Episode 17- “Arena” and Kirk versus the incredible green monster.

One of my favorite videos from “The Onion” came out right before the 2009 Star Trek film, and is entitled “Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film as ‘Fun, Watchable.” It’s a canny bit of humor that riffs perfectly on why Star Trek still appeals to people. However, right in the middle, there’s a ridiculously choreographed clip of Kirk fist fighting a guy in a Godzilla-esque rubber suit. It’s totally ridiculous, hilarious and a little sad all at the same time.

Also, it’s a Gorn.

Today’s episode starts off with a bang. The Enterprise arrives at Cestus III in what turns out to be a trap. As soon as they arrive at the ruined Federation base, they come under fire, with shelling going off all around the landing party as they attempt to fire back and protect the injured. While the ground party is occupied, the Gorn attack the Enterprise, putting even more people in danger. Kirk finally drives the attackers away with a mortar of his own, and the landing party escapes to the ship where they decide that they must pursue the ship that destroyed the Cestus colony.

"Is it still safe for all the red shirts to escape?"

There’s a little bit of back and forth as to whether the attack of the Gorn was a prelude to an invasion of Cestus and other Federation colonies, but Kirk eventually gives chase, pushing his ship to greater and more dangerous speeds in an attempt to catch up with his fleeing enemy. Finally both ships are brought to a halt by an otherworldly force that decides that both races are barbaric and that their captains will duel for the survival of their respective ships. Without being able to utter a word of complaint, Kirk and the Gorn captain are beamed to some suspiciously familiar rocks (“Shore Leave” anyone?) and forced to do battle with his reptilian opponent.

There’s a lot to like in “Arena.” It’s a little bit goofy and a little bit iconic, but it’s mainly a pretty fun episode to watch. Like in “Shore Leave,” Star Trek always benefits from getting to shoot on location. Some of the paintings on sets are nice, but having a very organic environment to look at really helps the series to establish some legitimacy.

Also, there’s the Gorn. I was kind of surprised that the series had never really dipped into any reptilian aliens until this point, but they are just a really odd race. Kirk mentions that “”Like most humans, I seem to have an instinctive revulsion to reptiles,” and it just helps kind of drive the intrinsic weirdness home. Also, the Gorn physically looks like a bully. He’s got a couple of inches up on Kirk, walks around in a Flintstones costume and holds his communicator like a wrestler’s microphone as he tells Kirk that his death will be swift and painless. He’s an imposing and immediate threat that the show really manages to use well.

Icon, yes. Guy in a cheap, ill fitting rubber suit, also yes.

Kirk works well under pressure too, especially when the problem he faces is not one he can solve with a phaser or a quick lie. He’s thinking on his feet, and the stakes for failure are his life. He does a lot of running around, but the scenes where he is assembling the cannon are tense and interesting enough that it makes up for some of the awkwardness that’s in the earlier parts of the episode.

Believe it or not, this is infinitely more fun to watch than Shatner climbing sequence #6.

If anything can be taken from “Arena,” it’s the message that serves really as the counter to the mission of the Enterprise. Boldly going where no man has gone before is dangerous work. As far as I understand, humanity and the Federation have not been along for long. There are races that have traveled the stars before, have found their own planets, have  built their own civilization. Humanity is a meddler, finding new worlds and spreading their own agenda. They take resources and build, often with no regards to who has been there before.

At one point in the episode, Kirk and Spock contemplate the stake the Gorn has on Cestus III from completely different perspectives. Kirk is at the position of the settlers on the destroyed planet. He understands the sacrifice that the settlers of the planet made when the Gorn attacked, and he has to deal with the same threat that they faced before they were destroyed. Spock has the means to be more analytical about the Gorn’s actions. Yes, the humans may have intruded on land that was not theirs, but was the Gorn’s counter-attack still one of aggression, or simply defense? The episode, to it’s credit, doesn’t give a definitive answer, unless you solely believe the Gorn captain, but it posits that the two civilizations will be able to communicate and make compromises. It certainly deals with the intrusion of humanity in a more concise and nuanced way than earlier episodes like “The Man Trap” attempted to.

There's easier ways to take lands that don't belong to you, Kirk. Just ask those early American settlers.

There are a couple of complaints that can be made about “Arena” still. There’s an awful lot of doing nothing. I understand that to some degree, there are going to be scenes when Kirk is just trying to put room between himself and the Gorn and that the show is going to detail him moving over rocks and hiding. My problem is in just how much of the episode that this takes up. The times when the Gorn and Kirk are together are way to short to justify this much time with them apart. Instead of being tense, it’s more than a little boring. Viewers miss the Gorn when it’s not on screen, and the scenes of Kirk climbing are just not as important or interesting.

Also, I’m getting fucking sick of every episode ending in a literal dues ex machina. At least we know that the Metron is coming in this one and that we are going to have to deal with some godly being deciding what will come of the crew of the Enterprise, but it’s still lazy and this is the fourth time an episode has ended this way.

It's a writing shortcut, I mean Metron!

None the less, I like “Arena” quite a bit. It would be a pretty solid gateway episode for someone new to the series, and it’s thrilling and iconic enough to keep people interested.

Random Notes

Somebody in the writers room really had a thing for Greco-Roman Mythology. I’m getting sick of it, but it works.

Sulu’s here! And he gets to use the phasers and act quizzical.

