Celebrate International Animation Day on Oct. 28, 2015 by watching the first Star Trek episode to ever win an Emmy. The writers of “Star Trek: The Animated Series” combined Shakespeare, Native American folklore and Star Trek’s crew to come up with a Daytime Emmy Award-winning episode, “How Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth.”
It was the fifth episode of the second season of TAS. Directed by Bill Reed and written by Russell Bates and David Wise, it originally aired on Oct. 5, 1974. It might remind you of TOS second season episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” as well as “The Menagerie.” For TOS, Leonard Nimoy was nominated in 1967, 1968 and 1969 for a Primetime Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama.
The title of the award-winning animated episode comes from William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” The play is about King Lear who has three daughters: the eldest Goneril, the middle Regan and the youngest Cordelia. He decides to divide his kingdom into two halves based on the flattery of his two eldest daughters. He disowns and banishes his one honest daughter. Lear dies tragically without his daughters but realizing his mistake. The quote used comes from early on when Lear is about to learn how meaningless the words of his eldest daughter were. In the first act, during scene 4, Lear comments “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is. To have a thankless child.” In this scene, King Lear has entered the castle of Goneril and has sent a servant to find her so that he may have dinner and be entertained. He has already banished his daughter Cordelia.
In the “Star Trek: The Animated Series” episode, the crew of the Enterprise receive a signal from a probe. It is stardate 6063.4. A mysterious force then immobilizes the starship and transports Captain James T. Kirk (voiced by William Shatner), chief medical officer Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Scott (James Doohan) and Ensign Walking Bear (also Doohan) to the ship of a powerful entity named Kukulkan. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is left in command of the Enterprise.
The alien ship resembles a winged serpent and it, we’ll learn later based on the actual appearance of Kukulkan. On the alien ship, the crew finds themselves in a city that combines many different cultural ruins–from Chinese to Egyptian to Aztec. Kukulkan had left clues to the human race on the planet Earth. If mankind had been able to piece these together and called him he would have returned.
Since mankind was never able to figure out the puzzle, they never called him. Yet together with the help of Walking Bear, they are able to activate the signal only to realize they were on something like a holodeck. On the actual spaceship of Kukulkan they see a menagerie of animals and meet Kukulkan. Kukulkan now wants the humans of this century to worship him as they did once so many years ago.
“How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” gives us both a serpent and a parental figure who has now been taken off of his pedestal. Kukulkan is then not unlike Apollo in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” The title for that TOS episode is also literary, but in that case the 1821 “Adonais” by Percy Bysshe Shelley which was an elegy on the death of John Keats. In stanza 47, the poet bids, “Who mourns for Adonais? Oh, come forth,/Fond wretch! and Know thyself and him aright.”
The episode “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s series. At the time, “Star Trek: The Animated Series” was part of the NBC Saturday morning lineup. You can currently view this episode on Netflix or Amazon Instant (free for Prime subscribers).