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Recap / Star Trek S2 E25 "Bread and Circuses"

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Original air date: March 15, 1968

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. Merik was convinced by a local not to spread knowledge of their people, and was offered a life of luxury as First Citizen in return for selling out his entire crew to fight in the gladiator pits.

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

Tropes and Circuses:

  • 30-Second Blackout: Scotty causes one to help Kirk and company escape.
  • Affably Evil: Proconsul Claudius Marcus. While he's shown to be annoyed by Kirk's defiance, he never takes it personally, even arranging for a night of pleasure for Kirk with his personal slave girl before his execution the following day. On thinking that Kirk has persuaded the girl to steal back his communicator, Marcus says he won't punish her for that, and he will see that Kirk and his friends are given a swift execution.
  • Aliens Speaking English: The fact that the locals speak English with 20th Century Earth idioms is noted. Though that doesn't explain why Latin isn't the dominant language instead. It's pretty much just there to make the sun/son homophone work.
  • Alternate Universe: Though only in the "What if Rome never fell?" sense. Instead of an alternate history Earth, we have a planet so similar to Earth it somehow evolved a Roman Empire, a Christian-like religion, and the Madsen submachine gun.
  • Ancient Rome: This planet's hat.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Bones keeps nagging at the idea of the "sun" faith, saying it doesn't make sense because "Rome had no sun worshipers". Actually, they did, and the Sun god was pretty important. Spock claims later that solar worship was usually a "primitive superstition-religion"; believers in Surya, Shamash and the numerous Egyptian sun deities would have a great deal to say about that, but Gene Roddenberry was all about Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions.
    • Spock claims that about six million people died in WWI and eleven million in WWII. Low-end estimates place the number of dead in the first at about fifteen million, and of the second at an astounding seventy million, with the Soviet Union and China each losing far more than eleven million by themselves. The lowest estimate for Soviet deaths is nearly double eleven million.
  • As You Know:
    • Kirk, Bones and Spock all spell out what the Prime Directive is, even though they presumably know what that is.
    • Scotty also spells out what Condition Green is for his Log.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Bones is about to be killed in the arena, so Spock disables his opponent and comes to his rescue.
    • Kirk is about to be executed on live television when Flavius charges in with a sword and Scotty kills the power.
  • 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.
  • Bronson Canyon and Caves: Bronson Canyon is the place where Kirk and Co encounter the rebel slaves.
  • 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. He does.
  • Cut the Juice: Scotty has Enterprise overload the power grid as a show of force. Cue the lights going out in the studio giving Kirk a chance to escape.
  • 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, "Never."
  • 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. While he does fall out of shot, we then cut away to Uhura flinching in horror, so presumably there was an In-Universe close-up of the killing. Uhura also loses the television signal just as Harrison is about to be stabbed.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Claudius Marcus, proconsul of the slave-owning Roman Empire, has a Southern accent.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Spock to the gladiator he's fighting, who unlike Flavius is seriously trying to kill his opponent. Spock isn't bluffing either—on seeing Bones is about to get killed, he takes down the gladiator easily so he can rush to defend his colleague.
  • Dystopia: It's the worst of Ancient Rome combined with the worst of the 20th Century.
    • Repressive, but Efficient: Though the Pax Romana is apparently worldwide and has lasted for many centuries, and slaves are treated well enough that it's not worth their while to rebel (provided they're not exposed to subversive religions preaching freedom and equality).
  • Enforced Plug: While looking through a magazine, Kirk notices an advertisement for the Jupiter 8 automobile. Later the gladiator contest Name The Winner is brought to the audience "by Jupiter 8 dealers from coast to coast!"
  • A Father to His Men: Averted with Merik, who betrayed his own men to save his own life. Those who failed to adapt to Roman society ended up in the arena—the last of them is shown being killed just as the Enterprise arrives.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional:
    Spock: Situations quite familiar to the 6,000,000 who died in your First World War, the 11,000,000 who died in your Second, the 37,000,000 who died in your Third...
  • Foreshadowing
