Star Trek Animated Series Re-Watch: “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”

The Magicks of Megas-Tu
Written by Larry Brody
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Season 1, Episode 8
Production episode: 22009
Original air date: October 27, 1973
Star date: 1254.4


Mission summary

It’s Science Day on Enterprise! The ship takes a jaunt to the center of the galaxy to see what might still be cooking at the site of the Big Bang. Spock warns them that they may “encounter forces and phenomena beyond our understanding,” and sure enough, the ship blunders into the middle of a fireworks and laser light show.

They’re buffeted by a matter-energy whirlwind and pulled deeper into the maelstrom at speeds upwards of warp 10. Sulu shifts into full reverse,  but they can’t break free. Spock finally manages to steer them into the eye of the weird storm and things settle down a bit. Scotty confidently informs them that “everything can be repaired,” so they decide to ride it out. But they don’t get a chance to, because the ship is abruptly zapped out of space and time, to a region where the laws of physics are different. Unfortunately, this means that everything electronic, from the popcorn poppers in the mess hall to life support systems, shuts down.

Their air supply runs out ridiculously quickly. Most of the crew passes out, but Kirk remains conscious enough to watch a jovial satyr appear on the Bridge who seems really happy to see them. Kirk begs him for help and their visitor fixes everything with a wave of his hand and the magic word, “Rhadamanthus!”

Spock is baffled, but the cloven-hoofed man is awfully eager to please his new friends. Or are they old friends? He introduces himself as Lucien, which doesn’t ring any bells. He invites the crew to “rollick” with him; in a flash, Captain Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy are spirited to the surface of a candy-colored planet where things get…expressionist.

LUCIEN: I’d forgotten how much bodily integrity means to you humans. This isn’t easy, you know, holding us together like this. It’s not even natural.
MCCOY: Being in one piece is very natural where we come from.
SPOCK: I find this all quite absorbing, Doctor.
MCCOY: Probably because you’re not very natural to begin with, Spock.

In deference to his simple-minded guests, Lucien turns the whirly-wibbly landscape into a boring forest and city. He welcomes them to his world, Sha Ka Ree Megas-Tu, which exists in a universe that operates by the rules of magic. Lucien tosses McCoy an apple and tells him that here, “women are as young and beautiful as they want to be. So as to ensnare the man of her dreams, she needs an edge.” And what happens at Megas, stays at Megas. Now it all makes sense to Spock:

Of course. Our Federation scientists were more correct than they realized. In order to function, the galactic creation point must extend through space, time, into another dimension where the logic of things is totally different.

Slow on the uptake, Kirk naively asks if he knows Lucien from somewhere. Their devilishly good-looking host thinks the captain’s just playing around, but he humors him–any excuse for an expositional interlude. He says that the Megans visited Earth once and became magical advisers to humanity, until they had to leave. Speaking of which, he informs them that they have to go now and is quite insistent that they must not be detected. But detected by whom?

He sends them all back to Enterprise, where they discover that the surface of Megas-Tu is shrouded by mysterious clouds, and the only system that works on board is life support. With nothing better to do, Spock invites the captain and doctor to his quarters to practice black magic. He scrawls a pentagram on his floor and stands within it, channeling the strange energy of this universe to move a Vulcan chess piece using his thoughts. McCoy is skeptical as usual, but it seems that here, belief really does translate into reality.

Soon everyone’s conjuring things up. Sulu summons a woman on the Bridge, and Uhura cheers him on with, “Good luck.” Lucien appears and demands to know what they’re doing. If they aren’t careful, the mental energy they’re exerting will give them away. Whoops–too late. The Megans are pissed.

So, the people of Earth would spread their evil to our home? We are ready for human perfidy this time. This time, it is the humans who shall suffer, the humans and you, Lucien, who shall pay!

For their next trick, they cut the Enterprise in two and transport the crew into stockades at a reenactment of the Salem Witch trials in 1691 Massachusetts. The Megan leader, wearing a fun Pilgrim outfit, introduces himself as Asmodeus and sets the record straight: They did offer friendship to the humans, but their powers were exploited. When they resisted, the humans burned them all as witches, so they got the hell out of there and went back home to Megas-Tu.

