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Recap / Star Trek S1 E26 "Errand of Mercy"

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Original air date: March 23, 1967

The One With… the Klingons for the very first time ever!

The war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingons is coming to a head and it looks like the peaceful planet Organia is stuck in the middle. Kirk puts Sulu in charge of the Enterprise, reminding him that his duty will be to the ship, not to the landing party consisting of Kirk and Spock. The people of Organia are a peaceful, welcoming bunch, content with their medieval way of life. When Kirk informs them of the war encroaching on their planet, the Organians seem unconcerned.

When the Klingons make their grand appearance and start occupying Organia, Kirk and Spock go undercover as traders, hoping to get the drop on the Klingons and drive them out. Much to Kirk's shock, the Organian council of elders betray them to the Klingons, only to rescue them from jail easily enough. Kirk is increasingly chagrined by the Organian's refusal to fight back against the tyrannies that the Klingons are imposing on them.

As the moment of full blown war approaches, the Organians reveal the truth. They are actually Sufficiently Advanced Aliens of pure energy who cannot be killed by conventional weapons. In fact, they use their mental abilities to neutralize not only all the weapons present, but the fleets of both the Federation and the Klingons! They impose a peace treaty on both sides, making it clear that they can render all their military forces helpless no matter where they are. The Organians bid both factions farewell, but before they disappear they express a wish that both races will learn not to be so violent.

Tropes of Mercy:

