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.
- 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:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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