Star Trek Animated Series Re-Watch: “The Jihad”

The Jihad
Written by Stephen Kandel
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Season 1, Episode 16
Production episode: 22014
Original air date: January 12, 1974
Star date: 5683.1

Mission summary

Kirk and Spock are summoned by the Vedala, the oldest space-faring race known to the Federation, to help prevent an imminent danger to the galaxy. At the Vedala asteroid, they meet a motley crew: their Vedala host, a feline alien; Tchar, a birdman from Skorr; Sord, a reptilian humanoid; M3 Green, a cowardly bug who is also a locksmith and thief; and Lara, a human hunter with an uncanny sense of direction. What, are they planning a heist?

It’s more like a D&D quest, actually. Tchar takes a moment to educate them in the fascinating religious history of Skorr: they were once a warrior race, but an enlightened leader named Alar taught them peace and they became much more civilized. This religious teacher was so important to his people, his memories were preserved in an indurite sculpture. The Soul of Alar, as it’s called, has been stolen, and if it can’t be recovered, the Skorr will wage a holy war on every race in the galaxy. Very civilized.

Their mission, should they choose to accept it: recover the Soul of Alar from its hiding place on a “mad planet,” which features wild shifts in gravity, earthquakes, weather patterns–the works. The Vedala leader claims her people cannot survive there, so they assembled this team to do it for them, and by the way, three other expeditions have been lost before them. The Vedala clearly aren’t stupid.

Kirk and the others agree to give it a try and are transported to the mad planet with a well-stocked dunebuggy, which includes a GPS tuned to locate indurite. M3 Green pinpoints the coordinates just before the device short-circuits. Fortunately Lara has a good sense of direction, and a direct manner.

LARA: Maybe you got different customs. My world there’s a lot of females, not so many men. Come we find a man attractive, we say so. I’m saying so. How do you find me?
KIRK: Fascinating. But we’re not here on a pleasure trip, Lara.
LARA: All the more reason to take what pleasure there might be in it.

Oh hey, that’s flattering but sort of awkward. Pretty soon they’re on the road, driving through all sorts of inclement weather, such as a rainstorm that’s abruptly replaced by volcanic eruptions, while Tchar flies off to reconnoiter. He soon “senses” the missing Soul, when his eagle eyes spot a glowing crystalline temple in the distance. But they still have to get away from the lava rushing towards them.

Kirk concocts one of his typical escape plans, which relies on teamwork from everyone: Spock and M3 Green attempt to rewire the buggy to make it go faster, while Kirk, Sord, and Lara redirect the lava flow by causing a landslide in a nearby ravine, which buys them a few more minutes. They zip off in the modified buggy and nearly lose Spock when they hit a bump, but Kirk goes back for him, against the Vulcan’s wishes. No one gets left behind, especially not the best science officer in Starfleet!

Forced to abandon the now powerless buggy, they continue on foot while a blizzard rages around them. But their path is still treacherous. M3 Green nearly falls to his death when a chasm opens beneath him; Kirk and Spock hold onto him until Tchar can effect a winged rescue. M3 Green has had it with this place, but Kirk refuses to accept his resignation and orders Sord to carry the bug the rest of the way.

Kirk and Lara scout ahead and reach the primitive Skorr temple that Tchar spotted earlier. M3 Green sets to work picking the time-sensitive locks, while the rest of the group fights off mechanical dragons leftover from another episode. Tchar disappears in the fray.

M3 Green finally opens the door and inside they discover the Soul of Alar, a tangled Mobius sculpture, hovering above them with no way to climb up to get it. When they get locked inside the room, Kirk voices his suspicion that one of their group is a saboteur.

All but Sord are able to reach a high ledge and edge their way over to the Soul, but they’re stopped by none other than Tchar–Kirk’s saboteur. The bird brain fires a beam at them and launches into his villanous monologue. See, he misses the good old days:

TCHAR: The Skorr were a warrior race. Now what are we? Slaves to the illusion of peace. Cowards, soft in our comfort. This sick dream has stolen our souls. I am Tchar, hereditary prince of the Skorr, leader of battles. I will lead my people into glory, to avenge our history.
SPOCK: Most of them will be killed. The warrior races of the Federation will rise up to battle the Skorr.
TCHAR: Yes. A noble death to win a great dream. We will live no longer like worms crawling in the dirt. We will conquer. You will die. But you have my respect. You fought well. You die in grace.

His idea of “grace” is to neutralize gravity so they can fight him on equal, uh, ground. Kirk and Spock have been training for a moment like this. They engage in some impressive zero-G acrobatics and grab Tchar’s wings, as well as the Soul of Alar. They call Vedala for retrieval and are transported back to the asteroid, where the birdman of Skorr is put under glass.

Vedala promises to “heal him of his madness,” and apologizes because she can’t reward the team with anything but thanks. They have to keep all of this a secret, “and in time, even the memory will be gone from you,” she says. Kirk and Spock return to Enterprise, where they haven’t even been missed.

