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A Private Little War

Review

Series : The Original Series Rating : 5
Disc No : 2.5 Episode : 46
First Aired : 2 Feb 1968 Stardate : 4211.4
Director : Marc Daniels Year : 2267
Writers : Jud Crucis Season : 2
Guest Cast :
Arthur Bearnard as Apella
Booker Bradshaw as Doctor M'Benga
Eddie Paskey as Lieutenant Leslie
Gary Pillar as Yutan
Janos Prohaska as The Mugato
Michael Kovak as Tyree
Nancy Kovak as Nona
Ned Romero as Krell
Paul Baxley as Patrol leader
Stunts :
Bob Lyon as Villager stunt doubleBob Orrison as McCoy's and Village stunt double
Paul Baxley as Kirk's and Apella's stunt doubleRegina Parton as Nona's stunt double
Roy Slickner as Villageer stunt double
Moral :
Arms Race : An arms race is not a good thing, but it is sometimes the best thing available
YATI : When McCoy heats up some rocks in the cave, we get a really nice close up of him firing the phaser. Or rather, we get a really nice close up of him keeping his hand perfectly still as the phaser fires itself.

So, the whole slapping Spock in the face thing. First, it's to get him to consciousness. Yet his eyes are open, he recognises Nurse Chapel, he asks her to do it, listens to her say no, then insists she do it. Doesn't that mean that he is already conscious? I mean, he's awake, aware, responsive... what more is there to being conscious?

And on that subject, M'Benga simply leaves the instruction to "do whatever he says". Yet when he comes in he shows that he knew in advance exactly what Spock would ask for and why. Isn't it rather poor practice not to have warned Christine in advance what would be expected? Surely it's just basic common sense that the nursing staff should be as prepared as possible for the situation, and it would have saved Chapel from considerable stress.

And if this is a Vulcan thing, then why did nobody ever have to slap Sarek awake in Journey to Babel? Why has nobody ever had to slap Tuvok or T'Pol awake during the many times we've seen them in sickbay?

The crew state that flintlocks would be the first type of firearms people would develop. Actually judging from Earth history that would more likely be the matchlock. The flintlock came along centuries later.

Great Moment : McCoy kneeling over Nona's body and looking on in horror as Kirk and the hill people battle the villagers.
Body Count : Nona, 2 Mugato creatures, and two villagers.
Factoid : Ned Romero, who played Krell in this episode, went on to play Anthwara in TNG episode "Journey's End" and Great-grandfather in Voyager episode " The Fight".

In the original story outline the Klingon agent was Kor from the episode "Errand of Mercy". This was changed as it was considered very unlikely that Kirk would just happen across the same enemy twice. The Klingon agent was named Krell in a later script, though the name was never spoken in the episode.

The script called the white creature a "Gumato", but DeForest Kelley kept mispronouncing the word. In the end they decided to go with the way he said it

This episode is a nominee for the DITL "Best of Trek" award.

Quote : "And you have ways as far above fire-sticks as the sky above our world!" - Nona to Kirk.

"We once were as you are, spears, arrows. There came a time when our weapons grew faster than our wisdom, and we almost destroyed ourselves. We learned from this to make a rule during all our travels; never to cause the same to happen to other worlds." - Kirk; explaining the Prime Directive to Nona and Tyree.

"I thought my people would grow tired of killing. But you were right. They see that it is easier than trading... and it has pleasures." - Apella to the Klingon.

Kirk : "Bones, do you remember the 20th century brush wars on the Asian continent? Two giant powers involved, much like the Klingons and ourselves. Neither side could pull out."
McCoy : "Yes. It went on bloody year after bloody year!"
Kirk : "What would you have suggested, that one side arm its friends with an overpowering weapon? Mankind would never have lived to travel space if they had! No. The only solution is what happened back then. Balance of power."
McCoy : "And if the Klingons give their side even more?"
Kirk : "Then we arm our side with exactly that much more. A balance of power, the trickiest, most difficult, dirtiest game of them all. But the only one that preserves both sides."

"Well, Jim, here's another morsel of agony for you. Since Tyree won't fight, he will be one of the first to die." - McCoy to Kirk.

Nona : "You are here because I wished you here."
Kirk : "Oh? I thought it was my idea."
Nona : "Yes. They always believe they come of free will."

"Tomorrow... in the palm of her hands." - Kirk to McCoy; on the phaser Nona stole.

McCoy : "Well, you got what you wanted."
Kirk : "Not what I wanted, Bones. What had to be."

