EPISODE THIRTY: Amok Time
What a helluva way to kick off season two! Amok Time is one of those episodes I’ve been looking forward to for some time, knowing the name and the basic Kirk vs. Spock premise…but as is the case with the famous episodes, it went above and beyond. Fantastic episode.
Sing it with me: Buh buh buh BA BA BA ba BA ba BAHHHHHH
The episode kicks off with two things that make me really happy: a nod to continuity with Nurse Chapel is back and hitting on Spock, a fact known to McCoy who comments on it (I had written this off as another “things said in The Naked Time don’t count *cough Yeoman Rand cough*” but here we are with Chapel still very much in love with Spock). The second was an immediate emotional outburst by an irrationally irritable Spock. Subversions of established characters are my favorite, so it was great to kick off the new season with a “here’s someone you know quite well acting crazy” moment. This entire episode serves as a fantastic character study about just how little we know about Spock beyond immediate circumstance and is a wonderful look into our co-workers’ “weekend lives”. As close as Kirk and McCoy are to Spock, they really do know very little about his past or traditions. Although they know his personality, virtues, likes and dislikes, this episode underlines the big cultural gap exists between Spock and his human counterparts (but acknowledged by Chapel way back in The Naked Time!)
As it turns out, Spock is in the Vulcan equivalent of heat and thus must return to Vulcan to mate with his kinda-wife to whom he was psychically linked as a child (like a werewolf in Twilight! *shoots self in head*) to meet up with at this time.
And so, Kirk risks his career to get Spock to the church on time, but as it turns out the church is a strange Vulcan plateau and there’s a wacky ritual known as (excited gasp) PON FARR to be accomplished first. This is a classic, classic Star Trek term and concept and has fuelled any number of nerd sex jokes since (and doubtless has been used successfully as part of a pick up line). Problem is, when Spock logically counted up his 99 Problems, he neglected to notice that his pseudo-bride was indeed one, as she is in love with another Vulcan and thus chooses Kirk as her champion (knowing he’d want none of that if he won and release her to be with other Vulcan) to battle Spock to the death for her hand. Kirk, being an awfully good friend, accepts the duel with a mind to save Spock from fighting the giant other Vulcan guy, not understanding that it’s to the death. And so, we get our biggest fight since Mr. Noonien Singh caused that ruckus in engineering, as Kirk and Spock duke it out with American Gladiator weapons to the most famous song in all of Star Trek: The battle music (I couldn’t help but grin when I heard them sneak it in earlier in the episode, considerably slowed down and more deliberate when Spock is describing the Pon Farr to Kirk). Anywho, due to some quick thinking by McCoy (and a good old shot of fake death seurum in Kirk’s arm) the feud is settled with only Kirk’s shirt as a casualty and Spock’s fever is sated. He doesn’t want to marry the chick anymore (for good reason) and gets in a great dig at other Vulcan about how “having is often less fun than wanting” before returning to The Enterprise to stand trial for Kirk’s death.
Which in turn gives us a great Huck Finn moment of Kirk re-appearing and one of the most genuinely touching moments we’ve had in the series so far as Spock excitedly exclaims, “Jim!” with a big grin on his face and hugs Kirk. Only to immediately snap back into logic mode, but the little glimpse is a wonderfully honest moment and sums up how close these two characters really are. The episode is filled with awesome moments of commradery between the three leads (particuarly when Spock asks Kirk to be his best man. Then quietly asks McCoy to come along as well. Three best friends that anyone’s ever had, and they’re never, ever, ever, going to leave each other…) And then we’ve got my new favourite dynamic on the ship: the Chekov and Sulu variety hour! The two have a few scenes grumbling about course changes and already Sulu feels like more of a character. Chekov and he have a nice buddy comedy thing going and I can’t wait to see more from it.
Also notably, we get our first real look at Vulcan culture, to this point a closely guarded secret by Spock. While the costumes are typically weird, we get our first “Live Long and Prosper,” which kind of blew me a way because I hadn’t noticed its absence in the first season. It’s yet another one of those things I always took for granted about the Original Series that I’m only finding out the truth of now (Chekov was also one of those things.) There’s also a stubborn elder named T’Pau which really threw me for a loop, going “Holy crap, that’s T’Pol from Enterprise all grown up.” It gave me much more respect for that series…until I read up on it, and while they were meant to be the same character, there was some legal weirdness that prevented it. Ah well; a cool little moment nevertheless.
