Change is the essential process of all existence.
In this episode, Jeff Akin breaks down the characters from Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (Star Trek: The Original Series), how Leonard McCoy sticks to the fundamentals when faced with an unfamiliar situation, Spock explaining the necessity of change, and James Kirk’s effective leadership because of his mission statement. As Jeff reviews the episode, focus on each character’s viewpoints throughout the episode’s duration in The Original Series.
Listen to the episode and join Jeff as he talks about the examples McCoy, Spock, and Kirk embody to be good leaders, and more.
Fundamentals, Change, and a Personal Mission Statement Jeff points out strong leadership characteristics for each character. First off, McCoy had to deal with a situation he was not familiar with at all: an entirely new being he has never seen. He says, “When in doubt, the book prevails,” referring to the fundamentals, identifying the variables. Jeff relates that by going back to the basics, you’ll most likely do it wrong the first time, and the rest will run smoothly, rather than doing it wrong every single time.
Second, Spock’s take on the necessity of change represents adaptability. As Spock said, “Change is the essential process of all existence,” trying to persuade Bele that Lokai can change. The premise is that change cannot be stopped; the only thing that can be done is accept and adapt to it. In the workplace context, organizations must grasp the concept of change, so they tend to outperform those that do not and continue to compete and exist. Accepting change in the workplace is a powerful shift because you are compelled to do things differently and better.
Lastly, Kirk maintained a culture that created the best example of the Federation because he aligned his mission statement to that of the Enterprise. Jeff’s take on this is that one is effective in leading by having an aligned mission statement. Having the same goal as the organization ensures a healthy workplace.
Listen more to these characters’ traits that embody good leadership in the Starfleet Leadership Academy Podcast!
About Starfleet Leadership Academy: Star Trek is full of great examples of leadership. Jeff Akin, a leader with over 20 years of executive management experience in both the public and private sectors, breaks down each episode of Star Trek, from The Original Series to Discovery and beyond, pointing out examples of great leadership, management, lean/six-sigma, communication and more.
If you enjoy Star Trek, or are even a little Trek-curious, and have an appetite for leadership development, this is the podcast for you.
Outline of the Episode: [00:48] The beginning of Episode 15, “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield.” [04:08] When in doubt, go back to the fundamentals; identify the variables. [07:34] The representation of racism in the form of Lokai’s appearance. [08:56] Conflict arises in the Enterprise when Bele arrives to get Lokai, a political criminal convicted of treason, but Kirk demands that Lokai goes through due process. [12:00] Examining the episode in the context of the time of its airing. [13:27] Bele takes control of the Enterprise and changes course to Cheron. [16:24] The episode gives an accurate commentary on racism. [18:54] “Change is the essential process of all existence,” says Spock. [19:44] The discovery of the destruction at Cheron caused by the civil war; Lokai and Bele ran off to pursue each other. [21:06] Kirk and the rest of the crew leave behind Lokai and Bele on Cheron. [22:43] Jeff shares his thoughts about the episode in general. [24:42] The importance of having a personal mission that is aligned to your organization’s mission. [29:12] The importance of change in the micro and macro setting.
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Welcome, everyone! Thanks for joining me today. We’re going to be talking about due process, the necessity of change, and, I’m going to ask you to do something that can change how you look at your work every day as we watch the 15th episode of the 3rdseason of The Original Series, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.
The Enterprise is on its way to Ariannus. There’s a bacterial invasion of the planet and they’ve been assigned to decontaminate. It’s an urgent assignment and they are speeding to it.
On the way, they run into a Starfleet shuttlecraft that had been stolen from Starbase 4. They try to contact it, but no success, so they use the tractor beam to pull it into the shuttlebay. There is a single lifeform on board. Kirk and Spock go to check it out.
The remaster on this episode is gorgeous. The scene with the shuttlecraft getting pulled in looks incredible. I love how they kept the 60’s aesthetic, but just polished it all up. Honestly, this scene alone makes the episode worth checking out!
As they approach the shuttlebay, the door opens and a man, half black and half white, right down the middle, collapses into the corridor.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. There is a complete lack of any security procedures through this whole episode. You know that whole discussion about how older movie and book plots just couldn’t exist with modern technology? Like, the Blair Witch Project wouldn’t even exist. ‘Oh no, we’re lost.’
‘No problem, let me check Waze for the quickest way out of here.’
Or my favorite example, Romeo and Juliet:
She just texts Romeo, ‘Anon, as the light yonder breaks, I shall have a false death forthwith our life together shall begin.’
Romeo texts back, ‘cool, cool. See ya when you’re up.’
Well, that’s this episode. ‘These guys really hate each other and will cause violence. Put them in the brig, under guard.” END CREDITS and that’s the show. Instead, we get what we’ll see and that leads to some not great stuff for the ship. But, I digress. Back to the episode.
Spock and Kirk are discussing this being with McCoy. They’re discussing his pigmentation and make 2 HUGE assumptions. One being about conflict, “the result of major conflict” and about his color being a mutation, “this alien is an unaccountable rarity.”
McCoy shines again for us. He admits he doesn’t know what he is doing, this is an entirely new race to him, but Spock just antagonizes him. “Filling him with noxious potions.”
This humility we see from McCoy happens a few times, most notable in the film Star Trek 6, the Undiscovered Country, when he tries to, spoiler alert, save Chancellor Gorkon. But his drive to heal is also a repeating theme. He doesn’t have the specific knowledge of this race, so he goes back to the fundamentals. “blood is blood.”
Have you ever been given an assignment that’s beyond your skill level? Or, maybe even more challenging, have you ever had to assign something to someone that you know they don’t have the skill to do and no one else really does either? McCoy sets a great example on how to approach this.
This isn’t a direct leadership example, but follow me here. I think you’ll see the correlation. Back in the mid-90’s I got to fill in as the drummer for a cover band. If you’ve ever been to a dive-bar on the weekend, you know exactly what I’m talking about: the band playing on the little stage, tucked beyond the tables playing all the hits from the 70s and 80s; a staple of the rock music experience! Back in the day, at least, this was one of the better paying gigs for bands too.
The setup here was that I’d meet the band at load in time, and the first time we’d ever play together would be the super quick sound check. No rehearsal. I was still pretty young and really learning how to be a musician and learning a lot of the standard covers out there. I’ll tell you, within 2, maybe 3 songs, I knew I was in over my head. I didn’t know a lot of the songs, or, at best, I just didn’t know the name. So when the singer said, “here’s our next one!” It would take me a few beats to figure out what he was talking about.
So, I did what McCoy does here. I went back to the fundamentals. For most of these songs, they’re in the same time signature and relatively close in tempo. The big variable for each was the feel. It is straight ahead, or does it swing? So, is it dun dun dun dun, or is it dun duh dun, duh dun, duh dun? When each song ended, I’d holler at the bass player, “straight or swing?” He’d tell me and then I could at least fake my way through the song. I mean, yeah, I’d screw up the awesome pick up fill in La Grange, but I only screwed it up once!! And 99% of the way there is better than me just messing everything up.
So this can happen in the workplace too. You have to do a report with datasets you don’t know or recognize at all, or you end up in a pitch and the person taking lead doesn’t show. You have to step in and just stick to the fundamentals of what you know. Identify the variables, which ones you know and which ones you need to know: what’s the time signature? What’s the tempo? Got those, ok, I’ll just ask about the feel. And that doesn’t mean you’ll nail it! But you’ll at least be able to get most of the way there instead of just letting the half black, half white person die in your sickbay.
He slowly wakes up. He’s aware of the Federation, but not just a little. He immediately, aggressively defends his actions in regards to the shuttle, saying his need for it allowed him to use it; use it he says, he’s adamant he didn’t steal it.
Kirk fires right back and tells him exactly what is going to happen. He’ll go in front of a Federation magistrate and answer to the charges.
The person says their name is Lokai, from the planet Cheron. “In the southern part of the galaxy.” That’s super convenient that we’ll still be using the cardinal direction points on a galactic scale in the 23rd century!
Then we get our first bit of overt racism. “You monochromes are all alike.” Then he shuts up and lays down. This statement does two things for the episode. First, it establishes that all the weird speculating by Spock and McCoy about his appearance being a mutation was wrong, and second, it lays the foundation for the examination of racism.
Kirk is called to the bridge by Chekov. There’s a fully invisible ship tracking along with Enterprise. It flies straight at the ship and disintegrates when it hits the shields. “We’re on collision course!” But the occupant somehow transported themselves onto the bridge!
It’s another being from Cheron, also half black and white. It’s the Riddler!! I mean, it’s Bele (Beel), the chief officer of the commission on political traitors. He is much more diplomatic and savvier than Lokai. He explains his ship was “sheathed in special materials.” Those special materials, for those in the know, were actually budget restrictions that prohibited them from creating a new ship model. An elegant, if not effective solution.
He explains he is here to claim Lokai as he is a political criminal. We get a small glimpse into interstellar politics and civil law as Kirk tells him that he can’t release Lokai until he has due process. Later in the episode we learn there are no treaties between Cheron and the Federation so there are no procedures for extradition.
That’s a lot of legalese if you’re not familiar with due process or the implications of inter-governmental treaties. If you work as a manager, you’ve likely been involved in matters of due process whether you’re aware of it or not. In the United States, for example, many of our labor laws have their basis in due process, specifically when it comes to terminating employment, or even a contract for that matter. Put simply, due process is the expectation that legal matters are resolved according to established rules, principles and procedures. And, in my opinion, most importantly, all individuals are treated fairly. Now that’s going to look different for each government, but, at a high level, it’s that simple. There is a lot of material written about due process out there, but in the United States, the high level rules and principles are documented in the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
Bele responds appropriately and professionally. He goes on to explain that Lokai had been convicted of treason and then escaped. Kirk allows him to see Lokai in sickbay but reminds him that they are bound by the rules of the ship.
In sickbay, Bele gets right to the veiled threats. There’s some masterful camera work here. When they show Bele, the camera is pointed up, so he looks tall and authoritative. It creates the illusion that we are looking up to him. But when it shows Lokai, it’s shot from up high, looking down on him. This visual poetry establishes the power dynamic between them. Lokai actor Lou Antonio, does a great job of acting through his makeup. His eyes and his mussed up hair make you feel what he is feeling. The feeling of the hunted being caught in the hunter’s snare.
Kirk reiterates that Lokai will go to Starbase 4 to answer his charges. We learn about the conflict between these two, “Sold us as slaves…educated enough…You were the product of our love”
As we often have to do with the Original Series, we need to look at it through the context of its time. This episode aired in January 1969. In the months just before this the United States experienced the East LA Walkouts, the Glenville Shootout, riots at the Democratic National Convention, Tommie Smith and John Carlos being pulled from the US Olympic team for giving a “black power” salute in Mexico City, the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. To say that the message this episode is delivering was much needed is an incredible understatement. Heavy handed? Yes. Blatant and in your face? Yes. Entirely appropriate given the climate at the time? Absolutely. Really only address racism in a simplistic way at a surface level? Unfortunately, also yes.
Bele attempts to attack Lokai but Kirk holds him back. Lokai shares his plan for all out war when they return to Cheron. Bele insists they take them back to Cheron immediately. Kirk refuses and tells them, again, that they will be handed over to the authorities at Starbase 4 after they complete their mission at Ariannus. Bele says “that will not be satisfactory.”
Bele is led off to his quarters and Chekov hails Kirk to let him know they’ve lost control of the Enterprise. On the bridge, they’re trying everything they can. There aren’t any mechanical issues, they “simply don’t have any control.” Chekov and Spock analyze the ship’s course and they realize they’re headed to Cheron at warp 8, “the speed is increasing.”
Bele barges onto the bridge where he claims he’s been chasing Lokai for 50,000 years and that he is now controlling the ship. Lokai comes onto the bridge causing Bele to almost use the episode title in the dialogue, “This is your last…” They stare each other down as Kirk orders them both to the brig. Security tries to grab them and they have shields preventing it. They are all but untouchable. Kirk and Bele argue back and forth about control of the ship, but, somehow, Bele is controlling it and there is nothing Kirk or anyone else can do about it.
