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.

I have mixed feelings about you, dad!: 35 fathers to think twice about celebrating

I get sick of seeing the lists that come out every year about “great TV” dads or “WORST TV DADS” (the capital letters say that this is both funny and original). I’m a man who likes moral ambiguity, who enjoys the fact that no one lives in absolutes. I also abhor really dull lists. Hopefully, this isn’t one of them.

1. John Marston – “Red Dead Redemption”

Rockstar finally created their best game and one of the best games of this console generation with Red Dead Redemption and wrote their most well developed character with father, rancher and bounty hunter John Marston. The former outlaw turned government blackmailed killer is a complex man looking for redemption but the amount of blood on his hands is ultimately what damns him to his fate. John’s not a good man, just one trying to do his best.

2. Walter White – “Breaking Bad”

The great debate that will rage years after Breaking Bad goes off the air will be what Walt’s motive was by the time the show entered its third and fourth season. Was Walt motivated by continually protecting his family and providing for his daughter or was his moral corruption all in the name of giving himself even more control and power in a life where he once thought he had none?

3. Wayne Malloy – “The Riches”

Eddie Izzard’s fast talking, sarcastic ass kicker was the driving force of the somewhat hit-and-miss FX comedy-drama “The Riches” and his motivation to have his own life constantly puts his own goals before the best of his family. He steals, fights, lies and gambles, solely to escape the fate he thinks has been decreed for him yet the feelings he has for his children and wife are the only bit of earnestness and truth he ever shows.

4. Reed Richards – Fantastic Four and FF

Reed and Sue Richards may be some of the most respected scientists and heroes of the Marvel Universe but great parents they are not. Whether its accidentally letting a witch babysit their Omega-level son, abandoning Franklin to deal with Norman Osbourne and Venom during Dark Reign or just sort of letting The Thing deal with their kid rather than parent him, Reed Richards might be a great scientist but he may be the epitome of the absentee parent.

5. Admiral James T. Kirk – “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”

Speaking of absentee fathers, Kirk isn’t exactly the worst. It appears that he didn’t exactly know about his son but in the race to hold onto genesis and fight off his archenemy, Kirk finds out that he still has value both as a man, a soldier, a friend and a father.

6. Captain Walker – The Who’s “Tommy”

The father of the album’s eponymous messianic figure, the Captain returns home only to murder his wife’s lover and cause his son’s deafness, dumbness and blindness. Making matters worse, he leaves his son to be bullied by his cousin and molested by his uncle. The captain disappears from the record after “Tommy, Can You Hear Me” so the best we can really say about him is that he’s not quite as awful as Uncle Ernie.

7-12. The dads of the Pride – Runaways

Whether they’re homicidal mob bosses, turn of the century time travelers turned gang leaders, alien traitors, black magicians, child abusing inventors or telepathic mind-meddling mutants, the fathers of the children who would become the Runaways were willing to kill billions in order to save their children. The twist that concludes Brian Vaughn’s first run of Runaways finally gives the Pride the characterization that deeply enriches the characters and makes the villains just as sympathetic as their heroic children.

13. The protagonist – Cursive’s “The Ugly Organ”

Admittedly, the way that Cursive presents the protagonist from their landmark album “The Ugly Organ” marks him as a man who is a victim of the infidelities and minor tragedies that people inflict on him. That being said, there’s a sense of self pity, a sense that he knows that somewhere in the past, he knows he may be serving pittance for his crimes. On “Sierra,” he faces the life that another man has in his place, taking care of a daughter that doesn’t even know who her father is. Things might be looking up by the end, where he does step away from the edge rather than end it all.

14. Darth Vader – Star Wars

He’s a dark lord of the Sith who has tried off and on to kill or corrupt his son and ignore his daughter. He does have his moment of redemption a second too late to save his own life and succumbs to his injuries in his sons arms but ultimately, he’s another absentee dad who killed probably a few too many younglings.