Kirk : "Spock, ask Scotty how long it would take him to reproduce a hundred flintlocks."
Scotty : "I didn't get that exactly, Captain. A hundred what?"
Kirk : "A hundred... serpents. Serpents for the garden of Eden. We're very tired, Mr. Spock. Beam us up home."


Plotline

The Enterprise is visiting an idyllic planet to do some research there, as McCoy describes the biology there as "a medical treasure trove". Kirk, who performed the initial survey of the world 13 years previously, described it as a near perfect planet which should be left undisturbed so that the peaceful but primitive inhabitants could progress in their own way.

Unfortunately it seems that the natives are not so peaceful any more - Kirk sees a group of Villagers setting up to ambush some Hill People using flintlock firearms. Worse, the Hill People are led by Tyree, whom Kirk met and befriended on his previous visit. Unable to use his phaser to intervene directly, Kirk lobs a rock at the Villagers, prompting one to fire accidentally and thus warning the Hill People. The officers quickly retreat as the Vilalgers give chase, but just before they can beam out Spock is shot in the back.

Aboard the Enterprise McCoy works to stabilise Spock, but can give no guarantee as to his prognosis. Kirk decides to head back down to investigate the planet further, and McCoy decides to join him - leaving Spock in the care of Dr. M'Benga, a specialist in Vulcan medicine who interned in a Vulcan hospital ward.

The ship's sensors detect a Klingon ship in orbit of the planet. Realising that it hasn't spotted them yet Kirk orders the ship to stay out of sight if possible, even if it means leaving orbit. He and McCoy beam down in native disguise and start to search the area for signs of Hill People. Unfortunately they are attacked by a fierce local beast called a Mugato, and Kirk is bitten. The Mugato bite is poisonous, and Kirk quickly falls unconscious. McCoy calls for help, but the Enterprise has left to avoid detection.

Tyree and some Hill People arrive at the scene and take Kirk and McCoy to their village. Tyree's wife is Nona, a local "Kahn-ut-tu woman" who is knowledgeable in the effects of various plants and animals on the planet. She goes to the cave where McCoy is looking after Kirk, and sees the Doctor using his phaser to heat some rocks to provide warmth. Intrigued, she demands that Tyree tell her everything about Kirk or she won't be able to cure him of the Mugato bite.

Nona treats Kirk with a "Mahko root", a thing that appears half plant, half animal. She places it on the bite and cuts her own hand open to place it on the root, chanting an incantation. The bite is completely cured within moments, leaving Kirk awake and aware. Tyree glumly states that according to legend, the mingling of the blood through the Mahko root means that their souls have met in the spirit world, and Kirk will be unable to refuse Nona any request from now on. It becomes clear that Nona uses her skills to dominate and manipulate as much as to heal and help.

Once Kirk is up and about, Tyree explains that the Villager's "fire sticks" appeared about a year ago; as far as he knows the Villagers make them themselves. Kirk asks Tyree to help him sneak into the Village at night to investigate. Nona is hopeful that Kirk's arrival will allow the Hill People to start fighting back against the Villagers, though Tyree wants no part in violence and merely hopes that the Villagers will eventually return to their peaceful ways.

Once in the Village, Kirk and McCoy find a chrome steel drill and carbon-free iron, along with cold rolled gun barrels - none of which could have been produced in the primitive forge that the Villagers possess. Soon a Klingon appears with the Village leader, Apella. Kirk overhears the Klingon discussing new weapon advancements that he will soon give to the Villagers, and how one day Apella will become governor of the whole planet - as a subject world of the Klingon Empire. Kirk and McCoy escape, taking a flintlock with them.

Back on the Enterprise Spock has been in a healing trace. He wakes, asking Nurse Chapel to strike him repeatedly in order to help him fully back to consciousness. She reluctantly does, much to the consternation of the passing Scotty. M'Benga explains that this is actually standard practice for Vulcans, and Spock has now recovered from his wound.

On the planet Kirk is demonstrating the operation of the Flintlock rifle to the Hill People, much to McCoy's consternation. Kirk justifies his apparent violation of the Prime Directive by stating that the Klingons have already upset the natural balance here, and the only thing to do is to restore the balance by giving equal weapons to the Hill People so that they can defend themselves. Although horrified, McCoy can offer no viable alternative.

