Star Trek: The Original Series

“The Savage Curtain”

1.5 stars.

Air date: 3/7/1969
Teleplay by Gene Roddenberry and Arthur Heinemann
Story by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Herschel Daugherty

Review Text

The Enterprise crew finds itself face to face with an entity that appears and claims to be Abraham Lincoln (Lee Berger). Lincoln invites Kirk and Spock down to the surface of a planet, where they all find themselves the pawns in a game of "good versus evil," courtesy of a rock-like creature that wants to learn the difference between the two powerful forces. Surak (Barry Atwater), the master who forged the peaceful Vulcan ideology milleniums ago, joins Kirk, Spock, and Lincoln to engage in a battle to the end against four nefarious figures from history.

This poorly conceived episode might've been better titled "Arena VII: The Abe Lincoln Factor." Seriously, was it really in remotely good taste for this episode to use Abraham Lincoln as a character in such a silly adventure? I'm inclined to say no. Who really wants to see President Lincoln reduced to a hollow supporting character—especially considering that in the end he takes a spear in the back?

"The Savage Curtain" is a routine, bland hour of TOS, with the same themes we've seen over and over again. It's another in a long line of Trekkian outings where the humanity of Kirk's crew is tested—but less enlightening than most.

Previous episode: The Cloud Minders
Next episode: All Our Yesterdays

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73 comments on this post

    Col. Green "led a genocidal war early in the 21st Century on Earth"?

    That's funny, I always thought George W. Bush did that (hey, somebody had to say that, so it may as well be me).

    This episode has a lot of bad TOS cliches -- Kirk in a fight to the death, the bridge crew helpless and forced to watch, bad-guy aliens playing puppet master, weak fight scenes and over-the-top-look-how-far-they've-come moments ("In our century, we've learned not to fear words.").

    But ... I still don't hate this episode and I would rate it at least 2 stars, maybe 2 1/2.

    The dialog between Kirk and Lincoln makes for some good moments (I love when Lincoln compares Kirk with General Grant). The episode is also an origin tale for both the Vulcans and the Klingons (admittedly, Kahless is done badly here, but Surak is interesting). And Colonel Green has some presence as a villain.

    My biggest problem with the episode is Kirk and Spock willfully beaming down to the planet, though McCoy and Scotty have a good scene where they try to talk them out of it. Scotty really grows as a character in season 3, actually.

    Probably the most important thing: This episode, while goofy, isn't dull like so many other season 3 offerings.

    Last thing: This is the final episode where the main cast appears together. We only hear Scotty's voice in "All Our Yesterdays" and Uhura isn't in "Turnabout Intruder".

    So, what did the rock creature learn about good and evil by episode's end? Nothing - zero-which also describes the amount of watchable content this offers.

    This episode is pretty dumb. Getting two sides to fight one another is not how you get to know these two sides. You need to see them when they're not under extreme pressure.

    That being said, I actually love the beginning of this episode. If this were just an episode where Lincoln comes aboard and helps the Enterprise do something, that would have been really fun. Surak could have come along too.

    For me the most absurd a spect of the episode is the glimpse of Lincoln seated like he is in the Lincoln memorial monument floating around in space.It is intention getting at the beginning, but surely there was no one in the audience who thought it really was Lincoln or who did not think it was an illusion, or some alien in Lincoln clothing. How does he manage to breath in the vacuum of space?
    Yet Kirk and his crew apparently think it is real. Most of us know that Lincoln was well and truly dead by the 23rd century, and by assassination. Logically he could not have been the real Lincoln but Kirk and the crew put on their best full dress uniforms and practically genuflect to him. If, I remember rightly, no one asks him how he survived assassination, and how he swiped the chair from the Lincoln memorial and blasted off into space with it. A stronger degree of scepticism by Kirk, and if if the writers could have come up with a more convincing way of introducing Lincoln in the story, then the rest of the story premise might have been more acceptable too,even if we had seen the duel in the area used too many times already
    The Lincoln in space made for a striking visual opening teaser for the episode, but someone among the producers or writers should have realised how dumb or stupid it was.

    Lol at Jammer's second paragraph. I think they could have made a whole series out of shamelessly killing history's noblest figures!

    At least this inspired a pretty good Futurama episode.

    Interesting that one of the villains chosen for the battle of good vs evil is the one and only Kayless(sp?)the father of Klingon Warriorism acting like an unhonorable cheater.

    Home stretch!

    I think Jammer's review basically says most of what I want to say. There is an interesting, maybe not entirely developed, philosophical debate between Surak and Lincoln about how best to respond to evil: Surak recommends leading by example, passive resistance, pacifism in general, and Lincoln basically argues that they have to be as devious and ruthless as the enemy in order to beat them. As it turns out, neither survive the hour. Surak's being butchered because he puts up no fight at all is something of a cautionary tale. Valuing peace is noble and honourable, but it might get you killed if it's not counterbalanced. I also get a feeling that this episode's FICTIONAL Lincoln's being stabbed in the back was meant as some sort of weird poetic justice for his especially "sneaky" campaign suggestion. Or, maybe not.

    In general, WHO IS BETTER -- GOOD OR EVIL?!?! FIGHT! -- is one of the dumbest ideas to come out of this series. At least "Arena," for its flaws in execution, had the point more or less be that Kirk had to show he could use his brains rather than brute force, and so the point was something more akin to what Q tested Picard with in "All Good Things" (on a much smaller scale): not "are you good?" but "can you expand?" The episode's closing conversation comes down to, "good" and "evil" actually use similar tactics to each other in war, so what is the difference? The difference is fighting war for protection of oneself and people one cares about, and fighting for the sake of spoils. Great.

    You know, there are a lot of "aliens try to understand human concepts through testing them out" episodes in various series, and not many of them are good. Still, in an episode like TNG's "Allegiance" or "Liaisons," neither of which are exactly classics, for the flaws in the aliens' methodology it's more or less clear at least to an extent what information they think they're gaining. Not only do the aliens pit "good versus evil," but they actually pit...two real people and two imaginary people created out of whatever likely limited understanding those people had of the real versions of those people, again four imaginary people who are viewed as the worst of the worst, and thus are also presumably not really understood all that well. I'm not saying that "the genocidal Col. Green" was probably a great guy and Kirk just doesn't understand him, but I think if one is going to pit opposite philosophies (as if "evil" was a philosophy), one should at least make sure one gets real representatives. Kirk is surprised that Col. Green acts like a reasonable person (at first), even though Col. Green is a) not real, and b) is based on Kirk's (or maybe Spock's) imagined version of him. If the aliens can really just create whole people with the ability to self-determine, why do they need Kirk and Spock to fight at all? Can't they just scan their brains and then run simulations to their hearts', or rock-creature equivalent of hearts', content?

    Kirk also says:

    "It was so hard for me to see him die again. I feel I understand what Earth must have gone through to achieve final peace."

    I mean, this statement seems to imply that "final peace" came about as a result of Lincoln's death, which is ridiculous even if the episode didn't also introduce a 21st century genocidal dictator.

    It is an interesting footnote that Kirk's version of Kahless is pure evil. At the end it's more or less stated, in case it hadn't been clear, that the various monsters and heroes were created out of the minds of Kirk and Spock -- so that Kirk views the Klingon messiah as a figure of pure malice reveals, in retrospect, something interesting about Kirk's cultural biases against the Klingons, understandably since their warlike expansion is being as destructive as it is. In reality, I think it's true that Kahless' philosophy is damaging -- he does seem to value war and expansion and glory -- but the "real Kahless," whether it's the clone we eventually encounter or the mythological one Worf describes, would view treachery and stabbing someone in the back as the worst of transgressions. It highlights the way the 1980s-90s Trek complicates the assumptions in the original series, and retroactively both TNG and The Undiscovered Country suggest that Kirk's earlier perspective on Klingons was distorted, if not wholly inaccurate.

    I took a few weeks trying to think of something to say about this episode, and I'm still coming up mostly empty. 1 star.

    This episode could have been better had the writers actually come up with a reason for Evil losing to Good other than Kirk being amazing at hand to hand combat. Evil has a tendency to turn on itself and it seems reasonable to me that at some point, possibly with the right push from the Good group, the Evil group would have self-destructed due to infighting.

    I kind of liked this episode. Most of it. It was interesting seeing Kirk and Spock meeting their heroes. I wish Col. Green had been telling the truth when he offered to work with Kirk instead of fighting, maybe making the evil guys more 3 dimensional rather than cardboard cutouts.

    What bothered me was the ending. They have the good guys 4 on 2 but they lose because Kirk beats them up and they run away? That was weak. Guess the writers ran out of ideas.

    Col. Green "led a genocidal war early in the 21st Century on Earth"?

    That's funny, I always thought Osama Bin Ladin did that (hey, somebody had to say that, so it may as well be me).

    Some people need to purchase a dictionary and look up the word "genocide".

    @Jason - To be fair, Osama Bin Laden was TRYING to kill all the infidels, he was just really bad at it (with the notable exception of 1 good day followed by years and years of hiding in holes).

    I don't understand the philosophical idea behind this episode. The question the episode posed was whether good will prevail over evil. At the end of the episode the creature said that the methods behind achieving peace (the good) were the same as the methods behind evil, both being murder. Seriously, how is that an answer to the question which of the two would prevail?

    Or did I misunderstand? When the creature said ''which of the two is stronger'', did it mean 'will fighting for evil (selfishness) lead to victory, or will fighting for good lead to victory?'
    If that's what it meant, then, well... this whole episode must've been about how survival instinct overpowers selfish goals. But that's not the idea I got from the episode, as it kept going on about good VS evil.

    At the end, Spock gives a pointless summary of the facts, rather than insight into what it was all about. Not only that, but the philosophical idea that good and evil often use the same methods isn't reflected upon either. It seems like the episode didn't know what theme to go with, and what story to tell. Such a shame.

    Well in the midst of a lot of season 3 episodes that were fluff/out of character/ridiculous/boring (delete as applicable), The Savage Curtain was OK. I was certainly entertained, but there just wasn't much substance here.

    It was much better than watching The Way to Eden last night before bed, where I was worried about having song montage nightmares. Now that is a monstrosity of an episode, and I would advocate giving it a minus score.

    At the point that they introduce evil historical figures I actually thought that they would have a philosophical debate and wondered if the episode just gets bad rap for the inherent silliness of the concept. Once it turn out it's another battle to the death... Yeah. I do give credit for developing Vulcans but this isn't just a silly episode, it's rather pretentious one as well.

    Things I learned from this episode: Genghis Khaaaan attained his empire and military victories by throwing rocks from the bushes. He's reduced to a "Sneaky Asian" here instead of the complex and intimidating figure he really was. This is the kind of thing that probably annoys George Takei. Why include him if you aren't going to try to do it right?

    The rock alien costume and its voice effect was pretty cool, though.

    Arena + The Omega Glory + Catspaw = This (and many episodes in subsequent series especially those with Q)

    The one saving grace is the interaction between Lincoln and Uhura, when he says "What a charming Negress", then immediately apologizes for calling her that. And she responds (I'm paraphrasing) "why should I take offense at a word? [regardless of how it was used in the past] I'm happy with who/what I am." That's a classic Roddenberry vision of the future.

    Yeah, the "let's examine good and evil by making them kill each other" is absurd. It's possible a truly alien race wouldn't know any better, but surely KIrk or Spock could have quickly pointed out the flaw in their experimental design.
    Kirk: "Both sides can fight -- to find meaningful differences, you need to examine *why* they fight..." or something to that effect would have been a good start.

    @JPaul - I like your notion of having the evil group implode with infighting. Maybe that's what was shown at the end. The good guys don't "win because Kirk is a good fighter" (and how lame is Spock here? you'd think he could easily kick butt of any of his foes, but can't seem to get the upper hand....); the good guys win because, despite a nominal 4 -to- 2 advantage, the "bad guys" weren't willing to commit their own skin to battle. Col Green comes across as a classic "lead from the rear" commander.
    Though I'm not sure history indicates that the "good guys" exhibit bettery unit cohesion than the "bad guys".....

    This was a wonderful episode that gives an excellent insight into the decline in writing as Star Trek came to an end. Star Trek (2009) started that way only to get worst with with the Into the Darkness improving with Beyond minus the rubbish intelligence insulting villain plot and forced queers onscreen.

