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Bread and Circuses

Review

Series : The Original Series Rating : 2
Disc No : 2.7 Episode : 44
First Aired : 15 Mar 1968 Stardate : 4040.7
Director : Ralph Senensky Year : 2267
Writers : Gene L. Coon, Gene Roddenberry Season : 2
Guest Cast :
Bart La Rue as Announcer
Bob Orrison as Guard Policeman
Eddie Paskey as Lieutenant Leslie
Ian Wolfe as Septimus
Jack Perkins as Master of the Games
Logan Ramsey as Claudius Marcus
Lois Jewell as Drusilla
Max Kelvin as Achilles
Paul Baxley as Policeman
Rhodes Reason as Flavius
William Bramley as Policeman
William Smithers as Captain R. M. Merrick
Stunts :
Allen Pinson as Spock's stunt doubleGil Perkins as Stunt slave
Paul Baxley as McCoy's stunt doubleTom Steele as Stunt slave
Moral :
Restraint : Favours for loyalty is a high price to pay
YATI : When Kirk breaks Spock and McCoy out of prison, he fires a burst at the lock from his machine gun. Amazingly, this does absolutely no damage to the door. It's almost like Kirk was firing blanks or something! Strangely, the door opens anyway.

Okay, time to take Kirk to task. As part of their efforts to convince him to side with them, the Neo-Romans send Drusilla, a rather attractive female slave, to make his night a little more comfortable, shall we say. Kirk resists a little, but apparently relents - we drift off to the lamp, cut to the next morning, and see Kirk putting on his boots. Maybe they just snuggled, but I really doubt it. Anyway, the point is... Drusilla is a slave. Yes, she tells him that she is happy to do this, but at the end of the day she is not a free person. At the very least she has been raised to believe that a slave should do as her Master tells her, regardless of her own feelings. Quite possibly a refusal or even an unconvincing performance would result in dire, even terminal, consequences for her. There is no way in hell that she can be taken as giving valid consent, or even taken as being capable of giving valid consent. And Kirk just does her anyway? What the hell, dude? That's NOT cool.

Great Moment : The argument between McCoy and Spock in the jail cell is one of the best they have ever had.
Body Count : One on the viewscreen in the teaser, three in Kirk's escape from the arena, one killed by the Proconsul.
Factoid : The Enterprise is stated of being able to lay waste to the entire surface of a planet.

The title Bread and Circuses is from a line by the Roman satirist Juvenal, and describes the Roman practice of keeping the lower classes distracted from their day to day problems by providing them free bread and gory entertainment in the arenas and circuses.

The caves where the Children of the Son hide out are actually the entrance to Adam West's Batcave! Located just below the Hollywood sign, the caves have been used in many television shows and movies.

Director Ralph Senensky thought that the very tight shooting schedule made the episode of poorer quality than it should have been, especially the arena scenes. "The satiric look at live television was there, but the spectacle of the Roman arena was far less than it should have been," he stated.

The Roman planet is revisited in the novel "The Captains' Honor", set 100 years after this episode. The novel details how the alternate Rome conquered their world and explains that they are now Federation members.

Quote : "Once, just once, I would like to land somewhere and say 'Behold, I am the Archangel Gabriel.'" - McCoy to Spock

"My world, Proconsul, is my vessel, my oath, my crew." - Kirk to Claudius

"I'm trying to thank you, you pointed-eared hobgoblin!" - McCoy to Spock

"Do you know why you're not afraid to die, Spock? You're more afraid of living. Each day you stay alive is just one more day you might slip and let your human half peek out." - McCoy to Spock

"You're a Roman, Kirk, or you should have been!" - Claudius; expressing his man-crush on Kirk

"You may not understand because you're centuries beyond anything as crude as television." - Claudius to Kirk

"I'm afraid you have it all wrong, all of you. I've been monitoring some of their old-style radio waves, the empire spokesman trying to ridicule their religion, but he couldn't. Well, don't you understand? It's not the sun up in the sky... it's the son of God." - Uhura to Kirk

Plotline

The Enterprise discovers the wreckage of the SS Beagle, a survey vessel missing for six years. The sensors indicate that the wreckage originate at a nearby planet, the fourth in Star System 892. The ship proceeds to the planet to search for survivors, with Kirk hoping to locate the Captain, R.M. Merik, who was a friend of his.

On arrival they intercept television broadcasts from the planet indicating that the civilisation there is a close parallel to the Roman Empire on Earth, only in this case the Empire never fell but continued to progress technologically until it reached a level comparable to mid 20th century Earth. But the Empire retains the brutality associated with ancient Rome, including televised Gladiatorial combat. The crew witness such a combat and notice that the defeated 'barbarian' is William B. Harrison, the flight officer of the SS Beagle.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to investigate the situation, arriving a short distance outside the city the broadcast was coming from. Unfortunately they are quickly captured by a renegade group calling themselves the Children of the Sun; a religious cult who apparently engage in sun worship. Former champion Gladiator Flavius Maximus is amongst their number, a man who renounced his violent ways when he joined the group. Kirk convinced the group's leader, Septimus, that the landing party is from a ship offshore. He explains why they are there and Spetimus suggests that Merik could be Merikus, the First Citizen. Septimus asks Flavius to lead Kirk and his officers into the city in disguise. Unfortunately they are soon spotted by the police and captured.