15. Cancer Man – “The X-Files”

Let’s run down some of Cancer Man’s crimes real quick: killing JFK, killing MLK, fixing the NBA finals, ordering the kill on the first EBE the world comes in contact with, ordering the hit on Mulder’s father, ordering the hit on X, ordering the hit on Deep Throat, using the alien rebels to kill off the rest of the Syndicate,  attempting to kill both of his sons on multiple occasions, attempting to kill Krycek on about 45 different occasions, blackmailing Scully, blackmailing Skinner, controlling AD Kersh, surrendering the planet to the Aliens and writing really bad novels. That being said, he thinks he’s helping to save the human race, helps save Scully’s life and gives the best speech about boxes of chocolates ever. Cancer Man is an appallingly bad father but as a man, he’s wonderfully focused on the greater good and he’s so broken and personally ruined that its hard not to sympathize with him.

16-35. Every Disney Father

Everyone of these guys are near incompetent single fathers who are alternatively unable to control their children or offer them any usable advice. Its not so much that they’re irresponsible, its just that they’re barely functional as people, much less ones who should be raising others, yet they’re heaped with praise and unearned affection by their children.

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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 – Boldly Going Where We’ve Already Been and building a universe you could actually stay in.

It’s 1987. Science fiction has had its heyday. “Star Wars” had become the biggest spectacle of the late ’70s and had recreated the summer movie with “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” The Twilight Zone relaunch had brought surreal pseudo-science fiction to the mainstream, for an audience that didn’t care about Cylons and stormtroopers. Battlestar Galactica brought the thrill of Star Wars into a campy TV program with a microscopic budget and a host of mythology, while the 1980 remake flopped but showed a desire for more of that kind of serialized programming. British programming like The Prisoner and decades old Dr. Who serials were becoming somewhat less rare in the States.

Hard, focused science fiction wasn’t the only place that the medium was shaping the cultural landscape. Undeniably creepy robot-girl sitcom Small Wonder had just begun and was receiving critical accolades as well as pulling in crazy ratings. The early ’80s boom of raunch comedies had run its course and producers that still wanted to cash in on the genre had to branch out, leading to films like “Short Circuit” and “Zapped!”

You did not want to be watching this.

Yep, business was booming for science fiction and there was one thing to thank for it. Star Trek: The Original Series had bloomed into a full-blown phenomenon by the time it ended up on syndication after having its budget raped by CBS in the third season. The ’70s ended up being the time for Star Trek to truly bloom into a cult phenomenon, with conventions, an animated series and merchandising out the ass. The fan reaction denied the creation of Roddenberry’s beloved Star Trek: Phase 2, but lead to a few things even better, ideally 4 Star Trek movies. For fans, it was a property that kept giving, with a show that had long since stopped producing new episodes, giving new, deeper, more mature stories, dealing with their characters facing new challenge.

It also led to the second greatest sci-fi film ever.

As any fan of Star Trek would (or should) tell you, they really should have stopped with “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” but this was 1987. We still didn’t know that someone would let Shatner direct a sequel and that would include a Total Recall-esque three-boobed woman, spaceships that were actually God and, sigh, Spock’s brother.

Sure, eventually we had to get to the seventh or eighth worst sci-fi film ever.

Really, it was an issue of money. Production of additional movies were running up against a wall as Nimoy and Shatner were demanding crazy salaries from Paramount for the Star Trek films and the studio’s desire to continue cashing in on the franchise was tempered by that greed. Roddenberry, figuring the only way to continue the franchise on television was a new cast, a new Enterprise and a new final frontier. Hence, Star Trek: The Next Generation was born.

In all its '80s glory.

I’ve debated this many times, but The Next Generation might be the best iteration of Star Trek. That’s not to say it’s my favorite, as I vastly prefer The Original Series and I might even like Deep Space Nine better, but there is an unmistakable sense of quality to the whole series. It’s often whip smart with (mostly) great characters, well developed plots and a universe that was being filled in more fully after every episode. Yeah, it lacks the fun and swashbuckling of the Original Series, but it more than makes up for that with adult storylines, general intelligence and a sense of style that could never have been maintained on Shatner’s Enterprise.

Picking up about 100 years after the conclusion of the Original Series, the world of The Next Generation is vastly different than the last universe we explored. The Federation is a more established and respected force than the one we last saw and their actions are more focused on utopian ideals. Starfleet is helping colonists terraform planets, supporting scientists, solving mysteries and asking questions first before shooting much much later. The galaxy is still a dangerous place, but it’s a very known place. They know what they’re dealing with and they’ve made peace with it. Former enemies are welcomed, human colonization of the outer rim is constant and respect for everyone has now become part of the fold.

