Star Trek

Season 3 Episode 15

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Aired Unknown Jan 10, 1969 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (8)

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out of 10
157 votes
  • The Enterprise finds itself in the midst of a chase between two aliens who hate each other's race.

    Conceived by Gene Coon after the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles (before being rejected for the first season and resurrected for the third), this ship-based racism episode can seem a bit heavy handed today with its allegory but has some interesting elements that make it worth a viewing.

    With a teleplay by Oliver Crawford (cowriter of "The Galileo Seven"), the seemingly simplistic idea of racism is deceptively layered. Budget cuts require that the two warring factions be condensed to two representatives, but they are more than the oppressed and the oppressor: Bele (Frank Gorshin) sees himself as a policeman and an aristocrat, a precursor to Odo. He attempts to reason with Kirk, Spock, and Starfleet Command, ignoring the "little people". Lokai (Lou Antonio), on the other hand, is the populist and attempts to rally the junior officers to his cause, seeing them as his peers. And yet both their arguments distill down to idea that having white on a certain side of their faces and black on the other side (opposite for each) makes them right. Is the make-up silly? Sure. But the genius in the idea lies in the characters' reaction to it. Lokai and Bele assume it's so obvious that their pigmentation makes them superior that they are stunned when Kirk, Spock, and everyone else don't immediately understand this. It's a sort of perspective that isn't unique to racism, with mistaken assumptions spilling into class, politics, and religion as well. And what's really bold about the episode is that neither the oppressed nor the oppressor is portrayed as "the good guy"; in the end, their hatred is akin to their skin: mirrored reflections of each other that become indistinguishable to the crew of the Enterprise... and ostensibly, the viewer. (It's the Jonathan Swift thing, creating a situation that allows the audience to look in from the outside and see the absurdity for what it is).

    And yet all the same, the episode never attempts to dig deep into its ideas or aspects, content to merely scratch the surface. (In fact, the director had to add some padding at the end to avoid running short). Worse yet, the superfluous Batman-like directing creates a frivolous feel that undermines some of the drama and can be downright distracting, even in a gem of a scene where Kirk and his officers set a countdown for the ship to self destruct (a foreshadowing that finally pays off 15 years later in the third feature film).

    With its talented authors, it's no surprise that "Battlefield" has something interesting to say, and it's nice that like several of the early episodes of the series ("The Man Trap", "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and "Charlie X"), the writers don't feel it necessary to end with a joke or a laugh; but in the end, the episode doesn't know how to say what it's getting at.

    Remastered Edition:

    There's actually a surprising amount for CBS Digital to do here. In addition to new shots of the Enterprise, we get an extended shuttlecraft sequence (originally footage lifted from "The Galileo Seven", but replaced here with new shots of a shuttlecraft appropriately bearing Starbase 4's markings) and two planets (originally a yellow tinted version of the "Operation: Annihilate" planet and a reuse of "The Deadly Years" planet, but upgraded here to two more impressive, original spheres with the appropriate damage as indicated by the dialogue).

    Unfortunately, the digital team is unable to do anything about the most ridiculous budget saving concept the original series ever came up: Bele's invisible ship which deposits its pilot onto the Enterprise and disintegrates. (What is this, Wonder Woman?) With the dialogue set in stone, it's impossible to replace it with anything else.

  • Not bad

    This seems quite dated but remember at the time it was made-the black vs White was still a hot topic.

    Despite their alleged skin are alike Lokai claiming to lead armies of Followers and Bele claiming that Lokai and his kind will be kept forever in little districts. The most suspenful part is the duel between Kirk and Bele for control of the ship. The climax is the chase of Lokai by Bele back to planets surface
  • Not a bad episode, but pretty goofy

    Yes, this is the "let's explore racism" episode. And the "let's hit you over the head with racism" angle not withstanding, it makes some other good points on the nature of revolution (as noted, Bele seems to have survived his followers quite neatly) and authority (Lokai having a nasty fascist/political streak).

