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Errand of Mercy

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 18, 2005 - 10:23 PM GMT

See Also: 'Errand of Mercy' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Anticipating a Klingon attack, Starfleet orders the Enterprise to the strategically valuable planet Organia. But when Kirk and Spock beam down to negotiate for a Federation presence to protect Organia from the Klingons, the Organians insist that they are entirely safe and completely nonviolent. When the Klingon fleet arrives, forcing the Enterprise to flee in haste, Kirk and Spock disguise themselves, but it does not take long for Kor to discover that Kirk is, as Kor says, a ram among the sheep. When Kirk and Spock blow up a Klingon munitions dump to demonstrate to the passive Organians that resistance is possible, they are imprisoned; when Organian council member Ayelborne frees the Starfleet officers, the Klingons execute 200 Organians. Kirk and Spock fight their way to Kor's office; meanwhile, the Enterprise and reinforcements prepare to battle the Klingon fleet in orbit. But the Organians cause their weapons to superheat - and all weapons of war on all Starfleet and Klingon ships. They are not the simple humanoids they appear, but beings of pure thought who insist that they will not allow the hostilities to erupt in war. At first Kirk and Kor both protest the interference, then accept that outright battles are impossible and perhaps not really desirable.

Analysis: Kirk proves that the Eminians of "A Taste of Armageddon" were right to call him a barbarian and conveniently forgets his "we're not going to kill today" speech in this guilty-pleasure episode, which contains a number of Trek clichés - the material and cultural imperialism of the Federation, the glorification of military values over spiritual convictions, the manipulation of mere mortals by godlike aliens. None of that makes "Errand of Mercy" any less fun. The title is ironic on a number of levels, for Kirk's initial orders are not to protect the Organians but to secure the planet as a potential base, and even Spock expresses contempt that the Organians are not developing according to his standards of what represents social progress, even though he sees no evidence of suffering.

After the vacant-eyed people from "Return of the Archons" and "This Side of Paradise," perhaps Spock and Kirk are right to distrust what appears to be a placid, uncreative population. But they see no evidence that the Organians are drugged or under the influence of mind control; they just don't like the idea that these people could be content living in an apparent Dark Ages with no prospect of Enlightenment. It never for a moment occurs to Kirk that perhaps he is the one who could use some enlightening.

At the start of the episode, the Enterprise blows up a Klingon ship, killing everyone aboard. The Klingons fire first and the crew is already on edge anticipating a probable war, but the callousness with which these events occur are unprecedented on the series thus far; this is not the same Kirk who agonized over the ramifications of crossing into the Neutral Zone to chase a Romulan vessel, but one who is ready to start a tally of enemy losses vs. his own. He laments the fact that the weak and innocent are always along the invasion route, yet he seems almost gleeful when the Klingons presumably execute 200 Organians (presumably because it turns out that no one has died). This, he believes, should demonstrate to the Organians the great differences between Starfleet and the Klingon Empire.

The man who shows up to explain how the Federation represents peace and cooperation thus literally does not seem to hear Ayelborne when the Organian twice says, "How little you understand us, Captain." Kirk is blind to all the ways in which the Federation and the Klingons appear exactly the same to the planet he believes he is supposed to save - at least until he sees, in Spock's words, how he is like an amoeba to them. This is a far better use of the All-Powerful Alien Deus Ex Machina than the ones in "Shore Leave," "The Squire of Gothos" or "Arena" because in this case there's an important point to be made by revealing the superbeings' perspective. (The Next Generation, which used similar scenarios with the Q, sometimes imitated "Errand of Mercy" to great effect but sometimes went the sillier derivative route of "The Squire of Gothos.")

It's a little puzzling to me why the Organians did not simply tell Kirk what they were from the beginning. I don't have the impression that they have any sort of Prime Directive forbidding it, since they don't really seem to confer at the end when they decide to reveal themselves. Though their involvement is begrudging, it is extremely thorough: as they say, they stop the fighting not only between Klingons and Starfleet officers within the vicinity of their own planet, but everywhere. Surely they must have been aware of the initial battle in which the Enterprise destroyed a Klingon ship, then? There is no clear moment that indicates why they choose to involve themselves, nor how comprehensively they do so. But the setup allows - nay, forces - a parallel to the US-USSR Cold War, since neither side dares to attempt to attack one another directly. I'm also a little puzzled why Kirk thinks the Klingons won't find anything strange about a Vulcan trader on a planet where goats walk the streets; it doesn't at all seem like the sort of place one would expect the Vulcans to attempt direct contact.

Kor is, I'm afraid to say, a delight, from the way he introduces himself as the military governor of Organia to the way he describes the "stupid idiotic smile" of the Organians and tries to bond with Kirk over their similarities before threatening to torture him to death for Federation secrets. "Coming from an Organian, yours is practically an act of rebellion," he tells Kirk when the captain objects to Spock being taken for questioning. Kor is positively gleeful describing the mind-sifter, though he turns serious when he points out its value as a weapon. He seems quite happy to be given an excuse to execute Organians, though a little sad when he plans the same for Kirk, saying, "always it is the brave ones who die." He has greater admiration for Kirk for standing by Spock than he does for the Organians who will betray their friends.

And the final quarrel is both funny and outrageous; Kirk and Kor both shouting "What have you done!" and insisting on their right to try to kill each other while Ayelborne asks incredulously, "To take life on a planetary scale? Is that what you are defending?" When the war is over before it begins, Kor announces that it's a shame, because it would have been glorious. Even back on his ship, where he is safe if humbled, Kirk is still irritated that the Organians rigged the game. Now, what would have been nice is some introspection on what Kirk learned about himself and his people. He plays fast and loose with the Prime Directive far more than captains on later series, always in the name of saving cultures from themselves - one would think that his own mistaken impressions of the Organians and his later frustration with their interference on a far grander scale than he had in mind for them might have taught him something, and, by extension, taught all of Starfleet something.

Perhaps it did - as Ayelborne says, the Federation and the Klingon Empire will be friendly in a very short time, within Kirk's own lifetime, which given the end to the real-world Cold War seems almost prescient. Yet the odd note of defiance within Kirk's humility points up all his worst traits as well as his best. His spirit may be indomitable, but he will always be a soldier, not a diplomat.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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