    @MadBaggins - Don't feed the trolls :P

    (It apparently offended Why? so much that Sulu was gay and that they threw it in our faces for all of 5 seconds that he needed to associate it with the decline of all Trek).

    One of the first TOS episodes I saw as a kid -- and I don't remember liking it. Over the years, I've wavered between grooving on it and finding it awful, but now I've come to decide that I like "The Savage Curtain." I'll give it 3/4 stars.

    While Lincoln's initial appearance on the viewscreen is campy, and soured me on this one as a kid, the story actually develops into a fairly serious, thoughtful, and well-scripted exploration of violence and pacifism. And at this point in my life, I've seen so much brainless and tasteless Star Trek episodes since I first saw this one -- including dozens of bad TNG, DS9, Voyager, and especially Enterprise episodes -- that I've softened on "Savage Curtain" quite a bit. For me, it's rather refreshing to watch "Savage Curtain" after seeing the 100th shuttle crash episode on Voyager or the 50th Archer-is-held-hostage episode on Enterprise.

    This show gets points from me for being consistently intriguing, attention-holding, and even compelling at times. The crew interaction, banter, and debate in the early scenes when "Lincoln" comes aboard is especially sharp -- I particularly like the idealism of the classic Roddenberry-scripted exchange between Uhura and the president about race. Scotty and Bones are delightfully combative, Chekov and Sulu get a bit of screen time as they cover for Kirk and Spock on the bridge, and the Excalbian rock alien is cool.

    This episode is important in Trek lore for introducing some major characters who later recur in the franchise's fictional universe. Although Kahless hardly makes an impact, being a fairly one-note projection of Kirk's negative image of Klingons, Colonel Green -- later seen on Enterprise as an inspiration for the xenophobic separatist group led by Peter Weller's character at the end of Season 4 -- makes a pretty strong impression as a symbol of humanity's dystopian past in a series that's normally very idealistic about humanity. But above all else, I really treasure the sensitive and thoughtful exchanges between Kirk and Spock with Lincoln and Surak, as they try to make sense of the situation and respond to it. It's a nice touch that the characters projected from the minds of Kirk and Spock, both good and evil, think themselves real despite not quite understanding their situation.

    Ultimately, I can't go higher than 3 stars because the concept of aliens forcing the Enterprise crew to do battle was already a cliche on TOS by this point in the series run, and had arguably been done better on earlier episodes. Also, the climactic victory moment of Kirk and Spock is underplayed to the point of being well over before you realize they've succeeded. But the intelligent characterization of Lincoln and Surak, who the plot takes very seriously, makes the show worthwhile -- the expanding of Vulcan's backstory with the introduction of Surak is a uniquely strong highlight of the show. While the final lesson that good fights for others while evil fights for selfish gain feels a bit obvious in the end, I also like how "Savage Curtain" concludes on a note of moral ambiguity, with the Excalbian rock creature remaining skeptical of the human distinction between good and evil even as he grasps it and frees the crew as promised.

    On that note, it's nice to see a TOS episode that ends with an alien who exists somewhat beyond our categories of good and evil, rather than being merely a good alien or bad alien or bad alien masquerading as good alien or good alien masquerading as bad alien. If you watch this episode closely, getting past the initial goofiness of the Lincoln reveal, there's actually quite a bit of substance and nuance in the plot. Incidentally, the Lincoln stuff reminded me of Voyager's "The 37s" episode, which began with a Chevy '57 appearing on the viewscreen and proceeded to discover Amelia Earhart and other figures from earth history living in stasis on a Delta Quadrant planet where they had been kidnapped. The difference is that Voyager took the idea of human historical figures living in outer space seriously, whereas this unfairly maligned TOS episode treats the same notion rather more sensibly as an illusion that is nevertheless real for the crew.

    The 'message' of this show? Don't try for peace. Tell Edith Keeler that too.

    While I agree with a lot of the above, e.g. That the fight was silly and it didn't really prove anything, I thought this episode had some very well written and performed scenes. I really like the way the Abraham Lincoln actor interacted with Kirk and similarly Surak with Spock.

    I didn't hate this episode as much as I had remembered it. I think the guest performance by the Lincoln actor and some of the dialogue with Surak elevated it a bit for me. Where the episode falls flat on its face of course is in the conclusion. Obviously as others have noted, attempting to discern the nature of good and evil through physical combat is just silly. But beyond that, it's apparent the writers just haven't the foggiest clue how to resolve things at the end, so they just have Kirk and Spock flat out beat up the four villains in a fist fight. That's right - after Lincoln and Surak die Spock and Kirk just straight up kick the asses of the bad guys despite 2:1 odds. No cleverness, no twist (a la Kirk outwitting the Gorn) they're just better fighters.

    I just re-watched this episode. While I still don't think think it is great, it was better than I remember, of course, sometimes when you see something again that you did not particularly care for, it seems better since you aren't expecting much.

    One thing about this episode I always liked was lee

    To continue from above:

    One thing I have always liked about this episode is lee Bergere's potrayal of LIncoln.

    Gene Roddenberry, an old white dude, uses Uhura to tastelessly lecture the audience on political correctness. I notice she didn’t turn and call Sulu a cocksucking g*** or refer to President Lincoln as a crusty cracker.

    No no instead she almost looks right into the camera and says (to the mainly white male audience) it’s okay for them to go up to black women and call them “charming Negress.” I suppose it’s meant as a compliment. Uhura has basically no lines or meaningful development in three seasons (much less this stupid episode). Why they didn’t have Lincoln ask to touch her hair and examine her behind for good measure is beyond me.

    Avoiding rudeness is not about fear of words, it’s about respect. Speaking about someone in the third person while they are standing right in front of you is rude and so is making undue comments about their physical attributes. Kirk says they’re “delighted” with what they are yet no one on the bridge dares call him a sweaty, brawling womanizer.

    I thought that there was plenty of difference between good and evil regarding their tactics which the Excaliban should have picked up on:

    1. Good tried to make peace with evil;
    2. Good only fought when attacked by Evil;
    3. Evil used deception to harm Good;
    4. Evil captured and killed two unarmed members of good, whereas Good would not have done that
    5. The motives of Good and Evil were opposite - personal survival vs. attaining power over others.



    Sure, sure. And sane people everywhere summarize Seinfeld's essential characteristics as a thin, neat "womanizer."

