Star Trek: The Original Series

"A Private Little War"

2.5 stars

Air date: 2/2/1968
Teleplay by Gene Roddenberry
Story by Jud Crucis
Directed by Marc Daniels

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A lot of good work is evident in "A Private Little War," in which a primitive world on which Kirk once studied has experienced a sudden, unnatural advancement in technology. One side has received firearms which they can't possibly have built. A closer survey reveals that the Klingons have delivered weapons to a set of villagers who have opened attack on their neighbors. Kirk comes to the conclusion that arming the other side with equal weaponry may be the only choice to save them from annihilation. Meanwhile, Kirk finds himself under the spell of Nona (Nancy Kovak), who saved Kirk's life and now hopes he will repay her by arming the village with superior weapons.

This episode sometimes serves as an explicit Vietnam commentary, going so far as to mention the war specifically when Kirk and McCoy discuss the morality of Kirk's plan for armament. Meanwhile, Spock's life hangs in the balance aboard the Enterprise after having been shot on the planet surface. There are a lot of pieces to this episode—perhaps too many (Nona's bizarre spell coming across as the most unnecessary). The episode sometimes lacks focus, but the implications of the ending are too interesting to be ignored. The eruption of violence provides an indictment of an entire situation that has lost control, where placing blame is merely pointless. Even so, Kirk's actions lack personal consequences and the ending wraps too quickly. The underlying meaning contains intelligence, but the story's pursuit of its questions is shaky.

Previous episode: The Immunity Syndrome
Next episode: Return to Tomorrow

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35 comments on this review

Destructor
Wed, May 16, 2012, 12:23am (UTC -5)
I love this episode- it has so many great elements:

1. The 'slapping of Spock' scene- hilarious!
2. A great 'Trekkian dilemma' with no 'good choice' at the end.
3. A heartfelt and reasonable explanation of the Price Directive from Kirk.
4. A sexy lady.
5. An awesome alien monster- plus two fight scenes with said monster!
6. The classic fight music and a big brawl.
7. McCoy saying: "She's dead."

I really loved this episode.
DutchStudent82
Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 6:43pm (UTC -5)
Am I the only one that found there would be a second solution?

*totally eliminate the village (and with them remove all knowledge of making guns)

*this needs to be done by cover up, so they use the enterprise to cause a MASSIVE disaster that looks like a natural disaster that wipes out the village.

*the woman needs to die too (her idea of "war and killing" even without the tools to do that, is contamination, she has to be eliminated.

*capture and kill all klingons, near (and if neccecairy go to war over this, but hope they back off)

*place a permament space station in orbit of this planet to monitor it's progress and to quarentine it (nobody will land on it ever again) -> while no issue for the foreseable future their technological progress makes it neccecairy, replace the space station with more stealthed observation methods.

But my line of thinking is clearly not the "cold war era" thinking when this was made.
William B
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 9:00pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Jammer that this episode is interesting but all over the place. The big overriding metaphor (which is one that the series returns to quite often) is that of a Garden of Eden, and so Nona pretty clearly plays Eve -- which is the episode's weakest point. I grant the original series a certain amount of leeway given the restrictions placed on the show by the network (like eliminating the Number One character), but this episode is ridiculous: Nona is a misogynistic caricature, a witch who not only beguiles men with her wiles and is the *real* malevolent force pushing men to violence, but even betrays her side when it becomes slightly inconvenient. Say what you will about the gender dynamics in "Macbeth" -- but Lady M doesn't suddenly decide to throw her lot in with Macduff midway through. It would be one thing if I thought the episode were portraying Nona in a complex light -- showing, perhaps, how difficult her life is, and why she desires advancement so badly -- and in moments it does do this; the war that has started is beginning to have big amounts of sexual violence, with women as trophies (c.f. the scene between the Klingon and village leader), and where even Nona's attempt to betray her side to help the village leads to them attacking her. So there is some indication of what it is that Nona wants to escape through acquisition of power, but it's overall a rough portrayal. It doesn't help that she is also a darker-skinned, dark-haired woman who lures the bleach-blonde innocent, peaceful dudes into violence and depravity.

