Trek XVII: He’s a sorcerer, that one!

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.14. Balance of Terror. Something I don’t like about TOS is that many of the episodes don’t really make any attempts to write a new story. There might be a twist ending of a sort, the usual fashion being when we learn that the driving force behind an antagonist is actually an evil computer, or a child, or whatever. Quite often that’s intentional, though. There aren’t surprises. The plots are very straightforward. Trek owes a lot to other popular genres of the time, namely Westerns. A problem is encountered, and because they’re the best, they push through and right the wrong. That’s not necessarily bad, I’m saying. It’s just that once it’s set up, you know how this one is going to go, more or less. Because you’ve seen it already–if you’ve seen any WWII submarine thriller ever. There will be a lot of military tactics, and the two commanders will mutter lots of things about how much respect they have for their opponent in this chess match slash cat-and-mouse game slash battle of wills. The episode is quite good anyway, tense and absorbing and well-acted, if ultimately an homage. Though it doesn’t help matters that there’s a terrible cliche in the very first scene. Kirk is about to marry a young happy couple and just as he starts, there’s an emergency. They have to put things on hold to sort out the extremely dangerous thing that’s about to happen in which hopefully neither of the betrothed will be ironically killed. Spoiler: one of them is ironically killed. Killer Spock Spock’s Dad line (from Mark Lenard, who is better known as Spock’s father Sarek, as the Romulan Captain): “He’s a sorcerer, that one! He reads the thoughts in my brain!” Overall: blah blah above, but still a classic episode in the series. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Really nothing, but I’m going to lump Mr. Groom’s death into the ‘Anonymous redshirt killed’ category just because the death could not be less surprising

15. Shore Leave. Deeply flawed but thoroughly entertaining. This one starts off with a tremendously awkward scene where Kirk is fidgeting on account of a sore back. He’s also having a conversation with Spock, but he’s so twitchy that Yeoman Barrows dives right in and starts massaging him in his chair. Kirk doesn’t bat an eye but for some reason assumes Spock is doing the massaging. Why would ANYONE be doing the massaging, much less the coldly dispassionate Vulcan? I guess the idea is just to introduce Yeoman Barrows as a slightly less annoying Yeoman Rand, though only because that’s such an easy competition. We get to spend the rest of the episode rolling our eyes at this terrible character, whose highest dream is apparently to be dragged off by Don Juan while wearing Princess clothing. (We miss you, Helen Noel.) In her defense, all the characters have their deepest wishes become known, though, as the Enterprise visits a planet where every thought becomes reality. Sulu, as we already know from The Naked Time, is a warrior at heart who finds a loaded gun and battles a samurai. McCoy gets to go along with Yeoman Barrows’ princess fantasy, and he later materializes with a cabaret dancer on each arm. Kirk gets to whale on an old Academy nemesis, a character astoundingly Even More Irish than Lt. Riley. (I wonder why a show that made such strides towards racial equality let itself have so much fun insulting the Irish. Was this the socially acceptable outlet for ’60s white guys?) And seriously, their fight (actually their SECOND fight) might go on longer than the Rowdy Roddy Piper/Keith David fracas. Anyway, as a whole, “Shore Leave” is a wild one. It doesn’t really have a story so much as a bunch crazy bunch of stuff that happens until time’s up and the proprietor reveals himself and everyone has a good laugh. Killer Spock line: “To me it is quite illogical to run up and down on green grass using energy instead of saving it.” Overall: 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • We make fun of the Irish because we love those drunken rabblerousers
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Kirk meets up with an old flame
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