  • Affably Evil: Kor is smartly turned out, by no means bad-mannered, and urges Kirk to share a drink before he, Kirk, must regretfully be mind-sifted and killed. Kirk refuses to drink with the enemy, but by all the signs Kor is quite willing for this simply to be a social occasion, although it will save Kirk much pain if he is prepared to spill some secrets.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Near the end, Kirk calls out the Organians for their interference, saying the Federation and the Klingons have the right to govern their own affairs. Ayelborne - the Organian elder - asks if he's actually demanding the Organians let him start a war with the Klingons that will undoubtedly kill millions. Kirk starts verbally backpedaling in a hurry.
    Kirk: Even if you have some power that we don't understand, you have no right to dictate to our Federation—
    Kor: Or our Empire!
    Kirk: How to handle their interstellar relations! We have the right—
    Ayelborne: To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you're defending?
    Kirk: (Beat) Well, no one wants war. But there are proper channels. People have a right to handle their own affairs. Eventually, we will have—
    Ayelborne: Oh, eventually you will have peace, but only after millions of people have died. It is true that in the future, you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together.
    Kor: NEVER!
  • Ball of Light Transformation: This is the true form of the Organians. The amiable old men turn into blindingly bright light at the end of the episode — their humanoid appearance was simply A Form You Are Comfortable With.
  • Big "NEVER!": Kor's reaction to Ayelborne's prediction of peace between The Federation and the Klingon Empire. Becomes Hilarious in Hindsight in view of the cooperation between the two powers in the Star Trek: The Next Generation era.
  • Characterization Marches On: The Klingons. As an example, the Klingon lieutenant prefers obeying Kirk to dying. Two seasons later, Kang will say "A Klingon would never have surrendered."
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: A comic book published by IDW Comics in April 2007, "Against Their Nature", told this story from the Klingon point of view.
  • Disapproving Look: When Kirk gets chagrined enough to start backpedaling and tells the Organians, "Well, no one wants war...", Kor shoots him a glare that says "Speak for yourself, Kirk!" loud and clear.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
  • Enemy Mine: When Ayelborne declare that they will under no circumstances allow the Federation and Klingons to fight, Kor whispers to Kirk that they could take him together.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Kor would rather be commanding glorious battles, not bullying a population of "sheep"; and he angrily scolds the Organians for their spinelessness and laments that "it is always the brave who have to die".
  • Fake Town: When Kirk and Spock beam down to the planet Organia, they arrive in a small town with medieval technology and peasants. At the end of the episode they learn that the entire town was an illusion to give the Federation and the Klingons A Form You Are Comfortable With.
  • Foreshadowing: After Kirk and Spock leave to wreak havoc upon the Klingons, the Organians have a conversation that strongly hints that there is much more to them than meets the eye.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: The reason why the Organians don't always look like glowing balls of light.
  • Friendly Enemy: Kirk and Kor find themselves standing shoulder to shoulder, facing the Organians in common accord - much to their embarrassment.
  • Ghost Butler: The doors to the Organians' chamber open and close by themselves.
  • Great Escape: Subverted. Ayelborne just opens the door and tells Kirk and Spock they can go. These things happen when you're a being of pure thought.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Good Lord. Kirk and Kor go at it the entire episode, coming to a head as the Organians put an end to the Space Battle.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Invoked by Kor to try and persuade Kirk into turning traitor on the Federation, as he notes that the two of them have more in common with each other than with the "sheep-like" Organians. Kirk denies this, but the implication that Kor has a point is hardly subtle, especially when Kirk angrily declares his detestation of the seemingly spineless and sheep-like Organians, or when Kirk and Kor are both furiously berating the Organians for interfering in the war between their species.
    Kor: You of the Federation, you are much like us.
    Kirk: We're nothing like you. We're a democratic body.
    Kor: Come now, I'm not referring to minor ideological differences. I mean that we are similar as a species. Here we are on a planet of sheep. Two tigers, predators, hunters, killers, and it is precisely that which makes us great.
  • Heel Realization: After the affair is concluded, Kirk admits to Spock that he found his own protesting of the Organians stopping the war rather embarrassing.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The scene where Kirk and Spock stun the guards and break into the Klingon headquarters was filmed in sunlight using a "day-for-night" filter.
  • Humanity Is Advanced: Subverted. The inhabitants of the planet Organia appear to be primitive, but the reality is quite different: they're actually highly advanced Energy Beings.
  • Humans Are Bastards: But Klingons are even worse.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Kor's very next line after indignantly dismissing Ayelborne's prediction that Humans and Klingons would eventually work together is to suggest to Kirk that they do just that to put a stop to the Organians' interference:
