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Star Trek

Season 2 Episode 25

Bread and Circuses

Aired Unknown Mar 15, 1968 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
161 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

The Enterprise encounters a planet whose culture is patterned on ancient Rome... and holds gladiatorial games that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy must fight in.

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  • The Enterprise discovers a society that resembles earth of the twentieth century with an ancient Rome slant.

    It's another visit to an "almost just like Earth" planet, with a 20th Century Roman Empire story providing the two Genes with a forum to satirize the television industry. (The title itself comes from a line by 1st and 2nd Century satirist Juvenal, who used it to describe ancient Rome's practice of providing free grain and entertainment to prevent civil unrest). Curiously, it's an episode that was shot in the middle of the season but was held back in airdate order to second to last.

    Nothing here is fresh and new for the series, but unlike "Patterns of Force" and "The Omega Glory", this one takes the pains to develop a more believable story, inventing "Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development" and finally giving a full description of the Prime Directive. Just as importantly, Gene and Gene build the story on a foundation of character, with the big three anchoring the plot and several guest stars contributing as supporting players. Kirk is clearly Kirk, Spock is Spock, and Bones is Bones, with none of the actors asked to invent new facets to their alter egos simply for the sake of the plot. Within this context, we get some of the defining Spock/McCoy relationship moments, perhaps even surpassing those in "The Immunity Syndrome".

    Yet at its heart, the episode is simply a prison escape story with an easy solution that can be seen a mile away. It's too bad too, because a more developed television parody would be historically interesting. (The television subject of choice, gladiator fights, is overdone by Star Trek anyway. Think how fresh it could be if Kirk and company were to find out the fights were really staged, like pro wrestling matches! It would open the door to examining the reality of televised fiction, and the icing on the cake would be to have a perplexed crew of the Enterprise watch it on their big screen). Instead, the television aspect is dealt with superficially, with a fake set and a few satirical lines about ratings. (Granted, one of these is comic gold that probably had the two Genes rolling on the floor: "You bring this network's ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you"). And while the producers are wise enough to fill the episode with some fine location shooting (and stock footage of buildings) to contrast the "reality" of the planet with its fictional stage set, "Bread" is just an average episode with some good Spock/McCoy moments a memorable stinger.

    Remastered: There's nothing too fancy here, but there are some nice, little touches. Apart from upgraded shots of the Enterprise, we get to see a little of the wreckage (originally absent) from a vessel the crew is chasing down at the beginning. The featured planet (originally a reuse of.. wait for it... the "Operation: Annihilate!" planet) is replaced with a generic Earth-like globe. (Fortunately Kirk doesn't say anything like, "Mr. Spock, isn't this the same planet we visited last week? And the week before? And. the week before?") The new version, incidentally, has two moons, both of which are added into the background of a long establishing shot on the planet surface. Lastly, CBS Digital added bullet holes to a wall that's fired upon near the end. Unfortunately, a montage of stock footage of buildings, including the easily identifiable Great Dome of MIT, is not replaced with something more unique.

  • one of the worst episodes

    *contains some spoilers*

    I enjoy a "parallel development story" occasionally, but at this point in the season (as others have mentioned), it has been done several times and is no longer interesting. It's a little interesting to think about it as an episode of failures (they didn't even escape themselves, someone else does it for them; they don't seem to even consider rescuing the other ship's survivors; - but it still doesn't work for me.

    The final straw was when they decide that the slaves are actually Christians not pagans and they seem amazed they've heard of Jesus. Well perhaps one of the people on the previous Federation ships told them about it (I think they mentioned that the recent revolutions were a new thing so I was waiting for the leader of the rebellion to turn out to also be Federation). Or even if they had their own version of Christianity, I don't understand how the assumption is that that will triumph over the Romans? The runaway slaves live outside the cities, have no resources, power, weapons or the will to fight. It seemed to me the civilization would continue exactly the same as it was.moreless
  • How many "Earth-parallel society" episodes are there?