So, all-in-all, a fantastic episode. Great characterization, a fun fight, legendary music…who could ask for anything more?
I can. It’s only the first episode of the season, after all.
On Season Two…
So, what’s different about season two? Well, right off the bat, the damn DVD menu is now based around the science officer’s station rather than the helm. This was both disconcerting and awesome. Each boxed set is themed around a different wing of command (Season 1 is Captain’s yellow, 2 is Science blue, 3 is Engineering red) and this is a nice nod to the overall product. Well done. There’s a budget for the show now, which shows already in the variety of extra crewmen running around (no more of this “there are six people on The Enterprise” scenes) and we also get the very noticeable (and welcome) addition of Mr. Chekov to the crew. The theme music (and music in general) are more bombastic and include a wider variety of instruments (most noticeably, the bass line on Spock’s scenes) as a financial falling-out between Roddenberry and Alexander Courage (the original composer) led to a new musician in charge. It’s not worse, just different…for the most part. Sometimes it’s worse (the new theme song with extra vocal accompaniment, for instance).
STAR TREK SEASON ONE IN REVIEW:
And so ends both the first month and first season of TREK-A-DAY! So far I’m having a fantastic time and I hope you are too. This season held some of the most iconic episodes in all of Star Trek: the appearance of Khan, the Gorn Captain, City on the Edge of Forever, the first Klingons and Romulans, and a host of other fun moments. The show grew a lot over the season and is already well on its way to finding balance with its characters (I joke about it a lot, but the Yeoman Rand subplot really did limit the story options for Kirk quite considerably; and let’s face it, a Kirk in a relationship on board the Enterprise would be weak storytelling. He’s already in a great relationship with Spock and McCoy, why complicate it?). The show is also mixing the more adventurous sci-fi (like that time McCoy got jousted to death by a knight) with more hard sci-fi (like City of the Edge of Forever‘s tragic time travel plot).
It’s a fantastic mix, the performances are great, the scripts at best wonderful or at worst interesting conceptually (there has yet to be an episode that has truly seemed like a terrible idea. I know we’ll get there, but so far so good) and there is a sense of optimism that must have been refreshing in the 60’s (and a spirit of adventure and exploration that sadly is refreshing now.)
Neil Gaiman recently tweeted that though he does not support Newt Gingrich’s politics, he found the general derision of his talk of space colonization to be disappointing. There’s a sense of cynicism and defeat about space now, with NASA’s shuttle program ended and a variety of large scale mistakes and failures that have resulted in massive wastes of resources (like all those probes that just crashed and burned) have turned public opinion against space exploration. It’s odd, but the next great resurgence will likely be once galactic tourism actually kicks into gear with Virgin Galactic. Perhaps tourist and commercial dollars are what will finally lead to real headway into space…
In any case, the dream Roddenberry has just begun to introduce to us is a glorious one. In the 60s, it signalled equality between genders, races, and ideals, moving past the fear and paranoia of the Cold War toward the betterment of humanity. For us, it signals, sadly, some of those same things, but also the dream of science fiction: where our flights of fancy become science fact. Shatner is fond of commenting on how the president of Bombardier got into aerospace because of Star Trek. This show is a real beacon of hope, even today. And a constant reminder that it is worth dreaming; for even if it remains a dream for us, you never know when someone’s imagination will be ignited by that dream and make it a reality.
If you need proof of this, look at your phone.
Coming up tomorrow: Star Trek Season Two!
EPISODE TWENTY-NINE: Operation–Annihilation!
Worst. Title. Ever. This is a solid episode to end the season on; high stakes for all involved, personal cost for Kirk, and a generally interesting plot which is a microcasm of the later Borg episodes (once again, I can imagine Original Series fans being frustrated that a plot that was kinda played out in one episode became a big running plot in Next Generation). Essentially, Kirk and Co. beam down to the latest in a line of planets that have been consumed by madness, madness which is caused by Brain Slugs (that look a little like undulating fried eggs) which infect the human nervous system and add them to their hive mind; using their bodies as tools to spread their being across planets. Unlike the Borg, the human mind remains intact and fighting, often leading to the host dying.
