Stuffy Federation Ambassador: Hey, Kirk, I got a mission for ya. There’s this planet, Eminiar-7, we sent a starship just like yours to this planet years ago and we never heard from them again. Oh well. So we want you to go to this planet and help us establish peaceful relations with them no matter what the cost. This is basically the same thing we asked of the last starship.
Kirk: But… they… warned us… not to approach…
SFA: Pfft. Whatever. Approach anyway. We need to establish peaceful, respectful relations with this planet — where another ship just like yours perished while performing a mission just like this one — no matter what the cost. This should turn out well.
And so begins an episode that is ironically as teasable as it is exemplary as a political allegory for war in the information-era. It seems that the Eminiar-7-ians have been at "war" with their stellar-systemic neighbors the Vendikarians for centuries. They can’t get enough of killing the people on each others’ worlds, but the buildings and infrastructures don’t seem to hold up so well under all the bombings. Dang. I mean,I can put up with the loss of my dearest loved ones, but to lose the local Shoe Outlet… That just won’t do! Tell you what: we’ll pretend to be at war, so everything seems on the up-and-up. We’ll launch simulated attacks on each other which leave the buildings and sewer lines alone, but we mark everyone who would have died as dead, and dutifully march them off to disintegration chambers to die so that we understand that both sides are suffering a taste of the Armageddon. Get it?
So Kirk takes the Prime Directive (not really Star Trek Canon at that point) as far as it will go. But eventually he decides, (not a direct quote despite the quote-marks) "Yeah, I know we’re supposed to respect your culture’s self-destructive and easily laughable ways, but you threatened the Enterprise. Game over." Quick note to all cosmic would-be-potentates: do NOT mess with Kirk’s ride. You will die horribly. Just how bad that will be is a whole book unto itself. I’d say "last warning" but it’s so fun watching the lot of you burn up in re-entry that… well, it’s best if you just find out first-hand.
Best Trek-Joke ever is from this episode.
Spock’s Line: "A room where people go in, but they don’t come out. A disintegration chamber."
Our Line: "It’s an ELEVATOR, Spock!!!"
This episode was long on the political allegory, but short on action. The parents (particularly those with poly-sci backgrounds) might find this episode a discourse worthy of some of the best of science-fiction, but the kids will more likely be left out in the cold.