9.11.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 70: The Omega Glory

March 1st, 1968
Title: (1.5) Not one of my favorite titles, but certainly memorable. "Omega" refers to the planet (Omega IV) but it also signifies the end of the Greek alphabet, and as we know, much of what Starfleet/ the Federation is about "came from a worship of such beings." ("Who Mourns for Adonais?") I kid. But it is a word associated with endings to be sure, and adding "glory" brings to mind both the Bon Jovi song for Young Guns 2 and "Old Glory." Both of which, oddly enough, are not exactly unrelated to the goings-on here. The Comms are going down in a blaze of glory, and Old Glory will wave over their mass graves.

The episode of Gomer Pyle USMC that aired opposite it was called "The Price of Tomatoes." I almost wish I could swap that title with this one. I am serious, here - calling this episode "The Price of Tomatoes" has a Dylan-esque effect on my brain. I am puzzled by the metaphor, and my brain immediately starts buzzing to suss out the connections... visions of the US Marines invading Guatemala on behalf of the United Fruit Company, genetically modified crops protected by men with phasers, crates of tomatoes being picked by migrant workers and canned in giant factories. Cross-reference to black and white footage of men in haz-mat suits walking through cornfields with voiceover from the episode: "I'm convinced that once there was a frightening biological war that existed here. The virus still exists. Then over the years, nature built up these natural immunizing agents in the food, the water, and the soil." Omega Glory, indeed.


Rest assured, I won't try to convince you this is an episode about international trade regulation and American activity in Latin America. (I'd sure like to read that essay, though. If it had a sense of humor about itself, that is.)

Memorability: (6) Well, it has to be one of the most memorable Treks going, doesn't it? Perhaps not for the best reasons, but, unlike, say, "The Savage Curtain" - an episode equal in notoriety, perhaps - "Omega Glory" has a bit more going on under the surface.

I don't mean to beat up on "Curtain." Just that it's ultimately rather silly. I still kind of love it. Story of my life.
But yes, if anyone were to distill "TOS Insanity" into an energy drink, I imagine this episode would be one of the first ingredients on the label.


On a personal level, the scenes on the Exeter at the beginning always freaked me out as a kid and still have an eerie quality about them, years later.


Visual Design: (2) Nice use of color and shadow throughout.


This could also go under "Interior Logistics," but by the point this appears in this episode, it's a free-for-all, so hey. Cool drawing, though. This, by the way, is my threshold for being impressed with your tattoos. 
Or this dude. Otherwise (shrug)
Script/ Theme: (7 / 7) Of all TOS, this may be the episode that gives the critic the most rope with which to hang himself. In that spirit - and boldly going - quotes galore coming your way.


Daniel Bernardi wrote a book entitled Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future wherein he reads the entire story through the academic lens of white privilege, a perspective I do not share. I don’t mean there’s no merit in this approach. It just seems a bit imperialist to me. And isn't this the very crime of which Captain Tracey is guilty in this episode?

"Interesting that the villagers know about fireboxes."
So when Bernardi writes that "the episode not only reveals an unwillingness to be critical of the hegemony of racist representations but also systematically participates in the stereotyping of Asians," I'm just not convinced there's a sound enough premise, there. Is it rational to read this episode as a white man vs. Asians thing? I mean, considering the ethnicity and political persuasion of a billion of the United States’ enemies at the time, mightn’t there be a more specific and relevant read on the Comms?


And mightn't it be a little less black-and-white? And wasn't the f**king Cultural Revolution going on in China at the time? And didn't Gene Roddenberry's old Pan Am buddy Noonian - that's where that name comes from, in case you didn't know - get disappeared in such?  

He goes on to say: "As the story progresses, the Yangs are constructed as noble savages; their cause to annihilate the Comms is established as justified. The Comms, on the other hand, are constructed as brutal and oppressive; their drive to suppress the Yangs is established as totalitarian. This more hegemonic articulation of race is made evident when Kirk and Spock realize the extent to which the Yangs and Comms parallel Earth's civilizations. In this light, the Yangs are no longer savages, but noble warriors fighting for a just and honorable cause. They want to regain the land they lost in a war with the Asiatics."
 
Again, it's not that I find this interpretation to be wrong or anything. I’d be content to leave it there if I didn’t see real-world consequences of this sort of thinking, i.e. every-and-anything can be reduced to unexamined racism on the part of the white people writing it / talking about it. I think this approach obliterates a lot of relevant details.

I’m more partial to Allan Austin’s perspective in Space and Time: Essays on Visions of History in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television: "'The Omega Glory' consciously and unconsciously reflects a number of deep American anxieties that grew out of more than two decades of the Cold War. By the mid-1960s, some Americans began to critique what they saw as mindless nationalism. This unthinking patriotism had coalesced as part of a liberal consensus grounded in confidence in the essential soundness of American society as well as the assumption of a pervasive communist threat to the U.S. and its allies."

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." - Goethe
I think a good pulp poster for this episode would be NATIONALISM IS THE DISEASE; KIRK IS THE CURE. 

Consider all the contamination talk of the episode, the sub-plot to generate a serum, etc. All covered by the quest for eternal youth element but suggestive, in this context, of something else entirely.

"There's no serum!" Kirk erupts. "ALL OF THIS IS FOR NOTHING!!"
Austin doesn’t dismiss the racial stereotypes angle altogether but puts a different spin on it: "Instead of considering the Yangs as noble savages, they can be seen as nationalism run amok, albeit still salvageable in Roddenberry’s ever-optimistic view of the future. Many of the qualities ascribed to the Yangs mirror terms used to describe the ‘Yellow Peril’ (in U.S. history.) (These Yangs) are vicious and deceptive enemies who cannot communicate intelligently."

Interesting in this light that a renegade Starfleet Captain threw his lot in with the communists, while (as Michael Chabon notes in his excellent essay:) "all the Yangs needed was a Captain Kirk to come and add a little interpretive water to their freeze-dried document (i.e. the Constitution), and the American way of life would flourish again."

"I didn't recognize the words; you said them so badly."
I suggest that all of these perspectives are valid in their own way and that Roddenberry may be doing what he liked to do throughout TOS: give the viewer simultaneous multiple perspectives to generate discussion and reflection.

When he wasn't orchestrating cosmic sex syzygy, I mean.
That’s what I’ve got for theme. The script itself has many fine moments, particularly some of the jailhouse banter between Spock and Kirk. 

"Good, Captain. Try to reason with them."
"Their behavior is highly illogical."
Interior Logistics: (-10) I went with 7s above because intriguing as it all is, this episode makes some extraordinary leaps into absolute insanity. I don't particularly care that it does - in fact, I rather enjoy it - but whatever Venn Diagram of messages is meant to be conveyed, above, at first strains under the snowballed Parallel Earth Syndrome, then explodes.

It's certainly not the only episode to do that, but what finally does is in for me is the late-innings Super Spock Syndrome (i.e. the expansion of Mister Spock's abilities to resolve a contrived plot conflict, i.e. Tracey's and Kirk's mano-a-mano.) 


Depending on which of the interpretive approaches you prefer, you could read this sequence as implying the Yangs (we have met the enemy, and it is u.s.) are easily mind-controlled. 

Not to mention their convenient supersitition of a pointy-eared devil. Though perhaps it's that nationalism needs a boogeyman? 

Oh God. I give up.
Kirk and the Gang: (25) If you're organizing your Trek collection along the Shatner Principle, then this is a must-have.

But Bones gets some fine moments, as well. This screencap doesn't do the sequence justice, but when he thinks his guard is sleeping and reaches for the knife only to pretend he was reaching for this drink all along is great. I like his flirting with the lady who brings him the food, as well, and the guard's reaction.

Guests: (2.5)

Morgan Woodward as Captain Tracey. Last seen as "My name is... UKK!" in "Dagger of the Mind."


His line delivery is effective. At times crazed ("We killed thousands and they still came...") and at times he sounds completely sane/ justified. He goes for broke at the end and flips the crap out. But I think this gets lost in the general craziness of the last twenty minutes

Roy Jenson plays Cloud William.

Interesting, too, that Roddenberry gave the "Yankee" an American Indian designation.
Johnny Geronimo - has that name ever been taken? If not, I call dibs.
Irene Kelly plays Sirah.

Taking a page out of Zarabeth's fashion magazine, I see. (Though both were likely "cut from the same cloth" as One Million Years BC.)
Oh, all right.
Lloyd Kino plays Wu. 


If I ever travel back in time and join the French Resistance, "I have seen 42 years of the Red Bird" will be the code-response that gets you through the door.

Not sure if it's a truly great episode, per se, but an important one and definitely one for my desert island scenario. It's also the sort of metaphorical roller coaster that is desperately needed on the small screen today.

Total Points Awarded: 41

6 comments:

  1. I loved the story. I hated the subtext.

    Today, I just cringe and am embarrassed for everyone associated with Star Trek when I see the final five minutes of this episode.

    It was almost as if Roddenberry and company, who had been so carefully critical of the geo-political zeitgeist of the day, were trying to make up for it with a uber-patriotic episode.

    I'm a loyal American and treat the flag of my nation with respect. But this episode just dripped with so much overt uber-patriotism that it was silly.

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    1. As you can probably tell from what I wrote up there, I disagree. But so it goes.

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    2. Civil disagreement is what makes the Internet something more than a porn portal.

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  2. I got interested by the idea that "Star Trek" is/was an allegory for the prevail of whiteness, or whatever you want to call it. Reading something that way seems a little silly to me, but at the same time, there's probably something to it. 1960s America was still very much a white man's world in some ways, so most popular media of any kind was necessarily going to be created with that in mind. But even if you find Trek guilty of that approach, I think the worst you can see is that it's an allegory for the journey of white people who know the world is full of non-white people -- and women, too! -- and who WANT to be inclusive, but maybe just haven't quite figured out how to properly do it yet.

    "NATIONALISM IS THE DISEASE; KIRK IS THE CURE." -- Somebody needs to design that, stat.

    I'm a little less tolerant of the episode than you are, but I definitely agree with two points: there are numerous great moments; and it, if nothing else, gives you a lot to think over. In my case, I think it's a failure; but I think it's a really interesting failure. And in the case of a television series, especially one with a fairly large number of episodes, it's kind of helpful for the analytical critic to have a hugely imperfect episode like this one to assess every once in a while: it helps bring other episodes into sharper relief.

    Either way, this was a great review of it! Another strong collection of screencaps, too.

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    1. Thanks, mate - good points, all.

      I'm a big fan of the "helps bring other eps into sharper relief" approach. A lot of my desert island Treks wouldn't be if it weren't for other episodes. Contrast and context and color-matching, or something like that.

      I can't quite explain it, but that's why I'm here!

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