|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.26 “Errand of Mercy” – (Original air date: Thursday, March 23, 1967)

TrekErrandofMercy

Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “Errand of Mercy.”

  • On this date in history: The Beatles’ hit #1 on the Billboard charts with “Penny Lane” on March 12, but it doesn’t last long. By the time this episode airs, “Happy Together” by The Turtles is #1 and it stays in that position for several weeks. Humperdinck still rules the UK with “Release Me.”
  • It’s been two weeks since we had a new episode of Star Trek. Other things of note have happened since March 9, 1967.
  • The Velvet Underground & Nico, the VU’s groundbreaking first album, was released on March 12 (my wife’s birthday!). It was initially a commercial flop. It’s done better since then.
  • On Thursday, March 16, 1967—the Thursday that Star Trek skipped broadcasting a new episode—there was a reported UFO incident at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, in which the launch facilities of 10 Minuteman ICBMs began going offline and inoperable. There was a similar incident at Malmstrom eight days later.
  • On Saturday, March 18, two days after the UFO incident, slow motion instant replay is used for the first time on television. Coincidence? Yes. It’s used with skiing instead of football on ABC Wide World of Sports (I wonder if they watched that “agony of defeat” guy falling in slow mo).
  • Two days before this episode aired, Charles Manson was released from Terminal Island prison in California, where he had been incarcerated since 1960. From there, he relocated to San Francisco. Evidence suggests he may not have been rehabilitated.
  • On the same day this episode first aired, NASA, sadly, halted further training for three scheduled US manned space missions because of the January 27 fire that killed three astronauts. We wouldn’t remain grounded forever, of course.
  • Errand of Mercy” is the episode that introduces the Klingons to the Star Trek Universe. It’s important for that reason alone, if for no other.
  • Of course, these Klingons don’t have the ridged foreheads we’re accustomed to in later series (not to mention whatever is going on in Star Trek: Discovery). Even though the older Kor who returns several times in DS9 (again, played by John Colicos) has the ridges, this younger version does not. There are explanations for this, canon and non-canon, but the truth is, prior to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Klingons did not have ridges. Now they do. Ruffles potato chips have ridges as well.
  • I like the ridges, whatever their explanation, and I have no problem ignoring their absence—without explanation—in these TOS episodes.
  • Ironically, Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana thought the Klingons became the preferred alien adversaries to Starfleet because they didn’t need special, and expensive, makeup effects. Fontana found the Romulans to be more interesting.
  • During the teaser in this episode, it is established that negotiations with the Klingon Empire are on the verge of breaking down and Starfleet anticipates a surprise attack. The USS Enterprise receives orders to proceed to Organia to prevent the Klingons from using it as a base.
  • During their conversation, Kirk and Spock inform the viewer that Organia is the only Class-M planet in the disputed area. It is inhabited by peaceful, friendly humanoids living at a primitive level.
  • Kirk compares Organia to Armenia and Belgium. He remarks that weak innocents always seem to be located on natural invasion routes.
  • Our heroes encounter the Klingons and blow one of their ships to smithereens (RIP Pat DiNizio!) after a surprise attack. This leads to a formal declaration of war from Starfleet.
  • As the teaser ends, the Enterprise is heading for Organia at warp factor seven.
  • When Act One begins, we find out that our guys beat the Klingons to Organia. Yay, team!
  • Kirk leaves Sulu in charge again. Nothing against Sulu, or George Takei, but it should be Scotty in charge, as second officer. Scotty doesn’t even appear in this episode. Neither does McCoy, now that I think about it. This episode immediate loses a half-point in my rating because of this.
  • Kirk tells Sulu that his responsibility is to the Enterprise, not to him and Spock, who are beaming down to the planet. If a Klingon fleet shows up, Sulu is to get the ship to safety and alert the fleet.
  • With this kind of foreshadowing, what do you think is going to happen?
  • Kirk and Spock find Organia to be a primitive, agrarian society, very much in the medieval fantasy-type milieu. Even though our Starfleet officers materialize in their midst, the citizens around them seem unconcerned with their sudden appearance, which seems odd.
  • If the front gate of the city/village seems familiar, it’s because you saw it in “The Menagerie” (or “The Cage”). It’s the same set where Christopher Pike battled the Kaylar (not the K’Ehleyr, Worf’s baby mama). I even made the same joke that time.
  • Kirk and Spock are greeted by a distinguished-looking man in a loose purple robe who introduces himself as Ayelborne. He insists that they have no one in authority, but that, since he is the chairman of the Council of Elders, perhaps he will do. He escorts Kirk to the council chambers while Spock excuses himself to wander around the village and “make some studies.”
  • In the council chambers, Ayelborne and the other four old, white men on the council tell Kirk that they appreciate the Federation’s offer, but they don’t need their protection. This frustrates Kirk, who thinks they don’t understand the threat posed by the Klingons.
  • Spock returns from his “studies” and tells Kirk that their information about the planet was incorrect. They are not a primitive society making progress toward mechanization. They are stagnant, and there’s been no progress, no advancement, no significant change in their physical environment for tens of thousands of years.
  • Sulu calls the landing party and informs them that a “large number” of Klingon vessels have arrived. That seems pretty imprecise for a Starfleet officer.
  • The Klingons open fire on the Enterprise and Kirk reminds Sulu to follow his orders and get the ship out of harm’s way.
  • The councilman called Trefayne announces that eight space vehicles have assumed orbit around the planet and are activating their material transmission units. Meaning their transporters, one might assume.
  • I guess eight is a lot of Klingon ships, but does it really qualify as a “large number”?
  • Ayelborne offers to do something about protecting Kirk and Spock, which is a nice thing to do. But, even though Trefayne has already exhibited some supernormal powers, Kirk still hasn’t figured out that these people don’t need his protection.
  • Trefayne now announces that several hundred men have appeared near the citadel, and they bring many weapons. “Several hundred.” “Many.” Why does this bother me?
  • Here we go into Act Two. The Organians make Kirk and Spock’s weapons disappear somehow, to prevent the use of violence. Kirk and Spock are also disguised for their protection. Kirk is now the Organian citizen, Baroner. Spock, however, is still a Vulcan, but now he is a Vulcan merchant, a dealer in kevas and trillium.
  • What are kevas and trillium, you ask? We’re never told. Author James Blish had Spock describe trillium as a medicinal plant in the lily family (like its real-world counterpart), but I’m not sure that is canon. Kevas and trillium are mentioned again, decades later, in the DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations,” when Arne Darvin claims he “deals in gemstones, kevas and trillium, mostly,” which some take to suggest that they are minerals. The truth is that they are whatever you wish them to be. Nondescript trading commodities.
  • Kevas and Trillium was also the title of a one-issue Canadian science-fiction fanzine (with some Trek content) published in 1968.
  • We get our first look at the Klingons in the character of Kor, played by John Colicos. We’ve already mentioned the absence of forehead ridges, so we’ll whistle past that. But, Colicos was responsible for giving the Klingons their dark-skinned, mustachioed appearance. In the script, Klingons had been described as “Oriental, hard-faced.” Colicos was going for a Genghis Khan look, which the makeup artist agreed to. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Colicos would never again appear as Kor in the original series, but he would eventually reprise his role in three episodes of Deep Space 9.
  • The character Kor would make an appearance in the animated series, in “The Time Trap,” but would be voiced by Scotty himself, James Doohan, who is, incidentally, conspicuously absent in this episode (as is Dr. McCoy, an unforgivable sin).
  • But, I digress—
  • Back to the show. The Organians have tried to keep Kirk and Spock safe by disguising them, but still demonstrate no concern for their own safety. Kirk thinks they are foolishly optimistic. His experience has given him no reason to believe that they are an advanced alien species with near godlike powers. You know, the kind he encounters nearly every other episode.
  • Kor thinks Spock is a spy because Vulcans are members of the Federation. He orders his men to take him for examination. When Kirk objects, Kor becomes interested in him, calling him a “ram among sheep.” He chooses Kirk, now known as Baroner, to be the representative of the Organians, because he finds his open hatred to be very refreshing after all the stupid, idiotic smiles the rest of the Organians are wearing.
  • Later, as Kor is handing down edicts to Kirk as the ruler of an occupying military force, Spock is brought into Kor’s new office. The Klingons have used some device that Kor alternately calls a truth finder, mind-sifter, and mind-ripper on Spock, set on force four, and have ascertained that Spock is precisely what he claimed to be, a dealer in kevas and trillium.
  • So, both Kirk and Spock are released by Kor, who considers neither to be a threat. The Starfleet officers celebrate their successful deception by blowing up a poorly guarded Klingon munitions dump that evening.
  • Ayelborne and the rest of the council are appalled by Kirk’s use of violence. Kirk tells the Organians that he was just trying to demonstrate that they can fight back. They don’t have to be sheep. They can be wolves. When Ayelborne implores Kirk to never do such a thing again, Kirk assumes that they are afraid and that their personal freedom means little to them. In his own way, Kirk is as disdainful of the Organians as Kor is.
  • Of course, Kor had the council chamber bugged and hears this entire exchange. So, the jig is up for Kirk and Spock, which is as good a place for an act break as any.
  • Royal Crown Cola is a mad, mad cola with a mad, mad taste. L&M menthol tall cigarettes have a crisp, keen taste and are the tallest menthols you can get. Aunt Jemima pancakes without her syrup is like the spring without the fall. On to Act Three.
  • Kor takes Kirk and Spock prisoner. When Ayelborne asks Kor what he’s going to do with Kirk, Kor says he’s going to kill him after using his mind scanner on him. Ayelborne says there’s no need to use his machine, and then he rats them out, telling the Klingon who Kirk is.
  • This makes Kirk mad at Ayelborne, but it tickles Kor. Kirk tells Ayelborne that he’s used to the idea of dying, but he has no desire to die for the likes of the Organians. Harsh words.
  • Kor orders his men to lock Spock up, but wants to talk to Kirk in his office.
  • Kor offers Kirk a drink, which Kirk refuses. Kor confesses a great admiration for Starfleet, which he calls a “remarkable instrument,” and a certain admiration for Kirk himself. He says the Federation is not unlike the Klingons. They are two tigers—predators, hunters, killers—here on a planet of sheep.
  • Kor wants to know the dispersal of the Federation fleet. When Kirk refuses to give him the information—he actually says “go climb a tree”—Kor tells him that he’ll eventually get all the information he wants with his mind scanner, but Kirk will be left a vegetable. He’ll also have his first officer dissected to find out how he had the ability to block the scanner. But, first, he’ll give Kirk twelve hours to think it over and give him the information willingly.
  • Another aside: the baldric worn by Kor in this episode—which was burlap sacking material painted gold—was also worn by Worf during the first season of TNG.
  • So, Kirk and Spock are together again, in a medieval castle dungeon cell. I expected to see those two prisoners from The Wizard of Id hanging from chains on the wall.
  • Ayelborne comes and springs our heroes as if he owns the place. He says they can’t permit their captors to do violence to them.
  • Do violence.” Is that something people actually say? I’m gonna do violence to you? How about, I’m gonna get medieval on you? That seems fitting.
  • Ayelborne takes Kirk and Spock to the council chamber, and says they will be safe there. Kirk still doesn’t trust the Organians.
  • Kor finds out that the prisoners have escaped. He orders his men to execute Special Occupation Order Number Four.
  • Kor gets on the loudspeakers and announces that two hundred Organians have just been killed and that two hundred more will follow every two hours until the two Federation spies are turned over to the Klingons.
  • I guess we know what Special Occupation Order Number Four is now.
  • Kirk forces the Organians to tell him where their phasers are. Note: they are in the chamber’s only cabinet. Kirk, who is never lacking for self-righteousness, tells the Organian councilmen that he has no great love for them or their planet, but that he and Spock are going out there to most likely die in an attempt to show them that there are some things worth dying for.
  • That’ll show ’em, Jim.
  • The Organians are, not surprisingly, unmoved by all of this. It’s almost as if they know everything’s going to be all right.
  • Spock places their odds of survival at approximately 7824.7-to-1 against. Approximately.
  • It occurs to me that this sort of gag would later become Data’s thing.
  • Kirk orders Spock to set his phaser on stun. I’m not sure I follow his reasoning for this. If ever there was a time to kill Klingons indiscriminately, this is it.
  • Kor orders his men to gather up another 200 Organians like sheep to the slaughter. “Like Sheep to the Slaughter” would have been a better episode title, I think.
  • Kirk and Spock capture a Klingon soldier, who volunteers information too easily, telling them where Kor’s office is located.
  • It turns out that even Kor’s office is under surveillance. After Kirk and Spock seem to have the upper hand after getting into Kor’s office, the Klingon troops are alerted and soon arrive in force.
  • Just when it looks like it’s all over for our Starfleet heroes, everyone’s weapon becomes too hot to handle. Up on the Enterprise everyone leaps up from his seat as if shocked.
  • Ayelborne comes in and tells everyone that they are terribly sorry to be forced to interfere. The Organians have put a stop to the war. Kirk seems as miffed about this as Kor does. Maybe Kor was right. The two sides are more alike than they are different.
  • So, yes, the Organians are another of those alien species with technology so sufficiently advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic. No one has died on Organia in thousands of years, not even those citizens the Klingons rounded up for execution earlier. They have even used their powers to prevent the Federation and Klingons from killing each other this time.
  • The Organians are their own deus ex machina. It seems clumsily telegraphed to me now, but this probably wasn’t the case when I was young.
  • Ayelborne reveals that the Organians can tell the future as well when he announces that, in the future, the Federation and the Klingons will work together as friends, but only after millions have died.
  • As we know, this will be true.
  • During our customary bridge outro scene, Kirk says he’s embarrassed. I’m not sure if his embarrassment is because he was mad at the Organians for stopping a war he didn’t want, or because he’s learned, once again, that they aren’t the most powerful beings in the universe.
  • When Spock tells him he has no reason to be embarrassed because they did, after all, beat the odds, Kirk says they never had a chance because the game was rigged.

Errand of Mercy” gets points for introducing the Klingons. With or without the brow ridges, this is a momentous occasion. The story itself has some exciting moments, but there’s never really any suspense once you’re tipped to the Organians’ supreme godlike powers. And, I have to believe that realization came pretty quickly even when I was in single-digits because the Organians were so placid and unaffected by all of the violence around them.

The episode loses points because McCoy and Scotty don’t get to meet the Klingons until “The Trouble with Tribbles” in the second season.

Despite its iconic moments, this one doesn’t make the All-Time Best Trek list. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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