Sunday, August 30, 2009

Operation: Annihilate!

This cheesy Trek may be repulsively silly at first, but reveals a surprisingly sensitive, character-based climax.

The episode suffers from its conflict-of-the-week being almost entirely disparate from its dramatic heart. This creates a very unbalanced narrative structure that pushes all of the meat to the last half of act three. The majority of the episode concerns itself with the mystery of the flying-scabs-that-latch-onto-people's-backs-and-make-them-crazy.

The scabs aren't really scabs, of course, but enlarged single cells of a greater organism from another galaxy. They're going from system to system, using the bodies of unsuspecting humans to do their bidding or perish. Mr. Spock is attacked and is only able to fight back through use of his advanced Vulcan mental discipline. This character struggle seems misused for the visceral display of Spock's attempt to take over the bridge rather than a legitimate opportunity to display Leonard Nimoy's acting ability.

The use of Kirk's brother Sam as cannon fodder for these creatures in the opening of the episode seems forced. Even worse, it's used to surprisingly little effect. While Kirk may initially voice concern for the solving of this issue to save his nephew, he quickly acknowledges the larger implication of saving the entire planet below. The dramatic struggle for his character fizzles with little effect on the story proper.

The depiction of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy relationship towards the end of the episode is spot on but brief. Reduced to a single conference room sequence, we see Spock and McCoy present two entirely unsatisfying options to Kirk as to how the situation might be remedies. Kirk refuses to accept either and demands a third option. Simple, brief, I wish there was more of it. It was the only drama that was really founded in the story this episode contained.

The other standout piece of conflict belongs to McCoy, and has no intrinsic relation to the story. It could have been placed in any episode. When testing ways to defeat the creature, McCoy uses Spock as a test subject before preliminary results had been viewed. This oversight causes Spock to be blinded. The way in which his guilt is depicted dramatically through the final scenes is so sensitively done it betrays the sloppiness the permeates the entire episode leading up to it.

Spock's blindness was temporary (No!), ending the episode on a sweet note between them on the bridge. One of the few times McCoy lets slip a compliment to the Vulcan first officer is a delight to behold.

"Please don't tell Spock I said he was the fleet's best first officer."
"Why, thank you, Dr. McCoy."
"You've been so concerned about his Vulcan eyes, Doctor, you forgot about his Vulcan ears."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The City on the Edge of Forever

The City on the Edge of Forever is one of the most beloved episodes of Star Trek. Its emphasis on character drama allowed it to move beyond normal viewer's interest and into the mainstream consciousness.

There is a single science fiction conceit in the entire episode: The Guardian of Forever. This time portal is used as merely the springboard for dealing with a character story with a great depth of feeling. One I feel may be almost too ambitious for an hour long television show.

Kirk must enter the time portal to repair errors to history created by a crazy drugged up doctor McCoy. (The Doctor accidentally injecting himself is a thrilling Trek teaser if there ever was one.) The plot follows that in order for history to be restored, Kirk must allow the death of a woman he has unfortunately fell in love with.

The ill-fated romance is a fantastic concept for drama, however the time it is afforded in this episode to be introduced, come to fruition, and act as a dramatic payoff is severely limited. Much of the relationship is relegated to informational dialogue ("I'm in love with Edith Keeler") rather than being narratively shown.

While the climatic payoff is ultimately successful, one could imagine a more effective third act in which everything was earned by naturally unfolding introduction in the prior two acts. This led to a particularly annoying contrivance in the personality of the Edith Keeler character. She is given a penchant for astonishingly accurate insight regard the future our lead character's come from.

I can understand the desire on behalf of the writers to create reasons the characters would be attracted to each other, but this one feels too explicitly convenient. Especially considering that her character is strong enough to survive without this invention. Her optimism alone (which is rooted in the plot via her importance to future history) would be more than enough to attract the attention of our dear Captain. Doubly so when cast against the bleak backdrop of the depression.

Again, this is all a byproduct of having more narrative needs than a single hour can adequately support. It is only natural that the slack be cut in one place or other. It's a great episode when the only sin it commits is over ambition.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Errand of Mercy

This episode brings up an interesting point, which itself precludes me from a completely traditional analysis of the episode. It is a great episode of Star Trek. The drama is potent, the structure is satisfactory, and the performances enjoyable.

However, this episode heightens an aspect of Star Trek that has been detectable but not obvious in previous episodes. It is almost entirely dialogue based. This is not a complaint of any kind. Dialogue based storytelling is just as valid as any other, but my analysis thus far has been placing Star Trek up against every other form narrative storytelling. While I maintain that this approach is valid and fair, the analysis I offer is rendered fairly useless if the episode itself expounds upon its own thematic content.

While the dialogue of past episodes has touched upon theme, I've always felt enough was implied that could benefit from a dissection here on the blog. For the first time, I feel as if the episode sums itself up fairly well. Now, this does not preclude me from offering criticism of how I perceive the effectiveness of the episode, but I've always tried to keep this sort of commentary to a minimum. (And, really, my only question after watching the episode deals with the seemingly omnipotent race depicted in the episode. If they will not tolerate conflict, and have the power to stop it on a galaxy-wide scale ... how can the show continue?)

This line of thinking led me to a revelation regarding audience perception of the new Star Trek film. Always looking at Trek (the series and film) analytically, this difference alluded me. Trek fans seem to be used to perceiving the stories of Trek in a dialogue-based fashion. Their pallet has been taught, over decades of series, to derive thematic content through almost exclusively textual means. Clearly there are diversions, but on the whole, most Trek installments expound on the theme in some form of dialogue acknowledgment.

I finally understand why detractors of the new, 2009, Star Trek film claim that it doesn't deal with "issues." (The themes that are integral to Star Trek's success.) It simply doesn't deal with them in the way they are accustomed. There's very little (read: almost none) recap or blatant explanation of theme in the movie. It is a purely cinematic experience. It is visual storytelling. The character's arcs, while not mentioned outright, are implied through the actions of the characters in the face of the opposition depicted. It is the choices made by the filmmakers out of which a theme can be derived, not dialogue.

This fundamental storytelling difference is alienating certain viewers, and delighting others. It doesn't boil down to the presence of action, or the recasting of actors, because beyond all that, the "drama-and-character-that-converge-to-imply-theme" of Trek is still there.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Devil in the Dark

While this episode may not depict any monumental development or integration of character, I am happy to say it is not a regression. The forms of our crew, so well defined in the prior episodes, carry over strongly into this discovery-based adventure.

The exploratory nature of this episode is classic Trek. The crew is pitted against a life form that couldn't be more molecularity different from traditional life. This silicon based "Horta" creature is attacking workers in a mining facility that supports scores of planets with necessary minerals. The conflict is high as the Horta steals an integral piece of the facilities life support. A time-based enhancer of tension though it may be, it allows for an escalation of conflict that necessitates the intervention of our heroes. An instigating event that is the first clue on the path of discovery.

Here Kirk continues his role as moderator. Whereas the miners would be perfectly content destroying the creature they don't understand, Kirk is able to negotiate a treaty with the Horta. (With the help of a mind-melding Mr. Spock, of course.) It is this continuation of the theme of unity and reconciliation that makes the episode uniquely Trek, elevating it beyond the simple discovery of the unknown. It is the furthering of relations, communication, and understanding that take center stage. Through Kirk's uniquely arrived at conclusion, the facility is now able to produce record minerals with the cooperation of the Horta. (Which, as it turns out, was a mother protecting her children.)

Messages of tolerance of this type will not end with this episode, and become a staple of what defines Trek in the minds of so many. Thanks to such vividly drawn characters, we are able to be continually reminded of what they represent in the face of our own conflicts that often mirror the outrageous space-age adventure depicted in Star Trek.

This Side of Paradise

As if in answer to the previous episode, again Trek expounds upon the topic of ambition. Whereas then we were dealing with an opposition of unhealthy ambition, here we encounter an equally threatening lack of ambition: total contentment. It is this mature theme of moving past the duality of extremes that permeates this episode, and manages to also comment upon the main character's relationship.

The Enterprise crew comes in contact with what amounts to a commune of space druggies. The small clan of travelers are hyped-up on a spore-induced drug that grants them complete harmony, free of want and need. Thankfully, the implications of the anti-drug message are never exploited in any way beyond legitimate dramatic and thematic ends. I found myself dreading the setup, and then delighted that the obvious path was not taken.

When the crew gets subjected to the effects of the spores one-by-one, Kirk is able to observe enough to derive it's failing: Man was not meant for paradise. There is a brief allusion to Eden, a brush with biblical subtext. While the relative snub may seem like further evidence of the often postulated atheistic viewpoint of Star Trek, I rather see this as a balanced acknowledgment of the universal philosophy depicted by the tale of Adam and Eve. As this is a subject hardly exclusive to any one religion, it is not dwelled upon. Rather, it is integrated in plot and character based fashion.

Plot wise, Kirk is able to defeat the spore's extremism by canceling it out with equally extreme rage. The drama is plotted beautifully, as Kirk is forced to enrage Spock. Even beyond this, our favorite Vulcan is treated to an extra dose of attention this episode. Running into an old acquaintance with feelings for him, Spock's internal conflict is brought to the fore. While some may deride Spock's intoxicated enjoyment as silly, I find it tragically telling of his character and paramount in establishing him even further as an evolving person.

"If there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them."

That being said, his position in the "holy trinity" is not compromised. In fact, this episode acts as a pivotal installment in defining how Kirk, Spock, and McCoy relate. Ambition can only be realized through moderated action. Informed by the extremes that live within us (Spock/McCoy), yes, but acting only through careful reconciliation of the two. (Kirk) What better way to illustrate this than by dramatically showing the drearily unambitious consequences of excess?

McCoy: "That's the second time man's been thrown out of paradise."
Kirk: "No, this time we walked out on our own."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Space Seed

It is my opinion that Star Trek truly hit its stride with this episode. There's a certain effortlessness about the crew's relationship. The familiarity is infectious, and the audience can't help but sense it. It is with this confidence that the episode is able to achieve an even greater balance of plot and theme integration.

The crew encounters a group of genetically enhanced men from Earth's past lead by a tyrant called Khan. The episode's central drama centers around the connection between him and the Enterprise's Historian McGivers. Her obsession with the past is exploited by Khan to take over the ship. The only perceivable failing of this episode is that there is no discernible arc for her character. While in a moment of conscience she helps save Captain Kirk, she still ultimately chooses exile with Khan at the episode's end.

In fact, no part of this episode displays any form of arc, be it character or thematically based. While the content of the theme and conflict displayed may be interesting (it IS interesting: unhealthy ambition for human advancement vs. the natural ambitions of the Enterprise Crew) there is no inherent revelation or shift of development that results in a thematic conclusion. It is simply an acknowledgment of these two party's incompatibility that resolves what's presented as the dramatic conclusion. I can't help but feel that if the resolution came through significant developments of character or theme, the payoff would have been more effective.

Nevertheless, the conflict depicted is iconic and poignant. I take no issue with this. Seeing the Enterprise pitted against such an unhealthy ambition really helps define their mission for the audience. It is always when such extreme opposition is depicted that true colors can be revealed. This episode showcases the prime essence of Trek, even if it is wrapped in an slightly underdeveloped narrative.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Taste of Armageddon

This is a most ambitious Trek episode.  I'm delighted, because it's just the thing the show needed at this point.  Thankfully the ideological content doesn't edge out the adventure aspect of the show.  It achieves a respectable balance.

Kirk and crew are carrying an Earth ambassador to establish peaceful, diplomatic relations with a planet currently at war.  The kicker: the war is a digital one that's been faught in their cyberspace for more than 500 years.  When the virtual missiles "strike", the effected persons must report to disintegration chambers within 24 hours.  This maintains human casualties, but allows the respective civilizations to be preserved. 

Dramatically, this episode is structured beautifully.  You've got the diplomat who can't see beyond the facade of the war mongers below.  You've got the long-laid and ultimately misguided history of a civilazation just begging to be interveened, and you've got a Captain with a certain affinity for breaking a prime directive that hasn't been mentioned yet.  

When questioned, the representative of this civilization defends their method of conflict by arguing they've done away with the destructive ugliness of war and left only the necessary defining elements that are in line with our barbaric nature.  Kirk replies,     

"Instinct can be fought.  We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it.  We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today.  That's all it takes."

There's that patented Trek optimism, rearing its head again.  It's astonishing to see such a basic yet phenomenally awesome first step towards the maturation of mankind.  To stand over the carnage of our birth and define ourselves against animal beginnings, toward an evolved and tempered existence.  Kirk's monologue encapsulates the basic ideological hope that must be embraced if mankind is to make it to the future depicted in Star Trek.    

We end on a delightful exchange between Kirk and Spock, who is criticizing the riskiness of the Captain's destruction of the war machine:

-"Sometimes a feeling, Mr. Spock, is all we humans have to go on."
-"Captain, you almost make me believe in luck."
-"Why, Mr. Spock, you almost make me believe in miracles."

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Return of the Archons

Many have claimed this an affront to organized religion or religious zealotry, but I'm not convinced. The Enterprise faces a society of people being controlled by a being called Landru. The people go about their lives in complete peace and tranquility, but at the loss of their individuality. They walk around murmuring greetings and well wishes, speaking of the unity of the "body" and the greatness of "Landru."

I believe, however, this religious interpretation falls apart when we learn the true nature of Landru: that he was a man who lived 6,000 years ago and upon his death programmed a machine to help his society maintain peace. In the light of this I think the familiar critique appropriate: be careful what you wish for. The hopes of society for attainment of any pure ideal that does not allow for the free choice of the individual is one that will come at dire costs.

The civilization we see depicted in this episode plays more as a warning for those who are proponents of such extreme ideals (potentially religion, but not specifically). I feel that this message may be a bit muddled in its final presentation, and an exploration of further themes or drama may have been wise. You see, nothing particularly dramatic or interesting develops of our characters or the guest cast introduced. The entire payoff of the show banks on the stressfulness of the issue at hand.

I will admit being quite amused at McCoy's trance when he is "absorbed" into the control of Landru. I can't for the life of me figure out if this amusement was intentional or not. Either way, the episode flirts with interesting ideas, but never puts our characters at enough risk or ties them to the outcome with enough sincerity to warrant severe reaction or dedicated interest.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tomorrow is Yesterday

Audiences often find themselves confused with time-travel stories, even when they are done well.

