In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise discover a society where a computer makes decisions for everybody. That sounds a bit familiar. Probably because I think I covered something like that with Landru.
I think Landru might have been a better situation. At least there were people there who thought to fight back. The nameless computer on Eminair VII doesn’t meet any resistance whatsoever. Granted, it’s control is a lot less. It just tells people to kill themselves.
Yes, the Enterprise is taking one Ambassador Fox to Eminair VII. The Federation wants diplomatic ties to the system immediately. No one has even tried to make contact in years. The last attempt was fifty years earlier. That ship never returned.
Already, we’re off to an ominous start. The only message they get back to an opening hail is an order to go away. Fox, being the standard Federation pencil-pushing muckety-muck, orders Kirk to ignore those instructions and keep going. It doesn’t matter how dangerous it is. He needs to establish diplomatic ties.
Are there any reasonable types in the upper echelons of the Federation? Just wondering.
The fact this guy can override Kirk is rather disturbing, but par for the course here. Kirk and his crew are experienced people. They don’t blunder into bad situations if they can help it. Fox doesn’t care. He’s that kind of asshole.
Kirk, at least, won’t allow Fox to go down before he checks the place out. That means he beams down with Spock, two security guards, and the Yeoman-of-the-Week. Is it progress the Yeoman is Asian instead of blonde this time? Regardless, Kirk leaves Scotty in charge of the ship with McCoy there to talk to.
Alright, so all this seems to be going somewhere. The planet’s surface seems peaceful enough. But there wouldn’t be an episode here if someone besides Fox wasn’t screwing up. What could possibly be the problem here?
Well, the planet is at war with a neighboring planet, Eminair III. In fact, they attack while Kirk and Co. are meeting with the planetary council. They insist on mass casualties to the capital city. But there’s no evidence of any damage anywhere. What gives? Well, all the attacks are computer simulations and have been for 500 years. After each attack, the computer calculates casualties and those the computer declared dead go to the nearest disintegration chamber to commit suicide.
Oh, and the computer says the Enteprise was also destroyed.
So, after seeing this episode and the whole Landru mess recently, both of which featured societies run by computers, can we see a difference to make one look worse than the other? Yes, we can. On the one hand, Landru controlled every aspect of its citizens’ lives save the handful who were immune. Because of that, the people Landru messed with weren’t really in control of their own actions. The nameless computers here don’t have that level of power. That means that the citizens of Eminair VII (and, presumably, Eminair III) are willing participants in their own destruction. They don’t question the computers any more than they question those ridiculous hats they all wear.
Ridiculous hats were the forehead ridges of the 1960s.
How computer-like are these people? They all seem to have numbers in their names as well.
So, what happens here is the planet has people on it and above it who aren’t going to follow a computer’s orders. Granted, it soon becomes apparent the citizens of Eminair VII listen to the computer out of fear that something worse will happen if they don’t. Kirk just doesn’t see it that way. The closest they have to sympathy is Spock. Spock can see the logic. He still thinks it’s stupid, but he can see the logic.
What follows is a game of chess between the citizens of Eminair VII and Kirk (and also Scotty on the Enterprise). The planet’s leader, Anan 7, believes he can use Kirk and the away team as hostages to lure the rest of the crew down. Scotty isn’t falling for that. He even keeps the shields up. Good thing, too. Anan 7 isn’t above shooting at the Enterprise. Of course, Ambassador Fox is still being a dick, preventing Scotty from returning fire. And despite warnings from, oh, everybody, and knowing full well the planet fired on them, Fox beams down to the planet below to set up those diplomatic relations.
So, sure, Fox learns the hard way he should have stayed on the ship, but he did learn his lesson. Now he’s being helpful. So helpful in fact, that when Kirk destroys the computer, forcing Anan 7 to actually talk to the other planet’s leaders, there may actually be a chance for peace. It turns out the other planet may just be as scared of blowing things up as Anan’s people.
Never let is be said that asshole superiors temporarily on the Enterprise aren’t just assholes. They often have a role they fit, and when the times comes, they fill it. Fox is an ambassador. He wanted to set up diplomatic ties. Now, he can all that and more, and maybe put a stop to all those one way revolving doors that people willingly walked into.
I think what it comes down to here is people have to be comfortable enough to look outside their assigned roles. The people of both Eminair VII and presumably III couldn’t. They just saw themselves in an intractable war. Likewise, Fox just couldn’t conceive of his mission being anything less than a diplomatic triumph. It looks like Fox at least can still have that, but even he picks up a gun when he has to. If all a computer can do is see people as raw data to be crunched, then that’s not really living. And when even Spock can’t get behind a plan that doesn’t involve emotions getting in the way, you know it must be a bad plan.