But I guess "the garden of Eden" is the central parable they wanted, so they went with that. There is some interesting tragedy here. Guns and weaponry are superficially the roles of the snake in the garden, as Kirk says explicitly, but really it's Kirk and the Klingons who play this role in general; Nona/Eve wants to go along with the power, Tyree/Adam really doesn't -- but through Nona/Eve eventually becomes corrupted. The big tragedy for *Tyree* specifically, and Kirk as well, is that Tyree's eventual transformation into a bloodthirsty warrior (at least, as implied by his last scene) happens because he loved a woman who was obsessed with power, who herself ends up being destroyed by it -- that the villagers are too stupid to realize that Nona is trying to give them ultimate power, means that she's got a bit of a tragic fate, too, since her grand (if evil) plans are too big for the villagers to comprehend and even her phaser ends up proving no defense against her. That's maybe the anti-war message amidst all the chaos: when war comes, even the biggest weapons are no actual defense; they are something of a defense, but they're not everything. War poisons everything.

I think it's noteworthy too that the Klingon's cynical, mustache-twirling EVIL manipulation of the villagers into seeing the bright side of killing has some connection to Kirk's presiding over his peaceful friend being extraordinarily blood thirsty at the end. Kirk doesn't *want* Tyree to lose his innocence, but that is kind of the consequence of his line of thinking. And there is the question of whether in helping to make it easier for Tyree to live, he's destroying his soul and goodness in the process.

I think the reason for Nona's magic spell in the episode is to make us really question Kirk's actions and logic. Kirk's concept of the balance of power is something that McCoy objects to on pretty reasonable grounds. Yes, it's wrong for the villagers to massacre the hill people, but is starting an arms race really the solution? What are the alternatives? There is a tiny hint of Col. Kurtz "Heart of Darkness"-esque madness to Kirk becoing embroiled in this conflict, as an outsider to this culture who ends up training people to be a certain kind of warrior, and while this episode never goes as far as Conrad did (or Coppola would, in Apocalypse Now), the idea that Kirk is actually at least a little bit made mad or irrational by the locals suggests, maybe, the impossibility of having actual perspective when effectively "adopting" a culture. There's some colonial guilt in there, or maybe some racism and sexism (again: Kirk is *literally bewitched!*). It's hard to parse this episode, and I will probably leave the more specific political implications to people who aren't me.

Why does Kirk just beam up at the end? Is he going to do anything about the Klingons arming the villagers on the planet? Does the planet have any people on it besides one set of villagers and one roughly equally-sized group of hill people? Is Kirk actually going to beam down those weapons when he just decides to beam up at the end? The episode's failure to resolve even these simple questions makes it all the shakier as an allegory. Still, it has enough interest to be worth watching -- if with some healthy skepticism. Probably 2.5 stars.
William B
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 9:07pm (UTC -5)
Actually, I should add that the episode's ending really does work for me -- well, not Kirk zipping away in such a way as to make it unclear whether he beams the weapons down, but before that -- is that it does walk that balance of showing the destruction that Kirk's choices have wrought without condemning those choices. It's rare to see an effective portrayal of a no-win scenario (one of Kirk's real Kobayashi Maru situations), and the final moment of Tyree going into something like berserker rage demanding more weapons is haunting me a few days after watching the episode. I would go up to 3 stars, but I have a feeling that the episode can only maintain a solid "good" rating while I'm not actually watching it.
William B
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 9:08pm (UTC -5)
Oh yeah, what the heck was with those Mugato? Really pointlessly overloaded episode.
CPUFP
Sun, Nov 8, 2015, 2:59pm (UTC -5)
I too found the Mugato ridiculous, but I think it does serve a certain function in the story. The Mugato seems to be the only natural predator of the hill people. In the beginning of the episode, Kirk even says something like "It'd Paradise here, if it were not for the Mugato." But when the villagers are equipped with firearms, they become much bigger threats to the lives of the hill people, even though they are of the same species. So I guess the Mugato's purpose in the story is to remind us of the dangers of nature to man, which are no match to man's own danger to himself when he turns to violence and war.
navamske
Mon, Jun 13, 2016, 7:00pm (UTC -5)
Abridged synopsis:

On The Planet of Men Wearing Really Bad Wigs, Kirk is bitten and poisoned by a white gorilla wearing a party hat and is subsequently cured by a dog turd.
Paul M.
Mon, Aug 8, 2016, 10:10am (UTC -5)
Unspeakably terrible episode, utter garbage. One of TOS's very worst. We need not speak of the atrociously bad acting or hilarious wigs or Evil Temptress with Fake Nails. The thing I find the most offensive though is the bogus handwringing at the end where Kirk comes to the conclusion, and the episode seems to agree with him, that the only way to save Tyree's people is to enter a proxy arms race with the Klingon-supported viilagers. Evidently, do to nothing would result in the annihilation of the hill people and would presumably deal a blow to Federation interests in the sector.

My main problem with this scenario is that the episode wants to convince us that there are only two solutions: either the total annihilation of one side or the balance of power/proxy war. I call total BS on that. Kirk never for a second considers alternatives. Why not open a dialogue with the Klingons? Whether it works or not, there's nothing lost by trying, right? Or how about quarantining the planet? If the Federation is really about "freedom and democracy and all those nice things" (to quote Colonel Tigh), why not refuse the game outright and prevent Klingons from supplying one side? Or why not try to mediate in some capacity between the warring sides and offer them something more appealing than weapons in exchange for cooperation?

I'm not saying these things would necessarily have worked, but the point is there are legitimate options to consider before condemning the damn planet to ever-escalating war and bloodshed. What we have here is a heavy-handed message on the evils of the Cold War and balance of power. But what's even worse is that the episode is actively saying that war is inevitable and in fact preferable to whataver alternatives there may have been. A strangely cynical and misguided episode, to be sure.

1.5 stars.
JERR west
Thu, Aug 18, 2016, 3:32am (UTC -5)
All of you don't understand what happens if Nona lived,she would have ordered kirk to kill Tyree ,then made him her husband and went to the ship with him,for life.
Skeptical
Sat, Feb 11, 2017, 7:44pm (UTC -5)
Can we just call this episode A Silly Little War instead? There was just too much going on: random attacks from the absurd looking Mugato, the sinister schemings of the Sexy Midriff Witch, dealing with the Klingons, Super Important Cold War Allegories!, Kirk being put under the spell of the Sexy Midriff Witch, Spock and Chapel's BDSM roleplay, and Tyree's inconsistent conversion from pacifism to aggression (but not, unfortunately, from bad acting to good acting). Some of the plot seemed worth exploring, but all the random junk, most of which wasn't needed at all, simply got in the way and made it kind of absurd to watch.

For all the talk about pacifism in Star Trek, the episode was intelligent enough to understand that this is a messy situation. Let's be honest, the Klingons weren't going to back down; if things continued the way they were going, the peaceful villagers were going to be wiped out or conquered. And, as Bones so wisely pointed out, because of Tyree's pacifism he would probably be one of the first to go. A speech wasn't going to solve the problem; the main bad guy even said that his people had started to enjoy the killing. The war was going to continue, whether Kirk liked it or not. I liked the intensity of his conversation with Bones. Bones was absolutely convinced Kirk was making the wrong decision, so Kirk challenged him to come up with a better one. And Bones didn't have an answer to that. It was ugly, and you could see Kirk's ruefulness at the end when he started waxing poetic about the end of the Garden of Eden. This part of the episode had potential; this part was worth exploring. But it just was buried underneath all that other stuff.

It also doesn't help that, for all Kirk's complaints that there is no other solution, the other one is kinda obvious (as others pointed out). Presumably, Kirk's mission was successful in exposing Klingon interference on the planet. We can presume also that, once exposed, the Klingons abandoned their plan (since war didn't break out at this time). The Federation, then, can fire phasers on stun onto the Klingon allies from orbit (as seen in A Piece of the Action), and then beam down a troop of redshirts to confiscate all of the weapons and means of producing them. Maybe even have Kirk or another Starfleet captain make a speech to the leader that worse will happen if he tries to reproduce what he learned. Voila, problem solved. No need to escalate the weapons each side has, and all done with minimal interference. Just fixing the contamination the Klingons made. Kirk's dilemma ends, and everyone goes home happy. But then Kirk can't angst about his decision, so we had to pretend not to notice.

Meanwhile, I have to question Dr. M'Benga's professionalism. So Spock's survival is dependent on being smacked back into reality. Does he explain this to Chapel, despite having adequate time to? Nope, he just gives her vague instructions and leaves, even though he knows its an awkward situation. Obviously it was done for our benefit, not Chapel's. Except the payoff is just dumb and ridiculous anyway, so why bother?

Also, as an aside, the time between the dawn of the iron age and flintlocks was 12 centuries Uhura? The iron age started around 1200 BC, and muskets around 1500. Just a bit more than 12 centuries...
JERR west
Fri, Feb 24, 2017, 6:09am (UTC -5)
Why do you protect James kirk,Nona had all the men under her power,all Tyree wanted was to be put under spell's, when Tyree said you will not speak of this to other's, Nona said I will not if I am made to understand, when yutan came he told Nona not excuse me he said forgive me,kirk was hers that's why she was waiting for him she wished him there,do a story about Nona had she lived.
Okrad Del Diablo
Fri, Mar 31, 2017, 11:01am (UTC -5)
Mmmmmm Nona.... usually takes more then T&A of a sexy chick to beguile me, but she would be worth some pain (giving and taking it). Damn I love sexy, determined, manipulative ladies with attitude and ambition! :) Fun to be around, and she'd keep me on my toes.

