Recap: Star Trek S2E25 "Bread and Circuses"

After coming across the wreckage of the S. S. Beagle, Kirk, Spock and Bones beam down to the surface of the nearest planet. This planet is a class M planet remarkably like earth down to the land/water ratio. Atmosphere and radio signals hint a technological advancement equal to 20th century Earth. They beam down to a part of the wilderness close to city limits, thinking it deserted when they're taken captive by slaves on the run. After Kirk impresses them with his communicator, they take him in and tell him about the empire. Apparently, they get very angry when slaves worship a different god. Kirk and company gather the runaway slaves to be "sun" worshipers. It seems the civilization on this planet is a reflection of a modern day Earth where Rome never fell.

When Kirk and company are captured and taken to the city, they find out what happened to the crew of the Beagle. It seems not all captains are that dedicated to their crew. When Merik was offered a life of luxury as First Citizen in return for selling out his entire crew to fight in the gladiator pits, he couldn't resist. What a bastard.

The Fan Nickname for this episode is "The One with... the Space Romans".

Tropes for this episode include:

  • Ancient Rome: This planet's hat.
  • As You Know: Kirk, Bones and Spock all discuss what the Prime Directive is, even though they presumably know what that is.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: The sequence with the televised gladiator game show gets in a good few jabs at network television and the pursuit of ratings. This episode was made when Star Trek was facing cancellation at the end of the season, and the show's makers were not feeling charitable toward the network.
  • Blood Sport: Barbarians (i.e., people not of this planet) and slaves fight to the death in gladiator pits. It's treated like Monday Night Football.
  • Bread and Circuses: Look at the title.
  • Covert Distress Code: Kirk tells Scotty "Condition Green, everything's fine." However, "Condition Green" is their code for "I'm in trouble, but don't do anything to help." Scotty has to figure out a way to help Kirk without breaking the Prime Directive.
  • Deadpan Snarker: When an armed man points at Spock's pointed ears and says "What do you call those?" He calmly replies "I call them ears." When asked if he's trying to be funny, he flatly replies "Not at all." Oh, that Spock!
  • Defiant to the End: Merik's last move is to throw Kirk his communicator.
  • Discretion Shot: When Kirk and co. are watching a televised gladiatorial combat, the losing gladiator falls to the ground and out of shot just before he's stabbed, so the death blow is not visible. Stands out because of the conflict between the priorities of the real TV network and the in-universe TV network, which would have insisted the camera follow the falling gladiator so the audience isn't deprived of the money shot.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Claudius Marcus, proconsul of the slave-owning Roman empire, has a Southern accent.
  • Dystopia: It's the worst of Ancient Rome combined with the worst of the 20th Century.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: According to Kirk, Merik washed out of the Academy in his fifth year after failing a psychosimulator test. Starfleet Academy was later established as a four-year institution.
  • Flynning: To the point where, during the arena fight, Bones is able to look away from his opponent and hold a conversation with Spock, while his opponent stands there carefully hitting his shield. Justified in that: A) The fight is broadcast for entertainment, and B) his opponent had befriended them earlier and doesn't want to harm them.
  • Gladiator Games: They even make magazines about it!
  • Grudging Thank You: Spock tells Bones to hurry up with what he's trying to say while he looks for a means to escape their cell. "I'm trying to say 'thank you', you pointy eared hobgoblin!" Bones blurts out.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Or at least medical benefits and pension.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Merik eventually decides to aid Kirk, redeeming himself, though he has little time to enjoy it.
  • Honor Before Reason: Claudius Marcus has a touch of this; because he respects Kirk's courage, he feels obliged to give Kirk a proper death, to the point that when his guards have Kirk's team surrounded at gunpoint he insists they use their swords instead of just gunning them all down on the spot.
  • I Have Your Wife: Kirk is told if he doesn't do as Merik did, Bones and Spock will be forced to fight to the death in the gladiator pits. Even threatened with this and with guns to his head, Kirk still refuses. Claudius Marcus is impressed by this show of character. Merik is rightfully ashamed.
  • Inexplicable Cultural Ties: The Hand Wave we get is something called Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Development.
  • Involuntary Battle to the Death: What could possess a man to battle another man to the death? Whips! Massive whips!
  • Laugh Track: In the televised gladiatorial combats, the crowd's cheers and boos are mechanically produced.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: After Kirk impresses Claudius Marcus with his courage and integrity, Claudius Marcus can't help repeatedly mentioning how much better that makes him than Merik, who betrayed his oath and his crew to survive. Having his nose rubbed in his failings inspires Merik to help Kirk, at the cost of his own life.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Claudius Marcus invites Kirk and company to eat with him, before he forces him into a Sadistic Choice at gun point.
  • No Such Thing as Space Jesus: A subversion in the literal sense, as the planet is implied to have had an actual Jesus. Beyond that, what exactly their version of him did doesn't get much coverage.
  • The Oathbreaker: Kirk condemns Merik as one because he sold out his entire crew just to save his own life and gain luxuries.
  • Playing Sick: They try the old faking sick trick. It works okay, despite Kirk not warning McCoy in advance that he was going to be the sick one, but they're quickly recaptured by another set of guards.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Bones gives one to Spock, telling him that he fears emotion more than death. Spock calmly responds with Vulcanese for I Am What I Am.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In the end, Merik decides to help Kirk, Spock and McCoy escape, and is immediately killed for it by Claudius Marcus.
  • Sarcasm Mode: McCoy while in the arena.
    Spock: Do you need some help, Doctor?
    McCoy: Whatever gave you that idea?
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Kirk makes smoochy face with Drusilla the Sex Slave. Pan up to chandelier. Pan down to Kirk sleeping alone.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Kirk shoots out the lock of the prison cell with a machine gun.
  • Shout-Out: A car called the Jupiter 8 could be a Shout Out to Lost in Space
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Spock and Bones are at it again! Even in the heat of combat, they manage to snark each other.
  • Space Romans: The whole planet.
  • Think Nothing of It: Spock's reaction to Bones' Grudging Thank You.
  • 30-Second Blackout: Scotty causes one to help Kirk and company escape.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Spock and McCoy, as usual. It gets lampshaded when Flavius, after seeing them argue, asks Kirk if they're enemies, and Kirk replies that even they don't know for sure.
  • Whip It Good: Anyone who tries to get out of the gladiatorial combat gets whipped back into action.