I also love the scene where Kirk overcomes the entire group of guards holding him only to have Spock rush in a moment later to rescue him. The expression on Spock's face as he finds Kirk holding them all at gunpoint is priceless.
This is the first episode ever to reference the "United Federation of Planets."
Interestingly, Scotty's refusal to lower the shields mirrors an event from actor James Doohan's real life. As a young officer in the Royal Canadian Artillery he was given orders by a visiting Colonel which would result in firing on his own men. Doohan refused point blank, using the very words "No sir, I will not," despite being threatened with a court martial. His superiors backed his decision and no action was ever taken against him. Presumably the same also happened to Scotty!
Spock realises that the war with Vendikar is fought entirely by computers on each planet which carry out simulated attacks, calculating casualties. Anan 7 confirms that once the casualty list is assembled those designated as fatalities have 24 hours to report to public facilities where they step into a disintegrator machine to be killed. By fighting in this manner the infrastructure of both worlds is preserved, the casualties can be absorbed, and both civilisations can continue indefinitely. Kirk is incredulous that the Eminians are willing to commit suicide in this way but Anan 7 assures him that their people have a very highly developed sense of duty, and are quite willing to die for their society. He regretfully informs Kirk that by bringing the Enterprise into their space he has made it a target - and that the computers have logged the ship as being destroyed in the attack. The landing party is taken prisoner whilst the Eminians attempt to work out a way to force the crew to report as casualties.
Anan 7 uses a voice modification device to impersonate Kirk, assuring Scotty that all is well on the planet and ordering all crew to beam down for R&R on the surface. Trained Eminians will take care of critical functions on the ship, he says. Scotty is instantly suspicious of such a strange order, and has the computer analyse the voice to discover that it is faked. He hesitates over what to do about the situation. On the surface Spock is able to use his telepathic ability to induce the guard outside their cell to open the door, and they quickly overpower him. They scout around a little, encountering a disintegration facility which they destroy. Having secured some extra weapons and uniforms they return to their own cell, reasoning that the place they escaped from is the last place the Eminians will look for them.
Realising that his trick has failed, Anan 7 has the planetary disruptor banks open fire on the Enterprise. Fortunately the ship's automatic systems raise the shields in time and the ship withstands the pounding. Ambassador Fox contacts the surface and offers diplomatic contact; Anan 7 lies to him, telling him the attack was a mistake and ceasing fire. Fox orders Scotty to lower the shields, but he refuses point blank - freely admitting that Fox can have him court martialled for refusing legal orders, but telling him that he will not lower the shields no matter what. He does agree, however, to let Fox beam down with his own staff.
On the planet Kirk sneaks into Anan 7's quarters and confronts him. They discuss the morality of the situation and argue about the proper course of action, but Anan 7 manages to trick Kirk into being captured by some guards. He also captures Fox when he beams down, informing him that he is to be killed as part of the war casualties. Fortunately for Fox, Spock intercepts the guards escorting him and frees the Ambassador, securing more weapons and destroying another disintegrator station. Fox admits his errors in judgment thus far and agrees to assist Spock in his efforts.
In the war room, the Eminians face a serious situation; with the disintegrator stations destroyed they are falling behind on their quota, and Vendikar is accusing them of violating the war agreement. Anan 7 appeals to Kirk but the Captain refuses to compromise. When Anan 7 contacts the Enterprise to threaten them with the death of the landing party unless they obey, Kirk yells over the channel for Scotty to implement General Order 24 in two hours. The order is a horrific one; the Enterprise is to locate and target every population centre on Eminiar and obliterate the entire Eminian race.
Anan 7 is stunned by this, accusing Kirk of being a monster - but Kirk simply reminds him of their earlier conversation in which Anan 7 said that he was a barbarian for not agreeing with the Eminian way of fighting. Kirk agrees that he is indeed a barbarian, so how can Anan 7 expect anything other than barbaric behaviour from him? As they speak Kirk sees a chance and manages to overpower his guards - just as Spock and his party break in to rescue him. To Anan 7's horror Kirk blasts the computer systems controlling the war, ensuring that the simulations cannot continue any longer. He informs a horrified Anan 7 that Vendikar will now have to fight for real, prompting Eminiar to respond in kind. The status quo cannot be maintained any longer... but there is one other choice, contacting their enemies to offer peace instead. Kirk predicts that the Vendikans will be just as horrified by the thought of real war as the Eminians are, and will quickly agree. Ambassador Fox offers to act as an intermediary between the two sides. With negotiations beginning, the officers beam back to the ship.
