Sunday, July 14, 2013

Arena: TOS Season 1 Episode 18

Plot Synopsis

The episode starts with a joyous scene, the crew is going to beam down to Cestus 3 and spend some time with the head of the colony there who has notorious hospitality. However, when they get to the surface they see the colony is destroyed, when Kirk calls back up to the Enterprise they are under attack from a mysterious ship so the away team is on their own for a while. 

They run around on the surface of the planet for a bit and the Enterprise fights with the ship, but then the enemy ship leaves and they are able to recover their people. Kirk concludes that this must be an aggressive species and decides to destroy the pursue and destroy the ship, otherwise they will be back to destroy other colonies. Spock takes issue with this, but Kirk will hear none of it, he says
Out here we are the only police men around, and a crime has been committed
As they are pursuing they come somewhat near to a solar system and the enemy ship stops completely. Kirk is happy that he will now be able to catch up, but the Enterprise is also stopped. They get a signal from the solar system that they are an advanced race who doesn't like the violence going on here, they decide that the best thing to do is take the two captains of the ships, let them battle it out and the winner will go free, the loser will be destroyed.

It turns out the enemy is the Gorn, they are extremely strong physically, Kirk throws some rocks at him, and even drops a boulder on him from quite high up, but he is not killed. Kirk then takes a bunch of minerals and puts them into a bamboo shoot to make a cannon of sorts. He nearly kills the Gorn but changes his mind at the last second. Leading up to the final attack by Kirk, the Gorn tells him they killed the colony because it was encroaching on their territory. Upon reflection, Kirk realizes this is a possibility because it is an unexplored area of space.

An angel looking guy shows up, he's from the nearby solar system and is supremely impressed with Kirk for not killing the Gorn. He says they are still half savage, but perhaps in a thousand years or so they can make contact with each other again.

Red Shirt

I don't think this is the first "red shirt" moment, but it was the first that really jumped out at me because it seemed to be quite ridiculous. When they beamed down to the destroyed colony Kirk motioned for the red shirt to look around and he was immediately killed. 

However, moments later both Kirk and Spock were running around with no cover and they were just fine. It looked like they were being attacked with mortars, but nothing like what the red shirt had to endure


This episode was tested out on mythbusters, unfortunately it was busted. There was no way for the bamboo to hold any blast sufficient enough to kill the Gorn. Unfortunately, it also means that I knew what was going to happen in this episode, although I guess I can't complain too much to have a 50 year old show spoiled :)



Solid episode, some iconic stuff in there. 


  1. There's also some foreshadowing regarding Kirk's bamboo cannon, during the engagement on Cestus 3. Kirk finds the armory and deploys a small but highly effective tube-style grenade launcher against the attacking Gorns. The parallel between the 23rd century mortar and the makeshift weapon Kirk uses against his opponent are unmistakeable.

    Also worthy of note regarding the Mythbusters analysis of "Arena" is the fact that the efficacy of gunpowder made on the fly would be questionable at best. Even with the means to grind coal, sulfur and potassium nitrate to a fine enough grade, getting the correct proportions under controlled conditions is hard enough. In the field, under life-and-death pressure, creating effective, weapons-grade gunpowder is highly improbable.

    1. Oh yeah, I didn't even notice the similarity of those 2 weapons. And making the gun-powder is at least as important as the bamboo holding up under the explosion. In fact, I suppose we could guess that it is some kind of super strong alien bamboo, but they described the materials that were making the gun powder. I don't think they have a way out of that one.

    2. There's one more little tidbit in "Arena" which, upon reviewing the other day, really struck me:

      McCoy: Then we could be in the wrong.

      One simple statement, facing and acknowledging that, since space is so vast, that the Federation could have encroached onto Gorn space without realizing it, and that even as the Enterprise may have been at the edge of their known territory, so was Cestus 3 on the limits of the Gorns. And because of that, to put it bluntly, someone may have screwed up, and that "someone" may have been US.

      When is the last time you heard someone say, "We may be wrong?" in this day and age? It isn't often ... and I see that inability to acknowledge one's potential for fallibility as more than a little problematic in this day and age.

      Star Trek was able to consider that fallibility, projected into the 23rd century. Would that we could more readily in the here and now.

    3. That's a really good point. And if I recall correctly, Spock was also trying to convince Kirk to slow down and think it through but Kirk was completely stuck on his interpretation of things. Did Kirk come around again at the end and realize he might have been wrong? It's only been a week since I watched it but it's already quite fuzzy. I feel like I should watch this one again :)

  2. He did come around! Why else would he have NOT killed the Gorn? He said as much: "Maybe you thought you were ... protecting yourself. When you attacked the outpost."

    The fact is, I agree with Kirk's initial assessment and action. Starfleet property has been attacked and people killed, no apparent reason or motive, and the attacker is clearly capable and dangerous. To do nothing is to invite further attack, especially in a poorly defended region of space. Note, too, that to this point, there has been NO EXPLANATION of the Gorn's actions, no formal complaint, no attempt at communication, nothing to suggest that their action was anything other than aggressive. With only this data to go on, Spock's approach smacks too much of Neville Chamberlain before WWII. The problem is that the two involved parties Haven't TALKED To Each Other ... until the Metron-arranged confrontation. With more information and a greater understanding of the overall situation, there is now a basis for Spock's more reasoned take.

    This kind of meat-on-the-bones writing is one of the reasons why the original Star Trek is as respected as it is ... why I have all three seasons sitting in my DVD case ... and why I find myself breaking them out again and again.

    1. Of course, I knew when I was writing that it seemed stupid but I posted it anyway :) Of course he came around, as you said.