Star Trek: The Original Series

"Bread and Circuses"

2.5 stars

Air date: 3/15/1968
Written by Gene Roddenberry & Gene L. Coon
Directed by Ralph Senensky

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Looking for the missing crew of a freighter commanded by Captain Merik (William Smithers), the Enterprise landing party beams down to investigate a civilization that is best described as a "20th century Rome." Once there, Kirk, Spock, and Bones are caught and imprisoned, and scheduled to face death if Kirk doesn't agree to turn over the rest of the Enterprise crew for use in their televised, deadly arena games.

"Bread and Circuses" is a well-executed but completely by-the-numbers episode of TOS. The show engages most every TOS cliché in the book, including Kirk getting a babe, the Prime Directive being assessed, a planet that is Yet Another Parallel Earth™, and the holding of The Big Three hostage, where they must use resourcefulness to escape their impending doom. Most interesting is the good work between Spock and Bones, which wants to ask the question of just which of their personal feelings their acerbic banter arises from.

Rhodes Reason makes a good antagonist as Flavius, but given the setting of a conveniently parallel Earth (an overused premise, to be sure) the whole setup is strikingly underutilized beyond its most obvious action sequences.

Previous episode: The Ultimate Computer
Next episode: Assignment: Earth

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52 comments on this post

Wed, Jun 20, 2012, 10:21pm (UTC -6)
I've read some pretty disparaging reviews of this episode, and while some of the science is a little screwy, I think there's some truly wonderful character work in it. This is Kirk at his most Kirk-like...confident, in charge, watching out for his crew but trusting them as well. I was getting tired of too many angsty, doubt-ridden, weak Kirk moments. Kirk is a strong, totally in control leader all the way through, and it's awesome.

Spock lets some emotion out--irritation, humor, anxiety--and gets called on it by McCoy, leading to a deeply emotional moment between the two as they share their concern for Kirk. McCoy is at his most bitchy and in Spock's face all the time, but still prods Spock to new levels of self disclosure.

I'm not thrilled with the treatment of the Prime Directive--up till now, didn't we understand that the PD was absolute unless they had to defend themselves? How can there possibly NOT be an exemption for that?

And I do sort of wish that Kirk hadn't sexed the slave...can he NEVER resist a woman EVER? I mean, she was a SLAVE, she can't give free consent! A new low for studly Kirk.

The Sun/Son thing, indicating that Christianity arose within the Roman Empire in this reality as well, makes sense, and I understand why they couldn't really follow up on it. It was a neat little twist that could have been more, but it's okay that it wasn't. It didn't bother me.

On a personal note, speaking as a woman, these men in these costumes are so hot I watched the episode 3 times in one day. Spock fighting in the arena in those tight pants? Whew... And I didn't realize McCoy was so tall, but he's almost as tall as Spock. Add the emotional intensity, and it was a pretty satisfying episode, despite the occasional plot ridiculousness.

Anyway, good character work...
Sat, Jan 11, 2014, 2:16pm (UTC -6)
And they don't even care about their phasers, tricorders and communicators being left behind on a pre-warp planet... *shakes head*
Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 1:56am (UTC -6)
What I found a bit hokey is that the premise of the story that involves a former starfleet captain being stranded on an alien planet where he breaks the PD, becomes the leader, and facilitates a dystopian society is repeated in two episodes that are only two places apart (Omega Glory).
Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 8:19am (UTC -6)

Technically, Merrick isn't THE leader in this episode. He's essentially a tool of Claudius Marcus, who is the leader. So, it's a little more believable.

Tracy in "The Omega Glory" asserts authority over a much more primitive society and does so with superior technology.
Fri, Jan 24, 2014, 12:17am (UTC -6)
One of the best lines in Star Trek's whole history:

“You bring this network’s ratings down, Flavius, and we’ll do a special on you!”
Thu, May 1, 2014, 9:47pm (UTC -6)
ARGGG not AGAIN the "just like earth" crap.

This must be why I barely can stand TOS, aside from it's hopeless outdated looks (starships with pushbuttons, pull out scanners, earpieces THAT big, really people?, and it's hopelessly outdated technobabble (or even worse, lack of it, compared to the much more loved TNG))

But come on.. even IF I buy into the story :
-civ already knew about space, and spaceweapons and everything.
-in that case there would be NO polution by using phase weapons in front of the consul (as long as it happens off-screen)
hence :
*a wide range stun blast with the enterprise, and than just beam up, all the tech, and all the team members, and our rotten ex-captain, and the consul (now he can enjoy jail in our society instead) would be a relatively clean cut in comparising.

Would make for a short episode, but a far more logical and sensible one.
Wed, May 14, 2014, 2:50pm (UTC -6)
Agree with DutchStudent: this is one of those episodes where a simpler and more sensible solution is staring you in the face for the entire episode. As soon as they find Merrick, Scotty could have stunned the surrounding area and beamed up the good guys. Episode over.

Not that I would have preferred that story, but they could have at least inserted some line of dialog as to why that solution (being so obvious) wasn't available. Otherwise the viewer is just distracted the whole time thinking: "why don't they just. . .?!?!?"

Also, it seemed sort of unnecessary that Captain Merrick was left to perish on the planet. I was waiting for Kirk to order Merrick beamed aboard after they got back to the Enterprise. . . but instead they just left him there! What the heck, Kirk the jerk?
Tue, May 20, 2014, 11:49pm (UTC -6)
Their phasers were comfiscated by the runaway slaves, communicators/tricorder taken by the police. The only time kirk was given use of a communicator (besides ending) there were two submachine gun muzzles inches from his head.

