Recap: Star Trek S 1 E 20 Court Martial

Series:Star Trek: The Original Series
Episode: Season 1, Episode 20
Title:"Court Martial"
Previous: Tomorrow Is Yesterday
Next: The Return Of The Archons
Recapper: Insert Witty Name Here

After having gone through a severe ion storm, the never-before-mentioned Records Officer Lt. Comm. Ben Finney is dead. Now safely at Starbase 11, Kirk is filling out the necessary paperwork (does he have to do this for every Red Shirt?) and chatting amiably with Commodore Stone. Suddenly, Finney's teenage daughter Jame (pronounced "Jamie") bursts in and starts calling Kirk a murderer at the top of her lungs for no particular reason. It's after this that Stone notices the Enterprise computer's transcript suggests Kirk is guilty of culpable negligence in Finney's death. Dun dun DUN.

Kirk soon finds himself facing (you guessed it) court martial and who does the prosecution turns out to be? Areel Shaw, one of Kirk's six million old girlfriends! For his own attorney, Kirk gets Samuel T. Cogley, a crazy old Luddite who doesn't use his computer, insisting that the law "really" exists in books. This is a bit like a modern-day lawyer insisting that the law really exists on papyrus scrolls, but never mind. Cogley decides to build his case on Kirk being a human and the computer being a soulless machine. It was mentioned prior to this that Finney had a huge grudge against Kirk, but this apparently isn't considered relevant.

Shaw starts off by questioning Spock, Bones and the ship's personnel officer. Jame is also present, constantly scowling and getting the odd cutaway shot. Cogley argues that Kirk is innocent because machines are inhuman and Shaw shows a video from the day which seemingly proves Kirk's guilt. Somehow, her case goes over better and Kirk finds himself in deep do-do. Meanwhile, Jame decides Kirk is innocent just about as arbitrarily as she decided he was a murderer and apologizes. Back on the Enterprise, Spock notices that the computer isn't as good at 3D chess as it should be and realizes someone tampered with it. Before making use of this evidence, Cogley, of course, has to go into a rant about the wheels of progress being out of control. It's quickly deduced that Finney not only messed with the computer, but faked his death and is hiding on the ship. Kirk sets off to confront him alone since This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself, leading to an obligatory fight scene with the crazed Finney. Finney admits to sabotaging the Enterprise, causing the ship's orbit to decay. Kirk fixes this up with a stop by the Jeffries Tube.

All is resolved. Cogley plans to defend Finney, Shaw, obviously happy she lost, kisses Kirk and the Enterprise sets off on her next adventure.

This episode contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: A scene in the script, but cut from the episode, would have revealed Jamie Finney's change of heart was due to reading her father's old letters and realizing he might pull something like this to get revenge on Kirk.
  • Artistic License – Law: Shaw should have recused herself as prosecuting attorney given her previous relationship with the defendant; the appearance of a conflict of interest would be immediate grounds for appeal.
  • Caught on Tape: Captain Kirk is brought up on charges of causing the death of a crewman. The main evidence against him is the Enterprise computer log. It's later determined that the log was altered to frame Kirk for the crewman's death.
  • Character Witness: Spock and McCoy both try to act as these, but it does no good.
  • Clear My Name: Kirk attempts to do this, but it does no good. It's up to Spock to do it for him.
  • Courtroom Episode: Captain Kirk is accused of negligently causing the death of a crewman and perjury.
  • Eureka Moment: It's Kirk's offhanded comment that Spock "may be able to beat [his] next captain at chess" that sets the Vulcan on the right track.
  • Faking the Dead: Finney, to get revenge on Kirk.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: Cogley's list of famous declarations of rights — the Magna Carta, the US Constitution, a Declaration of Rights from the Martian Colonies, and the Statutes of Alpha III.
  • Fan of the Past: Samuel Cogley seems to be an amateur historian. During his closing arguments, he refers to fundamental declarations of rights made in the Magna Carta, the US Constitution, a Declaration of Rights from the Martian Colonies, and the Statutes of Alpha III. Justified, as lawyers need to be familiar with precedent cases, and history is one of the most common undergraduate majors for law school applicants.
  • Fighting Your Friend: Areel Shaw has to take on the role of the prosecution despite being Kirk's ex-lover and friend.
  • Frame-Up: You didn't think Kirk was actually guilty, did you?
  • Good Old Ways, aka Technophobia: Kirk's "brilliant" defense counsel has access to all legal precedents from history catalogued on his computer system, but casts it all aside for....books! Books which could be, and surely are, ON that system, with the addition of indexing and annotation...
  • Informed Ability: Samuel T. Cogley is, based on his actions in the episode, an idiotic Luddite who would have spectacularly lost Kirk's case without the timely interference of Spock. But everyone spends the whole episode talking about what a brilliant lawyer Cogley is.
  • Insult Backfire: When McCoy discovers Spock playing chess during the latter stages of Kirk's trial, he calls him, "the most cold-blooded man I've ever met." Spock's response? "Why, thank you, Doctor."
  • No, Except Yes: This exchange when Spock is trying to defend Kirk.
    Shaw: Are you disputing with the computer?
    Spock: I am not disputing with the computer; I am merely stating that it is wrong.
  • The Resenter: Finney. Ben Finney and James T. Kirk were friends when they were younger, until Kirk logged a mistake Finney had made aboard the Republic that could have blown up the ship had it not been discovered. This caused Finney to be reprimanded and dropped to the bottom of the promotion list. Years later Finney, still burning with resentment of being denied the captaincy he believed Kirk had taken from him out of jealousy but pretending to have forgiven him, faked his death and framed Kirk for it. When discovered, Finney breaks into a tirade about how he has "killed" the Enterprise (by causing the ship's orbit to decay) and that he doesn't care about the people he'll kill as they are "officers and gentlemen, Captains all...except for Finney, and his one mistake!"
  • Scare Chord: The prosecuting attorney badgers McCoy into admitting, "Yes, it's possible" — whereupon we get one of the series's trademark overly-dramatic musical stings.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Finney blames Kirk for his not getting a promotion, conveniently forgetting that all Kirk did was inform their superiors of an act of negligence by Finney that could have destroyed the ship.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Cogley has elements of this.
  • This Is No Time for Knitting: McCoy is aghast at seeing Spock playing chess while Kirk is losing his trial, but of course our favorite Vulcan knows exactly what he is doing. Namely, Spock was playing chess to confirm that the computer has been tampered with.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Finney has one at the end when Kirk confronts him.
  • We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: This episode was ahead of its time considering Spock finds out that the damning security cam footage had been deliberately altered to implicate Kirk.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Kirk and Finney were apparently on good terms as lower-level officers... until Kirk logged a dangerous negligence that Finney committed.
  • Wham Line: In-Universe. "I submit to you that Benjamin Finney is not dead!"
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: On the Bridge, Kirk says they will be employing a sound amplification that will magnify all sounds aboad ship on the order of "one to the fourth power"—which (and somehow the system only registers heartbeats).
    • Kirk does order the computer to filter out all sounds that can be accounted for, which leads to the one remaining heartbeat belonging to Finney. But the math error still stands. Shatner, who holds a degree in economics (and presumably took some math to get there) should have caught it even if the writers didn't.