April 18, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Weekend Trek “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”

Kirk and the crew teach a lesson in tolerance when two aliens with unusual coloring show up.

What is this?  The second episode in a row with a guest star best known, perhaps, for the campy Batman TV series?  Well, sure looks that way since Frank Gorshin shows up here as one Commissioner Bele, an authority figure from the planet Cheron with some vaguely defined mental powers.

Then again, “Let That Be Your Last Battleground” may be the go-to episode for people who point out Star Trek‘s progressive politics as shown through allegory.

If that’s the case, this could be a lot better.  The basic message at the episode’s core is a good one:  hating people for superficial differences is a bad idea that can lead to nothing good.  We have our two aliens Bele and Lokai, each with faces that show them as black on one half of their bodies and white on the other.  They otherwise dress identically.  McCoy calls such a thing highly unlikely from an evolutionary standpoint, but he doesn’t have much else to do in this episode.

But here’s where this episode gets me:  Bele is an authority figure back on Cheron, and Lokai is a political prisoner.  Bele claims superiority because he is black on the correct side of his face.  I don’t recall Lokai making any similar claims, but he does like Bele refer dismissively to the crew of the Enterprise as “monocolors” or something like that as if having faces dissected in half by color is in some way a superior way to be.  Spock does try to explain evolution to Bele and how Vulcans took up logic as a means of protecting themselves, but that doesn’t really work either.  Both of them hate each other and look down their noses at everyone else.

The whole thing doesn’t make much sense to the Enterprise crew.  Scotty finds both of them contemptible, and there’s some general talk about how humanity had that problem once but only in the 20th century.

Writing from the 21st, I say to the Enterprise crews:  oh, you sweet summer children.  Not only do we still have racism today, but we had it long before the 20th century.  I tend to think humans would make up reasons to dehumanize other people if they managed to get past skin color.  Arguably, they always have.

So, we have Bele and Lokai making claims.  Bele says Lokai is a mass murdering agitator, Lokai says Bele’s people have repressed his for centuries, and Bele has apparently been chasing Lokai for 50,000 years.  They both seem to possess some mental powers of some kind.  Bele can take over the ship’s direction, but not the computer that Kirk can use to self-destruct.  And, I gotta say, I think they use the exact same coding sequence to potentially destroy the Enterprise here as they will to finish the job in Star Trek 3.

Likewise, arresting the pair doesn’t help as they both have personal forcefields, and when they get mad enough to wrestle with each other, there’s some kind of energy/heat backlash involved that could destroy the Enterprise.  Besides, it turns out that Bele and Lokai are the last survivors of their planet as the rest of them already destroyed themselves by the time Bele gets Lokai back to Cheron.

Cheron, by the way, is in the southern end of the galaxy.  Galaxies have a southern end now?

So, really, this whole thing is there as an allegory that says racism is bad (obviously) and we need to forgive each other or we might destroy each other.  And that last part makes me pause.

See, let’s say for a moment that everything Lokai says about how his people have been treated is true.  They were enslaved, given substandard living arrangements, and so forth.  And that reminds me of something.  Back in 2017, I saw the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, based on the writings of James Baldwin.  Specifically, the documentary is Samuel L. Jackson reading the introduction to a book Baldwin started about his time with prominent civil rights leaders.  And he said something in there that stuck with me.

The idea was that too many movies about racism end with both the black and white characters forgiving each other, and Baldwin thought that was a load of BS.  He felt that, given the entire history of what African Americans had been through thanks to white Americans, that black Americans really didn’t have to forgive anything since they were the victims of things like slavery and Jim Crow.  Furthermore, he felt these mutual forgiveness scenes were put in there only so white liberals could feel better about themselves.

That’s an interesting perspective, and it ran through my mind as the crew of the Enterprise just said the two just hated each other and needed to move on.  If what Bele’s people did or were doing to Lokai’s is accurate, why should Lokai’s people forgive and move on?  It’s an interesting thought process, and as much as this is a particularly heavy-handed episode, I do think the whole thing takes a rather simplistic look at racism.

Besides, I also think about how Spock finds Cheron is apparently full of rotted bodies.  That sounds an awful lot like the people weren’t even dead all that long.

The episode ends with Bele and Lokai both beaming down to their devastated planet, presumably to continue to fight until they too are dead.  It’s a heavy lesson for some heavy themes.