I don’t care what that MythBusters douchebags say, I desire that cannon to work, and Shatner is on my side.

Next Up: “Tomorrow is Yesterday” which will be about time travel and I will probably be disappointed.

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Episode 16-“The Squire of Gothos” and it’s just a better “Charlie X.”

Star Trek has wormed it’s way into my shadowy ‘60s sci-fi loving heart, and I have quickly become willing to look over it’s flaws. I understand that certain ideas like god-like beings having to show up to create a threat that a highly advanced space-ship would have to struggle to deal with. It’s there because it mostly works. The Enterprise just kind of warps it’s way out of all it’s problems, fires off some phasers, or finds out that the big alien puppet is just a shitty Howard brother. Gods are a little harder to deal with. They can do whatever they want, and they can cause plenty of trouble.

That’s really the idea “The Squire of Gothos” latches onto. They need a troublesome super powerful deity, and the writers come up with a good one in retired General Trelane. The Enterprise comes across a space desert, and as soon as something weird comes up on Sulu’s scanners, the good navigator and Kirk are whisked away to a deadly planet, and the rest of the crew have to figure out what happens.

It’s pretty nice that we don’t follow Kirk and Sulu, and Spock has a couple of pretty great moments, mainly when he receives the message from Trelane and when Scotty wants to go to the planet and the half-Vulcan tells him that he is more useful on the ship. Because once again, nothing that Spock says in “The Galileo Seven” doesn’t make sense and he’s usually right and the series just kinda fucks him over all the time and hudda da hudda da hudda…

Spock gets a super great reaction shot here.

 

So, some of the crew beams down to the planet to find an earth like pocket with a castle filled with ancient earth artifacts and the salt-vampire from “The Man Trap.” So he’s got some different stuff for whatever you need to see. They find a super wobbly frozen Kirk and Sulu and the dandy fop, General Trelane, who plays the playful, supremely in control god. He’s there to talk about the glory of combat, the power of government, and personal honor. Kirk knows that this is against what the Federation represents, and it’s pretty clear that Trelane is a threat.

A face only a mother could avoid punching.

 

There’s some good, but pretty standard stuff where Kirk and the rest of the crew get away and end up underestimating Trelane’s powers and getting drug back to Gothos, and getting away and then Kirk getting into his “The Most Dangerous Game” style battle with Trelane at the end. It’s a solid plot, and let’s face it, I don’t want to recap it.

There are fun moments that don’t make a ton of sense later. When Kirk blows up the mirror, Trelane loses some power, but manages to still move planets and beam aboard star ships. Because he can’t make fire hot, but moving fucking planets and transporting and making fences and swords and nooses is super fucking easy and hudda da hudda da…

That’s ok, I still really like “The Squire of Gothos.” William Campbell is great doing the perfect mix of annoying and unbelievably powerful and dangerous, but we’ve seen that before in “Charlie X” but it’s better here.

Because, you know, there's no need to come up with something new for this ending.

 

So yeah, it’s a better “Charlie X,” right down to the ending, but I still like it. I understand where it would be easy to rip on the show for doing so many godlike beings (yes, “Shore Leave” had that god-like guy who’s power is explained by saying “you’re not ready to know,”) but it’s important that the Enterprise still have it’s Kryptonite in deity form.

Random Notes

Sulu is here and he kinda sorta does stuff.

“I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.”

I didn’t mention the trial, but there’s some neat stuff. The shadow noose is pretty Twilight Zone-esque, but it’s good until Trelane really come unhinged. He worked better when he’s more in control.

Next Up: “Arena” which I heard is fucking awesome.

Episode 15- “The Galileo Seven” and the big what-if we’ve been waiting for

 

I understand the love for Spock. Kirk’s desire to do the best for the crew, regardless of the danger or the cost is sort of an old-school television cliché. On a serialized show now, Kirk would have been crushed by his decisions. Spock turns out to be the one we trust more in comparison. He makes decisions based on what is good for the crew, but he makes sacrifices based on what is rational. He works because he has to justify his actions to himself. Spock can do pretty much whatever the script needs him to do, but it has to make sense to him. It seems like an out, but watching Spock work is one of the great pleasures of the series.

With that, “The Galileo Seven” is an episode that equates to little more than a what-if scenario. When Spock takes a crew to explore a mostly uncharted area, disaster quickly befalls the craft and they crash on a foreign planet, without the ability to contact the Enterprise. The Enterprise, however, is also unable to get in contact with the shuttle and has only two days to search for Spock and the remaining crewmembers before they have to make an important rendezvous.

It's the landing party, I mean the complication.

 

Unlike “Balance of Terror,” “The Conscience of the King” or “Shore Leave,” “The Galileo Seven” is more about reactions than it is about actions. The way that Spock and the rest of the crewmates end up on the planet is less important than how Spock handles the situation once he is put in command of the situation. We’re mainly watching people react to trying to survive in a situation without Kirk. The way that Spock is going to handle the situation is drastically different than they were expecting and problems quickly come about when human lives are translated into pounds of dead weight.

I’ve liked Spock since I started watching the series, and moments like this really help to drive why the character is likable. In a series that’s mostly about people exploring the universe, Spock is just about the only alien, and in no way does he really behave like a human. It seems reasonable that this sort of decision would have to come up to really distinguish Spock’s logical approach to be flawed in matters of life and death.

