This episode is one of the most well-known and immediately recognizable of any incarnation of Star Trek, and it’s pretty easy to dismiss it as an exciting adventure story pitting Kirk against a man in a rubber suit reptilian monster. And while this may be true, if one scratches just a bit below that surface, one may find a rather interesting morality tale about mercy.

Red Shirt Owned Count: 3

Red Shirt Owned Count: 3

To start with, there are two instances in this episode where there is a glaring lack of mercy. The first is perpetrated by the Gorn in their annihilation of the colony on Cestus III. Aside from the obvious violent nature of the death and destruction, the wounded lieutenant tells Kirk that as the attack began, the colony sent repeated calls explaining their lack of resources, presence of innocent civilians, and even cries of surrender, all of which went unheeded by the Gorn. Upon hearing all of this, Kirk demonstrates an extreme lack of mercy, and in righteous rage, sets off to “punish” the “invaders” at all costs, without any attempt to understand the situation.

In contrast, the virtue of mercy is demonstrated from the beginning in what is a rather unexpected source for such an emotional concept – Spock. As Kirk stews in his indignation over the attack, Spock calls for a non-violent solution: first attempting to convince Kirk to find out what prompted the attack, and later nearly begging the captain to stop chasing the Gorn ship in the hopes that the pursuit alone would deter further incursions. It is rather striking that the character most known for his cold logic is the strongest advocate for the course of action more grounded in emotion. Kirk also demonstrates mercy at the end of the episode in sparing the life of the Gorn captain, but we are actually left a little unsettled by this scene, as Kirk doesn’t actually seem to demonstrate signs of truly-felt mercy, but rather, he has deduced what outcome the Metrons are looking for, and citing his understanding of the reasons the Gorn attacked Cestus III, he “wins” the contest as only Kirk can. While it does show his intelligence and savvy, we are rather sour on Kirk’s attitude throughout this whole episode.

Kirk finally gets around to mercy

Kirk finally gets around to mercy

The Metrons themselves bear a bit of scrutiny here as well, we felt, as they claim to be a much more evolved, advanced form of life, and cite mercy as an “advanced trait”. So if they are so evolved, why would they force such a contest with the stakes of loser’s-ship-gets-blown-up “in the interest of peace”? Even at the end of the episode after Kirk spares the Gorn captain’s life and the Metron representative has applauded the merciful move, he offers to destroy the Gorn ship. How does this make sense? Well, it is our opinion that from the very beginning, the threat of destruction was a bluff – a calculated test meant to draw out the “civilization” in the humans. We don’t think the Metrons ever actually intended to destroy the ship, and were therefore happy and relieved that Kirk learned his lesson (or at least pretended to).

Mercy is often difficult in practice – our innate sense of pride and desire for justice tends to get in the way of forgiving those who wrong us, especially if they do not seem penitent for their actions. But choosing to exercise mercy – deserved or not – is part of what makes us capable of civilization, and that is what this episode is truly about.

That and watch out for men in rubber lizard suits throwing styrofoam rocks around in the desert.


The Squire of Gothos

As this episode centers around Trelane and his power, we decided to examine his character from the perspectives of before and after the revelation that he is essentially a very powerful young child.

Trelane the Powerful Being

General Trelane (Retired), the Squire of Gothos

General Trelane (Retired), the Squire of Gothos

Through most of the episode, we see Trelane as a very powerful – if occasionally clumsy with his power – being, capable of instantaneous matter/energy alterations and teleportations. It is very easy for those familiar with the whole Star Trek universe to make comparisons to the omnipotent being Q, whose antics never succeed to amuse Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway. They have similar haughty demeanors, similarly enjoy flaunting their superiority over the human captains they are dealing with, frequently refer to their shenanigans as “games”, and both have even put Enterprise crew on trial.Though nothing in official canon is ever said or shown to link Trelane to Q, the similarities are enough that non-canonical stories have been written that explore the possibility. Obviously, the main difference is that Q – while definitely a prankster that is occasionally on the outs with the rest of the Q Continuum – does not rely on a machine to aid his trickery, and his illusions are not empty like Trelane’s fire, food, and drink.

Trelane as a judge

Playing dress-up

Still, as this episode goes on, you can see Kirk losing admiration of Trelane’s powers as he begins to see that Trelane is not actually perfect or all-powerful, and begins to poke at the being, intentionally provoking him to keep his attention away from the Enterprise and her crew. The captains who became saddled with Q may have lost their tempers with Q on occasion, but they all knew he was fully capable of anything, and so there was a line that basically was never crossed – the few times Q was provoked, bad things happened (we’ll touch on this later during our review of “Q Who?”, where Picard’s flustered attitude lands the Enterprise-D in their first encounter with The Borg).