Beam merrick up? Why? He was dead.
William B
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 7:01pm (UTC -6)
Early in the episode, Spock points out that they're speaking English and how remarkable that is! At first it seems incredibly redundant, because we've had like a dozen episodes set on parallel Earths. But then it becomes clear that they have to be speaking English. It's not that they are speaking some other language which is translated -- I'm not clear on what the rules are supposed to be about the universal translator at this point anyway, and I forget what has been established. They can't be translating, because the English-specific homophone sun/son has to be maintained for that end reveal! Of course, wait, why does it need to be a dramatic reveal? Because, uh, look, it's Ancient Rome, in modern day, and so the rebels have to be Christians, right?

It may be that I'm missing something here, and that there is Serious Social Commentary in the Rome stuff. The closest, I think, is a halfhearted message on the sensationalization of television and media -- that television is used to broadcast gladiator games seems to be in the same general category as the Battle Royale/The Hunger Games linking of television/propaganda with oppression tactics, or Fahrenheit 451's take on brainless TV as a tool of government control. Given that this is 1968 and the Civil Rights Movement was taking centre stage of the American world, the talking head of the television news channel mentioning that there is civil disobedience for no apparent reason and no one can understand it seems to be a slam at news commentators writing off demonstrations (and riots) as irrational rather than a result of inequality. Still, these themes fizzle out quickly.

Incredibly, I think some of this episode's themes were better handled in The Gamesters of Triskelion. I know, I know! How can it be? But the gladitorial combat stuff was actually given focus and room to breathe. And that episode, however inconsistently and frustratingly it dealt with it, Shahna was allowed to have her own perspective, and was allowed to react to Kirk's using her and hitting her as a means of escape. In this episode, as has been pointed out above, Kirk sleeps with a hot slave girl (Drusilla, after Caligula's sister, among other Romans -- not to be confused with the vampire Drusilla from "Buffy"), and, apparently lifts a communicator off her...which then is immediately returned to him. Look, Kirk using sex as a way of escaping is standard practice; and his life is really on the line. But the episode leaves no room to point out that Kirk is still sleeping with a *sex slave*. There is no effort here, like there is with Shahna, to teach her the value of freedom. Because of the Prime Directive, right? Well, great how that works out! Maybe the better path of non-interference would be to not sleep with her, say you've got a headache, whatever, and swipe the communicator when she sleeps. She can't consent, and the fact that she seems a little oblivious to her inability to consent because she's been raised to be a slave is not really justification. Kirk's "They threw me a few curves" afterwards is not what I'd call "in good taste."

The Spock/McCoy dynamic is the real thing of interest here -- how it starts off with their usual antagonism, and as the episode goes on seems to explode out of the *usual* boundaries of their sniping at each other, McCoy yelling at him in the middle of a gladiator combat after Spock's offer of help, and finally McCoy telling Spock frankly that Spock's afraid of living because his emotions might seep through. The big difficulty for me in it is that I don't quite understand why these circumstances are the ones that brought out this earnestness -- nor, indeed, McCoy's remark "I'm worried about Jim too." Maybe I'm too jaded to recognize it, but it didn't really seem as if this circumstance were any more likely to produce excessive worry than any other of their standard life-and-death situations.

But really, this moment (and the buildup to it) does work for me more than it doesn't. I don't think McCoy is correct about Spock overall -- I think Spock doesn't want to die, for instance. But Spock's unwillingness to show anything that looks like it *might* be emotion, most of the time, does extend into dysfunctional territory at times, and I think that's related to his fear of his human side. When he maintains that he saved McCoy's life because the Enterprise would be less efficient without its ship's surgeon (or the many other times he's said something similar), I think he's talking B.S.: if nothing else, Vulcan philosophy values *all* lives, whether they are useful to the ship's operation or not. He pushes people away, except for Kirk, for whom he can let himself go a little bit because he can justify his friendship to Jim as being a part of his duty. With McCoy, he obviously values him greatly and vice versa -- and it's been explicit since, at least, "Amok Time" -- but they also continue to be at each other's throats, and it makes sense that the occasional flare-up will happen, in which their regular petty conflict escalates and actual feelings start to get hurt, even if Spock won't normally admit it, besides a weary "Really, doctor?"

The episode has a few other pleasures. I like, for instance, the way Claudius Marcus values strength as a Roman virtue, and casually suggests that only the weak will die in the arena, and, as a result, admires Kirk's strength just as he mocks Merik's cowardice. The virtue that Claudius Marcus lacks, and is an essential part of the Christian (or "Son") movement that will overtake Rome, is the willingness to self-sacrifice. Merik at first seems like a villain, and I'm not entirely sure whether his portrayal is consistent throughout the episode. But eventually it becomes clear that he is a man defined by fear and inaction; that his becoming First Citizen is because he had not the strength to make his own decisions. So that he finds some sort of redemption at the episode's end, sacrificing himself so that Kirk et al. can escape, is an effective demonstration of the thing that this society lacks.

I'm not really sure how the Trio beaming up is not a Prime Directive violation. It's true that Claudius Marcus already knows about that stuff, but, I dunno -- the rules about what is and isn't an actual violation when the world's emperor already knows about starships are consistently fuzzy, and it's hard to tell why exactly this departure is some kind of victory. It may be that I'm just not giving the episode enough credit, and failing to engage with it on its own terms.