Some of the planet actually looks pretty good for being built on a set.

 

To me, “The Galileo Seven” is an episode that a show would do in about the third or fourth season. It’s the kind of episode that happens when a writer is saddled with an episode and wants to say something profound about a character in a different way. Darin Morgan of “The X-Files” wrote three episodes that took down Mulder in just about every way possible. This seems to be a pretty calculated way to force the viewer to confront Spock’s various failings. It’s odd that this sort of episode would come before one that would confront, say, the captain’s failings, but it seems pretty clear that Spock was rapidly becoming the breakout character of the series, but for the most part it is an interesting examination of one character’s process and failings.

That’s not to say that Spock is the only character that is really looked at. McCoy returns to put a human face on what has happened on Taurus II, and he is certainly less antagonistic than Boma, but he manages to continue to represent the ethical side of the problem and seeks alternative solutions to the deadlier ones that Spock advocates. Scotty is mostly there to do nothing but fix the gas lines as best he can and kind-of-sort-of defend Spock from the increasingly antagonistic crew.

Delightfully, Sulu also has things to do in this episode. I’ve talked about how much I sort of appreciate Sulu’s presence. He’s a very visible character on the bridge. Despite Roddenberry’s hopes for a post race starship, really the only non-Caucasians are Uhura and Sulu. Uhura hasn’t really gotten much to do since about “Charlie X” but Sulu consistently gets to at least play with some ship controls and have a line. What appeals to me about his character is that he’s very similar to Spock in his actions. Sulu has a firm grasp on what needs to be done and does his job without fail. He keeps his emotions out of the bridge, follows orders and acts without a seconds thought. He does have a brief line when Kirk calls off the search, but for the most part, Sulu is a lot like Spock, and he manages to be one of the finer characters on the Enterprise.

Anthropoid smash for equal opportunities on Enterprise!

 

One could probably say that “The Galileo Seven” is one of the weaker episodes of the series. It’s pretty static, a little dull at times and kind of goes over some of the standard Star Trek plots, but I enjoyed it immensely. It’s nice to see the writers really place one character under the microscope so much and manage a question of lives so well.

Random Notes

It’s pretty easy to tell, but there’s only one creature running around all episode. Those Styrofoam rocks eat up a lot of the budget.

I wasn’t aware seven phasers had enough fuel to launch a small space pod. More useful information that just doesn’t seem that true.

Spock gets the best lines of the episode, namely “I am not interested in the opinions of the majority, Mr. Gaetano.”

There’s some pretty terrible fake laughs after Kirk’s joke on the bridge at the end.

A joke that is approximately as bad as one of Uhura's songs.

 

Next Up: “The Squire of Gothos” and stuff like that.

Episode 14- “Shore Leave” and flights of fancy without safety.

I had become pretty wary of comedy on Star Trek after “Mudd’s Women,” which still stands as the series’ only unmitigated disaster, so I was pretty hesitant when “Shore Leave” started going. There’s not a lot of ways to interpret a cold open that includes a man in a rabbit suit as anything but another comedy episode.

Not a very safe way to start a serious episode, but it really works as a comedy.

 

“Shore Leave” mostly works for the reasons that “Mudd’s Women” failed. The characters manage to stay pretty true to their constructed personas, there is a mostly tangible and understandable threat, and there isn’t a super bizarre big reveal that undoes and recontextualizes most of the episode. There are problems, but what episode of Star Trek doesn’t have those “hey, we should have actually read the script through once or twice” moments.

The crew of the Enterprise is exhausted and Kirk commissions a scouting party to investigate a planet to see if it is safe for shore leave. While the scans turn up no life on the planet, McCoy encounters Alice and the March Hair, two crew men are held at bay by a tiger and Sulu finds a revolver. When Kirk arrives, things start getting really dangerous, with one of the captain’s Academy tormentors appearing, a samurai appearing to threaten Sulu and McCoy trying to get some from his seduced assistant, Yeoman Barrows.

Yes, she loves McCoy. Him?

 

So it’s all a little weird. The hallucinations are interesting, although not particularly threatening. It’s all fun to watch, but the attacking fighter plane and the tiger seem like pretty passive threats that can just be ignored. Even when Kirk is getting the shit kicked out of him by Finnegan, the threat isn’t there, but there is a sense of comedy and wonder. The samurai presents a little bit of a threat, but he pretty much just gets pushed out of the way or run away from.

I’m not saying that this doesn’t make the episode not work or something. It manages to keep a pretty light tone, but there’s not much danger. It’s funny, but I never felt that involved with the plot. Maybe that’s just a problem coming off of “Balance of Terror” and “The Conscience of the King,” but the lack of danger was a little bit of a turn off.

That being said, the humor really works. By no means would I have picked McCoy to be the womanizing character, but he manages some mostly meaningful moments, and he gets plenty of good jokes, namely “I’m a doctor. When I peek, it’s in the line of duty.” Sulu randomly firing a revolver also has it’s own weird source of humor.

Also, this establishing shot. Hilarious, let me tell ya'.

 

Besides the general goofiness, the episode is really strikingly shot. Up till now, the entirety of the series has taken place in shell like cabins, on enclosed bridges and on some of the most poorly constructed sets known to man. It does wonders to see the characters sprinting through the woods, touching actual flowers, and climbing rocks that are delightfully not made of Styrofoam. There are a couple of really striking moments of characters running towards danger with a camera placed low and shot at the oncoming actors. It communicates danger in a way that cannot be managed on small sets with tiny rooms and tight hallways.