    After all, nearly every episode in over three-times TOS's run (9 years v. 3 years) directly had or implied he was bedding yet another woman. So nah, he's not a comedian. The essential summary anyone now needs to know in 2017 about Jerry Seinfeld is that he's a "womanizer."


    Did someone recently read some snippets from Alinsky?

    11. "If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive."

    13. "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."

    Oh, you'll have to do better, my dear little SJW--you and your silly finger-wagging while you're blind to those three other fingers on your same hand pointing back at you. Go virtue-signal somewhere else after you learn the meaning of respect. And while you crack the books, pick up some grasp of context, too.

    Until then, thanks for the amusement!


    There's a good idea in here (the bluring of good, evil, and the ways in which progress oft depends upon covert and overt violence), and a cool rock monster, but the action sequences are a bit too silly and devoid of tension.

    Imagine if this episode unfolded like Darmok instead; Lincoln, Kirk, Surak and Kahless on a planet, around a fireplace, simply talking and vying with one another via ideologically-loaded dialogue.

    Definitely a goofy episode that fails to achieve the lofty goals its premise lays out. Gene Roddenberry himself with another ultimately below-average episode that attempts to come up with some kind of reasonable examination of good and evil. Along with "The Omega Glory" that's at least 2 weak episodes for the creator of Star Trek.

    Some padding here -- spent way too much time on Lincoln's veracity, his arrival on the Enterprise, and the prelude to the confrontation. And we have another all-powerful alien with undefined powers that can twist and turn the episode to whatever the writer needs. Kirk and Spock need motivation to fight -- so why not set the Enterprise to blow up in 4 hours?

    In terms of an experiment for an alien race to understand good vs. evil, it's is stupidly conceived. The alien rock creature doesn't seem to consider the peace motive of the good guys and thinks it can learn which is stronger -- good or evil -- in a fight with primitive weapons.

    I suppose maybe 1 lesson is that evil disperses when faced with a strong opposition although, in the final battle, 2 of the bad guys didn't even try and just gave up. So the whole thing was pretty poorly executed as well as conceived.

    Still, seeing Kahless, Surak -- and touching on the backstory of 2 of the most famous Trek races is cool. Some interesting philosophical debates among the good guys whereas 2 of the bad guys, aside from Col. Green and Kahless, don't do anything. The rock creature says it has the right to dish out life and death as Kirk has the right to explore the planet...OK then.

    Barely 2 stars for "The Savage Curtain" -- compare the experiment Kirk/Spock are subjected to here with that of "The Empath", which was a much stronger episode in which the live laboratory actually taught Gem self-sacrifice, loyalty etc. "Arena" is another episode that comes to mind that is similar but much stronger for the actual "fight" and the mercy shown by Kirk at the end. Here, a potentially interesting examination of good vs. evil just fizzles out.

    What's wrong with me? I'm re-watching season 3 and finding my estimation of several episodes going up.

    This episode's introduction is wonderfully bizzare and Twilight-Zoney. It's a tone subsequent Trek, in its drive for "realism", too readily avoids.

    Then we get several wonderful utopian conversations with Abe Lincoln, prior to meeting Surak. His introduction is a haunting and powerful sequence. There's something so sublime and eerie about his presence.

    From here on, the episode shifts gears; something that promised to be high-brow SF becomes low-brow, on-the-nose pulp. But the attempts at embedding the episode's violence with philosophical ruminations now feel edgy in light of contemporary Trek. The rock-monster is also pretty neat visually, though his motivations and dialogue are poor.

    Abe Lincoln floating in space? Strange and unconvincing, but the ep was kinda fun. The lava monster was fun, even if his reasoning made no sense. Surak was a nice addition.

    Average as average can be.

    Rewatching this episode made me think about it more deeply. The rock creature’s experimental design was ridiculous. Trying to determine whether good is preferable to evil by staging a fight between representatives from history is laughable. They could have just as easily made Mother Teresa and Josef Stalin face off in a boxing ring.

    Which made me wonder if that wasn’t a form of misdirection on the part of the alien. There had been a “deep probe” of the Enterprise (presumably including its library banks) as well as of Kirk’s and Spock’s historical heroes. Perhaps the alien was really observing how the Federation representatives would try to reason with their enemies first, before resorting to violence. In other words, to see if their actions would live up to their ideals.

    Still, the execution was lacking somehow, with the story and side characters (especially two of the four villains) never quite coming together cogently.

    @ Peter,

    Lolled at the Mother Teresa line. I agree that the episode never gives us a reasonable explanation for what this contest was supposed to show. On the surface it looks like a cheap excuse for us to be shown some famous historical characters, and to essentially allow us to backtrace to an extent how all of us got where we did. Some parts of Earth's history, in other words, seem to favor Klingon ideals (like Ghengis Khan or Eugenics people) whereas others like Lincoln seem to have a lot in common with Vulcan ideals like those of Surak. So as an 'arena' in which to see these threads this is a really good one. And I confess that even as a kid I was impressed with the implicity mythology element in the episode.

    As to the actual combat, maybe the alien was concerned with whether being a peaceful people would cripple one's ability to be strategically successful? Certainly in the case of Surak we see a failure case, but as we know Lincoln wasn't afraid of fighting, nor is Kirk. It's a bit unclear since we don't get to see all that much tactical games going on, but I guess the idea is supposed to be that certain pacifist types really are at a disadvantage, while others like Kirk and maybe Lincoln are completely capable of being both peaceful and fierce. This episode is actually a very small sample of a theme that would later be developed in DS9. If you haven't seen that series I won't spoil anything, but this issue does arise there.

    Arena: Kirk is forced by an alien to fight the Gorn while the crew can only watch from the ship.

    The Gamesters of Triskelion: Kirk is forced by aliens to fight the thralls while the crew can only watch from the ship.

    The Savage Curtain: Kirk (this time along with Spock) is forced by an alien to fight simulations of historical bad guys alongside historical good guys while the crew can only …

    Once might have been creative. But every single season?!

    I'm a fan of Trek, but I can't deny its flaws.

    Perhaps the intention was well and good, but the "What a charming Negress!" dialogue felt really blunt. As someone already pointed out, would Sulu react the same if a historical character greeted him with "What a charismatic G***!"? Shouldn't Kirk have stepped in a explained that "With all due respect Sir, we would prefer it if you refrain from derogatory terms of such kind."

