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Star Trek TOS - Season 2 - Episode 17

Star Trek TOS - 2x17 - A Piece of the Action

Originally Aired: 1968-1-12

Synopsis:
Kirk investigates a planet with an Earth-like 1920s gangster culture. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 5.82

Rate episode?

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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 decent episode, even though it could have been better.

Problems
None

Factoids
- This episode establishes that the ship's phasers can be set to stun like the hand phasers and fired onto a planet's surface from orbit.

Remarkable Scenes
- The crew's reaction to the mob slang.
- Kirk, Spock, and McCoy debating the Federation's responsibility to correct the cultural contamination.
- Kirk's "Fizbin."
- Krako: "Waddaya think, we're stupid or somethin'?" Kirk: "No, no, I don't think you're stupid, Mister Krako. I just think your behavior is arrested." Krako: "I ain't never been arrested in my whole life!"
- Spock pointing out Oxmyx using a double negative.
- Kirk using the mob slang.
- Kirk and Spock wearing the mob clothes.
- Kirk and Spock trying to figure out how to drive a car.
- Spock: "Captain, you are an excellent starship commander, but as a taxi driver you leave much to be desired."
- Kirk and Spock using the mob slang.
- McCoy admitting that he left his communicator on the planet and the resulting speculation that the aliens may become far more technologically advanced by studying it.

My Review
100 years ago an Earth ship, the Horizon, was lost with all hands shortly after visiting this planet. The aliens who live there, the Iotians, fixate on a single artifact left behind: a book about the Chicago mobs of the 1920s. From this book they derive and adopt an entirely new culture. This is a vaguely ridiculous premise for a story and the aliens looking exactly humans again certainly doesn't help. However the story is just so damn charming that it's hard to stay annoyed with it for too long. And while there are plot logic problems aplenty, none are so far beyond rationalization that it substantially diminishes the enjoyability of this whimsical, fun episode.

For starters, the imitative nature of these aliens would seem to substantiate their odd fixation on the Chicago mobs book. The fact that the aliens of the week look exactly like humans remains unexplained, but this problem is common to so many episodes that by this point we have to simply assume that there is some good, in-universe reason why so many humanoid aliens on Star Trek look exactly like humans or nearly identical to humans. Though it would be nice if some episode at some point outlined specifically why so the audience doesn't have to make up the rationalizations on its own.

It's also not mentioned what exactly Kirk decided to do about the communicator McCoy left behind on Iotia, as the episode ended by making a joke of it instead. Given the weight assigned to repairing cultural contamination, I think it's safe to assume Kirk ordered the communicator retrieved rather than leaving it on the planet. Though it would have been nice to have a scene depicting that rather than leaving it open ended.

The issue of cultural contamination by a more advanced society visiting a more primitive one is actually nicely explored by this episode despite the focus mostly on comedy. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy discuss the issue intelligently in several scenes, making note of the harmful effects of such contamination and exploring ideas for how to repair the damage. At one point Spock rather insightfully points out that even though he's not a fan of Oxmyx' methods, his goal of unifying Iotia under one boss is actually the right goal because it is the first step towards stabilizing their society.

By the end of the episode, Kirk is forced to give up on his rather naively conceived plan to get all the bosses to sit down together and talk through their issues, so he instead chooses to simply and arbitrarily declare Oxmyx the head boss in a mostly bloodless Federation-imposed coup. This move was one born out of pragmatism rather than idealism, as after 100 years of contamination, Kirk could only work with the resultant culture. The very idea of undoing all that contamination in a single visit rapidly became unrealistic, so Kirk merely stabilized the situation so that the Federation could put into place more subtle manipulations to fix things over time.

In that respect, unlike Spock, I would tend to think that Kirk shouldn't really have much trouble explaining to Starfleet why they'll need to send a starship each year to collect the Federation's "cut." Likewise, I also rather liked Kirk's suggestion that they use that cut in some fashion to fund efforts to slowly repair the cultural contamination on Iotia and guide their further development. All in all, this is an episode which was at risk of being a rehash of that terrible similarly premised episode from season one, Miri, but since the writing was more careful this time around and considerably more entertaining, it instead managed to be a slightly above average and highly memorable episode, despite its flaws.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2010-05-28 at 12:08am:
    This epidode is okay if you don't take it seriously.

    Strange things:
    -There's a very distracting crewmember in the background during the opening scene on the ship. He's on the left side of the screen, dressed in a blue uniform, and Uhura is on the right side. He's smiling and looking into the camera. He looks like a superimposed image of Bashir from Deep Space Nine.

    -During the crews initial beamdown, there's a drive-bye shooting. One of the gangsters on the sidewalk gets shot and falls into some boxes. When the shooting stops, McCoy walks directly to Kirk and pronounces the gangster dead, but he never even examines him, or even looks at him from afar.

    -Watch closley when the gangster is playing pool. He's hitting random balls, but not the cue ball. (maybe there's a variation I don't know about)

    -I beleive we see the crew get taken hostage five times.
  • From Mosh on 2012-07-14 at 8:18pm:
    Being a complete Star Trek beginner going through this for the first time, there are a couple things I've been wondering about since the beginning.

    Up until this episode I assumed the 6 spots in the transporter room and the surrounding equipment were an integral part of the transporting process, and therefore you either had to beam to or from one of them.

