Star Trek

Season 2 Episode 25

Bread and Circuses

Aired Unknown Mar 15, 1968 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (9)

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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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...

    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.
  • Kirk takes his pending execution in stride after he learns he'll get to bed a female first

    The summary above is probably the funniest thing about this episode: Kirk peacefully sleeps the afternoon away under armed guard and certain death for himself and his shipmates, following a good meal and a tryst with a designated female which were to allow him "to die like a man." In the meantime, everyone else under his command attempts to do something to escape the dire situation.

    Other than that oddity (which I suppose really doesn't contradict Kirk's billy-goat nature) this episode qualifies as one of the best, and is by far one of my favorites.

    The plot is fast-paced, the action is exciting, and the interaction between Spock and McCoy exemplifies what we've come to love about their clashing natures. My favorite part about this episode is at the very end, when everyone is back onboard the ship, and they're discussing the fact that the native slaves on the planet were worshipping the sun, and the persecution they were willing to endure because of this sun worship, not to mention how primitive sun worship is for that culture. After listening to their conversation, Uhura tells them that they've got it all wrong. The slaves were not talking about the sun in the sky, but rather the Son of God.
  • Roman Holiday!

    After encountering planet run by gangs and Nazi the Starship Enterprise came upon another plant which was pattern after another period in time...Rome! Captain Kirk, spook and McCoy went down to the planet where they entercounter Romans. the only difference is they got machine guns. and another difference, they had arena battles inside an TV studio with the crowd used as a sound track. In the end, when the three fleed the romans, they are unable to stop their reign of terror,But someone points out that a religion similar to christianity is doing it's job to stop tynnay. a smart episode.
  • At first glance, an episode that seems easy to dismiss as repetitive, but there's some fun things here.

    Kirk becomes embroiled in a situation on a planet that mimic's Earth's ancient Rome, but with 20th century technology.

    I want to say that this story is another example of Season 2's endless repetition of re-cycling scripts of "parallel planet" development and using Hollywood props from the past to easily make an entry for viewers. And in some ways it is. It's not excellent, but has some "extras". I could live with this episode and its interesting satire along with "A Piece of the Action"'s broader comedy and nix "Patterns of Force" and "Omega Glory" as poorer examples.

    There's a little something more here, mostly in Coon and Roddenberry's tongue-in-cheek script, with very well-done references to 60s television and TV marketing - it certainly doesn't advance the story as sci-fi, but it's amusing and entertaining in its own right (and bound to be historical one day). This is also one of the finest episodes to explore the McCoy/Spock relationship - both from McCoy's pleading in his gladiatorial contest to his pointed references to Spock's thinking - "wouldn't know what to do with a warm, decent feeling" - perhaps his harshest allegation of the entire series.

    The biggest failings are almost completely in the context of the whole series. There's just too much of this Earth parallel jazz going on. The references to religion are a little heavy and don't add much either, but that's for all the viewers to judge.
  • Kirk goes to Rome to do a Jupiter VIII TV commercial

    Top ten episode here. Great dialog and story from start to finish. The Claudius Marcus character was one of my favorite evil characters. I've seen this guy on M*A*S*H before where he is once again quite arrogant, except he had a handful of comical lines that he delivered quite well. I'm sure you can imagine that character being quite funny if you put your mind to it. I bought into the Roman world phenomenon. They tried this not as successfully with Nazis (Patterns of Force) before, but this one sold much better. And of course it would be neglectful not to mention the great McCoy - Spock scene in the cell where McCoy chastises Spock for not showing any emotion. This may have been the best representation of that on going feud between the two, which by the way was one of the most compelling aspects of the whole series.
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