Star Trek: Errand of Mercy   Rewatch 
January 17, 2015 9:50 AM - Season 1, Episode 27 - Subscribe

Kirk and Spock beam down to the surface of planet Organia to negotiate for the erection of a Federation base. Hostilities between the nearby Klingon Empire and the Federation have reached alarming heights and it is feared that the medieval culture of the Organians will not be able to withstand a Klingon attack. However, the Organian Council, comprised of five seemingly pleasant, benign elderly men, insist that they prefer to stay with their more primitive culture.

"Errand of Mercy" was originally broadcast on 23 March 1967. It is episode #26, production #27, written by Gene L. Coon and directed by John Newland. This episode marks the first appearance of an alien race known as the Klingons.

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Episode reviews from TrekMovie and the AV Club.

The episode can be viewed on Netflix and Hulu.
posted by Benway (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's really sort of astonishing, especially post-TNG and the way so many of the films had a Klingon menace woven into the plot, that they were introduced so late. And of course it's also weird and problematic that they were enjoined from hostilities by a peace treaty enforced by superbeings, something that had to be hand-waved away rather quickly.

Otherwise the story bears distinct similarities to a thematic penchant of Trek, the savage ways of man and the wiser, less violent ways of, well, superbeings. I suppose this gets balanced out by the juvenile superbeings like Q or the simpler, idealized Native Americans of The Paradise Syndrome (sorry, that's S3E03). There's a lot of precursors for this trope in written SF, of course, but like the numerous critiques of monarchist/elitist tropes in high fantasy, I prefer my characters to have agency to them being treated like unruly children.
posted by dhartung at 11:26 PM on January 17, 2015

I prefer my characters to have agency to them being treated like unruly children.

I did like Kirk's chagrin at the reveal though.

So strange to see the TOS-style Klingons after so many years of the movie/TNG versions - aside from the visual difference, it's just odd seeing them without the ethos/subculture that has been built up over the decades of canon & fanon.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:38 AM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've always thought that it's suggestive how often TOS had "superbeings" that, to the regular space-faring humanoids like the Federation and others, are just like forces of nature that they have to deal with and cannot oppose where, in contrast, TNG+ only has the Q, where Q himself is the exception, and otherwise the few seriously powerful beings are all just one level above the Federation and can be successfully opposed, though only with great effort and sacrifice.

This is of a piece with how often TOS actually depicted aliens that were actually alien, and not just forehead-bump humanoids.

For TOS, the galaxy was a truly weird and dangerous place where humans were often insignificant. For TNG+, the galaxy isn't Unknown and Dangerous, there's just sometimes the unknown and dangerous in what is otherwise pretty typical and familiar. That represents a very different worldview of the show itself, so to speak.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:10 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Off the top of my head I can think of two races that were significantly more advanced than the races we typically deal with in TNG - one is the Traveler, who ended up taking Wesley away to find his destiny, and the other is the progenitor being that we meet in The Chase. Or are these not quite up to the Organians' standards?

(I can understand falling on either side of this argument, actually.)
posted by blurker at 9:04 PM on January 18, 2015

Well ... I haven't seen TNG since it actually aired. That's twenty-one years. However, I've watched DS9 (again) and VOY in the last ten years, though only part of ENT. And while I grew up watching TOS in the 70s and saw most episodes a great many times and was a pretty ardent tween Trekkie in mid-70s terms, it's also the case that these days I'm a bit fuzzy. All this is to say that I was handwaving to some degree, this has been my strong impression for a long time. I'm sure that I overestimate the number of extremely powerful aliens on TOS and underestimate the ones on the later shows.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:40 PM on January 18, 2015

I think it's mostly explained by the heavy reliance of TOS on Golden Age short-story-magazine-oriented "parables". They weren't world-building, after all, they were just hanging interesting stories off a framework Roddenberry had only sketched out in general terms (viz. late creation of Klingons). This is, of course, a parable of the Cold War.

TNG had the universe of TOS and the movies to deal with, as well as two decades of fanon that had established the basis for how the Federation and Starfleet might evolve. But it was also an ensemble show and less oriented toward action and adventure, partly due to Roddenberry's doubling down on fan adulation and his own insistence that pretty much all the main characters be lawful good (which severely limits narrative options). The forehead alien stuff is on the one hand budget and on the other hand a reflection of the more structured storytelling of 1990s television; it wasn't concerned with the mystery and wonder of the universe as it was with the aliens as characters. Personally, I find that a richer approach in a lot of ways, though I do take your point.
posted by dhartung at 12:41 AM on January 19, 2015

The planet of unemployed Shakespearian actors is invaded by the army of old cartoon villains. What's remarkable is the extent to which the plot makes Kirk and Kor equivalent (even their names). We're supposed to realize how primitive we are, and hope we evolve out of it. That is, I think, the way "Star Trek" differs from most TV and movie science fiction, this awareness that we can do better.

I don't even want to ask why the Organians were pretending to be primitive humanoids when they could presumably just not answer the phone when the Federation called. I notice that Spock no longer has the magic ability to trick guards into opening dungeon cell doors. How closely I was paying attention to these episodes as a teenager- was I doing homework or something? Why am I annoyed at this *now* and not then?
posted by acrasis at 10:58 AM on December 9, 2020

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