Star Trek: The Original Series Recaps Episode 41: “Obsession” and call me First Officer Spock

Kirk_and_Rizzo

There are certain plots that feel like quintessential Star Trek: powerful, near godlike aliens lack compassion, negotiating a fragile treaty with the enemy, encountering strange diseases and conditions that change the way characters see each other and, above all, those goddamn space clouds.

The gaseous entity in the depths of space is one of Star Trek’s hoariest cliches but it’s also one that can be hard to remember exactly how many times you’ve seen it. It just feels familiar, like you’ve watched it a million times. I can remember a handful of appearances of the trope in The Next Generation and the Original Series, and if I took the time, I could probably come up with another handful before I finished my drink.

“Obsession” doesn’t do a lot to differentiate itself from what comes before it but like so many of The Original Series’ less ambitious efforts, it lives and dies on the charisma and performances of its cast. In that arena, “Obsession” excels. It’s a great showcase of Will Shatner’s unique style and performances and Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley both perform ably as well.

On a routine mission, Kirk, Spock and some doomed Red-Shirts are testing some tritanium deposits before a mysterious gas makes an appearance and the captain gets paranoid. Kirk remembers a particular smell and evacuates the planet but not before all but one crew member succumbs to a deadly, semi-sentient gas.

What follows is mostly a bug hunt. Kirk wants to blow off a scheduled meeting in order to make sure the Enterprise can destroy the gas and Spock and McCoy try to gauge their captain’s sanity and whether or not they can trust him to make the right decision.

“Nemesis” is a tense but lethargic episode. A lot is made of Kirk’s first encounter with the gas cloud on his first assignment as well as his relationship with a crewman whose father died during the cloud’s previous encounter but both do little other than to expand on Kirk’s belief that he needs to redeem his former indecisiveness. The meat of the episode is in Spock and McCoy’s questioning over whether Kirk needs to be removed from command. It’s interesting stuff. Both characters vastly agree that the cloud needs to be destroyed but know that the more time spent hunting it, the more danger they put a colony in. It’s a very Star Trek moral conundrum, but not an ineffective one.

Spock_and_McCoy_Obsession

It’s easy to draw comparisons between “Obsession” and Star Trek’s marginally more memorable tale of revenge and the greater good deferred, “The Wrath of Khan” and both are playing on the same themes. Like in the film, Kirk’s desire to restore his own honor is putting thousands in jeopardy and the episode vastly acknowledges how his crew feels about the captain’s, well, obsession. They’re frightened and on edge, increasingly drawn into Kirk’s mounting hysteria in a believable way. What differentiates the two is that while “Wrath of Khan” is decidedly Kirk’s story, this is more the story of Kirk’s crew, his history as a captain and an officer, as well as the potential trauma he could inflict on the next generation of Star Fleet officers.

I don’t dislike “Obsession” by any means. It’s just Star Trek at its most rigidly formulaic and it skates by on small charms. It’s certainly not the series most memorable or distinguished episode but much like Kirk’s first impression with a certain cloud, it serves as something of a sign for greater, more important things to come.

Next up: One of the Original Series worst episodes finally rears its ugly head as we sink into the horrors of “Wolf in the Fold.”

Episode 40 – “The Deadly Years” and false teeth speak false truths

the_deadly_years_072I feel like the whole, “people turn old but, like, really really fast” is a classic TV sci-fi trope. It feels like it’s been done on countless shows. I mean, hell, The Next Generation did it. We know where it’s going and we know how the status quo is going to be (hint, it’s probably going to end up ok.

“The Deadly Years” doesn’t really do a whole lot with the premise but it’s not a terrible episode. It’s a silly one. A really silly one. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov and a whole bunch of totally inessential crew people beam down to Gamma Hydra IV on a routine resupply mission when our great Russian comic relief encounters a dead body and loses his shit like an elegant Victorian lady preparing to faint dead away. Next thing you know, the triumvirate is aging rapidly.

There’s a lot of poor judgement going on in “The Deadly Years.” Moments after coming across a group of rapidly aged scientists, Kirk decides to bring the whole group aboard, not really caring if this disease is going to impact the whole ship. It doesn’t impact really anyone other than Kirk, Spock, McCoy and an ensign, so I guess that worked out ok, but Kirk’s played smarter. Way back in “Miri,” Kirk stranded the rest of the group on the planet until a solution to the problem could be figured out. That’s the way to deal with a problem.

The real problem with this episode is a paper-thin villain. Commodore Stocker is the typical Starfleet employee. He’s got a place to go and Kirk’s not getting there fast enough. He starts out as a rational enough guy, asking Spock to take Kirk out of command but he rapidly spirals out of control and lands in Incompetent Town. When he inevitably takes command, it’s an utter but totally expected shit-show and it lacks tons of dramatic impact.

The_Deadly_Years_117One of the best things about the episode is the make-up. It’s gradual where it could have been gaudy, with Kirk sporting some grey hairs before the plot even announces the effects of the radiation sickness. Nimoy plays Spock’s aging subtly as well, with the Vulcan feeling cold constantly. McCoy’s get up looks a little heavy but it’s not show-stoppingly bad.

