Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Changeling

The generally perplexing decision to alter the production order of episodes for broadcast is rarely as justified as it is considering The Changeling following The Wolf in the Fold. Both episodes have central concepts so divorced from the characters that interact with them, you'd be hard pressed to find connective tissue enough to call them Star Trek

Even the most casual observer could cull more dramatic character juxtaposition than this episode does for itself. Centering on a logic-obsessed alien probe, comparison to Spock's own cold logic is played as little more than a joke.  

An offense even more startlingly similar to the prior episode comes in an unexpected blast of misogyny. Whereas "Wolf", at very least, grounded the perspective in the context of the story (however misguided), here it comes spouted full-force from the supposed beacon of logic:

"That unit is a woman."
"A mass of conflicting impulses."

What follows is a shockingly unjustified and unresolved story decision to wipe Uhura's memory, requiring her to relearn basic knowledge and function. While this was likely a tool to enhance the probe's menace and dramatic weight, it feels incredibly unearned when at the heart of its drama lies absolutely no conflict on the character level, yet the result of the conflict has immense repercussions on a main character. As such, the subplot plays entirely unbalanced.

Similarly, the device used by Kirk (yet again) to reason the robot into self-destruction is the result of a plot element seemingly inserted for the sole purpose of being used for conflict resolution. While pitting logic against itself could be the impetus of a thematic statement, it rests here on an innocuous detail, unconnected from the remainder of the episode's conflict. There is a general sense of disconnectedness and dramatic detachment that permeates the entire episode. Like an unintended compartmentalization of all its beats.

Adding insult to injury, the namesake of this episode bears only a passing connection to its content. Any depth of comparison between the evoked myth and the drama on display falls apart with head-scratching rapidity. Did a previous draft of this teleplay more solidly earn it's title? In the probe Nomad's own words:

"The creation of perfection is no error."

Perhaps, but the creation of this episode probably was. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Wolf in the Fold

The Enterprise is possessed by Jack the Ripper.

That's right. The Enterprise's computer is taken over by an advanced, non-corporeal alien being responsible for the historical murders of Jack the Ripper. Some may consider this a "spoiler", as the ultimate reveal comes as the second-act plot point launching into act three. Here I will attempt to explain that voicing the ludicrous concept at this episode's heart spoils it no more than it spoils itself.

There can be an innocent, whimsical joy about many of the less-than-serious Star Trek installments. Here, any joys to be taken are undercut either by expositionally waterlogged techo-babble or it's direct opposite: situationally inappropriate stabs at humor. It's as if the mediated approach was thrown out the window, taking itself simultaneously too seriously and not seriously enough.

With an added element of retrospective hilarity, the man first possessed by the entity (and, inexplicably, the voice of the entity post-possession) is played by the man who voiced Piglet in Winnie the Pooh. So, now, here is what the modern analyst (or even casual viewer) is left with: An exposition-heavy depiction of Jack the Ripper -- an alien that sounds like Piglet -- possessing a spaceship after framing a Scotsman for the murder of women, targeted only because it has an appetite for fear (And "women are more easily and more deeply terrified," says Spock.) causing the crew to dope themselves up with a happy hypo-spray so that there will be no fear for it to feed on.

Thus is described what is perhaps the most absurd premise for an episode yet encountered. What should have been a joyously campy romp betrays itself with an extensive and vain attempt to legitimately ground itself as a science-fiction concept. Its execution robs the modern viewer of even the sarcastic appreciation afforded with other conceits nearly as outrageously presented in Star Trek's muddled logbook.

It will surprise no one to learn that the teleplay for this episode was adapted by the author of an entirely unrelated short story published in 1943. It has received criticism for its misogynistic sexism, but this artifact of the times pales in comparison to its true crime: it is one of the worst episodes of one of the best television shows of all time. An embarrassing stain on the hull of the Enterprise.