Stardate: None Given (2268)
Original Air Date: March 1, 1968
Writer: Gene Roddenberry
Director: Vincent McEveety
“Spock, I’ve found that evil usually triumphs unless good is very, very careful.”
As the Enterprise approaches a distant planet known as Omega IV, the long range sensors reveal an unresponsive vessel –a Constitution Class ship– sitting derelict in orbit. It is the USS Exeter, a ship which was patrolling this area as recently as six months prior, and it was helmed by Captain Ron Tracey, one of the most experienced captains in Starfleet. Fearing something terrible has occurred, Kirk, Spock, Bones and a redshirt named Lt. Galloway () beam over to the Exeter’s engineering section where they shockingly discover that the entire crew of the Exeter (over 400 men and women) has been reduced to mere piles of white crystals which look like crumbling salt cubes. The horrified Enterprise crewmen decide to view the last log of Exeter which displays a dying crewman who explains that anybody who has boarded this vessel is infected with a horrible disease, the residue of biological warfare on Omega IV, and they need to immediately beam down to the planet’s surface unless they wish to end up like a pile of crystals.
Thus, Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Lt. Galloway quickly beam down to Omega IV where they learn about an ongoing war between a primitive group reminiscent of Native American Indians known as “Yangs” who are locked in battle with a slightly more “civilized” group of villagers known as “Kohms.” They also encounter the missing Captain Ron Tracey (played by Morgan Woodward who previously appeared as Simon van Gelder in the Season 1 classic “Dagger of the Mind”). He has remained on the planet with the Kohms, whom he deems as superior, because Omega IV offers a natural immunization to the contagion which killed his entire crew. Capt. Tracey believes he has actually discovered the fountain of youth because the Kohms have been living for hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of years completely disease-free. Apparently, there was once a horrific biological war on Omega IV but in its wake nature has since counter-balanced and overcome the catastrophic effects of the war, though there are still lingering effects like the disease which killed the whole crew of the Exeter. At any rate, the Enterprise crewmen believe Capt. Tracey has violated the Prime Directive by distributing phasers to the Kohms. Before Kirk can report the violation to Starfleet, Capt. Tracey turns on the Enterprise –he imprisons Kirk and Spock, while forcing Dr. McCoy to study the natural immunization properties on the planet. Capt. Tracey hopes to be able to use this phenomena and sell it for a vast profit –and after all, he reasons, isn’t saving humanity more important than the Prime Directive?
In time, Kirk and Spock manage to break free from prison (they also learn that the Yangs can speak English, and that they are especially drawn to “sacred words” like “freedom”). Dr. McCoy proves that, contra Capt. Tracey, the disease has actually been cured by their presence on Omega IV, they can leave Omega IV without fearing the prospect of immediate death. Mere hours on the planet has inoculated them of the disease. Nevertheless, for reasons unknown Capt. Tracey grows even more fanatical, and following a battle with the Yangs, the Enterprise crewmen and Capt. Tracey are suddenly captured by the Yangs.
Here, the episode runs a bit off the rails. As it turns out, the Yangs are actually “Yanks,” as in Americans, and Kohms references “communists.” The Yangs suddenly enter the scene brandishing an American flag and, in their broken language, they recite the “sacred” words of the pledge of allegiance and the U.S. Constitution. They are worshippers of the flag and constitution. Despite the fact that Kirk can recite these words from memory –all starry-eyed while gazing upon the American flag– the Yangs under the chiefdom of Cloud William (Roy Jenson) force Kirk and Capt. Tracey into a knife fight to the death while they are cuffed together. During the fight, Spock demonstrates a new ability to telepathically control people (where has this ability been hiding?) in order to reclaim a communicator. Moments later, Kirk ends the fight when he refuses to kill Capt. Tracey. He is praised for showing mercy, and Sulu beams down with two redshirts just in time to witness the Yangs bowing before Kirk as their new God.
Notorious for being among the worst of Star Trek, I thought “The Omega Glory” at least begins with a compelling premise (i.e. finding a derelict ship in space that unleashes a horrid contagion) but about midway through the episode it runs completely off the rails into eye-rolling American jingoism and campy 1960s television tropes. While everyone knows this episode is riddled with plot-holes, the following are a number of lingering questions I have about this one: Why did the Exeter not self-destruct if its crew was aware of the dangerous infection? Why did the Exeter crewman remain and record a video if he knew his only hope was to beam down to Omega IV? Why does Capt. Tracey turn into a raving lunatic even after learning he can freely leave the planet? Also, if the Enterprise crewmen are so concerned with Tracey violating the Prime Directive, why then do they excuse their own violation of the Prime Directive? Is this not a blatant example of hypocrisy? How is Spock able to control people telepathically? And why did he not use this power earlier in the jail cell when Kirk was nearly killed in a fight with Cloud William? Or better yet, why not use this power on any number of Yangs or even on Captain Tracey? And what happens to Captain Tracey at the end? Will he be punished by Starfleet? And how exactly did a copy of the U.S. Constitution and the American flag arrive on this distant planet? Apparently, some of these questions are explored further in the Star Trek extended lit-verse.
For those who critique Star Trek for being little more than a reflection of President Kennedy’s Cold War vision of a triumphant imperial America which conquers land, sea, air, and space, one need not look any further than this episode. Despite its many twists and turns, and a few intriguing ideas, in the end “The Omega Glory” is unfortunately a flawed mess that concludes in a ridiculous scene of flag worship. At least there is still “The Alternative Factor” and a handful of third season episodes that still rank below this outing in my view.
Writer Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991) was the celebrated creator of Star Trek.
Director Vincent McEveety (1929-2018) directed numerous television shows in the ’50s and ’60s including six episodes of Star Trek TOS.
Star Trek Trivia:
- At one point in this episode, Spock acknowledges that he has tried to teach Kirk the Vulcan nerve pinch.
- The original 1965 script draft included a missing starship known as the USS Argentina, a young navigator named Lieutenant Commander Piper, a helmsman called Lieutenant Phil Raintree, a ship’s doctor named Milton Perry, and a western-styled gunfight between Tracey and Spock.
- Dr. McCoy mentions the similarities between the contagion on Omega IV and biological warfare experiments on Earth in the 1990s. Could these be related to the era of Khan Noonien Singh?
- Actor Morgan Woodward (who played Captain Ron Tracey in this episode) previously appeared in the Season 1 classic “Dagger of the Mind” as Simon Van Gelder. He was a prolific television actor, appearing in shows like Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, Dallas, Rawhide, Bonanza, Planet of the Apes, and Logan’s Run. In fact, he held the record for most number of guest appearances on Gunsmoke. He also appeared in feature-length movies like Cool Hand Luke.
- This episode was one of three original treatments considered for the second Star Trek pilot episode alongside “Mudd’s Women” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Robert “Bob” H. Justman apparently wrote a lengthy treatise critiquing this episode but ultimately he wound destroying it and merely spoke about its failings with Gene Roddenberry. This episode was rejected numerous times by the staff behind the scenes.
- Roy Jensen who played Cloud William in this episode was a former Canadian professional football player. He worked as a lumberjack and construction worker before serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII and then landing a career as a television actor.
- At the end of this episode, NBC aired a notification that a third season would come for Star Trek and they asked for the letter-writing campaign to end, a campaign which was orchestrated by Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek super-fan Bjo Trimble.
- This episode marks the first and only time in the original series that a reference is made to phaser “power packs” when Kirk requests that they are beamed down to the planet while being held at gunpoint (or rather phaser-point) by Captain Tracey.