Taken to the city, Kirk manages to convince his captors to allow him to meet Merikus. It is indeed his old friend R.M. Merik, captain of the Beagle. Merik takes Kirk to Proconsul Claudius Marcus, who to Kirk's surprise knows all about the offworld origins of Merik and Kirk. Merik explains that when the Beagle was lost his men were stranded on the planet and left with the choice of assimilating or being killed. Those who refused to assimilate were forced to fight in the Gladiator games until they were killed. Claudius demands that Kirk contact the Enterprise and order the crew to beam down to their own fate, but Kirk gives the coded command Condition Green - signalling that the landing party is in trouble but forbidding any rescue attempt. With this, and the planet's status as a pre-warp society, there is virtually nothing that the Enterprise can do to help. Claudius is surprised by Kirk's resistance, and orders Spock and McCoy sent to the games to be killed.

Kirk is made to watch as Spock and McCoy fight Flavius and another Gladiator. Spock is easily able to defeat his opponent thanks to his superior Vulcan physique, but McCoy only survives because Flavius holds back. Kirk feigns amusement at the spectacle, pretending not to care if his officers are killed, much to Claudius's surprise. Merik chimes in that as a Starship commander, Kirk is the very best Humanity has to offer - far more capable than himself, as he tried and failed to achieve such a post. In the end Spock overpowers both opponents, which is against the rules of the combat. Claudius spares them, thinking to use them as further leverage against Kirk.

McCoy and Spock are put in a cell, where Spock rebuffs McCoy's attempts to thank him for saving his life. McCoy angrily accuses Spock of being so desperate to hide his emotions that he's terrified of actually living his life fully. When Spock refuses to engage with the conversation McCoy wearily admits that they are both just worrying about Kirk.

Kirk, meanwhile, is being kept in far more luxurious surroundings. Claudius assures him that in the end he will have no choice but to compromise - and a beautiful slave girl, Drusilla is sent to seduce Kirk as part of the "carrot" part of the carrot and stick approach.

The Enterprise picks up a broadcast announcing Kirk's execution in the arena. Scott, frustrated at his inability to intervene directly, decides to scan the power sources on the planet and simultaneously disrupt them all for a few moments. He hopes that this demonstration of the power of the ship might give those below some second thoughts, whilst not counting as a direct intervention.

Kirk is taken to the arena for his execution. He manages to escape thanks to the power blackout, though Flavius is killed in the process. He frees Spock and McCoy from their cell, but the police arrive and engage them in combat with swords. Merik uses a communicator he has stolen to contact the ship and tell them where the officers are, and is stabbed and killed by Claudius. As the guards open fire on Kirk, Spock and McCoy the three officers are beamed away just in the nick of time.

Back on board, Spock muses on the parallels between Earth and Planet 892-IV, although he notes that ancient Rome did not have Sun worship. Uhura, who has been monitoring the planet's broadcasts, chimes in to say that they have all misunderstood the situation. The rebels do not worship the Sun, but the Son - the Son of God. Kirk marvels that 892-IV had Ceasar and Christ both, and wonders what it would be like to watch the inevitable spread of Christianity on the planet. With that, the ship departs.

Analysis

The idea of a planet "just like Earth" was done a few times in Trek, mostly as a way to save money by re-using props, costumes and sets created for other shows rather than having to make futuristic or alien ones. It's a silly idea, but it's just one of those things you have to buy into if you're going to accept the show at all. As such, the issue isn't so much that this is done, but how well it is done. And I have to say, this one does the concept just right. 892-IV isn't so much just like Earth, as a variation on a theme - and a pretty major variation at that. As such it's more believable, if only a little bit, and certainly more interesting.

Unfortunately the story itself is a little weak. There really isn't a situation for Kirk to "solve" here, no real problem for him to get his teeth into. He's here to find out what happens to Merik - and in the end there's Merik, and he gets killed. It resolves the situation, but there's no satisfaction of our heroes working out the puzzle, finding how to twist the situation to force a change, and leaving with the situation resolved. Compare this with "A Taste of Armageddon", or "The Gamesters of Triskelion", or even "The Apple". In all of them Kirk is presented with a civilisation that is in some way problematic or "broken", and the resolution is one which reshapes that society, or at least sets it on the right path to fix whatever was wrong. In this case, Kirk leaves 892-IV pretty much exactly as he found it, and the only real fixing is something that was happening already without anybody noticing anything.

Actually I wonder if it might not have been better to have the Christ-figure as an actual character, whom Kirk helps out along the way, thus allowing him to spread the word. Although I suppose it might be a bit over the top for even Star Trek, to have Jesus Christ having to rely on Kirk for help!

But how about reversing it? How about making the Christ equivalent a character, somebody who agrees to help Kirk with things along the way. When they are all captured, set up a situation in which they are all certain to be executed, but the Christ analogue finds a way to free Kirk and the others, whilst giving himself up into captivity and ensuring his subsequent execution. Thus, you actually have Jesus sacrificing himself for the heroes - and end on the prospect that soon he will sacrifice himself for everybody on the planet. A little over the top and heavy-handed perhaps... and I don't know that 1960s television would really allow such a thing to make it to the screen. But the underlying point is that it would be a more satisfying story if the heroes had done something that would have helped to "solve the problem" of the society they encounter. As it is, they just arrive, take part for a bit, and then leave.


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 3,033 Last updated : 23 Nov 2014