It’s a shame, but the bad experience soured them on mankind and exploration. But, if they only had a good reason not to hurt the humans, then maybe they could avoid all this fuss. Spock volunteers to speak for them and Asmodeus agrees. He interviews Lucien and asks why he trusts humans.

LUCIEN: They are like me, with questions to be answered, with minds that range outward, boundless. But every Megan is always alone in his sphere of knowledge. Humans are always together. They share. That is why I adopted your ship when I saw it arrive.

Then Spock calls Captain Kirk as a witness. Kirk tells all of them that humanity has changed a bit since 1691–that thought they’re still flawed, they try to treat others with respect. As proof, he offers up the Enterprise library in their defense, citing the Prime Directive as a perfect example of their evolved sensibilities.

The Megans consider the evidence and vote to let Enterprise and her crew go, figuring their trip to this universe was just a fluke that will hopefully never be repeated. (Amen!) Lucien, on the other hand, must be punished for being an individual: a magical generalist among specialists who has betrayed his own people. They sentence him to an eternity in limbo, “to live only with himself.” Kirk protests.

KIRK: No. To isolate someone like Lucien, that’s the same as sentencing him to death.
MEGAN: Do you realise who you defend? He has told you his name is Lucien. Would you defend him still if you knew he had another name too? The Rollicker, the Tempter, Lucifer.

Ohhh. Well, now that you mention it…

But that doesn’t matter to Kirk. Let bygones be bygones, he says. So after that whole legal rigamarole, it all comes down to a battle of the magics. Er, magicks. Spock encourages Kirk to master the strange powers of this universe in an epic struggle against Asmodeus. Kirk insists that the Megans are responding in fear, and he seems to get through to them. He and his men are returned to Enterprise, to the amazement of all, where Asmodeus reveals that–surprise!–it was all just a test of compassion. Kirk passed with flying colors, naturally, and he didn’t even have to cheat. Now they’re all friends and everything is back to normal.

MCCOY: You think Lucien really was the demon some men call Lucifer?
KIRK: Does it really matter?
SPOCK: It just might, Captain. If he was, this would be the second time Lucifer was cast out, and thanks to you, the first time he was saved.


Whoa. The last thing I ever expected to see on animated Star Trek was the crew hanging out with the devil, let alone saving him from banishment. I also never expected to see Spock summoning evil spirits or Kirk shooting magic beams from his hands, but there it is.

This is an absurd episode that cracked me up during Kirk’s entire magic battle with Asmodeus and practically pinching myself to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep and was just dreaming this nonsense up. Spock’s attempts to telepathically move a chess piece is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen him do, right up there with jamming with space hippies. It’s like all pretense of having these characters act realistically was simply thrown out the window a couple of episodes ago. I mean, what was up with Sulu’s imaginary woman and Uhura’s comment, “Good luck”?

It’s hard to pick this one apart on a scientific basis, since it’s founded on the fact that science doesn’t work in this other universe. Okay, fine. Maybe magic even explains why all the air on the ship suddenly runs out as soon as life support fails. But it’s still surprising that after all the times characters have joked about Spock looking like the devil, that when the devil actually shows up, no one recognizes him!

The premise suffers a bit because it’s all been done before. We have alien beings who influenced Earth’s past and legends; a pretty heavy Biblical motif, complete with a more blatant than usual appearance of the apple to represent temptation; space douches with incredible cosmic power; and all of this being another test. In fact, it also prefigures the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in some interesting ways. Lucien is Q-like in nature, a sort of mischievous rebel among his own kind who is banished for being a troublemaker. The aliens put humanity on trial, as they do in “Encounter at Farpoint,” and arguably, the special effect that accompanies Lucien’s magic tricks look a bit like Q’s white flashes of power. So, is Megas-Tu part of the Q-Continuum?

Despite its predictability and childishness, like Spock, I began to find it all quite absorbing. After a while, I embraced it for what it was, just as I accepted the magic on Megas-Tu. After seriously wondering if it was any worse than some of the more random developments on the live-action show, I concluded that elements of it are on par with episodes like “Catspaw,” “Spectre of the Gun,” and “Who Mourns for Adonais?