So Kirk does what Kirk does. He lays it all on the line. He says Bele either returns control of the ship, or he’ll initiate the self-destruct! “I will destroy it.” Bele doesn’t buy it, so Kirk starts the process. Super tense scene. Lots of close up shots on Bele and the crew of the Enterprise. Kirk gives his code, Spock gives his and Scotty also gives his. The tension continues to build as the computer says it’s awaiting the final code to start a 30 second countdown. Kirk asks if the ship has changed course. It hasn’t. So he gives the code, “Begin countdown code 000 Destruct 0.”
The computer counts down while Kirk mocks Bele. “Mine is the final command.” Bele finally breaks and Kirk stops the self-destruct. Bele send the ship into a circular course, no longer heading towards Cheron. He says it is acceptable for Enterprise to complete its mission to Ariannus, but asks that they go to Cheron afterwards instead of Starbase 4. Kirk refuses. “I make no deals.” Apparently, game recognizes game here as Bele returns control of the ship to the crew.
Kirk, for some reason, allows the two of them to roam free around the ship. He explains the Federation has moved past the need to resolve issues through violence – which is a message Kirk could have stood to hear back in the Devil in the Dark episode, among others – and they believe in individual rights and expression. He does have a cool line here “learn more about the federation through my crew.” How great is that?? To give the benefit of the doubt and make a small leap of faith here, Kirk, as the captain of the ship, the leader of his organization, is trusting his crew to not only keep the ship safe with these two on it, but for them to also provide an aspirational example to them. That’s some serious confidence and I love it!
The episode takes a moment to make a thinly veiled, and very accurate comment on racism. “Disgusting…describes exactly.”
We get some scenes around the ship of Lokai telling his story to crewmembers, and talking about how Earth has no persecution so the crew can’t understand. Checkov and Sulu reflect on the primitive savagery Earth experienced in the 20th century. Very on the nose here, but, again, given the time, appropriate.
Bele is having drinks with Kirk and Spock where he is, once again, showing his diplomatic prowess. He’s searching for common ground “One thing we can agree; no.” and failing. Uhura interrupts with a communication from Starfleet denying Bele’s request to take Lokai directly to Cheron. They say he can present his case at Starbase 4. Understandably upset, he continues to paint Lokai as a dangerous and violent threat. We then get right to it. “It’s obvious he is of an inferior breed. Are you blind? Black on one side…” Both Kirk and Spock are great here! They have that facial expression you see when your friend is describing the latest conspiracy theory and you don’t want to be obviously disrespectful!
They advocate for hearing Lokai out, and trying to find common ground, much like Bele was doing earlier. He says it’s useless; Lokai cannot change so it is a waste of time. Spock responds with one of the most powerful quotes in Star Trek: “Change is the essential process of all existence.” Let’s dive into that in the Command Codes.
The Enterprise has arrived at Ariannus and we see Mr. Scott take the bridge crew through the decontamination procedures. “Let her rip.” They complete the operation and head to Starbase 4.
Until they aren’t! Bele gives a maniacal laugh and says he’s burned out the directional control AND the self-destruct! He not only called Kirk’s bluff, but shut him out of the game. They’re on course for Cheron and there’s no way to stop them.
Lokai and Bele are arguing and throwing slurs “Half white! Half black!” Kirk tries to reason with them as they get into a sloppy collar and elbow tie-up. “This will be your final battlefield.” They release each other and Bele releases the ship. But Spock shares they are already at Cheron. Scans reveal massive destruction. No life. The people of Cheron have destroyed themselves. Bele and Lokai are all that is left. Bele blames Lokai and attacks him. Kirk, again tries to reason with them, taking the anti-Palpatine approach “give up your hate!” But it doesn’t work. They’re both off into the bowels of the ship. They are running, and running, and running – this is a very long scene. “Shall I alert security? No, where can they run?” Again, hopefully a reflection of Kirk’s supreme confidence in his crew’s ability to protect themselves and the ship.