This episode handles the subject so poorly that there's no way even the most astute viewer could reconcile its content.

The Enterprise is accidentally sling-shot back through time due to some sort of encounter with a "black star", which we never see. They encounter a 1960s jet pilot who causes a tough situation for the crew: beam him back to the planet, and risk altering history with knowledge of the future, or keep him and risk changing it due to his absence. It's a paper-thin dilemma that offers no character insight, world building, or considerable dramatic payoff.

I almost wonder of the episode was reverse engineered to allow Kirk to get into hand-to-hand combat with military personnel. The fight itself is fairly well done, but the context is so lacking that you feel guilty for enjoying it.

I'd like to try to explain the ending, but I can't. Somehow, they are able to beam the pilot back into the place he was initially abducted. It's so poorly done in both setup and execution, that I can't tell you if the pilot is supposed to remember the Enterprise, or has his memory inexplicably wiped. It really is an amazingly terrible resolution. It's giving no consequence to the ongoing development of our characters, and no immediate intrigue to at least satisfy your dramatic apatite.

Let us hope that the handling of accidental-time-travel-by-way-of-spacial-anomaly is superior when used in the new film, which is now only a few weeks away. Apologies for my lack of adherence to the initial schedule, whereby all three seasons would have been analyzed by the time of the film's release.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Alternative Factor

If this was anyone's first episode of Star Trek, I wouldn't blame them for never wanting to watch it again. There's no sugar-coating: this is a terrible episode.

Any hope of continuing Trek's penchant for taking possibly terrible/cheesy/not compelling concepts and elevating them beyond their obvious potential is thrown completely out the window. I'm pretty confident that this is worst possible telling of the concept at hand. Just what is the concept at hand? Ship encounters a man trapped between universes. If his two selves meet (matter and anti-matter) both universes will cease to exist.

Rather than just deal with the conceptual ramifications of the subject matter, the stakes are raised in an arbitrary and unsupported way. Regardless of the scientific accuracy of the setup (which must be wonky at best) it is so poorly set-up and so sloppily executed that the unbelievable stakes carry no weight. The story points on which the drama rests are treated with no consideration as to how it is revealed to the audience. And the drama is pretty meager in the first place.

It's unfortunate to see such ineffective tactics used to heighten suspense, when the show has so readily proved it's ability to raise them legitimately and most invisibly.

Any character bits to save the episode? No. Any exciting action or suspenseful sequences to wash out the bad taste? No. Are the performances at least acceptable? No! This is a perfect counter-point for my belief that Shatner is at his best when the dialogue is already great on the page ... he takes the text and just knocks it out of the park. Here? It's just maddeningly, atrociously not up to the standard this show has set for itself.


The Holy Trinity returns! The McCoy/Spock/Kirk relationship is back in full force, and it's evident right from this episode's teaser.

"Doctor, you are a sensualist."
"You bet your pointed ears I am."

The Enterprise crew beams down to Cestus III for a peaceful meeting with a Starfleet commodore, only to find the planet under attack. It's a thrilling opening, really allowing the tactical expertise of our characters flourish in a high risk situation. You really feel the effectiveness of their years serving together, seeing them react in the line of fire.

The faceless enemy is clever to the point of shocking. They are able to hack the energy in Spock's tricorder device, which he then lobs across the trench back at them as it explodes.

I think this opening sequence alone births the Star Trek phenomenon known as the Red-shirt, or a character of no consequence often used as cannon fodder. These character generally have very generic names, and are the only unrecognizable character in a landing party. These characters are usually doomed.

The Crew leaves the largely destroyed planet to follow the fleeing, and still unseen, aggressor. There's a fantastic scene between Spock and Kirk in the captain's quarters, in which Spock seems subtly disturbed by the captain's haste with which he decides to strike the enemy vessel. Kirk believes that letting the attack go unpunished would be detrimental, where as Spock holds that attack would do nothing to improve the conflict.

The Enterprise is intercepted by a superior race of beings that has decided to intervene and settle the dispute by taking Captain Kirk and the Captain of the Gorn ship, and plopping them down on a barren planet to duke it out. This contest is ironically placed, as they say, "in the interest of peace." This is the second episode in a row that Kirk is torn directly from the bridge of his ship.

What follows in a absolutely terrible fight between captain Kirk and a lizard man. I don't know how else to put it, as it really is a tremendous bummer. I don't even chalk it up to being dated ... I can't imagine anyone being fully pleased by this encounter, especially seeing as the opening battle was so viscerally exciting. Kirk makes a cannon, MacGuyver style, out of the surrounding materials. Yep.

Thankfully, this fight only serves as a stage for Kirk to develop his character. Whereas he was trigger happy to attack the Gorn initially, he decides finally that he will not kill him, proving that humans can be merciful. This impresses the advanced mediator, who spares Kirk's life.

"You are still half savage, but there is hope."

There's a bit of a twist revealed in regards to the Gorn's motivations. The Cestus III outpost was considered by the Gorn to be an invasion of their space, and was defending himself. The episode attempts to ask us how this effects the moral decision of fighting the Gorn. Unfortunately, the specifics of this moral quandary are never revealed, and therefore never satisfied. Makes me wonder why it was mentioned in the first place.

This is a fun episode with a bit of focus on the decision making of Captain Kirk. His development isn't nearly as eloquent or profound as in previous episodes, nor is it as offensively neglected as it will be in episodes to come.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Squire of Gothos

Two campy episodes in a row! Thank god they weren't aired in this order.

This episode bears the same exact story as Charlie X: an alien with a toddler mentality has great power which he uses to torment the crew of the Enterprise, before being chastised by the fortunate appearance of his ethereal parents. The central alien this time around, rather than being an angsty teen, is a foppish man who has been studying medieval earth.

While Charlie X may be the superior execution of the concept, I cannot deny the charm of this episode. The alien the crew falls victim to, Trelane, is fantastically interesting with the lethal games he subjects them to.

We begin with the disappearance of Captain Kirk and Sulu from the bridge. They follow the mysterious whodunit down to the planet's surface, where they encounter their host: the harpsichord-playing dandy, ex-General (now Squire) Trelane. His castle dwelling houses a perfect visual indication of the character's flagrant conceit: a large mirror, which reveals itself to be the mechanical source of his power.

This is, however, a footnote subservient to the great flamboyance of Trelane, which is the true iconography of his character. He dances with the women, makes racially questionable comments to Uhura, and challenges Kirk to a duel. Strike that, multiple duels.

The madness rises to a crescendo as Trelane chases the Enterprise with his entire planet of Gothos. Yes, you read that correctly. He chases them with a planet. I'm not sure there's much more I can say, after that.

Like Shore Leave, it is a great bit of fun without any thematic or conceptual ambition. Others have postulated this episode to be a meditation on power, reflected in Kirk's reaction to Trelane. I do, however, find this analysis unfounded, and almost entirely unsupported by the content of this episode. I also generally find the choice to invoke the word "meditation", or its equivalent, to be a precursor to a loose interpretation that reads more into the work than can be supported.

