The Enterprise, in all of its various incarnations, has a habit of running into godlike beings. They make for interesting foes when done right, especially as it becomes clear that neither the crew nor anything on board the ship has a chance of beating whoever it is. The captain will just need to play whatever game said being wants to play until he can reason his way out. “The Squire of Gothos” brings in another one. He may arguably be the most interesting and fun of the batch that any Star Trek will encounter until Q appears decades later, and that’s Trelane. There’s a lot to love about Trelane. I particularly think so as I sit here now and wonder if he’s as much commentary on some of the audience for Star Trek as he is a potent adversary for Captain Kirk.
Actor William Campbell’s performance largely made Trelane what he is. He first appears as a powerful alien intelligence with a fascination for what looks like 19th century Europe. After kidnapping Kirk and Sulu from right off the bridge of the Enterprise, Dr. McCoy leads a landing party down to the newly discovered planet Gothos to find them. They find Trelane, who insists on their referring to as a retired general, now a squire.
As a godlike being, Trelane basically does whatever he wants to the point where Kirk figures the best way to handle Trelane would be to get as far away from him as they can. That doesn’t work either. Trelane takes Kirk again and is about to execute him when Kirk proposes a new game. The game ends not with Kirk’s death when the Captain is completely out of options, but with two energy beings showing up to berate Trelane and the final reveal that whatever species Trelane is, he’s only a juvenile member of it. As such, his parents apologize and send him to his room.
Campbell’s bravura turn as Trelane really works. This is one of those episodes where knowing the twist ending can provoke a bit more appreciation for the set-up. If you don’t know better, Trelane comes across as some kind of madman intent on using other beings for his own amusement.
The latter part of that is true, but knowing he’s an immature kid despite appearing as a human adult makes a lot of sense. There isn’t necessarily malice in Trelane. He arguably just doesn’t know any better and only wants to have fun. He’s actually shocked and delighted when Kirk provokes anger in him. He saves much of his wrath for anyone who seems intent on not letting him have fun and play his games, saving some special animosity for Spock. Spock and Trelane don’t do much together over the course of the episode. There’s just something to Spock’s general disinterest in Trelane I love. He dismisses power without discipline and purpose. When grilled by Kirk and McCoy, he can’t even bring himself to say he finds Trelane “fascinating”. Trelane is merely “interesting.”
Then again, Spock gets to show some rare exasperation for a second at the end of the episode. Kirk starts using examples of pranks little boys on Earth would play, even if said pranks sound like something that no one could have possibly done for 300 years by the time period Star Trek is set in. Kirk only stops when he realizes of course Spock didn’t do that stuff. We also get Uhura off the bridge for a rare scene of her doing something other than call someone on the communicator, so there’s that.
At any rate, here’s what struck me about this episode this time around: Trelane is obsessed with wars and military maneuvers. He just can’t seem to get it through his head that Starfleet doesn’t really do that sort of thing unless it has to. Kirk isn’t a war hero; he’s an explorer. There are no exploits of battle for him to tell even if he wanted to do so. None of the various crewmen Trelane brings down to Gothos at various points are into war or battle. Or anything along those lines, really. They’re scientists and explorers. The blonde-yeoman-of-the-week Trelane dances with is more than happy to change back to her regular uniform once she gets back to the Enterprise.
Star Trek may be a show that has plenty of action scenes, including this episode as Kirk leaps and bounds around to avoid being skewered by Trelane’s sword in the episode’s climax, but the action isn’t the focus of the series. True, there are plenty of fans that latch onto that sort of thing. That’s fine in the grand scheme of things, but it isn’t Star Trek‘s raison d’etre. It’s always been a show more about ideas than action. Kirk was never going to beat Trelane through force. Heck, few of the various adversaries the Enterprise has encountered so far have been. Most go down through their own hubris. As such, I see Trelane more as a warning for people who simply want this to be an action show. You’ll get that stuff, but it isn’t the point.
Then again, Starfleet does seem to be at least a quasi-military style organization. So it isn’t that hard to see why many folks might see the show that way. Again, there’s nothing really wrong with that. Plenty of moments on every Star Trek related project have plenty of action. But Star Trek is more a philosophically-based show than an action-based show. It’s more interested in provoking thought than thrills even as you get those thrills. Look how this episode makes us re-evaluate Trelane’s actions after a first viewing.
For better or for worse, Trelane never reappeared on the show, not even the animated series. I have heard some fan theories that people in the know may or may not have ever confirmed that he’s a juvenile member of Q’s race. I’m rather fine with Trelane being a one-and-done as it is. Characters like him could be overused otherwise. This way, his one appearance makes him all the more memorable because we know he was never used poorly.
That said, I did learn not that long ago Camobell reprised the role for a PC-based video game along with voices from the rest of the original cast. That might be something worth looking into at some point. Or not. I don’t play video games. Trelane would probably stick me with Spock at the no-fun table.