War is an unavoidable stain on human civilization, but if you must die for a cause, at least make sure it is not a stupid one! A series of bizarre events proved almost fatal for two starship crews who refused to see reason. On the surface of an alien planet, Kirk and crew think they are responding to a distress call. Klingons arrive on the same planet, accusing the Enterprise crew of destroying one of their ships. Chekov becomes unusually violent, accusing the Klingons of killing his only brother on some outpost. As these strange things occur, everyone is unusually hostile or prejudice for no reason. Random objects aboard the Enterprise start turning into swords, and engineering loses control of the ship, which starts flying out of the galaxy. Klingon and Starfleet crews are trapped aboard an out-of-control ship and all they want to do is kill each other with weapons which appear randomly all over the place. No one can explain what’s going on, and the only thing on anyone’s minds is the hatred for the other group. Even Spock was feeling angry with the humans for being so irrational and annoying, while Scotty and a few others couldn’t imagine entertaining a truce with the Klingons, which is all Kirk was calling for.
The episode is a little predictable, in that the true antagonist is simply another ‘ball of light’ entity with no real back story or personality, manipulating the crew and feeding off their negative energy. It seems strange that it took so long for anyone to put two and two together, since swords were literally appearing out of nowhere. Even Spock suspected that only a powerful force could be capable of that kind of transmutation. Everyone was so wrapped up in their war and rage that they didn’t calm down to think of reasonable explanations, or question why weird things were happening. The two groups met under such unusual circumstances, but no one asked why they were receiving false signals.
At face value, the evil ball of light alien seems to be intended as a personification of war. Considering this episode was written in the sixties, themes of peace and war were relevant. In this sense, the ball of energy is a tangible villain, but the theme of war is both an inner and outer conflict. This external ball of hatred could represent the irrational causes and perpetuation of war, or our illogical and out-of-control feelings. If Star Trek wanted to emphasize a more religious or spiritual theme, the ball of light could be a dark angel or Satan, but being a Sci-Fi show, their antagonist is an alien. Alien manipulation was perhaps the lazier or surface-level exploration of the deep and profound issue of evil.
If we’re being all symbolic about it, the alien could represent one single interpretation of evil: an irrational and often baseless hatred of the other. It is interesting how our ideas of morality can shift and take new forms depending on how one defines evil. Is evil a lack of good? Then it would be evil not to go out of your way to help someone when you had the ability to do so but chose not to. Is evil an overcompensation of the ego? Than to combat evil, we must learn to be less selfish. These two definitions are just a sample, but they may not apply to evil as an abstract concept of anger. In the episode, Chekov was righteously angry at the Klingons for killing his brother, a violent and senseless murder for which anyone’s anger would be justified. To not feel anger and pain at the death of someone you love would be akin to not really loving that person. In that sense, the ball of light was feeding on our otherwise healthy emotions, or at least stoking the flame for them, but what about pointless rage? It is interesting that Chekov goes on and on about his brother, and we feel for him, until Uhura asks: why does Chekov think he has a brother? The entire situation was manufactured by the alien, a testament to how real wars can sometimes be manufactured.
The hatred and prejudice that runs deep between people groups, a natural feature of humanity which has been with us since the beginning of civilization, can often perpetuate conflict which has no real logical basis. Entire wars were fought over false information or misremembered ‘facts’. Nobody stops to ask questions, they only let the hatred burn. In the end, people are willing to sacrifice their lives for the wars they think are so important, just like the crews trapped on the Enterprise were about to sacrifice their lives to the entity. They would have either died by each other’s weapons or they would die when the life support ran out on the ship, and either option would make them casualties of a false war. They didn’t care, as long as they never surrendered to the enemy. Fortunately, Kirk outsmarted the evil ball of light, by uncovering its true nature, and the two fighting forces came together to fight the alien…with laughter.