Mark Watches ‘Star Trek’: S02E17 – A Piece of the Action

In the seventeenth episode of the second season of Star Trek, SPOCK AND KIRK IN 20S GANGSTER SUITS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Y’all, I’m just so happy that Star Trek got to a point where they could begin poking fun at themselves and filming humorous scripts. Like “The Trouble with Tribbles,” this episode takes an absolutely bizarre concept and runs with it into the distance, leaving us all surprised and amused in its wake. I love that this episode makes a joke of Spock’s commitment to logic and his lack of familiarity with humanity without being mean. I love that Captain Kirk decides to fulfill an apparent life-long dream of being a bootlegger gangster. I love PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING THIS EPISODE IS.

Look, I feel like I’ve figured out Star Trek‘s pattern for the most part. I knew from what little information we got during the cold open – that the Horizon had disappeared near Sigma Iotia II nearly 100 years prior, that the Iotians were big on imitation – meant that there’d be some big twist once Bones, Spock, and Kirk got down on the planet. I WAS NOT IN THE LEAST BIT READY FOR WHAT I WOULD WITNESS FOR THE NEXT FORTY MINUTES. And yes, this premise is increasingly weird, but as “A Piece of the Action” progressed, I found myself impressed with how much the writers had committed to the worldbuilding behind the Iotian culture.

It’s a challenging story, certainly. To posit that a people imitated 1920s Prohibition-era gangster culture based entirely on one history book is ludicrous. I know that, but there’s an element to this episode that feels like the writers are well aware of that. Hell, once the trio figure out that this is how the Iotians became caricatures of history, Bones reacts as if the idea is too absurd for him to accept. And yet, all the markers of that culture are there, though they’re just slightly off. It can never be a perfect replica, though the Iotians sure do make an effort to be as accurate as possible. From the suits to the guns to the obsession with territorial boundaries to the patriarchal hierarchy to THAT AMAZING RADIO SHOW, there are countless details here that make this an absolute trip to watch. I’m not saying that this is a perfect historical record, and I like the idea that it can’t be. It makes this premise work so much better, you know? It’s kind of like the concept behind “The Squire of Gothos.” These people are imitating something without any personal experience of it, and that’s why it feels so weird.

But really, the best thing about “A Piece of the Action” is the writers taking advantage of the absurdity in order to give us SOME OF THE BEST CHARACTER MOMENTS IN STAR TREK HISTORY. I cannot deal with the facial expressions between Spock and Kirk in this episode, and I fully expect there to be GIFs of every single instance of them being confused or surprised or weirdos. Initially, though, I didn’t think this would be such a humorous episode. The setting for this seemed too serious and violent. I mean, THERE WAS A DRIVE-BY SHOOTING IN THE OPENING OF THIS EPISODE. Someone was shot to death in the first ten minutes! Clearly, the Enterprise team was at a distinctive disadvantage here just in terms of force, so I expected a much more sober plan-of-attack from Captain Kirk and company.

Instead, Kirk’s plan is… my god. It’s just so ridiculous and beautiful and foolish and I love every second of it. It’s not until the final third of “A Piece of the Action” that Kirk is able to demonstrate the power he has at hand, so most of this episode involves him and Spock bullshitting everyone. They have to pretend to be powerful, and that means that Kirk eventually adopts an utterly ridiculous accent and posture and I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS. Oh my god, I loved watching Spock try to imitate it but COMPLETELY FAIL AT DOING SO.

But there is nothing – NOTHING – more pleasing than the running joke of Captain Kirk being unable to drive a stick shift. Just from a character perspective, it’s actually quite fascinating. The man hasn’t ever driven a car, has he??? They’re so far into the future that CARS ARE NOT A THING. I enjoy that not only do the writers acknowledge that Kirk wouldn’t know how to operate a vehicle, they also deliberately toy with the way he portrays himself. He spends so much time in this episode acting macho and intimidating, and then he gets into a car and he can’t operate the clutch and it just lurches down the street and this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

As for the conclusion, it’s certainly just as bizarre as the premise. Truly, though, I didn’t see a way for them all to escape aside from being beamed a way, leaving the planet in chaos and disarray. Now, I think this is a fascinating case of the Prime Directive being necessary to contradict. Normally, they’re not supposed to interfere in or muddle with cultures, but I think that the Ioatians were bound for self-destruction without an outside force. Does that mean that Kirk’s solution is the best option? Oh, lord, no, but it was pretty damn funny. It’s the end result of an extremely long con that will ostensibly continue for YEARS TO COME. I mean, is the Federation seriously going to send a ship to Sigma Iotia II in a year? Could you even imagine being the officer who took the report of this mission and having to report to your superiors that Captain Kirk may have just created a syndicate business on another planet?

It’s ridiculous, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The video for “A Piece of the Action” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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