The show-stopper here is really plot based. Stocker calls a competency hearing for Kirk and Spock trots out everyone on board to repeat things we as viewers witnessed just minutes ago. It’s dull and plodding but it’s clear this was supposed to be a moment of pathos. Spock takes no satisfaction in damning his friend and partner and it shows but it’s not that fun or interesting to watch and all it does is advance us to Stocker nonsensically taking the ship through the Neutral Zone and right into a convenient climax with the Romulans.

ariane179254_StarTrek_2x12_TheDeadlyYears_0921The team figures out that Chekov, who should have been infected with the disease, was able to waive it off with a handy blast of adrenaline and inject themselves with what looks like Kool-Aid mixed with cheap schnapps and are able to save the ship just in time. It’s a fun moment, with Kirk playing off a senior moment from earlier in the episode and calling back to a maneuver that once got them out of trouble, and it ends the episode on something of a high note after a notably ho-hum hour.

Random Notes

Kirk’s love interest this time is Dr. Janet Wallace, an ex of the good captain who makes a really strange joke about being into older men. It leads to one of Kirk’s better retorts in a while.

“I’m not a magician, Spock, just an old country doctor!’

Sulu’s here. He does stuff. He’s not entirely interchangeable with Chekov.

Next Up: “Obsession” which, I don’t know, sounds like an early 2000s ABC nighttime soap.

Episode 38 – “Journey to Babel” and all the hobgoblins are bleeding green

“Journey to Babel” is an episode that’s considerably more interesting when looking at it as a piece of the Star Trek universe than as an individual episode in its own right. There’s some neat world building here, with hints of the Federation’s policy on accepting new planets, but the big gain is the introduction of Sarek, one of the Federation’s greatest heroes and a legend on Vulcan.

Also, he’s Spock’s dad.

The episode really blows that load a little early with an attempt at raising tension when Sarek and Amanda enter the Enterprise and we never really get much of a sense as to why Spock and his father are at odds. Sarek makes a reference to his son’s refusal to enter the Vulcan Science Academy but he’s working as an Ambassador for Vulcan and a valued member of the Federation. It doesn’t seem like he’s done too much to differentiate himself either.

In all honesty, the plot is pretty inconsequential and aimless. On a mission of diplomacy for a planet that wishes to join the Federation, one of the ambassadors is murdered and all evidence points to Sarek. Strangely, everyone pretty much forgets about this fact when the Vulcan diplomat has a really convenient heart attack and the episode suddenly becomes about a really trite situation where Spock may have to let his father die.

It all feels a bit too much like a mix between an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” and an afterschool special. We all know that Spock is going to be able to save his dad and somehow the ship will be able to defeat the Andorian ship but it just feels like we’re just waiting for Spock to go under the knife. I feel like this is the sort of episode that The Next Generation would have handled much better, milking the distrust between ambassadors for more tension than the drama between father and son.

This isn’t a bad episode but it is a dull and pretty dry one. The interesting parts are all skimmed by in order to give some overly touchy-feely exposition about Spock. If it weren’t for the host of colorful characters in the meeting room early on, this is an episode that would disappear from my memory in a week’s time.

Random Thoughts

I like that McCoy is given a lot to do in this episode. He’s operating, making sure that Kirk, Spock and Sarek all stay under his watchful eye and, what’s better, does it all with a smile. He even gets a fairly funny final joke to cap the episode off with.

Sulu’s nowhere to be seen. Instead, Chekov gets to say “wessel” several times.

In the scene where Kirk fights Teleth, he pretty clearly is stabbed in the lower back, right above the left side of his hip. Why then, does he continually touch around his nipples when indicating he is in pain? Also, the bandage is wrapped really high up on his torso.

So, Sarek’s kind of a huge dick to his wife, right?

Next Up: “Friday’s Child” draws the Enterprise into only their second meeting with the Klingons and I’ll get a song stuck in my head. Wait, which song were you thinking of?

Episode 37- “Metamorphosis” and revenge of the energy glob sex monsters

While watching “Metamorphosis” a 4:11 a.m. I immediately was reminded of Martin Starr’s Roman from Showtime’s beloved “Party Down.” The blogger, screenwriter and hard sci-fi fanatic was known for his hatred of all things dragons, lightsabers, FTL drives and Hollywood remakes, and he would have despised this episode.

By the end of “Metamorphosis,” I realized there was room for another classification of sci-fi, something I’m calling “squishy sci-fi.” Characterized by a focus on man on alien sex, emotion based problem solving and “The Matrix” style love-conquers-all resolutions, this genre is essentially the all magic cousin of a genre that features time dilation and warp drives.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this take on the genre, it just has a different feel, a different style and it just doesn’t fit well when its mixed with its considerably more serious cousin. That’s the cardinal sin of “Metamorphosis,” written by Star Trek veteran Gene L. Coon, it tries to balance the tricky world of emotional resolutions with the needs for a very hard story hook.

As Kirk, Spock and Bones help to transport a Federation dignitary to the Enterprise to treat her for a sickness while she works out a peace agreement between two planets approaching war. As they approach the rendezvous point with the ship they’re gripped by an astral force that drags them to an asteroid. There we meet up with the man who proves to be Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive and apparently the most naive man to ever revolutionize space travel.

The episode starts to collapse pretty much immediately after he reveals himself to be the science legend. We then find out that Cochrane is around 150 years, can telepathically speak to a spectral glob of astro goo and pretty much doesn’t understand what human relationships are. As Kirk observes him interact with the Companion he immediately senses that the Companion loves Cochrane although the scientist has never possibly considered this to be a thing.

After a lot of scenery chewing (seriously, the counselor out hams Shatner in the first 10 minutes when she starts randomly screaming and crying), the sort of crux of of this episode that’s also pretty much the crux of another identical episode we just watched. Kirk and company find out that the Companion is keeping them on the planet in an attempt to keep Cochrane company because, y’know, he’s a child. Kirk has to bust out his trademark “we’re not happy unless we’re free” speech and hope for the best with the horny astral glob and then things just keep getting weirder and weirder.

