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Recap / Star Trek S3 E22 "The Savage Curtain"

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Season 3 was weird, people.

Original air date: March 7, 1969

The One With… Abraham Lincoln IN SPACE!

Another day on the Enterprise, another new planet to explore. Excalbia will be explored from afar due to excessive amounts of volcanic activity. Kirk asks Spock if he detects any life forms. He actually detects a few, though there should be none. Oh well, obviously a computer error. Time to pack it in and call it that Abraham Lincoln hovering in space?note 

He's posed just like his statue in the Lincoln Memorial, armchair and all. Somehow, he can not only exist in space but speak in the vacuum of space. He politely requests to be beamed aboard. Kirk beams him aboard with full presidential honors. He realizes there is no logical way this should be the Great Emancipator himself, but he'll play along anyway. Lincoln, still charmingly polite, requests Kirk and Spock to beam down to Excalbia with him. He cannot explain why, only that they must. Bones and Scotty think this is a very dumb idea. So of course Kirk's willing to do it! Spock declares he will accept the invitation too. And so they do.

On beaming down, they meet Surak, a Messianic Archetype from Vulcan history who makes Spock look like a Keet. They also meet a Rock Monster called Yarnek who wants to know if Good or Evil is stronger. To find out, he becomes Teddy Long and makes an 8-person Tag team match, pitting Kirk, Spock, Lincoln and Surak against Genghis Khan, Zora (a Mad Doctor from Tiburon), Colonel Phillip Green (ecoterrorist and genocidal maniac from World War III) and Kahless the Unforgettable (Hero of the Klingons). Why? Eh, why not?

The Savage Tropes:

