Episode 77 – TOS 3×22: “The Savage Curtain”

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So hey guys, spoiler: this episode is total nonsense. Basically, the Enterprise is at A Planet. Why? It’s never explained. But almost as soon as they arrive, a bunch of sentient-lava aliens kidnap Kirk and Spock, spontaneously generate them two new BFFs in the form of their personal long-dead historical Faves, and pit them against four Black Hats from Space History. White Hats vs. Black Hats, Space Gladiatorial History Edition.

Oh, and did I mention Kirk’s Space History BFF is Abraham Lincoln?

Yeah, this is that episode.

Space Lincoln appears on the view screen. Sulu's face is showing my thoughts, aka WTF
Same, Sulu. Same.









Yes, we’ve seen this before. Frankly, we’ve seen this done better: The Gamesters of Triskelion at least had some interesting world-building and a great female character in it. This time? The plot amounts to the two teams throwing rocks and sharpened sticks at each other and having vague, totally-unanchored-to-the-story conversations about the nature of Good and Evil. That’s why the lava-monsters are doing all this, by the way: apparently they evaluate the founding philosophies of passing alien races by… pitting them against one another in guerilla combat.

The lava monster
Even Temperance Brennan thinks you’re the worst anthropologist in the history of the universe.












Setting aside the minor quibble with the idea that “Good” and “Evil” are somehow equal, fundamental human philosophies, this is a totally nonsensical way of evaluating alien cultures. I mean, blah blah relativism, but wouldn’t it be simpler to just call up passing ships and ask them to explain themselves? Plus, we’re never told whether the lava monster is evaluating Human ideas of Good and Evil (capital letter, for once, appropriate!) or like, humanoid ideas of the same two ideas. Team Good includes two Vulcans (one Spock and the other the ancient Vulcan philosopher and Doomed Pacifist Surak) and Team Evil includes two human (Genghis Khan and a genocidal psychopath from the dark and mysterious Early Twenty-First Century that Star Trek canon likes to dance around and never explain directly) and two aliens, one of whom is Kahless the Unforgettable, Klingon culture’s most significant and legendary figure.

Abraham Lincoln shakes hands with Uhura, who is visibly less impressed by the mythos of Lincoln than her white crewmates.
Bonus image so that I don’t have to ever play the dialogue from this scene ever again, even in my head, but it cannot be allowed to pass without mention. Look how done with this our girl Nichelle is. Look at her dead, dead eyes.














Aside: we can say a lot about wartime propaganda informing the interpretation of Klingons as evil and barbaric vs. the Noble Warrior Poets we know and love from later outings, and the relative, overall shittiness of the portrayal of Klingons in TOS vs. every later portrayal of Klingons, but I’d like to take a moment to register my outrage at this, our first experience of Kahless, who later is seen and portrayed and discussed as a very different and much more nuanced character than we get here. Here, we get this asshole in really bad brownface makeup, who is all about dishonourably stabbing everyone in the back.

So this is definitely not Kahless, but the character does in fact bear that name.
I know this is like, the racist human mental image of Kahless, but come on. Dishonour!












The problem with this so-called contest of philosophies is that the parameters are meaningless. The lava-monsters don’t want to understand the differences between Good and Evil (because apparently a species advanced enough to generate living beings out of pseudo-inanimate matter has never heard of an artificial cultural binary), it wants to see which is stronger, but both its contenders and its rules for the fight are constantly changing and totally fail to establish themselves as a solid binary. Nobody “evil” thinks of themselves as Evil. And the two teams are fighting for different outcomes: the Black Hats for “power” and the White Hats for the safety of those they’re sworn to protect.

We’re supposed to see the victory of the White Hats as some meaningful statement about the fundamental superiority of Good for Good’s Sake, but it’s really, really not; it’s the victory of rational minds over a fucking irrational conversation on par with the one you have about immigration policy or income tax over Thanksgiving dinner, which as we all know, is a battle no one can win, because you’re having two different conversations. You can only escape.

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