As it becomes increasingly clear that the Companion is fully intent on keeping her love on the asteroid to live eternally as her reluctant lover. Kirk’s argument makes less and less sense in the context of a fair and accepting galaxy. In the modern social environment his rant feels a little racist and more than a fair bit homophobic but even without a modern perspective, its a bizarre moment in the Captain’s rhetoric.

Then things keep going off the rails.

Taking Kirk’s speech in the most literal way possible, the Companion decides to merge with the dying Councilor Hedford so that she can be in love with Cochrane. Now that the energy cloud that was obsessed with him is in a semi-foxy body, he’s fine staying on the asteroid if she and him can die on the asteroid together. The decision is solely one trying to retroactively prove Kirk’s speech true for story reasons and the resolution of the impending war between planets is swept under the rug in a single sentence from Kirk that somehow manages to put all women down.

“Metamorphosis” is weak, no doubt about it and its not even that I’m against this sort of style. I think “The Matrix Revolutions” is underrated. I kind of like the finale of Battlestar Galactica. I’ve got nothing against squishy sci-fi. I am, however, against nonsensical and repetitive speeches, poorly written established characters and a general lack of polish in an episode that feels like a retread before it even picks up.

Random Thoughts

Seriously, the women playing the Councilor is terrible.

Seriously, Kirk is super sexist in this one.

Next Up: “Journey to Babel” which I doubt will have any Biblical references, at all.

Episode 36: “I, Mudd” and Kirk shows off what he learned in Theater 101

I hate Harry Mudd. He isn’t a character that I love to hate, its not a character that I’m supposed to hate and it isn’t that I don’t get him. The fact is that Mudd is such an obnoxious relic and his previous appearance is one of the worst episodes of TOS and definitely the worst episode of the first season.

I didn’t want to watch “I, Mudd,” the scheming turd’s return to the show before his single appearance in the animated series. I knew I was in for another episode of moustasche twirling villainy, really off-putting sexual politics and what I have to assume was intended to be humor. On pretty much all parts, I was right but here, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed. Well, until the final half hour.

After an Android takes over the Enterprise in a sequence that is pretty much the writers just shrugging, Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura and Chekov are dragged down to a Class K planet filled with androids. There, Mudd has escaped from his imprisonment, designed a bunch of foxy female androids for dubious purposes and rules in what appears to be a total lack of authority. To make things real awkward and to foreshadow the episode’s conclusion really clearly, he’s even built an android that looks like his abandoned wife for his amusement.

Mudd’s lured Kirk down to the planet in an attempt to steal the ship and finally escape the planet but the androids have other plans. They begin to abandon Mudd on the planet and warp up on the Enterprise, planning to study humanity. Mudd, Kirk and company slowly come up with a plan to get off the planet by, you guessed it, talking the androids into realizing that their actions are illogical.

Up to here, I kind of liked “I, Mudd.” This is a really traditional episode of TOS, with lots of bright colors, really goofy set designs, girls in revealing outfits and hammy overacting. I love this sort of stuff and its what makes Kirk’s time at the helm so memorable and iconic. Sure, Mudd’s unidentifiable accent fades in and out and changes randomly at times but its all something you can ignore.

That all changes as the crew figures out how to breakout. They decide to go with the sort of disreputable idea that humans cannot be happy without being free and decide that the only way to beat out the androids is to show the power of imagination and the way that it can trump logic. It doesn’t make a ton of sense when you think about it and the frolicking and play acting they do in an attempt to overload the Norman model is so confusing, surreal and strange that its hard to figure out how it could possibly do anything.

The final act pretty much feels like watching the worst college improv troupe you can imagine. There’s hand slapping as objects are invisible objects are handed off, a terribly timed baseball routine and entirely too much ridiculous Shakespearean-meets-“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” style deaths to be anything more than the lowest of camp. Its embarrassing and downright painful to watch and what hurts the most is seeing it work in beating back the androids.

Much better is the way that Spock deals with the situation. A simple turn of phrase is all it takes to confuse a pair of androids and incapacitate them, allowing his compatriots to take down the leader. Its artful and smart and exactly what we want to see from Spock.

Much like Mudd’s first appearance, the episode tries to end with a really strong joke and once again, I don’t really know what they were going for. In “I, Mudd,” the rogue is left on the planet to be berated by his android-wives until he can escape. I understand why this is supposed to be funny and ridiculously sexist but I don’t really understand why the writers thought we would think it to be funny. Are we supposed to view Mudd as a cad and pervert who deserves to be berated? Are we supposed to think he’s cheated on his wife by fucking a couple hundred robots? Are we supposed to think its funny just because he was outsmarted by Kirk? Despite all of my complaints, Mudd has never been developed enough as a character, much less a villain, that I feel like he deserves any sort of punishment for his actions.

“I, Mudd” is a lot of what I like about the original run of Star Trek and a lot of what I can’t stand. Its rife with awkward sexual politics, poorly thought out villains and not particularly satisfying resolutions but it has all the color, design and charm that I love. By no means is it a classic, but its a fair entry in a series that always is fun to watch.

Random Thoughts

They actually used  twins for most of the duplicated robots in this episode. That’s neat.

Sulu’s here for all of 30 seconds. I guess the writers wanted more Yakov Smirnov style jokes about Russians.

Shatner does the comedy in this episode particularly well. The scene where everyone says that things aren’t looking good is a lot of fun.

Next Up: “Metamorphosis” teaches us everything we ever wanted to know but were too afraid to ask about the guy who created the warp drive.

