Our story begins on Starbase XI; the Enterprise has pulled in for repairs after an ion storm, during which a man named Ben Finney was killed. Kirk’s giving his side of the story to Commodore Stone, telling him that Finney was in the Enterprise’s ‘ion pod’ (no clue) and that Kirk gave the red alert but that Finney was unable to get out before Kirk ejected the pod. You know, because he had to eject the pod due to the flow of the negative flux from the attitudinal cross-frequency wave rider. Or something.
Anyway, Spock is beaming down to Starbase XI (right into the Commodore’s office - he has a personal transporter. Swanky, and convenient for getting his bitches in and out without his wife knowing) to bring documents that back up Kirk’s version of the events, but he seems unsure about it all. Before Spock can get a word in edgewise, though, some chunky chick cosplaying as Sailor Moon busts into the Commodore’s office - it’s Ben Finney’s daughter, and she says Kirk killed her daddy!
But this is just the start of Kirk’s trouble. After they get the girl out of the office, Stone asks Kirk if he’s sure that he ejected the pod after going to red alert. “Duh,” Kirk says and Stone is like “According to this blood test you are the father-”
Shit, sorry, got this mixed up with my detailed log and recap of Maury Povich episodes. Rather, Stone says that the records from the Enterprise indicate that Kirk ejected the pod before going to red alert, and that Kirk has committed perjury and it’s time to start an investigation!
Kirk and McCoy head down to the Starbase XI bar to catch a drink, but everybody there was apparently Ben Finney’s best friend, since they all give Kirk the ultimate stink eye. The bartender is a total dick. The whole scene is unpleasant and unprofessional, and you’d think Ben Finney was the hero of the Federation, not James T. Kirk. At any rate, Kirk eventually leaves - even our Captain has a limit. Just as he does this semi-foxy cougar saunters in and our nicotine-flavored doctor runs right up to her, dick essentially in hand. McCoy totally opens the conversation with “Hey, I know Jim Kirk,” completely dropping names in an attempt to get into this broad’s mini-skirt. But it turns out this approaching-autumnul lady actually knows Kirk. Like, Biblically. “All of my old friends look like doctors,” McCoy says. “All of his look like you.” This is really indicative of Bones’ girl problems - if you want to get with anyone who isn’t a salt vampire you shouldn’t call them ‘old.’
Back at Stone’s office the hearing has begun; Kirk is being brought up on charges of perjury and culpable negligence - pretty heavy stuff. Kirk explains his relationship with Finney, which stretches back a long time. See, Finney was a very popular instructor at the Academy when Kirk was there, and they were good friends. In fact Finney’s Sailor Moon cosplaying daughter, Jamey, was named after Kirk. But it turns out that Kirk’s understanding of what a friendship should be is… well, lacking. Finney and Kirk were both stationed on the same starship at one point and Finney left some valve open that could have led to the whole ship being vaporized. I mean, who hasn’t done that at one point or another? Young Kirk, being a total fucking suck up, couldn’t just close the valve - he had to write the incident up and totally piss on Finney’s career. From that day forward, Finney was last on the promotion lists, and he blamed Kirk for it. I guess at some point Kirk learned ‘Bros before Starfleet regulations’ (he does steal the Enterprise in Search For Spock), but too late to help poor Finney.
Kirk insists that he issued a yellow alert before ejecting the pod with Finney in it, and Stone reminds him that the records indicate something quite different. Stone is pretty worried about appearances, and he thinks maybe Kirk needs some time as the captain of a spacedesk at Starfleet Command, which is like the worst thing you can say to James T Kirk. Kirk gets all pissed off and demands that he be court martialed right… fucking… now!
Having set in motion the hearing that could end his career, Kirk heads back to the Starbase XI saloon, where he runs into that cougar, Areel Shaw. She’s drinking what appears to be a glass full of gummi pus, and she thinks Kirk isn’t taking the whole situation seriously enough. ‘It’ll be Kirk vs Computer,’ she tells him. ‘And you know you can’t judo chop a computer.’ (Note: he can talk them to death, though. He’ll do it next episode, in fact). Kirk’s more interested in adjourning to her chambers, though. He’d like to pound his gavel on her bench. He’s all about giving her the bar exam. He’d like to take her oral testimony. He wants to get his precedent all over her stand. He’d like to fuck.
He’d also like her to be his lawyer. She recommends a dude named Cogley, and I was going to make a Jetsons joke but then I did my due diligence and found out it was Cogswell’s Cogs. Bummer. Anyway, she can’t be Kirk’s lawyer because she’s in the JAG (but she’s no Catherine Bell, if you know what I mean). Kirk still doesn’t quite get it so she spells it out: she’s the prosecutor!
