Normally I start these off with some general remarks about the episode itself, or maybe what it means in the larger context of Star Trek. After all, “Errand of Mercy” introduced the Klingons. But instead, I’ll relate a second-hand anecdote.
Anyway, I dated a woman years ago who went to a convention to meet some actors from the original Battlestar Galactica. There should have been four. She told me that Starbuck was kinda sleazy, Apollo didn’t seem to want to be there, and Boomer was missing. But Baltar? The series’ human villain? He was a pure gentlemen. That would have been the late actor John Colicos. He was also the first Klingon.
OK, technically, he wasn’t quite the first Klingon. There are many Klingons in this episode. He’s just the main Klingon. And he’s fantastic here. Sure, the Klingons here look mostly like regular people with maybe a good tan. Colicos’ Kor has some interesting facial hair, but the show hasn’t invented the forehead ridges yet. But much of everything we recognize about the Klingons is there. He’s a bit bombastic, but so is almost everyone on Star Trek that isn’t Spock, and even Spock has his moments. Kor likewise relishes the prospect of proving himself on the battlefield. And he really wants to test himself against Kirk.
Yes, we got it all here. The Klingons are a military dictatorship, and they’re going to war with the Federation. Kirk has orders to gain control over a planet between the two territories, Organia. The Klingons will make a move for that world, and the Enterprise comes under attack by one Klingon ship before it even gets to Organia. That enemy ship doesn’t prove too much of an obstacle, but it’s clear there’s a war going on.
So, what’s the problem? We know by now that Star Trek is going to solve whatever the problem is by the end of the episode. We also know there really isn’t what we consider serialized prime time television in 1967. It’s doubtful the war will last beyond this episode. The Enterprise has other things it will need to do.
The problem isn’t so much the Klingons. It’s the Organians. Kirk and Spock beam down to the planet’s surface, with Kirk first instructing Sulu to get out if the Klingons show up. And Kirk does make an impassioned plea to the Organian senior council to allow the Federation to protect the planet. He emphasizes that the Federation will be very hands off, only offering protection from the Klingons. The Klingons will not make the same offer. In fact, when Kor shows up and informs everyone involved that he’s the new military governor of the planet, it would seem Kirk was right about them.
But the Organians don’t believe in violence of any kind. They rebuff Kirk. They do try to hide Kirk and Spock, but as soon as Kirk and Spock hit an ammo dump, the Organians turn them over to the Klingons. Later, they rescue Kirk and Spock from the Klingon prison before either can come to harm. Their extreme dislike for violence is something Kirk just doesn’t understand. They don’t even want to defend themselves when the Klingons execute 200 of them. Kirk realizes he and Spock will somehow have to do it themselves.
You know what I really wanted to know? Why did Kirk never ask the Organians why they were so confident that they didn’t need protection? No matter what Kirk offers, they acknowledge his sincerity and politely decline. As for Kor, he can’t stand the fact the Organians just smile all the time. Heck, halfway through the episode, Kirk can’t stand it either. Spock, for his part, does agree with Kirk when it comes to defending the Organians, but he doesn’t express any exasperation in the Organians’ behavior.
But it turns out there’s a really good reason why the Organians don’t want or need help. They’re not really vulnerable humanoids. They evolved far past that, and no one has died on their planet in a thousand years, not even the 200 the Klingons executed. And they stop the war by making everything involved in war too hot to handle…even out in space for Sulu and the returning Enterprise.
And man, we see more of the Klingons being Klingons. Kirk has the general sense to feel chagrined by what happened. He admits that eventually the Klingons and Federation would have negotiated an end to the war. The Organians just cut out the middle man involving the deaths of millions. Kor, by contrast, doesn’t want to give up the fight right away. Heck, he offers to team up with Kirk to beat the Organians.
In reply, the Organians convert to a very bright pair of lights and disappear.
So, no war. And Spock, as is his wont, offers some words of comfort. He recognizes Kirk must be embarrassed by his actions, but he shouldn’t be. It would be like an amoeba feeling shame in response to a human’s actions. Still, even as the show once again pulled the “godlike beings” card, it did its best to at least show Kirk in a better light. He was still misguided, but he seemed to mean well more than Kor did. But what’s more, the Organians are a fairly one-note, forgettable race of aliens.
But the Klingons? We’ll be seeing those guys again. And thanks to Colicos, they made a great first impression.