Boldly Rewatching the Voyages: The Omega Glory

(Note: This post appears as a page elsewhere on this site. If you haven’t read it yet, my introductory post on this Star Trek: The Original Series rewatch is a good place to start. Previous essays on specific episodes can be found here.)

Original Air Date: March 1, 1968

Crew Death Count: 1 (Lieutenant Galloway, plus the entire Exeter crew dies in backstory and thousands of Yangs are killed in an unseen attack)

Bellybuttons: Many – the Yangs are as scantily attired as the People of Vaal

“The Omega Glory” was written by Gene Roddenberry and, oh, no, maybe Mr. Roddenberry should have stuck with the vision thing and left writing details to others. Even a J.J. Abrams crap-fest looks better in comparison. Next time you’re in the mood for a humorless, sadomasochistic evening, “The Omega Glory” makes a nice double-feature-of-depression with “Patterns of Force.” Okay, let’s get it over with. This week the Enterprise encounters the abandoned starship U.S.S. Exeter at the planet Omega IV. Why are we at Omega IV? Who knows? There’s no mention of a distress call and there is no known trouble with the Exeter. We’re here because the story needs us to be here. And it’s a good thing, too, because the Exeter’s crew is dead with the exception of Captain Ron Tracey (Morgan Woodward, who was both crazier and more coherent as Simon Van Gelder in “Dagger of the Mind”), who has taken up with Asian-looking people called the Kohms. The Kohms are under constant attack by white people who act a lot like indigenous Americans – or caricatures of them, at any rate – called Yangs. Captain Ron is convinced Omega IV contains the secret to immortality and he expects the Enterprise crew to help him achieve his dastardly plan.

No, not that Captain Ron

We feel doubly betrayed by “The Omega Glory” because the prologue is so intriguing. As an Enterprise away team – Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the soon-to-be-dead Lieutenant Galloway (David L. Ross) – explores the deserted Exeter, they find the remains of crew members, all reduced to piles of white crystals reminiscent of both the neural paralyzer in “By Any Other Name” and the 1974 NBC movie Where Have All the People Gone? In Where Have All the People Gone? a solar flare releases a virus that kills all of the earth’s population, also reducing them to piles of dust, except a few who have natural immunity. The TV movie was intended as a pilot but the series was not developed. In “The Omega Glory” a long-ago biological war also triggered a virus that killed most of Omega IV’s population, but over time evolution has provided immunizing agents that protect the surviving population. Tracey believes they have to remain on the planet’s surface to retain immunity, but McCoy proves that the body retains immunity after a few hours of exposure. Naturally occurring antibodies render the locals highly resistant to illness, not a magical serum; we meet one man who claims to be over four hundred earth years old, with a father aged over one thousand.

Salt of the earth: Where Have All the People Gone? and the remains of the Exeter crew

This longevity is what Tracey hopes to exploit in an outlandish plan that requires McCoy to devise a serum, which Tracey will ransom in exchange for a fleet of starships. We have no reason to think the Federation, or anyone else for that matter, would make such a bargain with Tracey. Tracey is also ignoring the Federation’s track record in curing diseases – certainly McCoy or some other Federation doctor could whip up a vaccine for the virus, given enough time. And Tracey doesn’t indicate what he plans to do with all those starships, or who would help him operate them, or where he would go, or why is any of this even happening? Nothing Tracey does makes much sense. In “The Doomsday Machine,” Commodore Decker was traumatized after losing his crew. Tracey seems to barely notice, as if he was looking to ditch the troublemakers and strike out on his own all along. Kirk describes Tracey as “one of the most experienced captains in the Starfleet,” putting him in good company with Roger Korby, Dr. Adams, and John Gill, all highly revered individuals who are clearly insane and should never have been given the keys to the car. With Tracey, we repeat the “crazy captain infects a planet by violating the Prime Directive” theme of “Patterns of Force,” and the “longevity associated with a specific location” theme from “This Side of Paradise” and “Metamorphosis.”

“You might want to turn back now because it’s all downhill from here.”

The episode is also a weak entry in the series’ recurring “we weren’t meant for paradise” theme. “Miri,” “This Side of Paradise,” and “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” all did a much better job of rejecting the idea of life extension or perfect health. (Which disappoints me, because if these people were as eager for knowledge as they claim, they would be all over these immortality opportunities.) Tracey continues a long history of humans searching for a fountain of youth, an elixir of immortality. The first known such claim comes from the writings of Herodotus, reporting that Macrobians residing in the Horn of Africa lived past the age of 120 from eating primarily meat and milk – so keep hope alive, Paleo dieters! In the case of Omega IV, we don’t even know if the inhabitants’ extreme ages are reliable. Tracey says, “No native of this planet has ever had any trace of any kind of disease.” He must be relying on oral statements, because he has only been here six months, and neither the Kohms nor the Yangs come across as careful record keepers. They could be boasting in order to impress a foreign visitor, for all we know. Regardless, McCoy states his opinion of life extension clearly: “I can do more for you if you just eat right and exercise regularly.” Kirk is even more succinct when he explodes at Tracey late in the episode: “There are no miracles! There’s no immortality here!” By that time, Tracey is too far gone, and too worried about consequences for his bizarre actions – he has already killed poor Galloway – and threatens to kill the others.

