Stardate: 3211.7 (2268)
Original Air Date: January 5, 1968
Writer: Margaret Armen
Director: Gene Nelson
“I wager 15 quatloos that he is untrainable…”
The Enterprise is entering standard orbit around Gamma II, an uninhabited planetoid with an automatic communications and astrogation station (what is an astrogation station?) Spock is left in charge of the Enterprise to “mind the store” while Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov beam down for a routine check of Gamma II’s facilities. However, before they can do so, Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov suddenly disappear from the transporter room in what is presumed to be a technical malfunction. The trio spontaneously reappears on a landing pad on a strange planet (Kirk makes note of the trinary suns on this planet). Neither the communicators nor phasers now function properly, and the area is increasingly surrounded by four hostile humanoid races from all across the galaxy who slowly close in on the crewmen.
After some campy hand-to-hand combat, we meet a tall Nosferatu-esque character named Galt (Joseph Ruskin). He announces himself as the Master Thrall of this planet which is known as Triskelion. He moves slowly like a vampire with a booming, echoing voice. The crewmen are then imprisoned in preparation for their training in order to become “Thralls” or slaves who will be forced to fight in a giant combat arena as entertainment for a cohort of “Providers” who gamble on the odds of survival (they use a currency called “quatloos”). In fact, the Providers have deliberately brought Kirk and crew to Triskelion where they will spend their lives in obedience to the Providers’ whims. Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov try to escape but they are immediately strangled by newly placed “collars of obedience” which have been strapped around their necks.
Meanwhile, aboard the Enterprise Spock, Scotty, and Bones are befuddled at what might have happened to their crewmen. Scotty and Bones squabble with Spock over how to proceed, and they pursue any leads available. A fluctuating energy reading from a hydrogen cloud comes through a reading as announced Ensign Jana Haines (Victoria George) and the Enterprise heads toward it at Warp Factor 2. The nearest system is M24 Alpha, a trinary system, and so the Enterprise follows the ionization path, which is a focused beam of extremely high intensity light.
Back on Triskelion, each Enterprise crewmen is assigned a “Drill Thrall” to guide them through their daily activities. A large lurch-esque figure named Lars (Steve Sandor) enters Uhura’s jail cell and, as her Drill Thrall, he presumably attempts to rape her offscreen (this is a truly a shocking moment in the episode). Then regular “intervals” are announced for the crew, such as the “Nourishment Interval” (for eating) or the “Exercise Interval” (for training) –Kirk’s Drill Thrall is Shahna (Angelique Pettyjohn), naturally she is attractive, scantily clad, and Kirk flirts with her. Lastly, Chekov is partnered with an amusing Drill Thrall named Tamooon (Jane Ross) who was apparently made to look like a man in drag for laughs in the show.
After explaining to Shahna the nature of human love on earth, Kirk surprisingly punches her in the face and steals her key. Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov escape their jail cells just as the Enterprise helmed by Spock arrives, but the all-powerful Providers quickly take control of the situation. In response, Kirk calls them cowards and demands that they reveal themselves. Kirk is then beamed 1,000 meters below the planet’s surface to a craggy cave where he finds three colorful pulsating brains behind an impenetrable glass bubble shield. These are the Providers –they once had corporeal bodies but have since evolved over eons to become pure beings of intellect and they believe themselves to be superior to others (in a way, I was reminded of the telepathic mutants at the end of 1970s Beneath the Planet of the Apes). Kirk plays into the Providers’ desire for gambling by posing a challenge –Kirk will battle three warriors of the Providers’ choosing. It is a tremendously risky gamble, even for Kirk. If he defeats all three, the Enterprise goes free and Triskelion must be ruled more fairly, if loses, however, the entire Enterprise crew will become enslaved Thralls. During the heat of battle in the arena, Kirk easily defeats the first two and battles an Andorian until he is wounded and replaced with Shahna. When Kirk overpowers Shahna with a knife to her throat, she surrenders –Kirk is proven triumphant and the Providers keep their word.
The Enterprise then, curiously, departs from Triskelion without rescuing any of the Thralls, and Kirk leaves behind Shahna even though she wants to board the Enterprise with Kirk. For some reason, Kirk believes the Providers will keep their word and allow the Thralls a modicum of self-governance. While the Enterprise departs for Gamma II, Shahna stares up at the sky and tearfully remarks:
“Goodbye, Jim Kirk. I will learn, and watch the lights in the sky, and remember.”
My Thoughts on “The Gamesters of Triskelion”
An endearing cliché-riddled episode, I actually quite enjoyed “The Gamesters of Triskelion” (though I recognize it often ranks among the lesser episodes of TOS by some fans). I was especially struck by the twist ending in which we meet the three disembodied brains which have been gambling on these cage-match fights. Despite being evolutionarily advanced beings, they are still remarkably savage and brutal.
In reviewing further information about this episode, I stumbled onto the fact that Paul A. Cantor (one of my favorite Shakespeare scholars) wrote about the comparisons between this episode and Hegel’s “End of history.” The Providers represent a futuristic time wherein people prevent boredom by gambling and gaming, rather than conquering and plundering. Sadly, Paul Cantor passed away just recently but I will need to mull over his analysis some more. He also wrote several other pieces about Star Trek which he interpreted as an optimistic metaphor for President Kennedy and the Cold War.
