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The Trek Nation - A Piece of the Action

A Piece of the Action

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at April 21, 2006 - 9:30 PM GMT

See Also: 'A Piece of the Action' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise has been sent to Sigma Iotia II, which was visited by the USS Horizon before the codification of the Prime Directive. When Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down, they discover that the Iotians have created a society based on Chicago gangs of the 1920s, a concept brought to the planet via a book the Horizon left behind. When mob leader Bela Oxmyx takes Kirk hostage in the hope of exchanging him for "fancy heaters" like the Enterprise crew phasers, the crew becomes involved in a power struggle among Oxmyx, Jojo Krako and a number of small-time gangsters who all want a percent of profits earned by the Iotian people. Using the ship's technology to intimidate the gangsters, Kirk forces all the bosses to agree to a united government under the Federation, which will be collecting a percentage and using it to fund education and social development on the planet. Unfortunately, McCoy leaves his communicator behind when the crew leaves, and Kirk suspects that the imitative Iotians will soon be venturing into space on their own.


Analysis: Though it makes a mockery of the Prime Directive, "A Piece of the Action" shows Kirk at his improvisational best and creates a very fun hour of television in the process. Any episode in which Kirk and Spock run around in old-fashioned suits, carrying guns and attempting to mimic colloquial dialogue, is bound to be entertaining, but here Kirk also has to think fast on his feet and manage such difficulties as driving a car and distracting his guards with an invented card game. Shatner's scenery-chewing, accent-slurring skills are displayed at their peak. Instead of worrying about the Iotians copying the technology of the transtater and building tricorders, Spock and McCoy should perhaps be worrying that all the petty dictators on the planet will try to be more like Captain James T. Kirk. Can you imagine multiples of him running around a single culture?

I'm fuzzy on the timeline that sets up the episode, particularly in the wake of Star Trek: Enterprise - both when the Horizon's mission took place and for what possible reason someone would have beamed down to any planet with a big illustrated volume on Chicago gangs. The real logic, of course, is that Paramount had a fabulous backlot to recreate the 1920s, plus a costume shop to do it justice, and the actors appear to be having a fantastic time. "You are an excellent starship commander, but as a taxi driver, you leave much to be desired," Spock tells Kirk after a trip driving through the city, with Kirk putting the car in reverse, forgetting the clutch, etc. Meanwhile they leave their machine guns in the front seat and when they emerge, the guns are still there waiting...no one having needed to steal them, since absolutely everyone appears to be carrying one already. Every time Kirk is about to gloat about his successful acquisition of weapons, in fact, someone shows up with bigger ones. Yet miraculously, no one tests out the phasers; these are awfully nice, reasonable gangsters of the old movie variety.

The episode may be most famous for Fizzbin, the card game Kirk makes up as a distraction so he and Spock can jump the guards. But he gets so interested in his complicated rule-making that for awhile he seems to have forgotten that this is the goal; he's enjoying putting one over on the guards, unconcerned about whether this meddling, in this very imitative culture, might not itself constitute a violation of the Prime Directive. The rulebook gets tossed out very early, anyway, since even Spock admits that he can't come up with a good way to straighten out the Iotians and the ship's computer is not a lot of help. McCoy correctly predicts from the beginning that they may recontaminate the society, substituting whatever damage the Horizon did with their own, more advanced brand, and it's exactly what happens.

There's a kind of condescension in Kirk's approach, the assumption that of course the Federation knows best, that makes it impossible to feel sorry for him when he is repeatedly stopped by thugs with guns, whereas Spock simply does a poor job of addressing the Iotians on their own terms...and it is quite funny to hear him ask what a thug means when he tells the crew to petrify, and trying to figure out when one says "Check" as opposed to "Riiiiiight", not to mention interrupting Kirk's card-sharking with an attempt to explain that there are not card games on Beta Antares IV as the captain claims. Still, the bosses are not intimidated by Kirk in the least until Krako sees the Enterprise, and even then, he's willing to believe that it's not nearly as big as Kirk claims: "I only saw three guys in that ship. Maybe there ain't no more." It takes a display of force in the form of phasers over several city blocks to convince the Iotians that Kirk, who's been talking and acting like one of them, actually has some real muscle behind him.

There is no particular logic explaining how the accents and slang, the radio commercial and music styles, as well as the clothing and vehicle specifications, were recreated in Iotian society from a single volume presumably on the structure of Chicago gangs, but who cares? Since the episode is played for laughs, there's no particular tension even when Kirk and Spock are taken off to have "the bag" put on them, and Scotty's face is priceless when he is hailed by Oxmyx from the surface with a demand that he send down some fancy heaters and a couple of his boys to explain how to use them.

The dialogue is extremely clever: "Okay, pal, we're going for a ride," explains one of the thugs to Kirk. "I'd rather walk," he insists. "Listen, pally, this can either be a taxi or a hearse, you know what I mean?" And then later, with Krako, Kirk informs him that his planet's development is arrested and Krako objects, "I ain't never been arrested in my whole life!" My favorite, however, is the moment when Scotty threatens a gangster: "You mind your place, Mister, or you'll be wearing concrete galoshes." "You mean cement overshoes?" "Aye." There's also some extreme silliness -- Kirk uses radio wire to trip up a man holding him prisoner, then the wire is mysteriously gone when he flees through the same doorway -- and Oxmyx tries to use Kirk's own directives against him, saying he thought they had laws, no interference. ("Who's interferin'? We're takin' over!")

So there's not a lot of depth the question of how subtle interference can wreak havoc in a society, and not a lot of visible negative consequences -- we don't see children starving on Sigma Iotia II because their parents won't cooperate with gangsters, nor women getting killed for refusing to cooperate with their wishes -- this is a romp. But it's a visually entertaining, verbally witty delight.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.