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.

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