McCoy’s death also manages to up the threat in the episode, but it is mostly spoiled by having Kirk just fistfight bullies for about ten fucking minutes, but that moment is pretty well done. The characters are sad, Kirk tries to figure out a way to solve it, Barrows cries and wails and Spock figures out the facts. The characters do what we know what they should do and it is true without betraying the weight of the situation. It’s not like we think that McCoy is dead, but it is important to know that the characters take the danger seriously.

But c'mon, how awesome would it be if he died from getting gored by a lance?

 

The ending is a little sketchy, but it works as well as a plot like this can. It seems like the characters would have been able to figure out what was going on a little bit earlier than they did, but having the god-like caretaker just sort of appear and explain the whole thing as a super dangerous misunderstanding where you could live out your greatest memories, or you-know, just sort of accidentally kill yourself, really seems like a bit of a dues-ex-machina. That being said, without it, how else could we have had the moment with McCoy coming out with the two Rigel chorus girls that is the highlight of the episode?

I like “Shore Leave.” I really do. It’s not the greatest episode ever, but it’s funny and it works and I don’t walk away feeling like I got totally got shat on by the ending. There’s little else that I can ask for.

Random Notes

“I’ve got a personal grudge against that rabbit, Jim.”

“I don’t know how or why, the dress is here. I’d like to see you in it.”

Sulu is in this episode! And he has a gun! And I mentioned him already! Sadly, he does not get a big enough role to warrant my long gestating Sulu theory.

As usual, Spock’s reaction shots are moments of surreal comic genius. Sort of.

Apparently, there were some problems in the writer’s room on this one. Roddenberry thought that the episode was too goofy and had someone rewrite it. A misunderstanding led to the episode having even more fantastic elements in it. Roddenberry was rewriting most of the episode as production went on, which definitely makes the lack of a threat make sense.

Next Up: “The Galileo Seven” which I assume will be about a group of philosopher/scientists who recreate “Seven Samurai.”

PS: I’m moving in the next few days. Posts should be back to normal after a few days. Not like there’s much of a pattern really, but things might be a little abnormal for a while.

Episode 13- “Balance of Terror” and a battle on the sea of stars

There’s a pretty good reason why the sky-ship shows up so much in fantasy and steam punk novels; it is simply an idea that is so natural. Water and sky are very similar for thematic purposes. Both can be navigated, and moved through, and the sky can make a handy substitute when it comes to writing modern stories about dogfights or space conflicts. Towards the end of “Return of the Jedi,” the small Rebel fleet attacks the enormous armada size Star Destroyers of the Imperial fleet, in what could easily be compared to the British’s battle with the Spanish Armada. Comparisons between the two come natural, but few make it as blatant as Star Trek’s “Balance of Terror.”

Human observation points have come under attack near the neutral zone of the Federation/Romulan border. Kirk and some of the crew are concerned that a Romulan vessel is cutting through the station’s deflector shields and destroying the posts, but the crew of the Enterprise realizes the threat when they find the cloaked ship destroying posts in a blast or two. Kirk eventually decides to attack the ship before it can reach the Romulan side of the border and could deem the Enterprise’s actions an attack on their empire. It’s a race against time, with the Enterprise playing the role of the destroyer, and the Romulan bird of prey, taking the part of the submarine in this naval homage.

Yeah, it's packed with nukes and anachronisms.

 

Like “The Conscience of the King” before it, “Balance of Terror” really loses nothing for its aping of genre conventions. The episode is explosive and intriguing, and it might be the most consistently exciting yet, but there are several things that really make this one work.

Of course, there are the Romulans. I’ve talked a lot about Star Trek widening the scope, and the introduction of a sophisticated alien race that has crossed with humanity before is one of the better ways to expand the universe in a satisfying and organic way. Kirk and Spock’s exposition dump to the audience, I mean crew, draws up the history between the races a little bit awkwardly, but it is satisfying to have that information presented. It seemed a little silly that no human had ever seen a Romulan, but it makes the reveal work well and Spock’s theory about the Romulans being genetic relations to the Vulcans is another way that the mythos expands in an interesting and believable way.

Romulan Kirk talks with the Romulan Centurian, I mean McCoy.

 

The plotting itself is what initially draws people in. For the most part, combat in space is generally depicted as fast, deadly and fraught with explosions. This is a handy way to make a blockbuster, but it doesn’t work as well for television, and it certainly doesn’t work as well for Star Trek. Having the Enterprise have to search for the Romulan vessel and continuously plot on how to catch it manages to create a sense of tension, but more than that, it allows both Kirk and the Romulan captain to shine as characters and as leaders of their respective ships. Instead of turning this into a firefight, “Balance of Terror” is more akin to a contest of wills.

"Don't destroy the one named Kirk."

 

There is some subtext to the action in “Balance of Terror” and it manages to focus on two current events of the time, but still remains relevant today. The conversation in the briefing room makes clear the episode’s feelings about the nature of a preliminary strike. McCoy argues that “war is never imperative,” but he is outvoted by Spock, Stiles and Kirk, which speaks both to the Enterprise’s need to defend the Federation as well as the place of honor and revenge. Kirk makes clear that the attack is not for the reasons that the prejudiced Stiles would encourage, but the attack is necessary in the preservation of human interests and peace.

The concept of peace in the midst of diplomatic and military tension is one that is explored in an even more subtle way, but it would have been considerably more blatant at the time of the episode’s airing. The title, “Balance of Terror” is a reference to the escalating threat of nuclear war, particularly during the Cold War era, and the promise of mutual destruction that it brings. Both powers have the ability to crush one another in “Balance of Terror,” but it is not until the Romulan commander jettisons the nuke with his waste that the threat of military escalation really hits. Kirk and his opponent have passed the point of escape or submission. One of the ships will be destroyed. It is zero hour.

Someone's got to go, and it happens to be the guy in the cloth chainmail.

 

I don’t want to read too much into an episode that is mostly just a Romulan ship getting crushed by the Enterprise. There is a subtext that is mostly undeniable, but I really want to avoid rushing into an analysis of a subject that really has no implications or answers of the war. By no means is “Balance of Terror” actually “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” If there is a nuclear subtext, it is subtle and offers no answers. If anything, “Balance of Terror” shows the choices that leaders have to make when they enter combat and the lives that they find themselves responsible for.

Random Notes

You may note that I didn’t mention the wedding B-story. That’s because it’s fucking ridiculous and predictable.

Sulu is back. I am working on a theory that explains my love/appreciation for Sulu in the navigator seat, but we’ll wait until an episode where he really has something to do to unleash it.

 I like the design of the Romulan ship, but it seems strange that they would have an Earth falcon-esque bird painted on the bottom of their ship.

Spock’s talk of why he saved Stiles is more reasons to love the Vulcan. He does it because he has to. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.

Next Up: “Shore Leave” which hopefully features Sulu doing things that will allow me to break out this Sulu theory. Fuck it, it’ll probably be a shitty vacation-esque episode.

Episode 12- “The Conscience of the King” and a bit of Shakespeare’s melodrama brings madness to the Enterprise

There’s been quite a bit of experimentation on Star Trek since the start. “Mudd’s Women” is obstensibly a comedy. “Miri” is a little bit of a social commentary. “What Are Little Girls Made of?” is something like a horror story. Strangely enough, it takes “The Conscience of the King” to really embrace the series first real root, the space opera, or more importantly, melodrama.

Is it foreshadowing or FORESHADOWING? You be the judge.

 

It comes across immediately, both in the title (a reference to the play scene in “Hamlet”) and the cold open, where viewers are introduced to Anton Karidian, an actor in an adaptation of “Macbeth,” appearing to us during one of the climactic murders of the work. Even though the references are stunningly overt, there is nothing pandering about the usage of Shakespeare, and the story of the episode rises to the challenge of the referenced material.

After viewing the play, a friend of Kirk’s claims that Anton Karidian is actually Kodos the Executioner, a former dictator who violently massacred his starving people on Tarsus IV. Although Kirk plans to investigate the claims, he is smitten by Anton’s beautiful glitter stocking wearing daughter Lenore. The two discover the body of Kirk’s friend while walking in the desert, launching an investigation as to who may be killing the last witnesses to Kodos’ bloody actions.

You can't see the glitter stockings, but believe me, they are there.

 

I’ll say this now; I’m no fan of Shakespeare’s dramas. I think they are overwrought, archaic and valued mostly for their antiquity. However, the influence of his works drives the story of episode in a way that few other writers would have been able to inspire, and it results in the best episode that the series has done yet.

There is a lot going on that just works, but most of it falls on the shoulders of Kirk and, to some degree, Lenore. Their relationship creates the conflict and the crux of the story. We have seen Kirk as a swaggering ladies man before, but this is the first time we have seen him really fall in love. He is initially blown away from Lenore, but his infatuation believably becomes something more, and Shatner really makes this work. It’s easy to hate on him for his hammy scenery chewing ways, but he really delivers in a subtle way in this episode. Lenore also works as more than just a pretty space-face, and manages to be a suitable love, rather than lust, interest.

There’s another strange relationship that really works in this episode, and it just happens to be the conflicting interests of Spock and McCoy. They’ve been at odds for most of the series, with their ribbing being somewhat of a comedic highlight of the series, but for once, they have to work together, without the help of Captain Kirk. Spock is clearly in command between the two, but the scene in the hallway where he attempts to explain his theory to the doctor manages to speak a lot to his character and the way that both characters have the fate of the ship and their friendship with the captain at the front of their minds. It’s a little disappointing that the two don’t end up showing up that much by episode’s end, but the moments they are together really click.

Relationships really set up the plot and the conflicts, but as soon as there is a base to work on, writer Barry Trivers really hands the episode over to Shakespeare. There are a pair of star-crossed lovers, a pair of worried advisors, a guilty brooding king, a misguided-would-be-assassin and a host of lies and false identities. It becomes less of a piece of fiction inspired by Shakespeare, to a full-fledged homage and against all odds, it really pays off.

One of the factors that really help the episode is the use of language. Characters spout out soliloquies about the stars, the place of women, murder and memory at a regular clip throughout the episode, but it all clicks. The whole episode nearly slips when Kirk confronts Anton about his past and the whole thing reverts to mostly silly incoherent and off topic babblings and some of Lenore’s direct “Hamlet” quotes at the end, don’t quite work but it all really sets the drama well. The only piece that comes to mind that has managed this sort of balancing act even close to as well is Rian Johnson’s superb “Brick,” a hardboiled high school noir that creates it’s own language that neatly mashes “The Maltese Falcon” with “A Clockwork Orange.”