    Performance-wise, Lou Antonio is the better of the two guest stars, both preaching to the crew his litany of hatred, and playing the hot-headed rebel who is also a political self-serving manipulator. Gorshin, unfortunately, comes across as the Riddler. His performance is almost mime-like at times (especially near the end), and other times he's the sneering megalomaniac villain. Still, he gives a good performance as someone who thinks he's from a superior race forced to consort with these "lesser" humans and a Vulcan.

    The costume design does them no favors, though, especially Antonio in his skintight white tights and codpiece. Ugh.

    The main problem is that the Enterprise crew is pretty much passive through all of this. Shatner gets some overly dramatic speeches, and Nimoy seems more emotionless then ever. DeForest Kelley seems to get out while the getting is good: maybe they thought his presence as a Southerner might strike a little too close to home about racism?

    Also maybe it's the fact that even without their hatred, Bele and Lokai are pretty unsympathetic figures. Even before they were torn by the absurdly large 50,000 years of hatred (does such a huge number add anything to the episode?), they were pretty unlikeable jerks. Maybe if they were a law officer and an escaped slave wanted for murder who were gradually twisted into hatred, over a couple of 100 years, rather than a major political officer and the head of the revolutionary underground, they might come across more sympathetic.

    As is often the case in the third season, they seem to spend a lot of time saving planets from disaster (see also The Cloud-Minders) and the 2008 remastery teams wastes an opportunity to show the Enterprise actually... doing something above Ariannus. The upgrade of Cheron's surface is nice, though.

    Jud Taylor's direction is... odd, to say the least. As has been noted elsewhere, he seems to have been inspired by Gorshin's presence to do 60s Batman-style flourishes like tilted camera angles and zoom ins and outs on Red Alert signals. He never did a Batman episode, though, but his style here is unique compared to his other third-season Trek episodes. He also makes pointless self-destruct sequence suitably suspenseful. (And he remains gainfully employed at least through 2004.)

    It's not that the racism angle is that heavy-handed for 60s allegory: in fact, as noted the Enterprise series reused the basic plot decades later. It just has a few too many contrivances. The crew here know all about the legendary semi-mythical Cheron, the two visitors have whatever convenient powers they need, Kirk lets them wander all over the ship, and then they just get off the ship and go ahead and kill each other. It might be some weird argument for the Prime Directive ("They want to kill each other, fine!"), but it still seems odd to just let two advanced beings leave the ship and hunt each other through the ruins (as chilling an image as that might be).

    So B for effort, F for subtlety.
  • Potential that fails and flattens, too bad as I really like the idea here.

    Bele and Lokai from Charon take their personal struggle aboard the Enterprise.

    Here is an episode I wanted to like, a serious 20th century problem transposed into the 23rd century but it's mainly swallowed by 3rd season "Star Trek formula". The set-up is good, blind and ultimately silly racial hatred coming to bear at one point in time. There are an awful lot of similarities to Dr. Suess's tale of "Sneeches", but still. Lokai has some good scenes preaching in the recreation room, Bele has some nasty and pointed dialog as well.

    But all this is obliterated in a poorly-reasoned script and meandering direction. Why is the Federation, familiar with the protagonists' homeworld at the "southern" end of the galaxy unaware of its complete destruction long ago? Why are beings as powerful as Bele and Lokai (able to drive ships with their mind and generate force fields with their bodies) bothering to follow any ship's rules? The back-and-forth direction of the ship's heading needlessly takes away from the main point of the entire show - almost as if any deeper examination of the real issue would be too much.

    Though somewhat progressive in its topic for the 1960s, there is just not enough real follow-up in the execution here.
  • The Enterprise picks up an alien being trying to make an escape in a stolen shuttle craft. Soon, they are also host to another being from the same planet, and find that the pair is intent on destroying each other. An average episode that tackles racism...

    This entirely Enterprise-bound episode is a blatantly obvious take on the issue of racism, no doubt inspired by the Civil Rights movement, which was at its peak in the 1960s when this episode was produced.
    In respect of the plot, its concept is rather similar to the many 'moral stories' of the first season (indeed, the story was originally pitched for the first season, then titled "A Portrait in Black And White"). However, being a third season instalment, it is far less subtle, and lacks the classy feel of those earlier episodes.

