Trek VIII: Operating at warp speed!

Do the thing with your fingers56. Spock’s Brain. Somewhere I read about how, after a vigorous letter-writing campaign to extend TOS into a third season, and the first episode shown was “Spock’s Brain,” everyone must have wondered just why they’d bothered to put so much effort in. Because, wow, this is some kind of sorry episode. It’s widely considered to be one of the worst, if not the absolute worst, of the series, and as with my watching of TNG the internet was absolutely right about which episodes I can anticipate being bad. So that was a long way of saying that the internet has something knowledgeable to say about Star Trek. Here is where I should probably just get on with it. The basic plot is that some aliens appear on the Enterprise and knock everyone out, and when they come to, Spock has been deposited in sick bay…but is missing his brain! Oh no! This is a thing that can happen in space! Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty set to tracking down the missing part, which mostly consists of Kirk barking angrily at the brainless aliens until he gets what he wants. They don’t have much to tell him because they’re all pretty vapid, mostly being kept sentient by their supercomputer. There are a lot of holes in the story, at least I think there are, upon reflection. Maybe I missed these details and I’d look them up just to make sure they didn’t omit some major explanations, but let’s not kid ourselves. It really doesn’t matter. The end sequence is so corny there is nothing that can save this one. I’m not sure how adults could write this stuff, so I must conclude that they didn’t. This is the 1960s version of Axe Cop. It starts with McCoy subjecting himself to a computer procedure where a bunch of information on how to re-implant a brain is zapped into his head. Then he becomes a surgical genius (observing him work, Scotty yells, “I’ve never seen anything like it! He’s operating at warp speed!” Ha-ha, WARP SPEED! That means fast!). Only the effect is temporary, and the process wears off, in an effort to both create suspense and make sure no one ever speaks of this ridiculous procedure again. But it’s OK because he’s far enough into the surgery that Spock is conscious again and talks McCoy through the rest of his own brain surgery. I’m necessarily leaving out the dozen other insane things here, but what else can I say? Maybe the thing that I’m most bothered by is the completely amateur view of science: complex knowledge is treated like learning it is just a matter of procedure. Not, say, a mixture of deep systemic knowledge combined with experience. Nope: just learn these simple steps and you too can perform brain surgery. Killer Spock line: “While I might trust the Doctor to remove a splinter or lance a boil, I do not believe he has the knowledge to restore a brain.” Overall: Just totally out of character for the show. The actors were trying their best, but the writing and direction here are just abysmal. This is like, Roger Corman and Michael Bay teaming up. 0 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Strange probe encountered in space (4)
  • Badger alien until you get what you want (2)
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists (4)
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway (5)
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode (6)

57. The Enterprise Incident. Wait, one last dig at “Spock’s Brain”: one of the episode write-ups plagiarized by Wikipedia mentioned that Leonard Nimoy felt embarrassed during the episode, and would go on to feel that way more often in the third season. But we’re not there yet, and “The Enterprise Incident” isn’t without flaws but really turns things around. The premise is pretty intriguing, and keeps up a high level of suspense throughout. Kirk is clearly engaging in some sort of ruse even with his crew.  He’s ordering them to do all sorts of strange things, and having a pretty snotty attitude to boot. It turns out to be a cunning plan to steal some Romulan technology, and the episode gets to be “the one where Kirk is disguised as a Romulan.” Two stories are intertwined here, something TOS doesn’t often do and do well, and both tread a fine line of believability, but ultimately I dug them both. Kirk is able to engage some pretty good tricks to get his hands on the Romulan cloaking device, while Spock is keeping their female captain busy by just being his usual irresistible self. So I guess both were a little odd but I bought it. The suspenseful Kirk stuff is fun but mostly it ends up being a good Spock episode; he reveals a lot about his Vulcan/Human conflict sort of because he has to to keep the Romulan captain busy, but sort of because you feel like he’s made very comfortable by her. Somehow she understands his plight as a Vulcan surrounded by gross humans. Killer Spock line: “What is your present form of execution?” Overall: solid. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway (7)
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again (5) [debatable, actually; they leave it a little fuzzy whether he really has a Vulcan death grip or it’s a fake]