16. The Galileo Seven. It’s important to remember that Trek isn’t really a sci-fi show. It’s really just a western set in space. The plots and themes line up much better. I guess the Enterprise is like a traveling band of vigilantes or a law enforcement posse or something. U.S. Marshals? I risk overdoing this analogy. Anyway, they go about solving problems and righting injustices, whether it’s on the 19th century United States frontier or the edge of explored space, it’s the same deal, ‘cept with lasers. I believe this because unlike it’s later-generation brethren, science and logic are generally glossed over in favor of action. “The Galileo Seven” displays another symptom, its lousy treatment of nerds. Spock commands a small shuttle crew which ends up stranded on a dangerous world, and Spock finds himself in his first crisis of command. (Worth noting that the shuttle has a crew of seven–hence the episode title–which is like, the same number of regulars that seem to be needed to run the Enterprise. I’m always happy when we see more Federation working stiffs other than security guards.) Of course he wants to do all the logical things to get the shuttle operational again and save the most possible lives. But while his actions look good on paper, his dispassionate approach rubs the crew the wrong way, even to the point of mutiny. Of course, logic doesn’t really work when trying to control the actions of illogical humans (and caveman monsters, or whatever the heck the bad guys are in this one), and he just ends up pissing everyone off without really solving all the problems. It’s a well-written episode, genuinely suspenseful, and hits right at the logic/passion theme of the series, although the difference here is that for better or worse it picks a clear winner and really hammers it home. (The AV Club review nails it, calling the episode a “fixed fight”.) Generally these things are much more ambiguous. Not this time. Kirk’s human stubbornness totally pays off, completely glossing over his delay delivering medicine to a plague-ridden colony. Worth repeating: he dragged his feet delivering medicine to a diseased colony in favor of hoping a few members of his crew would somehow, against all odds, not be dead. Meanwhile Spock’s Vulcan logic gets thrown right back in his face. At the end, he even gets hounded by the entire bridge crew about showing some emotion, like the smartest but most socially inept kid in class. As a bonus, we learn later in the series that any emotional displays are deeply embarrassing to him. Kirk even defends Spock over the matter. So basically, we are seeing Spock get humiliated by a bunch of jocks. Nice. Killer Spock line: “It is more rational to sacrifice one life than six, doctor.” Bones: “I’m not talking about rationality.” Spock: “You might be wise to start. ” Overall: a very good episode tainted a bit by some logical flaws (that’s right, LOGICAL flaws) 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt yellowshirt killed (eh, close enough)
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway. Actually two of them! Although only one ends up working, I guess. Scotty wants to fly a shuttle using phaser batteries and Kirk wants to randomly beam down to a planet in hopes of landing near the stranded crew.
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

17. The Squire of Gothos. I feel like I’ve seen this episode a million times. The crew gets trapped by a brash but bored alien that demands entertainment and stimulation. Kirk feels like there’s some danger because he can’t quite know what the antagonist is capable of, but ultimately he just sort of stalls by appealing to the bad guy’s base nature. Eventually Kirk wins. Worse, the reveal here turns out to be the same thing they just pulled in The Corbomite Maneuver: the villain is but a child. I’m really bored by these kinds of episodes. This is a quintessential “Badger the alien until you get what you want.” Meanwhile, we are subjected to forty minutes of boasting and threats. On the other hand it DOES faithfully re-create the experience of getting trapped in a conversation you can’t escape from. Some highlights:

  • At one point Spock sends some crew members to the planet, but says that neither he nor Scotty can be spared. What? Since when do essential crew NOT beam down to a planet?
  • Once in a while I read something about stories that couldn’t have happened in the modern era of cell phone ubiquity. But in Star Trek, where they have communicators, they go dead or are jammed pretty much every episode. If Trek is any indication, I don’t think we’re going to lose drama in the future, even with cell phones. There is always an easy way to negate this problem.
  • I like one line when Trelane gets mad and yells, “You’re all dead men!” Then, to Kirk, “You especially!” Especially…dead? Like, extra dead?

Killer Spock line: “I object to you. I object to intellect  without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose.” Overall: I really couldn’t wait for this one to be over. It’s not bad like third-season bad, but, 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Badger alien until you get what you want
  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

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