Public enemy #1
The stakes are raised quite considerably, as Kirk’s brother’s family lives on the planet. When they arrive, his brother is already dead and his nephew and sister-in-law are infected. She manages to warn them of the nature of the creatures with her dying breath and Kirk is left with a comatose nephew who will die if revived. This adds some good emotional depth to the first half of the episode, but aside from a couple moments of mourning, the nephew just becomes a name leveraged in the raising of the stakes. It’s never resolved, there are no scenes between the two, and one can, I suppose, just assume he was jettisoned into space following the episode.*
*Okay, so there was actually a deleted scene where Kirk and him discuss how he’ll go live with his father’s business partner. Deleted because, you know, who needs emotional closure to a central storyline involving the main character’s family?
Things worsen with Spock becoming infected and a “good of the many” vs “good of the few” argument starting up between Spock (kill everyone, himself included to stop the spread to other worlds) and McCoy (I really care about my patients to the point I’m willing to let this infect everyone) and finally being resolved by attacking the creature’s weakness to a certain kind of light (not before accidentally blinding Spock…then getting back test results that say they didn’t have to). Anyway, Spock gets his eyesight back when Sleeping Beauty cries into his wounded eyes…or rather, he has weird Vulcan extra eye-lids, one of the many genetic deus ex’s that the Vulcans seem so adept at evolving.
All-in-all, a good little episode that once again focuses on the characters’ relationships under fire. And it led to the fantastic Futurama Brainslug arc. So that’s another plus.
EPISODE TWENTY-EIGHT: The City on the Edge of Forever
This was yet another episode I was looking forward to; though I knew little about it going in, the name frequently comes up as one of the most famous Original Trek episodes.
And surprise, surprise, A TIME TRAVEL PLOT!
But a masterful one, happily, conducted by Harlan Ellison (an acclaimed sci fi writer) who nevertheless resulted the rewrites done on the episode (which remains a powerful one, regardless…)
So, the plot: when McCoy accidentally injects himself with CRAZY he beams down to a planet which holds “The Guardian of Forever” a giant time donut that can transport you back to any point in history that you would care to go*. (Or, more specifically, anywhere that Paramount Studios had black-and-white stock footage of…)
Mmmmmmm Forbidden Time Donut….
Crazy McCoy jumps in randomly and changes the timeline, such that space travel never occurred and thus destroying The Enterprise and everyone on it. Kirk and Spock follow him into time to try and prevent this, and a number of A Sound of Thunder-esque hijinks occur (namely, trying to guess which of their actions screwed up the timeline). They arrive in 1930s New York and after a daring police chase (they hid.) manage to find their way into a halfway house run by Major Barbara (or, as she’s called in this non-Shaw written version, Edith Keeler) played by Dynasty‘s Joan Collins. Keeler enchants Kirk with her dreams of a time when money used for warfare will be applied to the betterment of mankind and the exploration of space and gradually the two fall in love while poor Mr. Spock (who Kirk has described as Chinese in an off-colour lie to describe his appearance earlier in the episode…he also claims Spock’s ‘deformed’ ears are due to a rice picking machine accident. Ouch.) toils away at creating a computer to triangulate where McCoy will arrive and how he will change the timeline.
What he discovers is that Kirk’s love (he drops the l-bomb) either dies the next day, or goes on to be super important to Eisenhower. The problem is, they can’t tell which will result in the broken timeline. Then the computer REALLY kicks in and they learn that if Keeler lives, she’ll form a massive pacifist movement which will prevent the US from being battle ready for WWII. Meaning Hitler wins.
And so, when McCoy (now having slept off his madness after getting to play a generally disturbing crazy version of himself) is reunited with Kirk and Spock, Kirk prevents McCoy from saving Keeler from being hit by a car, essentially killing the woman he loves. It’s a powerful, tragic scene, made all the more so by McCoy’s incredulity and frustration that Kirk stopped him. It’s pretty much a perfect moment for Captain Kirk, where he unflinchingly makes the right call at great personal cost. But he does it, almost immediately, prepared to live with the consequences rather than debate them with himself. It’s a split second decision and a truly heroic sacrifice.