58. The Paradise Syndrome. This is “the Native American one” and you know it’s going to be dicey the instant that’s established. TOS tries really hard to be a progressive show, it does. I think everyone involved wanted to break through stale cultural stereotypes on gender and race. Sometimes they were brilliant and years ahead of their time. Other times…not so much. The Enterprise crew frequently encounter primitive civilizations in the series – it’s one of the standard setups. Most of the time these races are sort of like cavemen. Race is irrelevant. But TOS and TNG always seem to get in a little trouble when the people are, in fact, not white. Since the people here are like Native Americans (obviously they aren’t Native Americans, being that they aren’t on Earth and all, but you wouldn’t know it from their wardrobe and customs) there is some criticism that the episode doesn’t portray them very admirably. See also, the widely criticized TNG episode “Code of Honor“. Wil Wheaton is quoted about “Code of Honor” that if the people hadn’t arbitrarily been cast as African-Americans, there would be no issue. Exactly. There’s little doubt the episodes couldn’t be better, but I think it’s missing the point to focus on race. It’s not like the producers in either case ever thought, “Hey, let’s make sure to cast it as [race] because we want to make a statement about what those people are like.” That’s pretty ridiculous. Instead, let’s judge “The Paradise Syndrome” on its merits rather than casting choices. Well, turns out we won’t get far going that direction either. Because there is some definite cheese here. Without rehashing the whole plot, it is set up that Kirk is stranded on a planet of very Native American-like people and has lost his memory, while the Enterprise is trying (and failing) to destroy an asteroid headed right at that planet. Things are further set up that several weeks pass during the episode, so Kirk has enough time to develop a whole relationship with an alien woman (and marry her, and she gets pregnant) while a damaged Enterprise is trying to get back. There are a few interesting things going on, I think the problem is more in execution. The love story with Kirk is a little unbelievable, it relies on some native mysticism to get going, and generally seems about as serious as one’s junior high dance date. There is a scene with Kirk and his wife chasing each other around and frolicking in the woods, to give you some indication of its portrayal. The idea is actually interesting as we really see a detour in Kirk’s life (the idea that he’d love to just get back to nature is seen several times in the Trek movies), but compare it to another TNG episode, The Inner Light, which had a similar idea for Picard, but was much more effective. We do at least have the positive of an unusual show structure, which for TOS is a novelty. Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Spock battles both McCoy and Scotty with his decisions every step of the way in the old endless logic versus emotion game. This part of the show works a lot better, and while it had its weirdnesses, it makes for an interesting portrayal of what leaders have to deal with all the time, namely a bunch of dopes who think they know best and want their opinions heard when they are just that: opinions. Spock has to make some tough, logical decisions, and they turn out not to work. But he did make the right decisions. Killer Spock line: (after a mind-meld with Kirk) “He is an extremely dynamic individual.” Overall: a strange one. Doesn’t do a lot well but has some good ideas. 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant (9)
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again (6)
  • Kirk hits it off with alien babe (6)
  • The Enterprise is the only ship within range (4? I should have been tracking this one from the start)

59. And the Children Shall Lead. I thought I’d seen an episode like this before, with superkids, and I did: the first season’s “Miri.” But it’s been a while and I’ll have to get back around to it for a full comparison. Memory Alpha reports something I’ll have to come back to when I do get there, at which point the third season will be fully behind me. It says that Fred Freiberger, producer of the third season, implied “And the Children Shall Lead” was a great episode while “Miri” was trash, which seems to be exactly the opposite of popular opinion. So right now Freiberger is on the hook for me. The first disc of season three has been a strange one and Freiberger’s name is prominently placed over the final shot of every episode. Is this what I can expect from him all season? Anyway, ATCSL has some good moments (the part where the kids all see their parents and it hits home that they’ve been killed is effective, if mean), but is not too memorable, and was often a little sloppy. Ultimately a lot hinges on the group of kids’ inability to get Kirk to succumb to their powers. While the rest of the crew is immobilized or tricked, Kirk is free to run around and set things right. It seems like they just inexplicably never tried to get him. But there are also hints that they did, only he is Kirk and is able to fight off those kinds of things. So which is it? Also, somehow Kirk knows the identity of the evil force behind the kids, referring to it by name, even though he never actually hears the name. (Memory Alpha reports that this was an editing mistake, but even without the mistake it didn’t quite make sense.) Also McCoy likes it when children are sad. Also other than the part where they cry, the kids spend a lot of time being sort of annoying and pretty poorly developed (ice cream and “Ring Around The Rosie?”…sheesh). Killer Spock line: none.  Overall: hit and miss, mostly miss. 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes (number of instances encountered in series so far in parentheses):

  • Anonymous redshirt killed (6) [two of them accidentally beamed out into space – whoops!]
  • Shatner showcase (4)
  • Only Kirk can truly make command decisions (6)

(Edit: just read Tor’s reviews of the last few episodes. Regarding #58, I missed some bits about how the Native American-like people were in fact Native Americans, explained the same way that a lot of other human-like races are explained, in that an ancient race called the Preservers actually brought humans to other planets. Sure it’s ridiculous, but that’s the deal. Regarding #59, man. There really was a lot of goofy, inexplicable stuff. I won’t revise my rating but it’s definitely generous.)

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