There are a great many playful turns of phrase in the dialogue that echo the lofty character of Oscar Wilde. This mentality is opposed by Spock, who retorts, "I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose." This is more telling of Spock's character than it is of any authorial depiction of theme.

This episode is, as Trelane would say, "Absolutely smashing!"

Shore Leave

I can pretty safely call this the birth of the "light" Star Trek episode. Even though previous episodes may have featured concepts or other elements that were a bit silly, they were there to further the drama or advance character. It was the execution that made them legitimate.

Here is an episode that has none of that. It doesn't quite present itself as an issue, however, because it never attempts to be anything more. No signature Trek ambition makes for an odd but enjoyable excursion as the Enterprise travels to an amusement park planet that reads the crew's thoughts with a device that looks like a cheap TV antennae, then quickly produces whatever it is they are thinking of.

The tone of the show is set in the opening teaser: tired and sore Kirk is complaining to Spock of back pains. As his yeoman begins to massage his back, he assumes it is Spock, to no protest. I find it amusing that he is okay with the on-duty massage initially, but orders it stopped when he finds out it wasn't Spock. "Dig it in there, Mr. Sp--"

This silliness embodies the entire episode, which plays more like a classic Shakespearean comedy in the vein of "Midsummer Night's Dream." It even has what is now considered a storytelling cop-out: the deus ex machina. After the crew encounters all sorts of crazy shenanigans with The White Rabbit, old lovers, a samurai, a tiger, and Don Juan, they are saved by the appearance of a caretaker who makes everything right. Actually, the appearance of this character makes the episode itself pretty inconsequential. This minimizes any offense viewers might have taken by its flightiness.

Another thing that amused me, unintentionally, was that even the facts we learn about some of the character's pasts through their fantasy do absolutely nothing to further their character! We meet an old lover of Kirk's, but this relationship not only goes nowhere, it gives us no more understanding of him than we had before. This becomes funny when McCoy's budding relationship with Yeoman Barrows teeters on genuine feeling ... an interaction which is afforded only a fraction of the Kirk/Ruth screen time!

There's also a whole slew of funny interactions, both on the planet and off. Such as Spock describing an irritable crewman who refuses shore leave. Kirk demands that his duty take precedent, and that the crewman relax. "What's his name?" To which Spock replies, "James Kirk." This sets up a quote from Kirk that caps off the episode:

"The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play."

In a brief (but appropriate for Shore Leave) drop of my analytical guard, I will admit to this being one of my three favorite episodes as a child. No surprise, right?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Menagerie

More court drama aboard the Enterprise!

This two-part episode features Spock willfully committing mutiny by hijacking the Enterprise in order to transport the now-crippled Captain Pike to the planet Talos IV. Pike was the previous captain of the Enterprise whom Spock served under. Seeing him act with some mysterious form of allegiance to his former Captain really holds together the "bookend" sections of these episodes.

You see, this episode regurgitates footage from the original, unused pilot episode for Star Trek in which Pike was the lead. They've wrapped a new story around the episode. One which, to my mind, feels too obviously reverse engineered for the purposes of using the old footage. No matter how interesting Spock's dedication is, it can't make up for the inherent shortcomings of the pilot. Especially when the two seem so completely disparate.

Since I consider these stories paired but entirely separate, lets then talk about that pilot, The Cage. The story deals with the crews encounter with a highly advanced species. The concept itself is pure science fiction, evoking the best of Forbidden Planet and the like. Unfortunately, it did little to advance character. These alien beings allow us to journey into Pike's psyche. However, learning facts about a character is not the same as developing one. It will satisfy fans of strict sci-fi more than anyone else.

The content of the pilot itself, however, is nothing to be sniffed at. The concepts dealt with (perception, reality, choice) are ambitious for their time. They are rife with storytelling potential. Unfortunately, they were dealt with in a way that feels a little inaccessible. This lead to many criticisms, specifically from the studio that felt it was too "cerebral." I can reconcile this overly simplified criticism with my own discontent with the episode's execution.

Thankfully, the bookend segments with Spock and his trial, on their own, are quite well done. They use the events of the pilot as a catalyst for drama. When you navigate away from that to show the catalyst in intimate detail, it becomes tiresome and feels unnecessary.

"Captain Kirk, Captain Pike has an illusion, and you have reality. May you find your way as pleasant."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Court Martial

This is a fantastically well rounded episode; firing on all cylinders with with what could have been a straightforward court drama.

Kirk is accused of a breach of protocol which results in the death of a crewman. This alone could sustain an hour long episode, but the concept is fleshed out to include some real humanity. The ship's computer records a sequence of events that implicate the captain, who claims it did not happen as such. The writers use this as a opportunity to pit man against machine, a theme already resonating in Star Trek's run.

Kirk's lawyer is the personification of this conflict. A brilliantly drawn and performed character, he is bookish and distrustful of modern computerization. He is introduced to us in a sea of books, the perfect visual image to associate with him. He's passionate and fun to watch. His costume is also wonderfully in character.

As if this excellent conflict weren't enough, another side character is given a great amount of interest. The prosecution attorney is one of Kirk's many female conquests. Still quite taken with the captain, she is torn between obligations to her job and the remnants of romance. It's a small role with a great opportunity for drama, and it is seized beautifully by the equally lovely actress portraying her.

There's a great sequence when Spock finally uncovers a way to prove Kirk innocent by playing Chess. You see, when playing against the supposedly infallible computer, the best he should be able to achieve is a draw. However, Spock is able to beat the machine FIVE TIMES. The computer has been meddled with, and the hunt is on for the one officer who could have altered it: the crewman presumed dead!

High drama ensues as the ship is searched before the court. The writer's do their duty by brilliantly heightening the tension. Not only is Kirk on the hunt for a man filled with vengeance, but in order to locate him they must disengage the ship's engines. As the orbit decays, Kirk has limited time to find his foe before the ship plummets to it's destruction.

Creating the plot-based necessity for the tension-building time limit is a legitimate and entirely earned method of dramatic enhancement. The audience doesn't feel played when there is a perceived need to have the engines shut off. It has been handled here far better than previous episodes where the methodology was obvious and transparent.

The episode ends with a truly funny (and entirely not forced) moment between the show's trio. Kirk and his lady-attorney-friend share a kiss on the bridge. After she leaves, and he returns to the captain's chair, flanked by Spock and McCoy, his only words are:

"She's a very good lawyer."

To which Spock Replies, "Obviously," and McCoy, "Indeed she is."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Galileo Seven

As if in answer to my issues with last episode's "Kirk escapades", here comes an episode where our captain steps aside. This tale of a lost shuttle of seven passengers hones in on Mr. Spock, a character that has earned his iconic status with the fascinating tension and conflict that define him.

Up until this episode, the paradoxical nature of Spock's human/Vulcan heritage have only been used in passing. This marks the first time I can really point to it and say it was used fully, to its dramatic potential. You see, Spock being in charge of this stranded landing party gives him a command position. The storytellers have cleverly and appropriately used this as a window into the issues of logical thinking in the heightened decision-making position he finds himself in.