By the end, everything is really working together well. Riley’s kinda-sorta misunderstanding of the situation works well as a Shakespearean homage, and Lenore’s reveal mostly works. Like in any Shakespearean play, there’s really no illusion that Lenore was the killer the whole time, particularly in all those scenes with Anton when the only other character that we have met all episode is shot in shadow, but her insanity is believable and her motives put the episode in an even darker place. Anton has some not quite as hammy lines, as he expresses his grief that people continue to die in his name, and his death is handled well.

You don't want to mess with a crazy blonde thespian with a gun.

 

Like I said, this is without a doubt the best episode that the series has managed. There are some great character moments, the action is really great, and the cast and writers manage homage to Shakespeare that never devolves into parody or self-awareness.

Random Notes

“Even in this corner of the galaxy, captain, two plus two equals four.

I’m not too sure if the writers caught it, but there are a bunch of really dumb penis jokes when Lenore talks to Kirk in the green soft light room.

Sulu isn’t in this episode. Surprise, surprise.

Uhura sings in this one, and it didn’t inspire enough rage for me to lose any appreciation here. Well done?

Next Up: “Balance of Terror” which I’ve heard is fucking awesome.

Episodes 10 and 11- “The Menagerie” and making big stories little and then big again.

I feel like one of the most enduring contributions “Star Trek” made to pop culture is the idea of Starfleet, a governing/police body that has essentially become short hand for any sort of ruling space group in fiction. However, until now, I hadn’t seen anything of it, and hadn’t really heard anything about it. In fact, I think this two-parter, “The Menagerie, may include the first mention of the organization.

And they don’t just mention Starfleet, we directly see its influence and powers throughout the episode, both on Starbase 11 as well as during Spock’s court martial. Like in “The Corbomite Maneuver” the world is greatly expanded by these additions and we see the ideas of the influence that humans have in the galaxy and the way that Kirk and his actions on the Enterprise affect many others.

I'm unironically a fan of space government.

 

This sort of theme is required for “The Menagerie” to work, with actions of the past needing to be dealt with and a desire to correct wrongs and take solace being important to everyone affected. The Enterprise receives a call from Starbase 11 to see Captain Pike, the last captain of the Enterprise and Spock’s former commanding officer. However, it is quickly revealed that this is all part of a scheme by Spock to take the now wheelchair bound Captain Pike to Talos IV, a forbidden planet, for undisclosed reasons. He abandons Kirk at the base, seizes control of the Enterprise, and locks the planet’s location in, intent on reaching the site of one of Pike’s mission on the Enterprise.

"If only this highly advanced civilization could make a decent chair. I mean, BEEP."

 

Of course, Kirk catches up to the Enterprise, Spock surrenders the ship and petitions for a  court martial, and shows a tape in his defense of Pike’s mission to Talos IV that he hopes will shed light on the affair. The stakes are high, with Spock’s career and Kirk’s life hanging in the balance, and the episode is as tightly wound as can be. The tape that is shown details Pike’s actions on Talos IV and shows the danger that the super-powerful Talosians have with illusions and mind control, and both stories start to really click. But of course, it all sort of falls apart.

It’s pretty clear that this episode was a money saver more than anything. Spock’s video is the original pilot that Gene Roddenberry filmed, “The Cage,” a rejected episode featuring an almost entirely different cast. Trying to absorb the cost of creating that must-have-been-expensive (check out the giant cannon prop, all the costume changes, and the massive sets and paintings) episode by having it form the backbone of not one but two additional episodes is by no means a bad idea, and the episode is good, but there are a variety of problems that really hold it back and most of them have to deal with Kirk’s Enterprise.

A scene that probably cost more than the first 5 episodes of the original series combined.

 

It’s not that the trial is bad. It has high stakes and is interesting, but nothing really rings true. Here’s Spock, who just last episode reminded everyone “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” putting the whole crew in danger to take Pike to the world’s greatest nursing home. It just doesn’t really work for the character that well, but Spock isn’t really the only one that suffers from some poor writing.

Pike’s condition also is pretty questionable within the context of the story. I understand that for the story to work with Spock continuing to be able to logically rationalize his actions, Pike’s condition needs to be bad enough that the Spock is willing to risk his and Kirk’s life and well being, but the good captain’s condition is a logical mess. I understand that he has been subjected to the mysterious “delta waves” while rescuing children from a space-schoolbus or something, but his wheelchair and condition seems like something a highly advanced society should be able to do a little more with. Are they really only able to allow him to communicate in nothing but yes and no? It seems like they could do a lot more with a person who we are told is still able to think extremely clearly and is very cognizant of his world. So, we’re supposed to think he can barely communicate and do nothing but “move forward a little, and backward a little” would still be a ranking captain and would be able to serve on a jury? It just doesn’t really work to well. I understand why he’s there at the trial thematically, but it doesn’t stand up to even the barest amount of skepticism.