Episode 35: “Catspaw” and horror done catastrophically wrong

One of my biggest pop culture weaknesses is sci-fi/horror. I love derelict freighters, loose killer aliens, science experiments gone wrong, unexplained phenomena, invasions, and time travel mishaps. There’s something intriguing about the way the future presents constant new situations for how the unknown is going to murder the hell out of us.

That being said, there has to be a solid foundation in realism for the premise to hold true. There’s a reason people remember the “Alien” series but not the misguided and mostly terrible “Pandorum;” one features a thoroughly realized world with a loose, near unstoppable threat that picks off people in a comforting but fresh way, while the other features a bunch of poorly explained barbarians shooting poison darts at that freshly unthawed douche bag from “Six Feet Under.”

Horror only works when there’s a solid sense of place. We have to believe in the very real so that the unreal elements have impact. The world of “Terminator” is extremely familiar to our own, but the appearance of the Terminator makes him a violent and unstoppable force that feels innately foreign and wrong. This sense of world building is what separates good horror from bad.

It’s also what separates “What Little Girls are Made of?” and “Catspaw,” the two true horror one shots we’ve had so far in The Original Series. Both penned by Lovecraft acolyte Robert Bloch, “Catspaw” fails in both the realm of horror as well as creating an intriguing story for the series.

Only one of those episodes features this.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy are set to be on a rescue mission from the start, as Sulu and Scotty have gone missing on a previously charted planet. Communication is blocked, so the triumvirate is left with no choice but to beam down to the planet to hunt for their compatriots. From the landing, things are bad. Smoke seeps through the bottom of the frame, and Spock and the Enterprise are getting conflicting readings on what life forms are on the planet. There’s some conflict, but the group decides to press onto a mysterious castle in the distance, but first they have to run across a trio of what appear to be straight-out-of “Macbeth” witches who warn Kirk about a curse that’s affecting the ship.

It is all downhill from here.

The thing is, the atmosphere for all of this works pretty well. It’s a dark and shadowy opening with hints of old school horror and just the necessary expected shocks that make this kind of b-list schlock work. All of that successful atmosphere work changes when the group gets to the castle, where everything quickly turns into an interplanetary episode of Scoobie Doo.

Long story short, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are led down a trap door by a cat where they are held hostage by a space wizard named Korob who is mind controlling Sulu and Scotty and communicating psychically with his cat, who’s also a foxy shapeshifting lady demon. How much of this makes sense? Hardly any. We are told that the wizard and his familiar are recent invaders to the planet and that they are somehow projecting traditional Earth images in an attempt to frighten Kirk and McCoy, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense. Can they read minds? It’s hinted that they have researched Earth extensively, but their information refers to the times before star travel.

Maybe the scariest part of this episode is how odd this perspective shot is.

So, it all comes down to the ultimate writer short cut, where it all ends up being a test. Sylvia and Korob seem to have a plan of some sort and after imprisoning McCoy and Spock in the dungeon, Sylvia does what all foxy women of the Star Trek universe do and tries to seduce Kirk. There are hints of her and Korob’s service to the Old Ones (another callback to “What are Little Girls Made of?”), but the woman seems more intent on experiencing sensations, particularly love. In typical Kirk fashion, the captain manages to get her to reveal her plan, involving stealing something called the transmuter from Korob and escaping with Kirk.

In case you didn't know, this show was made in the '60s.

Knowing that Sylvia is dangerous, Korob breaks the landing party out of the prison and is immediately trampled by a giant cat. Kirk, Spock and McCoy try to escape but are stopped by the still mind controlled Sulu and Scotty. They’re stopped and once again halted by the giant cat. Kirk grabs Korob’s wand and tries to fend the animal off, when, of course, Sylvia appears. Spock warns Kirk that she wants the wand, which is probably the transmuter. Sylvia and Kirk struggle over the wand and Kirk ultimately breaks it, making the castle disappear and revealing Korob and Sylvia to be a pair of small space lobsters that quickly die in the atmosphere.

And that’s it.

Actually, I kind of liked this too.

It feels strange that Bloch was unable to pull together a horror episode for the show, particularly after how successful “What are Little Girls Made of?” was at balancing those two needs. While his first entry feels like a smart sci-fi horror story, Catspaw” would only work for Star Trek, and as such, the episode vastly begins to fall apart when the characters can’t support it. “What are Little Girls Made of?” feels universal, like it could work regardless of what show did it because the story vastly works. “Catspaw” has that sense of very specific content that when the story begins to fall apart and isn’t interesting to begin with, the whole episode suffers as a result.

Random Thoughts

So, is Sylvia also the cat? We never see the two of them together, and we know that she can shapeshift, but that just seems really silly.

“Spock, comment?” “Very bad poetry, Captain.” “A more useful comment, Mr. Spock.”

Next Up: “I, Mudd” and oh shit, he’s back.

Episode 34: “The Doomsday Machine” and honor, insanity and Cthulhu’s planet eating vacuum.

If Star Trek has one single theme, it’s a devotion to a ship and a crew. Every iteration of the show has focused on a group of people coming together to stay together in the face of the unknown. The captains put their crews in the face of an indifferent galaxy constantly and struggle to make sure that everyone survives to fight another day. It’s a romantic set-up that allows for any number of stories to be told. The problem that it presents is a limited number of themes that can actually be explored.

