Stardate: 5730.2 (2268)
Original Air Date: January 10, 1969
Writer: Gene L. Coon (pen name of “Lee Cronin”) and Oliver Crawford
Director: Jud Taylor
“There was persecution on Earth once.
I remember reading about it in my history class.”
“Yes, but it happened way back in the twentieth century.
There’s no such primitive thinking today.”
The planet Ariannus is a vital transfer point on regular space commercial lanes, however it has recently been attacked by a bacterial invasion which threatens to render it lifeless unless checked. The Enterprise is presently en route to Ariannus (about three hours and four minutes away) while Lt. Uhura advises the planet’s Ministry of Health that the Enterprise will begin immediate decontamination of the planet’s atmosphere upon arrival in orbit –but suddenly, a Starfleet shuttlecraft appears onscreen (it looks to be a recently stolen Starfleet shuttlecraft). Spock notes there is one humanoid aboard, possibly injured or ill as a result of internal atmospheric leakage (he may be suffocating). The Enterprise brings the shuttlecraft into the hangar deck where they meet a strange creature whose skin pigmentation is half black, half white.
Kirk notes this creature represents a “dramatic” duality. Also, after nearly dying, this alien’s body is recovering at a remarkable rate. Spock mentions that everything from the early genetic work of Gregor Mendel to recent nucleotide studies cannot explain this creature –suggesting he is likely a rare breed of mutant. The alien then awakens and explains his name is Lokai (Lou Antonio) from the planet Cheron in an uncharted area of the southernmost part of the galaxy, but when asked about stealing the shuttlecraft, he grows hostile and refuses to speak. Meanwhile, Uhura notifies Starbase IV that the stolen shuttlecraft has been recovered and will be returned when the Enterprise finishes its mission on Ariannus.
Suddenly, an unknown invisible alien vessel approaches the Enterprise, and according to scanners it is headed for a collision course, however at the moment of impact, it disintegrates and deposits an alien presence aboard the Enterprise –Commissioner Bele (pronounced “Beal” and played by Frank Gorshin). Bele claims to be Chief Officer of the Commission on Political Traitors on his home planet. He has been tracking Lokai for approximately 50,000 Earth years. Lokai was tried and convicted of treason among their people. Kirk and Spock escort Bele to Sickbay where Lokai is being held. Bele and Lokai dispute and nearly fight one another, and Lokai requests political asylum aboard the Enterprise because he believes his rebellious cause is just, while Bele demands that Kirk take the ship to Cheron so that Lokai may be punished, but Kirk refuses. They will both be taken to Starbase IV where they will face Federation authorities.
Predictably, Lokai is unhappy about this and promptly takes control of the Enterprise. The ship begins moving at Warp 7 toward the Cheron system. Kirk announces a red alert and attempts to imprison both Bele and Lokai, but they maintain an electric forcefield around them preventing their capture. In a battle of wills against Bele, Kirk orders the Master Computer to engage the “destruct sequence, number one” (11A), Spock then initiates “destruct sequence, number two” (11A2B), followed by Scotty’s “destruct sequence, number three” (Code, 1B2B3). Next, the computer awaits the final code to begin thirty second countdown (code: 000 destruct-0). At the last moment, Bele relents and Kirk issues “code one, two, three continuity” –the command to abort self-destruction. Bele reluctantly relinquishes control of the Enterprise, handing it back to Kirk.
Later, Spock overhears Lokai speaking to Sulu and Chekov about the fact that he is presently a persecuted minority on Cheron, an “inferior breed” for being colored white on the right side of his face, whereas Bele is colored black on the right side of his face. It is seemingly a case of pure prejudice –one race despising another. The Enterprise conducts its mission in orbit around Ariannus to decontaminate the planet, but then while en route to Starbase IV, Commissioner Bele once again commandeers the Enterprise –this time disabling the direct control function as well as the self-destruct sequences. He speeds the Enterprise back toward Cheron. However, tragically upon arrival, the Enterprise registers no sapient life forms on the planet where, instead, there are now vast numbers of unburied corpses strewn across the planet. The people of Cheron have annihilated each other entirely resulting from their blind prejudice. Still, despite being the last of their race, Commissioner Bele and Lokai then chase each other while jogging through the hallways of the Enterprise, before each beaming down to the surface of Cheron where they will presumably continue their vicious fighting. All they have left is hate for one another.
The episode ends on a somewhat ambiguous note, perhaps to further highlight the futility of hate-fueled prejudice.