Trelane the Little Boy

The Squire of Gothos when mommy and daddy show up

The Squire of Gothos when mommy and daddy show up

Of course, the pivotal moment comes when Trelane’s parents show up and put a stop to all of his “games”, rescuing Kirk and the Enterprise. Immediately, Trelane’s speech patterns change, going from superior and jovial scoundrel to a cranky little boy whose mommy and daddy are telling him it’s time to put his toys away and take a nap. Despite all of his blusterings and exhiliration of the hunt, Trelane protests that he’s just playing around, makes excuses, and even whines that he never gets to have any fun. Not only does this call to mind images of a young child being told it’s bedtime right in the middle of playing with their toys, it also obviously causes Kirk to quickly realize how much more powerful Trelane’s parents must be, as he treats them with respect. Of course, as they act kindly toward Kirk and the crew, it does seem to distance them from ties to the Q Continuum, as their attitude is not very much like that of the Q.

Though it’s a small point, it’s interesting to note that Kirk doesn’t ask for recompense for their troubles – rather, he is content to let Trelane’s parents deal with the troublemaker, and simply go about his mission. While we don’t think it’s necessarily a social statement to leave the raising – and disciplining – of children to their parents, we can’t help but wonder how different the ending of the episode would have been written with modern-day child psychology and social sensibilities behind it.

It’s certainly not a stretch to compare Trelane to Q, but when you really examine the two characters, they are quite different, although each is dangerous in their own way.

Balance of Terror

Ando: Let me just start by saying this is one of my all-time favorite Star Trek episodes. I’ve loved this one since childhood and seen it many times. Watching it now for this mission, I tried to put aside just plain knowledge of the plot, and tried to enjoy and analyze the elements contained within. While there were certainly some nice homages to WWII submarine movies and some wonderful acting by William Shatner and Mark Lenard as the respective captains, what Katie Mae and I came away with to share with you was some really nice quotes.

Scotty already pushing the limits
Scott: I’ve talked to my engine room, sir. We’ll get more speed out of her.
Ando: This is of course one of the few light-hearted moments in an otherwise-serious episode, as well as being an early example of Scotty already knowing Kirk’s going to ask him to push the Enterprise’s limits, even before the order is issued.

No bigotry on the Bridge
Kirk: Well, here’s one thing you can be sure of, mister: leave any bigotry in your quarters. There’s no room for it on the bridge.

Katie Mae: His stance isn’t really surprising, but I was happy to see Kirk handle this in the very straightforward way he did. To him it was a non-issue.

There's only one Kirk
McCoy: In this galaxy, there’s a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don’t destroy the one named Kirk.

Ando: I absolutely love this little speech. As we touched on in an earlier episode, Dr. McCoy is probably one of the most shining examples of compassion and humanism on the show. And so every time we get a glimpse of how he thinks, and what drives his decisions and actions, I really enjoy it. This view of the universe and each of us as unique individuals in it is something we could stand to see more of today, even without decisive knowledge of – and exposure to – life from other planets.

The unnamed Romulan Commander
Romulan Commander:  I regret that we meet in this way. You and I are of a kind. In a different reality, I could have called you friend.

Katie Mae: The episode kept a respectful tone towards the Romulan Commander, and I think that was a wise decision. It would have been easy, in introducing what would soon become known as a recurring villain, to tell a classic “good guy, bad guy” story. Instead, the episode goes to great lengths to draw parallels between Kirk and the Commander. We are given a glimpse of the relationship between the Romulan Commander and the Centurion, which mirrors that of Kirk and McCoy. Both captains see themselves in each other. To me, this quote represents the unique sorrow that can only be felt by opposing commanders with mutual respect and admiration.

The Conscience of the King

Ando: So while this was a very well-done episode with a nice theatrical feel, it’s pretty safe to say this was just an entertaining episode.

Get it? Because the episode played us into thinking we knew who the bad guy was ;-)

The play’s the thing…

Katie Mae: Yes, I feel it was a good episode, but not a very standard representation of what Star Trek is usually like. If I was recommending episodes to someone, I wouldn’t give this as a good example. This is what I think of as a “flavor episode”. Like how sometimes TV shows will do a “Christmas episode” or a “musical episode” or a “vacation episode”; these are fun little episodes that take us outside the normal realm of the characters or put a novel spin on the show.

