Star Trek: The Original Series

"A Piece of the Action"

3.5 stars

Air date: 1/12/1968
Teleplay by David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon
Story by David P. Harmon
Directed by James Komack

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A Prime Directive issue becomes a lively comic piece when the landing party beams down to a planet to correct the social damage inflicted upon the culture, which is based on the Chicago gangsters of the 1920s because of a single book left behind by a Federation starship a century before.

Unfortunately, after beaming down, Kirk & Co. constantly find themselves on the business end of several machine guns, in the middle of the war between leading gangsters Bela Oxmyx (Anthony Caruso) and Jojo Krako (Victor Tayback), who both want a supply of Kirk's "heaters" (phasers).

The running gag of Kirk and Spock getting guns pulled on them proves quite amusing; every time it looks like they've gained the upper hand, ka-chack—two more goons with guns. Meanwhile, we get to see Kirk and Spock in gangster suits, a hilarious game of "Fizzbin," Spock saying "Check!", and Kirk in full role-playing mode, chewing the scenery in some genuinely funny scenes as he tries to work out everybody's piece of the action. It's an enjoyable gem with sharp dialog and good timing, as well as an undercurrent that still manages to say something relevant about intervening in other societies.

Previous episode: The Gamesters of Triskelion
Next episode: The Immunity Syndrome

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31 comments on this post

Thu, May 2, 2013, 2:03pm (UTC -6)
You pretty lose track of how many times Kirk, Spock and McCoy get the upper hand on the gangsters or vice-versa. Guess you just have watch whose holding the tommy gun at any given moment. No matter. This is just one of those fun comedic dress up episodes. It really gets going when Kirk throws reason and protocol out the window and he just cuts a deal like a gangster complete with a suddenly proficient Chicago accent. Sharp suits, gangster slang and a Vulcan trying gamely to keep up his part of the improvisation. What's not to like? It's all just great fun like The Trouble With Tribbles.
Sat, Jan 4, 2014, 4:28pm (UTC -6)
Generally I dislike episodes where our heroes end up on planets that look like earth at various times so I didn't expect I would enjoy this episode. But, what a pleasant surprise, I did! It was pure comedy gold. From Kirk's lackluster driving skills to him talking like a 1920s gangster - highly entertaining and very very funny.
Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 10:17pm (UTC -6)
Ditto, "spocko".
Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 7:35pm (UTC -6)
Not a bad episode not great either. It's entertaining in all of its silliness. I'm usually not a fan of TOS episodes were Kirk and company clown around in some facsimile of earth's past. I realize they did it for budget reasons. The creative staff would basically event a story that would allow an episode to be filmed on whatever sets that were lying around the Paramount lot at the time. So I can't be too harsh on it.
Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 12:34am (UTC -6)
Too late to meet the 1992 publication date, but the market still has room for a book about Chicago mobs of the 1920s that not only is morally ambivalent or outright admiring of the gangsters' outlaw but also -- and this is important -- contains blueprints for fabricating all the buildings, clothing, vehicles, and weapons necessary to emulate them, plus a primer on their slanguage.

Of course, for all we know, Iotia was already mostly a parallel for 20th century Earth before Horizon visited. Wouldn't be the first time.
Tue, Mar 3, 2015, 9:53am (UTC -6)
My favorite part of of this episode, and I'm not sure the scene survives the syndication cuts every time:
Kirk's on the blower -- sorry, communicator -- to Scotty and he's outlining the telephone-transporter scam about to be pulled.
Camera angle is on Scotty standing next to the captain's chair, Uhura visible behind him at her console.
As Kirk outlines the scam and what it entails from the Enterprise's end, Scotty's not quite catching on -- but Uhura is. And the delighted and satisfied grin that slowly spreads across Uhura's face is priceless.
Thu, Jan 14, 2016, 4:09am (UTC -6)
Ouch. I guess I stand alone on this one. I found the plot aimless yet repetitive, and the ganster theme just annoying. The only good part was the game of "Fizzbin." Spock, as usual, was used to good effect, but no one else was. DeForrest Kelley actually looked embarassed to be in several of the scenes. When I saw the three and a half star rating Jammer gave it, I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately, it did not hold up. Not nearly as much fun, nor as clever, as "The Trouble With Tribbles."
Mon, Dec 5, 2016, 8:28pm (UTC -6)
Pam, you're not alone. I just saw this one again and thought it was insipid. Yes, there were some cute comic moments. But the whole "who's got the upper hand" changing every five minutes isn't an amusing running gag; it drained any momentum and plausibility from the plot. Worst of all is when suddenly it's The End and we have (a) no resolution to the planetary situation which set this whole thing up in the first place and (b) an additional Prime Directive issue because of an irrelevant piece of goofiness -- McCoy left his communicator behind. Kirk cracks a funny and we cut to credits. So WTF was the point of the whole story?
Tue, Jan 31, 2017, 9:14pm (UTC -6)
I know this is generally considered a good episode, but even with that in mind, I think this is still a guilty pleasure of mine. One of my favorite episodes. There's a lot of cliches about the original series, things like cheap sets, silly period costumes, and human-like aliens. Usually, those stories tend to be the dumb ones, but this is an exception. Sure, the 20s gangster set was probably used to save money with something CBS or Desilu or whoever had on hand, but thankfully the plot was actually quite clever and ends up being perhaps the best Prime Directive piece in the series, perhaps of all the shows. And the use of the gangster atmosphere gave it a wonderful sense of levity and humor to keep the pace moving and enjoyable the entire way through.