The adverse reaction of the other crewmembers to Spock's logical thought process bring about heated interactions. None more so than after the death of a crewman by one of the planet's natives. Spock finds himself pitted against situations that require more of him than he is traditionally able to facilitate. He finds himself puzzled when his logical deductions not only fail, but respect for him is lost in the eyes of the crew. This hits home the importance of human judgement and intuition; a subject dealt with on the show previously, and inherent to the very fabric of Star Trek.

"Mr. Spock, life and death are seldom logical."
"But attaining a desired goal always is, Doctor."

There are a lot of nice pearls like that one sprinkled throughout the episode. The beat for beat drama is played very well on all sides. From the writing to the performers, there's a lot of character dynamic being explored here. While I find this delightful, I can't help but wish that the adventure aspect of the show was as polished. The limited budget of the show can be put to blame, I'm sure. Thankfully, the prioreties of the story have been put first, allowing fo the audience to forgive any budgetary shortcomings.

The tension of the stranded shuttle's situation is enhanced by a time limit introduced early in the show. The Enterprise is en route to deliver medical supplies, so a rescue effort can only be allotted a short period of time. Kirk's search for the crew is played against the annoying protest of a stern commissioner assigned to accompany the Enterprise. This is almost too apparently placed in the episode to heighten the stakes. Most of the interludes with Kirk and the commissioner are re-iterations of the same basic concept, leaving me wanting to see what Spock and McCoy were up to on the planet.

The episode wraps up nicely, with a beautifully desperate act performed by Mr. Spock that ends up saving the crew. Mr. Spock stared into the face of death with his human comrades, and was clearly affected by their criticism of his leadership. His hard Vulcan upbringing was worn down to reveal the human half we've seen shining through the cracks. He grew to appreciate the immediacy of intuition and, to some minute degree, even if he denies it outright, the value of illogic.

As a last note, I'll say I found it bizarrely inappropriate to end on the bridge crew laughing at Spock. It seems to be a trend to end the show with everyone on the bridge laughing. It's kind of a corny thing I ignore, but this time it came off as kind of cruel.

I'm sure Spock can handle it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Conscience of the King

Shakespeare's work has survived for hundreds of years already, why not a few hundred more? In Star Trek's future, the Bard's plays continue to entertain and occasionally bore, as is the case with our Captain Kirk. He doesn't seem to be terribly interested in "Macbeth" until his comrade accuses the lead actor of being a notorious murderer. I find Kirk's orignal lack of interest downright histerical.

This comrade of his has lied to Kirk to get him to divert the Enterprise, with some silly story about a proposed end to famine. You see, only eight or nine people ever saw this nefarious Kodos. Kirk and this man are two of these nine. He needs Kirk to corroborate his suspiscions. I can't blame this guy for being so vehement, because if I was a wanted mass murderer who faked my death, a space-traveling group of Shakespearean actors would be my first hiding spot.

Kirk goes to a party where this actor is to be, and if you listen closely you'll here a jazzy lounge version of the Star Trek title theme. My interest in 1960s pop culture eats this up, but my interest in science fiction and character drama finds it perfect indicative of my issues witht he episode: it's more a remnant of its time than it is solid storytelling. Kirk falls for the actor's daughter -- quickly and almost unbelievably -- and there's a fair amount of tension squeezed from that fact, but it just isn't strong enough to disguise what reveals itself as a rather straightforward whodunnit.

Also, this episode is a big Kirk show; stalling the forward momentum we'd built up with the crew as characters. This was admittedly little, but still strong enough to warrent an unfillfilled desire from the audience's point of view. Usually these Kirk-escapades reveal enough about his character to make it both interesting and justified. I don't feel like we left this episode knowing anything more about the captain, despite the copious amount of screentime he is given. Not to say he's the only actor on screen.

There's a killer little scene between McCoy and Spock, when the Vulcan first officer begins to doubt the captain's peculiar behavior. When McCoy offers him some Saurian Brandy, Spock utters another winner: "My father's race was spared the dubious benefits of alcohol." To which McCoy replies "Now I know why they were conquered." It's a funny, character bit, and guess what? It has nothing to do with the episode. A fun aside. A cheery non-sequitor. It isn't earned, and acts as a comparison that reminds you just how mediocre the surrounding epsiode is. Detective Spock and his doubting Doctor McWatson!

Uhura sings a song to the ill fated officer Reilly, the only other living whitness to Kodos' likeness. It's fun that they gave her something to do, but really? That's it? Sing with the harp, little lady, we'll get to you in another episode. Sing a tune that'll likely be dated by the time this episode airs. Okay, I may be getting a bit harsh here. I'm not searching for these things, but once you loose faith in the epsiode's storyteller, it's tough not to see them.

Spock attempts to convice Kirk of his stubborness against accepting the actor's true identity. This is soap stuff, unbefittingly mundane and unambitous for a show that's proven itself otherwise.

I offer the following exchange as evidence:
"Has the machine changed them? Made them just people instead of women?"
"Worlds may change, galaxies disintigrate, but a woman always remains a woman."


Monday, February 9, 2009


This episode is sloppily plotted. The characters encounter a peculiar issue (as they usually do) and the entire episode banks upon our being interested in the extreme peculiarity of that issue.

The Enterprise discoveres a duplicate Earth (a setup left entirely unresovled) which has been deserted save for the children, who have survived for hundreds of years. The action of the episode involves the crew stumbling upon crumbs of information to finally (and arbitrarily) conclude that the inhabitants of this planet created a virus, the effects of which preserve the life of the children and brutally transform and kill the adults.

The only drama stems from the fact that the children will eventually reach puberty and succumb to the virus. Meanwhile, the crew is infected, and has only a limited window of sanity to produce an antidote. The resolution of the situation is so unearned and unsatisfying I'm left breathless. Is this Star Trek?

McCoy finds some research papers and creates an antidote -- fatal if he's wrong -- which he tests on himself. It works and saves everyone. Gee, that was rather easy. The only other complication (not to suggest that more would ensure better drama) is the lost-boys-like child congregation's disdain for the crew leading them to steal their communicators. Which, really, births McCoy's necessity to test the unconfirmed antidote on himself. So, it's really just the one thing. There's a nice but ultimately inconsequential plea from Kirk for the children's help.

In retrospect, Kirk's relationship with the puberty approaching Miri is ... uncomfortable. Also, this episode has two -- count 'em, two -- idiosyncratic or noteworthy Spock lines. "It could be a beaker full of death" and my personal favorite:

"That little girl is at least three hundred years older than you are, yeoman ... think about it."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dagger of the Mind

This is top notch Trek, this is.

I found this episode inspired a slew of reactions. I was terrified, concerned, troubled, and moved. This episode deals with the the abuse of a man's status as a medical practitioner. The Enterprise crew clues into what's discovered to be the corrupt use of a mind-control device (is there any other?) on their visit to a penal colony.

An inmate (and former doctor, we find) escapes from the colony and makes his way onto the Enterprise, thus engaging our good Captain in the scandal. McCoy smells foul-play from the very beginning, after observing this patient's "condition." Kirk initially objects to McCoy's suspicions about the penal colony warden, Dr. Adams. In whats seems to be a plucky jab, McCoy assigns Dr. Helen Noel, with whom he has a history, to assist Kirk on the mission.