    After Omega Glory, Patterns of Force and Piece of the Action, Gene Coon asks the Trek audience to buy yet another far-flung planet where the civilisation has evolved along exactly the same lines as Earth. It's a bit of a stretch and - by this point in the second season of what is otherwise the best sf show on tv at this time - it smacks of lazy writing.

    At first, as the story unravelled, I thought I remembered that it was the rogue Captain that had introduced the idea of Roman imperialism to the planet. But no ... it turns out that the planet had invented Roman society all by itself.

    All in all, this episode just kind of lies there feeling sorry for itself. The lacklustre script brings forth lacklustre performances from the cast. Only the banter between McCoy and Spock brings any semblance of life to the proceedings.

    The true test of a decent Star Trek episode is, "Would I recommend this to someone who's never seen the show before?" In this case the answer is, sadly, no.moreless
  • Underrated but much appreciated

    Probably my favorite of the original Trek episodes. It's a parallel world episode to once again cover up a small budget. All we see are Vasquez Rocks and some interior sets, and they even get around not having to include an audience at the televised games by having fake sound effects for the audience.

    So they're clever in getting around the budgeting problems, although the episode does rather feel repetitive if for no other reason then that the landing party gets captured at least three times.

    This episode is differentiated from the other parallel world episodes in that this one is more of a "what if"? "Piece of the Action" and "Patterns of Force" are just "Let's visit these 20th century societies." B&C explores what you'd get with Rome _advanced_ to the 20th century. That helps the audience skim over the fact that the parallels here make no sense, that all of the deity names are absolutely identical from those on Earth. Huh?

    What really sets this episode aside as unique is that... Kirk doesn't win. The Enterprise doesn't dramatically rescue the last survivors of the Beagle (heck, Merik would still be alive if Kirk hadn't shown up). Kirk doesn't lead a slave rebellion. Yes, there's vague intimations that history will repeat itself and the Roman Empire will fall (although Christianity wasn't the only factor in Rome's downfall).

    The fun part is watching Kirk being outsmarted and outclassed at every turn. Logan Ramsey portrays an excellently slimy villain... except he's not really a villain. He's drawn in a few too dimensions to be a flat bad guy (unlike Melakon in "Patterns of Force"). he gives Kirk his "last meal," he offers them a quick death once it becomes clear Kirk isn't going to yield. He doesn't like Merik, but who can blame him? The Proconsul is fighting to preserve his world... and if he can have a little fun along the way, what the heck. Watch him twirl the dagger as the landing party beams away at the end.

    So you've got this 20th century Roman who is able to hold off Kirk and his crew and he basically "wins." That gives him a better track record then the Romulans and Klingons combined: see what I mean about him being an excellent bad guy.

    As portrayed by the underrated William Smithers, another of those "Hey it's that guy!" faces of the 60s, Merik is a tortured guy who realizes too late exactly what he's sold his soul for.

    Shatner gives a decent performance, and of course, McCoy and Spock get some decent scenes, and this episode really shows how they both bicker so much... and can still consider each other friends. The rest of the cast such as it is--Septimus, Flavius, the Master of the Games--are good with what relatively little they're given to do.

    The main plot hole is how the heck do they plan to get 427 crewmen to beam down? Prime Directive or not, one imagines poor Scotty with a skeleton crew sitting in orbit, wondering what to do about the 300 or so crewmen they sent down in the last few days...

    I think some people underrate this episode because not much happens. It's just another "parallel Earth world" episode. Kirk gets captured, and freed, and captured, and captured, but never really does much. If you look at the differences, though, it's clear this episode actually stands some of those "standards" on their head. This world isn't the same as other parallel worlds, and the fact that Kirk doesn't "win" is intentional. Plus it's an interesting world that we don't see enough of (due to the low budget--we see more of the setting in "Patterns" and "A Piece." Check out the Next Gen novel where the Romans become members of the Federation.moreless
  • The Enterprise encounters a duplicate of Earth where the Roman Empire still exists. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to investigate, and wind up being forced to compete in the barbaric gladiatorial games. Despite a familiar plot, a very good episode...moreless

    This episode suffers straight away from being yet another 'parallel Earth' story. We had already had "A Piece of the Action", "Patterns of Force", and the weak "The Omega Glory" (as well as "Miri" in the first season), and here we get another such tale.

