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Star Trek TOS - Season 1 - Episode 23

Star Trek TOS - 1x23 - A Taste of Armageddon

Originally Aired: 1967-2-27

Synopsis:
The Enterprise is diverted by two planets fighting a computerized war. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 4.93

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 46 23 1 4 12 23 15 25 20 26 20

Filler Quotient: 2, filler, but an enjoyable episode nevertheless. You can skip this one, but you'd miss out on some fun.
- There's no essential plot or exposition in this episode that renders it unskippable, but it's a decently entertaining episode, even if the actual entertainment value may not be exactly what was intended.

Problems
- How can the Enterprise be attacked by "sonic" weapons through the vacuum of space in which no sound can travel?
- Spock at one point incorrectly refers to the aliens' planetary system as a "solar system." This is a common error. The term they were looking for is planetary system. The planetary system we live in is called the Solar System because our star is named Sol. As such, the term "Solar System" is a proper noun, not a generic term.
- Vulcans are inexplicably referred to as "Vulcanians" in this episode.

Factoids
- The USS Valiant was lost at this planet 50 years ago.
- This episode establishes that Vulcan mind melds can occur without physical touch, but it is strongly implied that they have reduced efficacy in this case.
- This episode establishes that the Enterprise cannot fire full phasers with their defense screens up.

Remarkable Scenes
- The revelation that the war on this planet is a computer simulation and that people are executed on each side like some sort of a lethal game.
- Spock: "Sir, there's a multilegged creature crawling on your shoulder."
- Scotty: "The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank."
- Scotty refusing to follow the Federation diplomat's orders.
- Kirk destroying the war computer.
- Kirk: "I've given you back the horrors of war."
- Kirk convincing Anan to open peace talks with his enemy.

My Review
No matter how tragic it may be for the society in this story to have been locked into this terrifying "neat and painless" war for so many centuries, the greater tragedy is the profound stupidity of their society in the first place for inexplicably denying itself the obvious solution to their centuries-long problem. Instead of fighting a real war until peace is attained through annihilation of their enemy or through treaty negotiations brought about by fear of said annihilation, both sides have decided without a credible reason to just volunteer casualties at regular intervals; the numbers decided by a computer program. The resultant status quo is more terrifying than any real war could possibly be and this society's inability to see the plain obviousness of that is staggeringly hard to swallow.

Underscoring their profound stupidity is the fact that in a single day, captain Kirk single handedly ends their centuries-long war merely by blowing up the computer they used to make pretend warfare. Setting aside simple questions such as why there aren't backup computers or why they don't just equip all citizens with some sort of instant-vaporization collars rather than employ a limited number of vaporization chambers with clearly insufficient capacity to meet their "quota" given even the most minor disruptions, I can only wonder why Kirk's simple idea hadn't occurred to at least one person across those two planets in the last 500 years. Perhaps their entire race is genetically predisposed to poor critical thinking skills, despite their conspicuously unexplained resemblance to humans.

The aliens of the week aren't the only thing to pick on though. Ambassador Robert Fox continues the conspicuous trend of Federation officials tending to be unreasonably difficult to deal with and Kirk's own actions in destroying the war computer would seem to be in violation of the Federation's prime directive non-interference policy. Moreover it's never quite explained just why establishing a port in this vicinity is so important. Ambassador Fox does mention that thousands of Federation lives have been lost over the last 20 years in this region, but he doesn't bother mentioning why. We're apparently supposed to believe that the Federation having a friendly port in the region would somehow prevent that. But why? It couldn't be due to the war because all a ship has to do to escape the war is get to a higher orbit, as is demonstrated by Scotty.

Speaking of Scotty, his time in the big chair during this episode was fantastic. Scotty in command was a delight to watch and I greatly enjoyed seeing how his dealing with McCoy's signature badger-the-man-in-command routine differed from that of Kirk and Spock. Likewise, despite the writing of the aliens making them out to look terribly stupid, it gave Kirk several opportunities to deliver lines that were quite profound. It would have been nice if the writers had earned Kirk this distinction without it being at the expense of the authenticity of the aliens, but many of Kirk's lines were nevertheless insightful. My favorite was "I've given you back the horrors of war." In fact a great deal of this episode is a joy to watch in spite of its half-baked premise. As such, perhaps the best way to describe this episode is as a well executed bad idea.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From David in California on 2008-02-26 at 2:16pm:
    Wow, so again I must dissent from the review and the average rating and say that I'm much more positive on this episode! (As with "Return of the Archons".)

    I suppose as a more "causual viewer" of Star Trek and not a dedicated Fan, this might be expected as I'll not be bothered by some of the understandable Fannish concerns. I did guess that there would be some objection to Kirk and the crew's actions as regards the Prime Directive, but thought the objection from Fans would be stronger.

    I'm not bothered by aliens looking like humans without further explanation, personally. I generally accept a sci-fi "parallel evolution", or perhaps "genetic seeding" conceit to explain this and I just apply that to Star Trek, but I suppose I'm learning here that this isn't the way it works for ST Fans in the ST Universe.

    Also, I'm not bothered by the Prickly Federation Official (TM) as I think it sometimes makes more dramatic sense for the Enterprise crew to be more-or-less on the same page and for the opposing point of view and conflict to come from others in the Federation. Otherwise in order to explore issues and choices that come up in the plot, you can sometimes get contrived arguments between the crewmembers that aren't always consistent with their characterizations, IMO.

    This is, however, the first time I was really bothered by the Useless Epilogue (TM) on the bridge, which is just insulting, IMO, even to 1960s audiences who were, I'm sure, perfectly capable of grasping the themes and motivations of the preceding story. This episode should have ended before the needless wrap-up and silly Spock-needling humor.

    Dissenting from the review, I found the actions of the society plausible, especially if I consider a generation raised on this notion (as opposed to the first few generations who did this.) I would imagine that what we didn't see in the episode was periodic pockets of dissenters who don't go along with the program and are probably underground and controlled by strong police measures. If I just assume this exists but didn't play a role in the story, then the plausibility increases.

    Not to be controversial here for the sake of it, but the parallel that comes up for me with our own society is in certain areas of modern welfare-state wealth redistribution. Bear with me and I'll explain.

    Even those who support such things--just about everyone--do acknowledge when pressed that what's going on there is that property is taken coercively from some in order to give to others.

    If someone comes up and hits you and grabs your wallet--we call it theft. But by having a "civilized" system of coercive taxation where some of the money is simply handed over to others, we don't tend to see it as "theft" in the same way (at least most do not) even though on an abstract level something is being taken forcibly by some and given to others.

    People who think such "wealth redistribution" is a positive good (likely many ST Fans) often offer the practical argument: "Well, if we didn't do this, then the poor would rise up and just take what they want more directly. You'd have a rebellion of sorts by the 'underclass' and things would get really violent. By forceably redistributing wealth in this more 'civilized' fashion, we avoid that ugliness from taking place."

    Ever heard that? I'm sure most have. Now, I realize that taking property forceably isn't as morally wrong or a violation of rights as killing--theft is a lesser crime than murder, obviously--but I think the principle here is similar to what we saw in the episode. Some view the above "practical" argument for wealth redistribution as basically advocating that rather than a government protect people from criminal theft, it should simply do the job of potential criminals for them. Some find that notion disturbing in the same way as the scenario here in the episode--just of a lesser degree.

    I hope the similarity is clear. In that case, the government provides a surface-level "civilized" version of something which might otherwise normally take place in a more brutish, violent and ugly manner. To head off the one kind of "theft", you introduce the other. Is that really so different from what the society in this episode was doing as regards war?

    Finally, what I loved about the episode was Kirk and crew taking a principled stand against all of this and taking positive steps--without debate--to end the horror of what was going on. Kirk's solution of acting the part of the violent "barbarian" to basically frighten the misguided leaders, and the notion that if one takes away the visceral horror and property and infrastructure damage of war then it becomes more "acceptable" and therefore prolonged, was quite thoughtful, IMO, and it was enjoyable to see Kirk playing all of this out with some style and even humor.

    I found the whole crew to be displaying the kind of "heroics" acting from moral certainty I'd personally prefer more of in Star Trek, but I realize goes somewhat against the tone and "message" of the show and what Starfleet is supposed to stand for and so on--and that this is dear to the show's Fans, which I respect. So it makes sense that stories like this which appeal to me are few and far between, and maybe confined to TOS alone.

    If I imagine this same scenario playing out in, say, Voyager, I realize there would be a whole business of Janeway or Chakotay or whoever trying to make a case for non-intervention into this horror, which would probably have me yelling at the screen!

    Obviously I really loved this episode.
  • From Arianwen on 2010-07-21 at 6:51pm:
    In answer to David (off-topic, I know) I have to say that taxation gives to all, to finance public institutions and infrastructures - it doesn't "take from some and give to others".

    Either way, I find this episode very interesting. The irritating diplomat was, well, irritating, but he did provide a more complex plot than might otherwise have been the case. It could have been improved by a better defence of his side of the argument - someone on the crew siding with him, for instance - because otherwise it just turns out as "diplomacy is bad". Fox did have a point and although his blind trust was annoying, he was right (sort of) to try to find a peaceful solution. The problem is that as he's a complete idiot it's rather hard to see it.
  • From Baron on 2010-11-11 at 6:29pm:
    Do you even like the show or sci fi in general? This was one of the best star trek episodes and sci fi episodes that I've ever seen. The point of the episode was that all war is insane. No sane civilization would start a war. Forcibly making millions of people kill themselves in a death chamber was an obvious reference to the Holocaust. Which would still be on the minds of most people watching this show since it took place only 22 years before this episode. The Holocaust was just as insane as this computer holocaust. At the end they even drive home the point that we should do everything we can to stop wars.

    The Prime Directive limits the storytelling of star trek alot times. It's also violated alot of times anyway with no consequences, so I wonder what actual power it has in the Federation.
  • From ChristopherA on 2012-07-09 at 11:04pm:
    A good episode, I like the plot and the resolution. I agree with the other commentators that the scenario in which this society finds itself is a very reasonable sci-fi scenario and not does not indicate they are “stupid”. Lots of things seem stupid in hindsight, but they expressed very well their belief that breaking the agreement would result in the end of both cultures, and they dared not risk the consequences.

    I do agree that almost everything in the episode is way too easy for Kirk and company – from the repeated escapes, to holding the high council hostage, to disrupting the disintegration chamber network, to having a single computer be essential to the treaty that has lasted 500 years. I treat this as an artistic abstraction, as if what really happened on the planet would take more than a one hour episode to portray, and we are seeing a simplified rendition of it meant only to capture the essential points.
    - I agree with Arianwen that Fox has a reasonable point of view which is disguised by making him a complete bozo. But I love that this gives us the great scene of Scotty flat-out refusing to follow Fox's orders.
    - Scotty generally gets a great chance to show his command ability. Plus a notable quote – "The haggis is in the fire now for sure." They have interesting sayings in the 23rd century.
    - I agree that the fact that the episode never explains the purpose of the treaty port is a bit odd, because it is hard to figure out why the Federation would have such urgent need for a port on a planet that, apparently, it knows almost nothing about. But this isn’t a big deal, Kirk has his orders, presumably the answer to this question is complex and irrelevant to the plot.
    - I used to think this episode was a classic example of Kirk violating the Prime Directive due to his personal moral convictions, but now I'm changing my mind after seeing it again. I'm not sure the Prime Directive applies to a civilization as advanced as Eminiar. But even if it does, it is clear that the Federation has given orders to Ambassador Fox and Kirk to interfere with the culture and obtain a treaty port "at any cost". If anyone has broken the Prime Directive, it is whoever gave that order. While Kirk's approach is unique, he pretty much has to do something drastic in order to follow orders. To avoid interference with the culture would result in the failure of his mission.
  • From Strider on 2012-07-24 at 2:22am:
    I don't get what makes this culture so "advanced," anyway. Because they have computers? I mean, they walk voluntarily into death chambers so they don't mess up their pretty city. And they are so ignorant of the values of other cultures that they just expect other people to go along with that?

    Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and McCoy are completely awesome in this episode. I don't know that Kirk would have gone so far as destroying the war computers and completely restructuring this society if he weren't so irritated at being held prisoner and being expected to just consent to the deaths of everyone on his ship. He's got this, "Do you seriously think you can mess with me" thing going on that's characteristic of Kirk at his best.
  • From Glenn239 on 2012-10-22 at 8:52am:
    “No security men were harmed during the filming of this episode”

    A solid ‘5’. I liked Scotty’s competent command decisions. I liked a planet that finds the Enterprise’s technology threatening and imposing rather than the usual ‘magic’ gimmick, where the antagonist of the week fires some sort of intergalactic pixie dust and the Enterprise and all its technology is suddenly held hostage to destruction. I also liked Kirk’s kick ass approach.

    Re – Prime Directive. I don’t think it was violated. I’m guessing that the Prime Directive can not apply to the preservation of any culture currently practicing genocide, and since this one was unquestionably doing so (3 million dead per year, I think), the prime directive may actually require that the Enterprise use force stop it.

    Re – Single computer crucial to prosecution of the “war”. No, I didn’t get the read that sabotaging the command center was a fatal blow. The reason why the war ends is because Scotty has been ordered by Kirk to execute something called General Order 24, an attack on the infrastructure of the planet in response to their hostile actions against the Federation representatives. This is obviously a bluff on Kirk’s part, but the planetary council doesn’t know it and they surrender for fear of it. Blowing up the computers was entirely secondary, simply enriching the bluff with a humane show of force.

    Re – Speaking of General Order 24, it has to be a pre-arranged bluff, right? The Federation simply can’t have a standing order of that nature. “Oh, you said General order twenty THREE, ‘Shore Leave for everybody’. I thought you said General Order twenty FOUR, ‘Blow up the planet’. ”

    Re – Treaty Port. The requirement might refer to unpoliced shipping lanes, where a port would allow better protection against piracy.
  • From Scott Hearon on 2014-03-29 at 5:44pm:
    I'm very much with Kethinov on this one. There are actually a few elements that are somewhat well-done. However, his description of this episode as "a well-executed bad idea" is spot-on to me.

    On its surface, there are a few things going for it - having the crew divided into those who are perilously embroiled in a bizarre interplanetary war, and those who are on the ship, attempting to sort it out while dealing with conflicting diplomatic directives.

    However, the notion of the computerized war doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Either culture would HAVE to realize that the optimal solution when dealing with a hostile enemy is to eliminate that enemy, not to agree to engage in an eternal war. In fact, what IS the point of the war, if neither side plans to actually completely defeat the other side? It is ridiculous to think that neither side in this episode would, after five centuries, realize the utter pointlessness of this exercise. Clearly the writers hadn't either. It smacks of something that seemed like an interesting notion of speculative fiction, but it really shouldn't have gotten much farther than a few minutes of consideration.

    And yes, I find "Badgering, Belligerent Diplomat #3" rather annoying. There must have been a more mature way to provide tension between a Federation official and the Enterprise's command. The guy, just like his predecessors, comes off as so dimly aggressive that I had to question just how he became a diplomat in the first place. Certainly not with his people skills, that's for sure.

    Just too many major problems to overcome a few of the lesser strengths in this one. I gave it a "3."
  • From Chris on 2017-11-08 at 3:51pm:
    So, aside from most of the obvious observations regarding the bizarre, eternal war, no one has even mentioned the idiotic notion of the entire Enterprise crew beaming down to certain death in order to save the landing party being held hostage!

    Scotty and McCoy were already suspicious but Spock confirmed it explicitly! I can hear the how the real conversation would have gone...

    ANAN: We hold your Captain, his party, your Ambassador and his party prisoners.

    ANAN: Unless you immediately start transportation of all personnel aboard your ship to the surface, the hostages will be killed. You have thirty minutes. I mean it, Captain.

    Scotty: HA HA HA Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!! We'll be right down! No! I'm serious... really! Just give us a minute to digest how stupid you think we are...

    Sorry, Captain. After you're done in, we'll General Order-24 the hell out of them!

    I could go on further about the earlier part where Anan seems a bit incredulous that other beings are not as enlightened as they are and would blindly accept that the solution they've come up with is not simply the greatest feat of diplomacy conceived!
    A High Degree of Conscienceness is beyond absurd!

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