Wednesday, June 12, 2013

TOS: Errand of Mercy

It looks like June's shaping up to be Star Trek month. Last night we watched "Errand of Mercy" as Laoch's suggestion, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm so relieved that "Space Seed" seems to have been more of an aberration than the rule: all the other TOS episodes we've watched have been enjoyable. That, or we're just in a better place to enjoy the campy nature of the show.

The Organians: pacifists. Also, all male. Because that combination seems likely.

So in Errand, as with The Arena, we have another set of Uberintelligent Morally-Superior Beings yelling at humans for being too bellicose. (Although this might really be Kirk's issue, rather than all of humanity's: the dude has a serious impulse-control problem — especially for a Starfleet Captain.) There's a triangle between aforementioned superior beings, an Angry Alien race, and humans. Last time the Angry Aliens of the trifecta were the Gorn, this time they are the Klingons—who make their first appearance here, in all their sparkly-trousers and Fu-Manchu-beard splendor. 

In the days when "alien costuming" meant "shoe polish and weird facial hair."

The morally-superior beings here are the Organians, who are pacifists to the Nth degree. They make my Quaker ancestors look argumentative. Starfleet and the Klingons are battling over Organia, which is in a strategic location. The Organian leader, Ayelborne, keeps informing Kirk and Spock that they won't tolerate fighting on their planet, and furthermore the planet is in no danger from the invading Klingon forces, and further-furthermore, go to your rooms, boys; I don't want to hear who started it!

As Ayelborne repeatedly assured Kirk their planet was in no danger, I wondered why Kirk didn't investigate further: he just assumes Ayelborne is too wussy to fight. He and Commander Kor (the Klingon leader) are so disgusted with the Organian's wussiness, in fact, that they kind of bond over it. 

OK, so Kor and Kirk are too fighty to stop and think for a moment that perhaps the Organians can get away with being peaceful because they have some sort of pacifist ace up their sleeve, but Spock should have been curious. Really, his catchword is "Curious!" Why didn't he just ask Ayelborne why there was no danger? For that matter, why didn't Ayelborne just tell them what was going on? Oh, right! Because then there'd be no plot.



I knew the Organians couldn't simply be regular pacifists. Because regular pacifists tend to get trampled. It is my observation that you can't truly speak softly without carrying that big stick. What I expected was that the Organians would have something akin to nuclear weapons: some very big stick that could scare off both the Klingons and the humans. What it ended up being, though, was cleverer than that. While I thought the too-hot-to-handle twist was a good trick, and emotionally satisfying, it still begs the question:

What if the Organians were what they claimed to be: essentially, the Space Amish? What if they were regular old simple farmers who just wanted to stay out of the war, and refused to fight? The resolution of the story ducks this question. Can pacifists ever win out over determined warriors?

12 comments:

  1. Gandhi thought so. He once wrote:

    “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.”

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    1. I figured Ghandi would come up. :) The thing is, the warriors he faced were not determined. They were exhausted, and ready to get the hell out. I do think nonviolent resistance can win out in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, it's just not true that tyrants and murderers always fall, unless we're talking about mortality. They die eventually. But people literally get away with murder and genocide all the time. However, having said that, I am pretty convinced that humans are becoming steadily less violent. Steven Pinker convinced me of that: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html

      I will check out the link you provided, too, on Mr. Sharp. Thanks!

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    2. Derp. Misspelled "Gandhi." You'd think, with my crazy last name (all sorts of "H"s in odd places), I'd know to double-check that spelling.

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  2. Oh, I wanted to add that I always admired the work of Gene Sharp, and the nonviolence movement - you can read some of his work here: http://www.aeinstein.org/

    and a profile of him here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/23/world/gene-sharp-revolutionary

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  3. I have to be honest. I am having a very hard time focusing on the rest of the post after I read that you have Quaker ancestors. Blow me down!

    Okay going back to finish.

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    1. I know, right? I remember hearing this as a bit of family lore, but my Dad recently handed me a thick folder of family history, well documented, and indeed one branch of the family was Quaker. On the other side, though, we have a set of pugnacious Irish. I mean, really. That side is so stereotypical in its Irishness it's not even funny. And I haven't even got to the Germans ...

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  4. 'Why didn't he just ask Ayelborne why there was no danger? For that matter, why didn't Ayelborne just tell them what was going on? Oh, right! Because then there'd be no plot.'

    I remember the moment I realized this. Contrived conflict would make me want to pull my hair out as a teenager and slowly, slowly, I began to realize that authors kinda had to do this. I think, quite honestly, this is why I read soooo little fiction. Act II into Act III -- very, very hard to get it to ring true.

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    1. Yeah, I am more forgiving of it now than I used to be. Also of coincidence. You just have to rely on unrealistic coincidence sometimes. If you spend too much time making it all plausible, you have twice as thick and half as interesting a story!

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  5. 'Can pacifists ever win out over determined warriors?'

    Hellooo! It's hyper commenting girl!

    Have been intellectually gnawing on this question for a few months, sparked by the writing of (somewhat pugnacious) Kyle's story.

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    1. I think in real life, it's unfortunately rare, for obvious reasons. But in fiction, a very clever pacifist can defeat a determined opponent, especially if we're talking individual v. individual rather than individual v. army or government or some other powerful collective. It's usually an enormously satisfying storyline, too!

      Reading the comments and thinking about it more, I keep coming back to Game Theory.

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  6. Be they ever-so-hokey, Star Trek episodes have always ignited reflection and discussion and that, well that can lead to democracy.

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    1. That they have! Sci-fi in general seems more worldview-expanding than other genres.

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