The immediate recognition and concern for his reputation Helen inspires in Kirk is very telling. It really helps to fill in a bit of his past, and cement the viewer's suspicions about Kirk's affinity for women. Obviously, in the course of the show (and pop culture) this becomes obvious. At this point in the program, however, this seems to be the first flagrant self-recognition.

Upon meeting the esteemed Dr. Adams, Helen is naturally impressed and rejects any sort of accusations. Kirk, thankfully, keeps his wits about him, and doesn't allow the charm of Dr. Adams to effect himself too much. Once the legitimate foul play is stumbled upon, Helen is forced to face the truth and act accordingly. If anything, I wouldn't have minded seeing this change of character expounded upon further. However, taking into consideration that this is an hour-long adventure series, I cannot blame them.

So Dr. Adam's mind control device was used on this poor escapee's brain, he's all fried and freaking out, so McCoy and Spock have to take care of him while Kirk investigates. It's a beautifully dramatic and heart-wrenching ordeal, watching this man suffer incalculable brain loss. The situation does birth, however, the first instance of the Vulcan Mind Meld. It's an intriguing sequence as Spock performs this alien ritual, calming the berserk victim.

In order to test his suspicions first hand, Kirk subjects himself to the machine secretly, with Helen at the controls. What ensues is a fairly humorous sequence in which Helen amps up the sauciness of Kirk's memory of their Christmas party encounter. In a bold and funny move, we actually see the newly created memory play out. What starts off as innocent quickly turns sinister and unfortunate as Dr. Adams interrupts. He then twists Kirk's mind to make him believe he's desperately in love with Helen.

Decent Shatner performance in these mind-chamber sequences, but the real kicker is the plot structure. Placing the tension of this action against the McCoy/Spock struggles on the Enterprise is very effective. Add to that the fact that the situation has escalated beyond pleasantries or facades, and you've got high drama: they're captives now. There's a sweet little moment where Helen could have very well taken advantage of Kirk's new and false infatuation with her, but she rises to the occasion and struggles to help him remember. Good stuff.

Eventually they create an escape plan, just as Spock has discovered the truth thanks to his Mind Meld. The episode soars in a final raid by Enterprise security against the penal colony personnel and Spock walking in on Kirk and Helen mid-kiss, making for a memorable end to a satisfying episode.

Well written and well-executed, this is a fine example of why Star Trek became the iconic success it is today.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What Are Little Girls Made Of?

Sugar and spice, and everything nice?

At the conclusion of this episode, I feel it may have bitten off more than it could chew. It ponders a variation of the question "What makes a human?" In the decades since, visual fiction has given its own insight, but looking at the version told here, of 40 years past, I see some interesting things.

Captain Kirk beams down with Nurse Chapel to meet a scientist that was presumed lost. This scientist was also Chapel's former lover. Therein lies the only disparate aspect of this episode: The emotional attachment betwixt the scientist and our Nurse Chapel seemed terribly transparent -- as if screaming out "THIS IS CHARACTER-BASED DRAMA!" Unfortunately, her relationship with him was of too little consequence to the subsequent efforts of the episode to deem them "entwined".

And just what are those efforts? What, exactly, is this episode dealing with? It's dealing with the thing it took Ridley Scott over two hours and the Wachowskis three movies to do: Define humanity. What is the function of your memory? What is the extent of your body's purpose? Tall questions for an hour-long adventure show in the 1960s, and I can't blame them for trying to throw in the romance. (Though I do love romance, when it is a natural extention of the task at hand.)

Here we meet a character who believes that the body is an imperfect device in need of perfecting. It's right there, in his rejection of mortality itself, that he loses his humanity. (In the realm of this episode, anyway.) He believes that your "consciousness" can be transferred into a more perfect, infallible vessel ... essentially granting immortality and limitless potential for power.

This is, of course, exploited by way of android attacks, and -- get this -- another excuse for DOUBLE CAPTAIN KIRKS! The sheer gimmickry of this makes me hesitate to recommend the episode. The ambitions are commendable, but, more than ever before on Trek, they are so obviously beyond the grasp of the show in its current form.

I can't say my peace about this episode without mentioning one last bit that grabbed me: Andrea the android confesses her "robot" love for her robot creator. Amidst his protest, he triggers his own pistol, disintegrating them in their embrace. It's a powerful image, that last confession. The belief of a man that he can perfect humanity, and a robot who is beginning to develop her own human qualities.

Kirk observes the conundrum, the seeming paradox and complexity of the issue at hand. Again, as before, we end on an introspective and doubtful look from Kirk. He's survived another look into the bottomless heart of humanity.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Balance of Terror


Getting our first glimpse at the Romulans, this episode explores themes of wartime prejudice, and the cost of conflict. The episode is framed beautifully, opening with a wedding ceremony taking place on the Enterprise between two crew members.

In great literary tradition, the wedding is interrupted. This immediately sets the episode off with a tense and unsettling mood. The literary precedence is matched early on with a mythological reference in the naming of the new race and its planets: Romulus and Remus. While the analogy has little immediate payoff in this episode, it gifts at least viewer confidence in the quality and ambitions of the episode to come.

We're also introduced to young navigator Mr. Stiles, whose family history in the century-old war with the Romulans acts as our window into the prejudicial issues at hand. His hot-headed advice is to preemptively attack, unsound advice that Kirk begins to take into consideration as the stakes get higher.

When the visage of the unseen Romulans is revealed to the crew for the first time, Stiles is shocked at the similarity they bear to Vulans, specifically Mr. Spock. Thoughout the epsiode, Stiles treats Spock deplorably, making him the object of unsubstantiated assumption and rudeness. Spock is, of course, unphased by this. The previously established viewer sympathies with Spock make way for a great moral, immediately pitting Stiles' attitude as not just upleasant, but wrong.

Spock suspects that the Romulans may be an offshoot of the Vulcan bloodline, and that their penchant for violence and war-mongering are a reflection of the un-evolved Vulcan mentality. This juxtaposition, of the Romulan's violence (not unlike many modern earth attitudes) against a higher or elevated mentality is the source of the "optimism" people reference when talking about Star Trek. The idea that violence and war are merely a phase in the adolescence of a culture is inspiring.

Then there's what's happening with Kirk. We open with him comfortably, and honorably, officiating a marraige ceremony. This is a classic aspect of Captaincy, and get's us ready to deal with other long-laid issues of every type of command. At the brink of war, Kirk must face his match: a command intellect equal to his own. The showdown is a sight to see, and, for the time, quite spectacular. At it's zenith, and Kirk's victory, the Romulan commander says "You and I are of a kind." It was as if Gods were dueling.

The conflict puts our Mr. Stiles in a dire situation, which Spock unflinchingly saves him from. This act of instantanious compassion, from a man he'd gone to great pains to despise, transformes him. His attitude is corrected, a nobler mindset inhabited. But this action-packed conflict also brought an unfortunate casuality: the death of the episode's groom-in-waiting.

In the final scene, Kirk consoles the mourning bride. Through his comforting words, "there was a reason ... " Kirk finds himself immobilized. Holding on a final introspective look at Kirk, we see that he struggles to believe this statement himself.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Charlie X

This is a fantastic episode.
After "The Naked Time", I was really needing it.

