organian’s were smugly content in their own safety, but nothing in this galaxy happens in a vacuum, so what of the safety of the planet in the next star system? Unless they too happen to be incognito space wizards they might suffer horribly. All because the organians shooed Kirk and company away to avoid the unpleasantness of what is from their point of view two kids mucking around in their yard. So it strikes me that the organians are remarkably selfish and myopic.

Taken as presented in the story, there is no comparison between the federation and the Klingon empire. If you value things like life, individual sovereignty, cooperation, mutual respect, or peace you would have to side with the federation. To do otherwise is to fall into ranks with those who would oppress, enslave, or murder for political gain. However, taken in light of the allegories most likely intended, this is a very thought provoking episode. Also we meet the dreaded Klingons for the first time! And kor is a great antagonist. Lots to love, even if I did share Kirk’s desire to slap those stupid organians around a little.
Thu, Jun 22, 2023, 5:16pm (UTC -5)
The proxy war allegory was revisited in A Private Little War, I don't think that's what they were going for here. It was more of a ruse with the simple peaceful Organians turning out to be gods. With insight gained from Enterprise's Observer Effect (one of my favourite episodes of Trek) we learn that the Organians were just studying lifeforms that are relatively primitive to them. I guess you could argue they started to interfere after saving two humans aboard the NX-01, but perhaps they deemed interference to be a bad idea. I agree that the Federation seem a likely choice if they were choosing sides but I don't think they were choosing sides in Errand of Mercy. Over all score 3/10.
Peter G.
Thu, Jun 22, 2023, 11:08pm (UTC -5)
@ Idh2023

"The organians it would appear are placing the federation and the Klingon empire on the same moral footing. This is ridiculous."

I don't think that's what they're doing, though. Their position is one that abhors violence, seemingly to a greater extent when it's on their planet. They are not interested in who is morally superior, they simply don't want any violence near them. You can say they should have better aims than that, or whatever, but that is their stated aim. And they are completely correct that the Federation and the Klingons are by this time both deadset on doing violence to each other. This is beautifully shown by Kirk and Kor coming together as comrades in anger at the Organians for not letting them kill each other. Kirk realizes the irony quickly enough that it shows he has another side. And I think the Organians are also right that Kirk's real motivation wasn't to protect the poor Organians, but rather to undermine the Klingons' ability to get a foothold on this planet. Let's face it, the Federation has no use for primitive farmers as allies, other than (in this case) to take their side over the Klingons in a war. The Federation was only there to stop the Klingons, not to protect anyone.

I think you are seeing Kirk's motivations through rosy-colored glasses in this episode. I don't think the Organians, or the writers, are trying to suggest a parity between the behavior of the Federation and that of the Klingons. All they are saying is that both sides are here for violence, and the Organians want no part of it. If Kirk's approach was truly lacking self-interest then he would have offered them help, they'd have refused, and he'd have left. He has no obligation to do actions for them that they insist they do not want; on the contrary, the principle of non-interference would suggest that he has no right to do so. Except in this case, blocking the advance of the Klingon military was a higher objection, and I think it's true that from a certain perspective that's not excellent. Kirk knows as much by the end, and I think shows some rue.
Peter G.
Thu, Jun 22, 2023, 11:10pm (UTC -5)
Sorry, typo in 2nd to last sentence, should read "was a higher objective".
Fri, Jun 23, 2023, 1:37pm (UTC -5)
@Peter g

I am most definitely viewing Kirk’s motivations through rose-tinted glasses, admittedly so. That’s sort a byproduct of the protagonist/antagonist nature of the story. I acknowledge that that limits some of the observations made when overlayed on the potential allegory the story is making, ie, proxy war policy and such. But I think what’s not being acknowledged is that there is a larger picture at play that the organians are seemingly content to ignore, but that Kirk cannot. How many worlds just like organia have been forcibly incorporated into the Klingon empire? How many of those peoples and cultures did the organians use their powers to protect? Not many, if any. If the Klingons are allowed to set up shop on organia, there will most likely be other worlds which will fall under their boot heels as well, at least from Kirk’s point of view of course. As a result of that greater perspective, Kirk can’t just leave, accepting the organian’s polite acquiescence to who-knows-what terrible fate, he’s ethically and morally bound to bypass what he perceives as the organian’s naivety for the greater good. (In that sense I find myself in the same ironic position Kirk was boxed into of tacitly defending the strategy of proxy war position jockeying, which I find sort of bemusing. In the real world, absent of god-like beings, I definitely have major issues with that policy logic.) However, I don’t think the selfish motives of the federation and the best outcome for organia as it presents itself are mutually exclusive. The federation can use organia while simultaneously benefiting it. You say the federation is there to stop the Klingons, not to protect anyone, but why can’t one task bolster the other? From Kirk’s standpoint it is literal insanity and moral oblivion to simply walk away, both for the sake of the organians and for the larger stakes of the rest of the galaxy. I find that an unfair position to place our captain in, so I feel resentment towards the organians. If they abhor violence, they ought to abhor it absolutely, not just insofar as it effects them personally, at least if they want to justify their smug demeanor.

I suppose that the crux of my annoyance is the deceit of the god-like organians presenting themselves as kindly old men and then reacting with condescending hostility towards Kirk for offering to stave off disaster. It seems like poor form.

Ps: don’t sweat the typos;)

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