Kirk encounters Nona away from the Hill People's camp, and she seduces him by rubbing leaves from some local plants on his arm, inducing a sort of hypnotic daze. Tyree sees this and raises the flintlock, moments from killing for the firt time. But he instead throws the weapon down in disgust and storms off angrily. Suddenly another Mugato attacks the pair, but the addled Kirk manages to vaporizes it with his phaser. Nona knocks Kirk out and steals the weapon, making off to find some Villagers. She finds a small group and proclaims that she now has the ultimate weapon, far more powerful than their "fire sticks". The Villagers don't believe her, and when Nona is unable to work out how to fire the weapon she is quickly captured. Kirk, McCoy and Tyree arrive on the scene - but the Villagers think that this was a trap, and one of them stabs Nona in the stomach. The Hill People and Villagers charge one another, and an appalled McCoy watches as the Hill People defeat them - with Tyree beating one man to death with a rock, lost in rage.

Afterwards, Tyree orders the few escaped Villagers hunted down and killed, and takes a flintlock over to Kirk to ask for "more of these, Kirk - many more!" The Enterprise arrives back in orbit and signals Kirk. He reluctantly asks Scotty how long it would take to manufacture a hundred flintlocks for the natives. Kirk is beamed up and the ship heads out of orbit, the deadly cargo presumably delivered.

Analysis

One of the better efforts of the original series, this one still stands up today. It's rather obviously an allegory for the Vietnam War, with the Klingons standing in for the Russians, the Federation as the US, and the Villagers and Hill People as the North and South Vietnamese respectively. It's a little heavy-handed in that respect - to the extent that Kirk even directly compares what is happening to the "brush wars on the Asian continent" (see quotes section). But it works despite that - and actually, as Vietnam slowly recedes into history we the viewers even find ourselves moving from the perspective of "wow, this is just like what's happening now" through "hey, that's like what just happened" and into the territory where Vietnam and Korea really are just historical events, just the way Kirk thinks of them.

It's kind of amusing to see the Villagers and Hill People depicted such that all Villagers have black hair, and all Hill People have blonde hair. They're all the same species, so why isn't there a variety of hair colours in both groups? It's really just to show us that the Villagers are different and bad - TV conventions of the time typically depicted dark clothing, hair, etc as indicative of evil, and light colours as indicative of goodness. Kind of hokey to modern eyes, but there you go. And it's interesting given that convention that Nona has dark hair...

Characterwise, this episode works well. Tyree the innocent, a man who is pacifist out of conviction whilst not being weak or cowardly in any way. His wife Nona the skilful manipulator, who wants to even the balance - and then some. You sympathise with Tyree, but at the same time Nona really does have a point. Their people are dying here, and Tyree's plan is simply to soak it up - or rather, let those he leads soak it up - until the Villagers change their minds? That's really not much of a plan. In a way it's a shame that Nona ended up betraying Tyree by offering the phaser to the Villagers, because it's moves her to a place where she is actually being fairly reasonable to one where she is just evil.

Of course that does seem in character for her because she's pretty clearly a self centered sort throughout... it's just that I found it more interesting when an ostensibly dislikable character was actually saying things that, whilst they sound unpleasant, are actually quite true and justified. A bad person saying good things presents the audience with the conflict of whether to sympathise with her point of view or not - it's a bit less interesting when it turns into Nona being a bad person who does bad things for bad reasons.

Speaking of which, she actually tries to rape Captain Kirk! Of course this probably wouldn't have been seen as such back in the day, and it doesn't generally arouse a great deal of comment even now, but what she's doing with her plants here seems to be their world's equivalent of dropping a little Rohypnol in his drink. You have to wonder, if they hadn't been interrupted, just how Kirk would have felt about that after the fact.

Regarding Kirk's solution, what can you say? It seems to me that Kirk is right on the money. McCoy can agonise all he likes at what they are condemning this planet to, and I can sympathise with his feelings. But he is simply never able to offer any alternative. As I see it, the Federation has three alternatives here. One... do nothing. Allow the Hill People to be slaughtered, and the planet to become a Klingon conquest. Hardly a good outcome! Two... Kirk's plan. Which results in a stalemate, potentially with an endless stream of casualties, but at least with both sides surviving. Or three... the Cuba solution. Go all out; blockade the planet, tell the Klingons they are not welcome there and you'll back it up with force if necessary. Which could easily end up in a Federation-Klingon war that kills millions.

There is no right answer, there is no easy answer, there is no answer that will avoid death and destruction. And that's the point... because in real life, there aren't always easy answers.


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 3,033 Last updated : 24 Nov 2014