The Great Star Trek TAS Rewatch: How Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth

The dragon god Kukulkan

While tracing the origin of a mysterious alien probe, the Enterprise encounters a powerful alien being who once came to Earth as the Mayan god Kukulkan. Kukulkan has been waiting for centuries for humans to call him back to Earth, but when he realises that he is largely forgotten, he decides to set a test for the Enterprise crew.

As I’ve said in the live-action blogs, Earth seems to have been a popular hangout spot for aliens over the centuries. As well as randomly stealing humans to populate other planets, we had powerful aliens visiting and pretending to be Greek Gods or Native American spirits. With that in mind, this episode is entering a rather crowded marketplace – the only real difference here is that Kukulkan isn’t humanoid.

Despite its tired premise, the episode starts off reasonably enough, with Kirk, Scott, McCoy and replacement helmsman Ensign Walking Bear solving a remarkably easy puzzle in a recreation of a Mayan city. Had this episode just stuck to the theme of them solving additional puzzles in an aesthetically pleasing locale, it might have actually been a solid entry into the TAS logs. However, it chooses to go down a different track, when Kirk and the others are transported to a zoo where Kukulkan keeps rare specimens from across the galaxy. Yes, not only did he visit Earth in the past, but he also keeps lesser species as zoo exhibits – chalk two up on the Star Trek bingo card.

For some reason, Kirk and the others are allowed to roam freely round the zoo, enabling them to subdue Kukulkan by releasing a “Capellan power cat” – essentially a massive feline that can electrify itself to repel intruders. For some reason, the massively powerful Kukulkan has no defence against this, enabling Kirk to step in and save the day. Naturally, Kirk follows up with the usual Star Trek speech of allowing humans free will, and the Enterprise and Kukulkan go their separate ways.

Notes and Observations

  • At the end of the episode, Kirk seems regretful that they’ve missed an opportunity to learn from Kukulkan. Meanwhile, Kukulkan admits that his actions were driven by loneliness, because he is the last of his kind. Given that Kukulkan no longer wants to dominate humanity and make them worship him, can’t he work out a more fruitful relationship with the Federation? Surely this is exactly the kind of work Starfleet should be doing.
  • Ensign Walking Bear marks the first appearance of a Native American on Star Trek. However, given that he only appears in this one episode, and that his entire personality is “likes to read about mythology”, it’s only a small step for representation.
  • William Shatner mispronounces Kukulkan as “Kuklakan” throughout the episode. Apparently this is because he recorded his lines separately, away from anyone who could correct his pronunciation.

Summary – How Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth: Watch out for the power-cat.

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