This Week in Trek: Starship Gangsters

This week has been very light on news, so we get to do a dive into Star Trek history.


This week, nine(!) years ago: Zack reviewed Star Trek III & IV. Predictably, he had a soft spot in his heart for both. He felt III was a fan-service cul-de-sac with a rote climax, but that the performances of the cast and the “warmth” of the relationships made the film enjoyable. His primary characteristic for IV was “genial,” which must be a fricking great thing to be since he ranked for IV higher than III (not unusual among critics but not supported by what he actually says about the movies).


Exactly fifty years ago today, “A Piece of the Action” was rerun on NBC. This second season Trek adventure is *almost* a time travel story itself, seeing the crew visit a world that has patterned itself off of 1930s Chicago style organized crime. Plausibility aside, it’s a fun episode that gave us “fizzbin.”  It is an episode that sort of talks about the potential dangers of violating the prime directive, though its really treated as not that big a deal when McCoy repeats the same mistake and leaves his communicator.

(A similar mistake — leaving a communicator on a primitive planet — leads to much more serious problems in the Enterprise episode “The Communicator.”)

The episode comes back to play a part in the 1990 comic “The Trial of James T. Kirk,” a tale that is mostly an excuse to give TOS characters “cameos” to give closure to their stories, but also a bit of a comeuppance for Kirk’s cowboy ways in the original series. An Iotian makes an appearance and kinda stinks up the joint, see?


Hey, let’s talk about that comic story. A three parter, it capped the first year of DC’s second attempt at a Star Trek comic. Peter David wrote the first fifteen issues, including this arc, and he nails the character voices perfectly. His run on the comics understood that a star trek comic was more in line with an episode than a movie. A still drawing was never going to be as impressive as the big screen, so don’t try to match it for spectacle but rather lean into the dialogue and the relationships.


Heightened conflict with the Klingons have forced the Federation to make a concession and try Kirk on two charges: the murder of Klingon officers (in the destruction of the Enterprise in Star Trek III) and blatant systematic violation of the Prime Directive. The first charge is the one the Klingons care about on an emotional level, but the second on is the one that is stronger and most of the time is spent there. Half a dozen or so characters from the original series make an appearance and a couple from the movies.


The end of the trial is a disappointing cliche (Kirk foils a plot to kill the Klingon Emperor, which makes them honor-bound to consider the scales equal). It’s too bad, because Kirk was being absolutely crushed on the prime directive charge and it would’ve been interesting to see him get out of it using actual law. But honestly Peter David obviously had too much fun pointing out just how fast and loose Kirk had been, and there was no way he was getting out of it without a little hand-waving.


Those Starfleet types, they really are a reckless bunch. And they ever hardly get called on it. Riker disobeys clear Starfleet policy by trying to rescue Soren in “The Outcast.” Data strikes up a pen-pal relationship with a non space fearing alien child. There are tons of other cases across the series where Captains and crews say “to hell with our orders!” and they get away with it.


There are a few times where there is a token accounting. Riker has an off-screen hearing as a result of “The Pegasus.” Tom Paris is demoted and spends a month in the brig due to his actions in “Thirty Days.” Worf receives a mark on his record that pretty much ensures he’ll never get his own command (no wonder he went into the diplomatic corps). And of course Michael Burnham actually sees a conviction.

What’s your favorite example of a Star Trek character breaking the prime directive or other rules, and do you think they received justice? Was their punishment — if there was any — too light? too heavy? Or just ridiculously absent?


And now, a random image from Memory Alpha


A holographic Breen, a member of Iden’s Rebellion in 2377. (VOY: “Flesh and Blood“)