I think that Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is a splendid episode. Finally, here come some original ideas again, something rare in this third season! For the first time a self-destruction sequence is activated on a Starfleet ship, for example, a trick that would be used again both in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and in numerous episodes of the various subsequent series of Star Trek. But let’s start from the plot of the episode.
The USS Enterprise is on a rescue mission: it must arrive to the planet Ariannus to cure its inhabitants from a terrible virus (such a story during a Covid-19 pandemic is a bit scary). However, the Enterprise comes across a shuttle stolen from a nearby space base. The shuttle is in poor conditions and Kirk has it brought on board to save the dying pilot. He turns out to be Lokai (Lou Antonio), from a planet still unknown to the Federation (the planet Cheron). Shortly afterwards, here comes an invisible spacecraft… and yes, before you ask, the budget was really tiny at the end of the third season! Even the stolen shuttle scenes are recycled from previous episodes, the model is the usual Galileo seen many times before with the number 1701 of the Enterprise written clearly on the sides! Anway, the invisible spacecraft carries another Cheron resident, Commissioner Bele (Frank Gorshin). He wants to arrest Lokai, but, since there is no treaty between Cheron and the Federation, Kirk cannot allow Lokai’s extradition, even if he doesn’t like him at all (he’s a shuttle thief!).
And here’s another idea which would be re-used in subsequent Star Trek series: how should a captain resolve a conflict involving two aliens on board of his ship? The situation reminded me of Captive Pursuit of the first season of Deep Space Nine (in which Sisko definitely doesn’t follow the manual of the perfect Starfleet officer), but there are other examples. Here, Kirk is nothing short of amazing: he doesn’t accept getting bullied by Bele, and at the same time he doesn’t defend Lokai at all costs. These conflicts end up in the tense scene in which Kirk threatens to destroy the Enterprise because either she goes where he wants, or he prefers to blow it up!
Another great thing of the episode is the non-conventional direction. It even reminded me of Sergio Leone’s duel scene in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) with close-ups on the eyes of Bele and the three crew members who activate the self-destruct sequence! And what about the red alarm highlighted by a rapid zoom in – zoom out that was almost a nod to Adam West’s Batman (it’s no coincidence that Frank Gorshin played the Riddler in that other series).
But of course the highlight of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield is the strong condemnation of racism. Bele and Lokai hate each other due to the color of their skin (or rather, for the different areas of color of their skin), something totally inconceivable for Kirk, Spock and the others of the Enterprise crew. Of course, the message couldn’t be more explicit, but I don’t see it as a problem. Sometimes things have to be said clearly, and in the 1969’s United States (when the episode aired for the first time) racism was unfortunately far from inconceivable. So what’s wrong with condemning it out loud as Star Trek did in this case?
To conclude, I think that this is a great episode, and its finale is astonishing, light years away from the usual “laughter on the bridge” moments ending most episodes. Some parts of the plot don’t really work if you think about them (Cheron is an unknown planet, yet it can be reached in a few hours? Lokai and Bele have been chasing each other for 50,000 years and arrive to their planet right when it’s on fire?), but this remains one of the most enjoyable episodes of the third season so far! Ciao!
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