Star Trek TOS: God, Caesar, and Reality TV

Star Trek TOS: Disarming a Nuclear Bomb with a Cat Named ‘Isis’
Star Trek TOS: Bread and Circuses

Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 2, Episode 25

Bread and Circuses

The penultimate episode of Season 2 began with the remote investigation of SS Beagle, a ship theorized as wrecked. The Enterprise was near a planet called 892-IV, which looked identical to earth. A television broadcast was picked up by Uhura, displaying a gladiator-like sport. In a joust, Kirk and Spock identified a slain man who they believed was the commander of SS Beagle. It was time to beam down and check things out on the earth-like planet.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy teleported down to an area of dry mountains where the atmosphere was similar to 20th-century earth, evidenced by the pollution in the air. 

The group encountered a batch of slaves, existing in a post-industrialized age. Kirk was fascinated with the earth parallels. He probed the slaves for the whereabouts of his missing friends, but they told him his best bet was to leave the planet. 

The slaves call themselves “The Children of the Sun,” seeking refuge in caves to avoid capture by 892-IV’s police force. But it didn’t last long. The local police nabbed Kirk and friends while insulting Spock as a “barbarian’ because of — you guessed it — his ear shape. 

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The Starfleeters were incarcerated along with some Children of the Sun, and Kirk told the police to mention his name to a man named Merikus, a friend of Kirk’s from the past. Yet, to people on the planet, Merikus seemed revered. 

The police retrieved Sun Child for a round of arena games. Then, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy overpowered three policemen but were confronted by Merikus. And he was not a friend anymore to Kirk — or, at the very least, possessed a superiority complex. 

Merikus explained he was forced to beam down to 892-IV with his entire crew when the SS Beagle was wrecked. After that, he had no choice but to adapt — and now he expected Kirk to do the same with his crew. Naturally, Kirk wasn’t interested. 

Following the chat with Merikus, Kirk and his men were whisked to a fight, which was staged on the premise of a television show — like reality TV. Spock was first up in the arena, and he was incredibly impressive in combat. McCoy fought, too, with a sword, but his combat prowess paled in comparison to the Vulcan. 

The television spectacle of the fights was accentuated to the utmost, perhaps illustrating the absurdity of gladiator-like events. After all, the fights took place in an actual television studio, not in a coliseum, as fake crowd noise was pumped into the broadcast by producers. 

Proceeding the fight, Kirk was given a female slave who asked to be “commanded.” Dripping with innuendo, Kirk wasn’t biting on the temptation — not when his pals were still locked up. 

Kirk was summoned to execution in front of the cameras after a night in jail with the slave woman. But Kirk wiggled out of that when a Child of the Sun interrupted the television execution ceremony. From somewhere, machine guns arrived in the episode, and Kirk started blasting one of those. Bread and Circuses quickly went off the rails. 

And then with a snap of the fingers, Merikus was killed by his own men. He tossed the communicator to Kirk before his final breath, enabling Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to beam up to Enterprise. Uhura claimed the Children of the Sun were, in reality, worshipping God (Christ). So, the inhabitants of 892-IV believed in Caesar and Jesus, not unlike ancient Romans. This gave Kirk hope the planet would evolve according to traditional human history. 

The takeaway from Bread and Circuses was a little murky. The episode felt like a homage to the absurdity of television violence but tried to tie in religion with Uhura’s declaration. Perhaps it was just anti-violence and skepticism of religion — two common Trek themes.

Themes: Absurdity of Violence, Humans and Religion

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).