Thursday, July 9, 2009

Star Trek--"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"

I wish I could take “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” with all the seriousness for which it was intended, but I just cannot. I appreciated the episode more in my younger, more idealistic days when an over the top social message could still pull my heartstrings. These days, I have both a heart of stone ad a good crap detector from an adult life of hard knocks and seven years of post high school education

If you will just take my word for the former, I will talk about the latter for the non-Southerners amongst us. I did not go to South Carolina public schools, so I was not not aware of the post Civil Rights era curriculum students experienced until I attended the University of South Carolina. There is a strong effort to lay out South Carolina’s racial history in the rarest form for every student. During my college experience, I was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for three different classes, and see a staged version for one, assigned The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas twice, MLK‘s Letter from a Birmingham Jail twice, Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy once, and received credit for attending a lecture from an ex-Freedom Rider in a sociology class completely unrelated to the Civil Rights movement. Bar in mind I was not an English major and neither was mosy anyone else in these classes and these were on top of my political science and history major/minor assignments which had many cultural awareness requirements.

I was not aware this was an unusual experience until I met fellow law students who grew up outside the South. Very few knew much of anything about black history from slavery to segregation and beyond. Say what you will about the South, we learn the ugly truths about the past of which northern and western public schools and colleges apparently cheat their students. Without an intellectual view of the reality of racism, it is no wonder so many fall for such trite explorations of the subject like “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield.”

Like I said, I do not want to smack the episode around. It was written in earnest and if it changes some minds, then it is worthwhile. But for me, it is so over the top and simplified, I am practically insulted by it intellectually.

Perhaps if the plot elements had been less obvious. The colors used were black and white, Lokai spoke of his people being freed as slaves long ago, but still not created as equals. Bele is the Orwellian titled Commissioner on Traitors whoe job is exclusively to hunt down Lokai’s people. Lokai calls Bele part of the master race once, evidently to throw anti-Semitism into the mix for good measure.

Bele is obviously not supposed to be a sympathetic character. The bridge officers are willing to destroy the ship at one point--the most tense moment of the episode--in order to stop him. But Lokai is no more sympathetic. In one scene that adds virtually nothing to the story, he pleads his cae of revolution to off duty crew. He is as much the representative of black supremacy as as bele is of white. Scotty mentions he does not like either one of them. I concur.

In the end, it is revealed everyone on their home planet has killed each other, obviously out of racial hatred. What was the point of that? Assuming Bele and Lokai are representatives of their respective people, we have no reason to care if either one survives. Have at it, you two. We are all better off without you. I certainly hope no viewer saw themselves in either one of them. It would be depressing to know there are bigots out there far gone enough to wipe out each other. It is so exaggerated to be laughable.

Surely Gene L. Coon knew that. Look at the absurd elements put into the script. Chekov claims he only knows about prejudice book of his history classes back in school. Really? As recently as “Day of the Dove,” Scotty insulted Spock’s Vulcan ethnicity. Yes, he was under alien influence, but there had to be some embers to be flamed in his mind somewhere. Bele had been chasing Lokai for 50,000 years. Why such a long time? So it is harder to wrap our minds around hatred lasting that long/ if so, it did not work. I thought it was ridiculous.

Any emotion I might have salvaged from their conflict was ruined by the goofy sequence of Bele and Lokai running through the halls while imagining what happened to their people. It was way too much to overlay images of burnt out cities of World War II with the two of them running. I will admit it was partly difficult to take seriously because the actors were holding on to cords attached to the cameras they were following, but had to run awkwardly to keep the cords out of sight. They looked like that sugar addled kid Mike Myers used to play on Saturday Night Live.

I know many consider this episode a classic, but I have seen the ugly side of racism, and “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield” just insults the heck out of people who are seriously dealing with the issue on a daily basis.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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