TREK-A-DAY: The Alternative Factor
EPISODE TWENTY-SEVEN: The Alternative Factor
“But what about Lazarus?” Kirk’s final statement is a haunting one as we encounter our first ‘there’s actually no solution to this’ episode. Upon being attacked by a rending in time and space (wherein the ship and crew simply cease to exist on Federation charts), the crew finds a lone cast-away named Lazarus with a downed ship, claiming to be pursuing a villain who killed his planet.
Well in classic Highlander/The One (with Jet Li) style, it turns out THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!!!! and crazy Lazarus is pursuing ‘anti-Lazarus’, a version of himself from another reality. The catch is, that anti-Lazarus is the sane one, whose people accidentally caused their own destruction by trying to visit the other reality. Anti-Lazarus has been trying to seal the gateway, while crazy Lazarus attempts to stop him. If both exist in one reality at the same time, both realities will implode and as a result its up to Kirk to throw crazy Lazarus back through the portal to limbo to fight himself forever more.
He does so, anti-Lazarus kind of saves the day, as the universe is safe, but Lazarus is doomed to fight himself in limbo forever. It’s one of the many instances in Trek where there is a problem with no real, clean solution. And so Kirk asks, “What about Lazarus?” It’s a haunting, Twilight Zone-esque ending to a meandering episode. The pace is very slow and the special effects are particularly terrible (super imposed shot of a super nova!! Vasaline lense! A spinning shot into a blue tinted limbo!) This is the first time I really would have appreciated watching an episode remastered; while it seems unnecessary in most others, here it would have really, really helped.
Behold. Lazarus fights Lazarus. Marvel in wonder.
Also, fun fact about this episode: Drew Barrymore’s father John Drew Barrymore was originally cast as Lazarus, but was no where to be found when the shoot began. Trek filed a complaint with the Screen Actors Guild, which in turn banned him from working for six months. This likely explains why Lazarus’ fu manchu is so patchy in some scenes and so think and lustrous in others, as the actor may well have been trying to grow out facial hair to suppliment his make-up. Seriously though, the costume designer must have gotten bulk discounts on fu manchus, they’ve been the facial hair of choice two weeks running.
It does, however, add a nice cast-away quality to the character, and I find that most charming part of this episode is the Robert Louis Stevenson quality of finding a mysterious, crazed stranger marooned on an island (or planet, in this case) and having an adventure result from it. There have been a number of times when Trek has evoked the naval theme in wonderful little ways, and this episode is a perfect example. For all the space ships and talk of anti-matter dimensions, it has a flavour of old nautical stories and myths that makes me really happy.
As it is our first ‘alternate reality’ Trek episode, it’s important to point out the precident set here (never to be acknowledged again): if Lazarus and his anti-matter counterpart are ever in the same reality at the same time, the universe explodes. Which raises an interesting question about all those times characters visit themselves from different times and realities for the rest of the series…ah well…I guess that only applies to anti-matter alternate universes…right J.J.?
First alternate reality AND evoking old timey nautical mythology? Certainly a conceptually fantastic episode, if the execution is a bit lacking (please see the blue tinted monstrosity above.) But I’m always down with more fu manchus.