|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season Two: Ep. 2.16 “The Gamesters of Triskelion” – (Original air date: Friday, January 5, 1968)

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 “The Gamesters of Triskelion.”

  • On this date in history, Dr. Benjamin Spock (no relation to our Spock) was indicted for conspiring to violate draft law.
  • Carrie Ann Inaba, who’s on one of those shows that my wife watches, perhaps Dancing with the Stars or one of those where a platoon of women attempt to talk over each other—maybe both—was born on this day in Hawaii.
  • On the night before—Thursday, January 4, 1968—Jimi Hendrix was arrested in Gothenburg, Sweden, for vandalizing his room at the Opelan Hotel.
  • The next day—Saturday, January 6, 1968—Norman Shumway performed the first successful heart transplant in the USA. “Successful” is a relative term, as the recipient died 15 days later.
  • Director John Singleton was also born on Saturday. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2019.
  • On Sunday, January 7, over 200 Caltech students marched to and demonstrated in front of the NBC studios in Burbank, California. The demonstration was actually orchestrated by Gene Roddenberry to get NBC to renew Star Trek for a third season. It must have worked, although the results are questionable.
  • Until now, I’ve always referred to myself as a gamer because I’ve played video games since they first became available to the general public. I cut my eyeteeth on Pong, and still play video games on my PS3 and PS4. Now, I think I’d prefer to be called a “gamester.” It’s a cross between gamer and gangster.
  • This is a teaser that gets right to the point. The USS Enterprise has entered standard orbit around an uninhabited planetoid designated Gamma II. The planetoid has automatic communications and astrogation station (say that three times, fast). The plan is for Ensign Chekov, Lt. Uhura and Captain James T. Kirk to beam down to make a routine check of its facilities.
  • Does such routine business seem like the sort of thing the captain of a Federation vessel should occupy himself with?
  • No. No, it doesn’t. But, Jim Kirk is no ordinary captain. We are consistently reminded of this fact. He has a genius-level intellect, even though he apparently prefers to hide his light under a bushel. He is recklessly brave and athletic up to the point he no longer takes his tunic off because he doesn’t want to reveal the “back brace” holding his gut in. His hairpieces are very convincing, however, concealing his thinning hair in the front.
  • A few episodes before this one, in “The Deadly Years,” you can see Shatner without the hairpiece in the “old age” scenes.
  • This is all misdirection, as our bridge crew trio suddenly vanishes on the transporter platform. Not “vanish” in the usual transporter way, as Montgomery Scott says to Spock, who was left in charge of the ship. Spock tells Scotty to recheck his equipment while he scans the planet surface for the missing officers.
  • Of course, our heroic landing party aren’t on Gamma II.
  • The landing party finds themselves on a platform with a strange design on it.
  • That design is what’s known as a triskelion, by the way. It is a design motif that appears throughout history, usually as a triple spiral exhibiting rotational symmetry.
  • But, sometimes the triskelion is represented as three human legs, which this Trek symbol most closely resembles.
  • By the time I began watching Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, I had forgotten all about this TOS episode. In the Marvel series, one of the SHIELD bases is referred to as The Triskelion. The main building is three tall structures connected at the top and arranged in a circle, which is a modern representation of the triskelion design motif. Funnily enough, I never wondered what the word “triskelion” meant until watching this TOS episode again.
  • The green sky and trinary star system are clues to the landing party that they are not on Gamma II. Communicators do not work. Suddenly, as four aliens are approaching the Starfleet officers with what appears to be hostile intent, they discover that their phasers don’t work either. Kirk orders his crew to engage in hand-to-hand combat.
  • The aliens appear to be two males and two females. Kirk and Chekov square off against the two males, while Uhura has to face the two females alone. Seems fair.
  • Only Kirk seems to be doing well against his opponent, until the female alien with green hair sucker punches him. Kirk lies on his back with a blade to his throat, which effectively ends the teaser.
