Friends. Enemies. People who’ve accidentally stumbled over this blog whilst looking for a subscription service called My Geek Box. We have finally arrived at the TOS episode with possibly the most infamously terrible fight scene of all time.
It is, in a word, glorious.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
Kirk, Bones, Spock, and some soon-to-be-dead people beam down to this isolated colony for a little R&R, only to find it’s been completely destroyed and the Enterprise has been lured into a trap. Our heroes escape and head back to the ship, where they pursue the aliens who massacred the colonists. When the Gorn vessel abruptly freezes in place, Kirk, bent on REVENGE, continues forward to destroy it–only for his ship to also suddenly stop moving.
It turns out they’ve come across the Metrons, (another) super advanced, seemingly all-powerful species who abhors violence. The Metrons have decided the best way to resolve this conflict with minimal loss of life is to beam Kirk and the Gorn Captain to a planet they just created, where the two can duke it out to the death. Also, The Metrons will murder everyone on the loser’s ship. I have serious doubts about the efficacy of this peace plan.
As the crew of the Enterprise helplessly watches on, Kirk and the Gorn Captain square off. Physically, Kirk is no match for the GC, but he continues to survive because he’s quicker–as is literally everything. Neither opponent is allowed weapons from their own ships, but they’re assured that everything they require is on the surface. Kirk eventually manages to create some kind of diamond cannon to take down the GC, but–after realizing that the Gorn were just trying to defend their territory from what they thought was a hostile invasion–refuses to kill him. The Metrons are impressed because mercy is a sign of an advanced species, and they beam each captain back to their respective ships. Kirk semi-jokingly opines that humanity is a promising (if predatory) species and may prove themselves truly worthy in a thousand years or so. Spock, meanwhile, remains doubtful.
One of the problems with watching a 1960’s SF show in 2018 is that, essentially, you’ve seen all this shit before, and not a little but a LOT. A space cowboy type rejecting his primal thirst for vengeance and ascribing to higher ideals like “mercy” and “whoops, we done fucked up with our colony placement program” might have been revolutionary at the time, but 50 years later, it’s hard not to sigh heavily at the somewhat thin and extremely obvious character arc.
Still, it’s not a bad story, and everything that happens in the arena is enjoyable enough. Watching Kirk try to flatten the Gorn Captain, Wicked Witch of the East style, with a maneuver straight out of Looney Tunes. Watching Kirk struggle to lift a semi-large rock and throw it at the GC, only for the GC to easily pick up a much larger rock and launch it uphill at Kirk. I genuinely enjoy that the Gorn don’t just rely on brute strength, either; they’re continuously shown to be intelligent, adaptive, tricky, and resourceful. And, of course, you’ve gotta love some of the most infamously terrible fighting of all time.
Honestly, I think I’d like “Arena” more if the Metrons simply weren’t in it, like, say Kirk and the GC somehow got left behind by their respective crews at the annihilated colony; then they would engage in fisticuffs until Kirk, having since learned his opponent’s motivation, defeats the GC and chooses not to kill him. You get the same basic story and theme but without the Plot Device Aliens who, let’s be honest here, kind of suck. Like, they apparently hate violence and have unimaginable power, but they wield it by abducting people and slaughtering them in droves? Yeah, no, these dudes are assholes. You know what plan would’ve been better than that? Literally any plan. Like, the Metrons could’ve abducted Kirk and the GC, handcuffed them to a long table, and just forced them to talk to one another, all without the imminent threat of mass murder.
Besides, their whole killing-for-peace idea isn’t just immoral; it’s also pretty dumb. Kidnapping two dudes, telling them to duke it out, and expecting their respective peoples to just accept and honor the results of said battle, like, that suggests to me that for a super advanced species, the Metrons perhaps don’t have a particularly strong grasp on the complexities of interspecies war. The Federation won’t necessarily forgive the mass murder of its citizens just because one captain acting without orders chose to be merciful; likewise, The Gorn won’t necessarily believe Starfleet’s invasion of their territory was accidental just because their champion lost in a trial-by-combat he didn’t ask to be a part of in the first place. (And we know both the Federation and the Gorn will find out about the arena because that’s why the Metrons gave Kirk and the GC recording devices: they want to dissuade other humans and Gorns from entering their territory.)