Refreshing change from all the lovey-doey miniskirt honeycakes on the Enterprise. Now THEY are sexist, in my view. Nona is not. She has her agenda, she thinks for herself, she is ambitions (and genuinely wants to protect her people I believe)... and atop of that, she is drop-dead gorgeous. I'm not surprised all the losers in her village couldn't handle her, including Tyree. For a 1960 american show, I have to say I'm very surprised by her character. Awesome! Wouldn't mind if she did some actual ass-kicking too (she looks athletic enough), but I suppose thats too much to expect from the time-period of the show.

"I have the wrong husband!" damn right you do, babe! You need a right kind of man for you, not a pacifist pussy who would rather die then fight back and protect his people. Thats why she ran over to the opposing tribe, she got fed up by all the passivity. And in the end she was the catalyst that got Tyree to act. Too bad it cost her her life.

Also love the Spock-slapping. Not NEARLY hard enough, but I liked it! I'd have bitch-slapped the jerk so hard he'd be spitting blood by the end hehe.

3 stars. 2 for Nona, 1 for the right message in the end, about the need to maintain the balance of power and respond to violence with violence. One of the few times Trek's pacifist bullshit didnt prevail, but reality did. -1 for Nona getting killed. *cries*
Justin
Wed, Jun 21, 2017, 11:32pm (UTC -5)
Fodder for Right Wing snowflake Trek fans, of which there are many. Makes them feel like the "cucks" they think they're not while they watch the rapey hill people molest the hot girl they imagine as their wife. I agree with Paul on this one. It's patently ridiculous that Starfleet would arm a bunch of villagers in a proxy war with the Klingons. The logistics alone don't make sense. Not even Section 31 would be that daft. This is the single worst episode of the original 79. Give me Spock's Brain or the stupid hippie episode all day everyday instead of this steaming turd.
Rahul
Fri, Jul 28, 2017, 10:15pm (UTC -5)
There's an awful lot going on in this episode that interferes with the main idea of Kirk establishing a "balance of power" -- essentially starting an arms race as what he thinks needs to be done.

I enjoyed the episode for its many allegories -- Garden of Eden, Vietnam War etc. Good debate between Kirk and McCoy about the "balance of power" and the helpless feeling he has in the end when he asks Scotty to make 100 rifles/snakes. Are there other solutions? Perhaps. But they may take much more time and it's pretty clear that Tyree's people are in grave danger.

Nona is an interesting character -- conniving although we can probably understand her motivations for 1) survival and 2) desire for power. Tyree's transformation can be believable -- from pacifist to warrior because his wife is killed.

As for the Mugato (or Gumato as its referred to in the ending credits), that's one of the added pieces that could be cut out. So it leads Nona to cure Kirk and cast a spell on him -- it ties in a loosely with the overall plot but I think it's extraneous. But I suppose it's good to show alien animal life which doesn't come up too often in TOS.

As for Spock's recovery, I guess it was meant to make this a Kirk/McCoy episode. The Spock recover mainly provided a bit of TOS-style humor which I always appreciate.

"A Private Little War" gets 3 stars -- it's a legit 60s Trek tale about nothing good about war, difficult or impossible decisions, and some good philosophical considerations. The execution was a bit helter-skelter and kind of like "Friday's Child" but definitely a pretty interesting episode.
Paul M.
Sat, Jul 29, 2017, 7:31am (UTC -5)
Rahul, my main problem with this episode stems from the fact that I can't ignore real world politics analyzing it, especially considering its on-the-nose allegory of the Cold War. Frankly, the very same vomit-inducing sentiment is alive and well in this day.

I DESPISE beyond words the fake self-proclaimed liberal and neoliberal human rights and democracy chest-thumping while "crying" about necessary evils of supporting vilest scum and reducing whole regions to ash.

We love life and human dignity so much that we simply must, in order to defend it!, napalm and agentorange everything, arm Pinochet's death squads, support medieval headchoppers in Saudi Arabia and so on and so forth.