“The Doomsday Machine” is a story you’ve seen before and viewers of the show in the original run had almost certainly seen before. Kirk and the Enterprise answer a distress call to find a single survivor of a cataclysm, the mostly insane and definitely depressed Commodore Matt Decker. His ship was destroyed by the doomsday machine of the title and in a last ditch effort to save his crew, the captain beamed his crew down to a close planet, hoping that they would be able to be saved by Starfleet later. Unfortunately, the fiery toilet paper tube annihilated the planet and the crew, racking the commodore with grief. Kirk orders the survivor back up to the Enterprise while he and Scotty try to fire back up the Constellation.

More dangerous than you'd think.

I’m sure that it’s no surprise to anyone what happens from here. The apocalyptic machine shows back up and starts destroying things, targeting the Enterprise. Spock, in command of the ship, takes strategic action, realizing that they have no way to deactivate the machine without drawing attention to his ship. Naturally, Decker orders the ship to attack and elicits Starfleet bylaws to seize control of the Enterprise and pull the ship into an attack against the unstoppable device.

Spock initially denies Decker attempting to pick up the away team from the Constellation but the commodore is determined to try to destroy the planet killer before it can approach the densely populated Rigel system. Against McCoy’s protesting, Decker takes command and begins launching a fruitless phaser and photon torpedo attack on the machine. There’s a nice character beat with Sulu following orders, knowing the result of the actions will be pointless. He’s essentially a soldier but he knows the folly of the orders he’s receiving. Spock knows that he has an out if he can prove Decker is insane and he bides his time, waiting to relieve the commodore of command.

Plus, he really wanted Decker to stop fondling everything they handed him.

Kirk and crewman-of-the-week Washburn finally start getting shit done on the Constellation, firing up the viewscreen and seeing the Enterprise’s attack on the machine. Kirk tries to get on the horn to talk to his ship but can’t make it. As Decker continues to attack, ignoring Spock’s recommendation to pull away, he begins to note the ineffectiveness and follows the Vulcan’s recommendation to try to escape before they get pulled into the tractor beam. No one knocked on wood, and as Spock says that if Decker ignores orders, he’ll be able to relieve him on grounds of attempted suicide and insanity, the commodore breaks off the attack only to find the ship stuck in the machine’s gravitational pull.

It’s here where we finally have tension. The stuff on the bridge is interesting, mostly for my well documented love of space law and Cosmos C-SPAN, but this is the first great space battle episode since “Balance of Terror.” Sure, it doesn’t have that great cat and mouse game in there, but it’s a lot of fun to see the maneuvering of these crafts in combat. The only problem is still how worn out the setup is. Let’s not fool ourselves, as soon as Decker shows up as the last man, we all know he’s going to sacrifice himself in a way that will either destroy the machine or expose its weakness. We’re pretty much just waiting for this to happen so the climax of the episode can be handed back to Kirk and Spock.

Tell me what Scotty was doing!

Scotty finally activates the Constellation’s impulse engines and Kirk manually draws the ship in to try to draw the planet killer’s attention away from the Enterprise. He fires the one phaser bank that the ship has operational and draws the Galactacus thing away long enough for the Enterprise to break free, only for it to draw it’s attention onto the warp driveless ship. Decker orders that the Enterprise provide a distraction, firing on the machine and pulling away. It appears that they have escaped the device’s range, but the ship’s shields and engines will be offline for a day, while their opponent begins refilling from the debris around it. Decker wants to pull around for another pass, but they finally receive communication from the Constellation.

It’s probably the one moment of brightness to a generally dull and plodding episode to have Kirk get confused as to how Decker has taken control of the ship. He keeps trying to issue orders to Spock only to be blocked by Decker at every turn and the commodore eventually has to cede control to the ship’s first officer. It’s a telling moment for the continued relationship between Spock and Kirk. There’s a trust and a respect there that’s been here the whole series but it ends up really shining when Kirk isn’t able to lead the ship that he loves. It’s a situation where he’s truly powerless and he needs someone to lead in his place.

Decker is relieved and is escorted to sickbay before he breaks away, seizing a shuttlecraft and going for the machine himself. Both the Constellation and the Enterprise try to hail him to no avail. Decker feels like this is what he has to do for his lost crew and we see his sense of honor blend with his insanity and finally break in his moments before he is consumed by the machine. It’s something out of Lovecraftian mind-shattering horror and he manages to play it without veering too far into camp.

Kirk comments that Decker’s sacrifice was for nothing, but he realizes that the commodore may have just needed more power to make his move worth something. He and Scotty rig an explosive to the Constellation, which they plan on piloting into the machine’s tractor beam before beaming off the ship and detonating the bomb from the Enterprise’s bridge. Spock is skeptical, with the ship’s transporters not working at 100% efficiency, but Kirk hasn’t heard a suicidal plan that he didn’t like so he starts getting the ship ready for its suicide run.

This one looks pretty suicidal.

It’s all rather exciting. After Scotty beams off the ship and Kirk pilots the craft into the beam, the Enterprise can’t beam the captain back. Scotty has to make last second repairs before they can bring Kirk back and in the last second, he materializes in the transporter room. It’s a fun little finish and it’s nice to have something like this after what is such a dry and predictable hour.

The last few minutes of the episode are usually where Kirk, Spock and McCoy do some bullshit philosophy and make some jokes at Spock’s expense. This time it’s a little darker. There were really no answers as to where the device came from and all the three can do is hope that there are no more of these machines floating around the galaxy, swallowing planets and ravaging civilizations. It’s a grim ending, particularly for an episode that ends up being considerably more about cosmic horror than an encounter with alien artifacts.

