Robert C. Johnson, voice of one of the Providers, was also the tape recording voice which would give Mr Phelps his assignment at the beginning of most episodes of Mission: Impossible.
Back on the Enterprise Scotty reports the unusual disappearance to Spock. Sensor scans show no sign of the missing officers on Gamma II, or anywhere else in the vicinity.
On the mysterious planet, the three officers are attacked by a group of warriors carrying primitive weapons. Their own phasers and communicators will not work, forcing them to engage in hand to hand combat. They are quickly outnumbered and overpowered, leaving them helpless before their attackers. The leader of the group, a bald man known as Galt, congratulates the officers on their fighting prowess and spirit and states that he is the master Thrall here on the planet called Triskelion. The planet is run by the mysterious "Providers", who keep a number of slaves and force them to fight in the arena for sport. The Starfleet officers will be trained to become Thralls and spend the rest of their lives competing for the amusement of the Providers.
The trio are fitted with metal collars and then taken to quarters that are little more than bare prison cells. The quickly attack the guards and attempt to escape, but Galt causes the collars to inflict a choking pain on the three, immobilising them. The devices, which Galt calls Collars of Obedience, make escape or disobedience easily punishable. With no other choice,t he three are placed in their cells and locked in.
Back on the Enterprise a thorough check of the transporter and multiple scans of Gamma II show no signs of the missing officers, Indeed they appear to be nowhere within the solar system and Spock is at something of a loss as to how to proceed, much to McCoy's frustration. However, the science station does show a fluctuating energy reading in a nearby hydrogen cloud - an ionization trail, with no apparent natural cause. Spock orders the ship to head out of the system to follow the trail, over McCoy's objections.
Back in their cells, one of the male Thralls brings Uhura some food and then informs her that he has been "selected" for her - and attempts to force a sexual encounter on her. She is able to fend him off, though he is annoyed at it as she is not allowed to refuse selection. Kirk then receives a visit from a female Thrall who gives him some food and begins to explain how the slavery system works. Collars are marked with colours to represent the particular owner of a Thrall - the Enterprise officers have no colour, as they have not yet been bought. The woman, Shanha, has no concept of freedom and little idea of life beyond combat.
Chekov is also visited by Thrall, a large female who appears to have amorous intent, though she has not yet been selected for him. A signal indicates the start of an exercise period, when the Thralls train exercise in the arena. Galt brings out an older Thrall who was slow in obeying a command and orders the others to use him as a practice target. All three Starfleet officers refuse, earning them another punishment from their collars. Galt orders Uhura tied up and used as a target herself, but Kirk states that claims responsibility for the actions of his subordinates and insists that he be punished instead. He is tied and shoved out onto the arena floor where he is beaten mercilessly with a whip. He manages to work his bonds loose and with a little advice from Shanha is able to attack the Thrall on his weak side and defeat him. This action provokes the Providers to start bidding and betting on Kirk - three disembodied voices offering large amounts of "quatloos". Kirk and the others are eventually purchased and their collars coloured red.
Meanwhile on the Enterprise, McCoy and Scott both now express doubts about Spock's decision to leave the Gamma system. The path he is following leads to M24 Alpha, a system over eleven light years away. Scotty argues that there is no way the three could have been transported that far, and that the only sensible course is to return and search the Gamma system - a plan Scotty rejects as redundant given that they had already scanned the whole system repeatedly. When Spock asks Scotty if they can increase speed beyond Warp 6, both Scotty and McCoy continue to state that they have gone too far already on a wild goose chase. Their firmness causes Spock to state his intention to continue onwards, and half seriously inquire as to whether they therefore wish to carry out a mutiny, which both officers respond to incredulously. Spock mollifies them by agreeing to return to Gamma II if they do not locate their officers in the M24 Alpha system.
On Triskelion, Shanha and Kirk are on a long distance run outside the arena compound. Kirk quizzes her about the Providers, though she does not seem to know much about them. Nor is she aware that the stars are other suns with other planets, or of the concepts of freedom and love. She hesitantly begins to tell him what little she knows about the Providers, but her collar immediately lights up, punishing her. The disembodied voices of the Providers inform Kirk that he must learn obedience. Kirk begs them to punish him instead, but they refuse. As she recovers, Shanha is incredulous that Kirk would risk punishment for her. Kirk takes the opportunity to kiss her, which Shanha enjoys.
Later Shahna brings Kirk more food and confesses that being with him gives her strange feelings. Kirk begins to seduce her... and then knocks her out with a punch. Taking her keys he frees Chekov and Uhura, who have likewise disabled the Thralls assigned to them. However Galt is once again able to immobilise them and prevent their escape.
The Enterprise arrives and locates a group of humanoid lifesigns on the planet. But before the ship can do anything their systems are paralysed by the Providers. Kirk and a Provider explain the situation on the planet, and Kirk takes the opportunity of accusing the Providers of cowardice for not showing themselves. They transport him to a chamber a kilometre below ground, where he sees their true form - three disembodied brains sitting under a dome of transparent material. They explain that although they were once Humanoid like Kirk, they gave up their bodies and evolved beyond them. Their society is largely gone, and now they live only for the area games and the constant wagering on every aspect of the Thralls lives. When the Providers state that they intend to destroy the Enterprise and continue with their games an enraged Kirk challenges them to the ultimate bet - his officers will defeat an equal number of Thralls placed against them. If he wins, not only will his ship and officers go free but all slavery on Triskelion will be abolished, and the Providers will instead work to help the Thralls build a thriving culture. If they lose, Kirk will put his entire crew at the Provider's disposal, giving them a huge new set of slaves. The Providers agree to the bet, but insist that it must not be even numbers but rather Kirk against three Thralls.
The combat procedes, and when a wounded but still living Thrall is replaced Kirk finds himself facing Shanah. Angry with him for his earlier betrayal, she tries to kill him - but Kirk finally gets her down with a knife at her throat, and she surrenders. The Providers concede defeat in their wager, and Kirk and his officers depart. Shanah, reconsidering her feelings after being spared, vows that she will watch the "lights in the sky" and always think of Kirk.
Where the episode does fall down a bit is on Triskelion. The tone here is just kind of mixed and a bit off. Take the three officer's reaction to their drill Thralls, for instance; in the space of a few minutes we bounce between Uhura almost being raped, to Kirk having a flirtatious little encounter with Shanah, to Chekov being more than a little horrified at the prospect of ending up with Tamoon. Jumping from horror to sexy to comedy so rapidly is a little awkward and contrived.
This section also offers up some elements that aren't followed through. Take the Uhura attempted rape for instance. Lars tells Uhura she isn't allowed to refuse his advances, and we're given the prospect of imminent rape with nobody able to do a thing about it... but then Uhura gives him a smack and he just leaves in a huff. It's bad writing to set up a situation like that and then not follow through on it! Not that I'm suggesting that I want to see Uhura raped... rather, I don't think the threat of that should be introduced and then simply dropped and forgotten. The same thing happens at the end - we're told that Kirk's combat is to the death, introducing the prospect that he will have to kill Shanah when she joins the fight. But then he defeats Shanah and she surrenders, and suddenly the "to the death" aspect is simply forgotten. Again, you can't introduce a plot element to generate some tension and then resolve it by simply going "ah, forget it."
And think about it... how much more poignant would it have been if Kirk had actually been forced to win freedom for the Thralls and the Enterprise by actually killing Shanah? Can you possibly imagine a more bittersweet ending for him?
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