Of course, the Metrons never expected Kirk to be merciful. What would’ve happened, then, if Kirk had killed the GC before discovering why he’d attacked the colony in the first place? Well, the Metrons would make good on their promise to murder everybody on the alien ship; meanwhile, Kirk–presumably still thinking that a hostile invasion is coming or was at least attempted–just, what? Flies away, knowing his vengeance was sated? Or does he contact Starfleet Command? Do they send other battle ships? Do they attack the rest of the Gorn, starting outright war? Or say the Gorn defeats Kirk, and the Enterprise is destroyed. Are the Gorn satisfied? Wouldn’t someone from Starfleet come to investigate further? Would the Gorn attack, once again assuming it was a hostile invasion? Shit, at that point, it probably would be a hostile invasion, considering that from the Federation’s POV, the Gorn are murders who annihilated a colony and, arguably, got an entire starship crew killed.
One way or another, a lot of people are probably going to die because, when you think about it, the Metrons are basically the space equivalent of an old dude screaming, “Stop killing each other on my lawn!” An understandable desire, to be sure, but it’s hard to take all their moralizing seriously when, for all their big talk about superiority and peace, all they really care about is making sure these young whippersnappers murder each other somewhere else.
The beginning of this episode is supremely awkward. While discussing their host and his personal chef, Kirk tells Bones, “Rank hath its privileges.” After they share a deeply forced laugh that hurts to listen to, Bones adds, “How well we both know that.” And look, I know they’re just talking about having a cook and all, but man, watching two white dudes chuckling about their privilege is just about as off-putting as it sounds.
Bones being upset that his friend is in danger, understandable. Bones taking out his frustrations on Spock, unsurprising. Bones’s argument, once he hears that Spock doesn’t have a plan because there isn’t actually anything he can do, like . . . I don’t think logic works the way you think it works, Bones? Seriously, what are you even expecting here?
While we were watching the episode, Mek pointed out that while Sulu briefly has command of the Enterprise, he never sits in the captain’s chair. Presumably this is because he’s needed at the helm, but, like, why is he needed at the helm? If Sulu were left in charge, shouldn’t there already be another helmsman on the bridge? It’s not like Spock commands the bridge from his science chair. (Hush. Science Chair is a legitimate technical term.) It’s weird, and I’m hoping the explanation is “accidental oversight” and not “inherent racism.” We’ll see what happens if Sulu’s ever left in charge again.
Listening to the Captain’s Log in the middle of an action scene continues to be distracting and weird.
Spock knows something’s up with this whole “beam down, relax, eat our food, and also, don’t forget your tactical officers; I promise we totally won’t murder them” message. Unfortunately, no one ever listens to Spock. Perhaps we should start doing that?
Evil or Just Dead: after a comment by Sabrina, I’ve decided to create this new category, in which I’ll be discussing any seemingly doomed bit players. In this case, that includes red shirts O’Herlihy, who quickly and colorfully gets vaporized, and Lang, who doesn’t even get to die on screen, the poor bastard. Kelowitz is the third member of the band, but shockingly, he makes it off Cestus 3 alive. I’m absurdly proud of him.
Kirk, apparently moved by the sole survivor’s
overacting emotional account of the massacre, refuses to accept the idea that the Gorn might have destroyed the colony for any reason other than Brutal Invasion. Spock, who gives up trying to persuade him, regretfully says that if Kirk’s correct, the captain will have to destroy the Gorn ship before it returns to its home base. It feels like a departure from the Spock we saw in “The Galileo Seven,” who absolutely refused to kill the creatures picking off his away team one by one. OTOH, Spock’s clearly reluctant about his own advice, which means he’s still come a long way from “Balance of Terror,” where he was basically like “KILL THE ROMULANS; KILL THEM WITH FIRE.” (Not to mention, Spock reverses his destroy-the-Gorn position almost immediately anyway. I’m hopeful that anti-killing Spock will consistently continue.)
This whole episode gave me some serious “A Proportional Response” flashbacks. Kirk and Spock were the original Jed and Leo!
It’s kind of funny to watch everyone turn their heads and stare at Kirk when he tells them to go Warp Factor 7. Apparently, you can blow up at that speed, which admittedly is preferable to lizard sex. (I’m sorry; I know I make the Voyager joke every time. I just can’t seem to help myself.) They practically gasp when Kirk tells them Warp Factor 8.