Don't get me wrong, there's obviously a giant logical leap here. One would assume the book left behind didn't have so much detail as to describe the suits, the accents, the intricacies of how Tommy guns work, to say nothing of 1920s style and architecture. And the throwaway line that the aliens are very imitative still makes it hard to swallow that they would radically change that much. But who cares? It set up an interesting plot, so I can willingly suspend disbelief for the sake of the action.

On the Prime Directive side, this works better than the "dying peoples" storylines. We see how something as simple as a book can contaminate a culture. Yes, this is an extreme example, but if they assumed that that book was how the Federation actually operated, and they saw how advanced the Federation actually was, maybe they would try to incorporate those ideals into their life. It's interesting, too, that the problem isn't actually interference in this case, but rather limited interference. If the Horizon stayed behind and talked to the Iotians more, they would certainly explain to them that this culture is just one of many that sprung up on Earth, that was a short lived culture, and is certainly not one that should be emulated. If the Federation decided to be fully invested in this planet (as they are after Kirk's visit), then there could certainly be some positive ramifications. But a fly-by visit? We can see how the lack of full communication could cause the other culture to get some wrong ideas. And so one could argue that unless the Federation was interested in a permanent presence on this planet, it is better to simply stay away entirely. It does not fully justify the Prime Directive, but that's ok. It tells one little piece of the Prime Directive story, and does it well.

And one reason why it does it well is because it's in the background. We don't get into a philosophical debate on the PD like what seems to happen too often. Instead, the situation is presented simply: these people were contaminated, and we can see pretty quickly that the contamination is a negative. Instead, the plot is, besides all the twists and turns of who has the drop on who, about Kirk trying to find a way past this mess and to get it to work. I'm a bit confused about wanderer's statement that there was no resolution; I thought the resolution was very clever. We saw that scene where the two women complain about services while pointing out that they pay their cut. It showed Kirk that, as messed up as the situation is, the Iotians were making it work somehow, and that things were still functioning. It showed that the mob bosses were actually performing as a government. We also see that both Oksmyx and Krako did have grander aspirations, and we could see why Kirk thought he could use them. And naturally, given the reverence the people had for The Book, any reversion to normal would have to be gradual. Kirk couldn't just give a speech and expect everyone to abandon their ways. So his subtle solution, to basically declare that he is the top mob boss and that the rest of them would have to work together to give him his cut, serves the primary purpose of unifying the people and stopping all the "hits". The secondary goal, moving away from a gangster culture, would take more time, and Kirk even got a head start on it by basically creating a tax that would be reinvested in changing their status. I'm not necessarily on board with the solution, but it is in fact a resolution to the story. And a good one. It solved both of the two major plot issues (Kirk must fix what once was wrong, and Kirk must outwit the two mob bosses) quite effectively.

And yeah, it was funny. Shatner, Nimoy, everyone seemed to be at their best here. The levity involved made the obviously silly concept a lot of fun to watch, and the jokes and humorous moments hold up well I think. I even like Spock's grimace at the end when Kirk declares that his solution was completely logical. Like he didn't want to admit Kirk might have had a point. Especially since he was probably embarrassed about the whole outing the entire time. Well, he may have been mortified at having to dress as a gangster and talk in slang, but his loss was our gain.
Fri, May 26, 2017, 3:10pm (UTC -6)
In the vein of "The Trouble With Tribbles" this is another episode that shows how TOS could pull off humor. It's an interesting plot - obviously with some good twists and turns - unpredictable.
Great how Kirk/Spock start talking like the gangsters and Spock tries adapting. Some convincing supporting roles from Oxmyx/Krakow etc. Good script / good acting.
Ultimately, I'm not sure what Kirk and the crew accomplish with the Iotians but it's one of those episodes with some suspension of belief and flexibility with the PD that is a success.
This one is full value for 3 stars out of 4. Not quite on the level of Tribbles but plenty of comedy gold that shows what TOS could do.
Trek fan
Thu, Nov 2, 2017, 9:13pm (UTC -6)
Ah yes, Star Trek does gangster movies in "A Piece of the Action," and it's one of the funniest Trek comedies out there -- no small feat coming so soon after "Tribbles" in this same Season Two. It's not quite as effortlessly original and sublimely funny as "Tribbles," but this one is quite entertaining. I give it 3 1/2 or 4 stars.

