22018 "Bem"

(airdate: September 14, 1974)

Writer: David Gerrold
Director: Bill Reed

Ari bn Bem: James Doohan

Entity: Nichelle Nichols

Stardate: 7403.6

Captain's Log: The Enterprise is investigating a newly-discovered class M planet in the Delta Theta system, Delta Theta III. A small landing party beams down, accompanied by Commander Ari bn Bem, an observer from the planet Pandro. Bem abandons the landing party and is captured by the natives; Kirk and Spock go to rescue Bem but are themselves captured. Bem reveals that he is in fact a colony creature, composed of several pieces that can detach from the rest at will, and thus he did not need rescuing; he wished merely to observe the natives and felt being captured was as good a way of carrying this out as any other. Kirk and Spock break free using phasers, but they're stopped by a god-like entity who paralyzes the three of them and removes their phasers, allowing them to be captured again. Kirk reasons with the entity, explaining that they're just there to observe and didn't intend to harm any of the entity's "children"; now that they know, they will stop others from coming to Delta Theta III. The entity thus allows them all to depart in peace.

Whoops!: Animation errors: Uhura's wearing the sciences double-circle symbol on her assignment patch. The turbolift door is missing from some shots, meaning it looks like they're stuck open. "Ari bn Bem" is a strange name for an alien, since it seems more like an awkward mix of Hebrew, Arabic, and Slavic - in other words, recognizably human.
     What the hell is Bem even playing at here? He swaps Kirk's and Spock's communicators and phasers for fakes for no obvious reason (beyond some waffle about violence not being the way - which explains the phasers, we suppose, but not the communicators), he wanders off away from the others but then gets mad that they're trying to rescue him, and then gets mad that Kirk and Spock aren't doing a good enough job of rescuing him, even though he doesn't need their help in the first place. And then he abandons them to their fate, leading to his getting captured yet again for no good reason. We think this is supposed to be in the name of evaluating the Federation to see if they're worthy of being allies, but it's a really strange way to go about it, going out of his way to be as aggravating as possible. What would he even learn from this approach?
     Why does Kirk ask Spock to use his Vulcan nerve pinch in a situation where there's no one else around? And it's a little weird how Kirk keeps giving his full middle name, after having spent so much time prior to this episode being content with just providing the initial. [It's almost like Gerrold is so proud of this name that he wants to keep using it.]

Classic Lines: "Punishment? What is punishment? Revenge? Intelligent beings need no revenge. Punishment is necessary only where learning cannot occur without it."

Library Computer: Delta Theta III is a newly-discovered class M planet, appearing to be a verdant green color from space. The surface is lush, with thick rainforests, green plains, and large bodies of water. Delta Theta III is inhabited by a group of bipedal lizards, with grey-brown skin, three-toed feet, four-fingered hands, and large tails, wearing fur around their groins and sometimes around their torsos as well. They wore silver [metal?] bracelets on both arms. These aborigines were intelligent but in a "late primitive state", according to Spock. They had basic language and social structure, and Spock theorized that they had "fairly well developed mores and traditions as well". They built large round buildings out of wood and grass, and they carried large spears and axes. Spock commented that life on Delta Theta III seemed geologically younger than expected, given the age of the star Delta Theta. [This may have been due to the presence of...]
     A god-like entity also inhabited Delta Theta III. On sensors it appeared as a non-network sensory stasis, somewhat like a sensory field, although it didn't appear to be moving beyond Brownian motion [which thus means it was in fact tangible, since Brownian motion describes particle movement]. It could become as large as a continent, and it inhibited sensors and communications. When it appeared, it was as large, flashing, colored lights. This entity was highly intelligent and considered the aborigines to be its children; it therefore took a very dim view of anyone interfering with the aborigines. It could induce paralysis and could cause things such as phasers to vanish in an instant. However, it could also be reasoned with, and it let the Enterprise landing party go after Kirk explained the situation to it. Spock theorized that the entity was treating Delta Theta III as an experiment, guiding the aborigines to intelligence. The Federation subsequently declared a quarantine around Delta Theta III, making it off-limits to all Federation vessels.
     Ari bn Bem was a Pandronian, from the planet Pandro in the Garo VII system. The Federation had recently made contact with the Pandronians, and so Bem was aboard the Enterprise as an independent observer, there to judge the Federation (as, he claimed, Pandro wasn't interested in contact with "inefficient and inferior species"). He had been made an honorary commander by the Federation. Bem had ignored six previous missions that the Enterprise had engaged in. [Presumably because they weren't dangerous enough for him to test the crew.] Physically, Bem looked like a tall, slender, green-skinned humanoid biped, with two small ridges running from the eye-ridges up and over the scalp. His face was also vaguely feline-looking, and he had a red mohawk and a fringe of red hair around the back of his head. Bem didn't use personal pronouns, preferring the phrase "this one" instead. He dressed in a white jumpsuit with gold trim, with a large gold diamond with a red circle inside emblazoned on the chest.
     However, it turned out that Bem was in fact a colony creature, composed of several independent pieces that [somehow] interfaced with each other, to give the appearance of a single organism. These pieces could detach at will and float through the air [somehow], which allowed Bem to get through narrow spaces and escape cages without difficulty. Bem was interested in observing the Delta Theta III aborigines, so he arranged for Kirk and Spock to materalize in water, where his lower half could replace their communicators and phasers for non-working versions while obscured by the water. This would let him make his observations with less impedement. [We think?] If a sufficiently large offense occurs, the colony comprising Bem can disassemble, as that unity is deemed defective.
     Pandronians are born via eggs. [Bem calls himself an eggling.]
     Kirk and Spock have observed unidentified planetary phenomena that resembled intelligent activity (without actually being such) before.
     A communicator's responder can be disconnected, which will lead to it not showing up on the scanning grid aboard a starship.
     Two communicators can be connected in series to create a more powerful signal, although this will quicky drain the power supply.
     Starfleet told the Pandronians that Kirk was the best captain in the fleet.
     The T in "James T. Kirk" stands for Tiberius. [This allegedly began as a joke at a convention, but Gerrold and D.C. Fontana liked it enough that they made it official here. Roddenberry mentioned it in his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and it finally became unimpeachably canon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.]

Final Analysis: "Remarkable. Commander Bem is a colony creature." David Gerrold is on record as having been somewhat annoyed by Roddenberry's suggestion of adding a god-like entity to his script about a strange alien who could split himself into multiple parts. So it's perhaps a bit surprising that this is by far the most successful part of the episode. However, "Bem" seems more interested in its namesake - but as he's repeatedly shown to be smug and insufferable, it's difficult to work up any sympathy or genuine interest in the character. Worse, because of this focus on Bem over the other, more engaging aspects of the story, the balance of the whole episode is thrown off, making the final result rather tedious.

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Page last updated: April 11, 2019

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