|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season Two: Ep. 2.17 “A Piece of the Action” – (Original air date: Friday, January 12, 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 “A Piece of the Action.”

  • On this date in history, Rachael Harris was born. Ms. Harris plays Dr. Linda Martin on the Netflix series Lucifer. Not to be indelicate, that means she is now 53 years old. And still foxy.
  • On the day after this day in history, Saturday, January 13, 1968, Johnny Cash recorded his live-concert album Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison. At Folsom Prison, naturally.
  • “Hello, Goodbye,” by the Beatles, is still #1 in the US and UK. That doesn’t happen often.
  • Unless I’m mistaken—doubtful, but I always allow for the possibility—”A Piece of the Action” was the TOS episode that Quentin Tarantino was going to base his Star Trek script and movie on. The exact episode may have just been a rumor, but the fact that QT was once attached to direct an R-rated Star Trek movie seems factual, and he did a story treatment for it but did not write the script. More recent rumors say Tarantino has distanced himself from the project now, although Mark L. Smith wrote a screenplay for the proposed Q-Trek.
  • This is an episode that, on the surface, seems like something I would hate. The TOS trope of theme-worlds wore thin after a while. A world where the Nazis are in power. A world that’s just like the Roman Empire. A world that’s an exact copy of Earth. You know what I mean. This trope was as annoying, in its way, as the Star Warsian one-biome-per-planet trope (Swamp World, Forest World, Desert World, etc.).
  • So, in the teaser, the USS Enterprise arrives at the planet Sigma Iotia II, which had been visited one hundred years before the story present by the Horizon, an early Federation ship that was lost after leaving the planet.
  • Uhura tells Captain James T. Kirk that she is in contact with an Iotian named Bela Okmyx, who gives his title as “Boss.”
  • The Prime Directive had not been adopted by the Federation in the Horizon‘s time. Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy are a little concerned how the Horizon’s crew may have affected Iotian culture. The consensus is that the damage has already been done; they are there to help repair it.
  • Trek’s Holy Trinity beams down to the planet to meet Okmyx’s “reception committee.”
  • Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy materialize in what appears to be early-20th-century Chicago. The landing party is greeted by two men in suits and fedoras, who are aiming honest-to-goodness Tommy guns at them. End of teaser.
  • Before moving on to Act One, I just wanted to point out that the Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway film Bonnie and Clyde was released in August, 1967, about five months before this episode aired. I don’t have definitive proof that the film influenced this episode, but my experience with television tells me that it is likely.
  • In Act One, our landing party trio immediately have to surrender their phasers and communicators. Suddenly, there is a drive-by attempt. One of the gunmen who accosted our Starfleet heroes is killed. The other blames the “hit” on someone named Krako.
  • The city set used in this episode was on the Paramount lot. Definitely more urban than Mayberry this time.
  • Our stalwart Starfleeters are taken to the office of Bela Okmyx, the Boss. It’s a high-ceiled room with wood paneling and typical gangster furnishings. Okmyx is wearing a double-breasted suit that David Letterman would later bring back in style.
  • Okmyx was played by Anthony Caruso, a veteran actor with well over a hundred credits to his name prior to this role on Star Trek. He typically played a villain or gangster, so it’s easy to see why he was cast in this episode. I think he is terrific.
  • Okmyx tells Kirk and the boys that he is Boss of the largest territory in the world. Not counting the “small fry,” he says there’s maybe twelve other territories with different “Bosses” out there.
  • Spock asks if that includes a gentlemen called Krako.
  • Okmyx wants to know how Spock knows about Krako. His henchman—the one who survived the drive-by—tells Okmyx about Krako’s “hit.” Okmyx orders his henchman to hit Krako back. Hard.
  • Spock discovers a book on a lectern. Its title? Chicago Mobs of the Twenties. Published in 1992, which was only twenty-four years in the future when this episode aired. Now almost twenty-nine years in our past. It boggles the brainpan.
  • Okmyx refers to this volume as “The Book.” Not just “a book.” The capitalized proper noun form is suggested. Spock surmises that this is the contamination caused by the Horizon’s visit to the planet. An entire culture based upon Gangland Chicago.
  • Okmyx says the other ship also left books on “how to make radio sets and stuff like that.” But, enough with the questions. Kirk and his men are there so that they can help him. He’ll answer their questions after that.
  • Okmyx, who refers to our Starfleet officers as “Feds,” says he figures they’ve made some advances during the last century. He wants the Enterprise to provide him with enough “heaters” so that he can wipe out all of the other bosses and assume total control of the planet. He gives Kirk eight hours to provide the weapons or they will die. End of Act One.
  • In Act Two, Okmyx uses one of the confiscated communicators to contact Commander Scott on the bridge of the Enterprise. He repeats his demands to Scotty. He wants a hundred of those “fancy heaters” they have and people to show him how to use them, or he’ll “put the hit” on Scotty’s friends.
  • Meanwhile, our landing party is moved to a warehouse for safekeeping. Their guards are playing a card game (this line was originally written “Their guards are playing cards,” but that created an unintentionally funny mental image). There are pinball machines in the corner, and crates marked XXX that probably contain liquor (or pornography, I guess), and slot machines. Stuff you’d expect to find in a gangster warehouse.
  • Kirk, Spock and McCoy discuss the Chicago book and how it became the blueprint for an entire society. McCoy calls it “The Bible.”
  • Spock suggests that Okmyx’s goal to take over all the territories and unite society is the correct one, despite his methods. Spock is a not-so-secret fascist, it appears.
  • Kirk says that since this society broke down because of the Horizon‘s influence—and one damned book—that it has become their responsibility to straighten it out. He asks Spock if he could find a solution if he could get to the sociological computer.
  • Spock doesn’t answer the question, however. Instead, he points out that he can’t get to his computers at the moment.
  • At the same time, I’m asking a follow-up question: What the hell is a sociological computer? I suppose the answer to that question is “a computer whose main function is sociological.” What that means, I couldn’t guess. I took a single sociology course in college and was bored out of my mind. Something to do, perhaps, with Margaret Mead and Max Weber (the professor always pronounced it “VAY-ber,” which may be correct although in my head it was always “WEB-ber”).
  • I think learning about sociology with a competent teacher, one less monotone and more engaged with his subject, could be quite interesting. I never enjoyed a history class until I took a college course under Dr. Van Hall, four decades or so ago. The influence of one excellent instructor made me discover a love for history that had escaped me up to that point.
  • Anyway, to get back on point, Kirk has a plan to get Spock back to his sociological computer. He begins to teach Okmyx’s thugs a card game called Fizzbin, supposedly from Beta Antares IV. Kirk makes up the rules on the spot, using nonsense terms like “sralk” and “kronk.” It feels a lot like a card game I might have played with my junior-high buddies, where each of us were playing by the rules of different games. I was playing Rummy, Jim was playing Poker, and Scott was playing Crazy Eights—something like that. It never made sense, and there was never a clear winner. Kirk’s game seems a lot like that.
  • It would not surprise me if someone has really created a card game called Fizzbin. Nerds are predictable that way.
  • The whole point of Fizzbin is to confuse the gangsters and then overpower them after Kirk drops the kronk card on the floor.
  • The ploy works, of course. Kirk then orders Spock and McCoy to locate the radio station and communicate with the ship. They are to get beamed back on board so that Spock can consult with Max Weber, Margaret Mead, and, possibly, Karl Marx.
  • Over his subordinates’ objections, Kirk says he’ll follow them shortly, but he intends to bring Bela Okmyx with him. That James T. Kirk, always rushing headlong into danger. Obviously, an adrenaline junkie.
  • In an alley outside the warehouse, Kirk is immediately confronted by another gangster. You can tell he’s from a rival gang because he’s wearing a straw hat with his light-gray suit.
  • This new gangster tells Kirk that they’re going for a ride. To which Kirk responds he would rather walk. New guy—whose name is Zabo—says the car could be either a taxi or a hearse; it’s up to Kirk.
  • Kirk wisely chooses to get into the car. His solo adventure didn’t last very long.
  • Meanwhile, Spock and McCoy successfully complete their own mission, locating an AM radio station, where a female deejay is spinning actual vinyl records while wearing what appears to be a pajama top.
  • Uhura, who must have been listening to the hep sounds of the band The Jailbreakers, sponsored by Bang-Bang, the manufacturers of the sweetest little automatic in the world, immediately hears Spock’s transmission and has the transporter room beam them up.
  • Kirk is taken to have an audience with JoJo Krako, the Boss of the Southside territory. JoJo, like his henchmen, wears a straw boater. It’s how they tell the gangs apart.
  • The role of JoJo is played by Vic Tayback, a character actor who appeared in almost every television show in the 1960s and ’70s. He was best known for his role as Mel Sharples, the diner owner on long-running series Alice. He was only 60 years old when he died, and that was more than thirty years ago now.
  • JoJo is throwing darts at a poster of Bela Okmyx as the scene begins, perhaps so we’ll know immediately that the two are enemies. JoJo also wears a bowtie with his straw boater. Pretty snazzy.