The scene of Spock fussing at Kirk for his driving gets me in stitches just about every time; it feels so genuine and unforced. The fish-out-of-water comedy of watching the crew muck about Iotia's gangster society is great, but it especially gets funny when Kirk and Spock start playing along as gangsters themselves. The slang, patter, and dialogue (love the use of "Feds" for the Fedaration) are especially good in this show.

Despite all of the silliness, there's a serious kernel to the story, as the crew embarks on a mission to identify and remove cultural contamination left behind by the USS Horizon in violation of the prime directive. That the contamination turns out to be a book on 1920s Chicago gangs is a nifty twist, giving us a society that resembles what the US would have looked like ruled by mafia gangs. The final throwaway moment where McCoy realizes he may have left his tech behind leaves the show on a sober note, as we can only imagine what a culture that treated a "Chicago gangs" book as its holy Bible will do with a communicator, but the sublime chemistry of the whole cast (including great guest roles here for the mobsters, molls, ad other Iotians) is the real scene-stealer here.

It's a great Kirk-Spock showcase too: From Kirk's "Fizzbin" improv and put-on mob boss persona to Spock's reluctant embrace of a gangster accent, we see the two leads at their most iconic here. McCoy is a bit more along for the ride in this one, and the other regulars (Uhura, Chekov) barely register. But that's okay because the Kirk-Spock chemistry feels so natural, seamless, and entertaining; it's a good bromance story for their friendship.
Peter Swinkels
Mon, Jan 8, 2018, 1:03pm (UTC -6)
Alright, I’m just past the first few minutes and they are pulling the earth clone with humans - err I mean “aliens” nonsense AGAIN?! How many earth clones are there? Oh well...
Peter Swinkels
Tue, Jan 9, 2018, 3:28am (UTC -6)
I watched the entire episode (yes, I am bit late posting this) and the extent of the contamination caused by a book and a few manuals is quite honestly absurd to the extreme. For example, you could hear a dog barking in the background, did those manuals tell those aliens how to make dogs appear out of nothing? By the episode's very admittance the planet was in its early industrial stages. Oh, and that must have been one heck of a dictionary that came with those books. And yes, without some artistic license there would have been no Star Trek for me to bash at all. :-)
Mike H
Tue, Mar 13, 2018, 5:07pm (UTC -6)
Spock: "I'd advise ya to keep dial'n, Oxmix."
Thu, Dec 27, 2018, 1:35pm (UTC -6)
Absolutely hilarious! I've seen this episode goodness knows how many time and I still crack up. Imagine! a planet whose culture and civilization were based on a book about the Chicago mobs of the 1920s---that alone is enough to set one to laughing until one's sides ache, because I have seen a lot of films about said Chicago mobs (such as the original "The Untouchables" with Robert Stack as Eliot Ness) and so I could really appreciate the humor with which Star Trek parodied the concept. Also imagine! Captain Kirk's attempts to drive an old jalopy with a stick shift---this was the one time, I believe, where the usually unflappable Spock was scared stiff! And here's a serious note which was not without humor: Back in the last century there was an innovative psychiatrist named Milton H. Erickson, M.D. who pioneered some unusual---and extremely effective---approaches to working with hypnosis. One of these was---and is---the "confusion" technique, and I don't know if he ever watched "Star Trek" but he definitely would have enjoyed the "fizzbin" scene in this episode. Watching it I suddenly realized that Captain Kirk, in his improvisation, was using one of the most beautiful such techniques I had ever seen. And that made it all the funnier. On a scale of 1 to 4 I give this a 4-plus, to rank with the story about the tribbles. One of the best!
Thu, Apr 4, 2019, 8:10pm (UTC -6)
Let it not be said that star trek doesnt have a good sense of humor, an entire civilization based upon the gangs of chicago 1920's (or the 2000's,not much has changed in good ol chicago)Tayback and Caruso are great as the gang leaders.
Sat, May 11, 2019, 7:08am (UTC -6)
Found the constant switcheroos boring and Fizzbin idiotic (wow, those are some really, really, really stupid aliens). The Fizzbin scene was a variation on Kirk Outsmarts The Machine, but worse. Nothing like "Kirk smugly basking in his own cleverness" to kill a scene.

