Once again it befalls me to offer the defense of a not-very-well-thought-of episode of original Trek. When most people bring up “The Omega Glory,” it’s to do their impression of William Shatner’s inimitable (well, actually, VERY imitatable) delivery of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution at the episode’s infamous climax: “WE…THE PEOPLE…of the unitedstates…do ORDAIN and ESTABLISH this Constitution–!!” It’s a groaner of an ending that quantifies Gene Roddenberry’s somewhat flat-footed idea of a rampant biological war between parties on an alien planet that effectively throws them into the Stone Age. That in itself isn’t bad (if having already been done in a sense in episodes like “Miri”), but Roddenberry (who was supposedly inspired to write this episode after viewing the actual Constitution on a trip to Washington D.C.) turns “The Omega Glory” into a Cold War parable that’s strangely racist, with warring “Yankees” and “Commies” descended from yet another culture apparently identical to ours right down to language both spoken and written.
The episode’s “Yangs” are lilly-white, almost Aryan Caucasians, the “Kohms” are Asians, and Kirk can’t help but take the side of the downtrodden Americans, winning them over with the nobility of their ancient words while the evil Captain Tracy appeals to their superstitions and hatreds.
“The Omega Glory” was one of three ideas for Star Trek’s “second pilot,” the other being “Mudd’s Women” and, thankfully, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Dissed by the network for making “The Cage” “too cerebral,” Roddenberry was taking no chances with his unprecedented second turn at bat—“Mudd’s Women” was rampantly sexual and “The Omega Glory” was an action-packed western at heart with a core of naked patriotism. While the “Mudd” episode has its pleasures, it’s doubtful either “Mudd” or “Omega Glory” would have made very good demonstrations of Trek’s viability as a science fiction series.
Pick the bad guy
“Omega Glory” winds up as somewhat of an afterthought at the end of season two, ironically butted up against “Assignment: Earth,” itself a pilot for a Trek spin-off series. But while I have cringed along with everyone else at the story’s ridiculous denouement and the revelation that the blonde aliens on the planet are heroic Americans fighting for their land, I’ve always found the bulk of “Omega Glory” to be a fun, exciting outing of classic Trek. This is the episode excerpted on The Tom Snyder Show, which showed the teaser of the Enterprise discovering the U.S.S. Exeter in orbit around planet Omega IV and Kirk, Spock, McCoy and an expendable beaming aboard the ship and finding it abandoned—and just like Tom Snyder, I was hooked as a teen by this opening. In fact, the opening beats of the episode provide everything you’d want from a classic episode. Any time we see more of Starfleet, and in particular another starship, I’m hooked—even though it’s the simplest, cheapest trick in the book to stand the actors on the SAME SETS and have them act like it’s another ship. Another brilliant Trek gimmick is those uniforms lying around filled with what looks like crushed quartz crystals. McCoy’s revelation (“…the crew never left!”) and the idea that all those uniforms contain desiccated human bodies, well, ick is all I can say—it’s almost as good as reducing the crew to Styrofoam dodecahedrons in “By Any Other Name.”
He’s salt Jim
Roddenberry and co. were ingenious to establish right away that there were at least 12 other spaceships like the Enterprise, because if Kirk, Spock and McCoy were such interesting people, who was running these other ships? We met Matt Decker in “The Doomsday Machine” and Bob Wesley in “The Ultimate Computer,” and Ron Tracy immediately lives up to the standards of sheer, magnetic manliness established by those two rugged individualists.
Actor Morgan Woodward is one of my big guilty pleasures and probably the biggest reason I enjoy this episode (I met him at a Trek convention five or six years ago—I was totally unaware he was going to be in the autograph room, I was just standing there actually with my back to his table, turned around and there he was—and I can honestly say it was one of the great moments of my life meeting him. He’s in good shape and looks remarkably similar to the way he did in the Sixties, and he just seemed like a great, fun guy to know). We see him earlier in Trek as Dr. Simon Van Gelder, a wild-haired psychopath with bad skin and eyes like two big poached eggs, and he gives one of the all-time great raving maniac performances. So it’s a little unsettling to see him as the trim, calm and competent Captain Tracy explaining to Kirk about the virus that’s destroyed his crew.
Of course Kirk soon begins to suspect Tracy isn’t telling them everything he knows, that in fact the other Captain has violated the ultimate taboo: the Prime Directive. And this is what always impressed me as a teen and it’s something that still impresses me watching the episode: this is the first and only time we see James Kirk up against another starship captain, an equal in almost every sense of the word. Yes there was Matt Decker but Kirk isn’t fighting Decker, just arguing with him. And Tracy, at least at first, isn’t in Decker’s pathetic, beaten condition—this is a man in his prime and as he proves when they first come to blows, this guy is actually tougher than Kirk! Woodward’s Tracy is big, confident and merciless, and only late in the episode does he become unhinged. The quite terrific revelation of his crimes is a great example of the show’s ability to imply great scope, as well as savagery, with a few well-chosen words: Spock has been scouting the surrounding countryside and reports to Kirk and McCoy in a Kohm house where they’re holed up. He shows Kirk a handful of phaser power packs—actually phaser handles, which were designed to twist off the phaser body and be replaced when drained (a feature which, like many of this prop’s carefully-designed and thought-out working bells and whistles, was for some reason never properly demonstrated on screen): “Captain Tracy’s reserve belt packs. Empty,” Spock says, “Found among the remains of several hundred Yang bodies.”
