Episodes 23, 24 & 25- “This Side of Paradise,” “The Devil in the Dark,” and “Errand of Mercy” and apologies all around.

So, it’s been months since I updated this and I feel pretty bad about it. As an apology and a Kwanzaa gift, here are three abbreviated recaps. I feel extra bad because two of these episodes are pretty solid.

 

“This Side of Paradise” is the classic sci-fi love episode that I discussed briefly in “The Naked Time.” Something weird happens and everybody does stuff they normally wouldn’t like fall in love. This time, spores make the normally implacable Spock fall in love with an old flame from Earth. McCoy gets lethargic on a weird biological research planet that shouldn’t have been able to support life and everybody has to figure out what is going wrong. And by that I mean Kirk.

 

This tells you more about this episode than I care to.

There’s not a lot to say. It’s a pretty average episode, and Spock being emotional is always odd, but this is one of those episodes that feel like it could be cut in half. The resolution with Kirk and Spock fighting is pretty fun, but beyond that, we’re all just waiting for the denouement.

 

The final scene is a great character moment for Spock as well, when he confronts his momentary lover and talks about how it could never be. There’s always been a lot of talk about how Kirk could never have a full time wife because he is married to the Enterprise, but Spock has a similar devotion to the captain and to his duty. He needs to be there, and he needs to see the five-year mission through.

 

“This Side of Paradise” is a lark and not a particularly good one at that, but as usual, I like all Spock heavy stuff and this episode really provides.

 

It’s a shame to cover “The Devil in the Dark” like this because it is really a pretty stellar episode. A mining operation is on the verge of shutting down due to the attacks of a monster in the cave system. Kirk and company get brought into solve the problem and immediately go on the offensive, sending much of the crew in to go after the beast.

 

What’s weird about the episode is how fast the threat is resolved. Spock and Kirk find the Horta pretty quickly and the rest of the episode is spent trying to figure out the alien’s motives and stave off the miners who want to kill it. There’s some awkward stuff where Spock mind-melds with the alien despite the fact that it should be burning the ever-living shit out of his hands, but its all pretty excusable because the whole thing is so genuinely entertaining.

 

Murderers or space constipation. Your call.

In all honesty, “The Devil in the Dark” is in my top 5 episodes of the series easily. There’s a great turn, astounding set work, and a genuine threat that isn’t human. This is one of the first times that the Enterprise is really dealing with the unknown, and it is astounding how well this can play out when done well.

 

Then, there’s “Errand of Mercy,” which despite not being as good as “The Devil in the Dark” is going to net quite a few more words. I’ve discussed ad nauseum world building in the Star Trek universe, and this one works even better than previous champion “Birds of Prey.” It’s a great example of expanding the universe flawed by an inferior storyline with a lame ending, but there are moments that really pop.

 

Kirk and Spock find themselves harassing the Klingon fleet, a race that the Federation seems to be warring with for years. Kirk is on a mission to convert the nearby planet of Organia to side with the Federation so they can have an upper hand on the conflict with the Klingons, however they are attempting to take the planet as well.

 

This is a pure Kirk and Spock episode, as they together attempt negotiations while dodging Klingon forces without the rest of the landing party and it proves their continued strength as the characters of the series. Working together rather than providing opposing viewpoints highlights their relationship and makes this an utterly watchable episode.

 

The Klingons also manage to be a great enemy and a great presence all around. Kor manages to be both a dark mirror for Kirk while maintaining a similar goal, the advancement of an empire. Like “Birds of Prey,” “Errand of Mercy” represents the writers taking on the contemporary issue of nationalism and the continued imperialism going on in the ‘60s. Both nations seek to gain the upper hand, not even considering the fates of the nations they seek to subvert in the process.

 

Its not just vaguely-liberal political discourse though. There’s also Kirk and Spock blowing ammo dumps up, bitch. It’s a pretty high action episode, with torture, stealth and death dealing all around, but it all kind of buckles under the weight of the stuff with the council. From the beginning, they are too odd to take seriously, and viewers have nothing to expect but a turn from them, so when they end up being the god-like beings of the week, its not as much of a surprise as it probably was intended to be.

 

A lot better of a character than his facial hair would lead you to believe.

I probably like this episode a lot more than I should just for the stuff between Kirk and Kor, but this is a good not great episode. I know the Klingons become a bigger part of the series as a whole as things go on and this is a pretty great introduction. Nonetheless, the continual reliance on dues ex machina is a goddamn shame.

 

Random Notes

“I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!” Is there anything else I really can add?

Next Up: “The Alternative Factor” which I’ve heard has some ridiculous special effects. Expect it in a couple of days. You can believe me this time. Really.

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Episode 22- “A Taste of Armageddon” and fucking the Prime Directive while holding on to disbelief

When I tell people that I blog about Star Trek, I generally get one of three reactions:

1.Oh, I loved that show-women, generally those I think are attractive. Guys that think I give a shit about their opinions.

2. Huh.-people approximately as apathetic as I am about things I do as I am about things they do.

3. Neat, have you gotten to the episodes where they blow something normal into fucking crazy proportions-people who casually watched Star Trek. People who want to talk to me about “Red Dead Redemption.”

Until now, I really hadn’t stumbled across these episodes. I guess “Miri” is a bit of a stretch and “The Return of the Archons” is only out of proportion because there is not enough background information for us to figure out what the fuck is really happening, but for the most part, the problems fit into the established universe and occasionally mirror conflicts and problems that existed at the time of the episodes airing.

“A Taste of Armageddon” is a game changer, but it’s an ambitious and not entirely unsuccessful one. I want to start by saying that it is legitimately a good episode. Its fun to watch, has an intriguing premise, an interesting moral quandary and a conclusion that doesn’t end up just being a kick to the balls. This needs to be said primarily because the rest of this write-up will be spent tearing this episode apart on minutiae.

The Enterprise is transporting Ambassador Robert Fox to Eminar VII to initiate diplomatic contact with the planet and neighboring star systems, as they approach, they receive a message from the planet to proceed no further. Despite Kirk’s misgivings, the Ambassador pushes for the mission to be completed, and they begin orbit around the planet. Worried about the initial message, Kirk and Spock take a couple security guards and a yeoman down to the planet to see what is going on before the ambassador beams down. Kirk leaves Scotty in charge and heads down to see what is going on.

I wonder if anything terrible is happening here.

They touch down on the planet and are greeted by Mea 3, a government official who takes them to Anan 7, who appears to be one of the leaders of the planet’s council. Anon tells Kirk that Eminar is at war with the neighboring planet of Vendikar, a conflict that has been going on for 500 years. When Anan’s assistants tell him of an attack on the city center, Kirk and Spock are skeptical, not having noticed or heard an explosion and making sure that the Enterprise did not pick up any readings of an attack from the enemy planet.