    Yeah whatever, a part from that I liked the episode enough to put it on my re-watch list.

    II I/II of IV

    "Shouldn't Kirk have stepped in a explained that "With all due respect Sir, we would prefer it if you refrain from derogatory terms of such kind.""

    It wasn't a derogatory term in Lincoln's time or even at the time the show was made. But yes, Lincoln's fixating on her race is jarring. But then again, he came from a time when race was a big deal. Not sure what would be gained by lecturing the Lincoln apparition.

    @Jason R. "Not sure what would be gained by lecturing the Lincoln apparition."

    Thanks for this, I found this line indescribably funny. I can just imagine "Piss off, ghost!"

    @Jason and Sleeper Agent

    My brief research suggests some black activists, like Malcolm X, viewed it as derogatory in the 1960's, but there seems to be disagreement (Martin Luther King Jr. famously used Negro in his I Have a Dream speech earlier in 1963). I don't know if anyone was saying "Negress" in the 1960's though.

    I think here there's a difference between in- and out-of-universe. The scene was probably there to make a point that in the post-racism future, Lincoln needn't worry about unintentional offense because race is no longer a sore spot with anyone. Whether or not this is a good point for the writers to make is its own issue, separate from what the appropriate thing for Kirk and Uhura to say to an alien space ghost hologram of Abraham Lincoln about to do battle with villains to demonstrate to a lava monster which is best of good and evil. In-universe, I think it's pretty reasonable to just slide past whatever antiquated gibberish is being said by Lincoln. It's not even like he's somebody's grampa who hasn't updated his terminology and so embarrasses himself; he's a five-century-old mirage probably about to disappear, so it seems probable that it's best for everyone to move on without bothering to do much comment or bringing him up to speed. Out-of-universe we can question the scene on various grounds.

    It seems pretty clear to me they included that line just to provide the opportunity to say something about how racism is gone in the future. They used someone from the civil war to make that point, and someone with a reputation for trying to help the black population. So it ends up being rather apt. while not risking offending us because we do know that Lincoln was still from an era with a different way of talking. I don't know that 1960's accepted terms is necessarily the arbiter, but rather that they intended a civil-war era mentality that was forwarding-thinking to meet the result of his ambitions, far in the future. I suppose something similar would have been a phantom Ghandi meeting up with futuristic pacifists.

    To chip in here. I wouldn't be surprised if the term negress, as the term negro, was pretty standard in the 1860s.
    To quote from Oxford Dictionary:"It remained the standard term throughout the 17th–19th centuries and was used by prominent black American campaigners such as W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington in the early 20th century."

    And I remember that DuBois used the term negro in his works. Here is one quote which I remember quite vividly from back then (got it from wiki):"Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: ... How does it feel to be a problem? ... One ever feels his two-ness, – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder ... He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face."
    Written in 1897.

    Negress was much less commonly used than Negro in the United States. Note that negro can be used to mean any black person whereas Negress has a specific exotic black female connotation. If we were applying today's standards, we'd have to ask "would a black woman consider "Nigress" to be an endearing word?" to which I'm sure the answer is a resounding no.

    Actually, it is an interesting choice here because we usually consider Lincoln a progressive visionary but the writers purposely gave him antiquated politcally-charged jargon. The fact that he apologizes quickly afterwards shows that he was still struggling to get used to a situation where the inferior status of Africans he fought against was no longer status quo.

    @Peter, I wasn't so much bringing up the contemporary 1960's usage as the absolute arbiter of how the scene goes, as to the comparison to the use of "G***" that Sleeper Agent suggested. To the extent that it was being viewed as derogatory in the 1960's, it was not to the same extent as something that began as and was always a racial slur. If some activist against American involvement in the war in Vietnam, for example -- like Martin Luther King, for that matter -- used a similar term in the future to a Korean crew member, I don't think it would be possible for the scene to play the same way.

    @ William B,

    I agree, but that's also because g*** was always an insulting slur, whereas negro was at some points used by all concerned as simply the correct term to refer to black people. So g*** is more similar to the N-word in this sense. Not sure if the writers really wanted negress to be jarring, or if they just wanted an out-of-date reference to seeing each other according to color. I think it was the latter, and that it was supposed to mean Lincoln saw her - in a positive way - as a black woman, whereas in the 23rd century your first reaction to seeing a black person wouldn't be "oh you're black!" His apology may make it sound like he realized he said something dirty, but maybe it's just that he himself is a bit confused about the era, having the knowledge of a 19th century guy but also being quite aware that he's been summoned to participate in a 23rd century game.

    Just to mention it:
    Either say G word and N word or just write anti Asian racial slur. Or write G**** and N*****.
    It bothers me a little that we have to read the word G*** now several times.
    In a rational debate about offensive word usage you can mention slurs. It's not like anybody here condones using racist language (I hope).

    Let's hope that at some point humanity will become enlightened enough to no longer discriminate based on skin pigmentation. *fingers crossed*

    "Let's hope that at some point humanity will become enlightened enough to no longer discriminate based on skin pigmentation. *fingers crossed*"

    How unprogressive of you.

    @Peter, That was sort of the point I was trying to make -- that Lincoln wasn't using a term that was originally designed to be offensive.

    @Booming, In terms of the repetition of the slur, I was trying to take the "you should just say the word you're referring to rather than dance around it," but I went back and forth. I'm not positive I made the right call.

    That Lincoln/Uhura dialog sure makes me long for Star Trek's future. Imagine that: A future without EITHER racism or the PC garbage that's going on right now.

    (I wonder how many people are going to misinterpret the previous paragraph as me being racist. What a surreal world we live in, these days)

    Fascinating to see everyone argue about whether negress was used as an offensive term in the og series. Now in modern trek everyone either hates a different race or species or economic class or whatever you can think of. And we have star fleet members dropping swear words left and while completely disrespecting captains and others in authority.

    Give me space Lincoln over modern trek everytime. I can't agree more with Omicron.

    "In our century, we've learned not to fear words" - Uhura

    We gotta give Roddenberry props for writing an actual clever scene for once. Progressive Lincoln using an outdated racist term and Uhura who lives in a utopian society doesn't even know why she should be offended.