Tracy himself confirms the facts, in one of the most brutal acts shown on the series, by almost casually disintegrating the wounded redshirt Spock brought back with him from his scouting expedition (in post-TNG Trek, phasers hit people, some sparks fly out of their chest and they fall down; in classic Trek, they disappear in a red haze, which is frankly a hell of a lot scarier). Later Tracy makes one of the great, operatic bad guy speeches in all of Trek as he describes the Yang attack he barely escaped alive from: “They sacrificed hundreds just to draw us out into the open…then they came…and they came…we drained four of our phasers and they still came…we killed thousands of them and they still came!” Check out Jerry Finnerman’s lighting on Woodward—there’s a great tracking shot in on him as he makes this speech, sadly interrupted by a reaction shot of Kirk and McCoy, with the camera moving close to Tracy’s disheveled figure, wide eyes blazing out of his almost silhouetted form in the doorway.
Dr. Van Gelder? No…Capt. Tracy
Oddly with all this blood and horror (“Omega Glory is really the Heart of Darkness of Star Trek), the episode finds ways to be fun—the hallmark of the show’s second season. The fight scenes are energetic as Tracy makes a truly formidable opponent in three scenes, soundly whipping Kirk’s ass in the first and giving him a run for his money in the other two. When Tracy throws Kirk in a cell with Cloud William (ex football player, and memorable Chinatown thug Roy Jenson), the Captain’s rueful banter with Spock (trapped in another cell away from all the fun) is even better than the similar interplay in the prisoner cell in “Patterns of Force.” McCoy, himself trapped replaying his makeshift laboratory scenes from “Miri,” comes up with some good business of his own, especially when Kirk and Spock return from what must have seemed certain death and the doctor is too wrapped up in his studies to offer more than a distracted “Oh, hello Jim…”
The climactic fight scene couldn’t be more standard, but the combination of Woodward’s bullheaded refusal to go down quietly, the typical villain’s move of turning a primitive culture’s superstitions against them, and Spock’s atypical use of Vulcan hypnosis, make for an exciting scene. It’s only at its literally flag-waving ending that the story sheds all its inherent entertainment value and just turns ridiculous.
With its well-designed Kohm village exteriors, stark film noir interior lighting and interesting footage of the Exeter set dressings, “Omega Glory” has always looked good with the exception of the Yang’s bushy wigs. The new transfer makes a good thing look even better, at least after the initial Exeter and beamdown sequences, which suffer from a little of the drab brown caste that “Friday’s Child” exhibits. I’m partial to the original angle of the Enterprise approach to the Exeter in orbit—for all its technical shortcomings, there was a linear “we are here and that’s what we’re looking at right over there” graphic quality to the reuse of prior miniature elements and the new shots of the ships from the side, while obviously far more ambitious in terms of movement and execution, lack a little of the drama of the originals (the pull-in on the Exeter’s primary hull and its registry numbers is nice and well-suited to the dramatic musical sting used there, although bulletin boards all over the net are afire with arguments about the registry number). Sulu’s first magnification of the Exeter is interesting in that we see the ship as a small blip in orbit instead of the stock shot from the original episode, but this subtlety works against the big music cue here. It makes sense to make Omega IV more Earth-like but that IS starting to drain the variety and color from a lot of these episodes; too bad it’s so hard to reconcile the blue sky location footage with the magenta planet footage from the original because it could have been seen as after-effects from the planet’s war.
what’s that number?
There are three phaser shots in the episode: Tracy’s execution of the wounded security guard, his destruction of the computer Spock is about to use to contact the ship, and his shot at a barrel Kirk dives behind in the outdoor chase prior to the Yangs’ takeover of the village. If there’s any enhancement of these shots it’s extremely subtle; frame by frame the details look pretty much exactly like the originals. The shot of the computer being disintegrated in front of Spock has always been problematic—it’s an interesting effect showing the square outline of the computer expanding into a green vapor, but Nimoy’s physical reaction is more appropriate for an explosion and the problem isn’t solved by CBS Digital here. Some have remarked about the Enterprise leaving orbit without the Exeter but it’s explicitly stated that Sulu leaves the other starship behind earlier in the story to go into a different orbit.
“Omega Glory” will never be remembered as a great Trek episode, but taken on its own terms it’s an entertaining hour, and Ron Tracy will always be one of my favorite characters from the show. I think he gets a bad rap because he became the prototype for a particularly overused type of Trek character, the “mad general”—meaning that any time a Trek hero comes up against a highly-placed figure from Starfleet, they’re likely to be secretly deranged. But Tracy did it first and in my view did it best.
nice shot of the E leaving another (not as) strange new world