  • As we head into Act 1, this is the situation. Our landing party, which includes Captain Kirk, has been kidnapped, teleported to a strange, green-skied planet with a trinary sun. The remaining crew of the Enterprise has no idea what happened to the party yet, but they’re looking for them.
  • End of teaser: Begin Act 1.
  • A bald Nosferatu-looking guy in a long black cloak appears. This is Galt, the Master Thrall. On his cloak, the triskelion motif looks more like a swastika.
  • Galt is also the welcoming committee. He commends Kirk, Uhura and Chekov for their strength and competitive spirit. He is pleased.
  • Also, the planet is named Triskelion as well, it seems.
  • Galt finishes welcoming the new arrivals by taking them to a cell and shackling them to a Wizard of Id wall. Collars like those worn by the other combatants and Galt are placed around their necks.
  • Galt refers to our Starfleet trio as “thralls.” He says they are to be trained and will spend the rest of their lives on Triskelion.
  • Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Scotty and Spock have eliminated a ship malfunction as the cause of the landing party’s disappearance.
  • Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy gets an opportunity to do his angry schtick. He says, “Then what the devil is happening? Does that mean their atoms are just floating around out there?” McCoy’s aversion to matter teleportation has been well-documented.
  • The unflappable Spock says there is no evidence of floating atoms, as even that would leave evidence. Meanwhile, they will continue poring over the evidence, continue sensor scans while searching for a rational explanation for the sudden disappearance.
  • On Triskelion, the members of the landing party are escorted to their own personal cells. More astute viewers than I am have noted that the cells have the prisoners’ names on them, written in English. I never saw this as a problem when I was young. Still don’t, if I’m being honest. It’s a fictional convenience, like the Universal Translator.
  • Our Starfleet thralls attempt to escape their captors, a move straight out of the Starfleet playbook. Galt’s eyes glow and it turns out that Kirk, Uhura and Chekov are wearing shock collars.
  • Our neighbors used a shock collar on their dog to stop him from barking. It was highly effective. I couldn’t do that to my dogs. I say let them bark.
  • The shock collars were effective on our landing party as well. The escape attempt is immediately shut down.
  • Side note: it seems that punishment collars have become a fictional trope on television. Was the idea fresh when this episode aired?
  • Galt tells Kirk that their actions were foolish. Escape is impossible, as demonstrated by their “collars of obedience.” That seems like a clunky turn of phrase. Why not “obedience collars,” or, simply, “collars”?
  • Back aboard the ship, Spock has determined that their friends are nowhere in that solar system. McCoy continues to be irascible. He tells Spock that he doesn’t want to hear the first officer to quote odds or give him more dispassionate logic.
  • Spock tells the doctor that he’s open to suggestions, even emotional ones.
  • A male thrall called Lars carries a tray into Uhura’s cell. He tell her that he’s been selected for her. He is to be her drill thrall. We don’t see the following action directly, just shadows. Are they fighting? Is Lars attempting to rape Uhura? She screams.
  • A good place for an act break. End Act 1: begin Act 2.
  • Uhura seems relatively unharmed and fully clothed as Lars leaves, telling her that it is not allowed to refuse selection.
  • Kirk’s own drill thrall arrives with a tray. This is Shahna, the woman with the green hair. She tells Kirk to step away from the cell door. It is the “nourishment interval.”
  • Not “lunch.” Not “dinner.” Nourishment interval. Triskelion is also known as the planet of awkward phrasing.
  • Side note about Angelique Pettyjohn, who played Shahna in this episode. Hers is a semi-sad biography. After appearing on Star Trek, she battled drug and alcohol addiction, appeared in assorted B-movies and at least three adult films. She was later able to conquer her addictions and make a living on the Trek convention circuit. She was a fan fave. Sadly, she passed away at age 48 from cervical cancer.
  • The crew of the Enterprise discovers an ionization trail in a hydrogen cloud, like bread crumbs directing them towards their landing party, which has been missing for two hours now. They leave their system at Warp 2, which seems a little slow to me.
  • Back on Triskelion, a rather thickset, orange-haired thrall enters Chekov’s cell with his nourishment interval tray. Chekov is concerned that she has been selected for him the way Lars was selected for Uhura.
  • In a surprisingly deep voice, the thrall tells Chekov that she hasn’t been selected for him. Her name is Tamoon, and she is to be his drill thrall. She tells the ensign that she will train him well. If her Provider is pleased, they may be selected for each other.
  • In Kirk’s cell, Shahna gives us all more information about the Providers. The green-haired thrall tells Kirk that their collars of obedience are signs of their Providers. When Kirk is vended, the lights on his collar, which are now white, will turn to a solid color as well.
  • Kirk accurately translates “vended” as being bought and sold into slavery. You would think that the Universal Translator would have done that for him.
  • The Triskelion currency is apparently known as “quatloos.” Whichever Provider offers the most quatloos puts their color on the collar.
  • Kirk interrogates Shahna for more information about the collars. She says it is forbidden to talk about them. So, Kirk changes tactics and begins to flirt with his drill thrall. He calls her beautiful, but Shahna appears to have no concept of beauty. Kirk makes Shahna look at her reflection in the food cover from the tray. He continues to question her, finding out that her mother—”she who bore me”—died in something called a freestyle match.
  • A gong sounds and a red light flashes. Shahna says it is now the exercise interval. She gives Kirk a training harness to put on.
  • On the Enterprise, Spock says the nearest system along the ion trail is 11.630 light-years away.
  • McCoy thinks that the idea of the landing party being transported that distance is ludicrous. He tells Spock, “You’re out of your Vulcan mind!” Which made me chuckle.
  • I don’t want to disappear completely down the warp factor rabbit hole again, but this is the sort of minutiae that nerds live for. Warp Factor 2 in TOS days was 8-times the speed of light (or 8 c). At that speed, it would take the Enterprise almost a year-and-a-half to travel the 11.630 light-years to Triskelion.
  • We’re just going to assume, for the sake of story, that Spock ordered the helmsperson to step on the gas. Even Warp 10 would take 4.25 days. As we’ve established before: The universe is freakin’ big.
  • Meanwhile, back on Triskelion, the three members of our landing party are being trained with those peculiar spears that appear to be half-halberd and half-fish-hook. Galt the Master Thrall brings in another thrall with his hands bound behind his back.
  • Galt says the thrall was slow in obeying a command, and his punishment is serving as a practice target in today’s training. He orders Uhura to strike the thrall first.
  • Uhura refuses. The thrall is an older black male. I’m not sure if some sort of statement was being made by having Uhura be the first to refuse to use him as a practice dummy, but it is likely. I would prefer to think Uhura refused to punish the thrall because it was the right thing to do.
  • Regardless, the other two refuse as well, and all three are punished using their collars of obedience.
  • Galt intends for Uhura to become the practice target now, but Kirk belays that command by taking responsibility for the actions of his crew. Galt accepts Kirk as a replacement, saying it will be a shame to lose him, although it will set a powerful example for the others.
  • End of Act Two: begin Act Three.
  • As we come back from our commercial break, there is another Captain’s Log supplemental that provides no new information, including how Kirk is recording Captain’s Logs while completing his gladiator training on Triskelion.
  • Kloog, the big silent thrall with a whip and net, is the one who is administering Kirk’s punishment. Kirk’s back is bloody and his tunic is torn. Uhura and Chekov are benched while all of this is going on.
  • After Kirk manages to land a pretty solid kick, Galt calls for a rest interval. Fifteen trisecs.
  • According to Sammy Hagar, in his song Three Lock Box, “the secrets of the trinity lie within the number three.” I guess that in a trinary star system, you put the prefix tri- in front of a lot of things. If we assume that a trisec is three seconds by our measure, then this is a 45-second break.
  • During this break, Shahna—who incidentally has large, fake-looking breasts—brings Kirk a drink she says will strengthen him, perhaps Red Bull or liquid amphetamine. She also tells Kirk that Kloog has a weak left eye and that Kirk should approach him from that side.
  • This is great insider information. By the way, I should apologize for the comment about Shahna’s breasts. It’s just that someone has to talk about the elephant in the room. Elephants, in this case, I guess. They give her a Barbie doll appearance that is probably more plastic than she would have preferred.
  • Kirk knows good advice when he hears it. He manages to dodge the whip while loosening his bonds and getting his hands in front of him. Then, he chokes out Kloog.
  • An off-camera voice calls for the bout to end, and then the bidding begins in earnest in this slave market. The bidders themselves are all off-camera, unseen, and apparently (no surprise here) there are three of them. The winning Provider, as the slaveowners are called, pays two thousand quatloos for all three members of the landing party. I think.
  • This part confuses me a little. The winning bid came from Provider One. Then, I think he accepted some side bets, including a five thousand quatloo bet that the newcomers will have to be destroyed as untrainable.
  • In any case, Kirk, Uhura and Chekov are sold to the “fine herd” of Provider One. Galt’s eyes flash and their collars of obedience turn red.
  • They are now full-fledged thralls. Galt warns them that any further disobedience will be punishable by death. Oooh. We’re raising the stakes.
  • Back on the Enterprise, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott—Scotty, to his friends—is arguing with Spock that it makes no sense that the landing party could have been transported “this far.” Dr. McCoy thinks it’s ridiculous to think that they can still be alive. Spock, obviously, decides to stay the course.
  • Somewhere outside the thrall compound, Shahna and Kirk are near some old ruins, taking a break after a two-mile run. I’m not sure how many trisecs they take on this break, but now that our Starfleet members have been purchased, they seem to have a bit more freedom, comparatively speaking.
  • Kirk is shirtless once again, which means I need to take back my earlier remark about his back brace/girdle. Shatner still seems to be in pretty good shape. He has scars from Kloog’s whip on his body. It’s either been some time since the fight, or Kirk has a superhuman healing factor.
  • He’s still wearing the training harness, and his pants are incredibly high-waisted, perhaps to cover a growing paunch.
  • Kirk takes advantage of their solitude to grill Shahna for more answers. He mentions that the voices of the Providers sound mechanical. Are they computers?
  • Shahna doesn’t understand that question. She does admit that they no longer have bodies such as theirs.
  • Kirk goes on to talk about planets and stars, and the concepts of freedom and love. This gets him nowhere. Shahna begins to tell him where the Providers stay, but her collar of obedience lights up and she writhes in pain. Kirk once again takes responsibility for someone else’s transgressions, yelling at the sky that he should be the one punished.
  • Right about here, Act Three ends, and Act Four begins.
  • Provider One tells Kirk that human compassion has no value here, and that he must learn obedience.
  • Kirk comforts Shahna after her collar light goes out. He tells her that helping others is just something his people do. Then, he kisses her. Because . . . Kirk. Shahna asks if the kiss is considered “helping,” and Kirk says she could call it that. Then Shahna says, “Please, help me once again.”
  • Galt shows up before the actress could get an early start on her adult movie career. He says there will be no punishment for Kirk because he has amused the Providers. He does order both to return to their quarters.
  • As we look in briefly on the Enterprise again, it’s apparent that the story structure made it difficult to generate dialogue lines for the rest of the cast. We’re creating fake conflict between Spock, Scotty and McCoy. Spock wants Scotty to go faster than Warp 6. Scotty thinks they’ve gone too far as it is and should still be looking for the landing party on Gamma II. McCoy agrees with Scotty, of course, and accuses Spock of risking everything on a hunch. Bones punctuates his argument with the words “stubborn” and “pointed-eared.” The doctor is an incredible speciesist.
  • Spock is stubborn (and does have pointed ears, but that’s beside the point) and says they will continue on their present course unless Scotty and Bones intend to mutiny. Begrudgingly, Scotty says he can get Spock Warp 7, and perhaps “a wee bit more.”
  • Scotty is known for being a big liar, purposefully understating things such as job timelines and warp capabilities. Just to make himself look like the big hero during the final act.
  • I’ve already written that, at Warp 10, using the internal rules of the Trek universe, it would take 4.25 days to travel the 11.63 lightyears between Gamma II and Triskelion. You would be correct in assuming that at lower warp factors, the journey would take even longer. At Warp 7, it would take 12.38 days. If you’re checking my math, make sure you’re using the TOS-era warp formula.
  • I’m going to resist going on another Space is Big tangent because we have no idea how much time has passed in our story. It may be twelve days or longer. Who knows? It’s been long enough for our senior officers to begin bickering with one another. Long enough for Kirk’s wounds from the whip to have become scars. The entire point being made during our cuts to the Enterprise is that the landing party is far, far away. We’re going to assume that the trip to Triskelion takes exactly as long as it’s supposed to.
  • Speaking of Triskelion: Shahna brings Kirk his meal interval tray. She tells Kirk that he makes her feel “strangely,” and she has considered asking to be replaced as his drill thrall. Kirk turns on the charm and kisses her again, then knocks her out with a single blow. Love ’em and leave ’em.
  • He takes Shahna’s key. I believe he removes it from her panties, which is perhaps some unintended symbolism.
  • Kirk uses the key to open Chekov’s cell. Tamoon is bound and gagged within.
  • Then, Uhura is released as well. She says Lars, her drill thrall, left to report her because she complained about the food. Kirk says if they can find the phaser he threw at Lars, they could use its circuits to short out the collars. He thinks Galt is the only one who can control the collars.
  • Our trio make it all the way to the combat area before they are caught by Galt and punished. Again. Provider One—off-camera again, of course—says this punishment is just a reminder. One finds the humans most stimulating.
  • The Enterprise finally arrives at Triskelion, entering a standard orbit. Spock comments that the sensors indicate one concentration of humanoid lifeforms on the planet in the lower hemisphere.
  • The word humanoid bothers me for some reason, especially when used by a Vulcan. There’s gotta be a better word than this. I think I’ve read anthropoid used in more modern science fiction. That may not be a better word, but at least it doesn’t have the word human in it. I am not a speciesist.
  • Spock says he’s not beaming a large contingent planetside. He will go down and try to communicate. He says if he’s unsuccessful, a landing party may become necessary.
  • McCoy makes a “going into the lion’s den” reference and says he’ll come along. Spock shows off his knowledge of the Bible by saying, as he recalls, Daniel had only his faith, but he welcomes McCoy’s company.
  • So, both our first officer and chief medical officer are going to leave the ship without a security detail. Scotty will be left in charge, naturally, but this still seems like a needlessly risky plan. Kirk would be proud.
  • Before Spock and McCoy can even leave the bridge, the ship’s systems are frozen by the Providers. Oh, great, another alien race with godlike powers that can seize control of the ship.
  • The Providers do open a communications channel for Kirk from the combat arena, though. The captain welcomes his crew to Triskelion.
  • Kirk and Provider One explain the whole slavery and gladiator thing to the newcomers. Kirk, who has a genius-level intellect (have I mentioned that?), uses reverse psychology, saying the Providers are great gamblers, but are afraid to show themselves to the thralls.
  • Provider One, Kirk’s owner, says the thralls present no danger while they wear the collars, and agrees, unwisely, to allow Kirk to see the Providers in their true forms. Kirk is transported one thousand meters beneath the planet surface to a vast cavern, where three disembodied brains reside beneath a transparent dome.
  • The brains glow in three different primary colors, like a traffic light.
  • I’ve had color television for a good portion of my life, so this effect doesn’t impress me much. In fact, the use of bold colors in this episode cheapens the story in my opinion. It reminds me of that other episode, the one with the baby and the box canyon and the brightly colored muppet furs. What was the name of that episode? Oh yeah, “Friday’s Child,” written by D.C. Fontana (I’m surprised Roddenberry didn’t take credit for the script). Back when this episode aired, that would have been only about a month ago.
  • The primary-colored Playdoh brains claim to have evolved from their former humanoid forms (there’s that word again). They claim they use only inferior beings to amuse themselves with athletic competitions. Sounds like NFL franchise owners.
  • The Providers say that they’ve found the humans challenging and that it is unfortunate they will have to be destroyed. They tell Kirk that they will destroy the Enterprise with a magnetic storm. They don’t fear retalliation from the Federation because their fate will remain a mystery.
  • Kirk accuses the brains of lacking the spirit to really wager for the lives they take. Still using psychology. The Providers are intrigued. Kirk says that humans are the greatest, most successful gamblers in the universe. He wagers that, with whatever weapons the Providers themselves choose, his people can overcome an equal number of thralls set against them.
  • The brains begin to wager on the proposed match. Only Provider Three is betting quatloos that the newcomers will prevail. Provider One has no loyalty to his herd.
  • Kirk says that the stakes have to be higher than quatloos, whatever they are. Kirk says that if he and his crew win, the Enterprise and her crew leave in safety and all the thralls on the planet are freed. The Providers themselves will educate and train the thralls to establish a self-governing culture. If they lose, the entire crew will become thralls and will obey without rebellion.
  • The Providers have a counter offer. They think Kirk should battle three contestants of their choosing, alone. When Kirk says the terms are unfair, the Providers point out that the alternative is death. Kirk say, in that case, he accepts the terms.
  • Just like in the episode “Arena,” the crew is allowed to watch the match on the ship’s viewscreens. This is a huge pay-per-view event.
  • Kirk squares off against Lars, who has a net, and Kloog, with his whip. The third combatant is an Andorian, who has a pole weapon like Kirk.
  • Kirk has to remain on the yellow tiles while his oponents are on the blue. We are still infatuated with color.
  • Kirk, a warrior as well as a scholar, does well, killing Kloog quickly, then tricking the Andorian into killing Lars with his spear. Kirk only manages to wound the Andorian, so that opponent is replaced with another thrall. Shahna. Who else?
  • Shahna seems determined to kill Kirk, until she suddenly doesn’t. Kirk subdues her and gets her to submit. The Providers announce that Kirk has won, even though he violated the entire “to the death” part of the wager.
  • The collars of obedience are switched off and the thralls are freed. In spite of the cruelty and lack of compassion the Providers have thus far demonstrated, the primary-colored Jell-O brains hold up their end of the bargain. They are honorable disembodied brains.
  • Shahna wants Kirk to take her with him, and he says he can’t. I’m not sure why. The Prime Directive doesn’t really seem to apply here. I guess she was being too clingy, and we all know that James T. Kirk isn’t a long-term relationship kind of guy.
  • After Kirk beams away, Shahna vows that she will learn from the Providers, watch the lights in the sky, and remember.

I didn’t hate this one, but I wasn’t ga-ga over it either. Something about the production design, with all the preschool colors, bugged me. It made me aware that I was watching a performance instead of just enjoying a story. Throw in a vampire overseer, shock collars, semi-Nazi iconography, and brains under glass, and it almost comes across as a parody of Star Trek instead of the real thing.

But, it’s real enough. Only three-out-of-five stars on this outing. Strictly a middling offering.

One thought on “|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season Two: Ep. 2.16 “The Gamesters of Triskelion” – (Original air date: Friday, January 5, 1968)

  1. Your sum up of the episode is very interesting! Personally, I didn’t enjoy this episode very much, I found it unoriginal and too over the top for my liking. I also find the evolution of the brains a bit stupid: now they’re just brains, sitting there doing nothing!
    But I can see why you gave it three stars!

    Liked by 1 person

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