"Star Trek" A Private Little War (TV Episode 1968) Poster

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War isn't a Good Life, but it's Life (and a Mugato)
Bogmeister20 November 2006
This is the serious attempt to present the impact and ramifications of interfering with the natural progression of a culture (the comedic take was "A Piece of the Action" a couple of episodes earlier). In this case, the culprits are (surprise!) Klingons: on a peaceful planet, the Klingons supply one side, Villagers, with flintlocks/rifles, while the Hill People, led by an old friend (Tyree) of Kirk's, continue to use bows & arrows. The balance of power has been upset, not to mention that Kirk's memories of a 'Garden of Eden' world have been corrupted. This is actually an interesting glimpse into Klingon strategy: they build up one side of a civilization as a puppet kingdom, to be a part of their growing empire. See also "Friday's Child" for the previous Klingon-Federation conflict over a planet. What this episode was soon known as by Trekkers is as the 'Vietnam' parable of the series.

This allusion to Vietnam doesn't stay subtle - Kirk even makes reference to the 20th century 'brush wars' on the Asian continent to spell things out to the audience. There's a sometimes preachy tone and flowery references to serpents (the rifles) which overlooks the awful true impact of war, that being widespread bloody death. McCoy addresses this as best he can, but Kirk merely waves away such dire consequences with a trite comment about what war is. Despite a rather simplistic 'kill or be killed' theme for such a politically charged episode, it does drive home the point well that once something like flintlocks are introduced into such a civilization, you can't just take them back. Pandora's Box, such as it is, has been opened and it's too late to close it. And there are no easy solutions. McCoy represents the liberal side here with his protests and he offers no other solution. Kirk is the conservative view - Klingons started this and it's out of his hands now. As such, they have one of their more intense arguments in this episode and neither wins.

Then we have the Mugato. It's a white apelike animal with a lizard-like spine and tail. The monster suit was probably effective in the sixties; now it looks like some goon escaped a Halloween parade to chase Shatner and Kelley around the wilderness (OK, it did scare me a bit when I was eight years old). Add to this the whole witch-woman routine by Tyree's wife and we're in unintentional amusement territory. However, quite intentionally, this episode also presents a 'B' storyline up on the Enterprise, where Spock is recovering from a gunshot wound. My favorite scene is Nurse Chapel slapping the bedridden Spock as Scotty runs in, quite alarmed. This all explains another facet of the Vulcan mystique and physiology. Rather inspired.
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Cheesy-waxing philosophical about war
Brandt Sponseller26 July 2006
The cheese factor is very high in this one, but that's part of what I find attractive in the original series.

This episode waxes philosophical about war--a fairly common theme on the original series, which was made all the more poignant because it aired smack dab in the middle of the Cold War. Like usual, Gene Roddenberry (along with story writer Judd Crucis) has apt things to say about war and the necessity of taking up arms should an opposing group choose to do the same. More strongly, and this is especially relevant in retrospect, here in the early 21st Century, the crux of the episode is really superpowers creating/supporting/funding wars among third world peoples.

But as good as it can get on philosophical content, Star Trek excels because of its peculiar mixture of often cheesy or at least cheesily played elements, and this episode has that in spades. Not one, but two principal cast members almost die as they visit that same rocky scrub brush location in California again that always stands for some different planet. Another principle cast member is injured. This time they meet up with some ridiculously wigged primitive folks--one of whom Captain Kirk became friendly with on his first mission to another planet over a decade before. While there, they meet and fight with a ridiculously costumed "mugato" (maybe the problem was that they forgot the traditional "Domo arigato, Mr. Mugato" greeting?), and a ridiculously hot and beautiful Nona (Nancy Kovack), a member of a "witch tribe". This latter fact leads to some romantic scenes for Kirk, of course, and even a pretty racy (for prime time television in 1968) "healing" scene. This episode is also the source of a very humorous way of waking Vulcans out of a particular kind of "meditative" state.
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Campy commentary on wars of conquest
mgruebel15 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Gene Roddenberry was obviously interested in the theme of technologically more advanced superpowers taking over developing societies. This and "Friday's Child," another not-so-good episode, both feature the Klingons and Federation duking it out over a planet harboring a less technologically developed civilization. The Klingons in this episode are much like the Europeans who invaded North America, and ravaged the indigenous people with guns, diseases... (OK, the indigenous people were not just peaceful nature lovers, they hunted all the American megafauna to death, and warred with one another.) Roddenberry was also interested in 1960s wars, such as the Cold one and Vietnam, and the story equally well serves as a parable for Chinese and Americans duking it out in Vietnam. Indeed, the episode "Assignment: Earth," which is much better than "A Private Little War," takes on the same subjects but with the opposite point of view.