Now, this is a dramatic moment in the show, but if I was on trial and the prosecutor was my ex-girlfriend who still totally dug me, I’d feel fairly good about it all.
Kirk goes back to his Starbase XI quarters and Cogley is there, along with a million old books. Oh, he must be eccentric and old fashioned… and he’s played by Elisha Cook, Jr, who is like the ultimate ‘that guy’ when it comes to character actors. He was on every single TV show produced between 1959 and 1989, it seems. Anyway, Cogley is like ‘The law lives in books, not in computers,’ which really feels goofy a couple of hundred years in the future. It’s like me demanding to read the Bible in the original papyrus only.
Finally the court martial begins. Stone has gathered three other ranking Starfleet officers; two white dudes and a confused looking guy who may have been plucked from behind the counter of the 7/11 nearest Desilu Studios. The charges are read and Captain Kirk pleads not guilty. The first witness: Mr. Spock!
After going over Mr. Spock’s whole CV (this is the kind of shit that the really hardcore autistic nerds live for, where they list all of Spock’s medals that they made up on the day of filming. Do you think that the guy who just spouted off his commendations would imagine that forty years later grown men would be arguing about them on the internet? Proof of the existence of God, I say). We find out Spock’s knowledge of computers: he knows all about them. All about them. Which programming language? All about all of them. Which operating system? All of them. Spock knows ALL ABOUT COMPUTERS.
Spock then proceeds to give the most worthless testimony in the history of criminal proceedings. First he says the computer has to be wrong. He doesn’t dispute the computer log, simply its correctness. Why? Because it has to be. HE KNOWS ALL ABOUT COMPUTERS. And then, just to make sure he’s wasting everybody’s time, Spock says that Captain Kirk couldn’t have panicked and ejected the pod early. Why? BECAUSE HE KNOWS ALL ABOUT… oh wait. BECAUSE CAPTAIN KIRK JUST COULDN’T THAT’S WHY. Spock’s testimony, which is supposed to be in favor of Kirk, boils down to ‘Because.’
Next up: Sulu in drag! Oh, what an embarrassment this must have been the day that George Takei showed up in a female uniform… oh wait, it’s an actual woman. The ship’s personnel officer. I don’t even know what she says here, it’s so boring I stopped taking notes. But that’s okay, because Bones takes the stand next, and we learn he’s an expert in ‘space psychology!’ If space madness (aka Buscemi/Ren Syndrome) kicked in, he’ll have known. Shaw asks that if Finney hated Kirk long enough, could Kirk have come to hate him back? Meanwhile, the Indian guy keeps being distracted by something happening just off camera. In the back of his mind he wonders if the Slushie machine is being cleaned in a proper fashion without him there to oversee the difficult, tasty procedure.
Meanwhile, Cogley is engaging in a time-honored defense technique known as ‘doing jack shit.’ Every time there’s a witness he declines to cross exam. Kirk is just sitting there wondering what the hell his lawyer is doing (here’s a hint: Cogley doesn’t have a clue either), but the little dude finally calls Kirk to the stand. Kirk’s in his formal dress, which includes some sort of stained glass panel on his chest. The computer begins reading Kirk’s commendations and everybody gets angry. The list won’t end, and everybody feels like they’re sort of being demeaned, like they’re being forced to examine what they’ve done with their lives and put it against the achievements of this man. And the computer isn’t even programmed to read back the list of all the broads he banged (but how funny would it be if it did? Just imagine Shaw’s face. Hey, by the way, do you think she told anybody she used to make regular reports to the Captain’s log? Wouldn’t they have found another prosecutor if she had. I don’t want to spoil the episode before I get to the part of the highly detailed recap where I spoil the episode, but if Kirk had been convicted this would have been grounds for an immediate appeal)! So they end the infinite list of Kirk’s achievements and get down to business.
Business is Kirk relating the story of the ion storm for the seventh time. I feel like a third of this episode’s running time has been spent with people telling the story of an event that we still haven’t seen. And Kirk once again tells the version of the story where Finney was killed ‘by accident.’ Shaw is like, ‘Would you do it again?’ and Kirk is like, ‘Fuck yeah, I did everything that was necessary to save my ship, and nothing is more important than my ship. You should know that.’
And Shaw is like, ‘Okay, that burns, but does it burn as much as… this?!?’ and she plays the video tape of the incident and finally we’re seeing it instead of hearing people talk about it. And just as a sidenote, yeah, Kirk ejects the pod while the ship is still in yellow alert.
