Captain's Blog pt. 71: The Gamesters of Triskelion

I have no hard data to back this up, but I'd wager a good amount of quatloos any recurring sci-fi series of the 20th century had an episode that resembles "The Gamesters of Triskelion."

There seemed to be something irresistible to sci-fi writers about the concept of heroes being captured and pitted against one another in gladiatorial combat while unseen flabby bits of brain sponge bet frantic amounts of imaginary currency on who would emerge victorious. Almost as much of a go-to as "captured as breeding stock." (Looking at you, Richard Blade.)

As such, the title (2) is perfectly satisfactory. That's where and who they are all right. I can easily imagine reading it on the cover of any of the Men's Adventure magazines of the pulp era. Like:

I imagine "Zenith Rand" was an ancestor or future descendant of Yeoman Rand.
Script / Theme: (4 / 6) Not the episode's strong point, really. The script is kind of dumb - there are a few nice lines here and there but I mean more its structure and overall point/ cohesion - and there's really no grand theme being explored, no "oh zing" insight into American culture that isn't applicable to any number of cultures. Unless it's secretly some bizarre S-and-M Hollywood confessional. (Which would be awesome.)

What the story does have, though, is mad re-watchability. It always brings to mind preteen sugar-spiked afternoons playing make believe in the backyard.

I'd love to see the Max Fisher Players tackle this as an adaptation.

Uhura's near-sexual-assault jumps out nowadays, of course, and rightly so.

It jumps out then, too, especially since Kirk mispronounces her name so prominently:
"What's happening to Lieutenant You-hrrra!?"
Some of the re-watches I've read go a little over-the-top on the subject, though. Verily I say unto you again and again: I come here as an anthropologist first and an archaeologist second, never a missionary. I'm as opposed to rape being used distastefully as a dramatic device to heighten tension onscreen as anyone, and I don't mean to gloss it over. I do wonder, though, if people's ability to ascertain the difference between a cheap storytelling trick (i.e. put the woman in danger) and actual danger erodes the more you focus on image and incident over substance and context. So far, the 21st century makes a strong case that it might indeed. This worries me.

Kirk and the Gang: (25) Some of Shatner's most Shatner-esque stuff in this ep.

"It's an unproductive purpose, unworthy of your intellect."

This part was originally written for Sulu, but Chekov makes out again due to the shoot for The Green Berets going long.

Spock, McCoy and Scotty get their usual B-plot of trying to figure out where the principals of the A-plot went. (And do their usual fine job at it.)
Memorability: (4.5) Any episode that has this many Kirk fight scenes, the crew writhing in imagined torture, and the iconic fight-theme music is going to be high on the memorability scale.

There's also this semi-famous bit re: Kirk's seduction technique:

Kirk's "I'm... sorry, Shahna" after the above always makes me laugh. Oh, the wearisome burden of command. Kirk is a master manipulator throughout this episode.

Interior Logistics: (2.5) Pretty solid. Well, as "solid" as this sort of thing can be. It is kind of odd that the Enterprise leaves no advisors behind to assist the newly liberated folks with their completely unfamiliar self-determination like they did in "Archons" or "Miri."

But maybe that was just a Season One thing; they don't in "Piece of the Action" or "The Apple," either. By the time they get to Season Three, they care even less.

Guest: (3)
John Ruskin plays the Warden. He has quite the Trek c.v. (from Memory-Alpha:)
I had no idea of the post-this-episode career she had. (Some of those pics NSFW.) "Mad Doctor of Blood Island" sounds promising, but it's likely terrible. Apparently she had a cameo in Repo Man, as well, but this is unconfirmed by imdb.
Jane Ross plays Chekov's drill thrall.
This nugget of info from Memory-Alpha cracked me up: "Despite rumors to the contrary, Jane Ross was not a pseudonym used by Bea Arthur, and they are not the same person." I'd neither heard nor considered that before, but now it's what I choose to believe.

Visual Design: (2.25)

Thank you for being a friend...
I'm still singing the "Golden Girls" theme in my head. You?
Your heart is true; you're a pal and a confidant...

Total Points Awarded: 49.25


  1. This is one of those episodes I hated when I was a kid and still despise today. So lacking in meaningful plot. Completely lacking in subtext and meaning. So lacking in everything except overt sexuality.

    1. It seems like a waste of analytical energy to hate this episode. It's harmless. Not every episode has to have subtext and meaning; sometimes it's enough to just have some fun. Like I said, this is a pretty common adventure for recurring-sci-fi-characters of the 20th century to have. Like a band's version of a standard that everyone covers, or something.

      That said, it's not one I feel particularly passionate about, but it's always fun to watch.

  2. The idea of the Max Fisher Players tackling this episode makes me kind of happy. Shahna would undoubtedly be played by some poor little bespectacled Asian girl who would be entirely too awkward to deal with Max/Kirk.

    John Ruskin really DID get around! Does make him the only actor to appear in all five of the pre-J.J. incarnations of Trek? If not, he can't have many compatriots.

    I dig this episode, personally, although I have to confess that Angelique Pettyjohn as Shahna weirded me out when I was a kid. And she still weirds me out today. I don't THINK is any cause for psychological concern, but then again, how would I know?

    I'd also add that while there is indeed plenty of overt sexuality, that doesn't negate the possibility that the sexuality might also bleed over into the subtext. And I think ignoring subtextual sexuality in original Trek -- given the era and the shows creator -- would be a mistake.

    1. I imagine Dirk Calloway would play Chekov's role, though maybe he'd get cast as Kirk? Either way, like you, man, I'd love to see.

      As far as the sexual subtext/ sexuality of it all, feel free to expound and theorize. It can of course be read as a s and m sort of deal (a lot of Roddenberry can, actually: "the givers of pain and delight" come to mind, among many other examples) but just curious what you had in mind.

    2. Sadly, I'm having trouble getting the transporter to work, so the info is steadfastly refusing to materialize on the screen; it's stuck in my brain. I think the closest I can get is to say that there's something there related to the idea of people's physicality/sexuality being tied to the body. Would a being that exists merely as a brain have ANY such impulses?

      What the episode seems to be suggesting is the possibility that beings who are equipped with reproductive organs are bound to retain at least SOME measure of desire to use them, if only by proxy, and if only by having those proxies fight each other to the death while wearing reflective swimsuits and little else.

      I dunno; there's something there, but I can't quite access it.

      By the way, a recent episode of "Breaking Bad" made reference to someone having bet a "fat stack of quatloos" on something. Awesome.

    3. re: Breaking Bad and the quatloos - that is great. Really upping TOS references this season! I approve.

      You've got me thinking and comparing/ contrasting Return to Tomorrow and Triskelion, now. I think you're onto something here.

  3. Another bit of interesting trivia about this episode (well, interesting to comic book fans anyway) is Mickey Morton (Uhura's drill thrall, can't think of the character's name at the moment) also played Solomon Grundy in those "Challenge of the Superfriends" live-action TV specials from the late 70s. Plus he was in the infamous "Star Wars Holiday Special" as well (as one of Chewie's relatives, I believe). This guy's resume is quite the nerd-gasm!

    1. Had no idea about any of that! Didn't think to google or imdb him, to my discredit. That is great, tho.