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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.