TOS Rewind #51: "Bread and Circuses"
Today we'll take a look at: Bread and Circuses (03/15/1968)
The podcast can be downloaded/listened to here.
Another nostalgic angle on Trek: Like the last episode, this show is one that I always enjoyed seeing growing up. There is a lot of combat and our heroes seem to get into one mess after another. Unlike "The Ultimate Computer," this episode doesn't hold up as well when watched today.
Once again we find ourselves with yet another parallel Earth. I get the fact that Roddenberry always planned for this idea on the show but it's done in such a literal way in episodes like this that it just stretches things a bit too far. Once I get past that, I enjoy the episode a lot more.
One of the strongest aspects of the show is the use of television, the medium itself as a reflection of a society. I may be wrong but I don't think a lot of TV programming of the 1960s worked this in. The gladiatorial matches on TV don't sound all that different from some of the reality TV we have today. One could also draw a conclusion about televised sports from this as well. The Roman Empire was known for its use of violent entertainment. The great thing here is how this is translated into a 20th Century form and how it may be used to suppress the populace. Unfortunately not enough attention is paid to this angle and we are left wondering how the TV culture really works with a modern-day Roman Empire.
Another angle in this episode that isn't really given enough time to be fleshed out is the religion part of the story. Star Trek almost always stayed away from religion and the way it is so matter-of-factly inserted here feels strange. If they wanted to really talk about Christianity, then sure, go for it. But the way the topic is finally brought up at the tail-end could have come from a greeting card; no one could really be satisfied with it (except for perhaps the network people who may have had something to say about this, who knows).
The Kirk/Spock/McCoy scenes are good; at this point our regular characters are well established and the scenes are fine, though I feel like the emotional scene with Spock and McCoy in the jail cell is a bit forced.
Otherwise, the Captain Merik is played well. I like the way that Merik is a Starfleet dropout and not just another Kirk-level officer gone rogue. Merik becomes a tool of the Roman Marcus but does redeem himself at the end when he gives his life so that Kirk and the others can escape. The Roman Marcus character is interesting. Marcus is of course violent and tastes that run to, well perhaps all sorts of things and people. I can't help but think that the Marcus character was inspired by some of the 1950s Hollywood Roman epics. The Roman leaders in those films a a bit warped and it looks like Marcus perhaps prefers both snails and oysters.
The CG effects this time add little to the episode but those outdoor scenes sure do look nice in HD.
t's the afternoon of the Winter Solstice as I write this, and given that the world is still in existence, I must conclude that the Mayans were wrong--that, or we're seeing yet another example of idiotic misinterpretation of ancient texts, which leads nicely into my review of "Bread and Circuses."
We did a comprehensive review of this episode in our podcast--please give it a listen--so I'm going to focus on what still leaves me utterly perplexed: How could a staunch secular humanist like Gene Roddenberry have written and produced such a pro-Christian script?
To give some background, "Bread and Circuses" is loosely based on a story idea Roddenberry included in his Star Trek pitch to the networks, dated March 11, 1964. It is titled "The Coming" and says simply:
"Alien people in an alien society, but something disturbingly familiar about the quiet dignity of one who is being condemned to crucifixion."
Obviously, a great deal of evolution, and four years, happened from this one-sentence description to the script for "Bread and Circuses," but the idea was one of the first Roddenberry had for Star Trek.
(Note: Another idea Roddenberry included in his pitch was the "parallel worlds" concept, which he rightly said was key to Star Trek. Interestingly, though, a reasonable explanation for such a wildly improbable principle wasn't offered until the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Chase" aired on April 26, 1993.)
Some reasons for this seemingly anomalous episode could be:
Roddenberry intended to deal with Jesus as a historic figure rather than a religious figure. (The problem with this is that it would be difficult, at best, to divorce one from the other.)
The episode included the pro-Christian slant at the behest of the network.
Gene Coon, who co-wrote the script, influenced the religious aspect.
There's no way to get a definitive explanation, but I'm still perplexed. Happily, though, Star Trek (with the exception of this episode) has managed in all of its incarnations to deal with religions in an objective, non-biased way. And as with many other original episodes, I still enjoy it despite the flaws.
Next time: "Assignment: Earth"