As the chase is on, you can see the pain on their faces. Images of burning buildings and destruction overlay the scene; they’re coming to terms with what has happened to their world. Lokai eventually reaches a transporter room and, apparently knows how to use it, as he beams himself to the planet’s surface. Almost immediately, Bele follows. “Their planet’s dead. Does it matter which one is right? All that matters to them is their hate.”
Kirk decides to leave them to their own on the planet’s surface and sets course to Starbase 4.
This really is an iconic episode of Star Trek. Almost anyone that knows Star Trek is at least aware of this episode. But, let’s be honest, it’s not very good. The pacing is uncomfortable, there is a ton of filler, and the messaging is so heavy-handed and superficial it doesn’t really work outside of its moment in 1969.
But, there are some absolutely great things in here. First, Frank Gorshin and Lou Antonio. Excellent, amazing work in this episode. They really inhabited the characters that have been in each other’s orbit for 50,000 years.
And the makeup! So well done. The outfits are pretty awkward and look uncomfortable, but the makeup itself was really well done. It survives the extreme close ups and the HD remastering very well.
The self-destruct sequence is notable too! The climax to Star Trek 3 is an almost beat-for-beat reproduction of this moment. Kirk’s going to destroy Enterprise, and it is the exact procedure, just subbing in Scotty for Spock and Chekov for Scotty in the sequence. Countdown Code - (code an idiot would have on their luggage)
Beyond that, though, it’s an average episode at best. I talked about the ridiculous security procedures, I mean, dude took over the ship and then he just gets to walk around, checking out the ship and having drinks with the Captain and XO? Come on!
There’s the non-sensical thread through the whole episode where Kirk and Spock are insistent that they are mutations and they must have been single-colored at some time. It has no bearing on the episode itself at all. There’s even a random line, literally between cuts to and from the bridge, about evolution. It’s almost like Rodenberry had these racial theories he just needed to get out there for some reason.
And then, at about the 35-minute mark it becomes clear they didn’t have enough content to fill the episode. The decontamination sequence is super long, and literally nothing happens. I mean, it’s cool to see Scotty in the big chair, directing traffic, but it could have literally be a 3 second communication, “Captain, decontamination procedures complete.” “Thanks, Scotty.”
But it went on for so long. And the moment Bele and Lokai see what has happened on Cheron and take off through the ship was long and, well, weird. They were running weird, Bele looked like he was in the last quarter mile of a marathon, and Lokai was running in this weird, plodding way. I get that they were trying to show them processing the horrors that happened on their home world, but it was super long and I don’t think it translated very well.
I read somewhere once that iconic doesn’t necessarily mean good. And that really sums this episode up for me.
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One of the great things we saw in this episode was Kirk’s confidence and pride in his crew. He basically called them the finest examples of what Starfleet has to offer. That’s the kind of pride you should have in teams that you work with.
We’ve talked about the mission on this podcast before, but what I want to go into here is the pride and power that come when missions are aligned. Let’s start at the top, the United Federation of Planets, or, The Federation. It’s mission is basically universal rights, liberty and equality. Then Starfleet, which is part of the Federation, has a mission to explore the galaxy and to maintain order through para-military operations. We should all be familiar with Enterprise’s mission. Here’s my favorite version, at least at the moment, “Space, the final frontier…” Kirk embodies all of this in his personal mission. His mission to explore, to learn about and experience the galaxy, but also to ensure people aren’t subject to tyranny or discrimination.
All of these missions align, beautifully and that culminates in Kirk’s statement about the crew. If his mission didn’t align with Enterprise’s mission, and so on up the way, there is no way he could have created and maintained the culture that has created the best examples of the Federation. That brings pride, and that brings power.
So what does this look like for you? Do you have a personal mission statement? If you don’t, take some time to develop one. It can be a transformative and very focusing activity.
About 10 years ago - wow, time sure flies by – I worked with a mentor in a small group setting. He was tough, you couldn’t halfway your way through anything with him. He asked us one question: ‘why are you here?’ Or, as he drilled down a little more when we were struggling, ‘why are you consuming limited resources on this planet?’