Some things to point out about this security tape: it begins with a high, wide angle view of the bridge and then it cuts to a close up of Kirk’s hand on the arm of his chair. Okay, it’s the future, so maybe they can do this. Maybe the entire bridge is recorded in 3D and they can move the camera to anywhere on the bridge that they want. That would actually be pretty cool. But when the camera closes in on the chair, we learn what at least some of those buttons do. See, one of the buttons is labeled - clear as day - ‘JETTISON POD.’
There’s a button on Captain Kirk’s chair specifically dedicated to jettisoning the ion pod. And it’s right where his hand rests - a cup of coffee in the wrong spot could lead to an ion pod jettison at any moment. And it’s the only working button, it seems - while JETTISON POD is labeled, the other two buttons next to it are unmarked. Maybe he’s already accidentally jettisoned whatever shit they were for. One misplaced croissant and WHOOPS! the starboard nacelle is tumbling into the heart of Beta Centauri VI.
The video proof of Kirk JETTISONing the POD certainly hurts the defense. Cogley is probably glad he didn’t bother calling anybody to the stand, and he tells Kirk it’s not too late to change his plea. While Kirk is doubting himself, he refuses to plead guilty. He talks to Spock on the Enterprise, and Spock tells him that they ran a scan on the computer and it’s free of malware. Then Kirk says something really out of left field that exists only to move the story along. ‘Maybe you’ll be able to beat your next captain at chess,’ he says. And Spock is like ‘HUHWUH CHESS’ and runs off the bridge. Where did that even come from? It’s like Kirk was prompted, perhaps by lines written down on a piece of paper, to simply say something that would allow the plot to move to the next scene.
Next scene! Jame Finney shows up and has had a complete change of heart. She wants Kirk to change his plea and accept a desk job because she’s come to like the fella. Seems she did some research into her dad’s history with Kirk and realizes the captain’s a good guy. Kirk won’t, though, and then the scene sort of ends.
Which brings us back up to the Enterprise where Spock is playing three-dimensional chess against the computer. Bones is fucking livid that Spock would be playing games at a time like this, but Spock explains that there’s something wrong - he’s just won his fourth game. This apparently means more to Bones than the rest of us, since they beam down to tell the court martial this immediately. Just as the defense is about to rest Spock runs in and is like ‘I’ve beat my high score on chess!!!!!’
Cogley hears what Spock has to say and tells the court that they have new evidence to consider. Then he begins just fucking blabbering on about the Bible and the Magna Carter and the statutes of Alpha 3. Then he says that Kirk has the right to face his accuser… the computer! I like this, because it’s really just a part of the general way the writers of Star Trek never quite figured out what a computer was, or how it worked. Imagine if a guy was accused of stealing from an ATM and he demanded he had the right to face his accuser, the ATM security camera. This is essentially what Cogley’s entire plan is. Reminds me of that time I protested the outcome of my PSATs - Faraci v. Scantron Sheet.
The court reconvenes on the Enterprise, where Spock explains that he has now won five games of chess, and that if they want to watch he’s pretty sure he can go six out of ten. This is a big deal because Spock - who knows all about computers - programmed this computer with his own chess skills. I guess he also knows all about chess. And I guess that the Enterprise has just one giant networked computer which runs every single system, including weapons and life support, but it’s totally okay for a guy to tinker with its programming so he can play fucking CHESS with it. As if it doesn’t come with Chess and the latest World of Warcraft expansion built right in. Anyway, since the computer has Spock’s chess knowledge he should be getting stalemates only - stalemate after stalemate (can you imagine playing a game over and over again where the only outcome was GUARANTEED to be a tie. Why would he keep playing? It’s got to be so frustrating and boring). But now Spock is winning, which means the computer has been tampered with. I would assume it was by Spock himself, who has shown a predisposition to reprogram computers to his liking and who must be sick of endless stalemates. But the conclusion everybody draws is that it means someone adjusted the memory banks of the computers.
I know the show was made forty years ago, but the way they handle the computer is so goofy. Imagine if I repartitioned my hard drive - would my computer suddenly get dumber? Whatever. The people who made this show were like cavemen compared to our stunning technology. They still paid for porn. Anyway, only three people can change the computer: Spock is obviously one, Kirk is another. And the third is… Finney. Is there a soundtrack cue for ‘CONVENIENT’? If so, it should have played there.
This obviously means Ben Finney isn’t dead, so the court goes to the bridge. Everybody else leaves the ship and the plan is to listen to all of the ship’s mics to hear if someone is still alive. To do this they shut down everything on the ship so it doesn’t make noise; the ship is orbiting the starbase on momentum alone. Again, I know this was a primitive time but this seems like a completely retarded way of going about it. Anyway, to make sure that the present company aren’t picked up by the ship, McCoy waves what appears to be a conventional microphone in front of them; we’re told it’s a white noise generator.
