Bread and Circuses surprised me. Not because it’s the first episode of the second season to recycle previously-used ideas, but because it recycles the main idea of Patterns of Force, which is one of the most recent episodes! Once again, the USS Enterprise is sent out in search of a missing captain and finds him ruling an entire planet organized like a terrestrial society of the past. In Patterns of Force it was Nazi Germany, in Bread and Circuses it’s, of course, imperial Rome. There are differences, clearly, but more or less it’s a replica of an episode that came out literally a couple of weeks before.
Here’s the plot. In search of the Beagle, the USS Enterprise arrives at a planet virtually identical to Earth (this time, the writers, including Gene Roddenberry himself, sketch an explanation of this phenomenon by mentioning a mysterious Hogdkin’s Law) where the Roman empire never fell and there’s late XX century Earth technology. When Kirk and his crew land on the planet, they are captured by freed slaves (among which the ex-gladiator Flavius Maximus, Rhodes Reason, stands out) and they discover that Captain Merik of the Beagle (William Smithers), who’s an old friend of Kirk as tradition dictates, goes by the name of Merikus and is the first citizen, the ruler of the whole planet!
Then, after a few twists and turns, Spock and McCoy are sent to die in a (TV) arena! And Kirk’s blonde weekly love affair is Drusilla (Lois Jewel), a slave forced to entertain the captain (who seems to accept gladly her attention without any major ethical problem).
What else to say? The resolution is identical to that of Patterns of Force: Kirk and the others are saved, the lost captain dies after repenting, and the society is left to change in this case due to endogenous forces (both the Catholic religion and Caesar are there, proving that this empire is as doomed as the Roman one of the Earth of the past).
Of Bread and Circuses I’ll remember the pinch of satire of the scene in which the Roman guards threaten to kill the gladiators guilty of not making enough audience with their show, and little else. That line is certainly a reference to the problems that Star Trek itself was having due to low ratings that constantly threatened its cancellation: something that Roddenberry wanted to get off his chest, I guess. Ciao!
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