  • JoJo offers to cut Kirk in for a third, if he’ll work for him instead of Okmyx.
  • Kirk says that the planet needs to be united. He wants Okmyx and Krako to sit down with all the other bosses, and talk about it like reasonable men.
  • JoJo says The Book dictates how they are supposed to act and react. You make hits and you lean on people. This is the Way.
  • I’m beginning to think this is a thinly disguised argument against religious fundamentalism. All of this reliance on “The Book.”
  • Kirk says, “No deal,” to this new boss, and JoJo has his men toss Kirk into a smaller office while Cirl the Knife begins to sharpen his blade. There’s an old radio in Kirk’s makeshift cell, and he begins taking it apart.
  • On the Enterprise, Spock has received as little satisfaction from his sociological computer as I did from my one sociology course. The computer is unable to give him an answer to their current dilemma.
  • Okmyx offers our Starfleet officers a course of action by using one of their communicators to speak with them on the ship. He tells them that Krako has taken Kirk hostage, but offers to help them break Kirk out if they’ll return to his office. Spock still doesn’t trust Okmyx, of course, but at least the gangster has a plan, which is more than they have.
  • Back in his small office cell, Kirk rigs up a wire from the radio as a trip-wire. Then, he takes out two of JoJo’s men and escapes with a Tommy gun. Kirk may be foolhardy, but he’s also crafty.
  • About to beam back down to Okmyx’s office, Spock tells Scotty to put the ship’s phasers on a strong stun position, just in case. Until this episode, I never knew the ship’s phasers could be placed on stun like the hand phasers. But, it makes sense and is now canon. Just like sociological computers.
  • Spock and McCoy beam back down to Okmyx’s office, where they are once again greeted by armed gangsters. And the end of Act Two.
  • The Act Three problem doesn’t seem that different from the Act One problem. I’m no Vulcan, but I think Spock’s much-vaunted logic failed him this time out. Kirk is still out there, so that’s something.
  • When Spock tells Okmyx that he understood that they were operating under a truce, Okmyx says, “Nobody helps nobody but himself.” Spock takes the time to correct his grammar, which implies that the Iotians are speaking English, not being translated through the Universal Translator.
  • Just at the moment it’s become apparent to everyone that Bela Okmyx has zero interest in cooperating with the other Bosses on the planet, Captain Kirk bursts in with his Tommy gun.
  • McCoy and Spock get their phasers back. Kirk asks Spock if he learned anything from his computers. To which Spock replies: “Nothing useful. Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.” This seems to surprise Bones as much as it did me.
  • Attempting to speak gansterese, Kirk tells his shipmates that since they now have Bela, he’s going to “put the bag” on Krako now. He orders a couple of Okmyx’s gangsters to take off their suits.
  • Amazingly, the suits fit Kirk and Spock as if they were tailored for them. Kirk’s hat is fuzzy.
  • We get a comical moment as Kirk and Spock steal a car. Kirk grinds the gears and the car is backfiring while whimsical music plays. Somehow, they make it to JoJo Krako’s place.
  • As they are staking out the entrance, where two hoods so suspicious that they check out a passing pram stand guard, a tough kid runs over to them and says, “It’s a hit, ain’t it?” He offers to help them out if they cut him in for “a piece of the action.” He brandishes a little switchblade, which he uses to fight imaginary enemies. This amuses the guards. Then the tough kid pretends to hurt himself.
  • The guards are distracted enough that Kirk and Spock are easily able to incapacitate them.
  • I thought “tough kid” looked familiar (see above pic). Actor Sheldon Collins played recurring character Arnold, one of Opie’s good friends, on The Andy Griffith Show. We didn’t film on the Mayberry set in this episode, but there is another connection to the other series.
  • Kirk and Spock find themselves captured again, this time by Krako. Someone only casually familiar with the series might think Starfleet officers were all inept. This ends a very short Act Three.
  • In Act Four, Krako wants to know how Kirk’s “fancy heater” works. They go back into a private office, and Kirk informs Krako that the Federation are now taking over. They intend to leave one Boss in a position of power, but—and this point should be perfectly clear—the Federation is in charge. When Kirk suggests they can go back to Okmyx if Krako isn’t interested, Krako agrees to a deal for “a piece of the action.”
  • Kirk communicates with Scotty on the ship, telling him that they’ve made a deal with Krako and are ready to make the hit. He informs Scotty that Krako is standing twelve feet in front of him (why are we not on the metric system in the future?).