We're cool with these guys now.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the bridge of the new Enterprise. Where once, Kirk was elevated over his helmsman, while his scientists, communication experts and guests flanked him, now the captain sits in the center, flanked by his first officer and an adviser, while security and other assorted personnel stands above him on the com. It’s a place where everyone is respected, where the captain isn’t so much in charge, as a respected leader. He’s not shooting first; he’s gathering opinions, making decisions, asking for research and finally making a move. This isn’t a place for cowboys, it’s a place for the Magellan of the stars.

That's right, make Troi stand.

In other words, it’s a place for Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the new, steadfast Prime Directive following commanding officer of the brand new top of the line Enterprise. His adviser, Councilor Deanna Troi, a half-Betazoid telepath who serves as the ship’s psychiatrist, and his security chief Tasha Yar, a violent and disturbed human from a dangerous border world, joins him. His tactical officer Worf, a Klingon raised away from the Empire, advises on combat situations. Geordi, a blind human who can see with the aid of a visor that leaves him in constant pain, and Data, an android who lacks the ability to feel emotions but has an encyclopedic knowledge of the galaxy, serve as the helmsman. By the end of the first episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” we’re also joined by first officer William Riker, a womanizing hotshot in the Kirk mold, Doctor Beverly Crusher, a grieving widow with some unresolved issues with Picard, and her son Wesley, a genius Mary Sue who quickly is put on the Chosen-One story arc.

It’s a large crew with considerably more characterization in the first episode than many of the background players in the Original Series ever received. One of the many nice things that the pilot of The Next Generation did immediately was treat all of these characters with a base amount of respect without paying too much attention to any of them really. It’s an ensemble show, and the first season mostly tries to give each character a chance to shine, although Tasha Yar takes the shaft a little more than the rest (more on that later).

The pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint” doesn’t do anything too special. It introduces us to the new crew, the holodeck, the fact that the ship can apparently detach the saucer and the base and Q, an extradimensional god-like being who essentially plays the role of a playful Metron, judging humanity and casting scorn upon the race’s history of barbarianism. He puts Picard and the crew on trial, forcing them to prove that they have evolved with a challenge. The challenge itself is something of a mess and the episode itself is thoroughly unremarkable. It’s nice that Deforest Kelley makes a guest appearance as an aging Dr. McCoy, which helps bridge the gap between the two series and the stuff with the trial and Q is interesting enough, if fairly familiar. There’s an innocent alien to be released and a people that have to be taught of their misdeeds. For a change, the Prime Directive is brought up right away and we’re introduced to Picard as someone who needs the rules and the organization that Starfleet can give him. He beats Q on the god’s terms and is able to save his crew. It’s a bit long, being an hour and a half, but it works well enough.

Some of it doesn't.

There’s no reason to really run through the whole first season, as interesting as it is, but it’s worth examining what makes The Next Generation different from the other series and the parts that do and don’t work. The first season of the show is generally regarded as pretty terrible and it would be pretty hard to argue with that assertion. The Next Generation had a lot of growing pains to get through before it could become something interesting, but there are a few truly great moments. It’s just that the terrible moments are a lot funnier.

One of the things that really sets the first season apart is the way that the writers almost crafted an episode around every character. Each one more or less gets a chance to further introduce themselves to us as people and it does bring a great sense of community but the flaws show up immediately with the characters that just aren’t that compelling, namely Wesley and Yar.

Wesley’s a Mary Sue of the highest order. He always somehow knows more than all the other characters, sees where their enemies are a few steps ahead and tries to show that he can save everyone despite being shut down by the grown-ups. This isn’t interesting, it’s obnoxious. Wesley’s showcase, “When the Bough Breaks,” features the wunderkind leading children in a form of passive resistance against their radioactive kidnappers and stonewalls his enemies until Picard can rescue them. It’s a moment where we could see what the character could have become, a bright, driven kid who has to do what he can to overcome the challenges he faces. Instead, he’s usually more like the character that we see in “Where No One Has Gone Before” and “Datalore,” where he notices something about a stranger and realizes the truth of what the crew has to do to escape their fate. He’s not trained in how to run or repair a star ship and we’re pretty much just told that he’s a genius and the next thing you know, he’s saving everyone’s life. It’s disappointing more than anything else.

