The Great Star Trek TAS Rewatch: The Pirates of Orion

the Orions on the Enterprise viewscreen

When Spock catches a disease that is deadly to Vulcans, the Enterprise requests that a cure be rushed to them as quickly as possible. But when the ship bringing the cure is attacked and its cargo stolen, Kirk must track down the culprits before it’s too late.

You can’t fault The Pirates of Orion for trying. I even felt briefly engaged by the urgency of needing to outwit the Orions and retrieve the cure before Spock’s condition became irreversible. By TAS standards, this isn’t that bad an episode. However, it really doesn’t stand up to any sort of scrutiny.

First off, the episode opens with Kirk recording a log about how the outbreak of “choriocytosis” aboard the Enterprise is no big deal, because the symptoms are pretty mild. Minutes later, Spock keels over and McCoy reveals that the disease is deadly to Vulcans, and will kill him in a matter of days. If that’s the case, why were they so relaxed about the outbreak before? It’s not like Spock’s presence on the Enterprise was a surprise – why didn’t McCoy check if the disease was dangerous to Vulcans sooner, and quarantine Spock if necessary?

Anyway, the unnecessary exposure of Spock to this deadly disease immediately sets a time limit in motion, with just three days for the Enterprise to collect a cure. Since it would take four days to reach the nearest planet where the cure can be found, Kirk arranges for a freighter to bring it to the Enterprise instead. Everything seems to proceed on schedule, at least until said freighter is attacked and raided by a mysterious ship. The identity of the raiders is not revealed until at least halfway through the episode, but if the aim was the generate suspense and mystery, then the writers rather spoiled it by naming this episode “The Pirates of Orion”.

Of course, everything comes down to the wire, with Kirk having to collect the cure from the Orions at the very least minute, while also thwarting their plan to blow themselves and the Enterprise up. Despite his reputation in TOS for being a crack negotiator and bluffer, Kirk’s opening gambit is to immediately admit how desperately he needs the medicine. He then follows up by promising the Orions they can keep all the dilithium they stole if they return the medicine – in fact, why not have some more dilithium as well? As it turns out, ultimately there’s no need to honour this deal, but it still feels like an odd move. We know that Kirk plays fast and loose with the rules, and would do pretty much anything to save Spock, but even so, this feels out of character. Not only would it not look good on his report to Starfleet to admit that he gave the dilithium away, but we know that Kirk really hates to lose in any regard – he wouldn’t settle for anything less than saving Spock and retrieving the stolen cargo. And besides, Kirk would also know that the Orions would never believe that such a deal would be honoured anyway – indeed, it’s because they don’t trust Kirk’s offer that they plot to destroy the Enterprise.

Fortunately, the Orion captain is captured and Spock is saved, with time to spare for some classic banter at the end. Perhaps we can put Kirk’s lapse in judgment down to his worry for the life of his first officer.

Other notes

  • The Orions depicted in this episode have light blue skin, rather than the green skin seen elsewhere.
  • Kirk references the Orion involvement in the events of Journey to Babel.

Summary – The Pirates of Orion: The search for Spock’s cure.

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