They return to the Time Donut who offers them more time travel hijinks, but a slightly broken Kirk just wants to “Get the Hell out of here.” And so they do, and thus complete a perfect time travel episode. Perfect, because it spends less time dicking around with paradox ideas (fun when used sparingly, but annoying and tedious when the only focus) and instead focuses on characters. Keeler is a bit one-sided, but Kirk’s view of the life he could have with her makes it all worthwhile and is a nice (though perhaps unintentional) callback to The Naked Time, where pseudo-drunk Kirk’s greatest sadness is that he can never have a lasting relationship as his duties to his ship will always come first (granted he is talking about our hommie Yeoman Rand at the time…) It reminds me a lot of the incredible The Inner Light episode in The Next Generation (one of my favourites) which sees Picard live out a whole lifetime on a planet as an ordinary man. Granting these characters we know and love a chance at an entirely different existence is exactly what these time travel and alternate reality episodes should be about (which I think J.J. Abrams nailed in the new Trek film; they’re recognizably the same characters we know, just operating in new and interesting ways)
So for all the silly time travel that will come, here we have a classic sci fi adventure; Star Trek operating best once again by focusing on the characters and their relationships and how those factors play into the scenario, rather than just letting the scenario run the show.
*10 points if you got the Weird Al reference.
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.
EPISODE TWENTY-SIX: Errand of Mercy
That’s right folks, everyone’s favourite war-loving, chief-of-security becoming race of aliens arrives in the Trek universe, in all their weird “exotic Orientalist” 1960’s goodness. A bunch of dudes in black-face, wearing fu manchu mustaches, speaking in British accents and saluting a bit like Nazis. What a wacky combo.
Kirk and Spock beam down to a strategically important planet to try and convince them to allow the Federation to arm/defend them against the Klingon Empire. The Klingons are built up nicely as threatening conquerors and show up with an invasion force, forcing the Enterprise to flee and marooning Kirk and Spock behind enemy lines. The native population of the planet (mysterious old guys!) keep referring the fact that they’re magic and untouchable, but Kirk staunchly refuses to listen, often cutting them off just as they are about to explain why they’re magic. It’s quite frustrating, from a viewer stand-point and similar to the Dan Brown Syndrome of having characters with clearly important knowledge just simply not state it in order to artificially create suspense. Our mysterious old guys are trying to explain that they are beings of pure energy, evolved far beyond either Klingon or Human and will allow no conflict to occur between the races.
This leads to a fantastic show-down between Kirk, the Klingon captain, and the Magic Old Guys, where Kirk passionately argues that they should be allowed the agency to wage war if they want to wage war. This is an interesting little scene for two reasons: First, we get Kirk passionately arguing in favour of war, despite the Old Guys repeatedly pointing out how many innocents will die; Second, we get Kirk fuming about exactly what he does EVERY EPISODE: Meddle in the affairs of aliens. Just a few episodes, he forced a war in order to broker peace in A Taste of Armageddon and yet here he is, arguing that these Magic Old Guys shouldn’t be allowed to intercede in his affairs.
Do as I say, not as I do, I suppose.
The Klingon Captain gets some great moments and is a fun, scenery-chewing, classical actor at work. Of particular note is the awesome little moment where he suggests that between Kirk and himself, they should be able to take out all the Old Guys. The begruding respect the two have for each other makes them easy allies, despite their animosity.
The episode ends with the Magic Old Guys brokering peace and explaining how the Klingons and Humans will become friends in the future, which I’m sure Mr. Worf agrees with. It’s a fun little episode that flips the conventions of the show and introduces an important element to the future of Trek.
EPISODE TWENTY-FIVE: The Devil in the Dark
This one is a neat little episode; similar to The Man Trap, it’s a localized more intimate episode very reminiscent to a procedural show like The X-Files with a ‘monster of the week’ to deal with. Of course, there’s a Star Trek spin where the creature turns out to be merely protecting its young (leading to the fantastic Futurama Pobbles episode as well as just about every dragon film ever) but nevertheless it’s a strange little episode full of some memorable moments (Shatner actually cites this as his favourite episode). Most notably, is the creature itself, which looks like a chili-carpet and couldn’t be more classic 60’s sci fi:
Like a sidewalk in the entertainment district on Sunday morning.
And yes, it moves exactly how you think it would: by undulating hilariously.
The plot goes, that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to an important mining colony where miners are being killed by a mysterious creature which is actively sabotaging their operations. Kirk and Spock set out to destroy it, only to have matters get more complicated when Spock deduces the creature is the last of its species and thus killing it would essentially be causing extinction. This is a dilemma that will repeat itself throughout Trek, as our heroes struggle with their right to exist versus the equally valid right of alien species to exist as well.
