Director: Joseph Pevney
Writer: Gene L. Coon
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Jerry Ayres, Grant Woods, Tom Troupe, James Farley, Carole Shelyne, Sean Kenney
Composer: Alexander Courage
Air Date: 1/19/1967
Production #: 6149-19
After a reptilian species known as the Gorn annihilate a Federation outpost on Cestus III, Captain Kirk orders his crew to pursue and destroy the alien attackers. Before additional casualties can ensue, a group of luminous beings called Metrons disable the Enterprise and Gorn ship. Offended by the violent propensities of lesser evolved races, the Metrons teleport Captain Kirk and the Gorn commander to an uninhabited asteroid, where the former character must construct a weapon from raw materials if he wishes to defeat his physically superior opponent.
Though some viewers may find it difficult to look past the ridiculous Gorn costume, longtime Star Trek fans will undoubtedly appreciate “Arena” for its philosophical undertones. Notably, the Metrons’ unique approach to conflict resolution offers an intriguing, if somewhat hypocritical, alternative to traditional warfare.
Perhaps in his most cunning display of ingenuity yet, Captain Kirk proves his ability to think on his feet when faced with a deadly alien foe. Whereas his confrontations with Balok and Finnegan demonstrated the captain’s sharp wit and physical prowess respectively, Kirk’s one-on-one encounter with the Gorn gives him the opportunity to assess and conquer this challenging scenario through pattern recognition and survivalist instinct, both of which grant him a clear advantage over his clumsy adversary. The concept of brain over brawn works exceptionally well thanks to this episode’s excellent pacing, which allows for the perfect balance of strategizing and subsequent action sequences.
While Kirk takes a bit of a leap in assuming that the Gorn were protecting their territory by slaughtering innocent civilians at the Cestus III outpost, Gene L. Coon’s story presents a fascinating social commentary on the potential consequences of unbridled expansionism. Just as the Federation nearly caused a full-scale war by encroaching (albeit ignorantly) on an established region of space, so too do many real-world superpowers instigate needless conflict through imperialist policies.
Likewise, the notion of provocation via interventionism is explored through the actions of the self-righteous Metrons. By forcing their ostensibly enlightened ways on other species, these angelic aliens merely promote more sanitized versions of the wars that they so vehemently oppose. Perhaps if they had simply prevented bloodshed altogether in a similar fashion to the Organians from “Errand of Mercy,” the Metrons would not have exhibited the same hypocrisy of those who mask their evil intentions with benevolent rationalizations.
“Arena” contains an intellectually-stimulating narrative that benefits from clever writing and riveting battle scenes. For those who can easily overlook outdated special effects, this episode will have much to offer in terms of storytelling and humanistic philosophy.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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