Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Seventeen “A Piece of the Action”

Stardate: Unknown (traditionally 2268)
Original Air Date: January 12, 1968
Writer: David P. Harmon, Gene L. Coon
Director: James Komack

“Put the bag on him!”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

About a hundred ago, the starship Horizon visited the planet Sigma Iotia II but it was lost shortly after departure. News of the ship’s disappearance has only just reached the Federation as a result of the distress call being issued from an old-fashioned radio system in this distant corner of the galaxy. When the Horizon first visited this planet, it was prior to the advent of the Prime Directive which directs Starfleet not to interfere with evolving cultures and planets, thus it interfered with the fragile development of Iotian society. At the time, Iotian culture was in the beginnings of industrialization. Spock claims the Iotians are extremely intelligent and “somewhat imitative.” Now, the Enterprise has been sent to Sigma Iotia II where it remains in standard orbit to investigate the situation, albeit a century too late.

Kirk communicates with the “Boss” Bela Okmyx (Anthony Caruso) and soon he, Spock, and Bones beam down to find a planetary society patterned on “old earth gangsters.” The scene closely mirrors Chicago in the 1920’s –the planet is ruled by hoards of violent gun-wielding mobsters. Every citizen carries firearms and we soon witness a drive-by shooting. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are led down to a lair ruled by Boss Okmyx, a den filled with fancy pool tables cheap-talking mobsters. Okmyx is one of twelve or so other Bosses on the planet. Shortly thereafter, Spock notes that the Horizon apparently left behind a book Chicago Mobs of the Twenties which the Iotians have been imitating for the past century.

The Enterprise crewmen become quickly entangled in the inner politics of Iotian rival gangs –Boss Okmyx versus Boss Jojo Krako (Vicc Tayback). Demands are made, characters are kidnapped or imprisoned, and at one point, Kirk memorably distracts his guards with a faux card game (fictitiously played on Beta Antares IV) called “fizzbin.” Its rules are distinctly absurd and deliberately confusing.

In the midst of bouncing back and forth between opposing gangs, Kirk and Spock escape in full 1920s regalia, straight out of The Godfather, they don pin-striped suits and fedora hats with machine guns. They look like Al Capone and John Dillinger, yet the tone is still fun and silly. With help from a young child, Kirk and Spock infiltrate the mobsters’ lair on their own terms and use the Enterprise transporter to bring all bosses together in the same place in order to negotiate a deal joining the Federation –a deal in which the Federation will get a “piece of the action.”

With the dilemma seemingly resolved, back aboard the Enterprise Kirk quells Spock’s fears about Starfleet sending an additional ship out to Sigmma Iotia II each year, and instead Kirk suggests the Federation should simply use its cut for the betterment of the Iotians. Bones then reveals that he mistakenly left his communicator on the planet. Worried that the Iotians may try to copy the technology, Kirk whimsically claims that the Iotians may try to demand “a piece of our action” –and the episode uniquely ends on a freeze frame.

My Thoughts on “A Piece of the Action”

This is a downright hilarious episode, especially when William Shatner assumes his 1920s “tough guy” James Cagney-esque slang dialect. Episodes like this show the extraordinary versatility of Star Trek. At the time of release, the producers wanted to have at least one more comedy episode under their belts after the success of “The Trouble With Tribbles.”

Unlike other episodes we have seen, “A Piece of the Action” does not portray an imperial domineering Federation. Instead, the Federation seeks to rectify its past wrongs while paying special attention to the Prime Directive. Nevertheless, while the Enterprise sets the Iotians on the right track, in the end Dr. McCoy’s misplaced communicator presents a whole new string of problems. Future Treklore apparently explores what might have happened to the Iotians in light of this mistake.


Writer David P. Harmon (1918-2001) also wrote the Season 2 episode “The Deadly Years” as well as an episode of the Animated Series.

James Komack (1924-1997) was called in to be a special director for this episode. Otherwise, he was primarily known as a comedy director.

Star Trek Trivia

  • On his first Star Trek series proposal, Gene Roddenberry included a brief synopsis of this episode entitled “President Capone.” He further developed the story from a draft which was started by George Clayton Johnson. Gene L. Coon discovered the notes and pushed for its production as he felt the show needed more comedic episodes.
  • This was the last script technically credited to Gene L. Coon. The working title was “Mission Into Chaos.”
  • The title for this episode is a reference to several moments in the show when Kirk and Spock in vade Krako’s lair. Kirk winks back at the boy who helped them and references their deal for “a piece of the action.”
  • Sadly, it was around this point in prdouctiton that Pevney, D.C. Fontana, Marc Daniels, Gene L. Coon and other essential crewmen were gearing up to leave the show. This was the last show Coon was personally involved in, though Gene Roddenberry insisted that he complete his contractually obligated scripts.
  • At Trekkie conventions there have actually been rules written up for Fizzbin which can be played as a real card game.
  • There is an episode of Enterprise called “Horizon” which features the book Chicago Mobs in the 1920s.
  • This is the only episode of TOS to end in a freeze frame.
  • Apparently, this was the only episode in TOS to feature Kirk calling Dr. McCoy by his full nickname “sawbones.”
  • In a future Enterprise episode entitled “The Communicator” the narrative of Dr. McCoy’s missing communicator is picked up again.
  • Before DS9 decided to revisit tribbles, they toyed with the idea of visiting Sigma Iotia II to find, instead of gangsters, the Iotians now imitating the Enterprise crewmen in Starfleet uniforms.
  • The old car driven by Kirk and Spock in this episode is a 1931 V-12 Cadillac (Al Capone actually drove a 1928 Cadillac).

Click here to return to my survey of the Star Trek series.

1 thought on “Star Trek: Season 2, Episode Seventeen “A Piece of the Action”

  1. My fondest memory of this Trek episode at the time was Vic Tayback, having been a fan of him for his role as Mel in Alice. It was certainly a gem for how Trek could occasionally do comedy. Thank you for your review and trivia.

    Liked by 2 people

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