My Thoughts on “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
A continuing challenge for the crew of the Enterprise, aliens with godlike powers have once again managed to wrest control of the Enterprise. How are we to understand these godlike powers? What are the limits of Commissioner Bele’s abilities? Does Lokai have similar powers? If so, why doesn’t Lokai also attempt to control the Enterprise? While a bit heavy-handed, with some distracting cinematography, I nevertheless found “Let That Be Your Last Battle Field” to be a late third season gem in the Star Trek series. Racial prejudice, blind hatred, and questions surrounding the presumption of innocence are all explored in this episode on principle, and while it may seem a bit preachy for certain Star Trek critics today, it’s worth noting that Martin Luther King, Jr., an acquaintance of Nichelle Nichols, was assassinated less than a year before this episode aired.
Throughout this episode, we are unsure of who to trust –Commissioner Bele, or Lokai? Who is the true criminal? Are either of them telling the truth? Perhaps it is not for us to decide, and is better left in the hands of the justice system. Despite some ridiculous tight pants and a downright laughable scene featuring Bele and Lokai jogging through the hallways of the Enterprise, this is still a great Star Trek episode in my book –not least of which for the remarkably tense scene in which Kirk and crew initiate the self-destruct sequence for the Enterprise.
The episode was written by former show producer Gene L. Coon (under his third season pen name “Lee Cronin”) and it was revised by Oliver Crawford who actually knew a thing or two about discrimination after being blacklisted during the McCarthy era. The original working title of this episode was “Down From Heaven” and then “Down From Heaven, Up From Above.” The original concept for this episode came from a first season script by Barry Trivers entitled “A Portrait in Black and White.”
Director Jud Taylor (1932-2008) directed a total of five Season 3 episodes, more than any other Season 3 director. He also directed “The Paradise Syndrome” and “Wink of An Eye.” It was actually an offhand comment by Jud Taylor about a week or so before this episode was set to shoot that decided the make-up style for Lokai and Bele in “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”
Star Trek Trivia:
- This episode marks the first appearance of the self-destruct sequence in Star Trek.
- The self-destruction sequence codes 11A, 11A2B, 1B2B3 and the final code 000 destruct-0 from the episode were used again verbatim in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock to destroy the Enterprise in that film.
- Producer Fred Freiberger later stated this is one of the episodes he was most proud of producing.
- According to production order, this was the final episode with co-producer Robert Justman before he resigned, frustrated with the declining quality of the show and NBS’s unfair treatment of it. He was also disappointed at not being hired as sole producer after Gene Roddenberry hired Fred Freiberger.
- In addition to Robert Justman’s final episode, this was also the last affiliation Gene L. Coon had with TOS. Once again, he used his third season pen name of “Lee Cronin” due to contractual obligations elsewhere which prevented him from using his full name in the credits.
- The odd scenes at the end of this episode wherein Lokai and Bele can be seen awkwardly running through the hallways of the Enterprise, are overlaid with stock footage scenes of cities burning after World War II aerial bombing raids. The run-time of this show was slightly short hence why this montage was expanded and included.
- Commissioner Bele’s “invisible” ship which disintegrates has often been cited as one of the more glaring examples of budget cuts employed in TOS. Another example, is the fact that Lokai and Bele wear gloves throughout the episode in order to prevent further black/white make-up being used on their hands.
- Writer Harlan Ellison offered the following remarks about this episode: “Roddenberry may have been a big-deal progressive, but I never heard of him giving a dime to the civil rights movement. Now I don’t know what his personal attitude was, ’cause he was always talking about the perfectibility of mankind – which is bullshit – and talking about equality, but it was a very awkward kind of liberalism, as evidenced by that stupid episode where people are painted half white and half black – the kind of heavy-handed, wannabe liberal thing that embarrasses anyone who has true feelings about racism.” (Vibe, Feb 1997)
- Spock’s green blood is once again mentioned in this episode. Additionally, Spock summarizes a brief history of his home planet of Vulcan, which was once ruled by irrational passions before turning toward logic and reason.
- Actor Frank Gorshin (1933-2005) was perhaps best known for his memorable guest appearances as The Riddler on the Batman show starring Adam West.
- Actor Lou Antonio (1934-Present), still alive at the time of writing this review, appeared in numerous classic ’60s television shows as well as in films like Cool Hand Luke and America America. He also directed numerous television episodes.