    If that same scene was in Star Trek Picard: "What a charming woman". "actually I'm gender fluid. HOW DARE YOU oppress me with your Patriarchal tyranny!!!"

    The Savage Curtain

    Star Trek season 3 episode 22


    - Bones

    “All too human.”

    - Lincoln quotes Nietzsche

    3 stars (out of 4)

    Given that the Nietzscheans are the key antagonists on Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, we should hardly be surprised that Gene was interested in what the philosophy of Nietzsche had to say about man. Particularly about what it might have to say about man of the future. Khan was of course the most direct depiction of the Übermensch on the show’s original three year run. Unsurprisingly, the Augments (as we later learned to call them on Enterprise) were a product of genetic manipulation, which of course is how the universe in Andromeda got the Nietzscheans also.

    Here, Gene has penned a story that examines the core question of Nietzsche’s book, “Beyond Good and Evil,” in which he asks is there really any difference between good and evil men, or is it merely that what makes man man is expressed in purer form in evil men, while men we consider good, are those who temper those same instincts.

    In a lot of ways, this episode reminded me of DS9’s “Heart of Stone,” where shapeshifters similar to the rock creatures here, manufacture a situation for Odo, through the creation of a fake Kira, in order to teach Odo something about himself. Aliens who have no common moral reference frame for understanding humans, and yet can create human forms? Me thinks the Changelings owe a lot of their character to Yarnek.

    This episode marks the first time we see Surak of Vulcan. Spock is of course beside himself. Season 3 has been quite a journey of exploration for our favorite science officer. He’s played music with hippies. He’s fallen for the beautiful daughter of the administrator of an entire world. He’s played an original Brahms and coveted an original Da Vinci. He’s been offered power, love and glory in The Enterprise Incident. And now here, he meets his greatest hero. I’d say that if this is where The Original Series wanted to leave Spock, they did quite a fine job.

    On a side note, when watching Surak, I couldn’t help but think of T’Pol. Some of the smirks, some of the speech patters were very similar. Maybe Jolene Blalock was a lot better actress than I’ve given her credit for? For those who haven’t seen it, the Vulcan trilogy in ENT season 4 is really good.

    Yeah, hard to imagine, but ENT had easily the best examination of Surak’s philosophy in Trek!

    We also meet Kahless, or at least as @William B points out, Kirk’s idea of Kahless. Suffice to say that for such a fantastic figure, a white man in black face was not exactly an auspicious beginning.

    Rounding out the baddies is Zora, aka Deathwalker from Babylon 5.

    And of course Col. Green, who we don’t ever really hear about again on Trek until, as @Trek fan notes, the end of Enterprise, on Terra Prime.

    Then there’s Ghengis Khan. I’m not sure why he’s on team evil, unless it is because Kirk thinks of him as evil? If you want a more nuanced portrayal of the great Khan @P, I’d recommend the incredible Kazakh movie Mongol,

    Really an epic movie. Highly recommended. That said, @P, don’t feel bad about Khan throwing rocks. Throwing rocks has sometimes been the sign of an epic warrior and leader of men

    Let’ see, did the episode give us anyone else from history?

    Oh yeah, they also bring back honest Abe.

    Or least they bring Abe back long enough to stab him in the back with a spear! Oh I know, I shouldn’t kid. These are revered figures for so many. I’ll only say, that this is the one piece of the episode that was 50 years ahead of it’s time, and only now, in the 20’s, starts to make perfect sense to me. After all, Kirk knows how to respect an alien who presents as a man, and he orders everyone on the ship to use Abe's chosen pronouns:

    MCCOY: Jim, do you really believe he's Abraham Lincoln?

    KIRK: It's obvious he believes it. Doctor McCoy, Mister Spock, full dress uniforms.

    SCOTT: Full dress? Presidential honours? What is this nonsense, Mister Dickerson?

    DICKERSON: I understand President Lincoln's coming aboard, sir.

    SCOTT: Ha! You're daft, man.

    DICKERSON: All I know is what the captain tells me, and he says he'll have the hide of the first man that so much as smiles.

    SCOTT: I'd have expected sanity from the ship's surgeon, at least. President Lincoln, indeed. No doubt to be followed by Louis of France and Robert the Bruce.

    KIRK: If so, we'll execute appropriate honours to each, Mister Scott.

    Scotty, dude, get with the program!

    OTOH, @Paul and @zzybaloobah point out the key note of 23rd century sanity from Uhura,

    UHURA: But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century we've learned not to fear words.

    I fear, as perhaps @Britz94 does, that we are still very, very, very far from that future.

    There are obvious flaws in the episode. And while I liked the fight sound track a lot, as @Jammer says and @Trish really elaborates on, they could have easily called this one Arena part III.

    Finally, I’ll admit that when I was reading @Strejda’s comment, and she says “bad rap,” I immediately thought that this episode would have worked better as an Epic Rap Battle of History. Good vs. Evil. Who wins? You decide.

    How’s that, @JPaul, for the group turning on itself and imploding?

    Weirdly, I have zero recollection of ever having watched this episode before. But like @Trent, I quite enjoyed it.

    Lots of potential here. Would have benefited from some good rewriting though

    Jezzzuuuss. They really jumped the shark on this one. Abe Lincoln in his Lazy Boy? I was wondering what Bones really meant when he said “there’s no intelligent life here, let’s go Jim. “ WTF.

    Full dress uniforms? If that had been Trump, “MAGA hats to the transporter room gentlemen. “

    Kirk all fan boi over Lincoln was a good illustration of the power of celebrity.
    Kirk: “I’m beaming down”.
    Scotty: “Don’t do it Captain. “
    ( Besides Kirk you dumbass, can really trust ANY politician?)

    Jabba the Rock was well done.

    And then it gets serious

    Excellent prelude to fight scene and the internal conflict with ones beliefs. This is the exact internal conflict you go through pre-deployment, once in country, and waiting for the inevitable failure of negotiations and initiation of war. You have got to compartmentalize your fears and scruples. Breathe deep than jump in!

    Sirak’s logic was flawed. Unfortunately there is a time to fight. Lincoln’s oratory was succinct. Kirk and Spock are very mature about war. Freedom is not free.

    A very heavy topic for a play and brilliantly handled. Well written episode. Glad I survived the Service and retired! Phew.

