Monday, December 30, 2013

My Random Thoughts on Errand of Mercy

It's already December 2013 and this will probably be my first and last post of the year. I won't go into detail explaining why I haven't written at all this year but suffice it to say that real life suddenly intruded at the end of 2012 and during much of 2013.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Now, onto Errand of Mercy.

My opinion of Errand of Mercy has evolved over the years.

Initially, I loved this episode. It was the episode that introduced the Klingons to Star Trek fans and they're here, as they were initially conceptualized, in all their greasy cruelty and sneakiness. No politically correct, retconned, Samurai warriors/Sioux braves in alien makeup these, the Klingons in Errand of Mercy are a far cry from what they eventually evolved into in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, what caused my opinion of this episode to change is that, once again, we are subjected to yet another Star Trek: The Original Series episode which employs a Deus ex machina, this time in the form of the highly evolved Organians, to tie together all the narrative threads at the finale. The role of the Organians as objective observers of and commentators on the behavior of the Federation and the Klingon Empire is about as subtle as a sledge hammer; from the point of view of exposition, was it really necessary to have a Greek, or in this case Organian, chorus point out that in its propensity to view war as an option that it doesn't necessarily shy away from, the Federation isn't all that different from the Klingon Empire, especially since Spock, who usually fills the role of the "outsider looking in" in the regular cast of Star Trek: TheOriginal Series, points this out himself at the very beginning of the episode?

Curious how often you Humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.

From a narrative standpoint, the interference of the Organians also provides the Klingons with the opportunity to give their side of the story explaining how relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire had deteriorated to the point where war seemed to be inevitable, a juxtaposition of viewpoints which is solely needed given that the story, up until the exposure of the Organians, had been told entirely from the Federation's point of view.

Kirk and Spock, incarcerated in a highly unusual prison: The exit is in the background – so what function is served by the bars in the foreground?

There's a lot to like about Errand of Mercy; the Klingons are an interesting addition to the rogues gallery of Star Trek villains, the story of Kirk and Spock's guerilla war campaign against the Klingon occupation of Organia is compelling and the frustration felt by Kirk and Kor, his Klingon counterpart, at the sheeplike apathy of the Organians living under the cruel yoke of Klingon rule provides some humor while further illustrating that the Federation and the Klingons are not as different as they would like to believe but the reliance on Deus ex machina as a narrative device just strikes me as being unsatisfactory not to mention lazy. And it's not as if the writers are unaware of the effect the Organians have on the narrative. Kirk himself comments, at the episode's conclusion:

Oh, no, no, no, Mr. Spock, we didn't beat the odds; we didn't have a chance. The Organians raided the game.

This almost smacks of apologia for the way the episode plays out; not with a bang, but with a rather disappointing whimper, especially given the potential of the Klingons to serve as a catalyst for that narrative bang. Had the ultimate goal of this episode been to knock the Federation down a peg from its position as the paragon of virtue in the Star Trek universe by pointing out the similarities in its policies and those of the Klingon Empire (and, via allegory, convey the same message about the Western and Eastern blocs circa 1967), a less clunky narrative device than the overused Deus ex machina would have been preferred by this viewer.