Star Trek TOS: Kirk & Spock Take on the Mob
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 17
A Piece of Action
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beamed down to Sigma Iotia II, which was an earth-like planet set in the Prohibition era. Why did it feel like the Prohibition era? Because Kirk and his pals were greeted by a couple of gangsters that looked like Frank Nitty. And they possessed guns, dumbfounding Spock to the utmost.
The group was taken hostage, a driveby shooting rattled the neighborhood, and prostitutes bemoaned their plight. And this is while Star Trek suddenly began playing gangster-themed instrumental music in the background.
Spock discovered a previous space crew left a book detailing Chicago gangster history. From that text, the Iotian men were imitating life. They used the book as a how-to manual on building a society.
The gangster boss, Okmyx, used Kirk’s communicator to call Enterprise and lay out a list of demands to Scott, who was in charge back on the vessel. Scott was clueless — especially because Okmyx referred to phasers as heaters. The gangster wanted guns, and the outer spacemen didn’t understand why they were so fascinated with them, nor what they even meant by heaters.
During a game of cards, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy neutralized some of the gangsters, swinging on the gents and seizing their weapons. But the upper hand didn’t last long. Kirk was intercepted by another strapped gangster moments later.
Spock and McCoy found their way back to Enterprise while Kirk was stuck in confinement with the gangsters. But the two would have to return to Sigma Iotia II for Kirk. During the entire episode, the Starfleet men attempted to understand why men were so fascinated with guns and power. It’s just not how business was conducted on Enterprise. Star Trek wanted you to know that fixation on guns and violence was preposterous — and they did so through catchphrases from gangsters acting out a charade based on a book they read.
Again, Kirk wiggled away from quasi-imprisonment, stealing gangster clothing, guns, and car. In the next scene, Kirk and Spock wore gangster garb and drove to a meeting. Kirk was a dreadfully bad driver, and Spock was sure to tell him about it. At least Kirk looked good in a pinstriped suit.
Another entertaining aspect of the episode was Kirk’s adaptation of a gangster dialect. He started talking like an Italian mobster. Spock was a little more awkward with the imitation. For Kirk, it was also a fun way to show Wliiam Shatner’s range as an actor.
In the end, Kirk negotiated peace with all of the gangsters, leaving the criminal enterprise in charge as Kirk and his men returned to their own Enterprise. The agreement arranged by Kirk was essentially a syndicate between the Federation and the mob.
Piece of Action was a continued example of Star Trek’s commitment to diplomacy. In most shows and films of the era, the climax would have entailed a shootout with a “last man standing.” But not Star Trek. Kirk made a deal with the gangsters, mainly opting for “out of sight, out of mind.”
Themes: Diplomacy, American Fascination with Guns
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).