Sure enough, there’s still a heartbeat on the ship. They narrow the heartbeat down to one deck and they seal it off. It’s in engineering, and Kirk goes down with a phaser to check it out. We’re told in a Captain’s log voiceover (used to patch over some deleted scenes) that Cogley has brought Jame up to the ship in case Finney goes nuts, and that the Enterprise’s orbit is decaying. If that’s the case I don’t know why a security detail isn’t beamed back up, along with some engineers, to get the fucking ship started. Instead Kirk goes it alone.
Kirk is wandering in engineering and he hears Finney’s disembodied voice “HELLO CAPTAIN.” Suddenly Finney gets the drop on Kirk, putting a phaser in his back. Finney is all stubbly because he’s been hiding out, and he’s all sweaty because he’s crazy. He’s so mad, he’s teary eyed and nuts and he tells Kirk that rather than kill him, Finney has killed his ship - he’s torn out the primary power circuits. Finney’s shit is real emotional right now, and he’s blaming his poor career on just about everybody except the guy who left the switch open - here, Finney, let me show him to you… in the mirror!
Kirk tells Finney that he’s killing his own daughter, as Jame is aboard. Finney flips out and starts fighting Kirk’s really obvious stuntman. He’s like a six foot tall Mexican. They battle in wide shots, and Kirk’s shirt gets ripped! Kirk’s stuntman manages to subdue Finney, and then Kirk climbs into some tube to fix whatever Finney broke. Here we see that big rubber tubes are what keeps the Enterprise flying - the whole thing looks about as high tech as an inner tube.
And then it’s all over. The day is saved! Court is dismissed! Cogley leaves, giving Kirk a book as a gift. He tells the Captain that his next client will be… Finney! Then Shaw shows up and, in a display of stunning disregard for professionalism and decency, she makes out with Kirk right on the bridge. After she leaves him with a boner you can see poking out of his polyester pants, Kirk sighs and says ‘She was a fine lawyer.’
Review: This is one of the episodes that really shows off Star Trek‘s awesome versatility. Last episode was mostly Kirk fighting hand to hand with a giant lizard man, this episode is a courtroom drama. There’s a lot of stuff that horrifically dated - apparently Star Trek takes place in a future where the idea of video editing wasn’t understood, and the way the show deals with computers is hilarious - but it’s all in the service of a pretty good story.
The biggest problem with Court Martial is that the entire emotional climax - Finney breaking down - is relegated to narration. Apparently they shot Finney’s daughter showing up in engineering but cut it for time. There is a lot of nice stuff with the Main Trio, though, and I like the way Kirk’s friendships with Spock and McCoy are portrayed. It’s especially great - if logically silly - that Spock would stand up for Kirk on the witness stand just on the principal that Kirk couldn’t possibly panic. One of the reasons that the Main Trio remains the heart of Star Trek is that their friendship, trust and loyalty for one another is so strong in the original series.
Also nice is the work by Elisha Cook; he’s one of old Hollywood’s great character actors, and he’s especially beloved by genre fans for his Trek work as well as Batman, ‘Salem’s Lot and a ton of other small roles in great films and TV shows.
Kirkin’ Out: This is an episode that’s about how everybody else feels about Kirk, but we still get some good moments from our great captain. The best? Easily the moment when he demands to be court martialed. Hells yes, Jimmy!
Spockmarks: He knows everything about computers. EVERYTHING.
Redshirt: Everybody makes it out alive - even the guy who Captain Kirk supposedly killed.
Support Staff of the Week: The good Doctor McCoy is the winner this week. His blatant attempts to hit on Areel Shaw are gross, creepy and hilarious. Also, he gets in some good outrage when he finds Spock playing chess.
Continerdity: This is the first time we see Starfleet dress uniforms. For that matter this is the first time we hear of Starfleet or Starfleet Command, and the first visit to a Starbase (in shooting continuity. I’d have to double check on the continuity of episode air dates, and I think The Menagerie, which was shot right after this and ALSO features a court martial, may have beat these references to the air). The Intrepid, which is shown on Commander Stone’s wall chart, reappears in The Immunity Syndrome, where it gets destroyed by a big ass space amoeba.
And here’s one that’s only for the obsessive: One of the commanders overseeing Kirk’s court martial, Nensi Chandra, would turn up in the Star Trek reboot movie as one of the commanders overseeing Kirk’s trial at Starfleet Academy for gaming the Kobiyashi Maru scenario.
Set Phasers to Quote: “You have to be either an obsessive crackpot who’s escaped from his keeper or Samuel T. Cogley, attorney at law.” - Captain Kirk