Tracey and his Sherpa friend

Despite its promising opening, “The Omega Glory” declines rapidly before throwing us off a cliff in the final act. The Prime Directive is treated carelessly by both Tracey and Kirk. Tracey has influenced the planet’s direction by siding with the Kohms and providing them phasers – except the natives call them “fireboxes” because “phasers” is too complicated for foreigners to pronounce. He has killed hundreds of Yangs in the episode’s backstory, and kills “thousands” more during a massive invasion that we don’t see or hear, despite it apparently occurring all around the village where the landing party is located. Kirk and company criticize Tracey for his intervention. Kirk wisely says, “I don’t think we have the right or the wisdom to interfere, however a planet is evolving.” Yet when the Yangs whip out a U.S. flag and the U.S. Constitution (more on that horror-fest shortly), Kirk interprets the Yangs’ holy words for them and insists that, “Down the centuries, you have slurred the meaning of the words.” (Like Republicans!) He tells the Yangs’ leader, Chief Cloud William (Roy Jenson), “They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing.” This time, however, Kirk isn’t violating the Prime Directive, he’s helping. Because there’s a difference. <Sigh>

“God, guns, xenophobia, racism – are you sure we can’t fit some homophobia into this episode?”

The Yangs and the Kohms are deliberately portrayed as white and Asian, respectively, in an attempt at race-reversal that is stomach-curdling in its ignorance. Kirk actually refers to Kohms as “the yellow civilization.” Initially, we’re told the white Yangs are primitive – “They’ll attack anything that moves,” Tracey says – while the Kohms are supposed to be civilized – “pleasant, peaceful people” is how McCoy describes them. Even Spock refers to the Yangs as “savages” and says, “They seem incredibly vicious.” Yet when we meet the Kohms, they communicate in broken English (because they’re foreign!), are about to execute Cloud William, and blindly follow Tracey’s every command. How advanced could they be if Tracey alone can take control of them so easily? It gets even worse, when Kirk deciphers the situation: the “Yangs” are Yankees and the “Kohms” are communists! Of course they are! Because it’s the Cold War and the communists are the villains! It turns out the Yangs aren’t savages at all. They’re fighting to regain land taken from them by the Kohms. So the “yellow civilization” is a gang of foreign invaders and the white guys are the heroes after all! What a relief! AND WHO THE #$%& THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!?

The Kohms demonstrate their civility by staging a good old-fashioned beheading

Is the name Omega significant? You bet it is. Omega is the end of the Greek alphabet and literally translates as “great O.” It is often used to indicate the end of something or the ultimate limit of a set, and when we see that U.S. flag we know we need look no further because we have sure reached the pinnacle of human achievement now, Comrades! We get a feeling of dread earlier in the episode, when Kirk is locked in a cell with Cloud William and his woman Sirah (Irene Kelly), who doesn’t get to speak a word of dialogue but who cares because she looks good in an animal-skin bikini. Kirk talks of escaping to freedom and Cloud William, who has communicated in nothing more than grunts and gestures until now, suddenly lights up at the word “freedom” because that is a Yang worship word. That’s not surprising, because naturally the English word “freedom” is a magical term that is universally understood by all life forms, even aliens, animals, and plants! That’s why the “holy words” of the Constitution must be shared with the Kohms, because they are godless savages and we must inflict our freedom on them regardless of the fact that freedom is a vague term that means different things to different people and did somebody say something about noninterference?

“Complain all you want, but if you don’t remove the Second Amendment now you’ll regret it later.”