At any rate, once again in this episode we encounter all-powerful god-like beings, and once again we view them with distrust, suspicion, and contempt. Gods in Star Trek are not to be trusted. Their tyrannical power has made them in domineering and decadent, forgetting they are part of a broader galaxy, rather than masters of it. This is best demonstrated in the Providers’ desire for gladiatorial entertainment, valuing little in their fellow creature’s lives, and perhaps most starkly in their allowance for Lars to presumably attempt to rape Uhura. The ending to this episode was also somewhat unsatisfying as the Enterprise essentially abandons the imprisoned Thralls on Triskelion and leaves them in the questionably moral hands of the Providers. Can we trust the Provders to hold up their end of the bargain? Will Starfleet attempt to make contact with Triskelion again in the future? And why did the Providers choose this particular moment to kidnap Kirk? Who’s to say they may not try it again? Is it moral to allow beings with such immense power to continue autocratically governing certain activities in the galaxy?
This was the only episode of TOS directed by Gene Nelson (1920-1996).
Writer Margaret Armen (1921-2003) was a scriptwriter who was involved in numerous shows throughout the 1960s and 1970s. She wrote for three episodes of TOS –“The Gamesters of Triskelion,” “The Paradise Syndrome,” and “The Cloud Minders” (she wrote the final teleplay). Later, she wrote two episodes of the Animated Series as well as an episode for the cancelled follow-up Star Trek series, Star Trek Phase II. She died of heart failure in 2003.
Star Trek Trivia:
- Margaret Armen’s original script featured a “slithering vine” called a “Delka Vine” which grabs Shahna and tosses her into a pond, leaving Kirk to rescue her. Robert Justman found this idea well beyond the series budget, and the scene was removed.
- The three colorful-brained Providers were played by: Bartell LaRue, a television voice actor who appeared in shows like Mission: Impossible and The Brady Bunch. He also voiced The Guardian in “The City on the Edge of Forever”; Walter Edmiston, a radio and television voice actor; and Robert Johnson who famously voiced the recorded mission briefings on Mission: Impossible. He also voiced various alien creatures on The Outer Limits, as well as in “The Cage” for the voice of Clegg Hoyt’s role as Pitcairn, a transporter chief on the Enterprise. He later voiced a variety of other characters throughout Star Trek.
- Actor Joseph Ruskin who plays Galt in this episode, appeared in a wide array of television shows such as The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, Hogan’s Heroes, and he appeared in films like The Magnificent Seven (1960). He later returned to Star Trek appearing three DS9 episodes, episodes of Voyager and Discovery, as well as the TNG film Insurrection.
- Actress Angelique Pettyjohn, who played Shahna in this episode, appeared in a variety of television shows, as well. During the 1970s and 1980s, she became a hardcore adult film actress and a burlesque dancer as well as a Playboy centerfold. As you might imagine, she was a popular figure at Star Trek conventions. Ten years after this episode’s release, she was photographed for a poster both in and outside of her Shahna costume (she sold these nude posters at Trekkie conventions to what we can only imagine was a hoard of adoring fans). She died at the age of 48 due to cervical cancer.
- This episode was produced by John Meredyth Lucas at Gene L. Coon’s request.
- The working title of this episode was “The Gamesters of Pentathlan.”
- The original script called for Sulu, rather than Chekov, to beam down to the planet with Kirk and Uhura. However, at the timeGeorge Takei was away filming The Green Berets and he has since expressed regret at missing this episode.
- Stuntman Dick Crockett appears as the Andorian in this episode.
- The set from M-113 in “The Man Trap” was reused for portions of this episode.
- The glass bubble encasing the providers was reused from Lazarus’s ship in “The Alternative Factor.”
- The underground dwelling of the Providers was a set reused from Janus VI in “Devil in the Dark.”
- At one point, Chekov calls the Providers “Cossacks” – a pejorative term he previously used against the Klingons in the previous episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.”
- The word “Triskelion” comes from the Greek word meaning “three-legged.” Our modern word refers to a triple spiral design, a version of which can be seen on the landing pad/arena of the planet in this episode.
One of the most beautifully memorable closing quotes ever in Star Trek:
“Goodbye, Jim Kirk. I will learn. And watch the lights in the sky. And remember.”
– Angelique Pettyjohn as Shahna
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I remember Angelique from a Get Smart episode where she played an agent who had to have a man dubbing for the voice. I was a little disappointed by that because she had such a beautiful voice. As a guest actress in Star Trek playing such a humbled female character, and certainly when the loving charms of Captain Kirk came into the mix, Shahna was a favorite Trek memory from my childhood. Angelique’s performance remains one of the most beautiful in the classic Star Trek and a reminder of how important it is to rescue someone as special as Shahna from the slavery of an evil world like Triskelion. R.I.P., Angelique.
Thank you for your review and trivia.
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