Jan 24, 2019
Star Trek (TAS) “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”
And now, I continue my look at the animated Star Trek episodes that my colleague Thomas Stockel refuses to write about with “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”, which originally aired on October 27, 1973. To be honest, I don’t know the exact reason Tom has no interest in this one, but the following detailed breakdown might just provide a few clues.
It’s Stardate 1254.4, and the Enterprise is on a scientific mission to the center of the galaxy. To a shot of the Enterprise cloaked in orange mist, Kirk records a typically lethargic log entry about how “scientists have theorized that if our galaxy was created from a great explosion, then the center of the galaxy might still be creating new matter.”
And there you go. Five seconds in, and this script and science have already officially parted ways.
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Admittedly, the notion of a starship traveling to the center of the galaxy is not all that much more outlandish than the notion of ships traveling faster than light in the first place, but most stories in the Trek franchise seem to indicate that getting to the “center of the galaxy” would take decades. I mean, an entire series was built around the idea that it would take 75 years to get back to Federation territory from the far side of the galaxy.
Of course, that didn’t stop the Enterprise-A from traveling to the center of the galaxy in what seems to be a day or two in a movie which actually shares quite a few thematic elements with “Magicks of Megas-Tu”. Which, come to think of it, is probably one of the reasons why Thomas didn’t want to recap this one. And also a good reason to run as far away from this episode as you can while you still have the chance.
But even putting that aside, the galaxy was not created in a “giant explosion”. The whole universe was created in a massive explosion. And as far as the center of the galaxy “creating new matter” goes, the law of conservation of mass would like to have a word with the writers. And while recent observations suggest that new stars are being created at the galactic center, it’s certainly not the central point of all creation that the episode seems to think it is.
Cut to Kirk on the bridge as he says, “It’s an awesome thought that we may actually witness matter being created.” Can’t you tell how totally awesome it is by the way William Shatner almost raises the volume of his voice? Spock is being his usual killjoy self, saying that even if they do witness such a thing, it may involve forces “beyond our understanding”. He’s totally not awesome.
Sulu announces they’ve arrived, and Kirk puts the ship on Yellow Alert. Suddenly, it’s a total acid trip outside the ship, as a multitude of colors and lights and a big fireworks display fill the screen. Kirk monotones, “The creation point.” Spock calls it “extraordinary”, and to represent this extraordinariness, we get more fireworks and also rainbow-colored concentric circles enveloping the Enterprise. I think we can safely say that representing the grandeur of the “creation point” of all existence was a bit beyond the skills and time and budget available to Filmation at the time.
The Enterprise begins to get tossed around. Sulu raises deflector shields and says it’s “taking considerable power” to maintain the ship’s position, while Spock tries his best to carry out his “science survey”. Naturally, at the precise moment when everyone’s full concentration is on the task at hand, McCoy shows up on the bridge to bother everybody with dumb questions like, “What in the name of sanity is going on?” Can somebody brief McCoy on the nature of missions to the center of the galaxy before we leave, please?
A bored Kirk simply says the theories about the center of the galaxy are indeed correct. As evidence, we see flaming meteors and giant space winds surrounding the ship, along with more fireworks.
Sulu yells, “That thing’s pulling us in!” It’s not immediately clear what “thing” he’s referring to, but Spock identifies it as “some form of matter-energy whirlwind”. Kirk tells Sulu to take them out of here, but it’s no use. Sulu yells that the ship is now going warp seven, then warp nine and ten, but they’re still being pulled in.
Kirk calls for “emergency reverse power”, which causes the ship to violently shake, and everybody on the bridge and down in the lower decks goes flying. Scotty then reports in to say that (all together now!) he doesn’t know how much more of this the ship can take. If I were Scotty, I think I’d just set up a recording to announce this at regular intervals, and then take the rest of the month off.
On the bridge, everyone’s been thrown to the floor, and for some reason, they continue to lie on the floor as they deliver their next lines. Spock calmly says from the floor that the only way out is to cross their fingers and hope this “whirlwind” is like its “atmospheric counterparts”, and has “calm at the center”. What you’re describing is a hurricane, Spock, not a whirlwind. Nevertheless, Kirk says they should try to get to the “eye of the storm”.
Unfortunately, Sulu has been knocked unconscious during all the turbulence. Kirk tries to take over for him, but can’t quite make it over to the helm for some reason. So naturally, Spock says, “Allow me,” and everyone’s favorite Super-Vulcan pushes forward to once again take on the jobs that no mortal man can do. His superior Vulcan strength allows him to… push a button, and instantly, the ship arrives at the center of the storm.
