QuarkDS9 quick early recaps, continued:

S1E3, “Past Prologue”

The pilot sets up an open question about Kira’s loyalties but turns out we don’t have to wait at all for some Bajoran-style trouble. Immediately there’s temptation for her to shift her loyalty back to full-on Bajor instead of the Federation’s more egalitarian vision. Of course she doesn’t do it. I mean, she’s not going to betray Sisko and disappear in literal episode two. She’s in the credits and promotional photos! The episode is well done and interesting and all, but the show runners maybe should have waited to play this card, right? Perhaps some building tension about her role throughout the first season, not always agreeing with Sisko, capped by this episode. Having it come up in the second show is sort of pointless, there’s no real question about what’s going to happen. Also they already did the “Bajoran turns on the Federation” thing with Ro in TNG.

S1E4, “A Man Alone”

The Loyalty Tests continue, this time for Odo. A known sleazebag turns up on DS9 that Odo wants off the station, but Sisko can’t justify a removal without cause, so Odo has to put up with it. Then the sleazebag is murdered as an obvious frame-up of Odo (he even leaves behind a calendar entry that says “Get Murdered By Odo” “Appointment with Odo”). A classic-style Trek medical techno-mystery follows and of course, Odo is absolved. (Again, only episode three, credits, promo photos, etc.)

More importantly, this episode really establishes the interesting Quark-Odo relationship. Neither trusts each other and they are adversaries on the surface, but actually their mutual annoyance with each other kinda weirdly makes them friends. I think they both enjoy some empty threats and low-key snarling.

S1E5, “Babel”

It’s not clear how big the crew is on DS9. There are hints that it’s a bare-bones operation, but even the crushingly exhaustive Memory Alpha* says the minimum crew is 300 (without me reading exhaustive details, because even though I am happy to spoil anything I’ve already seen here, I certainly don’t want anything spoiled for me). Well, it’s a little unclear what all the jobs are but it’s not fixing stuff. That’s O’Brien’s burden, from antimatter flow converters to replicators. Engines I get–you probably have someone on staff, but you’d think, if anything, they’d just call a replicator guy when that breaks. Anyway, O’Brien’s grim, endless toil is just a setup for the spread of a weird infliction that scrambles everyone’s brains and renders them unable to process language. They can talk, but it comes out as unintelligible babbling (not unlike my blog). They figure out it’s caused by a sleeper virus left by the Bajoran Resistance. It’s OK though because they compel a scientist to come discover and synthesize a cure, which he does, in like 10 minutes. Which is believable because he probably sorta knew the guy that created it. This episode is silly.

* By way of example, someone has taken the time to document all uncredited roles:

A Human man

S1E6, “Captive Pursuit”

Just when we were starting to really like Quark, this episode opens with an inexplicable, and never revisited, scene about a sexual harassment complaint from one of his staff being registered with Sisko. Nothing for it though, Quark had snuck a clause into her contract that said such advances were part of the gig. Sisko tsk-tsks him and invalidates the clause, which is good enough for her. Or at least, she knows no one on this clown station is really going to do anything about it. I really don’t know what the heck this bit was supposed to accomplish character-wise. [Scowls.]

Anyway, if we pretend that scene never happened (I’m going to guess the remainder of the series does) we get a pretty good episode. Some of the best Treks are these types of cultural mysteries, where some seemingly bizarre alien behavior slowly comes into focus. In this case, the aliens have a caste system that isn’t fucking around: there are Hunters–who, uh, hunt–and there are Tosk–who they are hunting. Like typical Good Trek, it’s not altogether clear how to react. Pretty easy to argue their culture is barbaric, but then, the Prime Directive doesn’t let you do anything about it. (Unless you are Kirk and you just really really want to.) Apparently O’Brien took Replicator Repair instead of The Prime Directive And You class in the Academy, though, so he helps Tosk escape, with a wink and a nudge from Sisko. Frontier justice is served.

QuarkTime to get rolling on some DS9 write-ups. Viewing is currently ahead of writing schedule, so going to do hit the first 11 episodes of Deep Space Nine at WARP SPEED. Ha-ha, because WARP SPEED means fast!!!1! Also my memory of some of them is already fading.