Anan then explains that the two planets conduct all their fighting with computers, one group launches an attack on the other, whose computers tally up how many people are killed and these casualties report to the mysterious disintegration chambers for their deaths. Anan explains that this long of a conflict has allowed both nations to maintain an economic presence and continue cultural growth. Of course, the problem is now that Kirk has parked his ship in Eminar’s space, they are now valid citizens and have been marked as casualties of the war. Anan confines the landing party, and attempts to bring the crew of the Enterprise down for their execution.

The story breaks in two pretty reasonable plots from here. Scotty and McCoy realize that the voice telling them to come to the planet is an impression of Kirk’s and that whatever awaits them is dangerous. Of course, Ambassador Fox believes that the military men should let him get down to the planet to complete the mission. All the while, Anan continues to plot to bring the Enterprise down, to fulfill the contract with Vindikar, so he launches a series of attacks on the ship. Meanwhile, Kirk, Spock and company are stuck in a cell and need to figure out a way to warn the Enterprise and prevent what is happening to the people of Enimar and Mea, who has been labeled a casualty.

It all gets pretty intense from there. After using his previously unmentioned telekinetic powers, Spock lures in a guard and breaks the landing party out of the cell, where they start blowing up disintegration chambers and freeing casualties alike. Anan attempts to track the group down and Kirk does battle with him before being captured. Spock keeps tearing the hell out of Enimar’s war machine and tries to rescue his commanding officer. Eventually, Ambassador Fox heads down to the planet, where, like McCoy and Scotty said would happen, he is captured and taken for disintegration. I guess this is supposed to be one of those moments we cheer for, but I just kind of thought it was a little dumb.

Do not fuck with Spock. Ever.

The whole episode wraps up in the council room. Kirk has been drug in front of the High Council to bring the Enterprise to the planet for their deaths and to answer for the destruction of the disintegration machines in the complex. When Anan tries to contact the ship, Kirk issues order General Order 24, a Starfleet command that preps a ship to destroy a planet, because little did you know, but everyone just flies around in little Death Stars. Scotty gives no hint that this is a bluff and preps the Enterprise to level every city on Enimar.

With only a few minutes before the casualty deadline with Vendikar is reached, Anan starts to get nervous and Spock shows up to the council room to help Kirk take command. In a dramatic flourish, Kirk follows the Prime Directive to the letter and destroys the machine that tallies death and leaves, explaining to Anan that without the horrors of real war, leaders have no reason to attempt to reach peace. Leaving Ambassador Fox behind to attempt to set up peace between the two planets, the Enterprise leaves for more fabulous adventures.

Don't make me combat roll at you.

Now, although it still seems like such an egregious error, I’m willing to generally overlook Kirk’s dismissal of the central code of Starfleet. He’s a livewire, a guy who plays fast and loose with what his idea of right is, and he wants to shove American, I mean Federation, policies down everyone’s throat. His gambit is necessary to prevent more deaths from occurring, but it is such a major disruption to how two worlds have grown over nearly a millennium that it is something of a huge offense.

That really brings us to the real problem with “A Taste of Armageddon” and the beginning of this write-up, which is mainly that this episode is latently ridiculous. I mean, the disintegration chambers are a pretty good idea, and it is a fairly exciting episode with lots of good Kirk and Spock moments throughout, but the plot hinges on totally ridiculous idea. We are meant to believe that 3 million people die on Eminar every year because of the war with Vendikar. This war has been going on for 500 years. That’s 1.5 billion people. On one side.

Get on the phone and call Vendikar.

I know that the whole episode is a Cold War analogy, but it’s just too much of a stretch. There’s no reason to believe that the two planets would not have attempted to reach something of an agreement at any point in the conflict that was ravaging their planets. I understand that there is a level where we should suspend our disbelief, particularly in symbolic science fiction, but the premise has been stretched beyond the point of belief and it calls the entirety of the episode into question.

“A Taste of Armageddon” is quite good, but it rests on an idea that requires viewers to throw away any form of common sense. It forces you out of the story, which is a major mistake for any fiction, but for one that depends on a diverse crew flying around space solving the universe’s problems, it’s a real killer.

Random Notes

“Our haggis is in the fire for sure.” I get it, you’re Scottish.

“The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank!”

No Sulu.

Spock is a real bad ass in this episode, blowing up disintegration chambers, nerve pinching, and leading disguised troops. Damn, it’s good to be a Vulcan.

Next Up- “This Side of Paradise” which sounds like an episode I’ve already seen. My mind is going.

Episode 20- “The Return of the Archons” and this episode should have started with Roddenberry smoking a cigarette and telling me about morality and machines.

I will forever claim that “The Twilight Zone” is the single most influential television show of all time. The mix of surreal weirdness, Rod Serling’s moral posturing and an obsession with creating startling imagery that managed to fit perfectly in an self-contained mythology. Every genre pushing series that has created owes a debt to “The Twilight Zone” but none owe more than Star Trek.

“The Return of the Archons” shows this debt more prevalently than many others. We once again open not on the Enterprise, but rather with Sulu and one of the crewmembers fleeing through a turn of the century Old West city. Sulu is cornered and before he can beam to safety, he is sparked by a cloak wearing figure and when he makes it to the transporter room, the crewmen starts babbling about “The Body,” and a mysterious “Landru.”

It's go time, bitches.

 

That means it’s go time for Kirk and a really large landing party beam down to Beta III (looking suspiciously/exactly like the town from “Miri”) to take a look around on the planet, and it’s naturally all really weird. People are wondering around tipping their hats to each other and one of them believes they are “from the valley” before inviting them to the festival. It’s all suitably weird, particularly when people start talking about “the Red Hour” and as the clock strikes six, all hell breaks loose. There’s people lighting fires, running around with planks as well as dancing and kissing in the streets. Did you hear that? Just wait until John Lithgow hears about this.

Kirk and company flee into one building and are confronted with Reger, a resistance fighter, as well as a group of people who alternatively worship and fear Landru. After a night of sleep, Landru’s monks attack one member of the safehouse, try to take Kirk away, and eventually leave, but now we have a plot hook.

There’s a lot to love about “The Return of the Archons” but it’s an episode that has the same problems that similar ambitious episodes (“Shore Leave,” “The Man Trap,” “Dagger of the Mind”) where not enough explanation is given to really drive home the threat. Sure, Landru’s holgram shows up and makes the crew pass out, and yes, the scene with all the villagers picking up weapons to come after the convoy is well done, but the information that we need to know is missing. It’s never addressed why a completely controlled society would have twelve hours of chaos every once in a while. It’s not really revealed how things have gotten this bad. It’s not really revealed why Starfleet wants the Enterprise to investigate a crash that happened a fucking century ago. Without any sort of explanation to the really odd shenanigans, it is much harder to buy into the idea that Kirk, Spock and McCoy are in any real danger.

Things do pick up when the guards turn McCoy into a member of the Body. DeForest Kelley really sells the idea of being brainwashed into the kindly old man, and it is creepy enough to give the story a sense of urgency that the B-story about heat rays doesn’t really manage. It’s even effective enough to make the guard’s attempt to brainwash Kirk and Spock into a suitably tense few minutes. Also, any time people yell at a computer until it starts smoking is going to be pretty awesome.

Now talk it out, talk it out...

 

My big selling point on this episode also ends up turning into one of my biggest problems with the episode. At one point, Kirk and Spock bring up the idea of the Prime Directive. I had heard long ago about the Prime Directive by way of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and I had a vague understanding of its’ idea of noninterference in the affairs of a developing planet’s culture. Kirk and Spock argue whether they can rightfully affect a planet that has been ruled by a faux-god-like-benefactor-computer for what appears to be at least a century. It presents interesting questions that are certainly relevant to our culture as a whole, and Kirk agrees with Spock’s initial statement of noninterference, but when it comes time to go kick in the door on Landru, the good captain is willing to sacrifice all of that in what he personally believes is right for the planet as a whole. It is a pretty odd moment, mainly because they start blowing up computers and installing Enterprise crew members as leaders like 15 fucking minutes after they mention the Prime Directive.

It ends up all just being a problem of editing and rewrites. I feel like there was probably a point when “the Red Hour” was explained and there was probably more thought put into putting one random guy on a planet and hoping that he can straighten a century long mess out, but that just isn’t the way it turned out. Instead, “The Return of the Archons” all turns into a visually striking and intrinsically interesting episode of Star Trek, that has unbelievably deep plot holes riddling the whole thing.

Random Notes

More than all the other characters, Spock has the worst costume. Apparently, he’s the Alien-Nun or something. He also sleeps with his eyes open.

One of the crewmen gets hit in the head with a prop rock while running away from the Body. He keeps going. Way to go, crewmember of the week.

Sulu. That is all.

Next Up: “Space Seed which I assum…”KHAAAAN!”

Episode 15- “The Galileo Seven” and the big what-if we’ve been waiting for

 

I understand the love for Spock. Kirk’s desire to do the best for the crew, regardless of the danger or the cost is sort of an old-school television cliché. On a serialized show now, Kirk would have been crushed by his decisions. Spock turns out to be the one we trust more in comparison. He makes decisions based on what is good for the crew, but he makes sacrifices based on what is rational. He works because he has to justify his actions to himself. Spock can do pretty much whatever the script needs him to do, but it has to make sense to him. It seems like an out, but watching Spock work is one of the great pleasures of the series.

With that, “The Galileo Seven” is an episode that equates to little more than a what-if scenario. When Spock takes a crew to explore a mostly uncharted area, disaster quickly befalls the craft and they crash on a foreign planet, without the ability to contact the Enterprise. The Enterprise, however, is also unable to get in contact with the shuttle and has only two days to search for Spock and the remaining crewmembers before they have to make an important rendezvous.

It's the landing party, I mean the complication.

 

Unlike “Balance of Terror,” “The Conscience of the King” or “Shore Leave,” “The Galileo Seven” is more about reactions than it is about actions. The way that Spock and the rest of the crewmates end up on the planet is less important than how Spock handles the situation once he is put in command of the situation. We’re mainly watching people react to trying to survive in a situation without Kirk. The way that Spock is going to handle the situation is drastically different than they were expecting and problems quickly come about when human lives are translated into pounds of dead weight.

I’ve liked Spock since I started watching the series, and moments like this really help to drive why the character is likable. In a series that’s mostly about people exploring the universe, Spock is just about the only alien, and in no way does he really behave like a human. It seems reasonable that this sort of decision would have to come up to really distinguish Spock’s logical approach to be flawed in matters of life and death.

Some of the planet actually looks pretty good for being built on a set.

 

To me, “The Galileo Seven” is an episode that a show would do in about the third or fourth season. It’s the kind of episode that happens when a writer is saddled with an episode and wants to say something profound about a character in a different way. Darin Morgan of “The X-Files” wrote three episodes that took down Mulder in just about every way possible. This seems to be a pretty calculated way to force the viewer to confront Spock’s various failings. It’s odd that this sort of episode would come before one that would confront, say, the captain’s failings, but it seems pretty clear that Spock was rapidly becoming the breakout character of the series, but for the most part it is an interesting examination of one character’s process and failings.

That’s not to say that Spock is the only character that is really looked at. McCoy returns to put a human face on what has happened on Taurus II, and he is certainly less antagonistic than Boma, but he manages to continue to represent the ethical side of the problem and seeks alternative solutions to the deadlier ones that Spock advocates. Scotty is mostly there to do nothing but fix the gas lines as best he can and kind-of-sort-of defend Spock from the increasingly antagonistic crew.

Delightfully, Sulu also has things to do in this episode. I’ve talked about how much I sort of appreciate Sulu’s presence. He’s a very visible character on the bridge. Despite Roddenberry’s hopes for a post race starship, really the only non-Caucasians are Uhura and Sulu. Uhura hasn’t really gotten much to do since about “Charlie X” but Sulu consistently gets to at least play with some ship controls and have a line. What appeals to me about his character is that he’s very similar to Spock in his actions. Sulu has a firm grasp on what needs to be done and does his job without fail. He keeps his emotions out of the bridge, follows orders and acts without a seconds thought. He does have a brief line when Kirk calls off the search, but for the most part, Sulu is a lot like Spock, and he manages to be one of the finer characters on the Enterprise.

Anthropoid smash for equal opportunities on Enterprise!

 

One could probably say that “The Galileo Seven” is one of the weaker episodes of the series. It’s pretty static, a little dull at times and kind of goes over some of the standard Star Trek plots, but I enjoyed it immensely. It’s nice to see the writers really place one character under the microscope so much and manage a question of lives so well.

Random Notes

It’s pretty easy to tell, but there’s only one creature running around all episode. Those Styrofoam rocks eat up a lot of the budget.

I wasn’t aware seven phasers had enough fuel to launch a small space pod. More useful information that just doesn’t seem that true.

Spock gets the best lines of the episode, namely “I am not interested in the opinions of the majority, Mr. Gaetano.”

There’s some pretty terrible fake laughs after Kirk’s joke on the bridge at the end.

A joke that is approximately as bad as one of Uhura's songs.

 

Next Up: “The Squire of Gothos” and stuff like that.

Episode 12- “The Conscience of the King” and a bit of Shakespeare’s melodrama brings madness to the Enterprise

There’s been quite a bit of experimentation on Star Trek since the start. “Mudd’s Women” is obstensibly a comedy. “Miri” is a little bit of a social commentary. “What Are Little Girls Made of?” is something like a horror story. Strangely enough, it takes “The Conscience of the King” to really embrace the series first real root, the space opera, or more importantly, melodrama.

