EPISODE FORTY-THREE: Obsession
This turned out to be an incredible episode. I was worried in the first few minutes (seemed to be another ‘monster of the week’ thing happening, crewmen not shooting things they were ordered to shoot, scientifically impossible creatures -which still surprise everyone for some reason-) but in fact the episode delivered an incredibly deep character experience. As the name suggests, the cloud (the aforementioned monster) is Kirk’s Moby Dick and at first everyone treats his obsession as such. What I love about this is that while the audience have been shown that the monster is clearly intelligent and malicious (thus confirming Kirk’s fears and justifying his desire to kill it), the crew hasn’t and as a result will not let Kirk off the hook for his irratic behaviour.
What I enjoy about this is that both McCoy and Spock begin to question Kirk’s ability to lead not because of some wacky external factor (like when he was split in two by the transporter, or last week when he was aging super fast) but because of his actual command decisions and inability to articulate his motives. His most loyal friends basically rebel against him with complete justification. It’s a fantastic set of scenes, from Kirk snapping at Spock to stop analyzing him (one of the few times Spock calls Kirk “Jim”), to Bones yelling at Kirk accusing him of sacrificing lives for a monster trophy. This is all best summed up by an awesome bit where Kirk yells at McCoy, “Don’t push our friendship to the point where I’ll need to hit you-“
To which McCoy declares, “It’s not as your friend, Jim, but as a medical doctor.” He then puts Kirk’s command under medical review. All of his own volition, backed by Spock. It’s powerful stuff, particularly since it isn’t driven by anything other than Kirk’s actions.
The B-Plot revolves around the son of the man Kirk failed to protect from the cloud back when he was an ensign, who is now on The Enterprise and is also interesting, with him ending up failing the same way Kirk did. We get some great projection onto the kid who blames himself for the whole mess, while also managing a neat little scene with Nurse Chapel scamming him into eating by faking some orders that brings some more flavor to her character.
All in all, this is a great exploration of the workings of a ship against the inner workings of guilt and obsession. It all felt natural and in-character, with no one acting irrationally, just acting without properly communicating to each other. It was also an excellent look at the other side of the coin of these three friends, when they have to set that aside and act in the best interests of their work. A nicely handled feud among friends.