    Kor: Captain, it's a trick. We can handle them. I have an army.
  • I Have Your Wife: The Klingons try to manipulate Kirk by threatening Spock, which greatly upsets the captain. Ho Yay abounds.
  • Idiot Ball: Hints that there is something a bit off about Organia are present, but even Spock fails to follow them to their logical conclusion. (Admittedly, Kirk, Spock, and the Klingons have more immediate concerns occupying their attention.)
    • Doors open and close automatically, despite the fact that this is supposedly a pre-industrial culture. Kirk, Spock and the Klingons might have failed to notice this because they come from civilizations where automatic doors are the norm.
    • Trefayne announces that eight Klingon ships have entered orbit and that hundreds of Klingons are beaming to the surface. Despite past experiences with Psychic Powers, Kirk asks how he knows this. Kirk and Spock also fail to consider the possible implications of the Organians being psychic. Likewise, the simple fact that people supposedly from a society stuck at a Medieval level of technology even understand the concept of starships and transporters in the first place fails to arouse any suspicions.
    • Kor (who otherwise exudes an air of considerable competence) chases a Federation starship out of orbit and then meets two men who are clearly not Organians, but somehow doesn't make the connection.
    • When Spock retrieves their phasers from the cabinet, his tricorder is right there but he leaves it behind.
  • Improvised Weapon: Kirk uses the simple rope belt on his costume to garrotte a Klingon to force him to give information.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: The Klingons are introduced. They (alongside the Vulcans) become the most iconic Star Trek aliens and major players in the galactic landscape.
  • Just You and Me and My GUARDS!: Kor doesn't even have to shout for his guards, as his own office is under surveillance.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The Organians seem this way, at first.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The episode title comes from Nicholas Nickleby: "It is an errand of mercy which brings me here. Pray, let me discharge it."
  • Living Legend: Kirk is just about a year into his command of the Enterprise, but Kor already knows him by reputation and is delighted to be meeting him in person.
  • Ludicrous Precision: Spock, again. He tells Kirk that the odds of success for their raid on Kor's headquarters are "7,824.7 to 1". Later, though, after they get past the first few guards, he remarks that they have now dropped to "less than 7,000 to one"; Kirk observes that they're getting better.
  • Mind Rape: Spock gets mind-raped by Klingon apparatus. It's made worse by just how passive he is in the scene following. And considering that Vulcans value their minds above their bodies...
    • The Klingon commander's dialogue in the scene beforehand is even stuffed full of Double Entendre...
  • Moral Myopia: Kirk is pompous enough to criticize the Organians for being so high-handed as to put a stop to the war, thus denying the Federation and the Klingon Empire their right to govern their own affairs. Of course, the entire episode showed that neither side really cared about the impact the war would have on non-aligned planets like Organia and that both merely saw them as strategic assets. Cold War allegory much?
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Kirk spent the entire episode trying to convince the Organians of the warlike and ruthless nature of the Klingons while offering the democratic benefits of the Federation, dumbfounded at their Actual Pacifist demeanor and refusal to take any action against the Klingon occupation. When the Organians reveal themselves as energy beings forcing a stalemate, Kirk suddenly finds himself side by side with Kor arguing for their right to wage war with each other. When called out on this Kirk is unsettled with his own behavior and hasn't shaken it off in the concluding scene.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The Organians do it without even trying very hard. Kirk tries to fake being dumb to pass for an Organian, but Kor sees through it right away. Spock's mental disciplines mean he can even trick a machine into thinking he has no idea what's going on.
  • Obstructionist Pacifist: Subverted in that the Organians look like this for most of the episode. Spock describes the planet as a stagnant culture on and the planet seems to be populated by amiable old men who placidly allow the Klingons to conquer them, rebuking Kirk and Spock's efforts to inspire a resistance because they abhor violence so much they'd rather allow arbitrary executions than fight back. It's only at the end that we learn the Organians have simply pretended to be harmless (and executed, and humanoid) to make their visitors feel at ease. When tensions come to a head, they revert to their luminous true forms and make both sides sit in the corner.
  • Offended by an Enemy's Indifference: Kor is very upset that the Organians he's occupying don't even offer token resistance. Kirk and Spock try to fight the Klingons, much to the delight of Kor as he sees Kirk as a Worthy Opponent.
  • Pacifism Is Cowardice: Kirk frequently describes the natives of the planet Organia as cowardly and likens them to sheep (not as in conformists, he's doing it because sheep are timid) because they don't want to fight some threatening Klingons. Subverted when the Organians reveal themselves as energy creatures who have the ability to stop both the Klingons and the Federation, but choose to live peaceful lives.
  • Planetville: Kirk and Spock just beam down into the middle of a primitive town square and expect that somebody will be able to direct them to the offices of the local world government.