Background (comma) Your Author’s

My complete experience of watching DS9 up to this point is:

  • Watching a few random episodes in college without ever watching much TNG, so having no context except for TOS, which resulted in my being generally mystified by the focus on the Bajoran-Cardassian feud and Ferengi money-obsession. Every episode seemed to be idiotic Quark schemes.
  • Watched the tribbles episode because aw, tribbles.

That’s it. But! Compared to college-me, I have so much more TV-watching experience, particularly the Star Trek variety of TV. I watched TNG around 8-9 years ago, getting into the habit of writing up brief reviews starting with ep. 517 back on the ol’ LiveJournal. Then did a systemic watch of TOS (here ya go: reviews of all of them).

So I feel that I would be a strong asset to this organization and a good fit for the position of “guy who is going to watch DS9 now”. Joining me will be my swell wife who has more recently watched TNG, remembers shows she’s seen without having to write online reviews of them, and can be pretty darn insightful. She is also a power TV watcher that will keep me churning through the episodes. You, the reader, will benefit.

S1E1 – “Emissary”

Pilot episode. Mostly Sisko focused, we learn about how his wife died, which is sad, and Avery Brooks is still learning how to portray a space boss, which is awkward. “Do I hyper-enunciate everything, mostly bellow my lines, and otherwise act as stiffly as possible? I’ll try that for this first episode,” he says. However, Patrick Stewart is around to help kick things off, and he says, “No, don’t do that. Just be cool.” But we still have to get through this first one. We also meet all the primaries and get a little sketch of them:

O’Brien: Has accepted a promotion and transfer to DS9 so he can fix more stuff. Though he had to leave behind his favorite transporter on the Enterprise.

Major Kira: Hothead Bajoran liaison that is definitely going to kill a Cardassian at some point and cause a galactic incident.

Odo: Security officer and shapeshifter that can perfectly replicate anything except a human, I guess.

Quark: A Ferengi bar & casino owner. Armin Shimerman in the role he was born to play,  Great at playing a weasel and barely even needs the makeup. Wait, that sounds mean–this is actually a compliment. He’s so bloody effective at being Quark that he’s established the archetype of what Ferenegi is. So when I think, “What does a Ferengi–a member of a fictional TV race–look like?” I think of Armin Shimerman. So in practice, when I see normal pictures of him, I think “He just looks like a Ferengi!” Such is his blessing and curse. Leonard Nimoy and Brent Spiner are like, “Well, cry me a river, Shimerman.”

Dax: A Trill, which is a race where the controlling lifeform inhabits numerous hosts over its lifetime, and assumes new corresponding identities. It’s really sort of gross.

Dr. Bashir: Ostensibly a doctor, mostly has a crush on Dax despite the gross thing.

Anyway it’s been several weeks since I watched the episode, so while I remember the character stuff, the plot has grown fuzzy. (Also a reminder: no one is paying me to write these.) But I do remember it as a great first episode, sets up the feel and the premise of the series. Instead of flying around the galaxy encountering stuff, we have a stationary perspective (except when DS9 has to use its kinda strange puny thrusters, that is) at the frontier edge of space. Right next door, a wormhole to a totally unexplored quadrant, and who knows what could be in there? Which sounds like a good setup for a TV show.

OK, well it’s been 41 days since I said I was going to do some more posting and I have posted precisely once. Not that anyone is waiting around for me to start doing some daily writing again, but this is a wonderful example of what happens when you set VAPID goals. I don’t really have a good excuse that doesn’t sound like an excuse (but it boils down to: lack of time & mental energy). Point is, I was serious that I wanted to get back in the habit of writing, but the execution has has been lacking. I do have a bunch of stuff half-written. And maybe once a day was ambitious even if I have no scope.

Well anyway I’m not as young as I once was and it may take this train a while to get up to speed. But on the agenda:

  • Lots of stuff about being 40, an age which I have somehow arrived at. Nothing like having a midlife crises or lamenting my lost youth or whatever, mostly like in the vein of: how is this possible? I thought I was like, 25.
  • Various thoughts before and after the August 21 eclipse. I’ve been excited for it for years, and will be traveling to see it.

And, yup,

  • Reviews of Deep Space Nine episodes. Just started watching. Because I have still not gotten around to confirming if there are already capsule reviews of Star Trek episodes online.

New posts imminent. If I say I’m going to do it then I have to.

Goal: one post per day, whether it’s a three page screed or just a link to something.

Also: This counts for today.

And yet also: I swapped in a new theme. The previous one was so old it didn’t work on mobile. I like the new one except for the title font so I’ll change that when I get around to it. Just making it clear I do not stand behind this font.

OK, time to wrap this thing up. First off, here are composite ratings for each season for me and Tor.com, who had two reviewers for each episode. They also use a 0-6 scale, where I used 0-5, so I scaled their ratings back to mine. I was going to include the AV Club ratings but they use a completely different grading system like report cards, giving out A, A-, B, etc. Only they never seem to give out anything worse than a B, at least for TOS. Seemed hard to figure out what meant what in comparison, so forget them. How much time am I really willing to put into this? Too much already. Anyway:

(Note: they used a different pair of reviewers in season 3.)

Some takeaways:

  • I am the most generous rater, giving higher ratings per season then the Tor reviewers.
  • We all agree that the show was best in its first season, OK in its second, and just bad in the third.
  • We even all pretty much agree as to the rate at which the series declined:

Josh’s Bottom 6

Here are the episodes I gave either 1 or 0 out of five.

Episode Name Rating
1×21 (21) The Return of the Archons 1
1×26 (26) Errand of Mercy 1
2×17 (46) A Piece of the Action 1
2×23 (52) The Omega Glory 1
3×18 (73) The Lights of Zetar 1
3×01 (56) Spock’s Brain 0

Maybe I was a little hard on “Return of the Archons”. It’s got a decent reputation. I just fell right asleep. And it’s typical of the kind of episode I don’t like, so, too bad, “Return of the Archons.” The other 1s are simply too boring, ridiculous, or irritating.

“Spock’s Brain” is easily the worst episode in the series. But you don’t need me to tell you that, INTERNET. The title was won as soon as Spock began narrating his own brain surgery.

Josh’s Top 17

And the 5 out of 5s:

Episode Name Rating
1×04 The Naked Time 5
1×11/12 The Menagerie, parts 1-2 5
1×13 The Conscience of the King 5
1×14 Balance of Terror 5
1×18 Arena 5
1×22 Space Seed 5
1×25 The Devil in the Dark 5
1×28 The City on the Edge of Forever 5
2×01 (30) Amok Time 5
2×03 (32) The Changeling 5
2×04 (33) Mirror, Mirror 5
2×10 (39) Journey to Babel 5
2×15 (44) The Trouble With Tribbles 5
2×20 (49) Return to Tomorrow 5
3×02 (57) The Enterprise Incident 5
3×11 (66) Wink of an Eye 5
3×19 (74) Requiem for Methuselah 5

These are all terrific, but the real top three are “The Trouble With Tribbles”, “Arena”, and “Amok Time”. Most people might swap out “Mirror, Mirror” with “Arena”, but I’m an “Arena” person.

Final Bits

I probably saw TOS for the first time when I was like ten. I watched them on TV and with my Dad here and there growing up. Then once in a while as an adult I’d catch a few and remember how great it was. Well, I think the lesson is, it IS a great show when you don’t watch it too much. When it’s fresh, it seems inconceivably original, fun, and stylish. But for sustained viewing in 2013-ish, frankly, it really doesn’t hold up. There are too many shaky or boring episodes. In some ways I don’t think it’s Trek’s fault, it can never escape its time. And in its time, you could have a boring TV show as long as there was some fightin’. There’s probably a lot of the same on now, only it’d be a lot better paced.

Anyway, overall there’s no real question I’d give TNG the nod as a better show. The characters aren’t as classic, but there aren’t so many throwaway episodes, and it’s generally a much smarter show: better writing, less reliance on tropes and conventions. There are some bad TNG episodes, of course, but nothing like TOS season three’s sustained putridity.

Down the road I’ll watch DS9. K is watching TNG right now and liking it, so I’ll probably save DS9 for us to watch together in a year or two.

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

The last four! I’ll have one more wrap-up post, then you’re free of Trek.

34. The Apple. If you live in the Trek universe and find yourself on a beautiful garden paradise planet that somehow no one has discovered before–and I may not need to tell you this–but you are in some pretty serious danger. You should also look down. Are you wearing a red shirt? You will be definitely be dead soon. Thank you for your service to the United Federation of Planets! “The Apple” may be exhibit A in the Security Persons United lawsuit against the UFP, if it ever comes to that. Redshirts get darted by poisonous spores, disintegrated by lightning, obliterated by explosive rocks, and attacked by natives. It’s only when Spock gets zapped by lightning (and simply shakes if off, by the way) does Kirk decide to actually bail on the mission, too. Kirk’s varying feelings on redshirt death are a fascinating study. Sometimes he can’t hold back the grief, other times he doesn’t so much as blink. Spock has to console him after one nasty death, but Vulcans aren’t very sympathetic I suppose. Spock offers condolences but looks more like he’s thinking, “What’s the big deal? We’ve got like 200 more on the ship.”

Anyway, “The Apple” as a whole isn’t a terribly remarkable episode. Pretty standard native-encounter stuff covered elsewhere in the series. The people are very peaceful, and quite naive about their circumstances. When Kirk first encounters one he thought was about to attack, he punches the guy in the face, which makes him start to cry. (Kirk then feels bad and says, “I won’t hurt you” [guy I just punched in the face].) Turns out they’re all slaves to Vaal, a giant snake-headed machine. McCoy in particular gets antsy about the whole situation, feeling like the natives are slaves and lack free will, which turns the episode into an interesting Prime Directive discussion. You’re not supposed to mess with native cultures, but maybe this is yet another exception? McCoy is all about violating it, he’s furious that the culture isn’t growing, just tending to some machine. But the debate is solved for them when Vaal immobilizes the ship and they’re forced to take action. Lucky for them, Vaal can only go a few hours without eating so they’re easily able to drain its power. (I have the same weakness, so I will not plan to enslave any civilizations.) Killer Spock line, after some natives wrap festive flowers around his arm and Kirk asks if that does anything for him. “Yes, indeed it does. It makes me uncomfortable.” Overall: some interesting stuff, nothing too outstanding. 3 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Anonymous redshirt killed
  • Violation of Prime Directive
  • Spock displays Vulcan superpower never really seen again

35. Doomsday Machine. Generally I believe that war movies were better in the past than they are today. I don’t watch a lot of modern movies at all but when I watch anything about war it’s either (a) an action movie, in a war context, so like, just an excuse for Vin Diesel to throw a knife into somebody, or (b) nauseatingly and shamelessly patriotic in tone. The best war movies I can think of off the top of my head are Paths of Glory or Patton. Maybe The Seven Samurai or its American remake, The Magnificent Seven, while not technically war movies, tackle a lot of the same themes. (Note: I have not seen a lot of war movies. Arguments against these choices are likely correct.) Anyway, I’d suggest that movies made a generation ago understand war a lot better, simply because society as a whole understood it better. Most of the cast and crew were probably veterans, in fact, or their fathers or older brothers were. Today there is an utter disconnect between people who make movies and write stories, and actual soldiers, and a thick level of patriotic propaganda between the two. (Most modern military action being political or economical, I suppose.) Or maybe the teenage males that make up the core film audience simply expect movies to not get any emotionally deeper than a fervent afternoon of Cheetos and “Call of Duty.” Anyway, old Trek can slap together some fine military drama when it feels so inclined, and “The Doomsday Machine” is a good example.

Maybe the most surprising takeaway here is how it covers ground that several other episodes do, only it’s way better. Three things:

  1. The politics of command. There are a few episodes about this, and they always go way out of their way to worship the absolute power of command. And it’s usually highly ridiculous. I’ve made a point before about how it falls flat today because as a whole, society is much more inclined to question authority. But this time, how the crew reacts when the shellshocked Commodore takes over control of the ship is actually really interesting. Dude IS a higher rank AND fought the bloody thing already. SHOULDN’T he be in charge? Even if he evidently hasn’t shaved, bathed, or slept in like a week?
  2. Effects!  Here they serve the story, not the other way around. We’ve had some where I feel like I’m supposed to be so blown away by the effects that I won’t care that the concept is stupid (e.g., “The Tholian Web”). It’s worth mentioning that this might be another one of those where I don’t get the true experience because I watched the remastered version with updated, modern effects. But I don’t know that that matters, because the themes are handled so well.
  3. Crazy plans that actually work. It finally made sense to do something insane! Decker goes about it wrong, hurling his stolen shuttlecraft into its core, which is probably like attacking an active volcano by jumping into it with a spear. But the Enterprise’s nutty plan actually makes the most logical sense. I love how Kirk asks Scotty if he can let the impulse engines overload to create the desired effect, and given that the ship has been damaged pretty badly already, he says something like, “Of course I can. I can barely keep them from overloading the way it is.”

Killer Spock line: Two of ’em. “Vulcans never bluff.” Or this exchange: Spock: “Random chance seems to have operated in our favor.” McCoy: “In plain, non-Vulcan English, we’ve been lucky.” Spock: “I believe I said that.” Overall: really successful execution of well-trod ground. 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • All security officers are susceptible to simple ruses
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant

36. Catspaw. I looked up the writer of this episode, Robert Bloch, and found that he’s quite famous. He wrote Psycho and lots of other creepy stuff. He also wrote a couple of other Treks, “What are Little Girls made of?” which is a bit creepy but I liked it, and “Wolf in the Fold” which was creepy and bad. On the whole I’ve done a bad job paying attention to the writers, given that’s what I am actually caring about here. (I should review who wrote the best and worst episodes. Perhaps I’ll do that for my series wrap-up.) Anyway, none of that matters here because this is a bad episode. It’s yet another “crazy planet ruler traps the crew and torments and annoys them until they find a way to escape” episode. Offers refreshments? Check. Blustery yet ineffective? Check. Not actually the one in charge? Check. So while I mostly care about writing with these shows, I suspect the initial scripts always get diluted in production or there wouldn’t be so many with the same formula. Since I didn’t get a ton out of this one, I don’t have a unifying thing to talk about, so, bullets it is:

  • I knew going in there was some kind of cat creature in this one, and it was a black cat. We have a black cat, her name is Bea. This has evolved into the nickname of “Beastie.” So all I really wanted out of this episode was for Scotty to see the black cat as refer to it as a beastie, as he seemed likely to do. He did not do this, though, so I will deduct at least one point from my evaluation.
  • The first quarter of the episode has Kirk & Co. milling around the planet encountering various manner of haunted house effects. These initially seemed creepy, then became no more scary than an actual neighborhood haunted house, only we aren’t blindly reaching our hands into something icky for effect. The net result is that even the actors are smirking at everything. This…is not effective.
  • Mr. LaSalle, some dude we’ve never seen before ever, is running the Enterprise. So he’s like, fifth captain, after Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Sulu? When the heck to Chekhov or Uhura get a shot? Haha, just kidding, of course. A Russian or a woman. Imagine.
  • Apparently they can just manufacture precious gems on the ship. So, in the future, the jewelry industry must be in tatters. Good.
  • The mystery element is also a mess in this one. The alien cat leaves the room. Then the woman enters it. COULD SHE BE THE CAT
  • She’s also relentlessly fidgeting with the jewel on her necklace, which looks eerily like what the cat was wearing. COULD THAT BE IMPORTANT
  • As per standard “we’re trapped on the planet and want to leave” episode, the antagonists have created some kind of forcefield around the Enterprise. There are multiple scenes of Mr. LaSalle and crew attempting to break out of it. Naturally, all of this time amounts to nothing, as the forcefield eventually goes away anyway when the folks on the surface resolve things. Meaning, all of those scenes were wasted time, or simply padding. Do the producers feel that they need to show us that the crew is taking a shot at doing something? That they are not simply huddled together sobbing?
  • Ultimately this episode relies a lot on effects, which are terrible. The haunted house effects are silly, and when they get serious with the cat, they don’t have the budget or technology to pull it off. We’re left to see a really big shadow of a housecat, with some kind of menacing growl. Basically, if you are relying on technology instead of a story, you’re going to be in trouble anyway. If you don’t even have the technology, you get Trek Filler.