Abruptly, everyone’s back in their chairs, and Spock finds this whole experience “scientifically fascinating”. McCoy is incredulous at Spock’s reaction, because McCoy himself at least has “the good sense to be scared!” But not the good sense to stay down in Sickbay when there’s a crisis unfolding on the bridge.
McCoy asks what they’ll do now, and Kirk says their only choice is to “ride her through”. Spock clarifies they will go “through the center of things, Doctor. Through what may be the center of everything.” Again, guys, you’re at the center of the galaxy, not the center of the universe.
Just then, a golden glow surrounds the Enterprise and it vanishes, and then it reappears inside a giant red-striped tunnel with what I think are yellow bowls floating past. I’ll go out on a limb and guess the animators were occasionally partaking in recreational drugs at the time. From the looks of things, I half expect the Enterprise to encounter the Blue Meanies in here.
On the viewscreen, they see a large candy cane-colored planet looming before them. Uhura asks where they are, but is told by Spock that “navigational coordinates mean very little here”. He then says, “Doctor, these readings may interest you,” but nothing ever comes of this.
That’s when they realize all sorts of systems on the ship have shut down, including the subspace radio, the ship’s chronometers, and oh yeah, the engines. Spock immediately knows that “the natural laws of our universe don’t operate here!”
And then shit really hits the fan when life support systems start failing. The air supply instantly runs out, and everyone is immediately coughing and gasping. Sulu says that “all systems are dead” and then passes out, again. Everyone on the bridge passes out and then they all die. The end.
But then the Enterprise is surrounded by a rainbow-colored halo. A shimmering figure appears on the bridge, who appears to be a faun from Greek mythology (half-man, half-goat), with a really ripped physique. He sees everyone unconscious and boisterously declares, “Ah, humans! Lovely primitive humans! Can’t you do anything right?”
Kirk, barely alive, gasps, “Please…” While I assume he’s trying to say “please save us”, there’s an equally good chance he’s trying to say “please, save us the lecture, asshole”.
The strange visitor gets the message. He spreads his arms and shouts, “Rhadamanthus!” (the name of a Greek demi-god) and sends out a ball of light from his hand. Instantly, all power comes back to the ship. Spock sees everything working and declares that this is “not logical”.
The faun-like guy says, “Logic? Whose logic, my elfin friend?” Finally, he identifies himself as Lucien, and says he “knew eventually humans would come searching for me!” And of course, Lucien’s voice is provided by James Doohan, who did roughly 99% of the alien voices on this show. Here, he gives perhaps his most obnoxious vocal performance of the whole animated series, shouting every word at the top of his lungs.
Lucien tells the humans to call him “friend”, and adds, “Never could I abandon those who come to rollick with me!” I’ll just assume “rollick” is ‘70s slang for smoking a doob. Lucien wants to take them to “where true delights lie”, and there’s a flash of light, and he vanishes with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
They appear in a misty, reddish-orange environment as more fireworks go off around them. Bones notices Kirk is all flat and shimmering and distorted (even though he looked just fine in the establishing shot). And the best part is how Kirk only reacts with a mostly annoyed, “Lucien, do something.”
Lucien, who’s also shimmering and distorted, says, “I’d forgotten how much bodily integrity means to you humans!” With a few flashes of light, they’re all back to normal. McCoy randomly snarks on Spock for a while, and then Kirk demands to know why Lucien brought them here.
Without another word, Lucien causes a wind to blow that completely flips Kirk over. Then Lucien shoots out another flash of light and transforms himself into a small faun boy with a spinning top. Or maybe he turned Spock and McCoy into a small faun boy with a spinning top. Or maybe Lucien’s son dropped by for a visit and brought along his spinning top? Don’t ask me, man. Lucien says, “Children will play!” Nope, no idea what’s going on here.
With another flash of light, they’re all back to normal and standing in a wooded glade. Lucien finally welcomes them to his world, called “Megas-Tu”, and he says he’s “translated” the place into “symbols your mind can understand”. He says that here on Megas-Tu, things operate “by what you superstitiously call magic!” He then snaps his fingers, there’s another flash of light… and now the three guys are sitting down. Magic!
To further demonstrate, he magically creates two apples. Is all of this supposed to be more or less impressive than dissolving Kirk’s bodily integrity? And then, to explain how life is different here on Megas-Tu, the episode unfortunately returns to dated TOS-style gender politics as Lucien declares, “All our women are as young and beautiful as they want to be!”