Gene must have done well in debate class before he joined the LAPD. That is actually a plus in my book: Roddenberry did take on touchy topics in TOS, and ultimately good SF is about real human problems and relationships, not imaginary hardware.

In this episode, Kirk revisits a planet he scouted 13 years earlier. Back then, he recommended it be left to develop in peace. Now the Klingons are arming one indigenous tribe against another. Spock and McCoy both counsel Kirk against escalation. Spock points out it is against the prime directive, McCoy explains that escalation is never a solution - although he can't think of anything better to do. Kirk escalates, the McNamara of this episode. It's now 40 years after Vietnam, and we have learned that escalation is never a good solution. So Spock and McCoy were right, as was the leader of the culturally less contaminated tribe, who abhorred guns and killing. We still have not learned the lesson; otherwise, Bush the younger might have acted more like his father, who got out of Iraq immediately after ending their invasion of Kuwait.

The episode is filled with some of the campiest effects, costumes and writing in all of TOS. Women with makeup that would be impossible to conjure on a pre-technology planet, even by a witch. Mugato lizard-apes that look like bad Godzilla costumes. Wigs on the tribesmen that make the Monkees look bald. (If you don't know what the Monkees are, this episode is too campy for you to watch.) The unintentional humor is quite humorous, as is the intentional. Like a scene where nurse Chapel, lusting after Spock as always, holds his hand while he's 'unconscious' in sickbay, and later has to slap him on doctor's orders.

This episode shows that Roddenberry was really an idea man with commentary about humanity's problems, but he was not a gifted writer when it came to scripting it with the right level of human interest, leaving out what could not be done well on the available budget, etc. Fortunately TOS had many better writers, both in the humor department (like David Gerrold) and in the drama department (like Harlan Ellison).

Watch this one if you must see all episodes; otherwise, check out Gary 7 and his cat in "Assignment: Earth."
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"He is mine now".
classicsoncall12 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Aside from the barely disguised political commentary, this episode is almost unintentionally funny with it's blond coiffed hill people, and a creepy mahko root that's used by a Kahn-ut-tu woman to nurse Captain Kirk back to health following a near fatal battle with a Mugato. That Mugato was interesting, I kept thinking a cross between a gorilla and a prehistoric Stegosaurus, you know, one of those Stegorilla's.

This might have been the closest the series ever got to delivering actual soft porn, what with Nona's (Nancy Kovack) tantalizing healing dance over Kirk's prone body. Nona caps it with her analysis of the procedure - "It brought up evil beasts from my soul". Evil beasts indeed, giving particular new meaning to the term soul-mates.

One thing I like about the show's mythology is the way the scripts kept bringing in new facets of Vulcan character and physiology. In this one, it's revealed that the Vulcan form of self healing involves physical pain to regain consciousness in extreme cases. The story gives Nurse Chapel another chance to show that she pines for Spock's attention, but as usual, that goes nowhere. Slapping him around would have been the next best thing I suppose.

With the Vietnam War picking up tempo in the late Sixties, the show's political lens takes a look at the Balance of Power argument used by analysts to describe the way nations seek to level the playing field when they're not seeking outright advantage. In that respect, Kirk has no problem violating the Noninterference Directive to help out old friend Tyree (Michael Witney) and his hill people. I had to chuckle though, when the opposing side was called by name. With a little better costuming, they would have fit right into their description as the village people.
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What happened next?
Warning: Spoilers
What happened after Kirk (unusually) seemed to 'give-up' at the end of this episode? Earlier, he had said to Bones that if they found evidence that the Klingons were involved in arming the black-haired ones, there would be inter-stellar war. Well, Kirk found evidence of a Klingon's chin when he punched it in the forge. So why no inter-stellar war, that's what I want to know! There is also definite evidence here of a recyclable blond 'nice alien inhabitant' wig. At least one of the wigs worn by the goodies in this episode was worn in an earlier episode by an unrecognisably young David Soul. The wardrobe mistress (it was always 'mistress' then) could at least have combed the things down rather than leave them perched on top of the actor's head like a bird's nest just dropped out of a tree!
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Prime definition of a bad day
bottlegnome25522 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I didn't think much about this episode till I saw the end of it, then it hit me. It's seems no matter what the problem is, Kirk wants to solve it. He's determined to take care of it no matter how difficult it may be. Many of us can relate to his dilemma, especially towards the end. Life throws us obstacles every chance it gets, making things worse unless we deal with them on our terms.