Uhura full-on horror movie screams after Kirk disappears, like this shit didn’t just happen last episode. Screw you, writers. Uhura deserves better.
The occasional “heh heh heh” laughter from the Gorn is pretty funny, though I’m not sure it’s intended as so.
The Fashion Report: Oh my GOD, the Gorn. Oh. Oh, man. I’ve seen parts of this episode before, but I guess I was so focused on the terrible fight choreography that I didn’t even notice how the GC is wearing some kind of gold patterned apron, or else 60’s mini dress. It’s amazing. Halloween is notorious for managing to come up with sexy costumes for even the least sexiest concepts–I just googled “Sexy Ketchup Costume,” for instance, and found one immediately–but nobody told me that ALL Gorn costumes are, by their very nature, Sexy Gorn Costumes. This is incredible.
Initially, the Metrons appear as colorful, disembodied lights on a screen. When one pops up in person, though, he basically looks like a Greek or Roman god wearing a particularly shiny gown and some less shiny lace-up sandals. It’s pretty hard to take seriously, almost as hard as it is to hear the the Metron say, “You demonstrated the advance trait of mercy,” and not think, “Scott earned the power of self-respect.”
Further evidence that the Metrons are assholes: “Your captain’s doing pretty badly. He’s totes gonna die soon, but we’re a compassionate people, so we’ll allow you to watch him get brutally murdered by a lizard monster while you can do absolutely nothing to help.” (Paraphrased, possibly.)
Watching Spock watching Kirk slowly make a diamond cannon isn’t the most riveting thing in the world, although the diamond cannon itself is pretty cool, and the way Spock sort of creepily says, “Yes. Yessss,” as he puts together the captain’s plan is pretty funny.
The Metrons toss the Enterprise “clear across the galaxy” after the bout, which, how far is that, exactly? Are we talking a few days travel? Weeks? Months? Gosh, I hope the Enterprise doesn’t have anything important upcoming scheduled, like, you know, dropping off plague meds or anything.
Kirk tells Sulu to head back to Cestus 3 where this all began, presumably to begin negotiations with the Gorn, but again, that’s assuming that a) the Gorn want to talk, and b) Kirk’s superiors also want to talk. I remain unconvinced. Not for the first time, I really wish Star Trek wasn’t so inherently episodic, because I’d actually be pretty interested in seeing the fallout from this episode. Unfortunately, it appears our next adventure will have absolutely nothing to do with the Gorn and everything to do with time travel.
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“Like most humans, I seem to have an instinctive revulsion to reptiles.”
3 thoughts on “World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “Arena””
I totally wanted Kelowitz to go evil in this episode the first time I saw it. Mind you, I was like 5, but I’m still holding out for Evil Kelowitz somewhere. Also, the Metrons only make sense as multi-dimension beings. Seriously, how could they be that surprised by Kirk going to go all “I don’t want to kill you,” unless they already played this scenario out in the Mirror Universe with Murdery Mirror Kirk.
I have been binging on your ST:TOS blogs for about 30 minutes now. Every once in a while, my boyfriend says “What are you laughing at NOW?” “This ST:TOS blog” I reply. “She is pretty spot on about the episodes, especially the flaws, but she is hilarious!” This, from a lifelong Trekkie who had a giant crush on Kirk, but yes he can be a bit of sexist jackass.
If I were to write a blog on the show, I’d marvel that no matter what alien race the Enterprise meets, they – gasp! – all speak ENGLISH. Not even British English. American English. They all speak with Received Pronunciation – aka actors’ slang for non-regional American. It doesn’t matter if the alien race is a highly developed species that makes the human race look like barbarians (Errand of Mercy) or an undeveloped species (The Apple) that must be saved by Kirk and Co. so they can become properly civilised people, they all sound like Americans. And isn’t amaaaaing how many of them – which is to say ALL of them – are WHITE? What, God never populated the universe with humanoids who aren’t white? No black aliens, brown aliens, Asian aliens? Klingons don’t count, they cast white actors and put brown pancake makeup on them. Even if the aliens are blue or green, the actors are probably white underneath. Imagine. An entire universe populated by white American sounding aliens. Weird.
And not one member of the Enterprise ever ever ever remarks on that. Hmm.
Yeah, TOS was a progressive show in so many ways for its time, but boy, was it a VERY white and male-dominated show. And you’re right; it was very, very American. 🙂