Monday, September 24, 2012

The Doomsday Machine

"They say there's no devil, Jim, but there is. 
Right out of hell, I saw it!"

The crew encounters a decimated ship, eerily similar in design to the Enterprise, floating helplessly in the wake of a planet killer. Its captain, maddened after the death of his crew, takes control of the Enterprise when Kirk is trapped on the ghost ship.

If that sounds exciting, well, that's because it is. "The Doomsday Machine" is one of the most notable entries in Star Trek's illustrious logbook, and it earns its place solely through the exemplary dramatization of its situational tension. From the tantalizing setup of a dead vessel to the frustrations of inter-military conflict as the mad commodore wrestles command from Spock, this episode is a fine-tuned machine of drama and production value.

In the way of subtextual complexity or interpretable theme, however, this episode is its own Doomsday Machine. As with many of the best of Trek, here the limits of the hour-long format are felt as the machinations of the plot consume most of the runtime. Thankfully, the story gifted is an excellent one, superbly executed in both direction as well as a virtuoso performance by the week's guest star.

In light of the relative excellence of all presented elements, the deficiencies in other areas hardly register as such. Upon reflection, however, one's mind can't help but wander to the potentially striking narrative juxtapositions that could have been made given its own feature. If any concept were deserving of the luxury of a two-parter, this would certainly be it.

Kirk's relation to Decker, their diverging approaches, the weight of responsibility, the toll of command, and the virtue of self-sacrifice; all seem to naturally imply themselves through the brilliance of the established story, but are hardly explored. Passing mentions in dialogue tease our minds and beg the question:

Will the Doomsday Machine have its day?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amok Time

The triumvirate's relationship is tested when the unique alien biology associated with Spock's ancestry sends him spiraling into a destructive, quasi-pubescent madness lest he is reunited with his home planet.

"Returning to The Source" is a classic mythological motif representative of thematic conflicts beyond the raw science fiction conceit on display here. While biologically interesting, and precedented with a cunning display of techno-babble (salmon's natal homing), the true core of this concept is its thematic focus on the nature of Spock's (and by extent, all Vulcans') internal conflict:

The extremity of his dedication to logic and reason must come with a cost. Reproductive necessity escapses no one, though we may wish to think it does when considering those steely-exteriored, Spock-like figures in our own lives. Vulcan is an entire society extrapolated of the unbalanced attitudes present in our own.

The barbaric nature of the Vulcan rituals depicted calls to mind images of familiarly anachronistic traditions kept alive in our own society. Traditions also birthed by an imbalanced reconciliation of our base humanity. The extremes of Vulcan's ritual answers to base questions of existence mirror our own historical barbarism and presently clinging traditions.

This is dramatically presented in contrast to the comparatively balanced (read: superior) approach of the Federation. Specific note is made of the Vulcan leader's lone reputation for denying a seat on the council. On the macro, this universe-building definition of conflict appropriately reflects the micro drama of the character conflict. It's what this episode is known for: Kirk vs. Spock.

But what, exactly, does the movement of the story say in the way of theme? What is it that breaks Spock from his impassioned blood rage? The exposing of this ritual madness to that very presence of an outsider. Through the contrast, a mutual understanding is born. This is directly in line with the very core of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic: the reconciliation of opposites. Just as Kirk is Action tempered by Logic (Spock) and Passion (McCoy.)

The inherent balance of Spock's own "outsider" status on Vulcan -- as a legendary officer of the Federation -- and a particularly illogical (and therefore distinctly non-Vulcan) conclusion brings Spock to a level of understanding that allows him to transcend the conflict both internally and externally:

You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. This is not logical, but it is often true.

One can't help but feel the entire motivation for the situation's creation was to put our leads at odds. However, the exceptional dramatizing of a multi-level conflict and resolution alone justifies its existence. Its effectiveness is undeniable considering the ensuing reputation and cultural impact. (Who can forget that music?!)

On the surface, we're given a story about the experience of seeking out "new life"  and the exoticism of foreign culture. The stakes are raised by supporting universal conflict and represented theme. For that, "Amok Time" has earned its place next to the greatest episodes in Star Trek's history.