Is it foreshadowing or FORESHADOWING? You be the judge.

 

It comes across immediately, both in the title (a reference to the play scene in “Hamlet”) and the cold open, where viewers are introduced to Anton Karidian, an actor in an adaptation of “Macbeth,” appearing to us during one of the climactic murders of the work. Even though the references are stunningly overt, there is nothing pandering about the usage of Shakespeare, and the story of the episode rises to the challenge of the referenced material.

After viewing the play, a friend of Kirk’s claims that Anton Karidian is actually Kodos the Executioner, a former dictator who violently massacred his starving people on Tarsus IV. Although Kirk plans to investigate the claims, he is smitten by Anton’s beautiful glitter stocking wearing daughter Lenore. The two discover the body of Kirk’s friend while walking in the desert, launching an investigation as to who may be killing the last witnesses to Kodos’ bloody actions.

You can't see the glitter stockings, but believe me, they are there.

 

I’ll say this now; I’m no fan of Shakespeare’s dramas. I think they are overwrought, archaic and valued mostly for their antiquity. However, the influence of his works drives the story of episode in a way that few other writers would have been able to inspire, and it results in the best episode that the series has done yet.

There is a lot going on that just works, but most of it falls on the shoulders of Kirk and, to some degree, Lenore. Their relationship creates the conflict and the crux of the story. We have seen Kirk as a swaggering ladies man before, but this is the first time we have seen him really fall in love. He is initially blown away from Lenore, but his infatuation believably becomes something more, and Shatner really makes this work. It’s easy to hate on him for his hammy scenery chewing ways, but he really delivers in a subtle way in this episode. Lenore also works as more than just a pretty space-face, and manages to be a suitable love, rather than lust, interest.

There’s another strange relationship that really works in this episode, and it just happens to be the conflicting interests of Spock and McCoy. They’ve been at odds for most of the series, with their ribbing being somewhat of a comedic highlight of the series, but for once, they have to work together, without the help of Captain Kirk. Spock is clearly in command between the two, but the scene in the hallway where he attempts to explain his theory to the doctor manages to speak a lot to his character and the way that both characters have the fate of the ship and their friendship with the captain at the front of their minds. It’s a little disappointing that the two don’t end up showing up that much by episode’s end, but the moments they are together really click.

Relationships really set up the plot and the conflicts, but as soon as there is a base to work on, writer Barry Trivers really hands the episode over to Shakespeare. There are a pair of star-crossed lovers, a pair of worried advisors, a guilty brooding king, a misguided-would-be-assassin and a host of lies and false identities. It becomes less of a piece of fiction inspired by Shakespeare, to a full-fledged homage and against all odds, it really pays off.

One of the factors that really help the episode is the use of language. Characters spout out soliloquies about the stars, the place of women, murder and memory at a regular clip throughout the episode, but it all clicks. The whole episode nearly slips when Kirk confronts Anton about his past and the whole thing reverts to mostly silly incoherent and off topic babblings and some of Lenore’s direct “Hamlet” quotes at the end, don’t quite work but it all really sets the drama well. The only piece that comes to mind that has managed this sort of balancing act even close to as well is Rian Johnson’s superb “Brick,” a hardboiled high school noir that creates it’s own language that neatly mashes “The Maltese Falcon” with “A Clockwork Orange.”

By the end, everything is really working together well. Riley’s kinda-sorta misunderstanding of the situation works well as a Shakespearean homage, and Lenore’s reveal mostly works. Like in any Shakespearean play, there’s really no illusion that Lenore was the killer the whole time, particularly in all those scenes with Anton when the only other character that we have met all episode is shot in shadow, but her insanity is believable and her motives put the episode in an even darker place. Anton has some not quite as hammy lines, as he expresses his grief that people continue to die in his name, and his death is handled well.

You don't want to mess with a crazy blonde thespian with a gun.

 

Like I said, this is without a doubt the best episode that the series has managed. There are some great character moments, the action is really great, and the cast and writers manage homage to Shakespeare that never devolves into parody or self-awareness.

Random Notes

“Even in this corner of the galaxy, captain, two plus two equals four.

I’m not too sure if the writers caught it, but there are a bunch of really dumb penis jokes when Lenore talks to Kirk in the green soft light room.

Sulu isn’t in this episode. Surprise, surprise.

Uhura sings in this one, and it didn’t inspire enough rage for me to lose any appreciation here. Well done?

Next Up: “Balance of Terror” which I’ve heard is fucking awesome.

Episodes 10 and 11- “The Menagerie” and making big stories little and then big again.

I feel like one of the most enduring contributions “Star Trek” made to pop culture is the idea of Starfleet, a governing/police body that has essentially become short hand for any sort of ruling space group in fiction. However, until now, I hadn’t seen anything of it, and hadn’t really heard anything about it. In fact, I think this two-parter, “The Menagerie, may include the first mention of the organization.

And they don’t just mention Starfleet, we directly see its influence and powers throughout the episode, both on Starbase 11 as well as during Spock’s court martial. Like in “The Corbomite Maneuver” the world is greatly expanded by these additions and we see the ideas of the influence that humans have in the galaxy and the way that Kirk and his actions on the Enterprise affect many others.

I'm unironically a fan of space government.

 

This sort of theme is required for “The Menagerie” to work, with actions of the past needing to be dealt with and a desire to correct wrongs and take solace being important to everyone affected. The Enterprise receives a call from Starbase 11 to see Captain Pike, the last captain of the Enterprise and Spock’s former commanding officer. However, it is quickly revealed that this is all part of a scheme by Spock to take the now wheelchair bound Captain Pike to Talos IV, a forbidden planet, for undisclosed reasons. He abandons Kirk at the base, seizes control of the Enterprise, and locks the planet’s location in, intent on reaching the site of one of Pike’s mission on the Enterprise.

"If only this highly advanced civilization could make a decent chair. I mean, BEEP."

 

Of course, Kirk catches up to the Enterprise, Spock surrenders the ship and petitions for a  court martial, and shows a tape in his defense of Pike’s mission to Talos IV that he hopes will shed light on the affair. The stakes are high, with Spock’s career and Kirk’s life hanging in the balance, and the episode is as tightly wound as can be. The tape that is shown details Pike’s actions on Talos IV and shows the danger that the super-powerful Talosians have with illusions and mind control, and both stories start to really click. But of course, it all sort of falls apart.

It’s pretty clear that this episode was a money saver more than anything. Spock’s video is the original pilot that Gene Roddenberry filmed, “The Cage,” a rejected episode featuring an almost entirely different cast. Trying to absorb the cost of creating that must-have-been-expensive (check out the giant cannon prop, all the costume changes, and the massive sets and paintings) episode by having it form the backbone of not one but two additional episodes is by no means a bad idea, and the episode is good, but there are a variety of problems that really hold it back and most of them have to deal with Kirk’s Enterprise.