Some saving graces in some funny lines, costumes and scenes, in Spock gamely trying to fit in, and in good performances.

Average overall.
Tue, Jun 4, 2019, 11:02pm (UTC -6)
I thought this was one of the weakest episodes of the entire show, just so boring, the humour never landed. But then again I thought 'Gamesters if Triskelion' was one of the most entertaining (even though many hate it), just goes to show its all a matter of opinion.
Bobbington Mc Bob
Wed, Oct 23, 2019, 3:18pm (UTC -6)
A lot of TOS is a real chore to watch, and sometimes it seems like its formidable reputation was created on the back of a handful of standout episodes. This outing does little to change my mind about that. About the only good thing to come from "A Piece of The Action" is the inclusion some 40 years later of Vic in DS9, leading to the incredible "Its Only a Paper Moon". After the Scooby Doo / TOS crossover that came before this one, I am struggling to keep up my enthusiasm.
Harry's Swollen Throat
Fri, Nov 1, 2019, 11:21pm (UTC -6)
Did not like the episode though it had potential. Suits are an exception however 😍 Kirk and Spock were looking toight.

Plot goes:
Sent to planet to fix mess of their interference < fixes mess < interferes again with Bone's communicator < makes a joke and laughs it off < The End
Left the way it started.

Cool. Legit just an episode of cat and mouse.

"We dont want to use our technology" ....
Uses transportation and phasers towards end.
Legit could have saved 30 minutes of "action" . Wanting those 30 minutes back thanks 😂
Fri, Jan 17, 2020, 12:34pm (UTC -6)
Please don't use emojis in a comment
Sleeper Agent
Sat, Feb 8, 2020, 1:10am (UTC -6)
In a time before holo-decks were invented...

I won't lie, this is incredibly silly and to a great extent: downright stupid.

But there's also no denying in that it's absolutely hilarious.

Sawbones, Spocko and the last scene with my favorite quote "Captain. I'm also curious as to how you propose to explain to Starfleet Command that a starship will be sent each year to collect our cut."

Wed, Jun 3, 2020, 8:18am (UTC -6)
If only the Horizon had left behind a copy of Jurassic Park, there could've been a planet of dinosaur zoos.
Peter G/
Wed, Jun 3, 2020, 9:53am (UTC -6)
Or a bunch of guys in costumes running around doing T-rex chicken arms.
Sun, Aug 30, 2020, 7:17pm (UTC -6)
The most inspired part of this episode was the alien gangster names -- especially "Jojo Krako"; that's top-shelf.
Sat, Dec 19, 2020, 11:38am (UTC -6)
Zero technobabble. Lots of humor. No special effects.

Could it be that The Orville is Star Trek's true heir in the modern era?
Sat, Dec 19, 2020, 2:19pm (UTC -6)

While the Orville takes it's visual cues from TNG, it is actually closer to TOS in spirit.
Dave in MN
Sat, Dec 19, 2020, 3:38pm (UTC -6)

Both of you have a good point.

TOS wasn't afraid to mix in different elements to build and release tension. The comedy often elevates the seriousness of what surrounds it.
Fri, Apr 16, 2021, 2:35am (UTC -6)
I like this. Comedy gold. Yes, the plot — such as it is — is repetitive, but it’s worth it to see the Enterprise crew hamming it up in Hollywood-style gangster paradise. Kirk learning to drive (badly), the game of Fizzbin, Kirk adopting Noo Yoik modes of speech and behaviour, several instances of the Spock “noiv” pinch, Scotty’s gradual understanding of what’s going on...

Sure, there is little to reflect on, no great talking points, but if you accept it on its own lighthearted terms, it’s ¾ of an hour that flies by and provides laughs galore.

3 stars, maybe slightly more.
Fri, Apr 16, 2021, 1:42pm (UTC -6)

I wanted to give this episode more than a 6 but it has no sci-fi theme & no moral dilemma. It doesn't make you think but it's a fun episode with lots of action. Kirk learning to drive was great. At one point Scotty set the ship's phasers to stun & took out a block, I've never seen this used again in Star Trek but it sure would have been useful. In the first draft script there were Romulans in this episode which I think would have been better. The first use of a site to site transport was in this episode.
Wed, Apr 6, 2022, 7:29pm (UTC -6)
One of the best of the series, very entertaining!

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