This ep wants to cry over evils of war and basically supports it at the same time without stopping for a second to consider alternatives. It's an awful thinly veiled imperialist BS we can see in contemporary geopolitics all the time.
Trek fan
Sat, Nov 4, 2017, 7:16pm (UTC -5)
In a season full of lightweight adventure and character pieces up to this point, it's refreshing to have a slight return to the Trekkian pacifist ideals of Season One in "A Private Little War." One of Roddenberry's best writing efforts on the series, this episode fleshes out the Prime Directive more clearly and with greater nuance than any show up to this point, and the haunting ambiguous ending lingers more than most TOS episodes of similar content. I give this one 3 or 3 1/2 stars.

The Vietnam allegory and anti-war message works more strongly here because the payoff isn't easily earned; the idealism here doesn't end in a glib gambit (ala "A Piece of the Action" most recently) but in an anguished decision that Kirk realizes is a compromise of limited potential. Very rare on TOS to see Kirk find something less than the ideal solution, but this episode -- much like "Immunity Syndrome" last week -- presents a Kobayashi Maru no-win scenario that requires some sacrifice.

The kitchen sink approach here makes it a fast and fun episode to watch: We have the Klingon-Federation Cold War wrestling for political influence over a developing planet, much like "Friday's Child" earlier this season but with weightier and stronger plotting, as the Klingons here are actively interfering in the culture's development (rather than merely bargaining for its cooperation) by stoking a proxy war. We have the Mugato, the hill people, and the city dwellers. We have the appealing Tyree and his alluring witch doctor wife. We have Spock's illness with the great Chapel slapping scene, plus the welcome debut of Dr. M'Benga in sickbay. Overall, the stakes feel higher in this one than "Friday's Child," and the moral debate without any obvious solution (Kirk is moved to arm Tyree not merely by affection for his friend: Do we arm the other side or allow them to be slaughtered so the Klingons take over the planet?) lingers in its impact. By the end of the episode, we feel like the whole situation is now a mess, and the crew is powerless to fix it -- the haunting final scene with Tyree hits hard. It's not the best Trek episode ever, but it's quite possibly the most nuanced and thoughtful Prime Directive story on TOS, and combines colorful adventure with anguished moral challenges. Good stuff.
Anonymous
Sat, Mar 10, 2018, 9:36pm (UTC -5)
This goes out to Okrad Del Diablo:
What the heck is wrong with you? Did this episode get your rocks off or what? Real creepy.
This goes out to William B:
So if a female is portrayed as the villain, that's misogyny? Get over yourself.
NoPoet
Sat, Oct 6, 2018, 5:54pm (UTC -5)
Why didn't they just consult their history archives rather than get involved in an arms race?

"Captain, I have consulted the archives. It transpires that Captain Archer and the crew of the NX-01 faced a similar situation a century ago."
"I don't have time for a history lesson, Spock."
"Indeed. Captain Archer moved an entire encampment a few feet to one side. When the confused Klingons beamed down, the villagers then stood up for themselves, claiming they were no longer afraid of 'bullies'."
"Sounds like a risky plan, Mr Spock. What happened?"
"The Klingons returned in force three days after the NX-01 had departed and bombarded the planet for six hours."
"I saw Archer's statue last time I was on Earth. This explains why he was scultped with his pants around his ankles."
Springy
Sat, May 11, 2019, 8:21pm (UTC -5)
I didn't like it. Confusing mess of a plot and while I don't mind an "up in the air" ending, this one just felt like a cheat. An impossibly huge mess was made, leaving no choice but to simply abandon it.

Below average.
Trish
Mon, Sep 30, 2019, 7:44pm (UTC -5)
People below the age of 40 or so, both men and women, are sometimes puzzled by what they see as the strident tone of feminists, and they think that feminists of days gone by just didn't know how to stand up for themselves and live their own life. Why did they have to FIGHT about everything?

The people who don't get why feminists had to fight did not grow up in a time when shows like this, that were still new or in their first round of reruns at the time, communicated "obvious" assumption that a woman could not be a leader in her own right, even if she was intelligent, knowledgeable, and strong. She could only act through a man, and she usually did so by means of distasteful manipulative behavior, and was often on the "wrong" side.