Anyway, I'd say 2 stars.
Thu, Sep 4, 2014, 12:37am (UTC -6)
Yeah, TOS was really lame with the "parallel Earth" repeating theme. As Paul points out, just two episodes earlier they had "Omega Glory", about another planet whose history parallels Earth, right down to the names of countries and apparently the complete text of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and a renegade starship captain who completely violates the prime directive and becomes a leader. Almost exactly the same plot, just cross out "US" and write in "Rome". And not long before they had "Patterns of Force", where a renegade starship captain introduces Nazism onto a planet. At least in that one they explained that it was the man from Earth who brought in all the exact copies of Nazi symbols and uniforms, etc, rather than it somehow mysteriously just happening. Though there was the curious fact that the persecuted minority -- I forget what they called them -- but they all had Jewish names.

But what irks me is that they never explain how these parallel histories are supposed to have happened. If they said that another planet also had a nuclear stalemate like the US and USSR, that could be plausible. Or that another planet also had a powerful empire that had slaves and forced people to fight for the entertainment of the masses, okay. But when they have the exact same names of countries, titles for officials, flags, etc, you can't just toss that out with no explanation. Surely this would be wildly improbable. What natural force would lead planets all over the galaxy to have powerful empires that all just happened to be called "Roman"? You can't just ask me to accept that with no explanation.
Sun, Sep 28, 2014, 9:48am (UTC -6)
Uh... ancient humanoid genetic seeding??
Fri, Dec 26, 2014, 2:12pm (UTC -6)
I cannot count the number of errors in the commenters here. First of all...Merrick was not a Star Fleet captain. He washed out of the Academy and joined the star equivalent of the Merchant Marine. Second of all Merrick was not left on the planet. The Roman Consul stabbed him and killed him. It was Merrick who stole the communicator, not the slave girl. As for the sex, Kirk was scheduled to be executed with a single thrust into the heart. The Roman Consul was granting he said...a final night as a man just as the Gladiators of Rome had sex before their arena battles. I wish people would consult not only history but the actual episode itself before they make a fool of themselves in such self righteous egoism.
Thu, Aug 6, 2015, 9:56pm (UTC -6)
Kudos again to William B's commentary. The only fault I find in it is his casting, "Really, doctor?" as a question. I didn't remember it that way and just reviewed it on Hulu. Spock's inflection is down on the last syllable of "doctor" which, as I've always interpreted it since seeing the episode in its first airing as a kid back in the 1960's and continue to do today, is the equivalent of, "Stop trolling me, doctor." I know, "trolling" didn't have that connotation back then that it has today but the general sentiment is intact. Spock isn't inviting further conversation on the topic from McCoy. He's ending it. And, as he does in fact end it, McCoy then changes the subject to Jim.
Thu, Nov 26, 2015, 10:06am (UTC -6)
"They threw me a few curves" - brilliant.
Thu, Feb 4, 2016, 6:40am (UTC -6)
Did Gene Roddenbery or Ronald Reagan write this episode? Free health care and pensions turn people into willing slaves?

I am glad I'm more than half done with TOS, because the overt sexism and American/religious proselytizing are becoming harder and harder to stomach. I hope there are at least a few good ones coming up in season three.
Wed, Aug 17, 2016, 6:37pm (UTC -6)
The only way I can stand these 'Parallel Earth' episodes is that I forced my mind to see them as a primitive Holodeck simulation training for the Enterprise. Of course these planets didn't exist! They are simulated as a training exercise for the crew.
Mon, Sep 19, 2016, 3:00am (UTC -6)
This episode started out for me as a "oh no, not another parallel Earth" but ended up better than expected. The parallel Earth thing seems to be contradicting something I swear Spock said earlier in the series about how low the odds, rare etc. etc. but I could be misremembering or he could have just been wrong or the writers retconned it, whatever, but after so many parallel Earths have turned up, especially within the last few episodes and with how he walks around talking about how it's a parallel Earth like it's special I was expecting a callback. Whatever.

The costumes for the slaves were atrocious, was the costuming department on strike or something? They were obviously wearing mutilated sweatshirts and modern pants, would it have killed them to find or make some actual rags or something, or at least something that wasn't embarrassing to look at? They're in a modern day Rome, we get it, give them ratty track suits or skimpy slave gear or whatever, anything would've been better than what they did end up wearing. The chain pattern symbolizing that they were slaves was weird, too. They're already obviously wearing crap instead of gladiator gear. Why bother.

The subplot with Kirk apparently sleeping with that slave girl was just there, didn't really add anything, just a nod that the writers had done some research and to fill Kirk's bang quota, and maybe to show the villain's character better ("have some funtime/AIDS with my personal concubine before we kill you"). At least we got one of our sort of rare "so dumb it's funny to the audience and painful to the crew" Kirk jokes out of it. (Too bad his friends weren't aware of his situation and able to respond accordingly.)

Also, KIRK DIDN'T LOSE OR RIP HIS SHIRT ONCE IN THIS EPISODE. I'm not complaining, just shocked. Maybe Shatner had already filled his contractually obligated shirtless scene quota for the season.