As you could plainly see in the end in this marvelous episode, nobody wins. Those are the moments where you can only tell yourself "f*ck this, I'm going home". You throw in the towel, accept defeat, try to figure out the lesson you were given and move on. Its the prime definition of a bad day.
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Creating a balance of power
Tweekums14 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
While conducting a survey on a planet Captain Kirk visited several years earlier he is surprised to discover the primitive yet peaceful people he once knew are now armed with flintlock firearms. As the team prepare to leave Spock is shot and seriously injured. While he is being treated a Klingon ship is sighted and Kirk is convinced that they are responsible for arming the people on the planet. Leaving Spock in the capable hands of Dr M'Benga, Kirk and McCoy return to the planet to investigate further. Soon after landing Kirk is attacked by a creature with a poisonous venom; unable to return to the ship McCoy takes him to the village of his old friend Tyree where he is cured by Tyree's wife. We learn that there are two main tribes; the peaceful Hill People and the Villagers who are using weapons against them. Tyree's wife wants him to press Kirk to supply even better weapons and she who, with the help of a few select plants, can be very persuasive. When it is confirmed that the Klingons have helped the Villagers Kirk has a difficult decision; does he stay uninvolved or does he arm the Hill People to create a balance of power?

This isn't a classic episode but it is entertaining. Thanks to Spock's injury we learn more about the Vulcans; in particular how they consciously fight to heal themselves. The story on the planet was interesting too; clearly a metaphor for the various proxy wars of the cold war era where the East and West would arm allies in third world countries rather than getting involved in direct conflict. The yeti-like creature which attacked Kirk was pretty laughable; clearly a man in a costume and the hairstyles of the native population was pretty funny. Tyree's wife, Nona, is perhaps a little too sexy in her furry bikini top… I don't imagine she'd really need strange herbs to distract Kirk! The conclusion was most satisfying; it was interesting to see Kirk having to go with the least bad option rather than being able to solve the problems caused by Klingon interference on the planet. Overall this isn't a classic episode but it is still entertaining.
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Someone's messing with the culture
bkoganbing8 February 2014
If you read the review I wrote here for the film Hawaii I said that the tragedy of the History of Hawaii was its geography. Right there in the middle of the Pacific eventually it would come under the sway of either the USA or Japan, one expanding west, the other east.

It's the same here on this planet where many years ago before he was the captain of the Enterprise Kirk spent some time incognito studying the primitive planet and making friends with Michael Witney who was leader of the 'Hill People'. They were basically just coming out of a stone age culture then. Coming back Leonard Nimoy is wounded by a musket ball from a flintlock rifle. Clearly someone is messing with the culture.

It turns out to be the Klingons, but they don't know of the Enterprise's presence in the area. It's William Shatner and DeForest Kelley who go back and in native attire to investigate.

They also have a run in with Nancy Kovack who is Witney's wife and a witch woman with some marvelous healing and erotic powers. When she gets a look at the phasers that Kirk and McCoy have she knows that whoever possesses those is definitely on top of the heap in that planet.

Of course in all of this Kirk is violating the Prime Directive, but the Klingons did it first so we have to keep things in balance for this culture to develop as normally as possible considering they accelerated several hundred earth years.

As for the natives, like the Hawaiians destined to be pawns in the imperial designs of two super powers.
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If you don't laugh out loud at either the Mugatu or the wigs, then there is something seriously wrong with you.
Warning: Spoilers
Within the first 10 minutes both Kirk and Spock are near-mortally wounded. That's a bit much. In ST that was always a sign of lazy or uninspired writing: when the main characters get badly wounded or "killed", this being supposedly "dramatic". However, even that wasn't enough for the episode's writer, so later on even McCoy gets injured, albeit only slightly (it's one of those "the bullet just scratched me" movie-bullet injuries). And as if it weren't bad enough for Spock to be lying half-dead in sick bay, he has to endure the touching of that Gene Roddenberry bimbo harlot, Nurse Chapel, when she feels up his hand with her masculine paws.

