Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Star Trek--"Bread and Circuses"

Bread and circuses refers to the Roman practice of offering free grain and entertainment to the unemployed masses in order to pacify them. Considering the convergence of our country’s economic downturn with the popularity of gaudy reality television, one has to fearfully note how similar we are to Rome in its declining years. For that matter, just how different are Al Qeada terrorist flying airliners into skyscrapers from the Visigoths marching on the hills of Rome?

At the risk of being a hypocrite, I liked ’Bread and Circuses” in spite of my previous complaints about the Enterprise encountering planets implausibly similar to Earth. My fondness for the episode is doubly worse considering how much I brutalized ’Patterns of Force” and ’The Omega Glory.” I will argue that there is no hypocrisy here. Unique to this episode is historical speculation: what if rome Never fel? For my money, historical speculation adds something to the stew that was lacking in the other two episodes I savaged.

Much of the episode is run of the mill stuff we have seen before. The Enterprise discovers the crew from a destroyed Federation ship has taken part in a primitive society. The captain of the crew is corrupt, perhaps slightly mad. Our heroes are captured and forced into combat in order to amuse their captors. They eventually escape and the crazed, rogue captain is killed in the process.

But there are some added elements that make this one rise up most other episodes with similar themes. The captain of the destroyed Federation ship, Merrick, has kept his true identity a secret to all but the highest leaders of the society in order to not violate the Prime Directive. His actions in sending the other crewmen to their deaths in the gladiator arena had a twisted logic to it, but was effectively to enforce the Prime Directive as well. The friendship between Spock and McCoy is deepened beyond their usual old married couple bickering when Spock saves McCoy, but has a difficult time accepting thanks because he fears showing his emotions. “Bread and Circuses’ also presents the most clear evidence Kirk has had sex with a woman. As he very clearly went to bed with Drucilla. Considering the next most obvious evidence of sex was Uhura’s off camera rape in “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” this was a much kinder, gentler touch.

The final bit that seemed awkwardly thrown in the mix was the escaped slaves who worshiped the “son.” our heroes believes the salves are sun worshippers until Uhura discovers they actually worship Jesus, the Son of God. Kirk marvels the society has had both Caesar and Jesus, but nothing else comes out of it. Was that just padding for time? The story might have been improved were it a bigger factor.

Rating: *** (out of 5) .

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