A scene that probably cost more than the first 5 episodes of the original series combined.

 

It’s not that the trial is bad. It has high stakes and is interesting, but nothing really rings true. Here’s Spock, who just last episode reminded everyone “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” putting the whole crew in danger to take Pike to the world’s greatest nursing home. It just doesn’t really work for the character that well, but Spock isn’t really the only one that suffers from some poor writing.

Pike’s condition also is pretty questionable within the context of the story. I understand that for the story to work with Spock continuing to be able to logically rationalize his actions, Pike’s condition needs to be bad enough that the Spock is willing to risk his and Kirk’s life and well being, but the good captain’s condition is a logical mess. I understand that he has been subjected to the mysterious “delta waves” while rescuing children from a space-schoolbus or something, but his wheelchair and condition seems like something a highly advanced society should be able to do a little more with. Are they really only able to allow him to communicate in nothing but yes and no? It seems like they could do a lot more with a person who we are told is still able to think extremely clearly and is very cognizant of his world. So, we’re supposed to think he can barely communicate and do nothing but “move forward a little, and backward a little” would still be a ranking captain and would be able to serve on a jury? It just doesn’t really work to well. I understand why he’s there at the trial thematically, but it doesn’t stand up to even the barest amount of skepticism.

Think about the “Breaking Bad” episodes, “Grilled” and “Bit by a Dead Bee.” Walter and Jesse are initially held hostage by their crazed distributor, Tuco, and as they plot their escape, Tuco’s invalid uncle tries to undermine their attempts by ringing a bell attached to his wheel chair. There’s not a lot he can actually communicate, but he manages to say a lot both there and when he takes a shit on the floor of the police office in the next episode. Ok, maybe not as much there, but it still works for the character. It makes sense that he would not be able to communicate because he obviously does not have the resources to afford technologically advanced speaking programs, and he can’t have a fancy wheel chair because he isn’t in fucking space, yet he still manages to have more of a presence and character than the wheel chair bound Pike.

Kirk suffers some as he tries to play it both ways, as Spock’s friend and ally, as well as a strict disciplinarian and government official and wronged man. He’s had his ship stolen by his second in command, he’s presented by odd information, and he has to serve on a jury that he admits is “the most painful moment in all my service.” It’s understandable that he would be conflicted, but the episode is devoted to not letting him really maintain a single emotion of any sort. He’s stuck being a doing whatever the script really required him to do.

This is really the problem with both of these episodes. There are two really interesting stories going on here, and they would work ok on their own, and combining them initially seems to work really well, but it feels like no one really thought about all of the holes that combining the stories would expose.

There are of course problems with the Talos IV story to level as well, namely with the extent of the Talosian’s powers. We’re led to believe that they can create any illusion that they desire, and they do it well, particularly when they trick the landing team into believing that they failed to blow up the door while there is actually a massive gap in the cave system, but believing that they can project Mendez both onto the Enterprise for the trial as well as put him in the transporter with Kirk all the way from Starbase 11.

I'm sure they can see it from their Flintstones TV. The future is pretty great like that.

 

Also, it brings up odd questions about communications with Spock. Were the Talosians working with Spock? That seems like what we were supposed to believe, but it most definitely seems like that would be illegal and probably noticeable by someone who is in charge of communication, like I don’t know, maybe Uhura.

"What, huh, I mean, hailing frequencies open. Uh, wait, never mind..."

 

The ending is also really odd, but you were expecting that. After Spock has taken out Starbase officials, stolen a space ship, led the crew to a forbidden planet and put himself and his captain in grave danger, he is let off without any charges. It seems like there would be some kind of penalty for all these crimes, regardless of how good the intentions were. It of course, just ends up being more proof that this episode could have used just one more proofreading.

There are really good moments of these episodes though as well. Spock manages a great acting moment when he requests the information on the transporter’s gas, showing that despite his intentions, he knows that he needs to rescue his friend, despite hoping that Kirk would have turned back to Starbase 11. Also, Pike has one of those parts I always like in his cabin in the video where he just wishes to go back to his space-ranch to live out the rest of his space-rancher days.

It's the best parts of a domed city with the fun parts of picnics with ranch hand Rita Sue.

 

With an episode like this, it’s inevitable to think about what “Star Trek” would have been if “The Cage” (the original pilot that is mostly shown during the trial) had been accepted. It is a pretty solid episode, but it is unbelievably cold. Pike is pretty dismissive, and he doesn’t have that warmness that Kirk exudes effortlessly, but some of that may just be that this is the first episode. The characters are obviously not fleshed out that well (check out Spock’s ear-to-ear smile when he touches the blue vibrating leaf), so there are going to be some problems, but most of the characters are hard to connect with in a way that makes the show just off putting. It is interesting to see a woman in the second in command spot, and it’s nice to see a yeoman who doesn’t look like a space pin-up. With some time, the show would have probably become an endearing piece of pop culture, but “Where No Man Has Gone Before” manages a sense of warmness and camaraderie in it’s first moments of 3D chess that “The Cage” couldn’t match in it’s entire running time. It really drives home how nice it is to have characters like Spock, McCoy and Sulu, who really end up being a lot of the sense of family that the show is famous for that the original pilot really lacks. It certainly doesn’t help that “The Cage” has been cut to shit for “The Menagerie,” but I can’t imagine that we are missing anything that would really redefine the way that the characters are viewed.

It’s nice to see where the show came from and how it became the “Star Trek” that is known and loved, and it’s a really neat idea for an episode, but it just falls apart as soon as it’s looked at in the slightest. It’s a shame, but it is what it is. And I’m glad it’s over.

Random Notes

Pike’s fight in the coluseum fits into my classic hatred of fantasy fights that end with someone having a thrown sword stab into them. It’s so “Krull” bad that it’s embarrassing for everyone.

The costuming for the Talosians is pretty solid, namely with their pulsing brains and comic-book style jewelry. Actually this whole episode is really good for old classic sci-fi trappings, particularly for the paintings in all of the backgrounds.

I’m glad that this is the first appearance of the dancing green alien girl. If Kirk were here, totally different episode, let me tell ya’.

Sulu is gone. I’m keeping track now.

I think this is the first time we hear Spock’s actual Starfleet title. He’s a science officer, which I guess makes sense, although I haven’t really seen him do anything scientific in particular.

Next Up: “The Conscience of the King” which I assume will be rabble rabble nobility rabble rabble duty rabble rabble honor.

Episode 9- “The Corbomite Maneuver” and World Building, hot coffee and the joy of a purpose.

There’s a point in “The Corbomite Maneuver” when Kirk finally states the purpose of the mission of the Enterprise. He says, “The mission of the Enterprise is to seek out and contact alien life.” In this moment, “Star Trek” finally gains much of the traction and promise that I’ve been waiting for. There is finally a purpose. There are goals that need to be met, and, ostensibly, governments that send ships out on these missions. There is a world all around the crew of the ship, where anything can happen, and often does.

