So, it’s been months since I updated this and I feel pretty bad about it. As an apology and a Kwanzaa gift, here are three abbreviated recaps. I feel extra bad because two of these episodes are pretty solid.
“This Side of Paradise” is the classic sci-fi love episode that I discussed briefly in “The Naked Time.” Something weird happens and everybody does stuff they normally wouldn’t like fall in love. This time, spores make the normally implacable Spock fall in love with an old flame from Earth. McCoy gets lethargic on a weird biological research planet that shouldn’t have been able to support life and everybody has to figure out what is going wrong. And by that I mean Kirk.
There’s not a lot to say. It’s a pretty average episode, and Spock being emotional is always odd, but this is one of those episodes that feel like it could be cut in half. The resolution with Kirk and Spock fighting is pretty fun, but beyond that, we’re all just waiting for the denouement.
The final scene is a great character moment for Spock as well, when he confronts his momentary lover and talks about how it could never be. There’s always been a lot of talk about how Kirk could never have a full time wife because he is married to the Enterprise, but Spock has a similar devotion to the captain and to his duty. He needs to be there, and he needs to see the five-year mission through.
“This Side of Paradise” is a lark and not a particularly good one at that, but as usual, I like all Spock heavy stuff and this episode really provides.
It’s a shame to cover “The Devil in the Dark” like this because it is really a pretty stellar episode. A mining operation is on the verge of shutting down due to the attacks of a monster in the cave system. Kirk and company get brought into solve the problem and immediately go on the offensive, sending much of the crew in to go after the beast.
What’s weird about the episode is how fast the threat is resolved. Spock and Kirk find the Horta pretty quickly and the rest of the episode is spent trying to figure out the alien’s motives and stave off the miners who want to kill it. There’s some awkward stuff where Spock mind-melds with the alien despite the fact that it should be burning the ever-living shit out of his hands, but its all pretty excusable because the whole thing is so genuinely entertaining.
In all honesty, “The Devil in the Dark” is in my top 5 episodes of the series easily. There’s a great turn, astounding set work, and a genuine threat that isn’t human. This is one of the first times that the Enterprise is really dealing with the unknown, and it is astounding how well this can play out when done well.
Then, there’s “Errand of Mercy,” which despite not being as good as “The Devil in the Dark” is going to net quite a few more words. I’ve discussed ad nauseum world building in the Star Trek universe, and this one works even better than previous champion “Birds of Prey.” It’s a great example of expanding the universe flawed by an inferior storyline with a lame ending, but there are moments that really pop.
Kirk and Spock find themselves harassing the Klingon fleet, a race that the Federation seems to be warring with for years. Kirk is on a mission to convert the nearby planet of Organia to side with the Federation so they can have an upper hand on the conflict with the Klingons, however they are attempting to take the planet as well.
This is a pure Kirk and Spock episode, as they together attempt negotiations while dodging Klingon forces without the rest of the landing party and it proves their continued strength as the characters of the series. Working together rather than providing opposing viewpoints highlights their relationship and makes this an utterly watchable episode.
The Klingons also manage to be a great enemy and a great presence all around. Kor manages to be both a dark mirror for Kirk while maintaining a similar goal, the advancement of an empire. Like “Birds of Prey,” “Errand of Mercy” represents the writers taking on the contemporary issue of nationalism and the continued imperialism going on in the ‘60s. Both nations seek to gain the upper hand, not even considering the fates of the nations they seek to subvert in the process.
Its not just vaguely-liberal political discourse though. There’s also Kirk and Spock blowing ammo dumps up, bitch. It’s a pretty high action episode, with torture, stealth and death dealing all around, but it all kind of buckles under the weight of the stuff with the council. From the beginning, they are too odd to take seriously, and viewers have nothing to expect but a turn from them, so when they end up being the god-like beings of the week, its not as much of a surprise as it probably was intended to be.
I probably like this episode a lot more than I should just for the stuff between Kirk and Kor, but this is a good not great episode. I know the Klingons become a bigger part of the series as a whole as things go on and this is a pretty great introduction. Nonetheless, the continual reliance on dues ex machina is a goddamn shame.
“I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” Is there anything else I really can add?
Next Up: “The Alternative Factor” which I’ve heard has some ridiculous special effects. Expect it in a couple of days. You can believe me this time. Really.