The episode (as many, I am observing) has a radical base premise. The Enterprise encounters a boy, Charlie, who grew up completely separated from human interaction. He lacks social tact, but what's more, we discover he possesses unique paranormal abilities. These powers, in the hands of a child-like mind, lead to a great deal of havoc for the crew.

This is the expected aspect. It is pulled off well, and is anchored by a particularly convincing performance by Robert Walker Jr as Charlie. He is the adolescent and is out of place among other humans, let alone space travelers. Whether it's a lesson in butt-slapping from Captain Kirk or a fatherly chastising, it's handled with sincerity and just enough levity. However, it is always the unexpected poignancy that really makes an episode special.

Just as the other challenges Kirk has had to encounter, Charlie reveals another, more layered aspect of his character. What else could I expect, when the plot of the episode makes Kirk's fatherly position to the crew literal. Seeing him deal with the undeveloped mind is a fascinating struggle. His scenes with Charlie are sweet, yet contain an undertone of emotion that heightens the final moment when Kirk nearly looses command of his ship to this boy. These are a great set of sequences that cut right to his core.

Another pearl worth mentioning, is a much more complete version of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy relationship that has only been hinted at in previous episodes. Here it is in full, iconic force. It isn't abrasive, but their thought processes are on display only so far as to pertain to the immediate concerns of the story. It is always a welcomed inclusion when the true nature of a character can be put on display in a fitting manner. Seeing the quibbling of Spock and McCoy rise only to be balanced by Kirk's interjection is brilliant and deservedly classic.

Another note: Uhura's previously hinted attraction to Spock makes a small appearance here in a fun rec-room sequence where she sings to to the Vulcan. Whether or not this was plotted as an intended arc for the two characters or was just an excuse for comedy, I have no idea. In this scene, Spock is seen playing the harp. It seems that this may have been included to hone in on Spock's emotional discipline. Rather than coldness, we see him as calm and reserved. An important distinction that may not have been so clear in earlier episodes.

The storytelling of this episode is tight, wastes no time, and doesn't concern itself with a great deal of fluff. For a ship-based episode to have done as much as it did with character development and suspense is impressive and ambitious.

Stay tuned tomorrow for "Balance of Terror."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Naked Time

This episode plays like a soap opera.

Some sort of virus is picked up that acts to the crew members of the Enterprise like alcohol. It lowers their inhibitions, revealing shocking new versions of our fine crew.

The ending of the episode (dealing with the Enterprise reversing time, Superman style) is as sensational as seeing Sulu hop around without his shirt off, or Spock crying.

I recommend it for the sheer interest in seeing these characters in a different light, even if the situation is admittedly not earned and offers no other merit worth mentioning.

Stay tuned tomorrow for "Charlie X."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Man Trap

As if we didn't have enough duplicated crew members last episode ...

On a desolate planet, a federation archeologist named Crater (yep), befriends a shape-shifting shalt-craving creature that takes the form of his dead wife. (who happened to Be Dr. McCoy's Ex-Girlfriend) The Enterprise shows up for a routine medical checkup when the creature quickly begins terrorizing them.

Since the creature can change its shape at will, one wonders why the backstory with McCoy was necessary, as it could change into your mom if it wanted to.

In any case, it's a very dramatic showdown as Kirk shows up to kill the creature, whom McCoy is emotionally inclined to protect. Tension mounts as the creature turns on Kirk, who drops his phaser.

It's up to McCoy to save Kirk! And if the situation wasn't clear enough, Spock runs in and says, "It's killing the Captain! Shoot it Doctor!" "I won't shoot Nancy!" McCoy Insists!

So what does Spock do? In an unbelievable -- are they actually doing this? -- moment, SPOCK BEGINS TO BRUTALLY BEAT THE WOMAN, to demonstrate that it isn't really her.

Only on Trek.

So after a brilliantly displayed turmoil from DeForrest Kelly as McCoy, he accepts that it isn't really Nancy, and shoots. Damn. Tough stuff.

The drama is played very well on all counts. The direction is as intimate as the situation warrants, and the music is a complimentary addition to McCoy's situation. In order to make the killing of the creature even more morally difficult, it was the last of a dying breed. Like killing the last Dodo. (or Buffalo,a s the episode cites.) But if the last Dodo was picking off members of my crew, I'd kill it.

This episode was a good mix of the fantastical science-fiction elements and adventure/drama. The writers may have tried a little too hard to make the drama character-based. The effort is appreciated, but other episodes were able to handle the balance a bit more naturally. The priority towards the main characters seems to be making it's shift away from Kirk and towards the whole of the crew, but it may be a bit premature to begin detecting patterns.

Great creature design solidifies the memorability of this installment, and a great bit of comic levity is thrown in early on. (On the bridge, Uhura flirts with an unreceptive Spock. Classic.)

Stay tuned tomorrow for "The Naked Time."

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Enemy Within

There are almost no words for this episode.

But that's the point of this whole endeavor, so I'll do my best to form a few.

In this episode, a transporter malfunction creates what seems to be a duplicate Captain Kirk ... an EVIL Captain Kirk. The basic premise is enough to keep anyone away, but it's what happens BEYOND the setup that makes this episode noteworthy. Because, let's be honest, that is a really corny idea for an episode. Borderline stupid.

Thankfully, the obvious extension of that idea is executed rather quickly. We're only subjected to a quick bit of the obligatory Evil-Kirk-doing-bad-things-shtick. That quick bit, by the way, is actually pretty phenomenally hilarious. "You're too beautiful to ignore ... too much woman."

Beyond this pageantry, the story actually flirts with fairly interesting dualistic ideas. You see, it's not an "evil" Kirk, we find, but that Kirk himself has be cleft in twain. The compassionate side, and the animal. The drama of this episode comes from the realization that one cannot function without the other. Who we took to be "good-Kirk" begins to falter in his command abilities. He NEEDS that elemental side, albeit in a balanced and controlled way.

This brings to mind what we've said previously about Kirk's character. As a moral exemplar, he doesn't change. The drama of his character has to be found in other ways. Many episodes pit him against opposing elements against which he can further define himself. This episode doesn't do that exactly, either. It does, however, give us a very unique and interesting look into the makeup of his character. Even if it uses a now hackneyed plot device to achieve it.

Spock is also afforded decent insight in this episode. To help Kirk (and in turn, the audience) understand his predicament, he draws a parallel to his own existence as a half-vulcan, half-human. Leonard Nimoy seems to be feeling comfortable as Spock by this point, and the character really shines here. Miraculous, as it really is seen as a Kirk-centric installment.

Worth a watch, if only for the pomp on display in evil-Kirk, and certainly for the territory the show covers beyond that. That being said, It isn't high-philosophy. It uses very elementary terms to describe what I consider a much deeper concept.

The fact that they touch on it at all is admirable indeed.

Stay tuned tomorrow for "The Man Trap."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mudd's Women

Here comes the camp.

This episode begins with the Enterprise chasing a small spaceship that continues to evade and rejects all communication attempts. After the captain of this small ship is beamed aboard the Enterprise, one can't help but wish Kirk had just let the thing go.