    I love how Uhura doesn't even know why she should be offended. It's that much of a non-issue. I always remembered this small scene from when I saw it in childhood, and it was a part of shaping my beliefs and hopes going forward -- that we could have a future like that.

    I never remembered the rest of the episode because I had no real context for Surak, Kayless, or Colonel Green. Now, after doing an entire TNG, DS9, VOY, ENT, and feature films rewatch, I'm going through TOS. I was delighted to see these founding historical figures brought to life and it's cool the other series ran with them.

    I wish they did more with Kayless, but if Kirk perceived him as just a thug, I can live with that. He really hates Klingons.

    Speaking of which, did the shows ever have a racial slur for Klingons? They had two for Cardassians -- Cardies and Spoonheads. The Andorians called us Pink Skins (which, okay, the cast in question was not entirely White, but I get what the intent was: to show that Blueness was considered normal and correct to Andorians).

    Which brings me to Bones calling Spock a ton of seemingly anti-Vulcan racial slurs. I understand it's all meant with underlying affection, but they did make a point of Bones being a man from the South. I think that's notable. I'd love to see the series bible on McCoy.

    But the Uhura comment to Lincoln always stuck with me. In times like these, it's especially refreshing. There's no need to bend yourself into a pretzel trying to get the terminology right to not offend, when offense isn't an issue.

    I really wanted to like this episode - and in some respects, I really did! The early moments featuring Lincoln on The Enterprise were both charming and mysterious, especially his meeting with Uhura; surely aimed at a viewing audience who so recently had witnessed MLK's peaceful mission for universal racial harmony, apparently achieved by 23rd Century. There were also some very interesting philosophical insights into war versus peace, the latter charismatically put over by the Vulcan Surak.

    So far, so 3.5 stars. But oh, the flaws!

    1. The Animated Turd that was the rock monster... Even the Horta was better and less laughable, in fact so was the ridiculous oil slick that did for Tash Yar in TNG. Surely a being whose natural form was apparently an inert rock, but which could interfere with all The Enterprise's functions and create realistic self-aware copies of figures from history, could have projected something more acceptable to Kirk and Spock and Trek's viewers?

    2. The Animated Turd told Kirk it was their first encounter with humanity. Er.. so Vulcanity didn't count then, and Spock's presence was a complete waste of time?

    3. The staged battles were a nadir of unbelieveable hokum. Ok, I can accept they only had trees and bushes to use, but are we supposed to believe that Genghis Khan and Kahless were silent but obedient subordinates to "Colonel Greene"? Oh please! Tactically alone, Genghis would have wiped the floor with Kirk's party, thus setting up a battle royal between himself and Kahless.

    4. Who was temporary second in command on the Enterprise? We saw both Sulu and Scotty in the captain's chair. Now, my understanding is that Scotty - a Lieutenant Commander - is 3rd in command when Kirk and Spock are both absent so I'm wondering what Sulu was doing in the chair.

    For these reasons I cannot award 3.5 stars, or even 3, but 2.75 seems fair.

    By the way, did anyone spot Kirk performing the Picard Maneouvre for maybe the only time? Ok, I think the dress uniform was rather tight over the Shatner belly, so there was an excuse, but I laughed out loud when I saw him do it!

    So all that Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise did was survive. Nothing really resounding happened. This episode had potential but floundered badly. It seemed like they had no idea how to end it, so they abruptly did. Interacting with President Lincoln was probably the best part. He did not really have a full beard as depicted. Mainly just the chin whiskers. The dress uniforms were a nice touch, once again making an appearance. The episode seemed slow and was holding back. I give it a D+.

    We learn in this episode that good is stronger than evil because evil takes its fighting principles from Monty Python. When it gets scary, “RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”

    Horrible episode with Uhura's best line: "We do not fear words." I wish the sensitive cancel culture snowflakes would take that to heart.

    C'mon. Not the best of TOS but the idea is still way above the tripe that passes for science fiction nowadays. Very imaginative.

    What was a thin story from the outset gets overstretched. The best aspects are the interaction between characters and the cultural history mentioned. Of the four humanoids out of billions chosen to represent Good, two come from the Enterprise, wow, how lucky for us to know them! And, did they have to pick an old Lincoln? Why not the young Abe who built log cabins by hand? Who was the backup selection, FDR from his Potsdam days?

    I concur with JPaul from 2015, "This episode could have been better had the writers actually come up with a reason for Evil losing to Good other than Kirk being amazing at hand to hand combat. Evil has a tendency to turn on itself and it seems reasonable to me that at some point, possibly with the right push from the Good group, the Evil group would have self-destructed due to infighting."

    No one has yet mentioned that Col. Green's red uniform was resurrected for Robin Williams as Mork.

    On the face of it one wouldn't think an episode like this one had that much of interest in it. But there are several gems scattered throughout this strange and abruptly-ended story.

    Maybe one thing I can note is that I've always loved the Abe Lincoln performance. Having seen other characterizations of him, including Daniel Day Lewis (the master himself), I still like this Lincoln the best. As my wife put it, he has a charming twinkle in his eye, and like Kirk, it feels like this Lincoln is somehow 'real' rather than a representation of a historical figure. Another nod should go to the performance of Surak, which held more gravity and focus than one would expect from a tertiary character. The small subplot of his moral position in the adversarial situation is quite compelling, considering the obvious fact that he's 'letting his team down' in the strategic side of things.

    Another interesting thing is the juxtupose of Lincoln with Surak, which has a double effect. For one thing, since we know Lincoln this helps inform what we're supposed to make of Surak: Vulcan's Abe Lincoln, the guy who ushered in unity. But it also works in reverse: by telling us that Surak is the most honored of his people, embodying peace and logic, it creates a mirror effect that ends up suggesting that Lincoln was Earth's Surak! That's quite a statement; I suppose historians in a few hundred years can weigh in on that one.

    Also interesting is the first mention of Kahless, in this case cast not as a great warrior or a hero but as a despicable villain, "notoriously evil." I suppose from a Vulcan's point of view anyone dedicated to violence would be 'evil'? Not sure why Kahless is worse than other Klingons, though. It's also interesting to put Genghis Khan in that category as well rather than, say, Alexander the Great, as both of them were conquerors. Either way, generating famous historical figures we know alongside some we don't does create some mystique and intrigue about famous people from the future.

    If I'm not mistaken, this episode also gives us our very first instance of Spock outright admitting he had an emotional outburst upon seeing Surak. Fascinating!

    Finally, there's a detail I never picked up on before, which is when the rock creature refers to his people as being spectators to the event. We already know from the scan in the transporter room that something funny was going on with Lincoln:

    SCOTT: Locked on to something. Does that appear human to you, Mister Spock?
    SPOCK: Fascinating. For a moment, it appeared almost mineral. Like living rock with heavy fore claws. It's settling down now to completely human readings.

    So Lincoln and the other historical figures are in fact members of the same race as the rock creature. Not sure why I never noticed that before. And it appears that they can change their form and even take on knowledge and memories collected from the minds of others, Kirk and Spock in this case, while forgetting whoever it was they were before. Presumably this also means that Surak and Lincoln didn't really die, since they would (I expect) just revert to being the rock creatures they were before. So some of that race not only spectate but also participate, to round out the numbers.

    The ending is just goofy since it ends up as a 4-on-2 that appears easy for Kirk and Spock to win. The only conclusion the rock creature is able to draw is that 'evil retreats easily' or something lame like that. I *think* the episode was trying to say something like that it's not so easy to tell good people from evil when looking at their methods alone; winning after all is a matter of strategy and power. Is that the 'savage curtain' we're meant to see is thin, diving up good and evil? The question is lame and so is the answer, but at least we do get to meet Surak and Kahless.

    That's a zero stars episode for me. Everything was just too lame. I mean, c'mom, the alien ends saying he did all this dumb crap based on the "same right that brought the Enterprise there": the need to know new things. Fuck, the guy just compared Kirk visiting places peacefully with his "handing out life and death in dumb tournaments" AND THE EPISODE SEEMS TO THINK THIS IS WAS A LEGIT RESPONSE. Argh, I don't even want to talk more about this.

    One of the more commonly rerun episodes from my 80s childhood, I think “goofy” is a word I’d have applied even back then. The initial image of Lincoln sitting in a chair on the bridge view screen, intentionally, it seems, being reminiscent of the Lincoln memorial is definitely one of those “GuhWhaaa??” TOS moments. If you can get past that bit of silliness tho, there’s a great deal of potential in the episode. The exploration of good and evil, and the idea that good and evil are concepts of value tied to the human condition, are pretty rich areas for philosophical pondering. What we assume is intuitive about the good/evil dynamic might, to a lava monster, be seen as some bizarre oddity. Creatures who evolved in such extreme conditions might not have nuanced value structures, their philosophical framework might be built around pure pragmatism and as such, concepts like compassion or respect might seem suicidal to them. However, what they do evidently possess is curiosity. They want to understand the anomalous behavior of these squishy, space fairing, cold-goop creatures. Can beings representing two vastly differing perspectives achieve mutual understanding? It’s a good premise for discussion, and personally I’d have preferred more exploration in that direction. Unfortunately the episode doesn’t quite get us there, we instead get a bit lost in the whole fun-with-historical-dudes stuff.

    What I find most confusing about the episode’s setup is the nature of Lincoln, Surak, and all the other “illusions”. Are they projections of Kirk/Spock’s mind, imbued with agency but guided by our heroes preconceptions? Or are they manufactured by the rock monster, or even transmogrified rock monsters themselves, positioned to goad Kirk and Spock to play the game? Surak in particular is baffling given that he willingly dies for his beliefs; is he just fulfilling Spock’s ideal of how Surak would behave? Without knowing what, exactly, these historical figures actually are it’s difficult to gage the magnitude of Surak’s sacrifice. It’s also apparent that the strength of Surak’s commitment to peace and reason flies over the rock monster’s head. It seems that that form of inner strength, the courage of one’s convictions and the willingness to give all for the greater good, is lost on Yarnek. As is the willingness of team “good guys” to risk all to rescue Surak. Perhaps lava blob’s inability to grasp that sort of nuance was the point, but if so, then there seems to be something missing from the episode’s ending. It seems like we really could have used one of Kirk’s “big picture” speeches to wrap things up.

    I will say this tho, I was entertained.

    A few random observations:
    -Yarnek, the rock monster was a pretty cool, genuinely alien effect. Maybe he’s related to the Horta?
    -There was mention of “those old space legends” pertaining to this lava planet, implying that there’d been some previous contact with Yarnek’s civilization. Perhaps SNW should have explored that instead of revamping the xenomorp..I mean, Gorn.
    -“Do you still measure time in minutes?”
    “We can convert to it, sir.”
    Say what?
    -James this, James that, sheesh, I guess we’re on a first name basis, huh ABE?
    -I wonder if Kahless was “unforgettable” because he was so good at impressions. He must have been a real hoot at parties.

    2/4 rough and tumble wraaslin’ Honest Abes.

    The rock creature costume is kind of cool, even though it can only stand in one spot. Looks like it was made out of old Horta skins grafted onto an antique diving suit. The smoke and the lights-blinking-when-it-talks effects are suitably bizarre.

    The confines of the set make this episode even weaker. A location shoot to any of the usual places would have helped it at least look less terrible. All the "sneaking around" shots amidst the fake rocks are laughable.

    I never thought "The Hand of Apollo" on the viewscreen would be topped for weirdness but Abe in his monument chair and with a stovepipe hat like he's a Disneyland robot got weirder (but not better)

    I watch several episodes of TOS as ways to help me fall asleep. They are like comfort food. This may be my most played.

    The episode is hot garbage, but entirely watchable in a way The Way to Eden , Turnabout Intruder, or And the Children Shall Lead are not. The surrealism reminds me of Spectre of the Gun, another turdburger I, for some reason I cannot fathom, enjoy immensely. Abraham Lincoln, a rock monster with claws and Scotty busting out the kilt- the absurdity of it is the reason it works.

    I don't know why everybody keeps trashing the Eden episode. I really enjoyed it, but I grew up during the 60s, so the hippie scene and anticulture movement was pretty familiar. But in addition, I really liked the music and it was nice to get some more background on Chevko other than that he is Russian.

    This episode might have been better had they usef Zefram Cochrane instead of Abe Lincoln, just my opinion.

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