Did the original Star Trek series “manag…

Did the original Star Trek series “manage to comment on current politics in a relatively even-handed way?” I would say so, but that element of the show has been exaggerated. I think that’s because fictional TV shows before the 1960s didn’t acknowledge current events or political issue in even the most indirect, allegorical way, so when a few Star Trek episodes did so, that was a big deal. (Only a few years later, sitcoms like All in the Family had characters openly arguing about politics, and M*A*S*H was an ongoing critique of the Vietnam war.)

With that said, let me try to point out where Star Trek did employ allegory to comment on current events. I don’t see any episodes in the first season that address specific events, but “Dagger of the Mind” is all about brainwashing, a meme that had lots of people scared during the Korean War (see The Manchurian Candidate). “Balance of Terror” has a definite Cold War flavor to it, but it’s really more of a retelling of World War II submarine movies in which an Allied ship’s captain and a German U-Boat commander try to outthink each other—a theme that it shares with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (It’s also the episode that introduced the Romulans, and my personal favorite.) “Arena”, “A Taste of Armageddon”, and “Errand of Mercy” all have antiwar themes, but only in the most general way.

It isn’t until the middle of the second season that we see a strongly allegorical episode. I’m referring to “A Private Little War”, which is unmistakably about Vietnam. Specifically, it’s about a primitive planet where the previously existing rivalry between two factions, the Villagers and the Hill People, is exploited by the Klingons, who arm the Villagers with muskets. Kirk is reluctant to interfere in the planet’s affairs, but decides he has to provide equivalent weapons to the Hill People in an attempt to restore the original balance of power. This is a clear reference to the Cold War practice of proxy war, in which one side would be backed by the USSR or China, and the other by the USA.

“The Omega Glory” takes place on a planet where the Kohms (communists) and Yangs (Yankees) have already fought a global war, which the Kohms won. The allegory is rather unsubtle, especially when the Yangs’ most sacred text is revealed to be the U.S. Constitution.

“Assignment: Earth” isn’t allegorical at all; it takes place on Earth in 1968, so the references to the Cold War tensions of that period are explicit. Enterprise is there merely to observe and record events, but stumbles across a human agent of highly advanced aliens, who is deliberately interfering in terrestrial affairs. Is he trying to help or harm Earth? The question becomes urgent when he sabotages the launch of a orbital nuclear weapon by the United States, bringing the entire planet to the brink of World War III. (Another of my favorites; this episode was also the pilot for a proposed spinoff series that would have been a lot of fun, but didn’t sell.)

In the third season, we get “The Enterprise Incident”, a galactic retelling of the Korean War Pueblo Incident that also introduced Romulan cloaking technology. “Day of the Dove” is another antiwar story. “Wink of an Eye” is about pollution, “The Mark of Gideon” about overpopulation,  and “The Way to Eden” even has space hippies. “The Cloud Minders” is a sort of vaguely political story about social injustice in a world of Haves and Have-Nots, but it never manages to articulate any sort of message except “inequality is wrong”. And the final episode of the series, “Turnabout Intruder”, is sort of about sexism, implying that even in the 23rd century, women aren’t allowed to be starship captains. But the woman in question is mentally unstable and clearly not qualified to command anything, so the episode fails as a feminist manifesto.

But by far the most memorable allegorical episode is the third-season “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, which is about race relations. The two guest characters, Bele and Lokai, are essentially Javert and Valjean from Les Misérables—except that instead of being a petty thief, Lokai is a political criminal from a planet torn apart by racial conflict. The planet’s two races are each half black and half white, but one is black on the left and white on the right, while the other is vice versa. The episode’s depiction of racial strife is remarkably bleak; by the end of the episode, Bele and Lokai are the only two survivors of their civilization, the rest having annihilated each other in a global racial apocalypse.

Those are all the examples I can think of. Bob, have I missed any?

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