One member of my cohort felt she had landed on it and shared that her mission was to be a good role model and example for her sons. That’s noble, right? Commendable? Well, that wasn’t good enough for our mentor, and he had a jarring way of communicating that. He grabbed his mobile phone and acted like he just got a phone call. ‘Oh they did? Oh, that’s terrible. I’ll let her know right away.’
He put the phone back, looked her straight in the eyes and said, ‘That was the school. They both were hit by a bus and they’re dead. So, now why are you here?’
But effective. Through that she was able to see that her mission was to teach and share her knowledge. Now, I’m still in touch with this person, and you know what’s awesome? They left their prior role, and for the last 8 or so years, she helps organizations develop succession plans and document that institutional knowledge that so many longer-term employees have. Pretty great stuff!
So, she determined her personal mission and saw it didn’t align with her current company’s mission, so she made a change and she is thriving.
I want you to do the same thing. Develop and reflect on your personal mission statement and see how it aligns with what you are currently doing.
I want you to spend some time on this and then reach out on the social media or in our Facebook group. Share your personal mission statement, and then tell us how your mission aligns with your organization’s. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Spock had that great line when talking with Bele: “Change is the essential process of all existence.” I think it was Benjamin Franklin that also captured this thought well: ‘When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.’
That’s great stuff, quotes like that make for nice posters, but what does it really mean? I see it in two ways. There is the, relatively, immediate change that must happen to stay relevant or competitive, and then there’s the slow, methodical, organizational and societal change that needs to happen as we learn more about the human condition and other factors.
The easiest way to relate to the immediate stuff is to think of technology. We are constantly updating software, or patching for security issues, or learning new tools. I mean, 3 years ago I would have told you Tik Tok was just a Kesha song, and before that I would have thought you were talking about Pink Floyd!
Another example is the shift to online and virtual meetings. We’ve been doing them, to some degree, for well over a decade, but in early 2020, we all learned new vocabulary and new ways to stay connected using these tools. I recently hired a sales manager and one of my criteria was that they had to be presentable on video. Clear video and audio, understanding how to share a screen, all that stuff. Our job skills used to say, “strong written and verbal communication skills,” but now they need to say, “strong written, verbal and video communication skills.” In fact, for the executives I work with, I’m recommending voice or acting classes for them so they can look and sound engaging in the middle of a Zoom or a Teams meeting.
We have had to change to compete, to exist in contemporary society.
The slow change, the societal change is hard, but it is necessary. An easier example to understand would be Dr Deming’s 14 points. These led to the implementation of management systems, such as TQM or Total Quality Management, which opened the doors for lean and six sigma, among others. And that’s a change that’s still catching on, really. Organizations are still trying to wrap their heads around the concept of management as a philosophy and management systems, but it’s happening. And the organizations that have embraced it tend to outperform those that have not.
They are changing to continue to exist.
A few years ago, we thought of a good manager as someone that told people what to do really well. Someone that saw people as just a resource. A resource to be cut when needed, and replenished on demand. Now, we are understanding that people are the most valuable thing there is. More important than the products we manufacture and sell. We are now seeing a good manager as someone that can create welcoming and inclusive workplaces, that can connect people to the meaning of their work, that can coach people to reach and operationalize their potential.
It’s a powerful shift, and another example of necessary change because we are learning more. And when you learn more, you are compelled to do things differently; to change.
So both Spock and Benjamin Franklin are exactly right. If you stop changing, if you are stagnant, the world will pass you by, and you are both finished and barely, barely existing.
I am legitimately excited to hear about your personal mission statements. Reach out Twitter: @ SFLA podcast or to me directly, I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Traitors, a k i n.
And I’d like to personally invite you to join the Starfleet Leadership Academy podcast group on Facebook so you can connect directly with me and others to discuss the topics in this episode.
Now let’s see what we’re going to watch next time….
Season 2, episode 18 of the Next Generation, Up the Long Ladder. I do not remember this episode at all, but I do know we’ll get to meet Dr. Pulaski in this one!
Don’t forget to share your mission statement with us, and, until next time, Ex Astris Scientia!
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