Think about the “Breaking Bad” episodes, “Grilled” and “Bit by a Dead Bee.” Walter and Jesse are initially held hostage by their crazed distributor, Tuco, and as they plot their escape, Tuco’s invalid uncle tries to undermine their attempts by ringing a bell attached to his wheel chair. There’s not a lot he can actually communicate, but he manages to say a lot both there and when he takes a shit on the floor of the police office in the next episode. Ok, maybe not as much there, but it still works for the character. It makes sense that he would not be able to communicate because he obviously does not have the resources to afford technologically advanced speaking programs, and he can’t have a fancy wheel chair because he isn’t in fucking space, yet he still manages to have more of a presence and character than the wheel chair bound Pike.

Kirk suffers some as he tries to play it both ways, as Spock’s friend and ally, as well as a strict disciplinarian and government official and wronged man. He’s had his ship stolen by his second in command, he’s presented by odd information, and he has to serve on a jury that he admits is “the most painful moment in all my service.” It’s understandable that he would be conflicted, but the episode is devoted to not letting him really maintain a single emotion of any sort. He’s stuck being a doing whatever the script really required him to do.

This is really the problem with both of these episodes. There are two really interesting stories going on here, and they would work ok on their own, and combining them initially seems to work really well, but it feels like no one really thought about all of the holes that combining the stories would expose.

There are of course problems with the Talos IV story to level as well, namely with the extent of the Talosian’s powers. We’re led to believe that they can create any illusion that they desire, and they do it well, particularly when they trick the landing team into believing that they failed to blow up the door while there is actually a massive gap in the cave system, but believing that they can project Mendez both onto the Enterprise for the trial as well as put him in the transporter with Kirk all the way from Starbase 11.

I'm sure they can see it from their Flintstones TV. The future is pretty great like that.

 

Also, it brings up odd questions about communications with Spock. Were the Talosians working with Spock? That seems like what we were supposed to believe, but it most definitely seems like that would be illegal and probably noticeable by someone who is in charge of communication, like I don’t know, maybe Uhura.

"What, huh, I mean, hailing frequencies open. Uh, wait, never mind..."

 

The ending is also really odd, but you were expecting that. After Spock has taken out Starbase officials, stolen a space ship, led the crew to a forbidden planet and put himself and his captain in grave danger, he is let off without any charges. It seems like there would be some kind of penalty for all these crimes, regardless of how good the intentions were. It of course, just ends up being more proof that this episode could have used just one more proofreading.

There are really good moments of these episodes though as well. Spock manages a great acting moment when he requests the information on the transporter’s gas, showing that despite his intentions, he knows that he needs to rescue his friend, despite hoping that Kirk would have turned back to Starbase 11. Also, Pike has one of those parts I always like in his cabin in the video where he just wishes to go back to his space-ranch to live out the rest of his space-rancher days.

It's the best parts of a domed city with the fun parts of picnics with ranch hand Rita Sue.

 

With an episode like this, it’s inevitable to think about what “Star Trek” would have been if “The Cage” (the original pilot that is mostly shown during the trial) had been accepted. It is a pretty solid episode, but it is unbelievably cold. Pike is pretty dismissive, and he doesn’t have that warmness that Kirk exudes effortlessly, but some of that may just be that this is the first episode. The characters are obviously not fleshed out that well (check out Spock’s ear-to-ear smile when he touches the blue vibrating leaf), so there are going to be some problems, but most of the characters are hard to connect with in a way that makes the show just off putting. It is interesting to see a woman in the second in command spot, and it’s nice to see a yeoman who doesn’t look like a space pin-up. With some time, the show would have probably become an endearing piece of pop culture, but “Where No Man Has Gone Before” manages a sense of warmness and camaraderie in it’s first moments of 3D chess that “The Cage” couldn’t match in it’s entire running time. It really drives home how nice it is to have characters like Spock, McCoy and Sulu, who really end up being a lot of the sense of family that the show is famous for that the original pilot really lacks. It certainly doesn’t help that “The Cage” has been cut to shit for “The Menagerie,” but I can’t imagine that we are missing anything that would really redefine the way that the characters are viewed.

It’s nice to see where the show came from and how it became the “Star Trek” that is known and loved, and it’s a really neat idea for an episode, but it just falls apart as soon as it’s looked at in the slightest. It’s a shame, but it is what it is. And I’m glad it’s over.

Random Notes

Pike’s fight in the coluseum fits into my classic hatred of fantasy fights that end with someone having a thrown sword stab into them. It’s so “Krull” bad that it’s embarrassing for everyone.

The costuming for the Talosians is pretty solid, namely with their pulsing brains and comic-book style jewelry. Actually this whole episode is really good for old classic sci-fi trappings, particularly for the paintings in all of the backgrounds.

I’m glad that this is the first appearance of the dancing green alien girl. If Kirk were here, totally different episode, let me tell ya’.

Sulu is gone. I’m keeping track now.

I think this is the first time we hear Spock’s actual Starfleet title. He’s a science officer, which I guess makes sense, although I haven’t really seen him do anything scientific in particular.

Next Up: “The Conscience of the King” which I assume will be rabble rabble nobility rabble rabble duty rabble rabble honor.

Episode 9- “The Corbomite Maneuver” and World Building, hot coffee and the joy of a purpose.

There’s a point in “The Corbomite Maneuver” when Kirk finally states the purpose of the mission of the Enterprise. He says, “The mission of the Enterprise is to seek out and contact alien life.” In this moment, “Star Trek” finally gains much of the traction and promise that I’ve been waiting for. There is finally a purpose. There are goals that need to be met, and, ostensibly, governments that send ships out on these missions. There is a world all around the crew of the ship, where anything can happen, and often does.

The series has finally been gaining a sense of increasing weight. In a recent episode, we finally learned a little more about the Vulcans and their constant desire to avoid emotion. It does wonders to know a little more about Spock as a character and to realize that there are many civilizations out there that we, as viewers have not seen and experienced yet. It really helps to add on to the sense of the space western, where the Enterprise is charging into the unknown, finding a new world, and having to come to terms with the threats and cultures that it meets.

The meeting of cultures is really what drives “The Corbomite Maneuver,” and it is a superb hook. While charting stars, the Enterprise comes across a giant glowing cube that blocks them for days, after destroying it when it exposes the ship to radiation, the Enterprise comes across the imposing Fesarius, a giant yellow and black planet sized space ship, and its imposing commander, Balok, who determines that the Enterprise is to be destroyed for trespassing and destroying the beacon. It’s a misunderstanding, but made difficult by Balok’s insistence that the Enterprise will be destroyed, regardless of the pleading of the quickly hysterical Kirk.

One radioactive beacon holds the Enterprise away from total annihilation.

 

It’s a great episode for driving home the idea of the space western. Both ships are at an impasse, and nothing Kirk will say can save his ship from utter annihilation. It’s a tense episode, full of gripping dialogue as the characters try to escape their fates, as well as deal with the minutiae of the crew and the problems at hand.

This episode was (according to the internet) one of the first produced, which shows that the writers were all for this kind of tense storytelling from the beginning. It’s nice to see their devotion to the crew having to deal with aliens and the unknown in equal measures, and it is equally refreshing to finally see Sulu and Scotty again, as well as Rand. And it’s nice to have these characters here, because for the first time since maybe (sigh) “Mudd’s Women,” we finally have a need for the crew to work together to solve a life-threatening problem.

"Your intention is not peaceful."

 

And they all (for the most part) get to shine. Sulu is great, having to cover for random crewmember of the week, Lieutenant Bailey on the bridge. McCoy has a couple of fantastic antagonistic moments with Kirk about Bailey and manages a couple of great exchanges with Spock, which has increasingly become some of my favorite moments of the series. Spock probably gets the best parts, in a few of his exchanges with Kirk, his insistence that he get to see Balok, and his insistence that they will probably die, because that is the most logical course of action that the events can follow. The only characters that really take the shaft are Scotty, who just doesn’t really get that much to do besides make fun of Spock, and Rand, who is just there to be Rand, and bring coffee while they await Balok’s reply to their bluff. Other than that, the whole crew manages to really help lend some additional weight to the events.

Guess what Uhura gets to do. No, guess.

 

It helps that Balok is a pretty fantastic threat as well. He ignores the Enterprise’s pretty legitimate plea for mercy, and is insistent that the ship will be destroyed. He is an unmoving force, and the script does him proud by having him speak as little as possible. That fact, along with his few mighty and sinister proclamations make him a great villain, but some of his line readings are just great. “The destruction of your ship has been delayed,” had me laughing and sighing in relief in equal measure.

Yeah, Balok is great, but get ready for him to take the cinematic shaft...

 

There’s tons of great moments in “The Corbomite Maneuver” that I can’t really do justice to, but the last thing that really needs discussed is the ending. I’ve never really said it, but one of my biggest problems with the series is their inability to wrap things up in a really significant satisfying way. “What Are Little Girls Made Of?,” “Charlie X” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” had really great endings, but for the most part, no other episode has really wrapped up in a way that is particularly interesting or satisfying. “The Corbomite Maneuver” sadly does not offer a great ending either, with an odd revelation of Balok being baby Clint Howard, and just wanting to test the moral mettle of the Enterprise, which is an interesting, albeit frustrating finale. It makes sense that another civilization would want to test the humans for the likelihood of coexistence, but the stalemate seems like an odd way to get this done. For the most part though, it’s a solid finale, with a nice uplifting note about cooperation and the meeting of cultures.

I still would have liked to see some real aliens though…

Random Notes

“If I jumped every time a light came on around here, I’d end up talking to myself.”

I understand that Bailey is there to show that he isn’t ready for command, but everyone is a real dick to him. I would think that they might be a little more accommodating, but he should really know not to fuck with Spock.

As far as a sense of mounting hysteria goes, this might be the best episode for it.

I’m really glad to get that one “Futurama” Kip/Balok joke now.

Next Up: “The Menagerie” in one super special double write up. Read it with someone you love.

An Update

So, were moving through the season not quite as quickly as I would like, but we’re making progress. “Star Trek” has pretty quickly gone from being a relic to something more organic, entertaining and endlessly frustrating.

I just finished my internship, so posts should be coming more frequently in the next couple weeks, so stayed tuned for that. I just finished “The Corbomite Maneuver,” so a write up of that is coming soon, and there’s some fun things to talk about there. After that is “The Menagerie,” where I’m going to write both parts up in one super-special-original-pilot moment for all y’all scattered masses.

So that’s where it’s at. “The Corbomite Manuever” will be up late tomorrow or early Wednesday and I expect “The Menagerie” to be up by Friday.

Tell your friends, spread the word because I would like to see my page views go up and reaffirm my crushing need for self-affirmation.