We then track along the edge of a lake to find a young blonde buying a vial of something from an old gypsy. Lucien yells, “So as to ensnare the man of her dreams, she needs an edge!”
Kirk sees the vial and notes it’s a “love philter”, with “philter” being an old-timey word for potion. Lucien replies, “Never settle for anything less!” So, to illustrate the idea that this is a world that runs on magic, the very first example they give us is a woman planning to use magic to manipulate a man into falling in love with her? Really?
Also, if any woman here can be as beautiful and desirable as she wants, why does she need a love potion in the first place? And why did we just see a woman who looks like an old, ugly gypsy? And what the fuck does this love potion nonsense have to do with anything?
Moving on from this, Lucien explains that if you need a “stable” or a “castle” built on this world, “Stop in at your friendly sorcerer-contractor. Let him do the work!” We then see a guy in a stereotypical wizard outfit building the most hideous structure imaginable.
Spock then realizes that this all makes sense, and the “galactic creation point” can only function if it extends into “another dimension where the logic of things is totally different!” Lucien insists it’s all magic, adding, “Magic you, my friends, don’t know how to work!”
Kirk wants to know why he keeps calling them “friends”, because yeah, that shit’s starting to get real annoying. So Lucien reaches down and passes a hand through the water, creating flashback images of the past of Megas-Tu.
He says the residents of Megas-Tu, whom he calls “the Megans”, are a peaceful people, and we get a shot of them that makes them look like an army of Space Ghosts. Thousands of years ago, they crossed over into another dimension looking for “companionship”, and unsurprisingly, they ended up on Earth, where they became “advisors to mankind”. But soon, they had to leave.
Lucien says he didn’t want to go, while spouting nonsense like, “I was the generalist amid the specialists! The troublemaker, they said!” But he knew he would always love the people of Earth, and again, he’s thrilled they found him again.
Kirk asks why the Megans left Earth, and Lucien only laughs heartily and flies up into the air. He abruptly says they need to go now, and warns them not to do anything to “give their presence away”.
He sends them back to the bridge of the Enterprise. Scotty tells them that while they were away, a “cloud” formed around the planet. Kirk and Spock deduce that Lucien put the cloud there to hide the Enterprise from the rest of his people. And this scene is where I finally notice that everyone is pronouncing Lucien’s name in different ways (Kirk says “Lucy-en” while basically everybody else says “Loosh-en”), but such are the perils of recording your lines miles apart.
I also like how Spock is totally chill here, just casually leaning on the bridge railing. Can’t say I’ve ever seen him strike such a relaxed pose on the bridge before, but maybe after having to endure Lucien shouting at him for a solid hour, he had to take a load off. Kirk says they need to be prepared to protect themselves from the rest of Lucien’s people, but Scotty reports that all weapons are offline.
Cut to Spock in his quarters, drawing a pentagram on the floor. “I believe this is how the ancients used to draw their mystic symbols, Captain!” When all other options are off the table, I guess that’s the time to turn to Satanism. Kirk and McCoy are unconvinced, but Spock says they’re in a universe where magic is real, and so they might as well use the “resources at hand”.
He says he’s going to move a “Vulcan chess piece” magically, and then calls out to “the energy of the universe” and asks it to “enter my being”. That’s it, Spock. Work your elfin magic! Sure enough, Spock’s hands start glowing, and he magically moves a chess piece.
On the bridge, Kirk’s supplemental log verifies that in this universe, “belief is as potent a force as energy and matter are in our own!” And now Sulu is giving this magic thing a try, and he uses it to conjure up an alluring Asian woman. Oh, Sulu. Sulu, Sulu, Sulu. Even with all the magic in the universe at your disposal, you still can’t find a way out of the closet.
Sulu then moves towards the woman to, what, start making out with her in front of everyone? Wow, Starfleet sure is liberated. And as he moves in on the woman, Uhura yells out, “Good luck!” What? Good luck with what?
So apparently on Megas-Tu, “magic” means that if you’re a woman, you can make potions to force men to fall in love with you, and if you’re a man, you can create women for the express purpose of having sex with them. Why does this feel more like what Gene Roddenberry would do if he had magical powers?
But then there’s a flash of light, and the woman is replaced with Lucien, who’s outraged that the humans are using magic. Kirk says they’re just trying to protect themselves, but a jovial Lucien yells, “I’ll take care of you!” He warns them that all the “mental energy” they’re using “can be traced”.
