10.05.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 84: A Piece of the Action

On January 12, 1968, Faye Dunaway graced the cover of Life magazine and posed for a gangster moll pictorial. Bonnie and Clyde chic. That same night, NBC aired:

The flip side of Bonnie and Clyde chic. i.e. the kind with Starfleet uniforms.
Script and Theme: (9 / 9) The script was allegedly ordered up as another humor episode to capitalize (no pun intended) on the popularity of "The Trouble with Tribbles," but it built from an idea Roddenberry scribbled down as a one-sentence synopsis ("President Capone") on the very first page of his very first Star Trek series proposal in 1964. On a more enlightened level of the Tower, this page is on display in the Smithsonian.

So much more, though, than a gag episode. Cultural contamination, communication confusion, and on-point message ("A society based on a moral inversion") combine to make this one of my favorites. The gags are still fun (Fizzbin, I would advises ya to keep dialing, Oxmyx, Scotty's endless confusion, etc.) but the whole thing is a send-up of everything it touches: gang war as country conflict, imperialism, and, most especially, one-world-government. It blurs the line between it - or at least the United Nations model - and organized crime.

Perhaps League of Nations would be the better analogy. Either way, there's always a percentage to be paid.
When Kirk explains how the Federation's "cut" of the planet's reorganized economic and political structure (40%!) can be re-invested in the culture's self-growth and enlightenment, the look on Spock's face says it all. I'm reading a book on Asia's IMF Crisis in the 1990s lately, and this episode has come to mind more than a few times. I wish its author would reference it directly, actually, as the parallels are pretty wild.


I also rather enjoy seeing Kirk and Spock, as they do in "Patterns of Force" and so many other places, go native, meeting the culture where it lives so they can wrestle it to the ground.


Similarly, watching the Iotians try and "negotiate" to get what they want is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek.


As such satire goes, it's no Starship Troopers, but it's a damn fine little episode. Especially in context. (i.e. 1960s television/ culture. Context is my best friend.)

Title: (2.5) What exactly is "the action?" How are these laudable goals going about being accomplished? What does it means for the Federation to be the source of both contamination and salvation? If this was a Soviet-era propaganda film about the global capitalist conspiracy, its cultural imperialism, and arms trade, it wouldn't play out much differently. (Though it would undoubtedly be less funny.)

Now let's break out your drinking stuff... and celebrate the Syndicate.


Visual Design: (2) The ever-popular Paramount backlot and rooms built for other television shows provide most of the setting. The costumes are memorable. (Kirk's get-up in particular.)


I do not like the remastered changes to this episode and won't screencap them for that reason.


Kirk and the Gang: (35) Kirk's badgering of Oxmyx and Krako at the end ("I want to talk to this creep" while pushing him back against the wall with his Tommy gun) has been cracking me up for years.

The general channeling of James Cagney all around is great fun.
"Check the language banks and find out what a "heater" is..."

Guest: (4) First off, the street urchin who helps Kirk and Spock gain entrance to the building and says the episode's title aloud is Sheldon Collins, yet another Andy Griffith Show cross-over.
He's a dentist in Colorado Springs these days.
The gangsters are all great. If there was a museum exhibit of the garden variety TV gangster, at least for this era, these would be the performances I'd nominate.

Additionally John Harmon (the bum with whom McCoy tries to bond in "City on the Edge of Forever") plays one of the mob bosses.)
Internal Logistics: (1.75) The Icotians seem to know things about the transporter ("they can't do anything 'til they finish sparkling") that are a little odd. There's a certain contrived-circumstances factor to the script that I could be a bit harsher on if I felt like it. But: I do not.

Memorability: (4)
Nice callback in Enterprise's "Horizon." (That's The Book back there on Travis' shelf. No I didn't catch this myself. I sometimes wonder if there is a lot more stuff like this waiting to be discovered, but I imagine everything post-TNG's been picked clean by now.)
Total Points Awarded: 67.5

3 comments:

  1. One thing that always bothered me about this episode is how badly Bela plays pool. It's as if the director just said, "knock some balls around." he should have at least looked like he was trying.

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  2. Having never seen the remastered version of the episode, I have no idea what it is you are refusing to screencap. And something tells me I'm better off NOT knowing...

    It's a peculiar episode, but it's a huge amount of fun. I could have been content if the entire episode had been Kirk trying to drive the car, and Spock lifting a nonplussed eyebrow.

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    Replies
    1. I'm attached to those gumdrop-splat day-glo phasered-from-space fx, and the remastered episode changes that. It's not really a bad fix, it just annoys me. I guess that's my reaction to most of them.

      So long as the original versions are always available, then who cares, but I just discourage the whole practice. Stop digitally re-mastering the past. It's the hallmark of a disturbed mind!

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