Wait, what’s this? An fairly decent episode of Star Trek from season three that doesn’t have any sort of potentially dated or offensive ideas or stupid plot points? I mean, yeah, it does have a weird look to it due to budget cuts, but the show actually finds a way to mostly make that work.
I mean, it’s still a little silly, but even the best original Trek is a little silly.
The Enterprise is under orders to make contact with the reclusive Melkotians. A buoy from the planet tells them to back off, and every member of the crew hears it in his or her own native language. Now, I would think being told to go away is a message that should be respected, because I think in later episodes of later shows the Federation makes it clear they will respect wishes like that. But Kirk isn’t that guy and he goes on anyway, taking Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov down to the planet’s surface.
Naturally, the inhabitants, powerful telepaths, don’t much appreciate it even when Kirk pulls a phaser to say he’s there in peace but will defend himself if necessary. Since he’s in charge, the natives opt to send the away team off to a punishment/execution fitting the captain. Since Kirk’s ancestors were pioneers all the way out to Iowa, that means they find themselves in a replica of Tombstone, Arizona, the day of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. Oh, and the residents believe the away team are the various members of the Clanton Gang. Only Chekov doesn’t seem to mind because he has a girlfriend in the form of the only woman in town. Her name is Sylvia and…
…does she turn into a cat? No? Just checking.
By the by, here’s where the show used the cut budget to its advantage. They couldn’t recreate the entire town, so they only created a few buildings with only one or two walls. Lots of open spaces. Spock speculates that the Melkotians could only recreate so much due to limited knowledge. Since the setting is supposed to be some kind of mental projection, that makes sense.
Kirk, however, does his best to try to resolve things as peacefully as possible. No one believes he isn’t Ike Clanton no matter what evidence he provides. He tries to get the away team to leave town, but there’s some kind of forcefield at the city’s limits. They can’t leave. McCoy comes up with the brilliant idea to use a tranquilizer gas which leads to more tense confrontations with various Earps and Doc Holliday, until finally Chekov angers the wrong one and gets shot.
Except…Chekov was standing in for a member of the gang who survived. He didn’t even make it to the shootout. Furthermore, McCoy and Spock’s knock-out gas doesn’t work. Scotty inhaled half of the stuff and nothing happened. And therein lies the solution. Spock realizes things in this world only work if you 100% believe they do. Chekov believed the bullets were lethal, so they were. He may even only believe he’s dead. Of course, Kirk decides the thing to do is just not go the OK Corral. As such, they all find themselves transported right to the place. Man, things just suck all over for Kirk and Co.
Anyway, if not of this is real, then if Kirk, McCoy, Spock, and Scotty can all believe the bullets won’t hurt them, then they should be OK. That’s not a problem for Spock. But the other three are a different story. And for once, the episode explains the name of the episode. These aren’t real guns. These are the spectres of guns.
Cue the Vulcan mind meld, a technique that was originally supposed to be difficult and rare. And…it works. There’s a nice shot of bullets going through a fence behind the crew, and the Kirk dropkicks the guy who killed Chekov, only to then toss his own gun away.
And that was all it took. Because Kirk refused to get actual revenge, everyone is back on the bridge of the Enterprise, even Chekov, safe and sound. The Melkotians are willing to deal with people who aren’t into violent solutions.
But Spock suspects Kirk wanted revenge. McCoy insists the important thing isn’t that Kirk wanted revenge for Chekov’s “death,” but that he didn’t actually go through with it. Kirk doesn’t really answer either man, but I gotta say that’s an interesting philosophical idea: does being tempted to go through with a violent act, even one that could be emotionally justified, count for anything or is resisting temptation more important? Can we say humanity is more evolved if the feelings crop up at all?
The episode doesn’t really answer that question, but many good to great episodes of Star Trek don’t. Instead, we have a question designed to get the audience thinking, and I can appreciate something like that.
So, is “Spectre of the Gun” a good episode? I can see why it might bother people in places, but it takes on a rather ridiculous idea and commits to it to the end. It doesn’t seem particularly embarrassing unless partial sets count, and even those have something of an in-show explanation. Really, for once the show used the cut budget to its advantage. I wouldn’t rank this one as an all-time great, but by season three standards, we have a pretty good one.
So, you just know the next one is going to do something bad.