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Recap / Star Trek S1 E20 "Court Martial"

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Let's see you charm your way out of this one, Kirk.

Original air date: February 2, 1967

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 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.

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 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 doo-doo. 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 when the Enterprise computer detects the sound of his heart beat. Kirk sets off to confront Finney alone since This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself, leading to the obligatory fight scene with the crazed Finney complete with yet another one of Kirk's uniform shirts being torn in the process. Finney admits to sabotaging the Enterprise, causing the ship's orbit to decay. Kirk fixes this up with a stop by the Jeffries Tube and the bridge.

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

Court Tropes:

  • All There in the Script: A scene in the script, but cut from the episode, would have revealed that Jame Finney's change of heart was due to reading her father's old letters and realizing that 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.
      • It should be noted that in military courts, when you are ordered to act as prosecutor, you don't get to recuse on the grounds of familiarity, you follow orders and a failure to do so to the best of your ability is considered dereliction of duty. However, at the same time, Commodore Stone acted as both a member of the board of judgement AND as the officer who leveled the charges in the first place, which DOES present a conflict of interest, as his making of those charges does actually mark him as biased in favor of the charges.
      • It may also be, in 23rd-century Starfleet, that officers take their duties seriously and simply don't allow such relationships to be a hindrance. Commodore Stone has no difficulty acting as an impartial judge; Lt. Shaw pulls no punches as she lays out a devastating case against her former lover.
    • Spock, McCoy and the personnel officer are all present as witnesses in the court. They should not be sitting in court before their respective testimonies to avoid collusion.
    • Cogley had rested his defense just before Spock and McCoy entered with the exonerating evidence. So his impassioned plea to allow Kirk to "face his accuser" should really mean nothing considered he'd already announced for the record that he'd finished his case.
  • Artistic License – Space: The orbit of the Enterprise begins to decay ridiculously quickly. In the absence of any velocity change, the only factor which can cause this rate of decay is atmospheric drag, which would mean the ship is already burning up in the atmosphere of the body it's orbiting.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Albeit self-serving sorrow, Finney probably didn't get a chance to shave while skulking around the engineering decks working on his madman act.
  • Bling of War: There are some pretty nice-looking ones on the panel.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Cogley, who rejects computers for books, is depicted as eccentric at the very least but proves to be a competent and imaginative lawyer.
  • 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 tell the courtroom that Kirk couldn't have committed this kind of crime, 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.
  • Clothing Damage: Kirk's shirt gets torn during his fight with Finney.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Timothy from the bar makes it clear that he thinks Kirk is at fault for Finney's death, while Mike backs Timothy up. Maybe they're just bitter because Kirk is a captain and they're still wearing lieutenant's stripes, despite the fact that they were all in the same class at the Academy.
  • Court-martialed: Kirk gets put on trial for causing the death of a crew member through negligence. The crewman faked his death because he believed Kirk cost him a starship command by reporting him for an incident when they were both junior officers. Kirk is cleared of all charges.
  • Courtroom Episode: Captain Kirk is accused of negligently causing the death of a crewman and perjury.
  • Crusading Lawyer: Cogley. Shaw recommended Kirk to him because "if anyone can save you, he can." At the end of the episode, Shaw tells Kirk that Cogley is now defending Ben Finney, and confident he can get an acquittal there too.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cogley has caused Kirk's room to look like a library threw up.
    Kirk: I hope I'm not crowding you.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: 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.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: Late in the trial, Cogley stuns the courtroom by announcing Finney isn't dead.
  • Drowning Their Sorrows: After some planned solace with Shaw goes awry, Kirk plans to drink brandy straight from the bottle.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Spock calls himself a Vulcanian. Also his ID says he's in the Vulcanian Scientific Legion of Honor, and Kirk says he hasn't seen one of the guys at the bar "since the Vulcanian Expedition."
    • When Doctor McCoy scans Spock to mask out his heartbeat from the sound detector on the Enterprise, he does so across the chest region. It is later established that a Vulcan's heart is located in the lower right area of the torso.
    • Also averted. After half a season of "Space Central," "The Star Service," "The United Earth Space Probe Agency (UESPA)," and "The Space Fleet," Court Martial finally settles on the name of the service that Kirk and his crew belong to: Starfleet.note .
  • Easily Condemned: Kirk easily ends up Convicted by Public Opinion for negligence leading to a crew member's death, despite his stellar reputation up to now. Only his True Companions insist he couldn't have done it. The supposedly dead crew member, Ben Finney, framed him by altering security footage as revenge for Kirk daring to mention a mistake he made that could have resulted in an entire ship blowing up with all hands.
  • Easily Forgiven: Lt. Shaw, a former flame, is appointed to prosecute Kirk. She does set him up with who she believes to be a good defense attorney, but in court she pulls no punches and presents a devastating case. When all goes Kirk's way, they, er, make up fairly quickly. On the Bridge.
  • "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.