A planet of wig-wearing buffoons, easily manipulated by both Klingons and cheesy-looking witch-women, are the focal point of APLW. (Are you surprised? This is, after all, yet another shoddy Roddenberry script.)And yet Uhura tells us that these people are highly intelligent and are predicted to develop very rapidly. I beg to differ. They might become marginally successful as makers of silly B-movie wigs, but otherwise forget it... Or perhaps the wigs got there when they traded with the Space Swedes ("The Apple" episode). The Swedes showed them how to make funny wigs, and in return the Mugatanians showed the Swedes how to write bad dialogue for themselves.

Typically, we have a blond tribe - the goodies - and their enemies, the black-haired tribe: the baddies. Just like in all those laughably bad cave-people movies of the 60s and 70s. Blond is good? Hitler would have been proud... (Just kidding.) Dividing up tribes by HAIR COLOUR, just so the presumably moronic audiences can follow the story more easily, was a bit too campy, even for ST.

Strangely enough, the planet's evil apes aren't black but blond (the wonderful Mugatus). The Mugatu is an unusual cross between an overgrown rooster and a female albino gorilla. Maybe the rooster and the gorilla met at an annual "Animal Planet" ball or something, then hijacked a NASA space shuttle, and flew to this distant planet for their honeymoon. But whether the Mugatu crows at the break of dawn or merely eats bananas we never get to find out; the Mugatus' appearances are brief, courtesy of the Enterprise phasers. So much for the Non-Interference Directive, which seems to only apply to intelligent life...

APLW also features some rather unnecessary, preachy, political commentary in the form of a barely-disguised Cold War analogy. The conversation between Kirk (representing the Republican credo) and McCoy (playing the bleedin'-heart liberal Democrat) was the kind of "socially/politically relevant" (and now often dated) banter that I'd have preferred hadn't been used in ST at all. True sci-fi does not need to preach about present-day issues - in fact, it shouldn't. But, just like in real life, when Kirk asks McCoy if he has a better suggestion than starting an arms race, he says that he doesn't. Liberals never have (practical) solutions to problems: they're only good at being anti.

In this episode, Gene Roddenberry tends to support the balance-of-power viewpoint, and yet in "Assignment: Earth", which he also wrote, he seems to take a different view. Go figure! Still, the man was a cop once, so that might explain the confusion in his head...

APLW is an unintentionally very funny episode, with monsters, wigs, and spunky, adulterous witches (I thought for a moment the episode was called "A Private Little Whore") that should provide some good moments in what is generally a crap story.

Most episodes with Klingons are sup-par. Thankfully, they're more talked about than actually seen in this episode.
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Awful ideological apologist episode to brainwash Americans
kjruk11 October 2012
If there had been too many like this one I would not have been enjoying watching the remastered series. And I don't mean the bad hairdo wigs the two tribes were wearing. This is such a blatant piece of US right wing self-justification for war mongering I'm surprised more people have not been appalled. I wouldn't have noticed when I first watched it when I was a teenager but as an adult I find the arguments simple minded pseudo-philosophical tripe of the silliest kind - all probably to justify what the Americans were doing in Vietnam. Even in terms of the fictional plot the conclusion to the dilemma is not logical. The Balance of Power must be maintained by arming the other side, naturally the other side are the good guys - blond naturally as an Aryan philosopher would have it. What other solution could there be? Well, obviously, destroy their weapons and prevent the arming of anybody would be an answer. And anyway Kirk already reminded us that the earthlings were nearly totally wiped out by the logical result of such an arms race - nuclear annihilation. And he wants them to suffer the same fate? It's all ridiculous. Thank goodness such ideological insertions were not too frequently overdone in the other episodes though of course it is clear that the values of the "American way" are what the Enterprise (=Private Enterprise) is carrying into space.

I don't normally allow the now obvious ideological content of the original series to spoil my enjoyment of one of my all-time favourite TV series but in this case it was a bit too much.

And that girl didn't need a potion to get Jim going- long eyelashes and sexy clothes were always enough for him!
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