Yar is a flawed character in an entirely different way and that has to do with Dennise Crosby than anything else. She’s not a great actress working with a character that doesn’t ever get a lot to do. She talks about the “rape-gangs” of her home planet, and the one flashback we have to see that society is too short and a little too goofy to be taken as a threat. She says “rape-gangs” a lot and it just ends up being a little funnier than it really should be. Without definition, explanation or the appropriate emotional response from Crosby or anyone around her, we can’t take her seriously. She ends up being way too emotional and flighty which aren’t great traits for a security chief to have and it often leads her into situations that we have trouble believing particularly the cringe worthy scene in “The Naked Now” when she has sex with Data. The one scene we finally have with her where we can look at her as a character is in “The Skin of Evil” when she talks to Worf about an upcoming martial arts tournament, but by that time it’s way too late. Her future on the show was already sealed (more on that again later).

"Hurry, the rape-gang's a comin'!"

The lack of tonal consistency with Tasha Yar’s backstory leads to another one of the more prominent problems with The Next Generation, a subject that The Original Series very rarely ever touched on directly, which is the subject of sex. There is so much fucking sex in the first season of The Next Generation and it is never treated with any sort of consistency. There’s the aforementioned sex scene between Data and Yar and it’s played deadly serious, but it’s such a bizarre plot point. They screw because Tasha wants to, I guess, and then the plot point just disappears. Data has very little response in the climax of “Skin of Evil” and Tasha’s message to him could never be read to accommodate a sexual subtext. The whole thing just sits with the audience while the characters pretend it didn’t exist.

In other places, we have sexed up societies that basically ask a 14 year old if he wants to screw (“Justice”), vaginal hegemonies that bring Riker in as part of a harem (“Angel One”), a world where women are bought as property controllers or can just be kidnapped (“Code of Honor”), arranged marriages and telepathic women who think everyone wants to screw them (“Haven”), flirty jazz loving hologram whores (“11001001”) and French estranged girlfriends who might want to get back together (“We’ll Always Have Paris”). It’s a little much for what is ostensibly an all ages sci-fi show and worse, it’s played in a way that doesn’t treat sex as anything special. It’s aberrant and weird in all the wrong ways. For once, I’m wishing for Kirk’s blatant macking on every woman he comes across.

It’s not all just awkward fucking and women issues though. The Next Generation introduces several new races while sort of forgetting about others. We get a brand new look at Federation/Klingon relations the resistance that the former has at losing some of their cultural history. The Vulcans are pretty much out of the picture, with just one showing up in the dinner scene of “Conspiracy.” The Romulans make a very brief appearance in “The Neutral Zone,” reasserting themselves as the foremost enemy of the Federation and peace in the Alpha Quadrant. The new races are primarily the telepathic Betazoids, who we see only a brief introduction to in “Haven” with the unbelievably obnoxious Lwaxana Troi.

We are still not cool with these guys.

We also meet the dangerous capitalists, the Ferengi, a species of grotesque traders and pirates obsessed with their bottom line and potential avenues of profit. Their two episodes, “The Last Outpost” and “The Battle” don’t treat them particularly well, essentially labeling them as incompetent moneygrubbers and cowards. In a series that has always treated alien races with some modicum of respect, it’s disappointing to be introduced to a new race that is cut down to size in both of their appearances this early in the show.

They're new, they're terrible and you will not give two shits about them.

The last big difference to mention between The Original Series and The Next Generation is the beginning of serialization. By the 1980s, even sitcoms were beginning to integrate continuing story lines and Star Trek’s newest integration was no exception. We have a continuing storyline that more or less helps to flesh out Picard as a character and as a captain, from his early obsessions (“The Big Goodbye”), applying to gain entrance into Starfleet (“Coming of Age”), to his days immediately after leaving the Academy (We’ll Always Have Paris”) to his early heroic action facing his ship (“The Battle”) and all of this finally lets us understand how Picard became the responsible and trustworthy captain that he’s become.

We get a brief serialized element late in the season about the takeover of Starfleet by a hostile outside force. In “Coming of Age,” several Starfleet personnel perform an inspection on the Enterprise, calling many of Picard’s decisions into questions and dong some investigation into the crew’s past adventures. They eventually suggest that the inspections is to see if Picard has become compromised by a part of a Federation wide conspiracy and that many members of the upper echelon may have been compromised. The threat of a takeover looms over the rest of the season and it finds completion in “Conspiracy,” when the Federation is compromised by alien neuro-parasites, featuring a beautiful worm eating climax and a head explosion/chair fusing that feels like a beautiful combination of “Scanners” and “Tokyo Gore Police”. It’s a great, tense, gory episode that is ruined a little by some strange direction and one of the weirdest fight scenes of the franchise, but it beyond deserved to be the season finale.