  • Playing with Fire: The Organians make all weapons, including the control panels on the Enterprise (and presumably the Klingon ships as well), too hot to handle. Even hand to hand combat causes burning pain.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Kor acts like this, but it's treated as a personal quirk rather than the racial trait it would become.
  • Prove I Am Not Bluffing: Kor demands that Kirk and Spock, who were obviously sprung by the natives, be surrendered and has 200 hostages shot to show he is serious in his demands. Unfortunately for him, the Organians are Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and have no reason to fear, let alone bow to, such threats.
  • Rewatch Bonus: On second and subsequent viewings, the Organians' deadpan trolling of Kirk and Kor is absolutely hilarious.
  • The Short War: The Klingon/Federation war only lasts one episode, courtesy of the Organians forcing a stop to it.
  • Shout-Out: The episode title comes from Nicholas Nickleby: "It is an errand of mercy which brings me here. Pray, let me discharge it."
  • Small Role, Big Impact: This was John Colicos' only appearance as Kor on TOS before reprising the role decades later on Star Trek: Deep Space Ninenote , but his Genghis Khan-influenced performance set the standard for all Klingons throughout the Star Trek franchise.
  • Space Amish: The Organians appear to be this. Not only do they have only a Medieval level of technology, but they show neither signs of having made any progress in a long time, nor any interest in acquiring more advanced technology.
  • Space Romans: John Colicos, who played Kor, had some influence on the makeup design and conceived Kor (and by extension all Klingons) as "a futuristic Genghis Khan". One of the early production memos for this episode specified that the Klingons should look like "the Ho Chi Minh type." This fitted well with the Klingons being a metaphor for the Communist bloc to contrast with the Federation's "West" due to the former's particular association with China and 'the East' in the American imagination at the time (for a much less subtle attempt at same, see "The Omega Glory)".
  • Stepford Smiler: The Organian Council of Elders.
  • Strange Salute: Ayelborne greets Kirk and Spock by bowing and making fluttery circular motions with his hands. Kirk and Spock catch on quickly and return the greeting. In Kirk's case, rather sarcastically at times.
  • Stock Footage: The view of the citadel at the beginning of Act One is a stock footage shot of the Citadelle Laferrière in Haiti. The script specified for a matte painting to be used, but the stock footage shot proved to be much more cost-effective.
  • Suicidal Pacifism: The Organians won't raise a hand against the Klingons invading their home planet, even when the Klingons start killing them. Turned out they were Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who only appeared in A Form You Are Comfortable With and they weren't really hurt at all.
  • Third Party Stops Attack: The Organians take this up to eleven by stopping a full-scale war.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: This is what Kirk and Spock attempt to do with the Orgainians to make them resist the Klingon occupation, only to find that they are firmly uninterested and for good reason.
  • Unbuilt Trope: One of the most frequently-mocked flaws of the original series is how, despite the supposed importance of the Prime Directive, Kirk constantly interferes in the politics of primitive cultures to teach them the superiority of human values, and there are never any negative consequences. Yet when Kirk tries to do this, his attitudes are portrayed as ignorant chauvinism, very similar to the barbaric and totalitarian ideology of the Klingons he's fighting. In a twist, the "primitive" natives turn out to be even more advanced than the Federation itself, both technologically and morally, and it's Kirk who ends up learning about the flaws of his own values.
  • Understatement: Kirk points out Spock's talent for this when he says that being trapped on Organia during a Klingon occupation is "not a pleasant prospect".
    Kirk: So we're stranded here, in the middle of a Klingon occupation army.
    Spock: So it would seem. Not a very pleasant prospect.
    Kirk: You have a gift for understatement, Mister Spock. It's not a very pleasant prospect at all.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The people who live like Medieval peasants take no notice of the two strange men who have beamed down into their midst.note  Kirk and Spock actually comment on the oddity ("You'd think they had people beaming down every day." "Yes. Curious lack of interest."), but are apparently too distracted by the immediate crisis to ponder its significance.
  • War from Another World: The natives turn out to be Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and force both sides to back down, mediating a truce.
  • War Is Glorious: Kor is disappointed that the Organians prevented a war that "would have been glorious".
  • Wham Line:
    Ayelborne: To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you're defending?
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: Played with. Although Spock tells Kor that he is a Vulcan trader, he is not strictly lying; he is using a covert identity. Quite logical for him to do.
  • Worthy Opponent: Kor expresses outright admiration for Kirk, and is deeply disappointed that they didn't get to meet on a battlefield.
  • You Are in Command Now: With both Kirk and Spock on the planet when the Klingons arrive, Sulu is left in command of the Enterprise as he leaves to bring the rest of the fleet.


Video Example(s):


Tigers Among Sheep

Commander Kor claims the Federation is not so different from the Klingon Empire.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / NotSoDifferentRemark

Media sources: