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."

Damn.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Miri

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.

Helen is a fairly interesting character. Nearly as interesting as she is attractive, and that's saying something. Upon meeting of the esteemed Dr. Adams, she 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 this 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.