Episode 28- “Operation – Annihilate!” and coming full circle
Since this project started almost a year ago, I’ve gotten into other corners of the science fiction universe. I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, jumped into the remake of Dr. Who, nearly finished Battlestar Galactica and continue watching and rewatching The X-Files until there is quite literally nothing new left to explore. Delving into cult shows is a thrill, it’s both exciting and difficult, having to adapt to different rhythms and figure out the voice that the showrunners are trying to portray. Many cult shows, Star Trek included, get off to a rough start and that’s what we love about them. It feels like those who persevere are the only ones that are privy to the light at the end of the tunnel.
So, it’s a little fitting that we complete the journey with “Operation – Annihilate!” If the first season of Star Trek were made today, “The City on the Edge of Forever” would have almost certainly been the season finale, but instead we get a tossed off monster of the week episode, for lack of a better word. That being said, it’s kind of fun, but to me this is an episode that demonstrates perfectly what it’s like to become a devotee to a show that I would never have cared about one year ago.
The Enterprise approaches the planet of Deneva and after failing to make contact with the planet’s inhabitants, Kirk grows concerned. His brother, Sam, and his family is on the planet but before he can start with the rash decision making he enjoys so much, Spock informs him of a rash of space insanity that has been crossing through the area and seems to have the planet in it’s path. Suddenly a ship flies by and before Kirk can intercept it, the craft flies into the sun, leaving behind only cryptic words on how it’s pilot is finally free.
Kirk decides to investigate and organizes a landing party to check out the planet. After being attacked by those who are infected with the space madness, they eventually find Kirk’s brother. Because the producer’s thought we wouldn’t apparently buy into Jim’s brother not looking exactly the same, he is played by Shatner wearing a fake moustache. I wish I were joking.
Sam’s dead and Aurelan, his wife, is in great pain. She explains to Kirk that something has been trying to get into the barricaded room and has already attacked her. She explains that these creatures are ordering everyone they sting to help them to build a space ship so they can leave the planet and continue to infect other systems with their space madness. She dies and the rest of the landing party searches the area to find the creatures, eventually locating them in an abandoned hanger. Made of what appears to be coagulated Jell-O and pancake batter, the aliens hang from the ceiling, buzz, and take extremely high amounts of phaser fire before acknowledging that they feel pain. The team collects a sample and leave, but Spock is stung by one of the creatures.
From here, it’s a pretty typical sci-fi story that I feel like the show has done in some manner before. McCoy figures out that the sting of the creatures implants some sort of impulse in the host, making them want to help out in the building and infecting them with RAGE. Spock breaks out of the sick bay and tries to take the ship back down to Deneva and after he is denied, he tries to procure a way down in the transporter. On Kirk’s orders, he’s stopped but when the captain shows up, Spock tells him that he is going down to collect samples. Since he’s already infected, Kirk says something along the lines of “hey, what’s the worst that could happen?”
So Spock goes back down to the planet and comes to the realization that the space goops are all essentially operating as a hive mind, all serving the greater purpose of space ship building and space madness effecting. Kirk thinks it all makes sense and so that’s just how it goes. McCoy’s efforts in the lab to kill the creatures continue to fail because no one puts two and two together with the whole ship flying into the sun thing, partially because they’ve got a whole hour to fucking kill.
Really, that’s the problem with the whole episode. We’ve got a situation that seems really odd and complicated but by just throwing all the clues together, one realizes that the sun is the key. Of course, it takes the crew a hell of a lot longer to figure that out, and by the time they test it out on Spock, they end up blinding him with ultraviolet light.
This leads to the McCoy and Spock moment you may or may not be waiting for. As the Enterprise starts putting up satellites to ray ultraviolet light on the planet and kill the rest of the aliens, Bones mourns his mistakes, saying that Spock was the best first officer that the ship could have had and wishing that he would have treated the Vulcan better, especially when he realizes that the test could have been conducted without blinding his partner.
Ultimately the creatures die, everyone stands around the bridge and Spock’s sight is cured because that’s what happens on this show. There’s some bit about Spock forgetting he had another set of eyelids or something which seems really cheap, but whatever. This has never been a show that inflicts episode-to-episode pain on its characters. They all smile, joke about how McCoy cared about Spock all along and plot a course to next season.
So, it’s a decent enough episode. The threat is pretty campy and the special effects with the monsters on strings are laughable at best, but it’s a lot of fun. I’ve said before that what makes Star Trek work isn’t the monsters or even the story. It’s the earnestness with which it is delivered. No one doubts that this all looks pretty terrible or that the two emotional punches of Kirk’s nephew or Spock going blind isn’t overkill but they just go with it. At this point, you either care about the characters enough to hang on or you don’t.
For me, that’s what’s made the whole show work. There’s an infinite universe and for all the audience cares, there’s just one ship floating around it, checking out all the strangest oddities the galaxy has to offer. It’s a universe built as needed and it works. Coming into Star Trek and looking for the coherency that has built a legion of fans is folly, because it was a universe that was constantly being built in. This wasn’t a show with a bible or a built in finale, but one where the audience was discovering it as the showrunners were. It’s a rare thrill on television and it is something that still connects with a jaded television viewer like myself.
So then, this is the end of the first season. When I originally started, I figured this would be where it all came to a close. Of course, I then ended up buying the rest of the series, all the movies on Blu-Ray, and the J.J. Abrams reboot. So, well, let’s keep going. I’m going to go straight on to season 2 and maybe take a short break for The Motion Picture and Wrath of Khan and try to fit the reboot in somewhere over the summer.