The very idea that a group of revolutionaries (Ha ha! The Revolution, get it?) who look exactly like us have evolved on a remote planet is outlandish enough, but we accept it because it was the 1960s and TOS had a limited budget. But to indicate that the U.S. flag and the U.S. Constitution – on parchment paper with the exact same script as our real Constitution – are so universal that they would spontaneously develop on other worlds is an offensive gesture of über-nationalism. “The Omega Glory” trots out these geriatric symbols as the sacred cows they are. The soundtrack includes cues from “The Star-Spangled Banner;” Kirk, McCoy, and even Spock stand at attention as soon as the U.S. flag appears, as if they not only recognize it, but worship it. We’ve barely had time to slap our foreheads before Kirk recites the Pledge of Allegiance. Because of course Kirk knows the Pledge of Allegiance, including the “under God” phrase first added by an Illinois attorney in 1948, heavily promoted by those rascals at the Daughters of the American Revolution, and formally added by the U.S. Congress in 1954. HOW THE #$%& DOES KIRK KNOW THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE?!? This xenophobic gibberish was first composed by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy in 1892. Bellamy was a socialist but not a very good one: he rejected his own desire to include such words as “equality” and “fraternity” because he hoped to brainwash attract young people, and many state superintendents of education at the time were racists and misogynists. Take that, liberty! If people are still reciting this small-minded loyalty oath in the 23rd century, we’re in big trouble.

He’s Canadian!

A few of the crew members perform ably, but that’s not enough to redeem this bottomless pit of an episode. With Kirk and Spock absent, Sulu takes charge of the Enterprise and does a fine job. He interprets some guarded statements from Kirk and wisely decides to beam down with some security officers to save the day, a shot almost perfectly reproduced at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). McCoy displays his full range of medical skills, barely complaining at all while he figures out the Omega IV immunity situation. He also reminds us of the courage he demonstrated in “Space Seed,” not even flinching when he reaches for a weapon and nearly has his hand cut off by a Kohm. And Spock continues to expand his mental abilities, this time placing a hypnotic suggestion in Sirah’s mind to provide a communicator while Kirk and Tracey engage in hand-to-hand combat (something about proving good is stronger than evil). “The Omega Glory” already has too many problems, so let’s not consider whether Spock chose a woman because he thinks they have weaker minds.

Despite calling freedom a worship word, Cloud William is a poor disciple. After Kirk defeats Tracey and Sulu beams down with company – that materialization act must be magic! – Cloud William literally gets on his knees before Kirk. “You are a great god servant,” he tells the captain. “We are your slaves.” I guess the Yangs don’t have the Thirteenth Amendment yet – hang in there, slaves! There is a lot of god talk equally inconsistent with freedom, but equating divinity with nationalism fits perfectly in the raw sewage of the final act. When Kirk explains that his home is in distant space, he sounds like a religious man, telling Cloud William, “You’re confusing the stars with heaven.” Tracey, on the other hand, says to Cloud William, “Let your god strike me dead if I lie.” This implies Tracey is an atheist, because he clearly knows he is lying. And like all sinister atheists, Tracey gladly manipulates the Yangs’ religious beliefs, calling Spock “the servant of the evil one” based on his appearance. Thankfully, Cloud William has a BIBLE handy – really, all this episode lacks is a Ford pickup with a gun rack in the window – which he opens to the Book of Haggai, where there is an illustration of the devil that looks exactly like Spock. The Book of Haggai was written to motivate the people to build the second Jerusalem temple, the first one having been destroyed by…get ready for it…foreign invaders! They’re rebuilding, get it? Such sophisticated symbolism! In the end, Cloud William remains a freedom lightweight: when Kirk demands (“helps”) that the Constitution be shared equally with both Yangs and Kohms, Cloud William admits he doesn’t understand but will do it anyway because the man from the sky with magic powers told him to.

See! The NBC censors were right all along!

At the end of “The Omega Glory,” NBC announced that the original series would be renewed for a third season, and for a brief moment, we’re forced to wonder if that’s good news. All hope is not lost, however; we can still find a relevant message in this train wreck. Ultimately, the Yangs and the Cohms are a simplistic, flag-waving distraction from the real villain, Captain Tracey and all the divisive, would-be dictators he represents. Like all tyrants, Tracey becomes deluded by his own propaganda, intermingling his greed with national pride and religion, convincing himself that his intentions are noble: if they don’t develop an immortality serum, “we’ll have committed a crime against all humanity.” The recurring appearance of individuals like Tracey, Roger Korby, and John Gill remind us that real freedom – not the phony free-dumb of flags and dogma, but true freedom for individuals to live in safety and conduct their lives without threat from extremists – is precious and will always be under assault by the greedy and power-hungry. Here in the 21st century, our freedom – to vote, to marry whomever we choose, to be protected from unlawful search and seizure, and to peacefully demonstrate without fear of reprisal – is threatened every day. Kirk challenges Tracey in a duel of good versus evil not because he enjoys a rousing fistfight – though, sadly, he does – but because the Enterprise crew never gives up. They understand that only persistence and vigilance will carry the day. We would be wise to remember McCoy’s advice in the final act: “I’ve found that evil usually triumphs unless good is very, very careful.”

Next: The Ultimate Computer

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