    • Similarly, Kirk has one when he works through that searching the ship for a missing crewman presumes that said crewman wishes to be found.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Finney may be batshit crazy to the point that he's prepared to destroy the Enterprise — and kill the entire court-martial board in the process — for the sake of getting revenge on Kirk, but he loves his daughter Jame. After he learns she's on board the ship, he's horrified, and ultimately tells Kirk which part of the ship he sabotaged so Kirk can repair it.
  • 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...note 
  • Informed Ability: Downplayed. Samuel T. Cogley is stated to be a good lawyer. In-episode, he does well enough until the video log by the computer, at which point it boils down to the point of 'the computer is never wrong', something he can't argue against with no reason to suspect otherwise. Once Spock gives him evidence that the computer is in error (indirectly), then he appeals to the court and succeeds, going on w/ some help to showcase the real truth of the matter. Not exactly brilliant, but he does show some chops.
  • 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."
  • Ludicrous Precision: Damn that's creepy. Someone get her away from the calendar.
    Areel: "Four years, seven months, and an odd number of days."
  • Mildly Military: Inverted. Finney complains that he should have been a captain, except for his "one mistake." IRL, that is all it takes to stall the career of a military officer, not only the mistakes he makes, but those over whom he has command (and responsibility). Although the show sometimes makes the claim Starfleet is not military (or is not merely military)
  • Never My Fault: Finney blames Kirk for the damage done to his career, but Kirk simply reported his mistake. Finney was the one who made a mistake that could have destroyed an entire ship with all hands. Perhaps he thought that Kirk should have protected him because they had been friends and when Kirk naturally didn’t do so, Finney blamed him for the fallout.
  • Obvious Stunt Double: The fight scene, where seemingly two random guys fight in place of William Shatner and Richard Webb.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The device McCoy uses to mute everyone's heartbeat is obviously a microphone. To be fair, that's what it is in-universe too (recording each heartbeat so the computer can filter it).
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: It's made clear that Finney believes the mistake he made (which Kirk mentions would have endangered the ship they were on if he hadn't reported it) was disproportionately small compared to the punishment he received (reprimanded and dropped to the bottom of the promotion list) and that their entire class, who made captain before him, constantly mocked him behind his back. He believes it enough to have gone obsessively insane, rant about it constantly to his own daughter, and try to commit murder when finally confronted.
  • The Pigpen: Hiding from everyone aboard for several days took a toll on Finney's hygiene. He's pretty gamey-looking with a decent amount of stubble by the time he confronts Kirk in Engineering.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Commodore Stone isn't out for Kirk's hide— he's doing his duty as a flag officer when evidence implicates one of the captains in his sector. Once it's clear Kirk was framed, he immediately agrees to drop all charges.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Several musical scores are reused in this episode, including some cues from "The Naked Time" by Alexander Courage, romantic themes by Joseph Mullendore from "The Conscience of the King", used for Kirk and Areel Shaw, and music from "The Enemy Within" by Sol Kaplan, accompanying the fight between Kirk and Finney.
  • 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 secretly burning with resentment of being denied the captaincy he believed Kirk had taken from him out of jealousy, 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!"
  • Sailor Fuku: Jame Finney's attire is a "futuristic" version of this.
  • 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.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Spock discovers that the ship's computer was tampered with by playing it at chess several times. After he wins several games, he knows something is wrong. (His reasoning was that because he was the one who programmed the computer to play chess, it would be unlikely that he could manage anything better than a stalemate while playing against it.)note 
    • An Alternate Character Interpretation is that Spock is saying that it is mathematically impossible for him to win a game with a 23rd century computer, thus his goal is to stalemate it. Which is still a reasonable statement now.
  • Stock Footage: A clip "The Naked Time" is used on the viewscreen shots as the Enterprise re-establishes its orbit around Starbase 11. A close-up of Spock from that episode is also reused. We also see a stock shot of the Enterprise moving through a starfield when she should be in orbit around the Starbase.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The main evidence against Kirk is the view of him pressing the button that jettisons the pod when Finney was still inside. However, the view of the action only shows a man's arm in a captain's uniform pressing the button, not that the arm is actually Kirk's. More damaging would have been the ability to see his face at the same time.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop: Because the title is "Court Martial" and it's about a court martial.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Finney has one at the end when Kirk confronts him, particularly when Kirk reveals that Jame is aboard the Enterprise after Finney told him he sabotaged the ship to burn up in the atmosphere.
  • 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 junior officers... until Kirk logged a dangerous negligence that Finney committed.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Despite being set up as a major guest character, Jame sort of just disappears halfway through the episode. There was supposed to be a scene in which she reunites with her father at the end, but this was deleted, resulting in her subplot going nowhere.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: On the Bridge, Kirk says they will be employing a sound amplification that will magnify all sounds aboard ship on the order of "one to the fourth power"—which (and somehow the system only registers heartbeats).
  • You Killed My Father: Sorry, Jame, we didn't quite get that. What are you accusing Captain Kirk of doing?


Video Example(s):


Kirk's Commendations

A computer rattles off Captain Kirk's commendations.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / LongList

Media sources: