Trek XXI: Spock, like the majestic salmon

The visor is a long story. Please try to disregard it.

Just two more sets of episodes and I’m done. Starting season two.

30. Amok Time.  Maybe my favorite all-time episode. Just a great character set for Spock, very ambitious for a single episode, and really what Trek is all about when it’s at its best. With the new season, some new things are introduced. Chekhov, for one. (His principle characteristic being: he’s the Russian Guy.) Nurse Chapel is infatuated with Spock. (Is this actually new? I’m confused on the Chapel-Spock crush timeline at this point.) But mostly, it’s a Vulcan overdose after only hints and bits in season one. Nimoy’s great. I think furiously clenching a knife behind your back is a good stress-reliever. I’m doing it at work all the time now.

Anyway, I’ve seen this particular episode so many times I can’t rightly judge its suspenseful elements anymore. It has a Kirk-alien babe possibility that I think works, but the stakes go up really fast. I can still appreciate how good a sport Kirk is about the whole challenge thing. He’s game to let Spock whale on him some just for appearances. Until he finds out it’s a fight to the death. Then it’s legitimately nerve-wracking, I think. It seems to be a genuine Kobayashi Maru, perhaps made more effective by McCoy not even revealing to Kirk how he was going to get him out of it. Though why he wouldn’t makes no sense. “Thought it’d be fun to let you really think you were going to die, Jim.”


  • For some reason, this is the episode that I finally noticed that no one has pockets, and they have to awkwardly figure out what to do with their hands all the time.
  • One nitpick is that the drama surrounding their need to make an ambassadorial appearance seems pretty tacked on, and ultimately doesn’t even matter. I guess it gives Spock an excuse to do extra weird things like disobey Kirk and not even remember. Or at least, it ups his desperation. But it doesn’t really make sense that Kirk can’t tell Starfleet how important it is to get Spock to Vulcan. Even McCoy agrees his health is in serious danger. Anyway, it’s just sort of a needless diversion.
  • The soundtrack takes a big leap forward in this one. Spock’s tension is played out on a single bassline. And of course, this.

Killer Spock line: “The birds and the bees are not Vulcans.” He also compares himself to a salmon. Overall: One of my favorites. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • The Enterprise is the only ship within range
  • “Doctor” McCoy admits he has no idea how Vulcan physiology works
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

31. Who Mourns for Adonis? Pretty standard Trek filler for the most part. I think sometimes they just sort of flipped through a history text until they found an interesting era, and shoehorned a Trek into it. So this is just another of so very many episodes where a powerful alien traps them on a planet and barks idle threats until they figure out its weakness and escape. And its culture is basically some historical Earth remnant. Space is dangerous, though oddly familiar, is really the number one theme of Trek. You will get captured by malevolent races that want you to live in comfort on their world, except you have to worship them. The other theme, of course, being occasional sexism. Sheesh, this episode. I really don’t know what it’s trying to do on that front. Scotty is shamelessly drooling all over this week’s pretty girl, Lt. Palamas, and Kirk and McCoy can only look on helplessly and sigh, noting that she’s bound to meet some guy, and get married and leave the service. Because, what else could she do? End up as hopeless spinsters like Uhura? But then there’s another scene where Uhura is fixing some communication circuits and Spock respects her expertise. And Lt. Palamas’ own expertise on history is brought into focus when they meet Apollo. So, the show will make sure to mention these things, but then it can’t get out of its own way, because as soon as Apollo magically replaces her uniform with a pretty pink shimmery thing, she goes all goofy. Though in the end, the old “Crewmember leaves the ship for a new life with the alien of the week” trope didn’t end up happening. So, that’s a plus.


  • They need some chairs or consoles or something in the back of the bridge so that the random dudes standing around back there behind Kirk (usually McCoy) have something to do. I guess they fix this in TNG because Worf indeed has his own console. But no chair. Thanks, Captain. Love standing all day even though I’m a lieutenant.
  • Chekhov in a rare moment of not just being the Russian Guy: his bit about providing way too much detail to Kirk. After a major info-dump, he defends himself: “The Captain requires complete information.” McCoy retorts: “Spock’s contaminating this boy, Jim.” Nice.
  • Scotty’s “A god is hitting on my girlfriend” face.
  • Kirk’s retort to Apollo at one point: “Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate.” Holy christian-centrism, guys.
  • One of their early plans to defeat Apollo was just to taunt him until he got so angry he’d zap one of them, then the others were supposed to jump him while he was weakened. Lt. Palamas stopped them, which was too bad, because this is officially The Greatest Plan Ever.

Killer Spock line: “Insult’s only effective where emotion is present.” Overall: I like the idea that maybe this guy brought ideas of Greek and Roman gods to Earth, and not the other way around. That’s about it, though. 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant. (I guess not really recent, but still…)
  • Highly experimental plan with low probability of success somehow works anyway

32. The Changeling. There are certain groundbreaking episodes of Trek that were absorbed into popular culture so thoroughly as to neuter their original impact. This might be the single greatest example. It’s a victim of its own success. A pushy probe gets aboard the ship, called Nomad. You know that’s what it’s called because it announces this information at every opportunity. “I AM NOMAD*.” Nomad proceeds to berate the crew for being imperfect, threatening to exterminate them as biologic infestation. “I AM NOMAD. I AM PERFECT. YOU ARE IN ERROR.” The cultural viewpoint towards killer alien robots bedeviling you with their terrifying logic in 1967 was very different than it is today, of course. For one thing, the crew spends of a bit of time being puzzled about what Nomad actually is. They don’t assume it’s a robot. They assume it’s a tiny ship, with a tiny crew. (Which actually doesn’t make sense either, because how often in Trek do they actually encounter a tiny ship with a tiny crew? Like, never. Nearly all aliens are human sized and shaped.) The whole line of thought seems terribly quaint. Sci-fi robots are absolutely part of popular culture now. I don’t think anyone watching this show for the first time today would think Nomad is anything but a robot. A past-future space crew is astounded that it’s an automaton, and has the wherewithal to take itself around the ship. (Scotty refers to it as a “mechanical beastie.”) Anyway, Nomad is certainly still threatening. It vaporizes a couple of redshirts and generally makes a nuisance of itself until Kirk and Spock figure out how to get rid of it, of course, by confounding it with logical traps. Here’s another point where “The Changeling” loses its impact in the last 45 years. The idea that you can defeat a robot with logical traps is just a thing that we all understand now. It’s part of their mythology. But in the past’s future, this is a thing you have to discover. I feel certain I’ve read some old Asimov stories with this theme, but it’s treated like a fresh idea here. Killer Spock line moment: his thoroughly satisfied expression when Nomad scans him and reports that, unlike all the humans aboard, “THIS UNIT IS DIFFERENT. IT IS WELL-ORDERED.” Overall: Still a great episode, a cornerstone Trek. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Strange probe encountered in space
  • Anonymous redshirt killed
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

33. Mirror, Mirror. This is The One With Parallel Evil Enterprise. We’re on quite a classic run at the moment. (Note: it ends next episode.) I think three of the four episodes in this batch are top-ten all-timers. (I will actually compile this list and see if that holds up once I’m done.) Like “The Changeling” I suppose this episode is so famous its surprise elements completely fail to work anymore. It doesn’t really even seem to surprise Kirk all that much to find himself on board an evil version of the ship after a transporter malfunction. He deduces what has happened pretty much immediately. (This, from the same guy that thought Nomad was a very tiny ship.) Perhaps they’ve learned the important lesson from “The Alternative Factor” that radical changes in facial hair indicate something serious is up. Well, what they don’t learn is any lesson about Engineering security. It’s one of the great ironies of this episode that in Evil Universe, the crew goes to great pains to secure and monitor engineering, because it makes their return scheme a whole lot harder. They still get past the initial guard with a comically stupid ruse but have all sorts of trouble avoiding the other security systems on the ship. I could probably dwell on Evil Kirk’s unbelievably fortunate possession of a machine that can kill any enemy at any time, but the episode ends up being more about how ill-fitting the Good crew is on the Evil ship, and I didn’t end up caring about it that much. In the end, they win over Evil Spock, purely out of a logical realization that he’s going to better off with his actual captain, not this milquetoasty version, and order is restored.  Killer Spock line: “They were brutal, savage, unprincipled, uncivilized, treacherous. In every way, spending examples of Homo Sapiens. The very flower of humanity. I found it quite refreshing.” Overall: a really fun hour of exploring good and evil and the significance of beards. 5 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • In the future, computers are magic, but still make teletype sounds
  • Shatner showcase
  • Lighthearted banter to close episode

*I had the passing thought that “Nomad” would be a good name for a cat. I mentioned it to K, then immediately retracted it, because I realized it would lead to years of me saying “I AM NOMAD. I AM PERFECT” every time Nomad came in the room, eventually ending our marriage.

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