    The Cheron beings, half black and half white, are immediately interesting to look at, and arguably one of the most memorable beings from the Original Series; certainly from later on in the show's run anyway.
    However, Kirk and co.'s amazement when the first see Lokai felt slightly wrong; yes he is unusual to look at, but the Enterprise encounters strange new beings and creatures just about every episode; why the particular amazement over Lokai?

    Bele is played by Frank Gorshin, probably best known for playing the recurring Riddler in classic 1960s 'Batman', which had ceased production the previous year.
    Both Gorshin and Lou Antonio have their moments as the respective Cherons, but these are interspread with some very hammy points.

    One thing that did stand out to me was some of the directing – particularly the very dodgy zooming in and out of the red alert lights, which didn't fit with the feel of the episode – or the series in general – at all. In fact, they look like something that would be more at home in the aforementioned '60s 'Batman'!

    The racism plot is handled interestingly, but is not perfect. There are some good parallels to problems on Earth during the black slave period, but these points are let down by the plot generally feeling rather forced, and not as focused as it might have been.

    Without giving too much away, the conclusion is an interesting and rather bleak one, as there seems to be no real solution to the Cheron's dispute.

    All-in-all, this is not a bad episode – there is certainly FAR worse in the third season – and it is well intentioned, but it doesn't have the subtlety or depth that it deserves.
  • Some strong acting hides the most preachy episode ever made.

    Frank Gorshin puts in a very strong performance. Okay, who doesn't? This episode, directly tackling racism in a rather heavyhanded way, retains its power even today.

    If anything, the story gets biased when Lokai starts talking about building armies, with Kirk and Spock talking about how how Lokai himself is still alive while his followers are dead (and ignore Bele having done the same thing!), but otherwise...

    Also, Spock again is mistreated. He can't discern the difference between the two Sharronians. Nobody sees it, but Spock should have. Yet he claims it's obvious both are duo-colored. Come on, Spock is hyper-detailed. He would not miss this obvious piece!! (Season 3 really puts Spock in a bad light at times...) But it's only for that scene where he's badly treated.

    Of course, for being a low budget show, it's also a transparent ploy to make Bele's ship invisible. It's the one scene that's so badly cobbled together that it cannot be believed. Even Frank Gorshin couldn't pull it off, but at least he kept a straight face.

    Definitely worth seeing for its powerful, provocative nature. But it takes some things (living 50000 years, shields, et al) a little too conveniently.
  • The Riddler walks on to the wrong set and calls Captain Kirk an ape.

    Has anyone seen the blooper reel of Star Trek? Actually there are a few different ones, but one of my favorite bloopers, which isn't a blooper at all, but a set up of a joke was where Beale is chasing Lokai through the ship near the end of the episode and they run smack into each other while rounding a corner. And then they kind of apologize for running into each other and continue to run in different directions. Hysterical. The plot has been criticized quite often, but I stand by my defense of it. Especially today. I do get quite sad in the end. I often hear Captain Kirk answering Lt. Uhura's question about them always hating each other. Kirk answers "No, but that's all they have left". I can certainly see that in many examples of people I know today, and also temper my prejudice by hearing Kirk perhaps say those words to me.
  • The Enterprise finds itself caught between two aliens from the same planet that hate each other....

    This was by far one of my favority Original Trek episodes! Perhaps compared to some of the typical favorites (Tribbles, Mirror Mirror, Space Seed, etc) it isn't as charming, clever, funny or thrilling...but you really have to appriciate the message that it tries to get across.

    Here we have Bele and Lokai, two aliens from the same world with only one difference: one is black on the left side, one is black on the right side. This difference in which side of their face is black (or white, depending on your view) is the source of their hatred for each other. In every other way they appear identical (other than personality differences of course). You can't help but watch the episode and feel that the source of their conflict is something petty and rediculous...until you stop to think about the racism that occured here in the past and even still today.

    I would believe that if some outside aliens or whatever came to Earth, they would look at us perhaps with the same wonder that Kirk and the crew had when looking at Bele and Lokai. This, I feel, was one of the many episodes that was ahead of its time to a degree and a commentary on our own society.