Arena (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

I'll see your sharp teeth, superhuman strength and six-inch talons and raise you a Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

I’ll see your sharp teeth, superhuman strength and six-inch talons and raise you a Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

Episode: Arena – Season 1, Episode 18 (1966)

Director: Joseph Pevney

Teleplay: Gene L. Coon

Story: Frederic Brown

The Enterprise drops by the remote Cestus III outpost for a dinner engagement, but upon beaming down with his tactical team, Captain Kirk finds that the base has been destroyed by an unknown enemy. Soon the landing party itself is attacked, and I hope you didn’t get too attached to the redshirt, ’cause he gets it first.[1]

Simultaneously, the Enterprise is under attack in orbit. Sulu manages to drive off the alien ship and beam back the still-living members of the landing party, and then Kirk gives chase at warp 5. You know how your stick shift knob has a little pattern on it, and fifth gear is the one on the far right – the fastest gear?  Well just imagine that using your car’s fifth gear made it so fast that at any second your car might EXPLODE, killing you and everyone you care about!  That’s how bad Kirk wants the invading alien ship. He justifies this lunacy to his first officer with:

Mr. Spock, yadda yadda they’ll know we’re weak yadda strategic advantage yadda BLOODY BLOODY VENGEANCE! RIVERS OF GREEN ALIEN BLOOD! DO YOU HAVE A FUCKING PROBLEM WITH THAT SPOCK?

Just as the Enterprise gets within clobbering range, an unearthly voice fills the bridge. Cue the Metrons, yet another race of capricious super-beings. The Metrons decree that, owing to their intrinsically violent natures, Captain Kirk and the captain of the Gorn alien ship must face each other in single combat – winner take all! By which I mean the loser dies with his ship and crew.

The desert planet contest between Kirk and the lizard is justly famous for its generally hapless character. For a guy so expert at punching-based problem solving, Shatner pugilates like John Saxon in Enter the Dragon (1973). The Gorn has every advantage, but somehow size, strength, cunning, and 6-inch talons don’t compensate for moving like a serial stroke victim. Kirk keeps on the run long enough to build a fabulous cannon out of bamboo and diamonds, and that’s all she wrote.[2]

I’ve always found Kirk’s last-minute change of heart to be unrealistic. With its chest all paved in burned jewelry, the Gorn is at the Captain’s mercy. So he spares its life and insults the Metrons instead? I mean, I get the point: having a civilization means using your cognitive tools to make decisions about when violence is necessary. Mercy and compassions are virtues. It isn’t all about being smart enough to bring the gun to a knife fight.

But. Haven’t we pissed off capricious super-beings before?[3] What keeps the Metrons from saying “LOL that’s cute, Captain Kirk. Have fun while we reduce your ship to atoms with the power of our fucking minds!”  You’d think he’d be a little more conservative where the lives of his crew are concerned – kill the lizard and cry about it later. How was he supposed to know that being judged morally superior to the Gorn captain would win him the contest? But if there’s anything Captain James Tiberius Kirk loves more than punching, it’s a gesture.

[1] Was it Lang or O’Herlihy?  I honestly don’t know, but he acquitted himself well in the 15 seconds he had on screen.

[2] Sadly, proved to be impossible on Mythbusters for any number of reasons.

[3] See the pilot, the second pilot, Episode 2, Episode 11, Episode 12, Episode 15, and of course goddamn Trelane.



Filed under Childhood Memories, Star Trek Original Series

2 responses to “Arena (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

  1. Perry Armstrong

    Given the expense of the Gorn costume, I’m amazed it wasn’t re-used to add value to later episodes such as ‘Journey to Babel’ (a Gorn ambassador in the background would’ve been cooler than a painted little person) or ‘The Gamesters of Triskelion’ (Kirk vs Gorn: The Sequel).

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