Star Trek Animated Series Re-Watch: “Bem”

Written by David Gerrold
Directed by Bill Reed

Season 2, Episode 2
Production episode: 22018
Original air date:  September 14, 1974
Star date: 7403.6

Mission summary

Enterprise is hosting a very special guest: Ari bn Bem, a representative for the Federation’s new friends,  the Pandronians. He’s there to observe the crew, but he seems fairly disinterested in their mission of exploration until they arrive at Delta Theta III to investigate reports of aboriginal life.

Captain Kirk finds Commander Bem waiting in the transporter room, ready to join the landing party. He’s even helpfully set the coordinates for transport for Mr. Scott. Kirk tries to discourage Bem from participating in what could be a dangerous mission, but the guy is determined to come along. Diplomacy is exhausting, and Kirk eventually gives in. Scotty beams them down, but Bem’s settings drop Kirk and Spock into a lake. Fortunately the water is only waist-high.

Bem hops in to help them–then his lower half detaches(!) underwater and uses extra arms to help itself to their phasers and communicators, swapping them out for identical equipment.

Uhura, in temporary command of the ship, reports that they’ve picked up signs of a sensor field on the planet, but it doesn’t seem like anything to worry about at the moment so they proceed with their plan to find the aborigines and plant recording equipment, while carefully avoiding detection.

Bem must not have gotten that memo–he runs off from the group, with Kirk and Spock in hot pursuit. He manages to evade them by dismantling himself into a head, arms, torso, and legs, which are able to slip through a thicket that they must circumnavigate. They finally track him down, but not before the native inhabitants, spear-carrying purple lizards, track him down first.

Meanwhile, Uhura and Arex discover that the anomalous sensor field they detected earlier is expanding. She can’t reach the captain on his communicator, and when Scotty tells her they’ve been separated, she decides to recall the landing party.

Kirk tries to contact Enterprise but can’t get through because his communicator has been swapped for a prop! Spock’s communicator and both of their phasers are useless forgeries. On their own for the moment, they decide to follow Bem and help him escape.

The lizards imprison Bem in a cage at the center of their primitive village. Under cover of night, Kirk and Spock attempt to free him and are captured themselves.

KIRK: How come we always end up like this?
SPOCK: I assume that’s a rhetorical question, Captain, not requiring an answer.
KIRK: I was just expressing my curiosity at our ability to get into these kind of situations.
SPOCK: Fate, Captain. Fate.
KIRK: Fate, Spock?
SPOCK: I believe that is the correct Earth term.
KIRK: Why don’t you try your Vulcan nerve pinch.
SPOCK: Captain, I am only a Vulcan. There are limits.

Bem disparages Kirk’s rescue attempt and general competence, as well as their reliance on violence and technology, revealing that he has their phasers and communicators. He disdains using them, but Kirk has no such compunctions. Kirk demands they be returned, so Bem sends his lower half over with them, to their astonishment.

SPOCK: Remarkable. Commander Bem is a colony creature.
KIRK: Commander Bem, if you could split yourself into separate parts, why didn’t you escape on your own earlier?
BEM: And deny you the opportunity to prove your value to planet Pandro by rescuing this one from possibly dangerous situation?
KIRK: This is not a laboratory, Commander Bem. This is a hostile planet, and representatives of Starfleet are not experimental animals for you to test!

He puts Bem under arrest, in protective custody, and they shoot their way out of their cages. Unable to contact Enterprise because of interference from the sensory anomaly, they try to sneak out on foot. The lizard people attack and they prepare to stun them with their phasers, but they’re frozen in place by some dazzling lights and a voice warns them not to harm her children. She takes away their phasers for good measure, and when they’re released from stasis, they are easily recaptured.

Back in their cages, Bem disses the captain’s abilities again. He breaks himself into parts and escapes on his own, leaving Kirk and Spock behind. Their only hope is to contact the entity that runs the planet and try to reason with her. Kirk’s communicator isn’t strong enough to get her attention, but some quick work from Spock links their two communicators together to boost the signal and they manage to reach her.

Kirk apologizes for showing up and messing with her children and promises to leave. She agrees to let them go if they get off her lawn immediately. She allows them to call Enterprise, but Kirk is still hung up on helping Bem. He orders a security detachment to aid their search.

They finally encounter Bem, again in the hands of the lizard people, and effect a rescue. But the entity is surprised and annoyed that they’re still loitering on her planet and playing with her kids.

KIRK: We could not leave one of our own behind. It is our responsibility to take care of our own, just as it is your responsibility to take care of yours. We could not leave him here where he might further interfere with your, your children.
ENTITY: Yes, you have some wisdom, James Tiberius Kirk. The lost one is found, then?
KIRK: He is found, and we will leave.

Bem feels rightly ashamed for doubting Kirk’s reputation and offers to disassemble himself permanently in punishment, but the entity convinces him that’s no way to learn from his mistakes. With that sorted, she reminds them they’ve overstayed their welcome, and they should leave before Kirk corrupts her children with crazy ideas like punishment, the joys of hard labor, and love.

Back on Enterprise, everyone is suitably humbled by their experience. Kirk orders a Federation quarantine on the lizard planet and Spock muses about the advanced alien’s godlike status. The entity gives them a final pat on the back as they break orbit:

Go in peace. Yes. Go in peace. You have learned much. Be proud.