There was no standing up for yourself and living your own life. That was for men. Women were supposed to find a man to hitch their lives to, and hope that he was intelligent, knowledgeable, and strong enough to give her a good life.
Peter G.
Mon, Sep 30, 2019, 10:56pm (UTC -5)
@ Trish,

It's easy to read sexism in an episode like this. After all, why not? A woman is in it who's told she can't lead because she's a woman. But hold on - it also shows her outrage at this and makes it clear that she's been the one with the power all along, stringing along the men. She is also personally the one who changes the stakes at a certain point. Sure, she may be a 'villain' in a plot-driven sense, but is her wiley way a bad trait, or one forced on her by those who wouldn't give her any other avenue? I think these questions need to be asked. The overt plot is about a proxy war - two sides, Klingon and Federation - with the local population doing the fighting basically on behalf of the greater powers. Those who actually 'do the war' are the weak ones in the schema. Maybe that's just like how the men fight Nona's battle for them. If that comparison is intended between the Klingons/Federation and Nona, who are the ones behind the scenes pulling strings because they don't have permission to engage directly, then Nona is actually portrayed as the powerful one. And that would indeed be a feminist message.

All depends on the interpretation, no?
Trish
Tue, Oct 1, 2019, 12:47am (UTC -5)
@Peter G.

The issue I'm pointing out is that in that "universe" (not the Trek universe specifically, but the "real" world view of the time), her lack of "any other avenue" was not being critiqued or challenged by the storyteller, but simply presumed as the way things were.

I remember back in college when we studied Euripides' play Medea, and the professor pointed out to us that her speeches that might seem to us to have justified her actions and made her the heroine would not have been intended that way at the time. She was not supposed to be a heroine you would love, but a villainess you would "love to hate."

Nona, too, is a villainess in the story. Some of us may understand her character's outrage now, and even at some level cheer for her behind-the-scenes machinations, but that is a revisionist approach to the narrative. I'm glad you see it that way NOW, but in its time, the presumptions woven into the episode (which remember was within a series that was very self-consciously modern and progressive from its creator's point of view) were exactly the kind of attitudes that feminists were fighting against, and that would never have simply faded away without a fight. The feminists who seem so strident from today's perspective were in a battle for their lives, that is, for the lives they wanted to live, not the lives the Nonas of their real world had.

It was also a battle for the lives of not only women who would come after them but of men who would come after them as well, lives in which the kind of revisionist reinterpretation of stories like this one would seem natural.
Booming
Tue, Oct 1, 2019, 1:11am (UTC -5)
@Trish
Very interesting read.
The scheming women, the gay coded villains.
Heteronormativity... *sigh* Simpler times. ;)

I also like the hopeful spin that you put on it.
Harry's Swollen Throat
Sun, Nov 3, 2019, 11:11pm (UTC -5)
Am I the only person annoyed af at Kirk. Every damn woman no matter who they are he gets in their pants. I want to face palm myself so hard.

Also not great to make Nona the main focus. Was rooting for her to die within the few seconds I saw her lol. Would have liked more klingon action than anything.

What even is a prime directive these days....sigh....
Sen-Sors
Sun, Dec 29, 2019, 7:17pm (UTC -5)
Was going to jump into the discussion of Nona's portrayal in this but Trish said it all better than I could so I'll just say I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought Kirk's "cure" looked like dog poop.
Chrome
Tue, May 26, 2020, 7:02pm (UTC -5)
Here we have a right good set-up, an interesting analogy, some great moments by the Big 3 and a smart black doctor who the characters don't make odd remarks about. Plus, we even get some Klingon shenanigans and gorgeous Trek girl. This has the framework for a classic TOS episode.

Unfortunately, Nona the Trek girl is just a plastic villain (who I guess serves as an Eve metaphor in the garden of Eden?) without complexity. They could've made Nona interesting in a number of ways like: a) Making it clear she wanted to seize Tyree's power and start some sort of matriarchy; b) make her an agent of the Klingons helping to instigate a doomed fight; or c) she really loved Tyree and wanted him to become the strong leader her people needed.

Of course, I could let the Nona stuff go because the underlying Prime Directive conflict is an interesting one. Unfortunately, Kirk's solution feels oddly on the wrong side of history. I don't know if NBC was unable to show it, but the U.S. policy of containment in Vietnam was not working in 1968. A few months after this episode airs, the Tet offensive will make it clear that maintaining a "balance of power" in Vietnam was an untenable solution. Of course the Trek writers couldn't have known exactly how Vietnam would develop, but they probably should've stayed away from advocating military policies about an escalating conflict.

Another possibility is the episode wasn't about Vietnam at all and the writers were inspired by another proxy war where containment kind of worked... like Korea? Still, pretty spotty.