Really, this episode almost serves as a counterpoint to Season 1’s “Arena.” “Arena” posits an Enterprise that can encounter a great unknown and ultimately learn to live in a galaxy with the alien. They can learn from their expansionistic action and make room in the galaxy for everyone. There’s no such out in the admittedly less successful “The Doomsday Machine.” There’s going to be unknown, uncaring, brutal things out there in the universe that don’t care about mercy or peace. They’ll mindlessly destroy until they can’t. It’s a grim episode and it does have the themes Lovecraft and his contemporaries explored when they looked up at the stars and felt only fear.

Random Thoughts

Strangely, there’s no Uhura. I guess that’s what it takes to give Sulu a mini-moment.

Robert Ryan was supposed to play Decker. You know him best as Deke Thorton, who fucked up a bunch of people’s days in “The Wild Bunch.”

Next Up: “Catspaw,” which, well, it’s written by Bloch, and is a Halloween episode, so…

Episode 33: “The Apple” and everything you ever wanted to know but were too afraid to ask about sex.

By 1967, America was in the depths of a weird struggle with sexual identity. Woodstock was coming, the hippies were rising and people were still grappling with Kinsey’s several decades old study on sex. Deviancy was becoming something people were aware of but they were comfortable with so little of it.

Television was one of the places that this struggle manifested itself most clearly. I Dream of Jeannie featured a readily visible navel as well as cleavage and Bewitched featured a man and a woman sleeping in the same bed whose actors were not married in real life. Meanwhile, Glligan’s Island brought a mostly exposed Mary Ann to the screen every week. No one knew how to respond and the shows occasionally faced protest from advertisers and viewers but in a world without more television options, people were stuck with what was on. They were uncomfortable, but didn’t have a choice.

But was America ready for this?

I think this sense of general confusion as to what the new sexual standards in American television were leads to what makes “The Apple” such a bizarre episode. The writers set up to make an episode almost entirely about fucking, realized they couldn’t and ended up creating something much stranger.

So, the Enterprise stops by Gamma Trianguli VI and Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Chekov, Crewwoman of the week/Chekov-love-interest Landon, and a host of soon to be dead red-shirts beam down for a scouting expedition to check out the planet. Things seem to be perfect and McCoy quickly makes the Garden of Eden reference everyone was looking forward to. Naturally, things start getting dangerous and plants are shooting deadly darts into red-shirts and eventually into Spock, who survives only because of his half-Vulcan ancestry. Everyone’s on edge and things only get worse as rocks start showing themselves to be landmines.

The first of four, count them, four, redshirts to die.

Kirk wants to get the crew off of the planet, but Scotty says that something is effecting the ship’s antimatter drive and not only can they not beam back up the team, but it appears that the ship is falling out of orbit and may be coming down to the planet. Kirk and his crew need to figure out what is going to take out the ship.

They get the chance pretty quickly when the crew catches sight of one of the natives. Kirk sets a trap and punches the native who expresses nothing but confusion from the attack. He introduces himself as Akuta, the leader of the feeders of Vaal, and explains to the landing team that his people are lead by Vaal, a sort of God who takes care of the environment as well as the natives. Akuta shows them the dragon-headed god but says that Kirk cannot speak to the deity. The party is led to the village where they are introduced to the other natives, who, because this is Star Trek, don’t understand the idea of love and are puzzled by Kirk’s questions of why there are no children on the planet.

I spent a lot of time wondering if this was William H. Macy.

You’ve probably guessed it by now if you’ve watched any television ever, but particularly any science fiction. Vaal is a computer that provides everything that the people of the planet need and has instilled rules and laws into them that are in keeping with computer programming. The people only do what they need to survive and nothing more. The problem comes once again in the details. Did Vaal spawn the humanoids on the planet? Did they come here and lose their memory of love? Are they a second or third generation of the original settlers and haven’t been taught the ways? Any real attempt to rationalize their lack of knowledge of love or children turns up flat and creates problems with buying into the settlers having had a long-lived society. McCoy is appalled that they are forced to sacrifice their humanity like this to live under Vaal, but Spock believes that the people are healthy and happy with their lives and the crew has no real grounds to try to change the lives of people who seem to be pleased with the way their lives have turned out. It’s an interesting question and one that Star Trek has gone back to many times when the crew comes across a new society very different from their own.

The crew starts to wonder the implications of the society; with Landon questioning what would happen if one of the villagers were killed in an accident, y’know possibly from any number of the super dangerous plants or fucking rocks littering the planet. Spock posits that Vaal would give the people instructions as to how to get a new person into the world, but it sits really funny. The people are so independent that it doesn’t seem like they would understand how all of this would work. It sits even stranger after the next scene when two of the natives see Chekov and Landon kissing. They’re confused at what it is and they suggest that they should just give it a try. They both like it, although it seems confusing. What basis do they have to reference?

Wouldn't it have been easier to just have kept any number of the Yeoman who looked exactly like her instead of getting a new one every couple of episodes?

Intimacy is weird in all cultures. I had a conversation with a girl I was dating about hand-holding, how it’s evolved from parents leading their kids across the street and to keep track of them, but as we get older, it’s like a means of ownership or a displaying of affection for strangers and bitter Star Trek bloggers to gawk at. This can be a strictly Anglican thing though. Different cultures do things differently. I guess close contact between people is generally enjoyed for most people, but would that really be something that a culture that has never experienced love or sex could get into on the first time?

Regardless, the lovebirds get caught by Akuta who starts to get wiser to the interlopers influence on the natives. He decides they need to get their sticks together and start killing some of these blasted spacemen. They exterminate the last red-shirt and Kirk holds them off, ordering Chekov and Landon to keep an eye on them while he and Spock try to deal with Vaal. Spock warns that destroying Vaal would be a huge violation of the Prime Directive but that has never stopped Kirk from helping a society become more like America, I mean Earth, I mean Starfleet, I mean, something.

