Saturday, January 7, 2017
STAR TREK: "THE OMEGA GLORY" (1968)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*
I had such negative memories of "Omega Glory" that I anticipated giving it one of the few"poor" mythicity ratings for Season 2. While it's by no means a good episode overall-- not least because of its cringe-worthy premise-- it does rate a "fair" rating by virtue of having provided some variations on Gene Roddenberry's most cherished myth-themes. In that respect, it's a good deal better than "Patterns of Force."
Once again, a Starfleet official has broached his trust and interfered with a primitive society. However, the script-- one of Roddenberry's oldest, dating back to the first season-- doesn't make the Federation intruder responsible for the society's incredible resemblance to the mid-1960s opposition of Americans (called "Yangs" for Yankees) and Communist Chinese (called "Kohms"). The idea that whole cultures could accidentally parallel those of Earth was total eyewash, though Roddenberry does use it to elicit some interesting cultural reversals.
The landing-party encounters in space the remains of the Exeter, and of its crew, all of whom have been turned into empty uniforms full of dust. Kirk and his usual aides (plus a disposable redshirt) descend to Omega 4. They're captured by the Asian-looking inhabitants of the city, the Kohms, and find that the Kohms' commander is the ship's only survivor, Captain Ron Tracey. Tracey informs the party that his crew contracted a disease on the planet that slew them once they left the planet, and that he alone remains alive because he never left the planet's quixotic environment. This means, according to Tracey, that the members of the landing-party will both perish and spread the disease to the other Enterprise crew-members if they return.
Kirk, though glad to see Tracey alive, suspects that he has violated the Prime Directive by making common cause with the Kohms against their enemies, the vicious Yangs-- all of whom appear to be Caucasians, though they dress in savage attire and never speak. Tracey takes the crewmen prisoner, trying to make a Faustian bargain with them. The inhabitants of Omega IV are all incredibly long-lived, apparently as the result of some ancient conflict which devastated both their cultures (the script leaves it up in the air as to whether the cataclysm was by nuclear or by biological warfare). Tracey wants McCoy to dope out a cure for the disease, so that Tracey can not only leave the planet, but use the environment's weird properties to deliver a "Fountain of Youth" to the Federation. Kirk refuses, so Tracey imprisons the captain and Spock. In addition, Kirk is forced to share a cell with two captive Yangs, who repeatedly attack him without justification. Finally Kirk is able to break through to the Yangs-- who fortunately speak English, just like the Kohms, and they learn that a horde of Yangs are preparing to attack the city.
Kirk and Spock escape Tracey's cell, and reunite with McCoy, who informs them that the mysterious elements in the atmosphere-- both the disease and a mysterious "immunizing factor"-- are no Fountain of Youth. Further, none of the Enterprise crewmen are now carriers of the disease, for they've been on the planet long enough to be immunized. But Tracey still tries to thwart their return to the Enterprise. Then the invading Yangs show up, interrupting a fight between Kirk and Tracey. Building on clues from his earlier Yang-conversation, Kirk realizes that the savage Caucasians have recapitulated the essentials of the American Revolution, as well as some aspects of European Christianity. Kirk is able to instill both the Yangs and their enemies with a sense of the importance of liberal democracy, and Tracey is taken into custody.
There are some nice mythic gems herein. It's amusing that the Caucasian Yangs take the role of the "savage horde" against the relatively civilized Asians, and that the Yangs, despite being white, are now living out a fantasy of savage life that the script explicitly compares to that of the American Indian-- not unlike a social transformation seen in a much later film, RED DAWN. Some religious elements come in only toward the end, when the Yangs wonder if the alien strangers are gods, and Tracey, drawing on local superstitions, tries to convince the savages that Spock is a devil. It's interesting that the Omegans also seem to have a story of a "war in heaven," as one Yang wonders if the spacemen were "cast out," after which KIrk sagely tells them that "You've confused the stars with heaven."
I was curious as to why Roddenberry named the planet "Omega,"since this means in Greek an "end," rather than the beginning of a new civilization for the inhabitants. One idea is that the climax provides an end in the same sense that Christ said he was "the Alpha and the Omega." Alternately, Roddenberry may have been thinking along lines comparable to those of Frank Fukuyama, who argued that the system of liberal democracy spelled the Hegelian "end of history."