The Great Star Trek Rewatch: A Private Little War

Kirk is delighted to be heading up a landing party to a planet he visited as a lieutenant, a veritable Garden of Eden where the peaceful inhabitants haven’t even evolved past bows and arrows. But when Spock is shot by a flintlock musket, it points to outside interference in the planet’s natural evolution – and with Klingons lurking nearby, the culprits seem obvious.

Star Trek loves its moral messages, and in this episode we’re asked the question – “What happens when someone else violates the Prime Directive?” Here, we have a peaceful planet that Starfleet was content to observe (and, to be fair, send officers down to secretly mingle with the populace), only for the Klingons to come along and introduce the ideas of guns and conquest. Kirk’s solution is to fight guns with guns, trying to maintain a balance of power. As a pacifist and a man dedicated to saving lives, McCoy is against the idea, but the alternative would seem to be to let the hill people get massacred by their once-friendly village neighbours.

Unfortunately, the episode is also not very female friendly. When Kirk visited this planet before, he befriended a young man named Tyree, who is now both the hill chief and husband of a kahn-ut-tu, a mystic wise woman named Nona. Nona is beautiful and ambitious, so of course she must turn out to be evil – she only saves Kirk’s life in exchange for learning the secret that he is from another world, and she craves phaser technology so that the hill people will be superior to ther villager enemies. Later, she even seduces Kirk and then tries to deliver his phaser to the other side – what a vile temptress, eh? Her earlier actions were clearly founded in a pragmatic desire to protect her husband and her people, but what of the seduction and betrayal? Was she coldly ambitious and downright evil? Did she seek power, a la Lady Macbeth? That’s probably what the writers meant, but let’s try to think of a better motive. Perhaps Nona just wanted to ally with a strong man to create an orderly society – with the genie out of the bottle, the only way to stop the killing and conquest was to rule with force and fear and keep it under control. Maybe she was going to infiltrate the enemy camp and use the phaser to destroy her enemies, given that it was pretty much the only thing that could give her an advantage over so many armed men.

The Prime Directive would seem to apply

  • As we learn from TOS and TNG, when they bother to actually remember to obey the Prime Directive, not interfering with a pre-warp culture doesn’t mean “leave well alone”. It often means posing as a native of the planet to find out more about that world and its society – and given how dedicated everyone in Starfleet is to science and knowledge, it’s no wonder that they would want to do this. Of course, they balls it up most of the time – here Kirk already told Tyree he was from another world on his first visit, and McCoy is hardly cautious about using advanced technology where he might be spotted.
  • The Klingons arming the villagers (you won’t believe how hard I’m working on not making a Village People pun) with simple flintlocks might seem a bit convoluted, but aside from making a good story, let’s think why they might do things this way. Annexing the planet would be easy, but it might be the kind of thing that would draw the attentions of the Organians. Giving them disruptors would be just as bad, so instead they make a half-arsed attempt at disguising the fact that they are arming the villagers. Presumably, their sponsored village chief would become the most powerful man on the planet, and then in return he would apparently voluntarily join the Klingon Empire, thus defeating any arguments that the planet was annexed or its inhabitants coerced. Mind you, you’d think the Organians would be able to see through this ruse, if they were watching at all. I bet they’ve just all buggered off somewhere and not bothered to tell anyone.

Vulcan facts

Despite the fact that Spock’s injuries don’t look anything like they would do if shot by a real musket (where’s the massive blast damage to him and his uniform from being hit by a massive ball of lead?), he is still critically injured and must spend most of the episode in sickbay, in a deep coma that allows the Vulcan body to focus all its energy on healing. Luckily, one of McCoy’s subordinates, Dr M’Benga, trained at a Vulcan hospital, so he knows exactly what to do – which is mostly to repair as much damage as possible and hope that Spock’s own body will do the rest. It is implied that the Enterprise has replacement organs for humans (rather than growing or replicating new ones), but not for Vulcans – I bet all the replacement Vulcan organs were on board the Intrepid.

In order to be awakened from such a deep coma, Spock needs the stimulation of pain (or so he claims, that kinky bastard), and so asks Chapel to hit him. She reluctantly slaps him in the face, only for Scotty to come in and restrain her, because what crazy woman could possibly know what she’s doing? Fortunately, there’s no one to stop M’Benga from administering the final, critical slap.

Summary – A Private Little War: Classic Star Trek moral dilemma, clouded by sixties attitudes towards women.

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