The series has finally been gaining a sense of increasing weight. In a recent episode, we finally learned a little more about the Vulcans and their constant desire to avoid emotion. It does wonders to know a little more about Spock as a character and to realize that there are many civilizations out there that we, as viewers have not seen and experienced yet. It really helps to add on to the sense of the space western, where the Enterprise is charging into the unknown, finding a new world, and having to come to terms with the threats and cultures that it meets.

The meeting of cultures is really what drives “The Corbomite Maneuver,” and it is a superb hook. While charting stars, the Enterprise comes across a giant glowing cube that blocks them for days, after destroying it when it exposes the ship to radiation, the Enterprise comes across the imposing Fesarius, a giant yellow and black planet sized space ship, and its imposing commander, Balok, who determines that the Enterprise is to be destroyed for trespassing and destroying the beacon. It’s a misunderstanding, but made difficult by Balok’s insistence that the Enterprise will be destroyed, regardless of the pleading of the quickly hysterical Kirk.

One radioactive beacon holds the Enterprise away from total annihilation.

 

It’s a great episode for driving home the idea of the space western. Both ships are at an impasse, and nothing Kirk will say can save his ship from utter annihilation. It’s a tense episode, full of gripping dialogue as the characters try to escape their fates, as well as deal with the minutiae of the crew and the problems at hand.

This episode was (according to the internet) one of the first produced, which shows that the writers were all for this kind of tense storytelling from the beginning. It’s nice to see their devotion to the crew having to deal with aliens and the unknown in equal measures, and it is equally refreshing to finally see Sulu and Scotty again, as well as Rand. And it’s nice to have these characters here, because for the first time since maybe (sigh) “Mudd’s Women,” we finally have a need for the crew to work together to solve a life-threatening problem.

"Your intention is not peaceful."

 

And they all (for the most part) get to shine. Sulu is great, having to cover for random crewmember of the week, Lieutenant Bailey on the bridge. McCoy has a couple of fantastic antagonistic moments with Kirk about Bailey and manages a couple of great exchanges with Spock, which has increasingly become some of my favorite moments of the series. Spock probably gets the best parts, in a few of his exchanges with Kirk, his insistence that he get to see Balok, and his insistence that they will probably die, because that is the most logical course of action that the events can follow. The only characters that really take the shaft are Scotty, who just doesn’t really get that much to do besides make fun of Spock, and Rand, who is just there to be Rand, and bring coffee while they await Balok’s reply to their bluff. Other than that, the whole crew manages to really help lend some additional weight to the events.

Guess what Uhura gets to do. No, guess.

 

It helps that Balok is a pretty fantastic threat as well. He ignores the Enterprise’s pretty legitimate plea for mercy, and is insistent that the ship will be destroyed. He is an unmoving force, and the script does him proud by having him speak as little as possible. That fact, along with his few mighty and sinister proclamations make him a great villain, but some of his line readings are just great. “The destruction of your ship has been delayed,” had me laughing and sighing in relief in equal measure.

Yeah, Balok is great, but get ready for him to take the cinematic shaft...

 

There’s tons of great moments in “The Corbomite Maneuver” that I can’t really do justice to, but the last thing that really needs discussed is the ending. I’ve never really said it, but one of my biggest problems with the series is their inability to wrap things up in a really significant satisfying way. “What Are Little Girls Made Of?,” “Charlie X” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” had really great endings, but for the most part, no other episode has really wrapped up in a way that is particularly interesting or satisfying. “The Corbomite Maneuver” sadly does not offer a great ending either, with an odd revelation of Balok being baby Clint Howard, and just wanting to test the moral mettle of the Enterprise, which is an interesting, albeit frustrating finale. It makes sense that another civilization would want to test the humans for the likelihood of coexistence, but the stalemate seems like an odd way to get this done. For the most part though, it’s a solid finale, with a nice uplifting note about cooperation and the meeting of cultures.

I still would have liked to see some real aliens though…

Random Notes

“If I jumped every time a light came on around here, I’d end up talking to myself.”

I understand that Bailey is there to show that he isn’t ready for command, but everyone is a real dick to him. I would think that they might be a little more accommodating, but he should really know not to fuck with Spock.

As far as a sense of mounting hysteria goes, this might be the best episode for it.

I’m really glad to get that one “Futurama” Kip/Balok joke now.

Next Up: “The Menagerie” in one super special double write up. Read it with someone you love.

Episode 8-“Dagger of the Mind” Space Christmas parties, crazed doctors and an awkwardly shoved in “Inception” reference.

I have long contested that “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the finest piece of fiction ever published. It’s a novel that can be attacked in a variety of ways, but everything keeps going back to control. More than anything, the world that Orwell created is one where people are held, watched and examined for every second of their lives, where even rebellion, love and a desire to break free are controlled ideas under the purview of the state.

Although the most memorable part of the work may be near the conclusion when Winston is rehabilitated by O’Brien through his greatest fears, the part that always worked the best for me were much more mundane. I was always interested in how completely Winston could change history by editing pictures, changing text and deleting phrases in books, rearranging memory and leaving behind no trace of error on the part of the government. He reroutes the collective conscious and continuously secures the government’s place at the top, destroying hope, passion and people’s very lives.

Memory is a powerful thing. It’s a marketing device, a form of comfort, a mostly correct diary of our lives and many more things, but it is intrinsically mutable, changing at whims and eroding over time. It makes us uniquely us, but it is considerably harder to hold down or hold onto than any other factor of our personalities.

“Dagger of the Mind” deals with memory and control in a round about way, but it doesn’t seem like that as it begins. While dropping off supplies on the prison planet Tantalus V, an inmate sneaks aboard, knocking out crewmembers and generally trying to make his way to the bridge. He is sedated, and upon study, McCoy comes to the conclusion that the prisoner’s mad babblings about horrible experiments and mind control on the planet may have a seed of truth to them.

Kirk receives word from Dr. Adams, Tantalus’ warden and physician (I think), that the inmate is another doctor who’s experiment went totally wrong and he invites Kirk to come down to the planet to conduct an investigation on the happenings, and in this episode’s no-way-is-he-going-to-fucking-fall-for-that-again moment, he tells Kirk to come without a security detail and with a minimal number of crew members. Being the wily, unbelievably gullible captain that he is, Kirk requests that McCoy give him a psychiatrist as well, and he delivers with Dr. Noel, another beautiful space doctor who had what appears to be a brief fling with Kirk at the Space Christmas Party… in SPACE.

"There is no way anything bad can hapen to you if you continue to go on missions alone. Now check out this cool stuff!"

Of course, nothing is quite right on Tantalus V, with prisoners mostly being blank, emotionless blobs, having overly symbolic names, and playing with lasers that burn out memories. Yeah, if you can’t figure out where this is going by now, I don’t think you’ve watched television in a couple decades.

