Thursday, September 30, 2010

War Games Claim The Enterprise In "A Taste Of Armageddon!"

The Good: Interesting concept, Moments of acting
The Bad: Plot-heavy with limited character development.
The Basics: When a great idea combines with mediocre (at best) execution, Star Trek provides "A Taste Of Armageddon!"

In the list of memorable Star Trek" episodes, there are several which never seem to make the list and almost as many where they hype exceeds the reality. One of the ones that falls into the former category would almost certainly have to be "A Taste Of Armageddon," a continuation of Star Trek's parade of episodes railing on subservience to science and technology. Oddly enough for a series where virtually every problem is solve by Spock bouncing ideas off the ship's computer and making his deductions accordingly, in the twenty-two episodes that precede this one, five of them have involved negative aspects of technology (not counting one where war almost breaks out as a result of a technological breakthrough) and two more could easily be added to that list if one includes medical technology. For some reason, Star Trek tends to characterize technology as overbearing, controlling and a subtle menace, as opposed to helpful and beneficial. In "A Taste Of Armageddon," people don't kill, technology does!

The U.S.S. Enterprise is transporting Ambassador Robert Fox to Eminiar VII to negotiate a peace between that planet and Vandikar when it is warned by the head of Eminiar VII to stay away. Fox insists and Kirk and a team beam down to find out what is going on from the head of state, Anan 7. Anan 7 confirms that a long and brutal war has been going on between Eminiar VII and Vandikar, though Spock can find no evidence of planetary destruction. When the Enterprise is targeted and marked as destroyed, Anan 7 announces that the war takes place as a series of war games, with targets "destroyed" by each side. To keep the two planets from being destroyed, the citizens simply kill themselves to represent the casualties. And now that the Enterprise has been "eliminated," Anan 7 expects Kirk to order his crew down to the disintegration chambers to die!

"A Taste Of Armageddon" requires one giant leap to make it plausible and once one has suspended their disbelief for it, it's a fine, if understated, episode. The plot is ridiculously simple: Enterprise is targeted, man wants Kirk to order everyone down to planet to kill themselves, Kirk refuses, he and his team are imprisoned, ingenious jailbreak, resolution. In order to make any of this believable, we have to believe that the entire populations of Eminiar VII and Vandikar would value their properties and planets over their very lives. It seems like a big stretch and, unfortunately, the episode does not present the idea in a way that makes it seem any more credible.

Indeed, the characters the Enterprise crew encounter, like Mea 3, a woman whose life is saved when Kirk intervenes, all seem generally flat and somewhat unbelievable. Barbara Babcock, who plays Mea 3 plays her with a mix of childlike innocence and bored stupidity, making the character seem flat and chattle-like. This does not serve the episode all that well when it is so plot and theme-heavy to have those who are a part of it seem more bored by it than realistic.

When the whole point of your episode is to send a message that life is more precious than property and that peace, while essential, should not be bartered for at the cost of those lives, it helps to have characters involved who are portrayed as worth saving. After all, on some level it undermines the argument that this system of warfare is truly terrible when the people are willing to go along with it and they're boring anyway.

But beyond that, the episode just seems simple. There is no great leap of character development that occurs in this work, Captain Kirk and Spock are their usual heroic self, the adversaries are principled in their own special way and there is an overall kind of "ho-hum" feeling to the episode upon multiple viewings.

This is in large part because of Ambassador Robert Fox. In addition to technology, the producers of Star Trek seemed to have a real thing against politicians. Ambassadors, political figures of import and officers who rank higher than Captain Kirk are all treated as remarkable jerks in the series and "A Taste Of Armageddon" is no exception. Fox is bossy, demanding and buffoonish in a way that undermines his believability as a man who would bring peace anywhere, much less two war torn planets!

Gene Lyons plays Ambassador Fox and he portrays him as monolithically annoying, whereas David Oppatoshu manages to make Anan 7 seem much more multifaceted. Oppatoshu plays Anan 7 with a sense of regret, a reluctant leader forced to make the tough choices and there is a very real sensibility in his performance, even if his character is somewhat simple.

But it's a tough sell to anyone who doesn't like straight out science fiction. It's a good concept, but it's not enough to fill up a fifty-one minute episode and the result is an incarceration detour that kills some time and feels like it is. The regulars, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy most notably, give solid, standard performances that do not overly stand out in the larger collection of their works.

In other words, this is a good episode, but it's not the best and there are more worthy episodes for your time and attention.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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