But it’s too late, because a booming voice declares that the humans have been found out. Translucent images of ghosts stream across the bridge, apparently to represent the other residents of Megas-Tu. The Megans know that the humans are here to “spread their evil”, but they’re “ready for human perfidy this time”. The humans shall be the ones to “suffer” this time, and Lucien “shall paaaaaay!”
And it’s pretty obvious that the Megan voice is George Takei. I mean, Doohan could reasonably do voices that sounded like people other than Scotty, but the Megan voice is basically Sulu, only louder and angrier.
In typical herky-jerky animation, the Enterprise plummets towards the planet, and more fireworks go off around the ship. The ship enters the planet’s atmosphere, and it’s total chaos, and we even get a shot of some random guy lying in a corridor, apparently still trying to sleep off the previous incident. Kirk yells, “Keep calm!” Thanks for the advice, Jimbo.
Suddenly, the ship turns into a glowing silhouette. It then splits in two, and then both halves explode. Which is coincidentally what just happened to my brain while watching this.
Cut to the crew of the Enterprise (well, mostly the ones we know by name, not the entire 400-person complement) in a colonial-style village, locked up in wooden stockades. A big sign reveals they’re in Salem, Massachusetts, and Kirk says it looks like “ancient Earth”, estimating it’s either the 16th or 17th Century. But I don’t think the 16th Century qualifies as “ancient”.
Spock somehow pegs the year as being 1691, and he can tell from his knowledge of “historical records” that they’re in Salem, Massachusetts. Though presumably, the big sign was also a tipoff.
They’re surrounded by the Megans, who are all dressed as Puritans, except for a few guys dressed as conquistadors for some reason. One of them steps inside a pentagram, declaring that he’s here to put all of “treacherous humanity” on trial, with his fellow Megans as the judges. He says that once upon a time he was known as “Asmodeus, he who sees all!” Actually, Asmodeus in folklore is a prince of Hell and the demon of lust, though you can see why a kids’ cartoon would mostly gloss over this. Also, the voice of Asmodeus is provided by Ed Bishop, best known as Cmdr. Ed Straker on the Gerry Anderson series UFO.
Asmodeous finally explains what really went down on Earth back in the day. The Megans befriended humans, who then used them to “gain power” and “serve their own greed and lust”, and eventually, they turned against the Megans, calling them “devils, warlocks, evil sorcerers!” And so, the Megans all decided to move to Salem circa 1691, because what better place for a warlock to settle down and raise a family?
Naturally, many of them were burned at the stake for being witches. Eventually, “we revived ourselves enough to unite our minds and reach into our own universe”, and were able to return from “hellish Earth” to Megas-Tu. They never ventured out again, and now they fear other Earth ships may find them. Except, here they seem to have almost limitless magical powers, so what exactly are they afraid of?
Asmodeus doesn’t want to hurt the humans, and wishes there were “some reason not to”. He asks for someone to speak in defense of the “Earth humans” and Spock volunteers, saying he would be the ideal defender because he is “not of Earth”. And I’m sure Arex is gnashing his teeth right now over how he never gets to do any cool shit when Spock’s around.
And so, Spock is let out of the stocks and he begins to present his defense of humanity. He decides to call Lucien as his “first witness”, and a witness stand magically materializes in front of him.
Spock’s first question for Lucien is why he doesn’t fear and hate humans like the others. Lucien replies that humans have “minds that range outward, boundless”, and they are “always together. They share,” which is why he “adopted” their ship when it arrived.
And… that’s apparently all the questions Spock has for Lucien, because he calls his next witness, Captain James T. Kirk. Spock asks Kirk if “humans have changed” since the time of the Salem witch trials. Kirk replies that while “humans have their faults”, they’ve grown since the 1690s, and now they “try to understand and respect all life forms.” Yeah, I’d strongly advise not letting the Megans see most of the tweets about Caitlyn Jenner.
As proof, Kirk says they can check the Enterprise’s historical records, and in particular, he tells them to take a look at “General Order number one”, better known as the Prime Directive.
Asmodeous has had enough. He declares, “Here are your records!” And the sky is suddenly filled with punch cards and reel to reel tapes. I’d laugh at the futuristic technology on display here, but if the Megans can symbolically recreate 1691 Salem, I suppose they could also be conjuring up 1970s media storage for effect.
He then calls for a vote, and then without waiting for a vote, he declares that the Enterprise’s incursion into their space was “an accident unlikely to be duplicated”, and Megas-Tu is safe. However, Lucien must be “punished”. Asmodeus surrounds Lucien with a red bubble and tells him he’s being condemned to “limbo for all eternity, to live with only himself!”
