Star Trek: Bread and Circuses   Rewatch 
August 1, 2015 6:52 AM - Season 2, Episode 25 - Subscribe

The Enterprise investigates the disappearance of the SS Beagle and discover a planet modeled after a modern version of the Roman Empire where the crew must participate in brutal gladiatorial games.

"Bread and Circuses" was first broadcast on March 15, 1968. It is episode #54, production #43, written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon and directed by Ralph Senensky. Its name is a reference to the phrase "bread and circuses" taken from the Satire X written by the poet, Juvenal. In modern usage, the phrase implies a populace that no longer values civic virtues, the public life, and military (manly) service; instead, the people need only food and entertainment.

Memory Alpha Link's
mostly positive review.

The episode can be viewed on Netflix and YouTube.
posted by Benway (4 comments total)
If they refuse to move out on cue, screw them!
posted by wittgenstein at 9:28 AM on August 1, 2015

Not Kirk's finest hour. The mission failed to save any of the SS Beagle's surviving crew (I guess we're meant to understand that any who didn't die already in the arena are now acting as Roman-law-following slave-owners, so whatever?), and got Flavius killed. Not to mention Kirk's having sex with a slave, that was pretty low.

Some good Spock+McCoy scenes, though. I feel like there's a glimmer of a good episode in here, but the writing doesn't get it all the way there. I wonder if it would have been better if they'd been able to focus more on the network-television satire?
posted by oh yeah! at 7:41 AM on August 2, 2015

I can't call this one entirely bad, since there was definitely a hint of satire in the gladiator fights. I was also intrigued that the way the Roman Empire kept slaves docile was giving them HEALTH CARE and a RETIREMENT PLAN, which seems like slightly more than I get as a free American. Again, do I detect satire? I agree with "Oh Yeah!" that there are glimmers of a good script buried in this.

The rest of it was bad, but most fundamentally: bad science fiction. Are you saying that if you have the exact same atmosphere as Earth, you will get another Roman Empire and everyone will end up speaking English? But never mind that; are you telling me a Starship actively involved in contacting new civilizations and bearing a Prime Directive would not have some preset plan for what happens when a landing party goes to the surface? Like maybe waiting a few hours to learn the language (wait, scratch that, not necessary!), fabricate the correct clothing, come up with a legitimate reason to talk to the authorities? A real plan, not just beaming down in primary-colored pajamas with unexplainable high-tech weapons and a "code green" secret code? It should never be a point of suspense whether the entire crew might obey an order to beam down to be slaughtered. I want to believe Scotty is a genius, but I totally missed the explanation of how that power failure was guaranteed to help the situation. [Me, my preset plan after a "code green" would always be to rig up a total eclipse of the sun two hour later, to show that the Sun God was angry. That totally would have worked in this case! Wait, wrong son god]

Speaking of which... I don't know what's more annoying: that this planet had its own Parallel-Jesus, that Kirk smugly assumes Parallel-Jesus will win out eventually and democracy will reign, or that the simplistically pious Network censors didn't sees it as Heresy to have two Jesuses? Like, what happens to the Trinity? "The Father, the Son, the other son, and the Holy Ghost"? Or is it just the one Jesus, time-travelling to different planets in order to be killed repeatedly for everybody's sins? Having to make humans still Christians always gets ST in trouble.

But never mind that! Besides the abysmal treatment of that poor slave woman in her gold lame backless toga (What is wrong with you, Kirk?), did I detect homophobia in the portrayal of the Procounsel? I swear I did. First, that sparkly cardigan, which I spent all my time staring at. Then the vicious way he taunted Mericus as he declared Kirk a REAL man.

Merik was supposed to be a "Lord Jim"-like character who was tested and found wanting in... some Starfleet Academy exercise? And so he was doomed to betray his crew and become First Citizen on another planet? [Good gravy, the writer DID read "Lord Jim"... Oh, better gravy, Gene Roddenberry wrote this]. That could be the basis of a great script except it wasn't.

I wish I knew the next episode was going to be a good one that will wash the taste of this one out of my mouth, but unfortunately, I remember what the next one is.
posted by acrasis at 1:45 PM on May 2, 2021

In their eagerness to examine alternative histories, Star Trek seems to have developed an anthropologic version of carcinisation : the universe has evolved Earth a surprising number of times. And I guess English has some special kind of cultural gravity that, even when the Italians conquer the world, they did it after adopting a strong Londonium dialect.

are you telling me a Starship actively involved in contacting new civilizations and bearing a Prime Directive would not have some preset plan

Honestly, the Prime Directive seems to be narratively designed mostly to penalize a starship crew for "going native." It lets you know who the bad guy is, because he's betrayed the Federation. By.... telling people about the Federation. If the Prime Directive were actually important, seeking out new life would be off the table, and Merrick's exploration vessel wouldn't be anywhere near Class M planets.
posted by pwnguin at 2:52 PM on December 24, 2023

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