Anyhow, I can understand why arming peaceful people in a larger conflict might be the right thing to do in certain circumstances. And okay, Kirk is torn up over having to do it. So, although the policy presented appears to be a bad one, at least we know the characters also didn't like it much either.

Considering the good moments and morally difficult dilemma, I guess I will go ahead and maintain the balance of power in my rating award this 2 stars.
Peter G.
Tue, May 26, 2020, 9:59pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

I hear you on some of these objections. For my part Nona annoyed me as a kid, since she comes off as so antagonistic and manipulative. However looking back I wonder whether there isn't something deeper to be found there. Basically she wants a strong leader, yes, a 'real man', and also one she can manipulate. A man of peace wouldn't have much room for her type of thinking, whereas an emotionally agitated and movable man would. To me this says something about how men of peace might come off to others who are expecting the "strong man". For instance, could a moderate and peaceful person have taken over Saddam's Iraq back in the 90's? Or would that have been rejected by all involved as weak and that person been deposed? It begs the question of not just which approach is enlightened, but which will actually work. No point putting a 'man of the future' in power if in the present they cannot possibly rule successfully. I think Hamlet is all about that. In an less developed society you can't have a peaceful person at the helm. And maybe Nona is our vehicle to that realization, especially as she's the female presence which, reputedly, is more attracted to the alpha type than the 'decent person.' Or at least that is an impression we may get observing the success powerful men and celebrities get in the romance department. My point is that maybe all signs point towards "nice guy can't lead us" in a more primitive society.

Regarding the proxy war aspect, I'm not sure about your conclusion that it should be seen as a failure of a policy. The cold war setting is established by the Organian Treaty, and so Kirk has to choose between letting Tyree's people be run over, or to arm them and give them a chance. Now in the actual Cold War the situation was IMO more like both sides were pillaging the Third World and using the 'war' as a cover. But in our Trek context we know Kirk wouldn't do that, and that he legitimately just wants them to be able to defend themselves. The proxy war in this case isn't necessarily about containment of the Klingons from expanding as an empire, but could be seen as just trying to help these people. Part of our backstory is Kirk's personal friendship with Tyree. Given a choice between watching them die or helping by arming them, I'm not so sure that arming them is illogical. I think maybe the motive matters a lot. Protecting a vulnerable people is really a different objective than using some other people to fight a war for you that you don't want to fight directly, using them as canon fodder.

Don't you think?
Chrome
Wed, May 27, 2020, 11:43am (UTC -5)
@Peter G

Actually, I don’t have any issue with Nona’s character; in fact I rather like her. I just don’t think her motivations were fleshed out very well. Unfortunately, without more information, the episode makes her a shallow harbinger of evil when, as you described, it should be more complex than that.

The problem with saying that Kirk was "just trying to help" is that Kirk on his own accord would not help the Hill people and the episode addresses that. If the Village tribe (why don't these groups have names?) developed guns on their own, then it's implied Kirk would leave the Hill people to their fate and let them die. It's not until Klingon interference is confirmed that Kirk is forced to get involved as a matter of duty. This makes it look like Kirk's interests are in line with Starfleet's and the burden he has to bear is for Starfleet's cause - i.e. winning or maintaining balance against the Klingons.

One thing the episode gets right, as I mentioned, is that it doesn't look like Kirk wanted to get involved in arms escalation in the first place. The episode also removes Spock from the discussion and therefore logic from Kirk's position and implies he's under some sort of drugged influence that impairs his judgment. So, I don't think the episode really wants to make us to believe Kirk was 100% doing the right thing. It's more like Kirk was in the classic JFK position where his liberal ideals to help the little guy and Democracy sound good in theory, but in hindsight we can see that the Nixon/Bones position of not getting involved in a hopeless fight (even for a just cause) was the stronger position.
Peter G.
Wed, May 27, 2020, 12:16pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

I might have to re-watch for tone, but I don't recall ever getting the impression that we're meant to feel that Kirk made a mistake at the end. I don't think he was happy to have to intervene in this manner, but I don't recall anything indicating any awareness that he was making an error.

"It's not until Klingon interference is confirmed that Kirk is forced to get involved as a matter of duty. This makes it look like Kirk's interests are in line with Starfleet's and the burden he has to bear is for Starfleet's cause - i.e. winning or maintaining balance against the Klingons."