  • Of course, Scotty beams up Krako to the Enterprise, where he is met in the transporter room (or one of them) by Scotty and two armed security men. Another humorous moment as Scotty attempts to speak gangsterese the way Kirk did. He tells Krako to mind his manners or he’ll be wearing “concrete galoshes.” Krako says, “You mean ‘cement overshoes’?” Hilarious.
  • As Krako is beamed up, Kirk and Spock easily overcome their guards, once again.
  • Running back to the stolen car, Spock makes wisecracks about Kirk’s dangerous driving.
  • “The City on the Edge of Forever” was a rather famous and well-received episode in the first season. Kirk and Spock went back to 1930s America to save a drugged-out Dr. McCoy. If this were truly a serialized show, you would expect Kirk and Spock to talk about their experience in time-travel, to compare-and-contrast it to their current situation with the Iotians. I like to pretend these conversations took place during the times that we, the audience, aren’t with the two.
  • Krako’s men decide the abduction of their Boss is the opportune time to conduct a hit on Okmyx. We know that Kirk and Spock are heading back to Okmyx’s place to reunite with a non-drugged-out McCoy, so the climax of our story must be happening there.
  • William Shatner revels in the chance to ham it up a little more than usual. He refers to McCoy by his full nickname “Sawbones,” and tells Okmyx that he’s “tired of playing pattycake with you penny-ante operators.”
  • Kirk tells Scotty that he’s going to make some old-style phone calls, and he wants Scotty to locate the man on the other end of the call and “give him a ride to this flop.”
  • Here’s some continuity. I know that Kirk and Spock learned the word “flop” during their time in the 1930s.
  • That’s Kirk’s plan. To have Okmyx continue to call other Bosses and have Scott transport all of them to Okmyx’s office so that they can discuss a planet-wide truce and a deal for future cooperation.
  • Some of the Bosses begin questioning how many men that Kirk actually leads. They’ve only seen a few guys, after all. They make a valid point.
  • Kirk claims that there are more than four hundred on the Enterprise. I thought this was either a lie or a mistake, because I vividly recalled there being just a little over two hundred crew on board. Turns out, the crew complement more than doubled after the events of “The Menagerie.” In “Charlie X,” Kirk said there were 428 crewmembers on board.
  • I guess I haven’t earned my gold-plated No-Prize.
  • Krako’s men try to execute their “hit” on Okmyx, but Kirk has the Enterprise fire her phasers on “stun.” This is something that’s never done in quite the same way again, as far as I know.
  • The mobsters are now convinced of the Federation’s power, and agree to Federation control, with Okmyx as the top Boss. They will refer to the new power structure as the Syndicate, and the Federation will get a 40% cut of the Iotians’ annual “action.” A piece of the action, so to speak.
  • Back on the bridge for one of our patented outros, it seems that Spock and McCoy are both troubled. Spock questions the wisdom of leaving criminals in charge of the planet, and wonders what Starfleet Command will think about having to collect the Federation’s 40% cut.
  • Kirk says the “cut” will be placed in a planetary treasury and used to guide the Iotians to a more ethical system. That sounds easier than it could possibly be. I’m siding with Spock and his reservations on this one.
  • McCoy is troubled for a different reason. McCoy lost his communicator on the planet. Spock points out that the Iotians are a bright and imitative people who will take the communicator apart and find out how the translator works. Furthermore, the translator is the “basis for every important piece of equipment that we have.”
  • Can that be true? Does it track?
  • The way the scene plays out, I’m wondering if Kirk and Spock aren’t just joking around with a concerned McCoy. They certainly don’t seem to be that concerned to have contaminated the Iotians’ natural evolution once again.
  • We go out on the Kirk line of dialogue: “In a few years, the Iotians may demand a piece of our action.”
  • I wonder if the episode title came before or after the script was written.

“A Piece of the Action” very nearly made my All-Time Favorite list of TOS episodes. It’s a lot like later holodeck-focused episodes on other Trek series, in which we get to see familiar characters in new roles. I don’t believe that this episode is meant to be taken too seriously, and the solution to the pre-Prime Directive contamination that occurred is problematic at best. Unless Starfleet makes a habit of occasionally stopping by to rough up some gangsters, the Syndicate will naturally fail.

That may be getting too far into the weeds, though. Producer Gene L. Coon chose to develop the treatment for this episode because he wanted to do something more light-hearted, like the famous “Trouble with Tribbles” episode.

This is just a show. I really should relax.

It gets 3.5 out of 5 stars from me. Better than average, but not great.

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