Killer Spock line, in response to a vision of witches on the planet: “Very bad poetry, Captain.” Overall: 2 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Recent Earth history will always be relevant
  • Kirk hits it off with alien babe
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists

37. I, Mudd. Harry Mudd gets to be the first recurring guest in the show, and why not bring back the sleazy interplanetary pimp? I’m not sure what makes Mudd the choice, but then, I think I dislike the original Mudd episode more than most. This one ups the sleaze (because, that’s what was missing the first time around, I guess) by revisiting him among a planet of robots, one of which is a replication of his terrible wife held in silent stasis. He takes the occasional moment to power her up and let her yell at him merely so he can derive the satisfaction of telling her to shut up and turn her back off. So anyway, as is protocol of all Trek, the antagonist traps Kirk and fellows on the planet’s surface and proceeds to work through the standard checklist: Offers refreshments? Check. Blustery yet ineffective? Check. Not actually the one in charge? Check Wait: here’s a good twist on this type of Trek, which is probably the episode’s saving. Turns out Mudd wants to trap them there so he can leave. Only the androids won’t let him leave either, forcing them all to team up. Probably any story where foes have to team up is a good setup, right? (Well, maybe not the Space Lincoln one.) I guess with Mudd, it sets up a goofy final act of the crew acting as zany as possible to blow all the androids’ minds.

“I, Mudd” is a precursor to Next Generation in a couple of ways. (We’re nowhere near the actual end of the show, but it is for me.) First, there’s a Borg-like aspect to it. The androids live as a big hive mind and can only be defeated by taking out the leader. Not quite like the Borg, and obviously the idea gets fleshed out a lot more in TNG, but the seed is here. More interesting to me was this idea about being offered paradise. Mudd’s planet isn’t a shabby situation at all. It’s a holodeck-like environment, actually. All of their needs and fantasies are attended to. To the point where some of the crew actually don’t really want to leave. Of course, Kirk is always the spoilsport in these situations. Anything where a human can’t be a real human, what with the pain and yearning and filth, is not something he’s going to be down with.

  • Androids take over ship’s engineering, and in the end they get control of course, but not as easily as usual. Perhaps a part of space engineer training is a boxing or judo track, because this batch of engineers is feisty and puts up a fight.
  • Best scene is the first encounter with Mudd. As he relates the story of how he arrived on this planet, which is essentially a string of lies and boasts, Kirk actively translates to English, e.g., Mudd: “I borrowed a ship–” Kirk: “He stole a ship.” Only really snappy, and it goes on and on. Outstanding.
  • The actor who plays Mudd is a giant, seriously. He towers over everyone. His head is like the size of McCoy’s torso.

Killer Spock line: “Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans.” Overall: better than the last Mudd episode. I can still do without the sexist humor, but there’s a lot else to like here: 4 out of 5.

Trek tropes:

  • Enemy allowed easy access to highly sensitive area of the ship
  • They’ve gone to the trouble to develop an override but it doesn’t work
  • Even in interstellar space, the best way to resolve problems is with your fists
  • Computers can be buggered by logical traps
  • The indomitable human spirit conquers all

For the five or so people who actually read this sorry blog, you may wish to check out Ah, Medium, where I am doing a bit more posting, alongside my wife. There, we share heartwarming stories of married life ridiculous notes from academia and GIFs of kangaroos.

As to the fate of this blog, I will have my final Trek post up sooner or later, and also a wrap-up of that series. After that, we shall see. It’s always something I want to do more, and then don’t. Since I have managed to take not one but two side-jobs over the next couple of months, which pay somewhat more than the zero dollars that this blog does, this will probably be even less a priority than usual, sadly.

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.”

Notes:

  • 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.

Miscellany:

  • 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.