The creature (a Hotha) is a silicon-based lifeform that lives in the rocks of the planet and is tasked with protecting the future of its race (all in strange orbs, which are later revealed to be eggs). Essentially once they are able to hurt the creature, Kirk finds that it bears no malicious intent; this is an important scene, as the bemused and curious Kirk is observing its reactions while Spock (previously advocating for the creature’s capture instead of killing) insists that Kirk kill it. There’s a real desperation to protect Kirk that is very telling of the depth of the two characters’ friendship, as Spock is unquestioningly willing to cause the extinction of a species to save Kirk. This turns out to be unnecessary as the creature shows no desire to kill them and when Spock mind melds with it, the creature communicates a desperate “No Kill I!” The meld, once properly established allows Spock to speak for the creature, which is highly intelligent and wounded, worrying for the future of the species. The miners have (of course) been randomly destroying the eggs (which contain the entirety of the species beyond our one Chili-Rug Monster) and leads Kirk to orchestrate an agreement between the Hotha and the miners, where the miners will help protect the eggs if the newly hatched Hotha help them burrow tunnels. A symbiotic relationship is set up (and McCoy who proudly declares he could “cure a rainy day” patches up the Hotha with concrete allowing it to heal) and we get a classic Star Trek ending, where human and alien have gained a better understanding of each other and themselves. Shatner is right in his estimation that this random, little episode contains a lot of the best of Trek’s intentions, messages, and purpose.
It also ends with a fantastic little scene where Spock admits that during his meld, the Hotha had the same reaction to human appearance that they had to it. But that she found his ears the most attractive feature. Spock then coyly adds, “I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was the only one…” There’s some more of that oft-used but nevertheless very fun banter between McCoy, Spock, and Kirk that really makes the show live.
Not bad for a ‘monster-of-the-week’ episode about an undulating chili-rug.
EPISODE TWENTY-FOUR: This Side of Paradise
A nice change of pace in this episode, though still with high stakes, as Kirk and Co. land on a hippy commune planet where more and more crew members drink the Kool-Aid (in this case, flower spores) leading to a mass mutiny of love and happiness driving the crew to abandon ship. This is a great scenario for two reasons:
a) It gives Spock some time to be emotional and in love (he gets some) as well as playfully climb a tree. It’s always nice to see Nemoy get to play something other than just logic.
b) Kirk is genuinely defeated by the fact that his crew just leaves the ship. There’s actually nothing he can do, which is awesome. There’s a great moment of him just sitting on the bridge, alone and defeated where he comments on the fact that the ship is really damn big and really damn quiet. It’s a beautifully lonely scene and an excellent reminder that no matter how determined Kirk is, he needs his crew or the ship (and he himself) are useless.
They resolve the spore issue through rage (RAGE!) and Kirk’s stuntman throws down pretty epically with Spock after Kirk insults the hell out of him. There’s some great humour here and some wonderful moments between the crew both in and out of commune mode.
All-in-all, a great little episode that kind of addresses the commune lifestyle of the 60s, while also giving us a much needed break from huge, serious commentaries about the future of humanity. It’s a nice little look at one facet of society of the time and of what actually makes The Enterprise run.
EPISODE TWENTY-THREE: A Taste of Armageddon
Yikes. This episode actually dropped my jaw, no mean feat given how much sci fi I’ve consumed over the years, but here we are. The crew recieves orders from yet another over-powered diplomat, who demands they beam down to a planet which is sending out a hard “STAY THE HELL AWAY!” message. They arrive to find a pristine, futuristic utopia (which of course means everything is fine!) only to be informed that the planet is at war with its former colony and that now that the ship is in orbit, they are all in danger. Seconds later, there’s an attack in the middle of the city…only nothing happens. And here’s where we go to crazy-town USA:
The wars are fought mathematically on computers, essentially constituting a digital war; each planet declares where the attack would land and the computer runs a simulation of the damage and casualties. But rather than actually blow shit up (they’ve been at this for 500 years), the people registered as casualties in the attack REPORT TO A DISINTEGRATION CHAMBER FOR DEATH. It’s an incredible concept, one that is used in various ways throughout sci fi (Ray Bradbury has some excellent stories about ideas like this) but it’s the execution here that got me: everyone is super calm about it (though distressed to find they’ve died), but nevertheless meekly report to the chambers for death. It’s sterile and horrible, evoking the disturbing efficiency of the Nazi’s genocidal Final Solution, but a creepily voluntary one. The habitants of the planet are convinced this is the only way to perserve their civilization by removing the horrific messiness of war (one can’t help but see their point knowing how much culture is destroyed in every war, from architecture to all the lost artifacts in the Sacking of Baghdad).
Kirk and Spock are, of course, horrified by this and proceed to execute a fairly standard “escape captivity” plot with one important catch: the Enterprise has been declared a casualty and thus Kirk has the ship (in the very capable hands of temporary Commander Scotty!) to worry about as well…and thus makes good on a threat he made to Anon-7 the leader of the planet: “I can destroy your planet.”
And Prime Directive be damned, that’s exactly what he orders the Enterprise to do: he gives them two-hours to negotiate or the USS Enterprise WILL LEVEL EVERY CITY ON THE PLANET.
Kirk basically became Grand Moff Tarkin.
His gambit is successful, leading to the destruction of the war computers, forcing the planet to confront the actual horror of war, rather than their clean, sterile war game and both combatants fold. After a chilling speech in which Kirk lays out what war is and why he brought it to their doorstep. This was a really fascinating character study and one of the reasons why Kirk will always hold the title for the most active captain. He doesn’t hesitate to order the destruction of the planet and force them into a situation that will bring Total War to a planet. Everything works out, but his willingness to do this is shocking and a little scary. In an awesome way. Not until Commander Adama will we get such unbridled badass captaining (with some exceptions, of course, where our Trek captains make epic calls…what gets me is that this isn’t a season finale, a major enemy, or a movie. It’s just something Kirk did in the course of his day. Ultimately once they took control of the planet they could have beamed out and left them be…instead he made a pretty epic call and won the day).
Incidentally, we also get the first official mention of the United Federation of Planets. Nifty.
A great episode that doubtless wanted to remind its viewing audience that a Cold War is exactly that: a lot of posturing and threats…but actual war is horrific, messy, and uncontrollable. There’s a reason we must do everything we can to avoid it. Great stuff.
EPISODE TWENTY-TWO: Space Seed
What a boring looking name. This episode is probably going to be kinda dull. Maybe involve some kind of space oddity that amounts to a glowing, floating thing. Maybe it supercharges the engines or something and they have to destroy it/realize it’s a living thing defending its turf and find a way to communicate and let it be.
Yeah, that’s probably what this episode is about.
Wait a minute…
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the only character that could get me more excited than the Gorn Captain, Mr. Ricardo Maltiban himself, Khan Noonien Singh. While the Gorn Captain is certainly the most visually distinct villain in the Original Series canon, he pales in comparison to the name value of Khan. This episode is an utter joy for a number of reasons, but above all because it gives Kirk his nemesis and breaks the mold for Trek villains. He’s Moriarty, Magneto, The Joker, Darth Vader, and a healthy dose of Serpentor all wrapped into one and his epic history begins here.
So, the story: Kirk and Co. find an Earth vessel from the mid-1990s, a time of war and destruction, floating in deep space. On board are a number of humans in suspended animation, the leader of which wakes up when they arrive. His name is Khan and ship’s historian the doe-eyed Lt. Macguilliver is immediately taken with his raw 20th centuriness (note to us, can’t score in our time? Get yourself frozen and become irresistable!* …*Must be a genetically engineered super Ricardo Maltiban to apply). The crew quickly discovers, however, that Khan and his frozen friends are the last of a race of genetically superior dictators who launched a massive take-over of Earth in the mid-1990s leading to World War III. Khan ruled continental Asia until he finally was forced to escape into space aboard a ship named for the prison colony that became Australia (Botany Bay). Khan bullies and intimidates the love-struck Macguilliver into helping him awaken his troops and take over the Enterprise, deciding to take over the universe and shape it in his own image. Through a series of slick maneuvers (and a brief defection by Macguilliver) Kirk (and his trusty stuntman) finally confront Khan mano-a-mano in an epic throwdown. Kirk comes out on top, but has mercy on his opponent, who he cannot help but admire, by sending him and his people to a desolate planet to found their own empire. As Spock sums up, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to visit the planet again in one hundred years time and see what has grown from the seed you planted today Captain?” To which Kirk replies, “It would indeed.” End of story, right?
There’s a beautiful, haunting sense of lurking tragedy contained in that final moment, knowing that Kirk, Spock, and Khan will again cross paths in a cataclysmic way; whether or not this was the intended outcome of the episode (ie. the revisiting of Khan was planned already) I don’t know, but regardless, knowing what I do (despite never having seen the whole film, though quite looking forward to reaching it on the blog) the whole thing feels a bit like a Greek tragedy. This act of mercy turns out to be one of Kirk’s greatest mistakes and yet such acts constitute his moral character. The quoting of Milton by Kirk and Khan caps this nicely, with Khan comparing himself to Lucifer cast down into the pit saying, “Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” He’s openly acknowledging his role as Kirk’s nemesis, by comparing Kirk to God and himself to Lucifer; it’s a killer final exchange and sets the stage for the film to come much later.
Khan himself is a fascinating villain as he is drawn from a fascinating time. Roddenberry insisted on a united humanity in Trek, a far-cry from the turbulent political climate of the 1960s: there could be a cold war with the Romulans and racial intolerance toward aliens, but all human races and nations were working together (we haven’t quite gotten to Ensign Chekov, but we know he’s coming). Despite this optimism, the episode describes how The Eugenics Wars broke out on Earth in the mid-1990s, with a dedicated team of scientists working to create supermen accidentally creating “superior beings with superior ambition.” As Spock describes them, a race of Napoleons and Caesars, all of whom launch a take-over of Earth (this reminded me a lot of the GI JOE Movie villain Serpentor, who was cloned from tonnes of military leaders…and Sgt. Slaughter. While this was long after Trek, I distinctly remember it as my first encounter with the idea of combining the genetics of great leaders to create a superman). Humanity bands together to dethrone them, with Khan (the greatest and, oddly, most merciful of the bunch) escaping into space. The crew admits admiration of him despite their dislike of dictators (he was generally as benevolent a dictator as one could find) much to the confusion of Spock (who raises the valid point that admiring one’s enemies is illogical). What I find so interesting about this is that despite his optimism for the far future, Roddenberry’s team placed World War III only 30 years from the time of filming (perhaps in deference to the general sense in the 60s that the big one was just around the corner). The 90’s came and went without a Eugenics War (yay!) but did see us successfully clone a sheep in 1996 and then proceed into the uncertain climate of the post 9/11 so-called “Age of Terror” (a tremendous over-exaggeration, but one that led to all kinds of strange paranoia and behavior…not unlike the tone of the 60’s). Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how the Trek-verse viewed our recent past (the writers’ future and characters’ long past). According to this episode, rapid space flight was achieved in 2018, we’ll see how that holds up later on.
Now, with the introduction of one of the most iconic science fiction villains of all time (and one Next Generation ironically found right away with Q, but still somehow seemed to insist on trying to ape in their later films with people like Shinzon) it’s easy to exclude other fine elements of this episode, which would be a shame because it features some of the best writing and ensemble work of the series so far. All of the character relationships are in fine form as are the characters themselves, from Kirk’s easy humour and rapport with Spock, to Bones’ epically unflinching response to Khan repeatedly threatening him with a scalpel and choking him: (While giving him a steely, unimpressed glare) “Either choke me or slit my throat; doing both seems redundant.” Khan threatens him again, McCoy responds, “The jugular would be best, right below my left ear.” Khan grins and gives him the knife: Bones just stared down death itself like he was Clint Eastwood. Awesome. We also get a jarring, upsetting, but powerful Uhura moment as one of the supermen smacks her around trying to force her to operate a viewscreen. After roughing her up a bit, the superman finally backhands her, sending her sprawling over the controls, but she gets back up and gives him the same defiant glare; it’s powerful stuff, but also scary-there’s a creepy undertone of domestic abuse and women who refuse to be broken, which is both empowering and terrifying as we realize she would continue to give him that glare if he beat her to death. Obviously the show wasn’t going to go that far with it, but it’s implied and one of the first times Uhura gets to really shine as a character with true grit, rather than just a harp-playing communications officer extraordinare. There are great moments throughout, fantastic interactions, and great character work. Mr. Sulu is oddly absent, but otherwise all the major characters get a chance to shine (except Yeoman Rand…we miss you.)
So, here we have it. Yet again, an iconic episode sneaks up and double punches me in the face with awesome. There’s something particularly magical about an iconic episode that not only introduces an important character or concept, but that is also just a tightly written, wonderfully acted hour of television. It would have been a shame never to have revisited our conqueror-in-exile Khan Noonien Singh and I’m truly grateful the series decided to revisit him; but if this was our only encounter, it would have been a great one nevertheless. Instead, we get a prologue to tragedy, with the hubris of Captain Kirk being his ability to recognize an equal and treat him with respect and dignity.
I can’t wait for round two.