Written by Oliver Crawford, Lee Cronin, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Jud Taylor
Star Trek got away with many cultural commentaries over its short run, due to the fact that couched in the science-fiction setting, many of the commentaries went right over the head of the censors. That’s not the case with Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. The message here is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
The Enterprise is summoned to the planet Ariannus where a bacterial infection threatens space shipping lanes. On their way, they encounter a stolen Starfleet shuttlecraft, piloted by Lokai (Lou Antonio), a humanoid who is half black and half white – literally. His pursuer is Commissioner Bele (Frank Gorshin) who brands Lokai as a terrorist.
Now, if you know the episode I’m talking about you’re nodding your head already. Yes, it’s that one. Much of the episode is about the crew of the Enterprise caught up in Bele and Lokai’s conflict. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Scotty (James Doohan) actually engage the Enterprise’s self-destruct capability rather than let Bele commandeer it.
The dialog here has Bele accusing Lokai and his people of murdering thousands on their planet of Cheron. Lokai accuses Bele and his people of enslaving thousands of his race. Bele states he has been pursuing Lokai to bring him to justice for 50,000 years.
Eventually, Bele agrees to let the Enterprise finish its mission on Ariannus first and Captain Kirk agrees to bring the two to the planet Cheron. When they arrive, they found that the inhabitants of the planet completely destroyed themselves and all that is left of them is Bele and Lokai, who still can’t get past their hatred of each other.
Bele: It is obvious to the most simpleminded that Lokai is of an inferior breed.
Mr. Spock: The obvious visual evidence, Commissioner, is that he is of the same breed as yourself.
Bele: Are you blind, Commander Spock? Well, look at me. Look at me!
Captain James T. Kirk: You are black on one side and white on the other.
Bele: I am black on the right side!
Captain James T. Kirk: I fail to see the significant difference.
Bele: Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.
Racism is bad, kids. And in the long run, it just doesn’t make sense.
Now that they’ve hit you over the head with the message in the episode, what else is left? Subtlety is not a strong point with this one. Lokai and Bele are the same under the surface, and now they are the only two left of a race of beings that hated each other to extinction.
What keeps this episode from being terrible is the acting on the part of Lou Antonio and Frank Gorshin. The two are so passionate in their hatred of each other, yet it’s not overplayed too much. Listening to Lokai give a talk to the Enterprise crew and what he’s telling them doesn’t sound so far off from some things we are hearing from the worker class nowadays. Does Lokai have a point? When you look at it in terms of what Bele is trying to do, he likely does.
Bele has an invisible ship due to the budgetary constraints of the third season and the writing around this is pretty horrid. It’s an attempt to explain the situation, but it falls flat. Describing the planet Cheron as being in the “southernmost part of the galaxy” is wrong because galaxies and universes don’t have a “south,” only planets with poles do. There are a number of moments like that where I was left scratching my head with this episode.
Star Trek may have been ahead of its time in actually bringing up social issues in its stories, but that doesn’t mean they were all good. Yes, hating someone for the color of their skin doesn’t make sense any way you spin it, but Let That Be Your Last Battlefield would seem to indicate that there’s not much hope for us to be able to get beyond it.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Whom Gods Destroy
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Mark of Gideon