For years, I expected this episode to be about a “Bug Eyed Monster,” but the true meaning of the name is just one of many pleasant surprises. Though I was mildly freaked by Bem’s initial magic trick of separating his lower body, and even more stunned when he demonstrated just how modular his body was, I was intrigued by the concept of colony aliens cooperating in that configuration. I’m disappointed that he ended up being just another space douche out to test the crew, but I found him enjoyable because he was so utterly alien–especially since he appears to be humanoid but isn’t, which undermines our expectations. Plus, I thought his language syntax to be different enough to convey his foreign nature without being too cute or annoying.

The first contact situation with the lizard people and the practice of leaving behind monitoring equipment was also an interesting element, particularly since it reinforces the Prime Directive as we know it. Until now, I’d thought the first instance of secretly watching a pre-space-faring race in preparation for first contact had occurred on ST: TNG. I could have done without another godlike alien interfering, but that seems par for the course.

I also thought the humor in this episode was effective and subtle, funny without being quite as exaggerated as in Gerrold’s tribble episodes. There are many great lines and the characters and their relationships are handled well. The dialogue is frequently meta, such as Kirk asking Spock if he can use his Vulcan neck pinch to free them, and very much in the spirit of the show, notably Kirk’s frustrated attempts at diplomacy in his interactions with Bem. The voice acting is also generally good; I love how Leonard Nimoy says “Fascinating,” when he sees Bem come apart. But maybe they should have had someone else play the role of the entity this time around, since she sounded an awful lot like Uhura.

The plot is fairly simple and demands the suspension of much disbelief, but the end result is an extremely entertaining story. I actually laughed out loud when Kirk and Spock materialized over the lake, and it felt good to be laughing along with the episode instead of at it for a change; I was in on the joke, instead of feeling like a joke was being played on the viewers. And it’s always nice to see Uhura in command.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: This is easily one of the best scripts of the animated series. In trademark Gerrold style, it’s witty, true to the Star Trek spirit, and perfectly suited to the format. The colorful characters are compelling enough to capture the imaginations of kids and Gerrold’s wry sense of humor brought some much-needed vibrancy to our (barely) animated heroes. I found myself laughing out loud several times, especially at Kirk’s exasperated “How come we always end up like this?” bit and shortly after when Spock remarks, “I’m only a Vulcan. There are limits.” You can tell the performers were really into it, too, with Shatner’s exasperated little sighs and exclamations every time Bem did something irritating.

Bem was a treat. His weird self-referential “this one” language was alien enough without the Mr. Potato-Head disassembly (freaky!). I tend to be a hard sell on colony species–the ones we’re familiar with on Earth have only the most basic intelligence, to better focus on simple needs and goals–but I found myself easily persuaded by Bem’s nature, and entirely intrigued by it. I especially love that Kirk and Spock have no idea of his abilities. No briefings at all? Bem’s self esteem issues got a little grating (for the second episode in a row, the alien’s solution to failure is suicide?), but he really kept Kirk and Spock on their toes, and how many benevolent species can you say that about? Probably just two: Cyrano Jones and Harry Mudd.

Unfortunately, the episode falls flat thematically. One dangling thread is Bem’s remark that using weapons and advanced technology “demeans” himself and his intelligence. What does that mean for our heroes? Nothing, I guesss, since this is never explored or even referenced again. Then we have the way that Bem toys with Kirk and Spock like rats in a laboratory cage. As Kirk points out, it’s not ethical and it’s not appropriate. You can’t simply manipulate intelligent creatures–allies, even–for research. I’d call that fair, interesting criticism that should’ve cast laser-like focus on the Enterprise’s mission, both in general and with regard to this particular task on the planet of dino-warriors. Kirks tells Bem that he doesn’t think Starfleet would approve of such behavior, but wouldn’t they? Isn’t that essentially what Kirk and Spock are out there to do?

So far so good, right? Alas, there was no reflection, not even a moment of implication that Kirk and Spock might suddenly feel ambivalent about their own roles as intergalactic sociologists. Instead Bem’s passed off a tricky fellow, a jokester, misguided maybe but not trying to make any point about anything. Another dead end.

Instead, we get an entirely random god subplot that adds nothing but confusion and plot obstacles. All GodUhura does, other than complicate the situation to drag out the 22 minutes, is hand down a moralizing sermon about how you need to learn from your mistakes. Pat, condescending, entirely out of nowhere. A thematic bait-and-switch.

It’s still one of the best episodes of the TAS, but that’s becoming faint praise.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 5

Best Line: KIRK: There are times, Mister Spock, when I think I should have been a librarian.

Trivia: Though the episode is titled BEM, the referenced alien was never intended to be a bug eyed monster. Gerrold came up with the title while the original series was still being produced, with this intended as a third season episode, thinking it would be fun if a BEM actually did appear on the show.

Gerrold worked with D.C. Fontana on the outline and script. It was initially rejected for the first season, but ultimately picked up for the short-lived second season of the animated series, after Fontana had left the show.

Gerrold is best known for “The Trouble with Tribbles” and the animated sequel, “More Tribbles, More Troubles,” but he also wrote the original story for “The Cloud Minders.”

The pointless encounter with a god was tacked onto the ending by Gene Roddenberry. At least he was consistent.

Nichelle Nichols was given the role of the entity at Gerrold’s suggestion.

This is the first time Kirk’s middle name is given as “Tiberius.” Gerrold mentioned it as a joke at a convention, but Roddenberry approved it for this script and it was later canonized in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Other notes: The ST: TNG episode “Justice” bears some similarity to this episode, with alien gods protecting the planet’s inhabitants. Gerrold worked on the first season of the series, which may account for the incorporation of this concept.

Previous episode: Season 2, Episode 1 – “The Pirates of Orion.”

Next episode: Season 2, Episode 3 – “The Practical Joker.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.