Tuesday, 18 June 2013

TOS - 1.26 - Errand of Mercy

Star Trek - Errand of Mercy
Come on guys, we agree we're going to
finish shooting this scene today.
No disappearing act please ! Come back!
This is the 1st episode when the Enterprise has a close encounter with the most beloved alien race among the Trekkies. For those who proudly calling yourself a Trekkie then you would have no problem knowing what the alien race I'm referring.

Which fictional (is there other kind?) ET language do we have a dictionary for?

Ok, I don't need to give any more clues. Some, maybe most, of you already knew the answer after reading my 1st sentence.

Captain Kirk, and his pointed-eared shipmate, tricorder-carrying, single-eyebrow raising, 1st Officer Spock have their very 1st brush with the Klingons in this episode.

It's very obvious in this episode that the Klingons, like Khan Noonien Singh, are oriental. They're swarthy and have long wispy beard that depict East Asian stereotype in Hollywood during this period, i.e. before 1970s. The best known of such example is Fu Manchu. Another good example is dated looking Chinese characters in Genghis Khan (1965), released less than 2 years prior to this episode.

While Khan is, or I should say was, Indian (south Asian), the Klingons are, or I should say were, East Asians.

Gene L. Coon, who was a Trek writer quite busy around this period (2nd half of the 1st Season of TOS), had a hand in both writing "Space Seed", and this episode, where the villains are, or were, Asian. Readers should read my review on episode 1.22 "Space Seed" to get a better perspectives on what I'm talking about.

Maybe Gene L. Coon has a thing for bad-ass Asian.

The creation of these peoples from the East - whether they're ETs or tyrant from earth - is of course to reflect the Cold War ideological conflict between the Democratic West and the Communist East.

Communist East = Eastern Bloc + Communist China.

Indeed, most earlier TOS episodes are understandably preoccupied with various Cold War issues as I pointed out repeatedly in the reviews of these episodes. The Federation is simply the future counterpart of USA, while the Klingons is the future counterpart of the Communist.

In as so far as the Klingons are based on Asians, the Klingon Empire is very much modelled on the Mongol Empire.

It really makes sense. The 1st encounter with the Romulan Empire in episode 1.14 "Balance of Terror" is modelled on the ancient Roman Empire, and the other most well known ancient Empire of the East would be the Mongol Empire.

Chinese Empire doesn't fit the bill very well. Firstly, they've have many dynasties. Secondly, some of these dynasties, like the Tang Dynasty is well know for its flowering in arts and literature, and the Song Dynasty is famous for its advancement in science and technology. So it's simply isn't suitable for the purpose of this episode, which is to create an Empire that's would best embody the idea of the "Evil Soviet Empire".

Mongol Empire is just what Coon needs for this episode. The Mongols are brutal, treacherous, belligerent, but also brilliant warriors, whose culture are built around military lives. And most importantly, they're from the East. Ancient Chinese called them barbarians (but then, ancient Chinese called everyone else barbarians).

Some historians - especially ones from Mongolia - might not like all these negative characterisations of the Mongol Empire, but this is the more widely accepted views. The very name of the Mongol Horde strikes terror into the very hearts of their enemies. In Mongolia - both Mongolias - Genghis Khan is being worshipped as god today.

The Trek production team preferred the Klingons over the Romulans because the makeup for the Klingons was simpler. This is because the forehead ridge of the Klingons didn't appear until Star Trek: the Motion Picture (1979), some 10 years later. In this episode, their foreheads are smooth as babies' bottoms (ok, they did have wrinkles, but not cranial ridges).

You can buy off-the-shelf fake facial hairs from shops, but for some unknown reasons, nobody sell pointed ears. So the production team had to make them. No budget, no time. Remember, there were 29 episodes in this 1st Season where the makeup department was totally inexperienced in making pointy ears. There was no traditional craftsmanship passing from mother to daughter in pointy ears making. Unfortunately, the arts of pointy ears making never catches on. Today, it's considered a lost art and is entered into UNESCO listing as an endangered intangible cultural heritage.

There was no Bird of Prey in this episode, either. No time, no budget.

Like Khan, the Klingons were gradually evolved from its original form, and becoming less and less resembling Asians (too bad, I say). This had happened to both Khan and the Klingons for the same reasons: movies are evolving with the times, and most importantly, it was done for better marketing purposes. Something I've already pointed out in length in my review of 1.22 "Space Seed" (I won't repeat here).

The story of this episode is all too popular for these early TOS episodes. In fact, it had been done so in various forms in different episodes. But episode 1.18 "Arena" is practically identical to this episode in terms of its story and its central message.

In both episodes, the Enterprise fights with another militant alien. At the end, a benevolent alien, whose evolution is so far above that of human or the militant alien enemy, come to intervene. They shake their heads in disbelief in seeing human waging such wars with his enemies like parents' total incomprehensibility in seeing their children's stupidity of fighting over somethings as unimportant as toys.

In Episode 1.18, the highly evolved super being called Metron stands atop of the mountain like a Greco-Roman god Apollo and says to Captain Kirk, "You are still half savage, but there is hope".

In the 1960s, Trek writers have a rather low opinion of the human race. Who can blame them? If the writers were in their, say 50s, they would have lived through 2 world wars, Cuban Missile Crisis, Korean War and the Vietnam War. The last 2 are the proxy wars, or hot wars for the Cold War's rivals (Cold War isn't that cold). Never mind the racial and gender divides. How could we ask the writers who living through all these had too much respect for the human race?

Sure, the earthlings are still savages, but now they're savages with thermonuclear warheads, not spears and stones. The few earliest episodes of TOS are very much focused on this issue like a laser beam. (I call the human "they" because I'm not human. Ok, I'm in self-denial. Nobody's perfect. Especially human!). These concerns of our "primitive" societies possessing weapon of vast destructive powers are especially dealt with by the 2nd pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before", and episode 1.2 "Charlie X".

While the human race is bad, there's still relative "badness". USA is clearly being portrayed as better than the Soviet. In both episode 1.18, and this episode, the Enterprise represents Uncle Sam while the reptilian alien called Gorn in episode 1.18, and the Klingons in this episode represent the Soviet. The Enterprise/USA is just the lesser of the 2 savages.

I guess it's the fact that both the Enterprise and its enemy that being lectured by superior beings like Metrons in episode 1.18, and the Organians in this episode that redeems Star Trek from being thought of as nothing but propaganda for Uncle Sam.

The idea of higher being who intervenes in human affair went back much further than TOS. I guess The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) would be the mother of all the movies/episodes with the theme of earthlings being chastised by superior beings because of our stupid ways, much like parents or teachers punishing their kids. "Earth, you're grounded for a day!". "Stood Still" is just another words for "Grounded". Or as in The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) the remake, the message is, "Earth, clean up that mess or die! Too late, you die!"

Before 1951, we had the good old bearded Christian God who would wipe out the human race or cleanse the earth with the Great Flood. In the 20th century, God is dead (Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out). Alien is doing God's work. Some people say God is alien. And in some TOS episodes, many aliens look like god of a sort.

Of course, the human isn't just constantly lectured by superior being, but also by Spock, who represents our rational side,  has done a fair share of condescending the Enterprise crew. Spock is a superior being than earthling (ok, half-superior being, half-savage. So Spock is only 50% superior than the humans).

If you ask me, I think the earthlings is asking for it.

Like my teacher likes to say, "if you act like a child, I'll treat you like one."

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