SULU: You transported over and came right back. Did they call it off?
SPOCK: How long were we gone?
SULU: Long? About two minutes, I guess. I don’t understand.
KIRK: The Vedala changed their minds. The danger is past. Back to your stations. We have a lot of other places to go.


Like “The Slaver Weapon,” this episode feels like characters from Star Trek have been thrown into some other story, but at least it’s a mostly good one. The quest for the Soul of Alar on a bizarre planet feels like a straightforward and generic fantasy plot, with obstacles at every turn, but the inventiveness of these new alien races and some decent dialogue makes up for that. The value of teamwork is clearly demonstrated, and if we’re being generous, the whole thing can be looked at as a caution against religious fervor. I hesitate to read too much into it, because this installment seems more interested in delivering lots of action than dwelling on moral and philosophical matters.

The ending is somewhat troubling, with the implication that Tchar’s mind is going to be altered to make him healthy again–but of course, we know Starfleet at this time practices the same sort of “rehabilitation.” The Vedala also seems to be giving Tchar a free pass: Of course he wouldn’t have done any of this unless  he had lost his mind! He seems rather calculating and clearheaded to me, if not entirely rational given his strong beliefs. Despite the title, “The Jihad,” he isn’t driven by religion so much as a desire to return to the way things were; he merely decides to use religion to manipulate people into war. This suggests that Tchar himself isn’t very religious, or he could never conceive of turning his back on Alar’s teachings, or using Alar’s soul to provoke conflict.

The Vedala also pushed one of my buttons when she mentions that Kirk and the others will not even remember any of this one day–a sorry show of gratitude to those who just saved the entire galaxy. And they do seem ridiculously overpowered to be thwarted by one wonky planet. The Federation has life support belts, after all, so why can’t the Vedala survive in that environment. They can clearly control time in some way, if Kirk and Spock returned to their ship only a couple of minutes after they left. Are we sure they aren’t just testing all these races to see if they can work together?

Finally, it was interesting to see a woman put the moves on Kirk and have him not return her offer of companionship. I’d like to think he’s simply maturing, but I suspect he simply isn’t attracted to her–and the G-rating also might have had something to do with his remarkable restraint.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: This is a solidly middle-of-the-road episode–an oversimplified morality tale populated with fun, two-dimensional side characters. I would have really loved to see a spin-off of this episode starring Sord, the wisecrackin’ lizardman. I know he functions as a poor man’s Bones McCoy but he managed to elevate some otherwise tedious sequences (let’s run from the lava very slowly!) to watchability. Come to think of it, I liked the whole ragtag band of dungeon explorers: M3 Green’s Milton-esque monotone and cowardice and Lara’s weird gangster moll accent made me laugh more than once.  The best praise I can muster is that Lara’s blunt, repeated interest in Kirk is definitely going to last in my mind, even if the rest of the episode doesn’t. (Kirk’s “Can we please focus?” look is just priceless.)

As for the main plot, I’m still not clear on why Tchar didn’t just destroy the soul-orb-sculpture-glowstick. Cast it into the fires of Mount Dianetics and pretend you don’t know where it got to! What kind of warrior is he, leading gangs of helpful Feddies into a shifting, unpredictable wasteland to die pointlessly? On the one hand,  Tchar’s inability to recognize peace as an honor worthy of achieving is tragic; on the other hand, he makes a damn good point. A warrior culture without war leaves no room for glory or heroes. If the Skorr have not learned to value other virtues and channel those urges of violence, oppression, and self-aggrandizement into other, more responsible venues (maybe this is why the future needs holodecks), then what’s a birdman to do? Worf’s entire character arc on TNG was an exploration of this ambivalence–it’s no surprise it was handled shoddily in a 22-minute kids’ show.

In the end,  some pacing issues and corny moralizing didn’t bother me as much as the incoherent ending. I resented the explicit denunciation of Tchar’s actions as “insane.” He seemed perfectly sane. His values–a dangerous nostalgia for a violent past–just didn’t mesh with a future built on tolerance and nonviolence. It’s pretty much the exact set-up as Star Trek VI, which thankfully handled the idea more interestingly and maturely.

But that discussion will have to wait. Until then, I leave you with this nugget of insight from my favorite lizard creature: “I like this place. It’s got variety!”

Torie’s Rating: Warp 3

Best Line: KIRK: I already have a lot of green memories.

Trivia: Stephen Kandel previously wrote the Harry Mudd episodes of Star Trek and the animated series, and also worked on Mission: Impossible. Allegedly Kandel won a humanitarian award for his script.

Star Trek writer David Gerrold voiced Em/3/Green, which enabled him to receive his Screen Actors Guild card. He was reportedly paid $75.

The ships orbiting Vedala were reused from drawings for “The Time Trap,” as were the mechanicals (from “The Infinite Vulcan” and “The Eye of the Beholder”) and Tchar (the Aurelian Aleek-Om in “Yesteryear.”

Other notes: In the Starfleet Corps of Engineers novellas, M3 Green’s insectoid race is named the Nasat. The stories feature another member of the race, P8 Blue, nicknamed “Pattie.”

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 15 – “The Eye of the Beholder.”

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