Does that mean it’s the best episode of Star Trek ever? No, not so much. But it still never diminishes my enjoyment of this one.
This is “the one where they fight the war by computers.” The Enterprise arrives at Eminiar VII to open diplomatic relations. A Federation ship visited the planet years before and was never heard from again. Kirk, Spock and a bunch of red shirts who amazingly enough survive the episode beam down to find the residents of Eminiar VII are still at war with thier closest neighbor Vandikar. The war is fought via computers who simulate attacks, calculate casualites and then the citizens report to distingration chambers. As one character points out, the population dies but the civilization lives on.
Well, the Enterprise is in orbit and is a target. It’s hit and the Eminians declare everyone on board a casualty. The whole crew must beam down and be distingrated within 24 hours. Naturally, this does not sit well with Kirk, who quickly takes matters into his own hands and gives back to these two planets the real horrors of war.
And really it’s got it all. Kirk practices a little “cowboy diplomacy” (when Spock brings it up to Picard in TNG’s “Unification, Part 2” you just know Spock is referring to THIS episode) taking on an entire society and winning , the Enterprise is threatened with destruction, Kirk blows up a computer (a common theme on classic Trek though this time Kirk doesn’t talk the computer into imploding) and another in a long line of beaurcrats sent out by Starfleet who may be great at their jobs but are totally out of thier league in the big, bad playground that is the final frontier.
All this and no one brings up that Prime Directive even once. Kirk doesn’t stop and debate the ehtics of stopping the war fought by computers. Once the Enterprise is hit and declared a casualty, sentencing everyone on board to death, Kirk takes matters into his own hands and doesn’t look back.
And we haven’t even mentioned yet General Order 24. At one point, Kirk is being held prisoner by the Eminians and yells out for Scotty to implement General Order 24 in two hours. General Order 24 is the targetting of all cities and installations on the planet and then wiping them out with the phasers.
Now, I have no idea if this General Order is one that sits on the Starfleet book or if this was something Kirk worked out with the command crew just in case a situation like this came up. Either way, it shows that Kirk is the man. Either he’s pulling out this extreme doomsday scenario to save the ship and the crew or he’s come up with the greatest bluff of all time to scare the pants off the Eminians.
“A Taste of Armageddon” is very much a product of its time, though the lessons from it still apply today. It’s almost a preview of how wars today are fought–almost like some elaborate video game with commanders far from the field of battle making decisions that will affects the lives of millions of people. It reminds us that war is not a good thing and it’s not something we should celebrate. It’s something to be avoided becuase it leads to destruction and death, something Eminiar and Vandikar have taken out of the equation. Kirk puts it back in and it scares the pants off them both.
It’s got some harsh lessons, but it’s never dark, dour or depressing. Despite the heavy themes, this is one of the most fun episodes of Star Trek in the canon. Kirk is at his best, running around and saving civilization as we know it. The only real element missing is that he doesn’t get to romance the cute blonde, but when you’re saving entire societies from themselves, something has to give.
Spock even gets into the fun, walking up to guard and uttering the classic line “Sir, you have a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder” as he reaches out to peform the Vulcan nerve pinch. Classic.
Part of my love of this one is that when I first started watching Trek, it was one of the episodes my father said I’d like. In fact, I think we watched it together the first time I saw it. It’s an episode that is my “comfort” episode if I’m feeling sick, it’s one of the first things that goes into the VCR or DVD player.
It’s not perfect. It’s full of flaws but I really don’t care. I unabashedly love this episode and while it may not make many other top ten lists, it definitely has a place on mine.