Recap / Star Trek S3 E6 "Spectre of the Gun"

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This one's a bit different.
The Enterprise has been sent to make contact with the reclusive Malkotians. As it approaches their planet, a glowing object intercepts the ship and a booming voice warns the crew to go no further. Kirk reminds Spock that they were given "very clear" orders to establish contact with the Melkotians "at all costs", and decides to press on.

The disembodied brain with Glowing Eyes is not happy about being disobeyed, so he sends Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty and Chekov to The Wild West. Or at least, The Theme Park Version. It looks like it's made of tossed away scraps from a Western film. (It probably was.) The buildings are little more than facades. In the saloon, there are no walls, yet a clock and a G rated version of Ingres' La Grande Odalisque are suspended where walls should be. Ed The Bartender, Johnny The Sheriff and Sylvia the Soiled Dove all seem very real, though. Kirk and co find that their phasers are now old-fashioned six-shooters! What's more, they come to find this isn't just any old west town. They're in Tombstone, Arizona and the date is October 26, 1881. And everyone seems convinced that Kirk and crew are the Clanton gang and they have a date this afternoon at 5 at the O.K. corral with the Earps.

How can they avoid this date? If they can't, will they survive? And does Chekov stand a chance of getting laid?

Tropes for this episode include:

  • Anyone Can Die: Played with. At first, Bones points out that yes, obviously, people in this seemingly fictional setting really can die. Just when the viewer is thinking "Yeah, anyone but the Enterprise crew central cast!" Chekov dies defending Sylvia from the unwanted attentions of Morgan Earp.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Or at least gets you killed. (To be brought back on the whim of the Melkotians.) It's knowing that the guns, bullets and their wielders are all but shadows of learned memories, beings of no substance, that will save the day.
  • Creepy Monotone: The Earps and Doc Holiday all speak this way, in contrast to the other spectres, who act and speak convincingly like genuine characters.
  • Deadly Doctor: Doc Holiday. He has no more scruples than the others about killing the Enterprise crew.
  • Dramatic Thunder: As the Earps and Doc Holliday walk to the O.K. Corral for the final gunfight, lightning flashes overhead and thunder rolls.
  • Gilligan Cut: It's almost 5 o'clock, but not to worry! Kirk determines that none of them will be at the corral! "We're not going to move from this spot!" One blurry camera move later, they're all standing in the corral. Notable in that, due to Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, this isn't just a story-telling convention: they are actually transported to the corral the moment Kirk finishes speaking.
  • Foreshadowing: Probably not intentional, but this is an early appearance of something resembling a Holodeck adventure. Could Malkotonian technology have influenced the development of the Holodeck?
  • Historical-Domain Character: The Earps, Doc Holiday...possibly everyone involved with the O.K. Corral shooting.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade/Historical Villain Upgrade: Wyatt Earp and his gang are portrayed as complete sociopaths, while the Clantons are Robin Hood types rebelling against their tyranny. Even if you support the view that the two sides weren't as black and white as the newspapers said, it comes off as a bit much. It's at least partly explained by the fact that these are illusions designed to threaten Kirk and Co. rather than to preserve historical accuracy.
  • Honor Before Reason: Kirk insists that, no matter how desperate the situation gets, they cannot sink to the Earps' level. It ends up saving him and the others.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Sylvia the saloon girl is madly in love with Billy/Chekov and just wants him to be safe so she can marry him. She doesn't care that he's a killer and cattle rustler! She doesn't want Billy to be a hero. Not even an Anti-Hero!
  • I Come in Peace: Kirk says the line "We come in peace." but does not follow it with Shoot to kill as a certain novelty song would have you believe. He does state that he and his men will defend themselves and the episode ends with Starfleet creating diplomatic relations with the Melkotians.
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: All attempts to stop the fight at the OK Corral don't work, until Spock realizes that the guns aren't real. They are real only because the men expect them to be real and, because they know this, the bullets go right through them.
  • Leitmotif: A harmonica plays an "Old West" type theme in the final scene while the characters marvel how humanity overcame their desire for violence.
  • Liquid Courage: Plan A is to knock the Earps out with a jury rigged knock-out gas. Scotty agrees to be the guinea pig, but first he needs some whiskey to "Kill the pain."
  • MacGyvering: They manage to make a gas grenade. Bonus points for doing this in an environment that was an illusion created by hostile aliens and is not even finished in places.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Kirk is angered at the death of Chekov, but he Just! Can't! Kill them!
  • Newspaper Dating: Captain Kirk finds a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph dated October 26th, 1881.
  • Oh Crap!: Wyatt gets a quite satisfying one when his bullets have no effect.
  • Ominous Fog: The Melkotian appears in one when Kirk and Co. beam down. Once more, Spock has to comment that the environmental climate should not induce fog.
  • Power Walk: The Earps and Holliday walking to the O.K. Corral.
  • Quick Draw: Kirk almost unintentionally initiates one the first time he sees one of the Earps in the saloon. Kirk rises out of his seat, looking at Earp out of curiousity. The gunman draws his coat back, revealing his gun. Spock strongly suggests to Kirk that he slowly sit back down without moving ether hand.
  • Railroading:
    • The Melkotians intervene several times to stop our heroes going off-script, with a force field around the town to stop them just leaving and some tweaks to the laws of physics to stop them calling the ship or inventing their way out of trouble.
    • The episode also features a meta-example of railroading, with Starfleet's order to establish contact "at all costs" preventing Kirk from just turning around and leaving when the Melkotians first tell them to go away. It's never explained why Starfleet was so insistent.
  • Screw Destiny: It appears that the gunfight will turn out exactly as it did in history, until Chekov is shot. With some prompting from Spock, Kirk remembers that in the historical gunfight the man Chekov represented survived. This means that they can change the outcome rather than just be led to slaughter.
  • Shout-Out: A brand of whiskey mentioned bears the name Talos Lightning, a possible Shout-Out to the first time the Enterprise encountered mind altering telepathic aliens.
  • Significant Air Date: The episode originally aired October 25, 1968, one day before the gunfight's anniversary.
  • Some Kind of Force Field: Is keeping Kirk and co. from leaving Tombstone.
  • Space Western: At any rate, a Cowboy Episode on a series of space faring folk.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: The Melkotians are Reality Warpers or near limitless power in their own territory, and too aloof to regard humans as more than amusements. Like most examples of this Trope, the only way the protagonists can hope to survive is impress and convince them enough to resolve the issue peacefully.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Kirk refuses to kill Wyatt once he has him at his mercy, even though he killed Chekov. This impresses the aliens.
  • Translator Microbes: Kirk points out how odd it is that this alien being who has had no previous contact with any outside force knows English. Spock, Chekov and Uhura report hearing the message in their respective native languages. Spock concludes that the Malkotians are advanced telepaths.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Summed up perfectly by Spock. Spock realizes the whole experience is an illusion that is only as real as their minds accept it to be, but, as McCoy says, only someone as emotionless as a Vulcan could have the iron-hard certainty required even a shadow of doubt would be lethal. Spock mindmelds with the others to make them just as sure of the illusion as he is, making them invulnerable to it.
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