And really, it’s simply fascinating that any show, let alone a cartoon, got away with portraying Lucifer as a likable, sympathetic, and redeemable character, or was able to feature a freaking demon of lust like Asmodeus. For some perspective, some years ago, an episode of Disney’s Darkwing Duck cartoon was banned from repeat broadcasts because a character inadvertently sells her father’s soul to Beelzebub–which shows how much humanity changed from 1973 to 1993, not necessarily for the better. Any bullied geek can relate to Lucien’s non-conformist nature, and his impassioned appreciation of humanity’s curiosity was kind of moving. But of course, it’s that curiosity that got us all into trouble, if you believe the legends.

I’m still stunned that Kirk forgave the devil. What a guy.

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

Torie Atkinson: Did… that just happen?

So Lucifer, alien space sorcerer, invites Kirk and the gang to put on their cloak and wizard hats and have a 70s acid trip, but the other alien space sorcerers think the humans–the humans–are the crazy ones, and force them to re-enact a traumatizing memory of the Salem witch trial? I don’t even… what the hell?*

The sufficiently advanced technology that’s indistinguishable from magic thing isn’t anything new for Star Trek, and the space douches putting humanity on trial through Kirk, the paragon of human compassion and evolution, definitely isn’t new. This is regurgitated warp 1 material. As a morality tale it’s transparent and serviceable for any uninitiated, but the lessons are so dumbed down that I think as a kid I would’ve resented the condescension. That said, as a kid, I would’ve thought this was seriously demented and if the rest of the show were like this episode I would have tuned in religiously** every week. It felt a little like Mr. Wonka’s trippy tunnel, animated for half an hour. I mean, this is territory I thought the Krofft brothers owned, but “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” seriously gives wacky cracked-out shows like Bugaloos and Pufnstuf a run for their money.

But unlike the Krofft brothers extruded kids’ show product, this one articulates humanities virtues rather nicely. Lucien’s description of humans as “like me, with questions to be answered, with minds that range outward, boundless,” is really beautiful (and again, unexpected coming from a cloven-hooved alien demon wizard). That a race with such power to create would remain so cut off from one another is one of those fictional ironies that just works. Coupled with Lucien’s exuberance and joy, his personal arc winds up surprisingly compelling. Even when the ending revealed he was never in any real danger of exile, I have to wonder if he knew that. So overall I actually rather enjoyed this one. And Kirk has sympathy for the devil! I can’t believe no one guessed his name.

I guess I could say something about Milton, but what’s the point? This episode is just bizarre. I can’t believe it ever got past the censors. The idea of Kirk and friends hanging out with Lucifer and shooting magic missiles at one another at Sturbridge Village is, honestly, not something I ever expected to see in my wildest imagination. For that alone it gets a warp 2.

* No pun intended.
** OK, this pun was intended.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 2


Best Line: LUCIEN: Ah, humans. Lovely primitive humans. Can’t you do anything right?

Trivia: Brody’s original pitch for this episode had the same title, which Gene Roddenberry liked, and was supposed to involve God instead of the devil–a concept that Roddenberry always wanted to explore on the show. Unfortunately, God didn’t survive notes from the network, numerous revisions, and the usual heavy rewrites from Roddenberry–and neither did Brody’s dialogue. But of course, God finally makes an appearance, sort of, in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

This is the only episode of the series that shows Earth.

The stardate for this episode precedes that of the first broadcast Star Trek episode, but that probably doesn’t mean anything.

Other notes: Larry Brody has written for many genre cartoons and live-action television series, including Star Trek: Voyager (“Tattoo”).

Ed Bishop (Asmodeus) is best known as Commander Ed Straker on the British SF series UFO and appeared in 2001: A Space Odyssey with Gary Lockwood (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”).

Rhadamanthus was a demi-god, the son of Zeus and Europa, a wise king who was one of the judges and punishers of the dead in the Underworld.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 7 – “The Infinite Vulcan.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 9 – “Once Upon a Planet.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

LUCIEN: Ah, humans. Lovely primitive humans. Can’t you do anything right?

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.