Star Trek Animated Series Re-Watch: “The Pirates of Orion”

The Pirates of Orion
Written by Howard Weinstein
Directed by Bill Reed

Season 2, Episode 1
Production episode: 22020
Original air date:  September 7, 1974
Star date: 6334.1

Mission summary

Aboard the Enterprise, an outbreak of some nasty disease called choriocytosis is finally under control. The good doctor assures the crew it’s no longer “even as serious as pneumonia”–which is, um, actually pretty serious? In any case, Kirk tries to drum up excitement for the dedication ceremony they’re en route toward at Deneb V:

KIRK: It’ll be nice to play diplomat for a change, eh, Spock?

And then Spock keels over. Diplomacy is intolerable.

It seems he’s come down with choriocytosis, and while it’s dangerous for humans it’s absolutely fatal to Vulcans. Good thing they took no precautions whatsoever to prevent the only crewmember for whom the disease is fatal from being infected. Then there’d be no plot.

Per usual, the only cure, a drug called strobolin, is located many moons away and even with injections of a synthesized version Spock will die before the Enterprise gets there. But  McCoy has an idea: what about a rendezvous? (Kind of shocking this is the first time they’ve thought of it, huh?) Kirk pages his friends on the Potemkin and a freighter, the SS Huron, takes off to meet them.

In the meantime, Spock is suffering from the symptoms of suffocation, which even McCoy sympathizes with. Sort of.

MCCOY: As much as it might seem at times that I can’t stand that pointy-eared encyclopedia, I don’t want to see that happen to him.

The Huron, meanwhile, has encountered a glitch: an unidentified and unidentifiable ship has cornered them–because you can do that, in space–and demanded that they surrender. The next thing we see, the Enterprise is receiving a distress beacon from the Huron. They head out near the rendezvous point to investigate and find that the Huron has been incapacitated in some kind of attack. Life support seems to be on low, and the freighter’s captain, O’Shea, is badly wounded. Luckily the culprits left a trail of radioactive waste, which the Enterprise follows into an asteroid belt. All the while Spock, of course, is dying.

They scan the asteroid belt and are fired upon by a red bat-ship, which only Arex recognizes: Orions! The Orion captain feigns offense at the accusation of having disabled the Federation ship, but Kirk calls his bluff:

KIRK: Orion’s neutrality has been in dispute ever since the affair regarding the Coridan planets and the Babel Conference of stardate 3850.3. Yesterday, a Federation freighter was attacked in this quadrant, its cargo hijacked. As the first alien ship encountered, we require you to submit to search, as per Babel Resolution A12. Reply.
ORION CAPTAIN: We have no Federation cargo aboard. Orions are not thieves. If you don’t cease this harassment, we will lodge a formal protest with your government.

A little in-joke bread crumb for the fans.

The Enterprise scans the Orion ship and discovers a huge hold of dilithium, which purely coincidentally the freighter had been carrying. Kirk decides to strike a deal: if the Orions hand over the medicine, they can keep the dilithium and Kirk will even give them more, for their troubles. Moreover, he’ll forget the whole thing ever happened. No logs, no reports to central command. The Orion acknowledges this gives him everything he wants (and more), so he takes some time to consider it.

Eventually he agrees, with the caveat that they meet in person, on an asteroid, which happens to be explosive. Kirk knows it’s a trap but Spock only has one hour to live, so he goes along with it. On the Orion ship, the captain reveals his plan:

ORION: Orion’s official neutrality comes before this ship or its crew. We can’t take Kirk’s word that he won’t report this incident to Starfleet.
LIEUTENANT: The only way to do that is to destroy the Enterprise, and the only way to do that is to destroy ourselves, too.

He’ll take an explosive devise with him to the rendezvous point, and then blow them all up. Noble, if foolish.

All seems to go according to plan, until the Orion just blurts out his intentions. Some manfighting ensues, and eventually Kirk gets a lock on the Orion and they both get beamed up to the Enterprise. He tries to swallow a suicide pill, but Kirk catches him before it’s too late. On the viewscreen, Kirk forces the Orion captain to tell his crew that their self-destruct sequence (this is seriously the most suicide-heavy episode I’ve ever seen) won’t do any good; he’s going to report the incident no matter what, and the Orion crew will die for nothing. Reluctantly, the captain does so and the other ship surrenders.

The cure is administered in no time, a fact McCoy relishes:

MCCOY: I’ve waited a long time for this, and you’re not going to cheat me.
KIRK: Am I interrupting something?
SPOCK: Nothing but Doctor McCoy’s gloating.
MCCOY: Spock, that green blood of yours may have saved you before, but this time it almost did you in. You can’t deny it.
SPOCK: I still prefer my physiological structure to yours.
KIRK: Yes, gentlemen, things are back to normal.
MCCOY: He’s as stubborn as ever.


Leave Spock alone for five minutes and look what happens. He is getting the worst track record for victimhood here.

We get yet another rescue Spock episode (yawn) involving a distant cure (yaaawn) and a trap (yaaaaaaawn). It’s not even like I’m getting deja vu for good episodes. And for at least the third time, we get an okay-ish science fiction script that just feels out of place in Star Trek. I’m not saying Kirk is a paragon of obedience to the rule of law, but I have an extremely hard time believing that he would go so far as to make a diplomatic deal off the record, in earnest, with no scheme of his own, in complete contradiction to his stated mission and orders and given explicit personal knowledge of the kind of conniving folks involved. I kept expecting him to reveal his actual plot to trap the Orions in their own game. Instead, he handed over the lunch money without a single punch thrown.

Not only does this strike me as ludicrously un-Kirklike, it makes absolutely no political or diplomatic sense. The reason you don’t negotiate with terrorists/pirates is because the moment you do, you guarantee future threats and shakedowns. The fact that it worked out in the Federation’s favor in the end was entirely coincidental. Kirk and the Enterprise were caught with their pants down.

Then there’s the little stuff. If the ship were being threatened by a virus that’s fatal to Vulcans, don’t you think they’d take some precautions to protect the only Vulcan onboard? They inoculated the whole crew when Sevrin came on board. Then, when Spock begins to suffocate before their eyes, they put him back to work! Forget half-duty, shouldn’t he be in a stasis chamber or something, not exerting himself? And finally, are we really supposed to believe that for Orions, “all unsuccessful missions end in suicide”? It must be pretty hard to gain experience that way.

The whole scheme should be dead on arrival, anyway. The Huron’s already been disabled (and some of the crew gone or dead?), O’Shea has survived, and even if he hadn’t surely Kirk has reported the whole incident to Starfleet. Even pretending that the whole thing succeeded, don’t the Orions think that when a clean-up crew came by and saw the wreckage from both ships, they’d investigate what the hell happened?

I really liked that we got to see the fallout from events in another episode, but it still feels like a third season stinker to me.

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

Eugene Myers: I was excited that we would finally see more of the Orions we’ve heard so much about, but this episode is simply boring, with nary a dancing woman to break up the monotony.

The second season is off to a mediocre start with yet another episode where the crew must acquire a rare drug that can only be found in the least convenient places in the galaxy. And once again, it’s Spock who’s in jeopardy, requiring Captain Kirk to risk everything to save him.

This time at least they’re able to synthesize a temporary substitute for the maguffin, but I’m not too impressed with Dr. McCoy’s overall medical expertise here. I’m not really sure how dangerous this disease is to the crew, since it ends up being “no longer as serious as pneumonia” (which is still pretty bad)–and apparently Bones didn’t know much about it either, since he was blindsided by Spock’s fatal illness. He just doesn’t seem that sensitive to Spock’s needs, constantly complaining about how annoying it is that Spock doesn’t have human blood. It was bizarre when he whined, “What’s the use of being a doctor, anyway? We’re only as good as our drugs and technology make us,” though that line sounds like it was lifted from a live-action episode. I was also surprised that Kirk and McCoy somehow made this problem all about them:

KIRK: It’ll hurt seeing him like that.
MCCOY: I know. As much as it might seem at times that I can’t stand that pointy-eared encyclopedia, I don’t want to see that happen to him.

I just don’t understand why they have to go to such lengths just to save Spock; the stakes would have been even higher if they needed this drug to combat a shipwide outbreak, and that might have justified Kirk’s strange offer to look the other way and give the Orions an entire stolen shipment of dilithium in exchange for the drug.

Despite the Orions’ paranoid suspicions, I saw no evidence that Kirk was planning to renege on the deal he offered. I’m shocked that he would exercise that kind of authority, even to save his friend–especially considering there’s a strong implication that the Orions killed two of the crew of the Huron. I mean, I only saw O’Shea in the Enterprise Sickbay, and his officers are never seen again. Perhaps Kirk wanted to prevent an incident with Orion, but unchecked piracy poses a real threat to Starfleet vessels, so he’d have to tell somebody, right? Maybe he was planning to call the Starfleet crime hotline with an anonymous tip.

The only tension the episode offers is the identity of the mysterious ship–which is spoiled by the episode title! Then when we finally meet the Orions, they look and sound like campy supervillains, with some of the worst dialogue and voice acting of the series. The show is thick with melodrama and idiotic exposition everywhere else too, a la “Spock’s Brain”: “It’ll take four days to get the drug, but Spock will die in three. There’s got to be a way.”

And why do Kirk and McCoy look so damn weird when they smile?

One of the only moments I enjoyed was when Kirk asked for opinions, and McCoy called him on the fact that he’d already made up his mind and was wasting everyone’s time. Which is exactly how I feel about this episode in general: in the end, all the Orion pirates managed to steal was twenty minutes of my life.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 2

Best Line: MCCOY: This won’t hurt a bit, Spock.
SPOCK: An unnecessary assurance, doctor, in addition to being untrue.

Trivia: Like in “The Time Trap,” these Orions are bluish, thanks to a coloring error.

This marks the first time in the franchise we see a male Orion.

The events Kirk and the Orion captain reference are, as you surely guessed, those from “Journey to Babel.” Technically we see a male Orion there, but he’s been surgically altered to appear Andorian.

Captain O’Shea is missing his braided wrist decoration.

Other notes: Howard Weinstein, the writer, adapted this script from a short story he had written in high school and published in his school magazine (which he co-edited). He submitted it via his agent to Dorothy Fontana, but she had since left the show and returned it to him unread, for legal reasons. When the series was renewed, he resubmitted the teleplay–using his agent’s name–and the script was accepted. When the episode aired, he wasn’t even twenty. He later went on to write more Star Trek novels and comics.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 16 – “The Jihad.”

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

About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

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. 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 adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.