"Bring it down."

The Enterprise is losing their position in orbit and Kirk believes that Vaal is running out of power, so he orders Scotty to fire the phaser banks at the structure which apparently shuts it all down. Spock declares the computer to be dead and the ship starts to regain the power that Vaal was drawing from it. The villagers are released and Kirk explains to them that they will need to take care of themselves and start fucking to keep that society going. They’re confused but Kirk just tells them, “yeah, you’ll figure it all out,” and then they all leave, hoping that things proceed normally, and that’s about it.

It’s a pretty average episode all things considered. The sexual stuff sits pretty strange and there’s a lot of really weird off-putting humor that seems just a little bit out of place here, but overall, it’s a mostly fun episode that just happens to be a little too close to episodes like “A Taste of Armageddon” and “The Return of the Archons.” All things considered, that’s not a bad group to be in.

Random Notes

Literally every male red-shirt dies in this episode. It’s awesome.

They really try to mine all the humor out of Chekov that they can. I guess that’s what happens when he doesn’t have that terrible fucking wig on.

“Garden of Eden, with landmines.”

Next up: “The Doomsday Machine” which probably has an overly descriptive title.

Episode 31: “The Changeling” and EXTERMINATE!

I hate to say it, but Dr. Who has always been sort of the younger more attention-seeking brother. It wants to be taken seriously and occasionally ends up making a mature and adult point, but for the most part, it ends up being about a quippy extradimensional traveler and his wisecracking pals facing down often-goofy threats. It’s fun and it generally doesn’t take itself too painfully seriously.

The one thing that Dr. Who always did really well was characterizing its greatest threat, the Daleks. The quintessential killer robots, Daleks’ only objective is to “exterminate,” wiping out everything that comes into their path. They’re rarely characterized past their desire to wipe out life, particularly the Timelords and when they do speak, it’s generally to shout “exterminate,” or their plans to exterminate things in the near future.

EXTERMINATE!

The one thing the writers always knew to do with the Daleks was to follow the old adage of the best villains are the ones that talk the least. Sure, they’re alien trashcan robots that roll around, firing laser beams and babbling, but they’re threatening every time. We understand little about them and their motives. We can’t get into their heads and that’s a great thing. They’re here, they want to kill you and that’s all you need to know.

So, that’s the problem with “The Changeling.” Basically, it’s a killer robot that says to much, doesn’t kill enough and generally becomes the center of an incredibly boring episode. After starting a fire exchange with an incredibly small probe, the Enterprise finally makes contact with a talking satellite and beams it aboard for study. That’s where we meet Nomad, a talking computer who makes vague references to “the accident,” “the other” and “sterilization.” Everyone’s suspicious and become more so when Nomad starts acknowledging Kirk as “the creator” and refuses to be studied. Things only get worse when Nomad comes up to the bridge and interrogates Uhura for singing before mind wiping her and killing Scotty.

You know we can't lose this guy.

It’s shocking and I guess it’s nice that they put this sort of conflict this early in the episode, but more or less, it’s a sucker bet. We know Scotty isn’t dead and we know that Uhura will get over her knowledge drain, but it’s tense. It gets better when Nomad ends up reviving Scotty and refuses to repair Uhura’s memory, saying that she’s a damaged “unit.”

Not because she's a woman. It's just because of the whole mind erasing thing.

This is where things go off the rails. We start learning more and more about Nomad’s purpose and creation and what he can and cannot do, and frankly it’s just really goddamn boring. We know that Nomad is a damaged and dangerous unit from the beginning and I know that sooner or later he’s going to go on a killing spree, so every moment that he’s not doing that seems like filler. This isn’t just television hindsight and knowing genre conventions, but is instead something that is apparent from Nomad’s first actions on the bridge.

Not only do these problems nearly cripple the episode, but the parts without Nomad seem unnecessarily draggy. Spock, McCoy and Kirk generally research Nomad and figure out what caused it to be this way after Spock busts out his infamous mind-meld on the machine and that proves to be the most interesting scene of the episode. That may just be because it’s the mind meld, but it also is just a generally tense scene. The rest of the bits where they simply look things up in the library databanks don’t have much punch and prove to just take up time. I was checking out how much of the episode I had left at the 23-minute mark. There’s just nothing going on here.

After an agonizingly long wait, Nomad figures out that Kirk is a lesser being and decides to waste some motherfuckers on his quest to kill all humans on the Enterprise and then set his sights on Earth. Since Kirk can’t fist fight the robot in the engine room, Kirk ambushes him and decides to talk yet another robot to death. He posits that he is not the creator and that by making the mistake of thinking that Kirk is the creator and then by continuing to acknowledge that Kirk is the creator, Nomad has made mistakes and thus may be imperfect. For those counting at home, this is the third computer that the captain talks to death (“What are Little Girls Made of?” and “Return of the Archons” are the two others). Nomad starts smoking and they beam him out into space before he explodes.

Everything wraps up on the bridge with Kirk, McCoy and Spock realizing that Nomad may have had the potential to have a great benefit for the crew and humanity as a whole. His original design was to help and it wasn’t until the accident that Nomad’s purpose was corrupted. Kirk laments that the probe’s power to revive the dead as well as to learn and deal with so many different subjects. He also has a terrible joke about how Nomad was like a child. In a week, I’ll remember that more than the rest of this whole episode.

Random Thoughts

“This unit is different. It is well-ordered.”

“This unit is a woman.” “A mass of conflicting emotions.”