    • Before Kirk beams down he has a discussion over how the M-class planet is exactly like Earth in some ways, but different in others.
    • Proconsul Marcus notes that one of the communicators has gone missing, and muses that maybe Kirk persuaded Drusilla to steal it for him. Turns out Merik has it instead.
  • Forced to Watch: Kirk is handcuffed and forced to watch Spock and Bones (along with Flavius) fight to the death. He annoys the proconsul by refusing to yield and pretending he's not bothered by any of this. Merik turns out to be more affected as it brings back memories of his own men dying.
  • 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.
  • Gilligan Cut: Just as Bones and Spock find something to agree about — their concern for their captain — we cut to Captain Kirk eating Grapes of Luxury with a Beautiful Slave Girl.
  • Gladiator Games: The games are televised as entertainment, with well-known contestants featured in magazines. At one point Flavius isn't fighting hard enough and he's threatened with "We'll do a special on you!"
  • God Guise: Lampshaded by Bones when he jokes that he'd like to screw the Prime Directive, beam down to a planet and claim to be the Archangel Gabriel.
  • 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 thank you, you pointy eared hobgoblin!" Bones blurts out.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Previous slave revolts were crushed, but conditions for slaves have improved over the centuries (including medical benefits and pensions) so that slavery has become an institution.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Merik eventually decides to aid Kirk, redeeming himself, though he has little time to enjoy it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Flavius rushes in to save Kirk from execution at the last minute. He's killed for it, but the attempt is just what Kirk needed to escape (helped by Scotty's blackout of the city) - at the end, McCoy notes that Kirk mentioned his sacrifice in the captain's log.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Including one of the guards doing a Prat Fall as he rushes into the room, and William Shatner being abducted on-set by Ted Cassidy as a practical joke.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: Flavius is trying to avoid killing Bones and getting whipped for his trouble.
    Flavius: At least defend yourself!
    McCoy: I am defending myself!
    Flavius: Not like that, you fool! Hold your weapon higher!
  • 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 (though at the same time, using their guns would cause more deaths than just their targets; the soldiers are in each other's line-of-fire, Claudius included).
    • Marcus also knows that while the Enterprise has the power to rescue their men by force or lay waste to the entire planet, they won't do so because they've sworn to uphold the Prime Directive.
  • 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!
  • Killed Mid-Sentence:
    Merik: Starship, lock in on this. Three to beam— (gasps as a Reveal Shot shows that the Proconsul has just stabbed him)
  • Laugh Track: In the televised gladiatorial combats, the crowd's cheers and boos are mechanically produced. Bones even looks around in confusion when he hears the canned boos.
  • 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.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Just look at the damn picture.
  • 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 Sense of Personal Space: Marcus is very happy taunting Kirk when the latter is handcuffed and trying to pretend Spock and Bones fighting other gladiators doesn't bother him.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: While they do have a Sexy Discretion Shot later, Kirk initially shows little interest with Drusilla and her telling him she's his slave.
  • Not So Stoic: Bones says the reason Spock is Not Afraid to Die is because he would no longer have to worry about losing his emotional control. Spock's lack of a snappy comeback implies he's hit a nerve. However when Bones goes on to say he wouldn't know what to do with a genuine feeling, Spock just gives a sardonic, "Really?" and Bones admits that he's worried about Kirk too.
  • No Such Thing as Space Jesus: A subversion in the literal sense, as the planet is implied to have had an actual Jesus. (If that's his name. He's called the Son of God, and Kirk calls him Christnote , but we never hear his real name.) Beyond that, what exactly their version of him did, other than emphasize a commitment to total peace and a philosophy of love and brotherhood, 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. Merik doesn't deny a word of this, as he's long-resigned himself to it, although later Kirk's display of character helps bring him out of that... enough that at the end, his last act is to help them escape at the cost of his own life.
  • Opponent Instruction: Spock and McCoy get forced into the arena to convince Kirk to submit to the villains' plans. Despite preferring a pacifistic approach, Spock keeps his opponent at bay easily, but McCoy, not being a Combat Medic, can barely manage. His opponent, a fairly Nice Guy who doesn't actually want to hurt him, starts trying to coach him during the match.
