Captain's Blog pt. 77: Errand of Mercy

Today's slice of Monday Morning TOS will be on the breezier side. I like this ep, but both thematically and visually, it's rather self-evident.

March 23, 1967
Title: (2.25) It is an errand of mercy which brings me here. Pray, let me discharge it. - The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Story: (7.5) Kirk and Spock say some hawkish things that contradict their attitude in other episodes... nothing too outlandish (it's not as bad as making Chekov et al. hardcore reactionaries in "The Way to Eden.") It's done to better contrast the theme, I guess, but it does make you wonder if anyone remembers the whole "Arena" adventure. But hey - the Klingons invade, whaddyagonnado?

Another example of Trek not being afraid to paint its characters in a negative light (witness Kirk's badgering of Ayelborne and the council, "this idiotic placidity of yours." Kor also refers to the Organians as idiotic, as well, putting Kirk and Kor - as intended - on the same side, ideologically) if it helps tie the metaphorical room together.

Sure, Kirk repents, as it were, at the end, but even without that, the point is well-made.

Not that anyone comes across unreasonably negative, here. Maybe Kor. But even Kor's point of view is justified if you put yourself in his shoes. The Federation and the Klingon Empire are vying for the right to dominate or "advise" satellite nations/ planets, and undergo a mildly impolite awakening.

Kor's saying "I don't trust men who smile too much" should be a widely-distributed meme during electioneering cycles.

Theme: (8) The wish-fulfillment of some cosmic force ("as far above (the Federation) on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba.") stepping in to prevent our political leaders from killing, maiming or destroying millions of innocents in collateral damage as they myopically pursue their respective agendas is sadly all too timely. Effective science fantasy? Or Superman IV? I lean more to the former, here. Instead of leaving it to the viewer to secretly wonder if we're meant to view Kirk as an unreliable narrator (or at least one who is embodying the opposite of what the Genes wanted the audience to walk away with) here, Kirk himself delivers the cultural self-reflection at episode's end.

It's rendered a little ineffective by the Organians barely being mentioned ever again (in canon, anyway, though they do return for a memorable episode of Enterprise) and their Peace Treaty never ultimately constrains any human/ Klingon conflict. Perhaps it's meant only to prevent wide-scale war, but I think that's against the spirit of everything the Organians say about it. But that's okay. We never adhere to the letter or spirirt of our own treaties, so why hold Trek to a higher standard? Perhaps that is in itself a commentary.

I toyed with the idea of reading this episode (particularly this lack of follow-through) as a metaphorical representation of the failure of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

As with "The Apple," 1967 was a good time to bring up the dangers of wandering blindly into paradise without properly understanding the locals. 

Here's an excerpt that I like from Torie Atkinson's review: "Ayelborne calls him on it, and Kirk looks positively frightened at his own behavior. All in all, it’s a sobering look at the way in which making war becomes so easy and comfortable, it can be difficult to step back, re-examine the reasons, and find a common ground on which to make peace. Or, you know, have some space douches come in and make the choice for you."
Interior Logistics: (1.5) Of course, given that Kirk and Spock think the Organians have an "arrested culture," it's curious why they even bother trying to convince the council. Why not just knock the government over and do what they perceive to be best for them? See: every other episode.

When Kirk tells Spock at the end that "we humans like to think we're the most powerful people in the universe" and that it's "disturbing to find out we're not," are we supposed to take him seriously? (See: every other other episode.) He must spend a lot of time feeling disturbed on behalf of humanity.

Kirk seems to change his mind on whether he's a soldier or not a soldier an awful lot. Depending on the situation, he claims to be one or the other. When speaking to Garth (Lord Garth!) he's an explorer. But he tells the council, emphatically, that he's a soldier, here.

Guest: (4.25) John Colicos plays Kor, one of my favorite Klingons.  

Have we a ram among the sheep? 

In addition to reprising Kor for DS9, he played Gaius Baltar in the original BSG.
The Organians act subtly alien throughout the episode. 

Which is a nice thing to reflect upon after the reveal at the end re: their true nature puts it all in perspective. Well-foreshadowed.

Visual Design: (2)

The Citadelle Laferrière stands in for the castle ruins on the planet surface.
I love the simple addition of orange curtains behind the partition, here. Also, that Proclamation is so adorable. Someone in the Klingon Empire works on wording, font design, etc. for these things.
Kirk and the Gang: (20) Some great interplay between Shatner and Nimoy throughout.

Sulu gets the Captain's chair. The ship always seems to get attacked when he's in command, doesn't it? Is "The Omega Glory" the only exception?
I named this screencap "Space Truckin'" in my folder for this ep. I can't recall why, but it gave me a chuckle to rediscover. (I snagged most of these screencaps earlier this year, months before I got to TOS.)
Memorability: (3) It's certainly an important ep for Trek mythos, as it introduces the Klingons qutie effectively. Some fun non-canon sequels (of sorts) to this episode, including Spock Must Die by James Blish (reviewed over at Tor) and DC Fontana's oft-mentioned Year Four at IDW.

Total Points Awarded: 48.5


  1. For some reason, a line from "The Wild One" occurred to me while pondering this review/episode. "What are you rebelling against?" someone asks Brando. "Whattaya got?" he snarls back?

    In a way, that's what early "Star Trek" was like. Yes, there are thematic and philosophical discrepancies from one episode to the next. Some of them are rather severe discrepancies. That bothers me if I think about the show from a standpoint of continuity, but if I think about it as a piece of counterculture -- or, as the case may be with a given episode, counter-counterculture -- it begins to make sense. "What are you trying to get people to think about?" asks some interviewer. "Whattaya got?" snarls Roddenberry, Coon, etc. Pretty cool.

    Swear to God I just realized I'd been staring at Dracula for about thirty seconds. Why do I want to eat spiders all of a sudden?

    I think there's a lot to love with this episode, especially the performance by Colicos. But I have to confess that the complete lack of follow-up on the part of the series bothers me. Maybe it shouldn't; but it does. I'm sitting there watching "The Undiscovered Country" thinking, "lousy Organians, with their empty threats/promises!" But really, what else is there to think about during that movie?

    I give everyone involved major kudos, though, if only for the fact that the episode manages to make the Federation (read: Americans) kind of look like dweebs. And yet, I find it hard to take any of what Kirk does to task, really. This episode ends up sort of having a genuinely alien point of view, which is not something that actually happens all that often on Trek in any of its incarnations. Good stuff.

    1. Yes, that re: the alien p.o.v. - absolutely. Episodes that convey that successfully always get me, I think. I'll have to think about this and reflect on all I've reviewed and see if that's true, actually. It'd be wild to discover that was the through-thread in my Trek enjoyment.

      Something I'd never even have thought to look for had I not gotten involved here in the Southeast Asia of my Trek DVDs...