“My son, the doctor.”

I originally wrote a lengthy tirade about Uhura’s reeducation because it really rubs me the wrong way. The scene where Chapel and McCoy look over her as she relearns how to read feels a bit too much like a “white man set them free moment.” For some reason, they also decided to put her in pigtails to emphasize the infantilizing. Ultimately, I just thought it distracted from the main problem of the episode, which is failing to make an episode about killer robots interesting.

Next Up- “Mirror, Mirror,” and let’s face it, we all know it’s another icon.

Episode 30- “Who Mourns for Adonais?” and sweet Jebus, it’s a God-like being episode

If you’ve read almost anything I’ve written here, you may know of my problem with the Enterprise’s near constant contact with the occasionally beneficial, generally mischievous beings with unlimited power. I’ve complained about them (“Errand of Mercy,” “Arena”), occasionally justified their existence (“The Squire of Gothos”) and  raved about them (“Charlie X,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “The Corbomite Maneuver”). The thing is, they’re fucking everywhere.

So,  I feel like I’ve given the same spiel about a thousand times, but the main issue is the fact that most of the time, god-like beings feel a bit like a cheat. They come in, do whatever they feel, are defeated (generally in the same way, since apparently all gods have some sort of weird internal magic battery) and then the crew moves on. It’s fun, but that’s about it.

So, yeah, guess what I'm going to bitch about.

That’s the basic problem with “Who Mourns for Adonais?” It’s an episode I feel like I’ve seen before but I didn’t think about that at all while watching it. I generally enjoyed it, but there’s nothing very original and a really strangely muddled message, but that comes later.

It certainly starts with one of the most surreal openings for the show. The  Enterprise is coming up to Pollux IV, when a giant green hand grabs a hold of the ship, holding it in space. Soon, there’s a giant floating head reciting human mythology in a pretentious monologue that would make Chris Carter blush and he’s drawing Kirk and a landing party, sans Spock, down to the planet.

Certainly one of the more surreal openings for an episode.

Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Chekov, and crewman-of-the-week/Scotty-love-interest, Carolyn Palamas, an anthropology expert, beam on to the planet to deal with the being. He’s dressed as a traditional Greek god and claims to be Apollo. He says that it has been thousands of years since he has dealt with humans and is glad to see those who may worship him.

I think the hair and vacant facial expressions are even the same as "Space Seed."

Of course, Kirk bows to no man and refuses to follow Apollo’s wishes, even as the God brings Palamas closer to him and strikes Scotty with lightning. The problems start to compound when Apollo ends up taking Palamas with him intending to make her a God.

Kirk knows that the only way to get his party off the planet and to save the Enterprise is to figure out the source of the God’s power and do all they can to defeat him.

Now this is both where I got hooked on and started getting a little confused about this episode. It’s suggested by Kirk that Apollo and the rest of the Greek pantheon were extradimensional travelers that arrived on earth and ended up being treated as gods by the ancient people. Ultimately, the rise of Christianity and science brought people to reject the old gods. With no one to worship them, they retreated back to the stars where they slowly faded without the adoration of the masses.

Let the adoration commence.

So all of that’s interesting enough and I’m sure the History Channel is currently touting some version of this as near fact, but the issue is that the episode makes this more and less important than it should be. The writers want to have it both ways at making this an episode about man’s rejection of religion and acceptance of the coming times but they also want just kind of a fun episode about another super powered man-child and his obsession with a buxom crew member.

All of this is made more agonizingly clear in the scenes between Palamas and Apollo. The whole thing is written to emphasize the relationship between humans attraction to the unknown and reeks of the similar situation between Khan and the crew-women of the week in “Space Seed.” Like in the season one episode, the woman mostly appears as weak as possible and as supplemental to the man. It’s required of the story, sure, but it also has a strange worshipful underpinning, partially because of the nature of Apollo’s status, but it still has a weird read.

Until this part. This part was pretty cool.

Like in “Charlie X” and “The Squire of Gothos,” Kirk realizes that they need to force Apollo to overextend his energy source. It helps that Spock has been figuring out a way to overcome the hand and force field around the area to strike at the temple. Meanwhile, Kirk convinces Palamas to spurn Apollo, ultimately driving him to unleash his powers in full force. He returns to the temple just in time to watch as phaser fire rips into the building, ultimately leading him to reject his plans for worship and return to whatever cosmic home there is for the lost gods.

As I said, its kind of a neat episode despite the god-like being just the message is kind of an issue. The writing is never clear enough either way to find out if we should be reading into this one way or the other, There’s enough talk on the death of gods and human kind’s relationship with the divine and abandoning faith in the name of progress that it’s hard to ignore in the grand scheme of the episode. Ultimately, it’s one of the better episodes of it’s kind, but the message and the overly surreal aspects turn the whole thing perilously close to camp.

Random Thoughts

Right up there with “Mudd’s Women,” this might be one of the most hateful episodes toward women. Kirk and McCoy have a really odd talk about Palamas on the bridge and how she’ll get married and leave Starfleet. This doesn’t sit well when put next to the scenes between her and Apollo.

Apparently, Chekov is 22 and pretty much the new cadet on the Enterprise. Kirk gets some interesting jibes off of him.

“And I am the Tsar of all the Russias!”

“Insults are effective only where emotions are present.”

You’d think that the Adonais would be a Greek character, but the episode is named for a Shelley poem. Strangely, they don’t use that version of Adonais and instead go for the Hebrew translation of “Adonis,” which means “gods.” I just knew the Shelley poem.

Next Up: “The Changeling” which, yeah, I wonder what’s going to happen.