“Dagger of the Mind” isn’t bad and it manages a couple of really great moments that we’ll get to later, but there are some intrinsic problems as soon as we touch down on the planet, the first and greatest of which is Dr. Noel. After looking it up, I found that the woman who played Rand was getting ready to quit the show, and the writers scrambled to cook up foxy leads for Kirk to hit on, but this is such an odd pairing. Noel is initially so critical and antagonistic towards Kirk that I assumed she was a spy or some sort of traitor. It especially doesn’t make sense when she blatantly was flirting with him the scene before. I understand the need to have someone go to the planet with Kirk, but why did it have to be such an odd one that we almost surely will never see again? Much like Nurse Chapel, in “What Are Little Girls Made of?,” Noel really doesn’t bring much of a personality for Kirk to play off of, and he ends up just kind of blank.

The other immediate problem is the threat in the form of Dr. Adams. Adams initially appears to be almost a read herring in the grand tradition of “Scooby Doo.” He’s the only character they meet, and he’s very dismissive of Kirk’s questions, except when he needs to be overly polite and accommodating. So, it’s really no surprise when he starts torturing Kirk and rewriting his memories, but he just doesn’t really click as much of an antagonist. What is his goal in rewriting Kirk’s memories so that he loves Noel? There doesn’t seem like much of a goal, so the stakes are unbelievably low. We see the effects of what the light can do on the escaped doctor on the Enterprise and on the patients on the planet, but without much of a plan in mind, it’s hard to take Adams as much of a real threat to Kirk and his crew. I guess the writers thought that the idea of rewriting memories would be creepy or effective enough and decided to leave it at that, but it just doesn’t really work too well.

"Stay out of my mine/memory erasing penal colony, you kids!"

The thing is, most of the other stuff in this episode is just fantastic. Shatner does some great work as Kirk is tortured into getting rid of his phaser and communicator as well as when he tries to fight off the new memories. The fight scenes at the end also have a really great sense of “fuck yes,” as Kirk slaps Adams around and escapes the torture chamber. Noel also contributes to what might be the first onscreen death of the series, and there is a real genuine sense of danger to her trying to elude guards and turn off the station’s power.

And then there’s Spock and what I assume to be the fabled Vulcan Mind Meld. It’s really a great suitably weird sequence, with the mad doctor and Spock referring to themselves as “us” and McCoy’s skepticism of the practice. It’s a surreal moment, but it really sets a great counter to the torture scenes.

"Let me feel you..."

I feel like the writers had a couple of really great ideas for “Dagger of the Mind,” namely torture, memory wipes, escaped crazed doctors and Vulcan Mind Melds and then realized they had to write a story that put all of these elements together. At times, it almost feels like two episodes instead of one really interesting one. I enjoyed it well enough, but it could have really been so much better.

Random Notes

I spent a lot of time writing jokes about totems, dream levels and “Inception” to myself during this one. In case you were wondering, I am single.

This episode has a really snappy pace, thanks mainly to editing. Cutting back in forth between Kirk’s torture and McCoy and Spock trying to figure out what’s going on as well as conducting the mind meld was a really smart move.

Kirk freaking out in the elevator after they beamed in really bothered me. He said he had experience on penal colonies, I just sort of assumed that meant he wasn’t going to be a total wuss.

Still no Sulu or Scotty. Uhura is back and Rand is gone, seemingly for good. I know these people probably had other responsibilities, but come on.

For fans of space cleavage, this episode continues the grand tradition, when Dr. Noel climbs around in the ventilation shaft. I feel really dirty now.

I didn’t work an “X-Files” reference in this time, but in case you’re curious, the one I was going to use was from “Kill Switch.”

Next Up: “The Corbomite Maneuver” which sounds like an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” presumably with more Corbomite.

Episode 3-“The Naked Time,” freaking the fuck out and figuring out why everyone should love Spock

 I love television that strands its characters in a small location and makes them deal with an immediate problem. Both “Ice” and “Road Runners” from “The X-Files” immediately leap to mind, although it was a show that played with variants on this formula constantly. “4 Days Out” stands as one of the most relentlessly tense and bleak episodes of “Breaking Bad.” “The Gang Gets Held Hostage” is one of my favorite episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” This sort of storytelling forces the characters into instant decisions and rapidly leads to paranoia, insanity, and often death. And sometimes, somebody has to go to Charlie’s angry room.

This is mostly why “The Naked Time” works. The entirety of the crew of the Enterprise is infected by some breed of “space madness” that the galaxy’s dumbest hazmat worker picked up when he and Spock investigated the death of some researchers on a frozen planet that was prepped for disintegration. The threat is immediate: if the rapidly going insane crew does not deal with their irrational actions, the Enterprise will be destroyed. There’s no salt vampire, no gods, no psychic kids. Its fix the ship or everyone dies.

It really works. For the most part. We’re shoved into the danger with the crew and it starts off kind of odd. Sulu and Riley both begin behaving irrationally, with Sulu becoming a swashbuckler and the just introduced Riley delving into his fiercely Irish heritage. Sulu causes some immediate problems, but it is Riley who really puts the crew in danger when he seizes control of the communication systems and shuts down the engine, leaving Scotty trying to restart the ship and the bridge in clear and present danger.

The episode is slow, but there’s a fair amount of tension. McCoy is trying to figure out what is affecting the crew and Kirk is growing increasingly frustrated with having to hear another warbling rendition of “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen,” and he snaps on Uhura in a moment that feels genuine and well played.

But breakdown is inevitable, Kirk succumbs to the madness and begins babbling about his repressed feelings for Rand, and Uhura mostly just kind of disappears, but Spock becomes the center, facing attention from a nurse who claims to love him, the half-Vulcan loses control and retreats to a private room to try to get control of himself. It’s an odd moment, particularly for a character that has been nothing but cold as he wrestles with his long suppressed feelings, forcing himself to recite his mission as well as try to count. Ultimately, Spock is the last hope for getting the ship out of is potentially fatal orbit, so he has to get it together and mix cold matter and anti-matter to get the ship out of there.

And once again the crew is safe, having somehow jetted back three days in time. I had a problem with this, mostly because I had to sit around wondering if there was another Enterprise that was coming closer to observing the disintegration of the planet, but I think the episode wants us to just sort of embrace the whole time jump without thinking to hard about it.

Ultimately, “The Naked Time” is probably the best episode yet, but there are inevitably a couple of problems. The main thing about the episode is the sense of surprise. We don’t really know the characters that well and suddenly we are supposed to just deal with the fact that the quiet guy who takes Kirk’s orders wants to be a Three Musketeers-esque sword fighter. It just seems really odd. I know most of Sulu’s scenes once he is infected are played somewhat for laughs, but I can’t really buy into his leap with nothing but his earlier conversation with Riley about fencing to hold onto. Likewise, Riley, who I don’t think we had even gotten a name from up to this point, thinking he was an Irish commander, makes for good drama, but not a whole lot of actual sense. If this episode had come later in the series, this device could have been really effective but as it stands, it’s just really jarring.

The same could be said of Spock’s breakdown. We really know very little about Spock. We know he’s a half Vulcan and that his mother is human. We know his people are very logical and shun emotion. We know that Vulcan has no moon. I think that covers it. Spock is an enigma we are supposed to love, and vastly we do, but it is hard to understand his motivations and turmoil when we don’t know how they work or why. He mentions a conflict between what he wants to think and how he actually thinks, and he talks about struggling with his two halves, but we don’t have much of a reason as to why he has chosen to condition himself into an emotionless character. We can’t have the full payoff of his emotional transformation without knowing why such a shift is important to begin with.

That being said, the glimpses into Spock’s mind do a great job setting up the character. When he talks to Scotty in engineering, we see the mentality of jobs needing done, regardless of risk or extraneous factors, but we can actually see the conflict he refers to when he mentions to Kirk “When I feel friendship for you, I feel ashamed.” Although this rapidly turns into a slap-fight of vaudeville proportions, Spock’s moment is great. Through sheer force of will, that pointy-eared bastard powers through and manages to save the ship.

In standard fashion, the ridiculous parts are ridiculous, and the great parts are really great, and “The Naked Time” is another fantastic episode in a bottle that manages to show that the crew alone can carry an entire episode of “Star Trek.”

Random Notes

I think this was the first appearance of what I assume to be the Vulcan neck pinch. Well done, Spock. Well done.

Kirk on the endless song: “Please, not again.”

I’m glad that the Enterprise also has a set of 3-D checkers on board for the less strategically minded members of the crew.

Those hazmat suits that feature a mask that doesn’t connect to the chest portion seem like they would be really handy at fighting off pathogens and contaminants in a dangerous or unknown environment. Also, the red and gold pattern is really easy on the eyes.

I originally noted the sense of grimness to this episode with Spock finding actual bodies at the research station instead of just reporting on death. It’s amazing how much showing violence instead of just telling about implied violence does to increase the sense of dread and the presence of a threat on a show like this.

Next Up: “The Enemy Within” which I assume will have nothing to do with a character overcoming contrasting sides of their personality. No, that definitely won’t factor in.

Episode 2- “Charlie X” and last second redemption

I really don’t want to write about “Charlie X.” It’s not that it’s a terrible episode, although it’s certainly not a great one, but there is so much here that is just weird or fucked up, and it makes me look at this whole endeavor and see “Star Trek” for what it is.

Which, I guess was the whole point.

So, Charlie, the lone survivor of a transport crash is brought onto the Enterprise to make the journey to see his remaining family on Earth Colony V. He knows little of modern customs and is almost immediately smitten with Yeoman Rand.

Of course, Charlie quickly begins to reveal minor powers, but first we have to hear Uhura sing two of the most bizarre songs ever recorded onto network television. Nonetheless, Charlie acts really weird, Spock is suspicious, Rand is uncomfortable and Kirk acts like a father figure. It’s all so formulaic and this is only the third episode.

Things start getting weird all over the ship, with Charlie’s power manifesting in places that make absolutely no goddamn sense, namely when all the meatloaf turns into turkeys despite the fact that Kirk finds out about the meatloaf when Charlie is mostly off screen. Eventually we find out that Charlie’s power is directly tied to mostly adolescent bursts of emotion. He becomes frustrated and he lashes out, he is hurt and he lashes out, he is horny and he lashes out. It’s pretty standard and it’s a fair enough idea that has worked for multitudes of other works of fiction, namely episodes of “The X-Files,” tons of super-hero comics and to a lesser degree, “Ginger Snaps.”

The thing is though, it just doesn’t really work. Charlie’s powers never really get much of an explanation beyond the fact that he lived with the Thasians, and that he can control the whole ship. Its nuts. Ultimately, its another episode that boils down to a random person receiving unbelievable power and not having the maturity to deal with the responsibility that is required of his gift.

There are some interesting moments. Charlie and Spock playing chess is an intriguing moment, particularly when Charlie is frustrated and Shatner gives a suitably hammy heart to heart with Charlie that kind of works, but for the most part, the episode just isn’t a lot of fun.

Much like “The Man Trap,” “Charlie X” really comes together in the last few minutes, but unlike the previous episode, “Charlie X” utterly redeems itself in the last fifteen minutes or so. With Charlie in control of the Enterprise, Kirk is forced to try to make the teen surrender control, while he harasses and attacks Rand. There is a natural sense of danger to the proceedings and Charlie losing faith in Kirk when the captain attacks him is handled well.

Ultimately, this leads to the finale on the bridge, with an awkwardly staged wrestling match and an attempt to overload Charlie’s power. However, the Thasians arrive in their Space Glob and demand that Charlie return to them. Charlie is frantic, and wants to go to his family in the colony, and Kirk wants to take him there. The Thasian however proves to have more power and whisks Charlie back to a world where he will never know love or touch. It’s a dark ending, but one that is definitely suitable for the episode.

Once again, the main problem seems to be intent. “Charlie X” struggles with the idea of a teenager dealing with the changes of growing up and no longer being a child, but it’s not handled particularly well and the message is a little muddled by making said teenager all-powerful.

Like I said, other fiction has done this sort of story well. In the “X-Files” episode, “D.P.O.,” a teenager is gifted with the ability to call lighting from the sky and a variety of other electricity based powers. He struggles to make his teacher love him, and he wants to have everything, but he can’t handle it. He is captured and goes to jail. His powers are unique, but he can’t do anything and he is stopped by a couple of people with guns.

Arguably, this can’t happen in “Star Trek.” With a higher level of technology and more resources, the threat has to be bigger and the powers that are brought to bear have to be more formidable, but they don’t have to be utterly ridiculous.

If it weren’t for the ending, “Charlie X” would be a failure. Nothing in the episode is interesting enough or looked into enough to warrant anything more than a cursory watch, but the writers surprise again in creating an ending with emotional depth and an unexpected conclusion that shows the stakes of dealing with the unknown.

 Random Notes:

How the hell do you win a game of chess with an illogical move?

The sexual politics here are still pretty bad, but Rand has more power here than she did in “The Man Trap.” Also, no women are punched in the face.

The scene with Charlie turning one crewmember into an old woman and stealing the faces from other ones is a really neat effect.

I like how there’s no way Spock’s instrument could make that kind of sound. Also, Uhura’s song about Vulcan love and how Spock looks like the devil is a huge hit among the crew, because nothing beats making fun of how the superior officer looks.

Next Up: “The Naked Time” which will surely not be as dirty as I think it will be.