Spock points out that Kirk had, apparently, been willing to start an interplanetary war in order to get his own way. However, Kirk points out his logic - the computer war had killed millions every year but since it left their capacity to make war undamaged, it ensured those losses would continue indefinitely. A real attack, on the other hand, would have killed no more people than a simulated one, but would have destroyed their ability to produce weapons and continue the fighting; in the long run it would still have been a net gain for both sides. Spock agrees with the logic as the ship departs.
It's also plausible that the Enterprise guys could attack the system. There are a few small issues with this... just as a matter of common sense, you have to assume that the particular Vendikar attack that we saw in this episode was not the biggest one in history. Hence there must presumably have been plenty of spare disintegrator stations lying around the place on Eminiar, and so the destruction of a handful of them really shouldn't be that big a deal. Compare the Eminian suicide system to any public service system we employ on Earth today - public transportation is a good model. Your system has to be designed with the capacity to handle the peak times of maximum useage, so it is unreasonable to think that a small disruption would bring the system crashing down. Kirk and his party destroying five or ten disintegrator stations shouldn't even seriously inconvenience the system's ability to cope with that attack, any more than wrecking five or ten buses would make our public transportation system unable to cope with a typical rush hour.
Still, I'm forgiving of this because the concept is plausible. It would work if we simply assume that Spock and his group had done a lot more of what they were doing, blowing up fifty or five hundred stations instead of two or three - just as you would indeed disrupt the transportation system to the extent that it couldn't cope with even a moderate rush hour, if you vandalised enough buses.
And bear in mind that they don't have to wreck the whole system, just destroy enough spare capacity to mess things up for a few hours - they don't have to bring the transport system to a halt, they just have to make some people be late home from work!
Hell, even the fact that the Enterprise crew refused to take part may well have been enough. Which actually leads to the interesting idea that if the ship had been able to simply beam up the landing party and leave right after it was "destroyed"... things might well have resolved themselves exactly the same way! The Eminians would have been unable to meet their quota, no matter what they did, and thus both sides would have had the same impetus to make peace that Kirk provided. Of course they wouldn't have Ambassador Fox there to lend a hand with the negotiations... but then does anybody really think Fox was all that helpful in the end, given the way he acts throughout this episode?
You could also wonder why there aren't redundant backups and such for the computers - but again, there's no reason Kirk couldn't have tracked those down and blasted them too. The execution is a little simplified for the sake of TV, but it doesn't bother me because the idea is a good one that makes sense - the status quo depends on the system, and Kirk's answer is to throw a monkey wrench into the system. We may argue that his wrench wasn't big enough, but his principle is sound.
As alluded to above, the biggest stumbling block of the episode is Ambassador Fox. The man is just an idiot! I get that he's not a Starfleet guy, not a "military" thinker (to the extent that Starfleet is or isn't a military organisation, and let's not have that argument here!), but wow, does he lack any trace of common sense? A landing party beams down and vanishes, the Eminians deliberately try to trick the ship, they then fire on the ship... and simply because Anan 7 says it was an accident and stops firing, Fox instantly believes him? Here's a thought, why not say "Great, thanks, now please put Captain Kirk on so I can confirm with him that things are okay down there"? Why not at least invite the Eminians to come up to the ship for talks? Fox comes across as so pig headed about his own point of view that it just makes him seem like a fool. Trek did this a lot, actually. Virtually any time an outside specialist was put in charge of a mission, the person came across as an absolute fool - especially so when they were any kind of civilian. It's a weak form of storytelling that tries to make one side look better by making everyone else incompetent so they shine in comparison, and it's the reason this episode doesn't rate a 5 score.
Something else worth a mention here... General Order 24. This is an order for a Starship to destroy a planet - or more precisely, to destroy the planetary population. This seems like kind of a strange thing for the Federation to do as the resident "good guys", let alone for it to be so institutionalised that they have a standing order to formalise the procedure.
But then again... how many countries in the world today maintain an arsenal of massively destructive weapons capable of killing innocent people by the millions? Mine does. So do several whom much of the world regards as "the good guys". The Federation is not and has never been depicted as a pacifist organisation, after all. Is it really so impossible that they could be willing to engage in such "messy business", as Kirk calls it?
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