    But it's a shame that this episode comes so close to three of those other examples, as in its own right it is a very good story.

    Indeed the parallel earth concept had been done a number of times before by this point, but here it is at least given some depth and background. The crew puzzle over it and discuss it and debate over it, whereas on some other occasions (think "Miri" in particular) they barely blink an eyelid, and it is never really explained.

    The episode also features another "Starship Captain gone bad". Again, there are similarities, coming so close after "The Omega Glory", but here it is handled with more care, and more believable.

    The "forced to fight in gladiatorial bouts" idea had already been used in "The Gamesters of Triskelion" (produced after this episode, but broadcast before), but this episode does it so much better.

    The episode also features one of the best scenes between McCoy and Spock, and serves as a great showcase of their strange relationship.

    Similarities aside, this is by far one of the better episodes of the later second season. By this point, the series had started to lose its shine, but episodes such as this still make it a great watch.

    I think it could have been a 100% series classic, but the pacing needed tightening up a bit. The final act sags slightly, and the whole Drusilla 'Kirk's personal slave girl' element was not needed. As has already been commented on in other reviews of the episode, would Kirk really lay back and sleep the day away while Spock and McCoy are held prisoner and awaiting execution?!

    All-in-all, one of the best episodes from the end of the second season.moreless
Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy

Mr. Spock

DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley

Dr. Leonard Horatio "Bones" McCoy

William Shatner

William Shatner

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Tom Steele

Tom Steele

Slave #2 (uncredited)

Guest Star

Gil Perkins

Gil Perkins

Slave #3 (uncredited)

Guest Star

Paul Stader

Paul Stader

Slave #1 / Flavius's Stunt Double (uncredited)

Guest Star

Bob Orrison

Bob Orrison

Policeman #2 (uncredited)

Recurring Role

Eddie Paskey

Eddie Paskey

Lt. Leslie (uncredited)

Recurring Role

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (12)

    • The last of the "barbarians", William Harrison, was killed by Claudius in the arena. However, later Merik says that those of his men who adapted are still alive.

    • Apparently Proconsul Claudius Marcus is tougher then he looks. According to the opening newscast, he's the one who killed the last "barbarian," no more then six year previously and probably more recently.

    • A few episodes earlier, in "Patterns of Force," Spock claimed the odds of another planet developing a culture like Nazi Germany were "virtually impossible." But here he has no problem accepting a culture identical to Earth's ancient Roman culture, right down to the same names of the deities.

    • Given that they state very clearly what the Prime Directive is, how they're sworn to die before violating it, etc., they take Spock down without any head covering of any sort. Clearly their mission is going to require them to contact some people at some point, but wouldn't Spock's obvious pointed ears be a dead giveaway they're not from the planet?
      Also, the landing party is wearing their usual uniforms, though it was established in previous episodes that they are able to synthesize any local clothing they require.

    • Rome did have a sun god named Mithras (the Greek form of the Persian name Mithra). Presumably Spock and the others didn't know that although it seems a bit odd Spock wouldn't remember it.

    • Why doesn't Scotty lock on to the landing party and beam them up? Once Kirk calls him he's got a pretty good idea of where they are, and it shouldn't be hard to locate Spock in any case on the sensors.

    • Kirk blasts McCoy's and Spock's cell door open with a machine gun but when he opens the door there are no bullet marks on it.

    • For the first but not the last time, Kirk doesn't have the landing party injected with subcutaneous transponders like they did a few episodes earlier in "Patterns of Force." This would seem to be a necessity on any covert mission where they may not be able to use their communicators, and when even if they die the Enterprise might have to recover their bodies (particularly Spock's!) to avoid a Prime Directive violation.

