After encountering Abraham Lincoln (Lee Bergere) floating in space (for realz) the crew beams him aboard. He sort of seems like the genuine article and he vaguely tells Kirk that the answers about him are on a nearby planet the ship was exploring. Upon beaming down, Kirk, Spock and Lincoln are joined by Surak (Barry Atwater), the father of the Vulcan people. Then, some weird rock things who live on the planet tell our heroes that they have to fight recreations of four evil figures from history. The bad guys include Genghis Khan (Nathan Gung) who really likes to throw rocks; some weird witch woman, Zora (Carol Daniels) not to be confused with a witch-ay woman; Kahless the Unforgettable (Robert Herron) essentially, the Klingon messiah who apparently doubles as a voiceover actor; and Colonel Green (Phillip Pine) a notorious figure from 21st-century Earth. All the historical figures are recreations (I guess?) and the rock creatures want to examine the difference between good and evil. After a bunch of by-the-numbers fight scenes where Kirk and Co. win, but don’t kill the bad guys, they learn that it’s mercy or something.
Why it’s important
As goofy as this episode is — it seems like something straight out of The Animated Series — it introduces two (possibly three) key figures in the history of Star Trek. Both Kahless and Surak appear in second-generation Trek (Kahless in TNG’s “Rightful Heir” and later references and Surak in the fourth-season Vulcan arc in “Star Trek: Enterprise”). Colonel Green, while certainly not a messiah figure, is an important guy in Earth’s history. He pops up in a recording in “Terra Prime” at the end of the fourth season of “Star Trek: Enterprise,” and it turns out he’s a sort of hero to the Earth-for-humans movement because he euthanized a bunch of people deformed by radiation during World War III. Yay!
Now, I’ll give the creators props for sticking with some continuity. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a character like Surak or Kahless to be introduced (particularly in the waning days of TOS) only to be forgotten. Garth of Izar, was introduced in TOS’s third season as the “model” for starship captains and an important historical figure. But we never hear of him after that episode.
(In another example, Kirk, Spock and McCoy meet the immortal human Flint — who had been Solomon, Alexander the Great, Merlin, da Vinci, Brahms and possibly others — in “Requiem for Methuselah,” arguably the weirdest episode of TOS. We won’t review it as it’s not part of any additional Star Trek lore. But it’s worth a watch because its premise surrounds a very, very interesting concept. Unfortunately, the creators decided to take it in a bizarre direction, in which the immortal Flint builds an android to be with him and tries to use Kirk to get her to learn to love, or something. Kirk and the android fall for each other, Flint and Kirk fight over her, the android dies and Spock later removes Kirk’s memories to help with his heartbreak! Oh, and all of this happens in the span of THREE HOURS as Kirk, Spock and McCoy work with Flint to get a drug from his planet to save a dying Enterprise crew. Even stranger, there appears to be no effort after this episode to contact Flint. Given Spock’s statements in other episodes about the opportunities for research, like the planet killer in “The Doomsday Machine” or the weird aliens in “Catspaw”, it’s odd that they just walk away from Flint. Of course, they did something similar in “Metamorphosis.”)
Of course, Surak, Green and Kahless are all very different the next time we see them — with a special emphasis on Kahless …
What doesn’t hold up
Surak sure looks different (and dresses differently) than he does in Enterprise as does Green. But that’s really not a big thing. The transformation of Kahless, however, is kinda nuts. Here, he dresses like the 23rd-century Klingons we see in TOS, he doesn’t have forehead ridges or long hair (undermining the genetic experiment explanation for Klingon foreheads from Enterprise) he can mimic voices in the stylings of Lt. Commander Data and (probably most importantly) he’s characterized as an evil dude who inspired all the “tyrannies” the Klingons would go on to commit. Oh, and he’s totally subservient to Colonel Green. Weird.
By the time we see Kahless in TNG — or, rather, a clone of Kahless who is made to act like the genuine article — he’s not an evil guy, he has forehead ridges and dresses in garb that’s not out of a 23rd century JC Penney on Kronos. And he has no (apparent) ability to be the Klingons’ very own Mel Blanc. This is actually a case example of how Klingons went from mostly evil, treacherous bastards in TOS and the movies (think Kruge in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”) to honorable warriors in TNG and DS9 (Worf, Martok, etc.). There were some tweeners over the years, like Kang, Gowron and Gorkon. But retconning a character previously equated with Genghis Khan into a mostly good dude? It’s pretty laughable.
I’ve heard the theory that the rock dudes in this episode generated Kahless from what Kirk thought Kahless would be like — which means Kirk heard the name and drew his own conclusions or read a very biased history on the Klingons (does D’Nesh D’Souza write about Klingon history?). But writing the Kahless inconsistencies off as a flaw in Kirk’s version of him is weak sauce, especially because the rock dudes generated Surak, someone Kirk had never heard of (which, by itself, is pretty ridiculous, as it makes Kirk look like a real idiot). Did they pull Surak from Spock’s mind but everyone else from Kirk’s?
Well, we say it in our About Us page. Reviewing an episode doesn’t mean we endorse it. “The Savage Curtain” certainly isn’t the worst episode of TOS and it’s arguably not even in the bottom five of TOS’s infamous third season. As hokey and goofy as some of it is, it has some zip to it and some decent dialog. It’s not dreadfully dull AND preposterous like “The Lights of Zetar” or “And the Children Shall Lead.” It’s really just preposterous.
Why did the creators decided to put Lincoln in a chair IN SPACE to start the episode? Why did the creators allow a recreation of the father of Vulcan logic to get killed and Lincoln to be impaled by a spear? Oh, and in another ridiculous moment, Kirk tells Lincoln that the Enterprise can “convert” to minutes. WTF? Was Kirk making a really lame joke at the expense of one of his personal heroes and a key figure in Earth history? Kirk and Co. have used minutes since the very first episodes of the series. They use HOURS later in this episode!
This episode also features the really stupid cliche where the bridge crew watches some fight to the death along with the audience — complete with (groan) the same camera angles. This only happens a few times in TOS (“Arena” “The Gamesters of Triskelion” and here) but it’s one of my least favorite TOS devices. Naturally, it shows up in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” the worst of the Trek films.
All that said, I did kinda like the moment where Lincoln says Kirk reminds him of Ulysses S. Grant — and equates Grant with drinking whiskey.