The ending message of this episode is really profound. And stated even more profoundly than the message itself. Spock had some great lines in this episode about practicing a peculiar variety of diplomacy and the one about the "multi legged creature" on the Armenian's shoulder. And how about the suggestion to have that yeoman sit on Mea if she attempted to escape? Quite funny. This script was written well except for the fact that Fox was able to beam down with his assistant while the shields were still up!
Serving as an interesting counterpoint to "The Return of Archons", which uses a computer to perpetuate peace, "Armageddon" uses computers to wage war, a creative science fiction idea that was ahead of its time in the 1960s. (It is, of course, also a fine metaphor for the Cold War, with battles happening at a safe distance in satellite countries and draft lotteries to determine who gets to join in the fighting... although the Vietnam draft was still a couple years away when the episode was made, showing how Star Trek was ahead of the curve).
Kirk, of course, will have none of it, believing war should be gritty and dirty and not so nice and neat for a civilization. And besides, the Enterprise has been declared a casualty, setting up a conflict between him and the planet. Guest star David Opatoshu, serving as the planet's spokesman, Anan 7, is perfect as the mealy mouth leader who enjoys giving bad news with a smile. As he and Kirk debate, it's fun to see him lead the captain in circles until Kirk has had enough and decides to just start blowing things up, which is kind of a novelty on a planet more used to bureaucratic warfare than the real thing. It certainly doesn't endear him to Anon's daughter, weakly played by Barbara Babcock. (In fact, Shatner never does get to first base with Babcock despite her participation in seven original series episodes. To be fair, for most of her episodes she simply does a voice, like in "Squire of Gothos" where she's Trelane's mother. For some reason, as a physical actor she's rather wooden and not as interesting).
Meanwhile, Scotty is left to deal with Star Trek's most stubborn, obstinate figurehead of the original series (and that's saying something). Ambassador Fox. Played by Gene Lyons (who died just a few years later), Fox is a thorn in everyone's side, but when Scotty refuses to follow his (dangerous) orders, the engineer really "puts the haggis in the fire". It's a nice piece of drama we can all relate to, because we've all had to deal with authority figures who make bad decisions, when they make unsafe demands, it's important to put a foot down and simply say no. (James Doohan, himself, went through this as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery when he refused a Colonel's order to set up a dangerous training exercise).
With the A and B stories working hand in hand, the episode moves along swiftly (even if it does go in circles, thanks to Anan and Fox).
Remastered: This a pretty basic effects episode, borrowing footage of the Enterprise in orbit from "The Naked Time". For the upgraded version, a more realistic Earth-like planet is featured, and some fancy new shots of the Enterprise are included. (They even show the Enterprise in orbit of the planet's moon for one shot to cover a script problem. Somehow, Ambassador Fox beams down to the planet, despite the Enterprise needing her screens up for protection and "Arena" establishing the common sense idea that no one can beam through the ship's screens when they're up. By having the beam-down occur with the Enterprise behind the moon, CBS makes it look like Scotty is ingeniously using the moon as a shield, allowing him to temporarily drop the screens and carry out the action before raising them again).
The original version is probably most notable for some live action footage integrated into another gorgeous Albert Whitlock matte painting, representing the planet's main city. (They actually reuse a studio set from "The Menagerie", which is why Kirk appears to be standing in front of the same wall as that episode, though the matte extension is different). Sadly, this is the last integration of artwork and live action in the series; though happily, CBS Digital makes the most of it. They enhance the matte painting with more realistic features and the hustle and bustle you'd expect from a populated area (including a light-rail system), and they add a second shot to go along with, showing more of the city. None of it is particularly spectacular, but it's all fitting for the kind of episode it is.
OK, not one of the most memorable episodes of the series. Kirk and Enterprise folks arrive at Eminiar VII on a diplomatic mission to establish a treaty with the locals. Ambassador Robert Fox is insistent that his mission succeeds, even after being warned that the planet has been at ar for 500 years with its neighbour. Fox’s view is that diplomacy can conquer all. However, the aliens fight their war not in reality, but with computer simulations, callously herding the “casualties” into disintegration chambers to keep up the body count. When the Enterprise is declared “collateral damage”, the head of Eminiar VII’s ruling council Anan 7 demands that the entire crew beam down and report for disintegration. Understandably, Kirk isn’t wild about that idea and destroys the Eminiarian’s computers, violating their agreement with their enemies. So Anan 7 is forced to sue for peace or fight a war for real. No contest!
Criticisms: I thought it odd that the Ambassador wouldn’t have kicked up more of a fuss over Kirk’s decidedly un-diplomatic solution to the problem. Also, it’s in direct violation of the Prime Directive.
Praise: A very clever idea that at least does address another aspect of the human condition. We approve of war when it’s kept “clean” and away from our sight. A clear allusion to the war in Viet Nam which was raging at the time, albeit, half a world away.
This episode is far from bottom-of-the-barrel, but does rather have 'average' written all over it. It presents a number of elements that are seen in various other episodes, and often done better and more memorably than here.
By far the most interesting element of the episode to me is the 'mathematical' war that is being raged; where the casualties are worked out by a computer, and then the people in question are disposed with in disintegration chambers. I found this a very intriguing idea, although I did feel that it was never quite explained to its potential.
There are also parallels with the 'faceless casualties' of war, and probably had some nods to the Vietnam War, which was being fought at the time this episode was made.
The episode also features what I consider to be one of the funniest Original 'Star Trek' moments, as Mr. Spock distracts a guard by calmly and straight facedly (what else) saying "Sir, there's a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder", before giving him the Vulcan neck pinch.
This is also a good episode for Mr. Scott, as he holds his own as he commands the bridge as the Enterprise is endangered, and stands up to the Ambassador who is ordering him to lower the shields.
All-in-all, not bad, but a distinctively average episode.
A science fiction story that I thought very clever, Kirk and associates encounter a society which has concluded that warfare between two belligerant worlds can never be ended, so it shall be replaced with a virtual war fought via computer network. Many of the miseries of actual war, such as material destruction, famine, pain, disease, war crimes and permanently disabled persons are abolished. Only death, instant and painless, meted out without respect to persons, remains.
This story is even more prescient in view of the news on the date of this writing, 08 December 2011. Today a concerted attack was made on various US-based Internet commercial assets in response to the detention of WikiLeaks principal Julian Assange. If we as humans should be so fortunate, perhaps our compulsion for killing the people who belong to the tribe over the hill and who worship strange gods can be supplanted by virtual warfare coupled to euthanasia. Aside from eliminating the above-named ills, the immense economic burden of our current warfare industry can be reduced by about 60 dB, with a concomitant blossoming of our society.
But getting back to our story, we have Kirk and crew first puzzled by an apparent sitzkrieg between the two combatants until Spock gains enough data to infer the outline of a the conflict. Kirk determines this to be a malignant societal devlopment and to throw a monkey wrench into the works, on the grounds that his crew is being threatened with annihilation. Escape, hit and run raids, other commando tactics ultimately put the Landing Party in a position to destroy the node computer, abrogating the treaty on which the war operates. Thus the neat and tidy Eminians are compelled to face actual war and are so repelled that peace talks commence.
An excellent story, presented surprisingly well considering the limitations of network television. Overall I rank this episode number 6 of the 79 original Star Trek episodes.
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