    • Despite the fact their on a covert meeting where they're not supposed to violate the Prime Directive, the landing party takes the more obvious Type II pistol-phasers rather then the compact, concealable Type I Is.

    • We hear about "Hodgkins' Law of Parallel Planet Development" but it still seems unlikely that this planet is going to have the same names for its deities as Earth's ancient Rome.

    • Marcus says they're giving Kirk fifteen minutes on air, but then that the centurion should kill Kirk with a single clean blow - that's not going to take 15 minutes!

    • During the first escape McCoy hits a guard in the chin. Despite the fact the guy's wearing a helmet with a metal chinguard, he goes down and McCoy's hand appears fine.

  • QUOTES (26)

    • McCoy: (to Kirk) I read in your report that Flavius was killed. I'm sorry. I really liked that sun worshipper.
      Spock: I do wish we could examine that belief of theirs more closely.
      Uhura: I'm afraid you have it all wrong. All of you. I've been monitoring their old style radio broadcasts. The Empire's spokesman trying to ridicule their religion. But he couldn't. (after a brief silence) Don't you understand? It's not the sun up in the sky. It's the Son of God!
      Kirk: Caesar and Christ. They have them both.
      Spock: It will replace their imperial Rome, but it will happen in their twentieth century.
      Kirk: And the word is spreading... only now. Wouldn't it be something to watch it happen all over again?

    • Policeman: Come, Flavius. You've been matched for the morning games.
      Flavius: I will not fight. I'm a brother of the sun.
      Policeman: Put a sword in your hand and you'll fight. I know you, Flavius. You're as peaceful as a bull.

    • Scotty: The landing party is in trouble, and I'm under orders not to interfere. However, no order can stop me from frightening them. May do no good, but it might suggest to someone what a starship can really do. Aye!

    • Claudius: I pity you, Captain Merik. But at least watch and see how men die!

    • Claudius: So this is a Vulcan. From what I've heard I wish I had fifty of you in the arena.

    • Merik: (after witnessing the landing party's escape attempt) Well done, Jim. But I'm afraid it won't be that easy. They've been handling slaves for over two thousand years.
      Claudius: But it was exciting. They'd do well in the arena.

    • Policeman: Runaway slaves are always welcome. (pulls Spock's cap off, revealing the Vulcan ears) No not slaves. Barbarians! It's been a long time since I've watched barbarians die in the arena!

    • Claudius: The games have always strengthened us. Death becomes a familiar pattern. We don't fear it as you do.

    • Claudius: We believe men should fight their own battles. Only the weak will die.

    • Kirk: It is one of our most important laws that none of us may interfere with the affairs of others.

    • Marcus: Guards. Take (Kirk) to the arena. Oh, we've pre-empted 15 minutes on the early show for you...in full color. We guarantee you a splendid audience. Oh, you may not understand because you're centuries beyond anything as crude as television.
      Kirk: I've heard it was...similar.

    • Marcus: Would you leave us, Merik? The thoughts of one man to another cannot possibly interest you.

    • Marcus: You're a Roman, Kirk, or you should have been.

    • McCoy: Spock, uh...I know we've had our disagreements. Maybe they're jokes. I don't know. As Jim says, we're not often sure ourselves sometimes, but what I'm trying to say is --
      Spock: Doctor, I am seeking a means of escape. Will you please be brief?
      McCoy: Well, what I'm trying to say is you saved my life in the arena.
      Spock: Yes, that's quite true.
      McCoy: I'm trying to thank you, you pointed-eared hobgoblin!
      Spock: Oh, yes. You humans have that emotional need to express gratitude. 'You're welcome', I believe, is the correct response. However, Doctor, you must remember I am entirely motivated by logic. The loss of our ship's surgeon, whatever I think of his skill, would mean a reduction in the efficiency of the Enterprise...
      McCoy: Do you know why you're not afraid to die, Spock? You're more afraid of living. Each day you stay alive is just one more day you might slip and let your human half peek out. That's it, isn't it? Insecurity. Why, you wouldn't know what to do with a genuine, warm, decent feeling.
      (long pause)
      Spock: Really, Doctor.
      McCoy: I know. I'm worried about Jim too.