  • All There in the Script:
    • Yarnek is never named in dialogue, but is so named in the script. Even in the closed captioning, he's merely identified when speaking off-screen as "Excalbian."
    • This episode would get a sequel of sorts in the novel Savage Trade, which develops the mindset of the Excalbians and reveals their true motives for staging this fight, as well as the aftereffects that set in after the Enterprise leaves.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The rock monsters are stated to be carbon life forms, where silicon based life would make much more sense. Even more baffling is that silicon based life has appeared on the show earlier.
  • Artistic License – History: The historical characters, most notably Lincoln, do not look or act much like their real counterparts. Justified, since they are based on Kirk's and Spock's images of these historic figures.
  • Badass Pacifist: Surak refuses to take part in battle, even though Kirk insists the war they're fighting is for a just cause. Still, Surak insists on a peaceful negotiation with Col. Green. Even Kirk is moved to remark to Spock that "your Surak is a brave man", to which Spock replies "Men of peace usually are, Captain." Unfortunately, it gets him killed.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Sums up the whole episode, with Yarnek the super power who wants to know if Good or Evil is stronger. Ultimately subverted — at the end, Yarnek expresses confusion because the distinction between the two isn't as clear as he'd been expecting, since Kirk's team also resorted to violence to win. Kirk explains the difference was in what motivated them: the villains were offered power, while Kirk and Spock were fighting for the lives of the Enterprise crew.
  • Blatant Lies: Green tells Kirk that he would like to peacefully team up with Kirk against their common foe. It's all a deception to attack him when his guard's down.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Yarnek does not understand the concept of good and evil.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Kirk decides he's going to slug Yarnek for what he put Spock and himself through. Yeah, punch the monster made of lava rocks, Jim. You'll have third degree burns on top of that broken arm!
  • Captain Obvious: Yarnek tells Kirk "If you and Spock survive, you return to your vessel. If you do not... your existence is ended." Thanks for telling us, Yarnek! That's right up there with "People die if they're killed!"
  • Characterization Marches On: Kahless is based on the Federation's conception of the Klingon hero, and it is (due to the political climate) both not terribly favorable and comparatively ignorant. If this episode were to be made in the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kahless would undoubtedly be on the good side along with Lincoln and Surak. Especially if Worf were one of the participants.note 
  • Combat Pragmatist: Lincoln advocates fighting just as dirty as Colonel Green and his friends.
  • Door Jam: Yarnek disables the Enterprise's transporter until they show whether good or evil is stronger. This leaves Kirk and Spock stranded on an alien planet without the support of their crew, with only a pacifist alien and Abe Lincoln to aid them in fighting history's greatest villains.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Col. Green expects Surak's peace talks to be a trick. That's what he'd be doing if he tried to talk peace with someone. (In fact, he just did a few minutes ago.)
  • Evil Counterpart: Each of the core four has their counterpart among the summoned adversaries.
    • Colonel Green to Kirk - Cunning human officers who easily take charge of their respective packs
    • Zora to Spock - Alien scientists
    • Kahless to Surak - each the greatest influencer of his race
    • Genghis Khan to Lincoln - commanders-in-chief from human history
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: Of the six "historical" characters in this episode, only two are known to modern day humans. The others got their characterization expanded on in future Star Trek incarnations, save for Zora. Pity. It would've been interesting to see what a female Josef Mengele of the future would be like.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Col. Green seems quite polite and soft-spoken, despite freely admitting to at least some of his bad historical reputation. His good behavior is quickly shown to be a diversionary tactic.
  • Forced into Their Sunday Best: Bones and Scotty rankle at getting gussied up for someone who is probably not Abraham Lincoln.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Surak, Spock and President Lincoln have a hard time understanding the motives and actions of the opposing "evil" side. Only Kirk seems to have a grasp of their potential for deceptiveness and duplicity.
  • Historical Domain Crossover: The Hero team is Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Abraham Lincoln and Surak of Vulcan. The villain team is Genghis Khan, the Klingon Kahless, Colonel Green and the Mad Scientist Zora. Everyone except Kirk and Spock are actually alien rock creatures masquerading as humanoids.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Kirk's idealized picture of Abraham Lincoln is mostly based on the simplistic, idealized version of Lincoln that was popularized up to The '60s or even into The '70s. The dialogue at the end of the episode actually lampshades as Kirk acknowledges that the image of Lincoln was created out of his own idealization of what he wanted the man to be, not necessarily ignorance of actual history.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: While the episode takes place too near to the end of TOS's run to count for anything in terms of that series, its introduction of Surak and Kahless (and to a lesser extent, Colonel Green) would have far-ranging implications for future spin-off shows.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Lincoln casually refers to Uhura as a "charming negress". He quickly apologizes though Uhura isn't offended since bigoted terms like that are now only a thing of the distant past.
  • Involuntary Battle to the Death: As in in "Arena" and "Spectre of the Gun", Kirk is forced to fight for an alien's amusement.
  • Kirk Summation: Kirk can't punch Yarnek, but he can give him a piece of his mind, demanding "What gives you the right to do this?"
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!": Kirk and Spock are both pretty honored to meet their personal heroes. Spock even admits to showing emotion at the sight of Surak (albeit some of which was simple shock).
  • Leitmotif: When Lincoln is beamed aboard, one of the security officers blows a bosun's whistle and they play a recording of "Hail To The Chief". Lincoln looks around and asks where the band is.
  • Meaningful Name: Obliquely implied, but Yarnek speaks of his people's test as a "spectacle" or "play", suggesting that the battle is taking place on a stage and that its beginning means a curtain is rising; the Enterprise bridge crew is even made spectators to further the metaphor. The "savage" aspect obviously relates to it being a battle to the death. It may also relate to the thin curtain of willpower and ideology separating good from evil.
  • Mirroring Factions: Played with. Kirk, Spock, Lincoln and Surak represent Good; Colonel Green, Kahless, Khan, and Zora represent Evil. Yarnek complains afterward that he can't see the difference between them; Kirk responds by pointing out that they fought for different things: the evil side fought for power, while he and Spock fought for their ship and its crew.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Colonel Green is Adolf Hitler dressed in Mork from Ork's red jumpsuit. Zora also bears a striking resemblance to Josef Mengele, the original trope namer for Mad Doctor.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Yarnek insists his method of exploration is no different from Kirk's. That's Blue-and-Orange Morality in action, folks.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Kind of odd to have an example of this twenty years before Star Trek: The Next Generation began, but that's what it is: Yarnek complains that he doesn't see the difference between 'good' and 'evil'; Kirk points out that he and Spock fought to defend life, while the evil side fought to gain power.
  • Rock Monster: The aliens who set up the morality play are made of carbon-based stones.
  • The Silent Bob: Neither Genghis Khan nor Zora have any dialogue between them, with Colonel Green and Kahless being the only members of the Rogues Gallery who actually speak.
  • Truce Trickery: Kirk points out to Colonel Green that he was notorious for striking his enemies while in the midst of negotiating with them.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: The Excalbian recreation of Abraham Lincoln asks if they still measure time in minutes, to which Kirk responds that they "can convert to it". (Lincoln consults a pocket watch as he says this.)
  • Voice Changeling: The fake Kahless is able to perfectly mimic the voices of both Surak and Lincoln. Possibly Justified in that all three are Excalbian impersonations and thus all their voices are "fake".
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Relatively gently, but Bones and Scotty call out Kirk for being a fawning fanboy over Lincoln and not using common sense.
  • We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: Green pulls this and assumes Surak is doing the same.
  • White Male Lead: Col. Green instantly takes command of the villain team, with no less than Genghis Khan obeying his orders. There seems to be no reason for this except that he's the one white dude. The real Genghis Khan and Kahless (a member of a race that considers humans inferior) would not approve. Of course, their uncharacteristic behavior is slightly justified because they're not the real Genghis or Kahless.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Spock has no problem laying his fists on Zora. Wouldn't you slug Ilsa Koch if you got the chance?