The hi-light of this episode was definitely the Spock/McCoy interactions. They're always snipping at and trying to one-up each other, it's nice to see that boil over once in a while. McCoy (both figuratively and physically) backing Spock into a corner and playing psychoanalyst, letting Spock know that he's got him pegged, only to back off just as quickly when Spock's obviously had enough, was nice to see. Too often McCoy ends up with the short stick in their battles of wits, and usually has to team up with Kirk to deliver an effective blow, so it was good to see him not only just hold his own, but thoroughly trounce Spock. It was nice to see the two retained a good dynamic even when (and perhaps because) Kirk's away. (Also, HUZZAH!, an episode that isn't just entirely Kirk-centric and lets other characters develop their personalities and relationships a bit more.) McCoy's character is too often underutilized in favor of Kirk and Spock adventures with McCoy playing the part of naysayer/third wheel.

Scottie was amazing, as he usually is when handed command. They spent just the right amount of time focused on the Enterprise this ep: we know what they're doing to save the away team but no unnecessary lingering or filler scenes with them.

I liked that they showed Spock actually testing the bars/trying to break out. The show makes a point to say he's much stronger than a human but it never seems to matter much. Yeah I know he usually doesn't try stuff like that because he's aware of how strong stuff is vs him and it's wasted effort etc. and this instance is more to indicate his mental state than his strength or to show escape attempts but I always have a lingering "why doesn't Spock just try to break them out, he's supposed to be strong, right?" in the back of my mind and it's nice to see lingering questions answered. (This one also answered my "Why doesn't Spock teach Kirk the neck pinch thing?" (he's tried, Kirk sucks and can't do it) question, so bonus points for that.)

As a parting note, I have to point out that, while Kirk's friends were busy being a lot more agitated than usual about whether he was okay, Kirk himself was busy chilling with this week's half-naked blonde. Pretty hilarious.
Sun, Jan 8, 2017, 1:00pm (UTC -6)
20th century Rome where they speak modern English with 20th century colloquial English terms.

WTF everybody knows they spoke Latin as the language of Empire!

Such Bull Shit.
Trek fan
Mon, Jan 23, 2017, 12:14am (UTC -6)
Great episode and much better than I remembered -- I'll go 3 1/2 stars or maybe even 4. Kudos for allowing the Spock-McCoy bantering to become self-aware for a bit; their scenes together are awesome. Loved the intriguing social commentary behind the televised gladiatoral fights, perhaps an extreme metaphor for football and other violent sports. The pacing, action, and dialogue is all great in this one -- nothing feels too dated. It's not the deepest Trek, but it's a fun hour with a few things to think about.
Sat, Mar 4, 2017, 9:55pm (UTC -6)
And we are back, once again, to a magical parallel Earth. You know, I hate to admit it, but maybe the network executives were right to try to cancel TOS after the second season. It really seems like they ran out of ideas in the end. I mean, look at the latter half of the season, starting after Tribbles (yes, I know, technically in second half, shut up):

Four period pieces from random parts of Earth's past.
Two "aliens take over the Enterprise to use it for their own objectives."
One "Kirk outwits a computer", which was cliche by the end of the first season
One "giant thingy in space!" episode, which was overused in the first half of the season
One backdoor pilot.

That leaves Private Little War and Gamesters of Triskelion as the only really unique ideas in the second half, and both of those were just as bad. Other than Piece of the Action, none of the other episodes really jumped out as really strong episodes, although admittedly some were watchable. Compare that to the first half of the season. We had absolute classics like Journey to Babel, Mirror Mirror, Doomsday Machine, Trouble with Tribbles. And, of course, Season 1 had plenty of great episodes too. It just seemed like they ran out of steam in the end. I know people like to say that Gene leaving and the slashed budget was the reason Season 3 was not as beloved as the first two, but honestly, it seems like they ran out of steam here. Maybe Season 3 wouldn't have been any better than what we had. Maybe this was the extent of the stories the original crew could tell.

As for the episode itself, whatever. Both the potential onset of Christianity as a revolutionary concept and Merrick's cowardice and the Romans disgust of it, even as it worked to their advantage, were the only two interesting part of the episode. The rest of it just seemed by the book, as Saavik might say.
Fri, Jun 9, 2017, 3:29pm (UTC -6)
While watching this episode I thought of "Patterns of Force" which came out just a few weeks earlier. Substitute a modern day Roman Empire for Nazis and you have a very similar episode. It surprises me that the 2 Genes wrote this one.
Obviously lots of similarities with other TOS episodes and it does seem as Skeptical says that by late S2, TOS was running out of ideas.
Scotty's creativity is good here with the condition green message- not violating the PD. The usual banter between Spock/McCoy is always good as well.
Too bad not much more is made of the Son worshipping and how that transformed Flavius - a lot of time spent on the usual fighting/keeping the Roman message strong etc. The Proconsul is an interesting character - he thinks very poorly of Merik who does as he's told. The whole giving him 1 more day as a man is quite sexist but perhaps consistent with the Roman Empire.
Anyhow, nothing special here - the action sequences weren't that noteworthy.
I'd rate it a weak 2.5 stars out of 4 - the usual interesting Trek ideas recycled in an interesting costume.
Mark J
Fri, Sep 15, 2017, 11:37pm (UTC -6)
Skeptical makes a very good point about the originality of the end of the Second Season. Might it been because of the departure of Gene L Coon after The Trouble with Tribbles? (though he co-wrote and produced this episode, perhaps it was recorded earlier and transmitted later). I thought when John Meredyth Lucas took over as the producer, he maintained the feel of earlier Season 2 Trek well, and I quite enjoyed at least some of the stories. Running out of steam though? Quite possibly, even at this stage.
Thu, Oct 5, 2017, 7:49pm (UTC -6)
I agree with Trek Fan above, I really enjoyed this episode, having watched it several times over the years and again just now. Yeah, there are many many flaws. But Kirk at his most confident, the interactions between Spock and McCoy, Scotty's ingenuity, Merrick's redemption/revenge at the end--many great parts. I know I'm super naive in this (or maybe in denial), but I allow myself to believe that Kirk just made out with Drusilla.....
Wed, Nov 15, 2017, 8:16am (UTC -6)
I thought this was an excellent episode. Here we have a hyper-conservative society which resembles "civilized Rome". The differences: the slaves are kept in check with welfare, medicine and televised violence. This is a brave statement. The rebels of this system, however, believe in a "sun God" which we later learn is essentially "Jesus". This, of course, echoes our history, in which Cesar and Rome stopped resisting Christian heretics and made Christianity the Empire's default religion (thereby spreading it across the world). The episode is right to portray Christianity as something oppositional to ancient Rome, but wrong to suggest that the introduction of Christianity is what civilized Rome and resisted Rome; rather, the early Christian cults were enfolded within Rome, assimilated to it and it to them, and so functioned as a rubber-stamp for subsequent Empire building. The Church at this time was not a good, reformist thing. Perhaps Gene Coon - who worked on this script - was a sincere Christian, so I'll forgive all this.

The episode has some other interesting moments; Spock's intensity, skills and strengths during the fight sequences are tremendous; you really get the sense of a powerful, physically and intellectually superior being. Spock and Mccoy's scenes/banter is also excellent, and their friendship really comes across. Kirk's willingness to sacrifice himself and his friends is also noble. Scotty too is given a good little arc.

I would say the episode's flaws are its superficial and sexist treatment of the female slave, and its incoherent approach to the Prime Directive (which, in the show's defense, was still being fleshed out at this point).
Trek fan
Fri, Nov 17, 2017, 7:53pm (UTC -6)
Just to echo Derek, who was echoing me, this episode is a perfect example of classic TOS chemistry. Many great bits include McCoy's delightful joke about the archangel Gabriel and griping at Spock while fighting for his life; Kirk's self-winking seduction game with the slave girl and decisive leadership; Spock's efforts to make sense of a deeply irrational society; the redemption of Merrick who is ironically a Starfleet dropout unlike the storied captain of "Omega Glory" and other burnouts we've seen; the delightfully suave Roman villain and heroic gladiators/slaves; Uhura's puzzling out of the "son/sun worshipers," etc. Yes, Season 2 is the Paralell Earth season, but it's FUN and thoughtful. And that's all I ask of Star Trek at times: a good time with some thought-provoking ideas, colorful variety of characters/situations, and a main cast that enjoys being with each other. And again, I love the social commentary of the televised gladiator games.
Wed, Apr 25, 2018, 3:03pm (UTC -6)
I love this episode if only for Bill in that t-shirt.
Fri, Jun 8, 2018, 4:36pm (UTC -6)
What's the problem with Kirk doing it with a slave who was more than willing to fulfill her duty? Are current Star Trek fans this weak and prudish?
Sat, Sep 29, 2018, 12:18pm (UTC -6)
"Where there's a sibling, there's quibbling." This tells it all, Spock and McCoy and their arguments, and underneath it all is affection, how they care for each other---like brothers---and for their commanding officer. It's just part of what makes "Star Trek" so human, and I enjoy the series all the more for it. They boldly went, and they took me with them, and I will remember it all forever.
Tue, Apr 9, 2019, 9:03pm (UTC -6)
A fine episode ,am very surprised at the bad reviews,on another note I always thought a good episode in the B&C vein is to have kirk and co land on a earth parallel planet and have the dinosaurs not gone extinct.No asteroid killed them off and they are the rulers and they look upon mammals as inferior.
Tim C
Wed, Apr 10, 2019, 4:43am (UTC -6)
hifijohn, you should check out the TOS novel "First Frontier". It has all the alternate-timeline Kirk vs. Dinosaurs action you could ever want. :)
Wed, May 15, 2019, 10:57pm (UTC -6)
Below average. So much stupid. Another ridiculous earth parallel. Awkward, unconvincing McCoy - Spock exchanges. Kirk having sex with a slave girl and joking about it later. But that's ok because she was thrilled to do it and was filled with desire for the totally irresistible Kirk. Ugh.

The Sun/Son thing was a nice touch.
Mon, Jun 17, 2019, 11:08am (UTC -6)
Well I really like it. Jammer's right, of course, this is the typical Star Trek episode. In fact, when I think of typical TOS episode, this is the story that comes to mind.

Yet I love the lampooning of the TV industry, and it brings with it some fun commentary about how a country can use entertainment to control the masses. Obviously this a direct reference to Rome, but if we look at this in the 1960s context, it was most likely a slight against propaganda videos created in the Soviet Union to keep their unhappy peasant workers in check.

The very first commenter, Strider, got it right here. This is a great episode to see Kirk act as Kirk. He's confident, he's clever, and he doesn't back down from Federation values. This is the type of Kirk we need to have. And even if this episode is thoroughly typical, show codifiers like this one reinforce the message that Gene was trying to give us.

@William B

You're in this one! Or at least your namesake is. I'm surprised you didn't mention that.

Trent wrote:

"the early Christian cults were enfolded within Rome, assimilated to it and it to them, and so functioned as a rubber-stamp for subsequent Empire building. The Church at this time was not a good, reformist thing"

Two problems with this. First, Christians weren't exclusive to the Romans. They started in the Roman province of Judaea and spread both East and West. Also, whether The Church was a good or reformist thing is a matter of perspective, but historically it curtailed a lot of social problems in Rome like polygamy, incest, as well as child and animal molestation.

Whether Christianity actually ended *violence* like this episode purports is, I agree, debatable, but that's entirely missing the point. What they were saying was planet 892-IV was starting to follow the path of Earth -- i.e. the spreading of Christianity was one step forward towards the path of eventually forming the Federation. That's why Kirk wanted to see the whole thing unfold, as he remarked in the ending.
Sat, Feb 8, 2020, 9:56pm (UTC -6)
Did anybody notice when the fight between spock/McCoy and flavious/Achilles ends and the pro consul say take them away, there is a shot of Achilles laying on the ground and in the updated version of the series his asscrack and ball sack have been blurred out. Really killed the inversion for me.
Glenn Quagmire
Sat, Feb 8, 2020, 10:05pm (UTC -6)
I totally would have had sex with Drusilla. At least twice in fact. Giggity. Problem is after the abolishment of slavery on the planet, Drusilla would go totally #metoo on Falvius saying she was forced to have sex with him, his friends, and even strangers. I totally would have gotten thrown under the #metoo bus (or chariot).
Fri, Jan 8, 2021, 6:54am (UTC -6)
Wow, I really enjoyed this one a lot more than I remember.

A solid 3 stars.

This is TOS operating as a smoothly oiled machine after more than 50 episodes on air.

Of course Kirk is fantastic, as @Strider notes at the top.

And yes, the alternative Earth thing is getting a bit much at this point. But the twist is fantastic. 20th century Earth *if* the Roman Empire never fell. Feels a little like Man in the High Castle. Philip K. Dick, who wrote the novel on which the TV show Man in the High Castle was based (as well as Bladerunner, and many other movies - he was a genius), had a famous line in his novels: The Empire never ended.

Think of “Bread and Circuses” as a thought experiment.

Scifi has the ability to put a tiny spin on things - whether in a Mirror universe, or traveling through time like Doctor Who or Quantum Leap - that allows us to see our selves in a different light.

Later generations of Trek had more tools to create the conditions for their thought experiments (e.g., holodecks). And I suppose just as holodeck-malfunction-episodes got annoying after a while, alternate Earth episodes got tired with TOS. But the set up is so short it doesn’t take much away from the rest of the hour.

In any case, the gold here is what @Trent alludes to: the ideas that Star Trek plays with are very brave.

We of course focus mostly on the “Circuses” part of the episode title. The 1960’s were a time of laugh tracks and television specials and other myriad ways to keep the people entertained, but more than that, to manipulate the audiences’ feelings using specially engineered inputs. I remember watching this episode as a kid, and the image of the dials being adjusted for “Boos” and for “Laughs” and for “Cheers” stuck with me for the rest of my life.

It is hard to take any of television seriously after you’ve seen as a brutal a parody of television as “Bread and Circuses.”

But even more brave is the “Bread” part of the episode title.

There is a Christian prayer that says, “give us this day our daily bread.” One of the most famous stories in the Bible is the fishes and the loaves. Loaves of bread.

And truly bread is integral to controlling the public. The central conversation of the hour takes place between Kirk, Spock, Bones and Flavius,

KIRK: But if there have been slaves for over 2,000 years, hasn't there always been discontent, runaways?

FLAVIUS: Long ago there were rebellions, but they were suppressed. And with each century, the slaves acquired more rights under the law. They received rights to medicine, the right to government payments in their old age, and they slowly learned to be content.

SPOCK: Even more fascinating. Slavery evolving into an institution with guaranteed medical payments, old-age pensions.

MCCOY: Quite logical, I'd say, Mister Spock. Just as it's logical that twentieth-century Rome would use television to show its gladiator contests or name a new car the Jupiter Eight.

They used television - circuses - to distract the population from its troubles. And they used social security - bread - to sooth the brutalities just enough to avoid the rebellions that Kirk was asking about.

Not many shows can ask if socialism might be an opiate for the masses.

So much of this episode is stellar. The proconsul is played with a wonderful callous disdain for ordinary morality. And as @Outsider65 says, Scotty was awesome (I recommend all of @Outsider65’s write up).

Just a very fun hour. With biting social commentary. Are you not entertained?
Mon, Apr 26, 2021, 12:45pm (UTC -6)
As a former Classics scholar, just let me get the irritations with this episode off my chest...

1. McCoy was wrong - there were sun worshippers in Ancient Rome! The Emperor Constantine was one, and merged sun worship (Sol Invictus) with 'son' worship (Christianity) to create a new state religion. Uhura partly redeemed this at the end, but the actual error wasn't.
2. If Merik was 'First Citizen' then he was 'princeps' i.e. Emperor. He was therefore highest in the land, and the Proconsul was subservient to him.
3. Rome didn't have proconsuls - they were governors of provinces outside Italy. Rome had Consuls - 2 of them who served for a limited period, to prevent too much power in one official's hands.
4. English? I don't think so! English came out of the Germanic tribes, with later growth from Norman French. In 2000 years, the Latin of Rome would most likely have evolved to Italian. I can understand why English would be needed for the episode , but it would have been much better to simply keep quiet about it!

Having said all that, this was a tremendously entertaining episode :
- brilliant banter between McCoy and Spock, with the latter's human half almost allowing the expression of vulnerability.
- hilarious satire on 60s TV, down to mention of ratings, and the appearance of 'tradtional' Roman military uniforms to give atmosphere, not to mention the 'classical' backdrop.
- good excitement and tension
- good split between the renegade sun worshippers and the stern authorities of Rome.
- clever use of code words between Kirk and Scott on the Enterprise.
- the way the Proconsul knew all about Starfleet and how to manipulate Kirk to best effect, in his cynical way.
- the emergence of a clear definition of the Prime Directive.
- the 20th Century Roman police, with their uniforms and weaponry.

Very good Trek episode - at least 3.5 stars
Mon, Apr 26, 2021, 1:01pm (UTC -6)
@ Jay

"what irks me is that they never explain how these parallel histories are supposed to have happened."

Au contraire, mon ami!! We were treated to Hodgkins Law of Parallel Development early in the episode. The first time they've tried to account for it, but not in any detail.

@ Why?

"20th century Rome where they speak modern English with 20th century colloquial English terms.
WTF everybody knows they spoke Latin as the language of Empire!"

Yes! Should perhaps have been Italian by the 20th Century. Did you see one of their public buildings carried the motto HONNEUR ET PATRIE - French!
Peter G.
Mon, Apr 26, 2021, 1:20pm (UTC -6)
@ Tidd,

Cool reflections on the episode, thanks. For what it's worth, I think the writers were probably correct that sun-worship was not exactly the standard religious practice in Rome in the first few centuries AD. To whatever extent the Romans were actual adherents to the Greek religion, and perhaps you can answer this, I imagine it would have been at minimum gauche to deny the supremacy of Jupiter and the other gods. But in the episode's context I think they are also talking about how there wouldn't have been a widespread sun-worship movement. So even if the odd weirdo did adopt a more Egyptian religious aspect, it wouldn't have been a popular thing...right?

For your point about English, maybe there's a semi-altered history element they're implying, where an English speaking PD violation led to an English speaking Roman empire (with proconsuls...). So it wouldn't be a precise parallel to Earth's Italy, but close enough in most respects.
Mon, Apr 26, 2021, 5:05pm (UTC -6)
@ Peter G

Certainly in the first 2 centuries or so of the Empire, the traditional pantheon of Roman gods were the main thing, though there were also quite popular cults like the Mithras religion.

However, by Constantine's time, the notion of a single god - e.g. the Sun - was growing more and more popular. In those terms Christianity became more and more open and adopted, until Constantine made it the state religion from (dates aren’t my strong point!) around 350 (ish)?

As to English, did we have any record of a pre-Merik violation of the PD? I suppose there could have been, but you'd think the Proconsul would have mentioned it. Personally I think they should just have had everyone speaking English as per usual, and just kept quiet about it not being a derivation of Latin, or at least not compared to Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.
Tue, Apr 27, 2021, 6:08am (UTC -6)
@Tidd, just FYI, Constantine did not make Christianity a state religion.

Also, Rome did indeed have proconsuls. During the Empire, they were basically governors. But before that, during the Republic, they were appointed by the Senate, and were often ex-Consuls.

@Peter G., Bones was just flat out wrong when he said,

MCCOY: Because, my dear Mister Spock, it is illogical. Rome had no sun worshipers. Why should they parallel Rome in every way except one?

In fact, the transexual emperor Antoninus brought sun worship to Rome in a big way in 220 A.D. And the emperor Aurelian made sun worship an official roman religion about 50 years later.

But worship of the son - Christianity - didn't become a state religion until 50 years after Constantine died.

Finally as to English, I'd wager that by the 1960's there were way more people in countries that were once the Roman Empire, who spoke English, than who spoke Italian. Even by the time of Constantine, only a small fraction of Roman citizens spoke Latin.

Which makes sense given how much of his life Constantine spent in Britain. Remember, he became emperor while he was ruling Britain.

Constantine was not Italian. He was half Greek, half Balkan. He didn't even really like Rome, and built a capital city for himself in Turkey, closer to home. Really, all the major emperors for the last few hundred years of the Roman Empire, were non-Italians. If the Roman Empire had never fallen, as "Bread and Circuses" explores, what makes us think that they would have stuck with a Latin-derivative language?
Thu, Apr 29, 2021, 12:10pm (UTC -6)
@ Mal

Yes, you're right about Constantine - my bad. But he did make Christianity a legally recognised religion, made its leaders (bishops) rich and powerful, and MAY have become Christian himself at some point (the jury's still out).

"Rome did indeed have proconsuls. During the Empire, they were basically governors" What I said, didn't I?

"as to English, I'd wager that by the 1960's there were way more people in countries that were once the Roman Empire, who spoke English, than who spoke Italian"

Two things on that. One, the Roman Empire never collapsed in this episode , so English would not have had the chance either to develop via Saxon, Viking, and Norman invasions, or spread worldwide via a British Empire. Two, I used Italian as the most logical descendant of Latin - but actually Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian) are still predominant throughout Europe and, if you add in South America, constitute a very high proportion of the languages of the modern world.
Thu, Apr 29, 2021, 11:40pm (UTC -6)
@Tidd, how I imagine "Bread and Circuses" if it had been a TNG episode,

Sat, May 1, 2021, 11:07am (UTC -6)

Thu, Oct 14, 2021, 1:25pm (UTC -6)
Yet another parallel Earth episode. It takes a mental leap to envision humans on other planets (TOS had no budget for alien makeup), but humans with identical history? The episode would be fine if it were the Twilight Zone since it asks us to imagine an alternative timeline. But as a trek episode, it just looks like they ran out of ideas and money. And didn't we just see an episode where a stranded captain makes himself the leader?
The Queen
Sat, Apr 2, 2022, 11:38pm (UTC -6)
A detail that I picked up on rewatching - The slave clothing insignia of a chain that looks like the letters G-O-D is a great hint of what's to come. Wonder if this was in the script or was a directing decision?
Sat, Apr 23, 2022, 10:03pm (UTC -6)
Another I hadn't seen in over 30 years, and I really liked it.

I definitely appreciated the lampooning of TV far more than I did when I was a teenager. "Bring does our ratings and we'll do a special on you!" Ha!

I also despised Merrick much more this time and have as little regard for him as the proconsul does. No wonder the proconsul expected Kirk to be an idiot and beam everyone down.

And I'm fairly sure Merrick is the proconsul's actual bitch.
Sun, Apr 24, 2022, 3:30pm (UTC -6)
And yes they did overuse the parallel Earth thing but at least they lampshaded here with Hodgkin's law.

Of course, the real reason was the need to use human actors and the studio's backlot when possible.

Though, curiously, not in this case. Humans, yes, but this one had the specific theme at the heart of the story.
Mon, Oct 17, 2022, 6:32pm (UTC -6)
Love McCoy's matter of fact uttering of "Jim" at the end of the episode as Kirk strides in to rescue the doctor and Spock. Yes, I know McCoy had to be somewhat quiet, but there's a tinge of inevitability in his voice that seems to say he knew Kirk would get them out.
Andy in Northern Va.
Sat, Feb 25, 2023, 2:09pm (UTC -6)
Yes, the whole parallel-Earth-(yet)-again thing is hackneyed to the point of being a TOS cliche. That said...

What really sells this episode, to me at least, are the strong guest performances from Ian Wolfe as the wisened ex-Senator Septimus, Rhodes Reason as the reformed gladiator-turned-follower of Jesus Flavius Maximus, Logan Ramsey as the nasty Proconsul Claudius Marcus and of course, William Smithers as Merrick.

Each of them brought real depth to their parts. For as briefly as any of them were on screen, viewers were able to come away with some sense of who they were, some depth of character that kept any one of them from being cardboard cut-outs.

Silly premise, but I rather liked this episode.
Sun, Mar 5, 2023, 9:06am (UTC -6)
Merick might have been dead but they did leave behind the rest of his crew. a lot of season twoi i hated but still love Mirror mirrirandcthe doomsday machine.
Tue, Mar 21, 2023, 5:00am (UTC -6)
We MUST watch these episodes in PRODUCTION ORDER - not as they aired on TV. Then the "Parallel Earth" thing wouldn't be such a nuisance.

@Strider I like your chutzpah.

@JAMMER - dude your site is brilliant. But you should have these TOS episodes reviewed in production order - Just one man's opinion. But revisit the episodes in THAT order and you'll find a whole new take on the whole thing possibly...
Fri, Jul 21, 2023, 10:18am (UTC -6)
If you can get past yet more “parallel earth” wackiness, Bread and Circuses has some decent things to say. Particularly the meta commentary on television as a medium and its role in the general complacency of the public. I took much of that specific part of this episode to be a bit of an indictment of the American pop culture consumer, which is alluded to in the title “Bread and Circuses.” A fairly ballsy statement considering those very consumers were the only people who could keep Star Trek on the air by, you know, consuming.

I’m not sure what to make of the final sun/son revelation. On the one hand it seems almost a nonsequiter, as I didn’t see any indication that this pseudo-Roman society’s polytheistic religious beliefs were the source of their placid acceptance of cruelty and violence. Rather it seemed that consumer culture was the glue holding this society in a state of brutality. Perhaps the two Genes didn’t want to over-emphasize what seems like a pro-Christianity message in their script, so they focused more on the prime directive and consumerism elements of the plot up until the last minute. Which gave that final scene shades of The Omega Glory’s “say WHAT??” type ending twist.

On the other hand, an examination or acknowledgment of the role Christianity played to the general development of human civilization would be a pretty rich topic. Particularly if the show firmly declares a christian-like value shift as a key component in the advancement of humanity towards a brighter, trekkian style future. And it seems like such a statement would be the ultimate message of the episode, yet it’s sort of treated as an afterthought. It’s an interesting narrative dynamic that I’m not sure totally worked.

Some other thoughts:
-I sincerely hope Kirk didn’t actually bang drucilla. That would not be cool since she’s a slave and all.
-It was mentioned that other crew members from the Beagle were still on the planet having “adapted” to the Roman way of life. Are they going to get rescued, or not, or…
-Merick gets a little redemption arc in the episode, too bad he didn’t get to punch the proconsul in the nose before he got stabbed.
-Scotty nails it as temp-captain yet again.

2.5/4 shiny, new Jupiter 8s

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