The bombastic visage of Harry Mudd stand's out even against our crew's brightly colored Starfleet uniforms. He's a space pimp, we find, that dresses in a puffy pirate shirt and sports a thick, curvy mustache. The minute he beams in, one may feel this episode to be a bit ... silly.

And yeah, it's silly. From the beginning, to Mudd's siren-like trio of babes strolling the corridors of the Enterprise, entrancing the male crewmembers. It's all goofy. I wish I could say it was just the aesthetic of the period. I wish I could say the sillyness applied only to how these characters look. The problem is, it touches every aspect of this show.

The plot inches along in a unmotivated, droning fashion. There are a few scene-to-scene cuts that felt completely arbitrary. Even the ending "twist" or "thematic wrap up" feels ill concieved and almost tacked on.

You see, we find that Mudd's women are not, in fact, as beautiful as they seem. They're hyped up on a space-drug that preserves their beauty. So Kirk decides to take advantage of this addiction, and put on a display of his phsycological bad-assery. He switches their pills for placebos, and the girl doesn't notice. Her demeanor changes, she becomes confident, and "beautiful" of character.

Boy did he show her! Well. I guess. I just didn't see the space-whore's lesson learned as a compelling climax. In comparison, the justice being served to the schemeing Harry Mudd seems almost thrown in.

The writing of this episode seems exploitive of it's (pretty simple) concept. It doesn't elevate itself to the high drama we know it's capable of, and the ideas themselves aren't that lofty or effectively communicated. Since the content of this episode almost entirely surrounds the specifics of this "crazy space encounter", you're not left with much else to tide you over.

Stay tuned tomorrow for "The Enemy Within", an episode with a reputation that precedes it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Corbomite Maneuver

I had a feeling going into episode 2 of this show was going to have some sort of drop-off. After such an ambitious opening show, it'd be unbelievable if there weren't.

This episode banks a lot of it's drama on the tension between a mysterious alien encounter. Almost the entire episode is ship-to-ship interactions. It was done quite well. More than adequate to sustain the viewer's attention. There's even a nice little twist at the end, as to the identity of the imposing alien force the Enterprise encounter's. (It's simple, and I simply won't ruin it if you haven't seen the episode.)

If that was all this episode had to offer, however, I would find myself disappointed. No matter how exciting the adventure elements, it needs to have a strong root in character. Thankfully, this episode marks the introduction of a brilliant (and in my opinion, necessary) character: ship's physician, Dr. Leonard McCoy. He's a snappy doc, with a fiery whit and a great deal of humanity.

He completes what is becoming the "holy trifecta" of Star Trek.

Let me explain. I have been observing over the course of this episode and the last, that Kirk himself has no character arc. He doesn't start out in one place and end in another. Sure, he's learning throughout his interactions with alien species, but his character stays largely the same. Instead, he fills the place of another character type: the moral exemplar. The drama of Kirk comes from his decision making. The balance of mind it takes to be a leader.

Now, decision making in great drama is externalized. Kirk must define himself and his choices against other external forces or characters. Initially, it appeared to be just against the cold logic of Spock. However, seeing as Kirk is in no way "anti-logic", this analysis didn't hold up. However, it is quickly becoming obvious that it is Spock's logic and McCoy's brute humanity (or impulsive compassion) that are at odds.

Through this the thesis/antithesis of Spock and McCoy, Kirk is the synthesis. He is the calm and collected medium resting in between. He must take into account the validity of both and proceed in his command. It's a fascinating triangle of a character relationship, and the first hints of it are present in this episode.

That being said, there isn't a great deal of scenes that afford opportunities for great performance, but there is a strong point found in a guest star: a hot-headed navigator named Bailey. Kirk is dealing with an interesting dilemma. He sees a great deal of himself in young Bailey, and is quickly realizing he may have promoted him too quickly. Bailey is slow under pressure, and allows himself to be distracted by the stresses of the present situation with the alien ship.

In a final moment of tension, he explodes. He can't take it! The Enterprise is moments away from destruction, death is imminent. Why isn't anyone else batting an eye!? In this way, it is interesting that his reaction may actually mimic those of the viewer. It really goes to show the impressiveness of the crew, to see an unstable "everyman" in the situation.

By the end of the episode, Kirk has to come to terms with Bailey's shortcomings, and decides upon a very different fate for the boy in light of the alien being's revealed nature. Again, it's a nice ending, decently set up. Not nearly as tight or as dire as the last episode, but certainly adequate.

The promise of greatness to come outweighs the specific concerns of this episodes plot. In that hope, I commend the ability of the shows writers to elevate even the most basic concept. It gives one a feeling that you are in good hands.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Where No Man Has Gone Before

This episode is a great introduction to the series. There are no punches pulled, that's for sure.

While the premise of a mysterious energy cloud giving certain members of the crew extra sensory abilities may seem silly out of context, it is handled with the utmost sincerity and ingenuity. The science fiction elements are always used subservient to the drama. Everything is working toward a greater whole. Even the extra sensory abilities are put to a greater concept: the corrupting nature of almost god-like power.

The writing of this episode is solid. We open with a character based scene between the ship's Captain Kirk and his alien logic-obsessed, emotion-suppressed science office Spock playing chess. Their banter is quick, plot based, and immediately establishes their characters. It is used also as a segue into the show's instigating action.

The plot structure is tight, and all the characters are woven in pretty brilliantly. One of the affected god-men, for example, was established (in a GREAT scene in the sickbay) as a former schoolmate of our good Captain Kirk. This elevates the drama of Kirk's later decision to maroon him on a deserted planet. (An already inspired concept.)

The action of the plot makes way for very natural inclusion of adventure elements. The climax, where the affected man-god and woman-god face Kirk on the deserted planet is particularly exciting. Not just for the visceral energy of the ensuing fight, but for the dramatic content of Kirk trying to pry at the last remaining bit of humanity from his former ship's psychiatrist. It's an amazing piece of performance from William Shatner.

In fact, the performances all around are pretty fantastic. The arc of the affected crew members is very well formed and believable. That coupled with how well written they are prevents it from ever becoming hammy or campy.

A cursory look at Mr. Spock's attitude toward emotions bookends this episode, and promises potential for episodes to come.

All in all, a superb opening episode. I understand that it was not the first aired in it's original run, however, I stand behind my decision to watch these episodes in production-order rather than broadcast-order. While the episodic nature of the show renders the distinction fairly meaningless, it is still the way in which they were originally conceived by all the artists involved.

Stay tuned tomorrow for "The Corbomite Maneuver."

Boldly going ...

...where literally millions have gone before.

This blog is going to be used as a log of an admittedly personal project: watching every episode, in order (intended order, not broadcast order) of the original Star Trek series. (hereafter "TOS")

When I say "personal project", don't misunderstand me. I hold myself to a great deal of scrutiny in my analysis. We will be looking at the meat and potatoes of Trek: character arcs, plot constructs, thematic content ... EVERYTHING.

This will be a great way to ramp up to the release of JJ Abram's new Star Trek film. In the interest of full disclosure, I have seen many of these epsiodes before, but not for many years. This will be a completely fresh look, as I will be writing as if through new eyes. Star Trek from the beginning. No pop culture implications or considerations.

I'll try to make this as much fun to read as I'm having watching the show!