But I think this is a Prime Directive thing. He would have let them kill each other under normal circumstances due to the PD. What changes is that the Klingons interfere on one side. Technically that should not alter the Fed position that intervening is a breach of the PD; I don't think the PD has 'unless' clauses. So I suppose it's my interpretation that Kirk's personal friendship is what pushes him over the edge and makes him feel that it's just unacceptable to follow the letter of the law and let his friend's people die due to Klingon interference. Kirk's solution seems to me like the best he can do to re-establish non-interference. In effect, to try to match and therefore undo the Klingon interference in this culture. But I don't think it's to serve Starfleet's agenda in defeating Klingons; I think it's to fix a PD violation, even though technically it was the Klingons who violated it. I think the spirit of arming both sides is something like recognizing that what happened is not fair, and not representative of letting a culture evolve on its own. He needed to arm Tyree's side to give them a chance to settle their cultural dispute on their own terms. I see it as trying to re-establish normal cultural development there.
Chrome
Wed, May 27, 2020, 1:48pm (UTC -5)
Yeah, Peter, I don't think there's any doubt Kirk is unhappy arming the people here. He's despoiling what he used to think of as the "Garden of Eden", after all. He even has to give the order twice to Scott at the end who is confused about why Kirk would be asking for a bunch of weapons. The way Kirk's friendship with Tyree plays into this is that he's able to help Tyree man up and be able to defend himself in war. Kirk says this isn't the best life for Tyree, but at least it's a *chance for life* for him and his people.

The PD doesn't apply here because the Klingons already messed with the natural development of the people. Kirk's solution is supposed to correct that interference. But as the episode discusses, it seems likely to lead to escalation and ramped up interference by Starfleet. Maybe in the Star Trek universe, escalation never happens and the Klingons back down, but in the parallel real world conflict *this episode mentions specifically* that wasn't the case.
Peter G.
Wed, May 27, 2020, 1:56pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

"The PD doesn't apply here because the Klingons already messed with the natural development of the people. Kirk's solution is supposed to correct that interference."

I'm citing the PD because I think the spirit of the PD is what's in play here - to give them a chance at a normal development, or as close to one as is possible at this point. TOS did more actually than the later series did to not only spell out the PD, but also to spell out that as a law it requires on-the-fly interpretation and that it's never black and white (which on TNG they often make it). A Captain is uniquely in the position to determine the best way to maintain its spirit when the letter of it is no longer possible (see A Piece of the Action for another example of a zany way to try to follow the spirit of the law). I brought it up because this is a viable alternative as a theory for why Kirk helps, as opposed to the more realpolitik interpretation that the Federation was being just like the U.S. in the Cold War.

"But as the episode discusses, it seems likely to lead to escalation and ramped up interference by Starfleet. Maybe in the Star Trek universe, escalation never happens and the Klingons back down, but in the parallel real world conflict *this episode mentions specifically* that wasn't the case."

I agree that the prognosis doesn't look good for paradise on this planet. The bottom line is that the Klingons ruined it, and the only thing left to do is salvage whatever scraps of it remain. The reason I keep mentioning the friendship is that I think it demonstrates that there can be reasons for arming a people other than to manipulate them into your own private conflicts. It might well be possible to do 'cold war type stuff' but in a spirit of friendship, depending on context. The best Kirk could do here to maintain balance was a least of evils choice, no question about that. My only contention is that I don't think it was necessarily an error, nor does it have to be seen as done for the purpose of having a proxy war against the Klingons.
Jay Marks
Wed, May 27, 2020, 11:03pm (UTC -5)
@ Peter G.

Always enjoy your comments/posts......never NOT insightful and thougtful.! For TOS APLW, you recently wrote in part, "It begs the question of not just which approach is enlightened, but which will actually work." A interesting little truth bomb.

BTW, I don't know why the comments from today are not listed here. I saw them in the Comment Stream. I refreshed this page., but nothing. What am I missing?
Jay Marks
Wed, May 27, 2020, 11:04pm (UTC -5)
Never mind. Found them. Doh.
Peter G.
Wed, May 27, 2020, 11:56pm (UTC -5)
Thanks Jay Marks!
EventualZen
Fri, May 29, 2020, 7:41pm (UTC -5)
Forgive my puerile adolescent comment but that Nona is a babe, she's so seductive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCJ1Fs5YQtE

3/10 The Klingons are providing increasingly advanced weaponry to primitive tribes & Kirk is injured on the planet. The discussion of the Vietnam war and the importance of balance of power were good but this episode didn't have anything else to offer & didn't feel like sci-fi. The whole Spock being injured b-plot was pointless. You could argue this episode is pro 2nd amendment rights because Kirk says both sides should have equal weaponry, however I may be stretching the definition a bit too far there.

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