Ando: Since there wasn’t really a deep hidden message in this one, did you notice anything about the visual elements? I know that’s an area you like to analyze.

KM: After meeting Dr. Leighton, the left half of his face is of course not shown. This is obviously for the sake of the dramatic reveal. In the second scene in which we see him, his shots are all framed in very deliberate and unmoving profile. It is so stark that it is a bit off-putting – and that’s the point. Even if you don’t realize what you’re seeing, your brain knows there’s something unnatural about seeing only one side of the character’s face.

Ando: It’s a very similar technique to shooting a scene with the camera very slightly tilted (referred to as a “dutch angle”). Even if the angle is so slight that you don’t actively realize it, your brain is telling you something’s not right. In this case, people watching the episode for the first time may not register that this man looks strange until he turns around and shows that his face has been damaged.

Kirk, Dr Leighton, and Martha Leighton

Dr. Leighton’s still profile is in stark contrast to Kirk and Martha, who both show a natural full range of motion during the conversation

KM: That was probably the case in the 60’s, but I think today’s television/movie-watching audience is more “in the know” about tricks like that than they used to be. By now we’ve seen Two-Face and the Phantom of the Opera – an audience recognizes when they’re about to be presented with a guy with a messed-up face.

Ando: It’s true – we see the profile shot and think “Uh-oh, something creepy or ugly has happened to that guy’s face!”

KM: I wonder if this was one of the first places where guy-with-half-a-messed-up-face reveal was used.

Ando: I’m not sure. {checks trope page} Well, it does appear to be one of the earlier examples of the face-reveal trope on TV. Way to go, Star Trek!

KM: An interesting example of how Star Trek was groundbreaking in ways that we can’t always appreciate anymore.

Ando: Then I’ll close with a quick nod to the episode which first named Lt. Leslie (mentioned for the first time in our review of “The Naked Time“), who is driving the Enterprise during this episode.

The Menagerie

Young Spock

A young Spock

There are those who would see “The Menagerie” as just a flashback episode, doing little more than providing a framework to salvage the footage filmed for “The Cage“. But your humble Poore Trekkies see this episode in a much different light. Far from being a throwaway flashback episode, we feel “The Menagerie” presents some of the earliest examples of the character of Spock – as a man – and portray qualities that we will see over and over again throughout not only the rest of the original Star Trek series, but repeated multiple times in the movies, his appearances on The Next Generation, and even his place in the J.J. Abrams reboot movies. And those roots can all be explored by simply asking one question: “Why did Spock do it?”

The obvious first point to consider is Spock’s heritage – as we all know, he is half Vulcan and half Human. This sets up so many conflicts throughout the show and movies that by itself, it’s too broad a topic to cover just once here. Since the struggle between his humanity and Vulcanity – emotion and logic – is such an integral part of his character, we know this plays into the decisions he makes in this episode. We feel it’s important to consider how that affects his decision-making in general; specifically, we believe his Vulcan side with its logic is strong enough that it will serve to overrule any truly bad decisions his human side with its emotion may come up with. And in fact, what this episode demonstrates (and we see repeated many times later) is how Spock will do the human thing the Vulcan way – meaning perhaps he makes an emotion-based decision, but sets about taking action on it in the most logical way possible.

Kirk and Mendez

Kirk and Commodore Mendez, trying to figure out what Spock is up to

As is often the case with unexpected behavior in a known individual, the first “offenses” tend to be relatively small and easy for them to justify. Since Spock carries out his plan at Starbase 11, we see he must have decided that breaking Starfleet’s directive prohibiting contact with Talos IV was logical. And though by legal definition, he technically committed assault against two Starfleet officers, he was only using the relatively harmless Vulcan nerve pinch, so there was no permanent harm brought to those men. So we can see that right at the beginning, the logical conclusion he saw at the success of his plan could easily justify the emotion that led to the plan in the first place.

Captain Pike

Captain Pike’s sad state

Taking a step farther, though, we see Spock’s emotional decision beginning to affect others when you realize that he quite literally kidnaps Captain Pike. From the first moment Pike sees Spock, he knows what the plan must be – Spock even guesses Pike knows why he’s there – and Pike says no. For the next few hours, Pike is essentially sitting in his room screaming “NO! NO! NO!” over and over again, and Spock takes him anyway. Far from consenting to the journey, Pike is a reluctant abductee who is forced onto a court martial tribunal. Looking at it from Pike’s point of view, here is a situation from 13 years in his past, that we’re sure he must have been trying to forget and put behind him. And suddenly, in more vivid detail than even starship logs could ever record, are the events of those days of his life. Though the man is almost totally incapable of movement or communication, we can see in his eyes that he is reliving it all, and after being reminded of everything that happened, only then is he able to answer the question of if he wants to go spend the rest of his life with the Talosians – with Vina – and he says “Yes”. But up until this moment – with the Enterprise already in orbit around Talos IV – Captain Pike is a non-consenting abductee, and Spock could only have had hope – a human emotion – that Pike would eventually change his mind on the matter.