This action figure molded to a chair cannot express how cool this scene is.

The last thing that really needs mentioning is one of the shows most maligned episodes, “Skin of Evil,” a terrible episode, focused an a near-god-like-being bent on murder and general destruction. After the away party touches down to investigate a downed shuttle that contains Troi, they come face to face with an oily being that demands that the landing team follow orders. In a fit of rage, it hurls Yar across the sands and she just sort of dies. It’s really weird.

The crew bring her up to the ship and Crusher declares her dead. Picard eventually gets Troi off the planet and declares the world forbidden and they eventually go to a memorial service for Yar on the holodeck. She has recorded a message for each of the main crewmembers in the eevent of her death, which is creepily specific in the way that it would have had to probably be updated every couple of months. Everybody has a good cry and that’s it. Worf gets promoted and for the rest of the season, we don’t hear another word about Yar or “rape-gangs.” The whole episode accommodates Crosby’s desire to do other things after she felt like her character didn’t get enough attention on the show, but it’s a cop out. I’m not a fan of Tasha Yar as a character, but she deserved better. She deserved to die, fighting for her crew, but that’s not what we get. It’s weak storytelling designed only to deal with off screen problems and all the seams that are intrinsic in plotting of this type show.

All in all, it’s a deeply flawed first season that despite having some great moments, has no idea what its strengths are. Some of the relationships between the characters are a little overly stiff, primarily the one between Riker and Picard. After I finished the season, I actively questioned how the show lasted past one season. The flaws were so visible and so many of the plots were so visibly recycled from the Original Series that it was hard to ignore, but the moments that work end up working so well. Even better, there’s such a great sense of building a world around an established universe that it is obviously creates a universe that was able to really attract fans. This is the series that created a fan base that has lasted past the show going off the air in any iteration over six years ago.

In place of the usual Random Notes for these episodes, it’s time to give out a variety of awards and not-so awards to the season as a whole, so here we go.

Best Character: Data

Data ends up being the Spock of The Next Generation. Even more than Worf, Data is the true alien of the show. His struggle to fit in and understand human emotions is charming without being overly cloying and his struggle with Lore in “Datalore” is one of the most compelling conflicts of the season, despite its terrible ending.

Worst Character: Deanna Troi

I don’t feel like I can actually count Tasha Yar here because that would be rude. Troi’s problems are so deep. Here telepathic abilities feel like nothing more than being able to read body language and the amount of respect everyone gives her feels so unearned. The problems are only compounded when she becomes the focus in “Haven” and as her mother becomes a minor character she becomes even worse. I can’t care about her and her arranged husband just as I can’t care about her and Riker being former lovers.

Most Badass Moment: A Welcome to Klingon Valhalla – “Heart of Glory.”

One of several Klingon pirates dies on board the Enterprise and his compatriots as well as Worf howl as he passes on, giving the afterlife a warning that a Klingon warrior is entering. Badass.

Most Uncomfortable Moment: A Welcome to Klingon and Human Relations – “Justice”

While on a planet full of justice-obsessed nymphos, Worf describes how humans could not have sex with Klingon without literally destroying them with their massive Klingon penises. It’s so terrible and it ends up sounding like something Tyler the Creator would have written if Odd Future had been really into DS9.

Worst Episode: “Arsenal of Freedom”

You know what I have to say about “Arsenal of Freedom?” It’s damn near the most boring hour of television I’ve ever seen. The plot might not have been able to fill 15 minutes and the padding is so mind numbing that it’s offensive. (Runner Ups: “Angel One,” “Justice,” “Haven,” “The Naked Now”)

Best Episode: “The Big Goodbye”

Smart, fun, tense and a great look at how the writers will later remove all the excitement from the holodeck. The b-story is a little rough, but watching Picard enjoy his fantasy only to watch it all go wrong is exhilarating. (Runner Ups: “Heart of Glory,” “Conspiracy,” We’ll Always Have Paris,” “Symbiosis,” “Datalore”)

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 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.