    • McCoy: Angry, Mr. Spock, or frustrated, perhaps?
      Spock: Such emotions are foreign to me, Doctor. I'm merely testing the strength of the door.
      McCoy: For the fifteenth time.

    • Achilles: Stop running! Fight!
      Spock: Need any help, Doctor?
      McCoy: Whatever gave you that idea?
      Achilles: Fight, you pointed-ear freak!
      McCoy: You tell him, buster. Of all the completely...ridiculous...illogical questions...I ever heard in my life!

    • Marcus: Admit it. You find these games frightening, revolting.
      Kirk: In some parts of the galaxy, I have seen forms of entertainment that makes this look like a folk dance.

    • Spock: Fascinating. This atmosphere is remarkably similar to your 20th century. Moderately industrialized pollution containing substantial amounts of carbon monoxide and partially consumed hydrocarbons.
      McCoy: The word was "smog."
      Spock: Yes, I believe that was the term. I had no idea you were that much of a historian, Doctor.
      McCoy: I am not, Mr. Spock. I was simply trying to stop you from giving us a lecture on the subject.

    • Master of Games: You bring this network's ratings down, Flavius, and we'll do a special on you!

    • Marcus: I believe you all swear you'll die before you'd violate that Directive. Am I right?
      Spock: Quite correct.
      McCoy: Must you always be so blasted honest?

    • Merik: I think you can see why they don't want to have their stability contaminated by dangerous ideas of other ways and places.
      Spock: Interesting, and given a conservative empire, quite understandable.
      McCoy: Are you out of your head?
      Spock: I said I understood it. I find the checks and balances of this civilization quite illuminating.
      McCoy: Next he'll be telling us he prefers it over Earth history.
      Spock: They do seem to have escaped the carnage of your first three world wars, Doctor.
      McCoy: They have slavery, gladiatorial games, despotism...
      Spock: Situations quite familiar to the six million who died in your first world war, the 11 million who died in your second, the 37 million who died in your third. Shall I go on?
      Marcus: Interesting. And you, Captain...which world do you prefer?
      Kirk: My world, proconsul, is my vessel, my oath, my crew.

    • Flavius: The message of the sun, that all men are brothers, was kept from us. Perhaps I'm a fool to believe it. It does often seem that man must fight to live.
      Kirk: You go on believing it, Flavius. All men are brothers.

    • (as Spock and Bones banter)
      Flavius: Are they enemies, Captain?
      Kirk: I'm not sure they're sure.

    • McCoy: Quite logical, I'd say, Just as it's logical that a 20th-century Rome would use television to show its gladiator contests or name a new car the Jupiter 8.
      Spock: Doctor, if I were able to show emotion, your new infatuation with that term would begin to annoy me.
      McCoy: What term? Logic? Medical men are trained in logic, Mr. Spock.
      Spock: Really, Doctor, I had no idea they were trained. Watching you, I assumed it was trial and error.

    • Flavius: What do you call those?
      Spock: I call them ears.
      Flavius: Are you trying to be funny?
      Spock: Never.

    • McCoy: Just once I'd like to be able to land someplace and say, "Behold, I am the Archangel Gabriel".
      Spock: I fail to see the humor in that situation, Doctor.
      McCoy: Naturally. You could hardly claim to be an angel with those pointed ears, but say you landed someplace with a pitchfork...

  • NOTES (3)

    • This episode marks the first and only time that the original series makes direct mention of current established religious beliefs when Uhura states that after monitoring the planet's transmissions, she realized that the inhabitants were not referring to "the sun up in the sky" but to "the son of God". Kirk then remarks "Caesar and Christ, they had them both and the word is spreading only now."

    • Desilu No: 5149-43.

    • Story writer John Kneubuhl is uncredited.