Spock and Jim

Spock appeals to his friend Jim, not his captain

Amid all of the order and logic of the plan, Spock knew that he had to protect his commanding officer. He engineers a setup whereby he can assume command of the Enterprise and leave Kirk behind. He knows Kirk will be angry and betrayed, but he knows that is the only way to protect Kirk. However this is where Kirk’s emotions present a major problem – he jumps in a shuttle, which he knows will never actually catch up to the much faster starship, and follows Spock until the fuel runs out. This forces Spock to switch to Plan B, but The Plan is still in motion, using the court martial as a distraction. There is an obvious appeal to Kirk as more than a commanding officer, when Spock changes from addressing Kirk as “Captain” to pleading with his friend “Jim” to not get in the way of the plan; what is interesting to note here is that this comes right on the heels of Kirk being relieved of duty due to Spock’s actions. This means that Spock feels so strongly about his plan to help Captain Pike that he is even willing to risk the career of his current commanding officer – and good friend. How much farther would Spock be willing to go to make this plan succeed?

Pike and Vina

Ignorance is bliss

The answer is that he is willing to go as far for Christopher Pike as he eventually did go for Kirk, McCoy, and the rest of the Enterprise crew in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – laying down his own life. While it’s true that after Starfleet saw the images the Talosians broadcast that explained Spock’s motivations, they waived the death penalty this time, Spock could not have expected that to happen. As far as he knew, the moment he enacted the plan, his death was certain, and he was willing to lay down his life. This goes to show that Spock valued the quality of Captain Pike’s life even above his own life! We know from Dr. McCoy at the beginning of the episode that the machines keeping Pike alive would do so theoretically for a long time, so it’s not like Pike only had a few days left to live. It appears as though Spock decided that there are things worse than death, and that Pike’s condition qualified as such, and that giving him some semblance of his old self back – even if it was just an illusion created by the Talosians – was worth dying for. He willingly took actions that he knew would inevitably end his own life, just so that Christopher Pike could live out his remaining days happy with Vina.

Though this is certainly not the last time we see Spock doing the human thing the Vulcan way, it’s one of the most poignant. Not very far underneath the seemingly cold Vulcan exterior, Spock obviously carries a great deal of love for his friends. And while he always downplays those feelings – those emotions – as mere logic when confronted about them (it happens right at the end of this episode), anyone who would be a friend of Spock’s could always know that he would consider their needs as outweighing those of his own. So, dear reader, we ask again – “why did Spock do it?”

The Corbomite Maneuver

Though this episode comes a little way into the first season, The Corbomite Maneuver was actually the first episode filmed after the series was picked up, placing it directly after Where No Man Has Gone Before in a true chronology. We bring this up because, as we discussed in our review of The Man Trap, it’s an interesting contrast to a lot of 1960s television that was popular at the time. And considering Gene Roddenberry himself likened Star Trek to a space Western (a la “Wagon Train to the stars”), the first episode filmed after the pilot was accepted was far from an action-packed shoot-em-up.

Kirk and McCoyFor one thing, Kirk only ordered the Enterprise to fire phasers one time, and then only at the last possible second when it was that or be killed. And despite Kirk’s reputation for “cowboy diplomacy” (as it was later referred to in Star Trek: Generations), he maintains actual peaceful diplomacy throughout this episode, and even only loses his cool one time – and that not at Bailey’s moment of panicked insubordination, but rather with less than 5 minutes to live, his frustration at not being able to find a solution, while being pestered by Dr. McCoy giving him grief over Bailey.

Bailey freaking outThat also brings another lovely bit of character development to light. During the early scenes of the episode, the viewers don’t know why this Bailey guy is so loose with his comments in what appears to be a somewhat military environment. It’s not until McCoy is chiding Kirk that we find out Bailey was promoted very young. It is likely that during the crises in this episode, it’s the first time in Bailey’s life he’s ever stared death in the face, especially not from the front seat of the bridge. It’s not that he’s really insubordinate, he’s literally scared out of his mind. And after a few minutes calming down, and realizing he will probably die in just a few more minutes, he calmly returns to the bridge and politely requests to return to his post, obviously intending to live out his last few minutes with as much dignity as he can muster.