    Flavius: At least defend yourself!
    McCoy: [waving his arms in frustration and leaving himself vulnerable] I am defending myself!
  • 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.
  • Prime Directive: Unfortunately Merik has told Proconsul Marcus about it, so he knows Kirk can't just beam down a hundred men with phasers to blast him out. Scotty however has no problem with Loophole Abuse; he decides to Cut the Juice as an Intimidation Demonstration, giving Kirk a chance to escape.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In the end, Merik decides to help Kirk, Spock and McCoy escape, and is immediately killed for it by Claudius Marcus.
  • Reluctant Warrior: Spock and McCoy are thrown into a death match against gladiator-style warriors on a new planet. While the alien opponent is coming at him with a sword, Spock constantly plays defensive, choosing to dodge the blows while insisting that he "does not want to injure" him, leading to the watching crowd concluding that "the pointy-eared barbarian" is about to get killed. However, when he notices that the much less action-oriented McCoy is in danger, Spock deals with his opponent in the space of a second and darts over to save his frenemy.
  • Sarcasm Mode: McCoy while in the arena.
    Spock: Do you need some help, Doctor?
    McCoy: Whatever gave you that idea?
  • Schizo Tech: Gladiator fights with swords are broadcast on television.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Kirk makes smoochy face with Drusilla the Sex Slave. Pan up to chandelier. Pan down to Kirk sleeping alone. A line that was cut had Kirk drinking wine and saying "good," eating something and saying "excellent," and then — "And you?" and Drusilla says "Superb, I'm told."
  • Shoot Out the Lock: After Spock fails to get through the carbon-steel bars of the prison cell with his Vulcan strength, Kirk shoots out the lock with a submachine gun.
  • Shout-Out:
  • 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.
  • Stern Sun Worshippers: The crew of the Enterprise are extremely surprised to find that the "Children of the Sun" are a peace-loving, egalitarian movement that is persecuted by the Roman Empire government. They discuss that most sun-cults are the exact opposite. The episode closes with the reveal that they are not worshippers of the sun, but rather son (of God), i.e., Jesus.
  • Stock Footage: Stock footage shots of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco are used to depict the Roman capital. Given the use of Roman architecture in Western civilisation to portray power and authority, it works well.
  • Sword and Gun: The Proconsul's Praetorian Guard are each armed with a gladius and a Madsen M-50 submachine gun. When they find themselves in a potential crossfire, they resort to their swords instead.
  • Teleportation Rescue: Averted at first; having been warned about teleporters by Merik, Marcus marches in his guards to hold Kirk at gunpoint before allowing him to complete his transmission to Scotty. Merik later makes the call on Kirk's behalf, and by the time the guards pick up their submachine guns (having put them aside earlier) they're already beaming out.
  • Think Nothing of It: Spock's reaction to Bones' Grudging "Thank You".
  • Thwarted Escape: Kirk tells Maximus to let the First Consul know that his old friend "Jim Kirk" is in prison. Unfortunately it works too well; when they later overpower the guards, they rush out into the corridor and find the First Consul and Proconsul waiting for them, along with all their bodyguards.
  • Unusual Ears: Which gets Spock pegged as a 'barbarian'.
  • Villain Ball: Claudius Marcus and Merik take Kirk and company aside and Explain to them that the crew of the Beagle were stranded in the planet after the ship broke up. Merik made arrangements with Marcus to integrate himself and a few willing members of his crew into Roman society, while keeping the secret of aliens from the general populace. The rest of the crew was executed in gladiatorial games, but that's the local culture and the solution is in line with the prime directive, if cruel. It kind of sucks that the planet practices slavery, but Kirk's mission is fulfilled and Marcus broadly agrees with the prime directive and had no interest getting his hands on alien tech. Then, Marcus demands that the Enterprise crew beam down so that they can be killed in gladiatorial games. Why? Because it would make great sport!
  • 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.
  • We Come In Peace: Flavius first instinct is to kill these uniformed strangers.
    Septimus: Keep always in your mind, Flavius, that our way is peace.
    McCoy: For which we are grateful, for we are men of peace ourselves.
  • What Happened to the Mouse??: Merik said some of his crew were able to adapt to Roman society, but doesn't specify how. Did Kirk just leave them there, without checking to see for himself what their statuses were? There may have been some that wanted to get home, but were now trapped and did what they had to to survive.
  • Whip of Dominance: Anyone who tries to get out of the gladiatorial combat gets whipped back into action.