    Now that it's been established that they are able to beam a person from one spot to another on the planet, my assumption would seem to be incorrect. I mean, if you can beam someone from anywhere to anywhere (within range), why have a room for it at all? Is it meant to be just a designated loading and unloading zone? Are those just arbitrarily designated spots with the coordinates set as default? Is this just a continuity error?

    I'm guessing all possible questions about this have been raised in the last several decades, but I'm too wary of spoilers to go to any other Trek sites.
  • From koolaid62 on 2013-03-14 at 5:05pm:
    What bothered me (even years ago when I was a kid) was that they were fighting for domination of the planet and the gangs are supposedly replacing governments but you could drive from one territory to another in minutes and their individual headquarters consisted of 2 lackeys outside, 2 inside, one moll , one desk and one phone. At that rate you would need several thousand gangs to dominate the planet, culturally speaking. Yes, I know I'm nitpicking and didn't grasp the concept of budgetary restrictions !
  • From Alan Feldman on 2014-03-30 at 7:29pm:
    "A Piece of the Action"

    A more or less fun episode. But it gets a little tiring with our heroes getting recaptured again and again. Also, Shatner's gangster voice gets a little annoying after a while. It's not very good.

    What makes this episode, of course, is the comedic value of the clash of cultures. In particular, Spock and Scotty's cluelessness about the gangster culture, and esp. their language, is pretty funny. The story itself is ridiculous (esp. the Fizzbin bit -- I mean, really), leaving only the comedy to make it worth watching. And I believe it was intended as such. Kirk's last line pretty much proves that.

    So Sigma Iotia II has been like this for 100 years straight? No scientific or technical progress in all that time? It's a silly story, so no biggie. Just wanted to point that out.

    When Kirk first drives the car, you just _know_ it's going to go in reverse. But it's funny anyway! I guess this is a gag that just always delivers.

    Notice that Oxmyx is actually spelled Okmyx (see the poster in Krako's office), but pronounced ox-mix. Perhaps just another spelling quirk of English -- Iotian English, anyway.

    I can't believe they're pointing machine guns at an infant, and shortly thereafter, a boy -- especially when Kirk does it! I find it rather disturbing just seeing that.

    So Bones might have left a communicator on the planet. So what? The Iotians don't have the tools to copy it. They don't even have the tools to make the tools to make the tools. They're in the equivalent of the 1920s! Do you think humans in _our_ 1920s could copy a modern circuit board, let alone a smartphone, if they came upon one? I think not! And here we're talking about something far more advanced than a smartphone: the transtator (whatever that is)! Being "bright and imitative" is just not going to be enough. The worst the Iotians could do is make crank phone calls to passing space ships -- that is, until the battery dies.

    Don't Kirk and Spock look outrageous in gangster clothes?!

    AEF, aka betaneptune
  • From jd_juggler on 2015-03-25 at 11:02am:
    This was the only episode that ended with a freeze frame.

    The actor who played the gangster gunned down (who fell ino the boxes) was Jay Jones, a stuntman and occasional ill-fated "redshirt" in ither episodes. He was blown up in "the apple" (and was severely injured in real life for that stunt), and he played Crewman Jackson, who was beamed up dead in Catspaw.

    When playing "Fizbinn", the gangster gets a pair of jacks, and supposes a third jack would be a good thing. Kirk says no, then he would have a sralk, and would be disqualified. But the gangsters next card IS a jack, and Kirk says "how lucky you are! How wonderful for you!"

    Another reviewer pointed out how annoying kirks "gangster" voice was. I quite agree. But Spock's attempts to act like a gang were hilarious. ("I would advise yas to keep dialing"). Scotty had a few amusing moments trying to act like a gangster as well.

    The boy who approached Kirk and Spock suggested that the entrance to Oxmyx's headquarters was being watched from several windows, which would render a direct assault suicudal. The boy cleverly allows Kirk and Spock to get close to the two guards without raising suspicion. However, to do this, the boy makes a loud and very visible demonstration himself, which, although not likely to be viewed as a viable threat itself, would surely have gotten the attention of anyone keeping an eye on the entrance to Oxmyx's headquarters (unless the kid was lying, although it is reasonable to suppose that the biggest "boss" on the planet would have better security than two inept goons standing outside his building).

    For his trouble, the kid wanted "a piece of the action", and he certainly lived up to his side of the bargain. But he got nothing. "Action" means money.

    It seems to me that the ship's sensors, in the hands of a competent crew, would know when the landing party had been captured, confined, held at gunpoint, or had their phasers and/or communicators taken from them. In another episode, Kirk brags that ship's sensors could locate a matchstick on a planet, so how hard could it be to locate a phaser or a communicator, then just beam them up?

    The Horizon, which visited the planet 100 years earlier, surely must have impressed the Iotians with its advanced technology, and Oxmyx even acknowledged that there must have been further improvements made during the intervening century. Thus, it would seem rather foolhardy to take an officer of the federation hostage.

    How exactly will the "fed's" 40% "cut" be calculated? And how can Kirk promise that the "Feds" will be coming back every year? And if in fact the federation does NOT come back every year, what's to prevent the planet from falling back into its former bad habits? Bela is now officially 2nd in command on the planet, but he and Oxmyx are longtime adversaries. Wouldn't bela be motivated to assassinate Oxmyx, making it look like an accident, so that he (Bela) could assume overall leadership of the planet, which is what he's wanted all along? Didn't Kirk and co. just make such course of action a whole lot easier for Bela?

    Despite all the above quibbles (and believe me, I could go on), I rate this as a very good episode overall. Among the top ten, I'd say.

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