Balok laughing

Although with this being the real Balok, that seems a dubious honor…

And the most telling thing of all is that McCoy points out that Bailey is reminiscent of a young Kirk – a fact which bothers the captain, but that he does not deny. And in fact, after Kirk passes Balok’s test, Bailey is the one that gets to embark on the exciting adventure of cultural cross-pollination.

As a final side note, we get some great lines from Dr. McCoy (including a precursor to the famous “I’m a doctor, not a…”), and some attention being given to more than just the main trinity of Kirk-Spock-McCoy: Scotty, Sulu and Uhura also have a chunk of screen time.

All in all, this episode lays down some good groundwork for the series, and stands as a great bit of drama.

Dagger of the Mind

For this episode, we found ourselves very interested in the visual elements – in particular, the use of light and shadow to represent truth versus deception/manipulation – and thus we are going to discuss the episode alongside a series of images that we were particularly interested in.

"Classified Material"

“Classified Material”

Katie Mae: I found the big, boxy lettering on this cargo container rather hokey. But then again, that’s 1960’s television for you, right?

A cage is a cage

“A cage is a cage, Jim”

Ando: We really liked this line from Dr. McCoy – it sets up the character of Bones as someone who, while coming off a bit like a small-town country doctor, is actually one of the most progressive, forward-thinking, “evolved” people in the show, who bristles at inhumane treatment of anybody, no matter who they are or what they have done. He’s a genuinely compassionate person, and perfectly demonstrates the most well-known facet of the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm”.

Dr. Adams and Lethe in shadow
KM: Up until this point, the scene introducing Dr. Adams is lit traditionally. However, as soon as Lethe enters, the lighting on Dr. Adams’ face shifts, and he is cast in shadow, hinting at his sinister nature. As Lethe approaches him, he casts a shadow on her, symbolizing his control over her.

Spock mind meld
Ando: This episode is the first time we see Spock perform the Vulcan “mind meld” (though it is not given this name here), which will obviously become an iconic part of his character. It’s interesting to note that Spock tells Dr. McCoy that this is the first time he’s ever used it on a human, and he displays almost uncharacteristic hesitation. It takes Dr. van Gelder literally pleading with him to convince him to take the risk.

KM: Further, in contrast to other times in this episode when shadow is used to depict control and deceit, as Spock brings the truth out of Dr. van Gelder, his face is brightly lit.

Kirk's false memory
KM: In the final shot of the sequence depicting Helen’s created memory of the Christmas party, we zoom in as shadow closes over Helen and Kirk’s kissing faces, reminding us of the falsehood of this memory.

Kirk in pain
Ando: One thing that really struck me about this episode is – in contrast to Dr. McCoy’s humanitarian compassion and kindness – Dr. Adams’ callous attitude toward the inmates of the several rehabilitation colonies he’s worked at (and the episode indicates he’s done this several times before). He clearly sees the patients as nothing more than test subjects for him to play with and experiment on, and the moment anyone – be they a colleague or a starfleet captain – catches on to his playing God, he subjects them to his neural neutralizer, tortures and brainwashes them.

Spock's eyebrow
KM: Spock’s reaction upon seeing Kirk kissing Helen provides a light-hearted bit of comedy in an otherwise serious episode.

Kirk's PTSD face

Kirk’s PTSD face

Ando: The one and only truly disappointing thing about episodic television such as Star Trek is how it is forced to hit the giant reset button at the end of an episode that should actually have interesting and lasting repercussions for the characters. In this episode, Dr. van Gelder and Captain Kirk both undergo extreme mental duress and torture, but in the closing scene we hear that van Gelder is back in his position on Tantalus (assumedly “all better”), and while Kirk briefly appears haunted by the experience (and tells Spock and McCoy that nobody can understand dying of loneliness unless they were subjected to such a thing), he meets Spock’s eye and smirks as only Jim Kirk can, and suddenly everything’s all right. So what was the cure? Did Kirk and Dr. van Gelder get back in the neutralizer before it was dismantled to reverse the effects? Have they both already begun psychological therapy for their ordeals? How much time has passed? Too many unanswered questions, but again, that’s just the curse of episodic TV.


You don’t have to dig very deep into this episode to see the social commentary on ethical and humane treatment of those with mental disorders. Calling Tantalus – and other similar facilities – a “rehabilitation colony” is very forward-thinking for the 1960s. Frankly, we’re impressed by this view of the future and the progress in mental health treatment and prisoner rehabilitation it portrays.