Bread and Circuses (Star Trek: The Original Series)

"Bread and Circuses" is the twenty-fifth and penultimate episode of the second season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek. Written by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon and directed by Ralph Senensky, it was first broadcast on March 15, 1968.

"Bread and Circuses"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no.Season 2
Episode 25
Directed byRalph Senensky
Written by
Story byJohn Kneubuhl (uncredited)[citation needed]
Cinematography byJerry Finnerman
Production code043
Original air dateMarch 15, 1968 (1968-03-15)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"Assignment: Earth"
Star Trek: The Original Series (season 2)
List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

In the episode, Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet resembling the Roman Empire, but possessing mid-20th century Earth technology.

Its name is a reference to the phrase "bread and circuses" taken from the Satire X written by the poet Juvenal. In modern usage, the phrase implies a populace distracted from greater issues by the base pleasures of food and entertainment.

Contents

PlotEdit

The Federation starship USS Enterprise is on routine patrol when it finds wreckage of a survey vessel, the SS Beagle. The Beagle was under the command of Captain R. M. Merik (William Smithers), whom Captain Kirk knew during his academy days. First Officer Spock traces the path of debris to a planet in the previously unexplored "system 892".

Upon arrival, the Enterprise crew monitors a 20th-century-style television broadcast from the planet showing footage of what appears to be a Roman gladiatorial match. The planet's culture is thus revealed to be a kind of 20th-century parallel to Earth's Rome. An announcer refers to one of the gladiators as William B. Harrison; Spock identifies him from ship's records as one of the Beagle's flight officers.

Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy beam down to the planet to investigate. They are captured and brought before Septimus (Ian Wolfe), the leader of a group of runaway slaves, who asks them if they are "children of the sun". Septimus explains that he was a senator until he heard the "words of the sun" and was made a slave. Although another slave, Flavius (Rhodes Reason), suggests killing the landing party, Septimus decides the landing party poses no threat.

Kirk reveals that he is looking for Captain Merik, who the slaves suggest is Mericus, First Citizen. Flavius, a former gladiator, offers to help and leads Kirk and his party to the nearby city. They are soon captured and brought before Mericus, who is in fact Merik, and the Proconsul Claudius Marcus (Logan Ramsey), who invites the landing party to sit and talk in private. Merik relates that when he met Claudius Marcus and came to know his culture, he agreed that the planet should be protected from cultural contamination at all costs. Merik decided to stay, putting his crewmen into the gladiatorial matches, where most of them would be killed. Merik and Marcus try to persuade Kirk to have the Enterprise crew abandon their ship and integrate into the planet's culture. Kirk refuses their demands and instead signals to Chief Engineer Scott, in code, that the landing party is in trouble, but that no rescue attempt should be made.

Angered, Marcus sends Spock and McCoy into the televised arena where they must fight Flavius and another gladiator, Achilles. Spock overpowers Achilles and uses a Vulcan nerve pinch on Flavius, ending the fight to a hail of pre-recorded boos and hisses. Spock and McCoy are taken back to the slave pens while Kirk is sentenced to a televised execution scheduled for the next day. As the execution broadcast begins, Mr. Scott uses a low-power phaser burst to cause a power blackout, allowing Kirk to free Spock and McCoy. Merik signals the Enterprise to beam Kirk and party up, and is fatally stabbed by Marcus. The landing party dematerializes just as the guards fire their machine guns.

Back on the Enterprise, Spock expresses surprise at a sun-worshiping cult preaching universal brotherhood, opining that sun worship was primitive superstition, with no such philosophy behind it. Lt. Uhura, having monitored the planet's communications all this time, has the answer: "It's not the sun up in the sky. It's the Son of God."

ProductionEdit

The submachine guns used by the Roman guards in the episode are Danish Madsen M-50 submachine guns.[1]

Lois Jewell said in an interview that two costumes were made for her character, a grey slave outfit and the revealing evening wear she entertained Captain Kirk in. Of that she said, "That was a very exotic costume. It was made by the designer who designed everything for Star Trek. It wasn’t like they went, “Well, let’s throw this on.” It was designed and it was made, and they had to make sure, in the fitting, that it fit properly. And I wore that. I still get a lot of comments when I’m at the Star Trek shows about that costume. Everybody talks about that costume."[2]

ReceptionEdit

In 2013, W.I.R.E.D. magazine ranked this episode one of the top ten episodes of the original television series.[3]

Non-canon Star Trek mediaEdit

The planet 892-IV was renamed Magna Roma in the Pocket Books published Star Trek: The Next Generation novel The Captain's Honor in late 1989 ISBN 0-671-68487-6.

In the book Star Trek: Star Charts from 2002 (ISBN 0-7434-3770-5), Magna Roma is listed as having attained mid-21st century technology by the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

A Star Trek: New Voyages episode titled: Bread and Savagery continues the plot started in this episode.

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit