I don’t know if any fictional species has undergone as much alteration as the Klingons. From TOS to TNG to the Kelvin Verse to Discovery, the Klingons have drastically changed in terms of both appearance and culture several times over now.
Obviously, it’s time to discuss the episode where they were first introduced.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
Negotiations with the Klingon Empire have broken down. Kirk and Spock head to Organia, a planet the Federation heavily suspects the Klingons will try to subjugate. They meet with the Council of Elders, promising both humanitarian aid and military support, but to Kirk’s shock, the Council isn’t even remotely concerned about the Klingon threat. And no matter what he says, the Council refuses to act. Shortly thereafter, the Klingons–led by Kor (John Colicos)–take over.
Kirk and Spock, stranded on the planet, pretend they’re not from Starfleet. Kirk does an especially bad job of it, apparently incapable of masquerading as a meek pushover for even ten seconds. Kor respects this, to an extent; he’s as baffled and frustrated by the extreme pacifist culture as anyone. He’s less thrilled, though, when Kirk and Spock decide that they have no choice but to become resistance fighters. And the Council isn’t happy either because, like, violence. When Kor threatens to more or less erase Kirk’s brain, Ayelbourne (the Council leader) spills the beans about Kirk’s identity. Later, he breaks Kirk and Spock out of jail before they can be executed. Kor, who’s not here to play, kills 200 Organians and demands the return of his hostages. The Council basically just shrugs.
Kirk and Spock go on the offensive, briefly capturing Kor. Meanwhile, up in space, the Enterprise has returned with backup, ready to attack the Klingon fleet–only suddenly, neither ship can attack. No one on the planet can, either; each time they try, they only burn themselves. The Council explains that they’re tired of all this senseless violence. Turns out, the Organians are actually humanoids who have long since evolved into big, omnipotent, pacifist energy balls. They declare that all Klingon and Federation ships everywhere have been rendered powerless and will remain powerless until everyone agrees the war is over.
Kirk and Kor are similarly outraged, arguing that the Organians have no right to interfere. Ayelbourne, meanwhile, is all, “Really? You’re defending the solemn right to get billions of people killed?” Kirk is properly chastised; Kor is mostly just regretful. (The battles would’ve been glorious, he says.) And the war is declared over.
Sometimes, I feel like TOS has two modes: either it sets up a compelling plot which completely fizzles out by the end (“The Menagerie,” “The Return of the Archons,” etc), or it has a crappy build to a really interesting idea in the third act (“A Taste of Armageddon,” “The Enemy Within,” etc.) “Errand of Mercy” is the latter type of episode for me.
I really like the scene where Kirk and Kor angrily insist that the Council doesn’t have the right to prevent mass bloodshed. It’s a pretty great moment, honestly, watching Kirk realize how he’s been a hypocrite, insisting that he doesn’t want war, only to get completely pissed off when someone takes that war away from him. And I enjoy Kor quite a bit, too. Well, okay. Not so much the brown face. That’s less than stellar (and, unfortunately, not going anywhere anytime soon). Performance-wise, though, Colicos is charismatic as hell. Klingons can be hit or miss in Trek (mostly miss, at least since the 1990’s) but Kor is pretty compelling here, even if the Klingon culture presented feels a bit generic.
Still. Up until this point, “Errand of Mercy” is essentially 40 minutes of this:
Kirk: The Klingons are bad! Let me help you defeat them.
Council: Nah, man. We’re chill.
Kirk: But they’re BAD!
Council: It’s cool, dude. We got this.
Kirk: I’m gonna help you defeat them anyway!
Council: Please stop doing that.
Kirk: EVIL KLINGONS MUST DIEEEEEEEEEE.
Council: *tragic sigh*
It gets old very quickly. Either the Organians genuinely don’t want your help, which–I mean, that’s their choice, right, you can’t force them to fight back–or they’re omnipotent beings who don’t need your help because Jesus Christ, of course they are. Like, it’s easy to say that no one expects to run across a species of all powerful aliens, except how the Enterprise keeps doing that. These are not the first omnipotent aliens Kirk has come across. They’re not even the third set of omnipotent aliens Kirk has come across this season, like, for fuck’s sake, are you new or something?
This isn’t a sentence I expected to say before I started watching TOS, but man, I’m getting really tired of all these omnipotent sonofbitches.
Holy shit, there’s apparently something called a Richter’s Scale of Cultures, and Organia is classified as a D-? (Before anyone knew they were secretly pacifist energy balls, obvs.) This . . . this sounds like some fantastically elitist bullshit.
Sulu Watch: Hey, Sulu’s actually around for once! Well, briefly. Kirk orders Sulu to take the Enterprise and leave him and Spock behind if/when the Klingons show up. Sulu is clearly not thrilled about it, but he does follow orders. (To my shock, the person missing this time around is Bones. Also, Scotty, but that’s considerably less surprising. Sulu and Scotty are clearly the redheaded stepchildren of the Enterprise.)
FASHION REPORT: Kirk and Spock go undercover in shitty doublets and cloaks. Kirk also has some fantastic boots, and by fantastic, I mean hilarious. They’re furry with an overabundance of silly straps. Early Klingon uniforms are pretty funny, too. The pants are probably supposed to be gold chainmail or something, but they mostly just seem sparkly, and Kor’s big gold sash looks like something a six-year-old might’ve made for his dad on Father’s Day.
Spock cannot pass as an Organian because of his Vulcan ears, which of course is just nonsense: all Spock does in Trek is go undercover with various hoods and beanies and fedoras and headbands. The only upside of this absurdity is that Spock now must pretend to be a Vulcan merchant, and I find I’m just deeply enchanted by the whole notion of Vulcan merchants. What do they sell? Is it logic? Spices? Puka shell necklaces?
It’s been said before that Vulcans can’t lie. Spock certainly has no trouble doing that here.
First Time We’ve Seen: well, Klingons, obviously, sans forehead ridges. Also, Kor, who comes back as Old Kor in DS9! (I wish I remembered him, but I never actually finished the series as a kid, and my memories of what I did watch are sketchy as hell.) One thing I really do like about this episode is how the Council declares that Klingons and humans will be friends in the future, a prophecy which is later fulfilled by Worf and TNG. That’s pretty awesome.
Klingon tech, sadly, does not rate as high on the Awesome Continuity Scale. They have an interrogation device colloquially known as a mind sifter (or, worse, a mind ripper), which can record every bit of a person’s brain–but, rather unfortunately, also erases said person’s brain in the process. There are definitely holes in my Star Trek knowledge, but I really don’t remember the Klingons having this device later on.
Kirk is such a hothead in this episode. More than normal, I mean. I wouldn’t exactly characterize his behavior as OOC, and it certainly works on a thematic level, but also, I kind of wanted to slap him at one point, like, “Dude, you’re a starship captain, and this is some basic middle school shit. Get your life together.”
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“I don’t trust men who smile too much.”