But Kirk knows that even for Lucien, an eternity of being alone with Lucien is a fate worse than death. He protests the sentence, but Asmodeous wonders if Kirk would still defend Lucien if he knew he had “another name”. Specifically: “The Rollicker! The Tempter! Lucifer!” Wait, are you saying the being with cloven hooves and supernatural abilities who goes by “Lucien” might actually be the Devil?
But Kirk doesn’t care about the “legend”, only that Lucien is an “intelligent life form”. Kirk will defend him with force if he has to. Spock whispers to Kirk to “use the magic you know. Believe!”
Kirk abruptly has a rainbow aura, and he hurls lightning bolts at Asmodeous. Asmodeous responds by throwing flames at Kirk, then Kirk responds by surrounding Asmodeous with thorny vines, and then Asmodeous responds by… teleporting Kirk into the ugliest ‘70s wallpaper imaginable.
Asmodeous says it’s hopeless for Kirk, because there’s no way he can defeat an entire planet of magical people. Kirk says he must, or else they’ll become as bad as the humans they hate, by acting out of fear.
And with that, the battle is over. Apparently, this was all just a “test” of whether or not mankind had grown since those “ancient” times. The records could be faked, but Kirk’s “compassion” has proven that humanity has indeed changed. Lucien sends out another flash of light, and suddenly both Kirk and Spock are holding steins of ale, while Lucien yells that this is “a favorite old Earth custom of mine!”
There’s a toast to new friendship, and then the guys return to the Enterprise and are soon departing the galactic center. McCoy wonders if Lucien was really the “demon” known as Lucifer, but Kirk insists it doesn’t matter. Spock says if he was, this would be the “second time” Lucifer was “cast out”, adding, “And thanks to you, the first time he was saved!” On that heartwarming note, we end.
Overall, “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” is a pretty bonkers episode. It may not be the craziest episode of the animated series, but it’s got plenty of moments that make you question your own sanity. Did we really just see Spock draw a pentagram and summon the powers of the occult to move a chess piece with his mind? Did Kirk really just shoot lightning bolts from his hands? Did we really just see a Saturday morning cartoon where characters befriend the Devil, who in fact turns out to be not such a bad guy?
As noted above, this episode shares a lot of similarities with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. In that movie, the Enterprise journeys to the center of the galaxy to meet God, whereas here, they journey to the center of the galaxy to meet the Devil. As it so happens, this script was actually initially pitched by writer Larry Brody as the Enterprise crew meeting God (an idea that Gene Roddenberry jumped on, given all his many well-documented attempts to write his own Star Trek story involving God), but the network shot down the idea. Apparently, God appearing on a kids’ cartoon was out of the question, but Kirk sharing a beer with the Devil was perfectly fine with the NBC censors.
I can appreciate the episode’s message of not judging a person as “evil” based on appearances and legends and superstition, but this story more or less implies the Salem witch trials were justified. They’d have to be, if there were indeed actual warlocks and even Lucifer himself residing in Salem at the time. It’s not really the best lesson given the historical context, especially for a show aimed at kids who may not know the full story.
Also, the whole concept of certain historical figures turning out to be visiting aliens and/or supernatural beings had been done to death by this point. On the original series, the crew of the Enterprise had already met Jack the Ripper, Leonardo da Vinci, and the ancient Greek gods, and now they’re meeting the alleged “witches” of Salem. (And years later, Larry Brody would write an episode of Voyager where Chakotay finds out his tribe was visited by aliens in prehistoric times, and Chakotay himself is actually part alien.)
And it’s hard to miss the similarities between Lucien and the character of Q as later seen on The Next Generation. Much like Q, Lucien is an omnipotent rebellious troublemaker obsessed with humanity who ultimately gets banished by his own kind. And when the Megans put humanity on trial, it’s a lot like when Q himself puts humanity on trial in the TNG pilot.
“The Magicks of Megas-Tu” is mostly just another TAS episode where you wonder what the point was, because this kind of plot was already done better on the live-action series, and they didn’t really have the time or the budget to do the story justice anyway. If a two-hour feature film can’t adequately tackle the idea of Kirk and Spock meeting an all-powerful deity, there was little hope for a half-hour kids’ cartoon. But what I really want to know is why Shatner didn’t recall “Magicks of Megas-Tu” when he was working on the script for Star Trek V, and realize just how badly things were going to turn out.