“What does God need with a starship?”
–James Kirk, “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”
I know, it’s off the map to mention “Star Trek V” in a review of a TOS-R episode, but in watching “The Squire of Gothos,” I couldn’t help but replay the moment from the 1989 movie through my head where James Kirk faces down a God-like being with some healthy skepticism. Captain Kirk does not suffer deities kindly, especially those who abuse their power. Be it an Ancient Greek god or a super-computer, there is a recurring theme that comes up throughout The Original Series and it is best summed up by Mr. Spock in this very episode: “I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.” Fellow Trek fans, this is the sort of stuff that elevates Star Trek above your average science-fiction fare. “The Squire of Gothos” is vintage Trek.
Morning Coffee Gets Interrupted.
It’s coffee time on the bridge of the Enterprise when this episode begins. It seems like everyone except Spock is sipping from a warm mug. I like moments like this as it points to something Director Nick Meyer liked to inject into his Trek movies, namely the anachronistic touches of human customs set in a modern future. The image of a coffee mug sitting on the navigation console really struck me as kitschy and fanciful. Well, as is the case on an hour-long format, the story moves quickly as Kirk and Sulu are abducted from the bridge by an unknown power that emanates from a barren planetoid below. Leonard Nimoy’s Spock (in this seventeenth episode of the show’s first season) takes command of the situation, injecting calm leadership among a distraught bridge crew. Part of the reason why this series worked so well early on is that (unlike current shows that drag out character progression over several seasons) “Star Trek” sought to establish the dynamics of its characters early on. Spock is a trusted force by this point in the series, and it keeps the storytelling tight as a result. When the cryptic message “Hip Hip Hoorah, Tallyho” comes though on Uhura’s screen, Spock confidently dispatches McCoy and two other crewmembers to investigate the planet to encounter this intelligence and ultimately recover Kirk and Sulu.
The landing party beams down to the planet to find even bigger anachronisms- a medieval castle and inside it a drawing room, outfitted with a roaring fireplace and harpsichord. In the corner stand Kirk and Sulu, frozen like wax statues. Enter the intergalactic Liberace himself, General Trelane (played with panache by William Campbell). Trelane unfreezes Kirk and Sulu and introduces himself as a gentlemen– refined and powerful all the same, but the reanimated Kirk is immediately unimpressed.
Kirk is a zero-sum guy and in a show of such limited time, it’s both necessary and refreshing to get right to what the hero is thinking. Give credit to William Shatner’s performance here, as he conveys Kirk’s varying reactions. Kirk is initially curious about Trelane and his power, but after a brief exchange, the Captain clearly makes up his mind: he wants to get as far away from this megalomaniac as possible. Kirk sees the “crazy” in Trelane’s eyes and Shatner’s deft acting helps the audience find comfort in our own growing skepticism towards the flamboyant squire.
Campbell as The Squire – The host with the most
This scenario is what I refer to earlier as “vintage Trek.” The Wikipedia article on this episode identifies a thematic trend in TOS called “dystheism”— the belief in God’s existence but not in His being wholly good. While Trelane is not presented as the Judeo-Christian God, Kirk is not enamored with superior power in any form, which clearly parallels that theme. Other TOS episodes go further in this direction, but consistently we see Kirk has a concrete set of values and priorities that he refuses to abrogate in the face of so-called all-knowingness. Gene Roddenberry’s moral/secular humanist hero is strongly present in Kirk. Looking back to when I first started watching this show as a youth, I can see how my attitudes towards organized religion and dogma were partially informed by the humanist hero of Kirk. This is not to say that Star Trek is anti-organized religion, as I’m sure one could just as easily point out that the show regularly destroyed false gods and golden calves in all forms (and thus bolstered organized religion). But that’s the beauty of this show– it gives varying points of view room to breath.
Trelane quickly devolves into the pathetic, lonely brat that Kirk identified in his mind early on. Trelane abducts Uhura and Yeoman Teresa Ross to the surface, ogling them without pity, and ironically embodying the very thing which he accuses Kirk and his crew of possessing, namely “the very soul of sublime savagery.” There is some nifty writing here, courtesy of Paul Schneider (“Balance of Terror”). Little twists of dialogue and economical set-ups move the story forward, developing a tension-filled showdown between Kirk and Trelane. Campbell and Shatner face off well, eclipsing the cardboard scenery with theatrical performances (see the courtroom scene for the show’s true crescendo). And when Kirk finally decides to confront to Trelane, he affirms his status as a hero– one who is willing to risk his life to protect others. Before Trelane can kill Kirk, two glowing spots appear on a nearby rock. Naturally, these are Trelane’s parents. They call off Trelane and promise Kirk that they will punish their rambunctious child for mistreating Kirk and his crew. But there’s a tinge of Trelane’s superiority underlying his parents’ tone (yet another subtle shade by Schneider). I picture your typical old-fashioned aristocratic couple, embarrassed by their son’s behavior towards “the help.” And the voice acting, while obviously dated and cheesy, brings the point home regardless. Kirk attempts to ask Trelane’s parent’s about their origins and powers, but he’s blown off as they disappear (probably to play Pinochle with Q’s parents).
Even gods get scolded
“Cat and Mouse” Never Looked Better!
The remastered effects greatly improve this episode. CBS-D gave visceral movement to the “cat and mouse” scene where the Enterprise attempts to escape Gothos– with the planet repeatedly appearing in the ship’s path. I found myself leaning side to side in my chair as I watched Gothos zip by the bridge’s main viewscreen. That’s some mighty good FX work! Now, I’ve read comments on this site by some readers stating the hand phaser shots are inconsistent from episode to episode. I agree that uniformity would be helpful, but I take CBS-D’s work in its entirety and I am extremely impressed and grateful for the majority of what they’ve done up until this point. This episode in particular benefited greatly from the new Gothos shots.
Gothos never looked (and moved) so good
Beware The 40,000 Year-Old Virgin
Trelane starts out as an overpowering foe but by the episode’s end he is revealed to be an immature loner lacking friends and social skills. This motif is used repeatedly throughout the series but starting in the show’s first season, “The Squire of Gothos” is truly one of the classic Treks. Revisiting its poignant themes about power and free will was a worthwhile experience.
Adam Cohen is the editor and mastermind of the sometimes funny The Jack Sack, a "24" (humor) site.