Monday, October 31, 2016

"Star Trek" Review: "Dagger of the Mind" (November 3, 1966)

"Dagger of the Mind"
Writer: S. Bar-David
Director: Vincent McEveety
Producer: Gene Roddenberry

This is another episode that isn't really about anything in terms of a real theme, and fails to really say much about its topics. However, the characters and situations are engaging enough to make it an entertaining hour of television at least.

The Enterprise is dropping off cargo to a rehabilitative penal colony, when a dangerous inmate manages to sneak aboard. His violent ravings of misconduct at the facility prompt an investigation by the ship, so Kirk beams down with a ship's psychologist named Dr. Helen Noel, whom he had flirted with at the ship's Christmas party.

On the surface, the colony's administrator presents the Captain and doctor with the picture of a perfect facility, but of course this is a nuthouse in a fiction story, so we know it's gonna be up to no good and abusing patients and so on, because that's how stories work. Turns out the stowaway on ship is actually a staff member, driven insane by the application of a dangerous device which empties the victim's mind and leaves it susceptible to the suggestions of the operator. Spock learns of the dangerous experiments and the stowaway's past by the series' first use of the Vulcan Mind Meld, in one of the episode's many effective scenes.

Meanwhile, Kirk of course finds himself captured and under the machine, where he is tortured and the brief flirtation with Helen turned, in his mind, into a years long romance. Nearly broken by the machine, it's Helen who must sneak around the facility and knock out the power so Spock can beam down with a rescue team. And of course the administrator gets his just rewards -- left alone with the machine on full intensity, his mind emptied but with nothing given to fill it.

Other than an implicit denouncement of the temptation to "play God" in breaking down a patient's mind and then building it back up again, there's really not a lot going on in the episode. Clever literary references abound, from the facility's name (Tantalus) to the name of a patient turned therapist (Lethe) which seem more like showing off how clever the writer is than making a point. 

Luckily, good performances from both our main cast and our guest stars hold the hour. Morgan Woodward as the mad victim Simon Van Gelder is instantly memorable and effective in his mind meld scene with Nimoy. And Marianna Hill as Dr. Helen Noel immediately pulls off a believeable sexual tension with Captain Kirk in one episode that somehow Janice Rand has utterly failed to do so far. Perhaps because Dr. Noel is depicted as a confident professional and thus despite being a junior officer to Kirk is writtten on a bit more equal intellectual level to him -- she can tease him and argue wth him and throw barbs and jokes in a way that Rand, as Kirk's explicit subordinate, can never do.

Ultimately, without a theme or deeper meaning, "Dagger of the Mind" is entertaining but forgettable, best remembered as the answer to the trivia question of the first appearance of the mind meld.

Rating: 2.5 out of 4

Next Voyage:

"Star Trek" Review: "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" (October 20, 1966)

"What Are Little Girls Made Of?"
Writer: Robert Bloch
Director: James Goldstone
Producer: Gene Roddenberry

This episode is written by Robert Bloch, best known for writing the novel upon which Psycho was based, as well as many other horror stories, including being a member of the Cthulhu Mythos circle of writers and a Lovecraft correspondent.

Which may explain the "sci-fi" pulp magazine feel of this episode, with its lost ancient civilizations (even called Old Ones, in a Lovecraft reference), indistinguishable from human androids, mad scientists, melodramatic love story, bottomless pits, contrived plot elements, and fuzzy character motivations.

The plot is that Nurse Christine Chapel, who in her sole previous appearance we learned is secretly in love with Mr. Spock, is also the fiancee of the eminent and respected Dr. Roger Korby, a famous "medical archeologist" -- a profession that apparently means he digs up ruins of old civilizations and then adapts their medical knowledge for modern day use? Anyways, he's been missing for five years and she signed up aboard a starship to see if, I guess by chance, it would happen to find him? Which seems like a way worse idea than just chartering a ship?

Anyways, she's lucky, because the Enterprise does find him, on an ice world with a complex network of underground caverns. Except his research team is composed entirely of androids -- including a female one who he keeps insisting he didn't build for sex even though he obviously did -- and Kirk's redshirts keep getting killed by a 7 foot tall monster android left behind by the Old Ones and played by Ted Cassidy ("Lurch" from The Addams Family).

Yes, the Old Ones discovered the secret to making perfect androids, but then (of course) their mechanical servants revolted and destroyed them, and now Ruk (Ted Cassidy) is the only android left. Korby has figured out how to create the androids, and even transfer human consciousnesses into them for practical immortality! But Kirk doesn't trust this, as the anroid copies can be programmed, with Korby saying that personality programming could eliminate fear, hate, etc. but to Kirk it sounds too much like playing God and totalitarianism and all that.

So Korby makes an android Kirk copy (of course), but Kirk manages to ensure the android Kirk isn't a perfect copy so when it goes back to the ship Spock realizes something's amiss and comes down to rescue everyone -- but since he doesn't arrive in time to actually affect the plot, this entire subplot is pointless, other than to give William Shatner the chance to play scenes opposite himself, which he clearly enjoys doing (finally, another actor he respects!)

Meanwhile, Kirk also uses logic to turn Ruk against Korby, in the episode's coolest scene. Unfortunately, that goes nowhere because Korby just shoots Ruk with a phaser. Kirk uses the power of nonconsensual kissing to turn Andrea the SexBot against Korby, but that ends up not affecting the plot either. Eventually, in a scuffle, it turns out Korby himself is an android (a twist everyone saw coming) and Kirk and Chapel point out that human Korby was a total pacifist, while android Korby kills people with the unthinking efficiency of a machine. Droid Korby realizes that indeed the process has in fact altered him for the worst, and kills himself.

It's an entertaining story, and worth seeing just for Ted Cassidy's Ruk, but it's ultimately not about anything. There isn't enough of a theme or a point to hang the show on, other than a lot of stock pulp sci-fi plots. We don't even learn a lot about Nurse Chapel, other than that she was Korby's student when she got engaged to him, which seems really problematic to me. Granted, it's sort of the same backstory as Reed Richards and Sue Storm from Fantastic Four (Chapel and Korby even resemble Reed and Sue) but it's a weird backstory that does her no favours.

If the episode had ended with Ruk's realization that survival trumps obedience ("YES! THAT WAS THE EQUATION!") and turning against Korby, that would have been an ending. But instead the episode limps along to its weaker ending. It's an all right hour, but nothing special.

Rating: 2.5 out of 4

Next Voyage:

Saturday, October 29, 2016

"Star Trek" Review: "Balance of Terror" (December 15, 1966)

"Balance of Terror"
Writer: Paul Schneider
Director: Vincent McEveety
Producer: Gene Roddenberry

Okay, so I'm just gonna gush, because this is one of my favourite episodes."Balance of Terror" does so many things right, that it's always a joy to watch.

The first, and perhaps biggest, thing it does, is some worldbuilding. So far, we've had very very little idea of what the world of Star Trek looks like. We know we're over 200 years in the future, we know the Enterprise is an Earth ship, we know Earth has colonies and facilities across the galaxy, and we know Spock is half-Vulcan. That's about it. In this episode, we begin to get some idea of history and intergalactic politics. We learn there was a war between Earth and the Romulans 100 years ago (Earth, not the Federation, which we haven't heard about at this point). That neither side saw the other, so no one knows what Romulans look like. That it ended in a treaty, and established the Romulan Neutral Zone, which no side may enter. And when we do learn what Romulans look like (just like Vulcans), we learn more about both races - namely that the logical, peaceful Vulcans, were once devastatingly warlike and savage, and that the Romulans may be off-shoots from that era.

This adds a lot to our understanding of the world of the series, and also sets up the episode perfectly. It's a very simple story idea, namely "just do a submarine story in space", but it was up to writer Paul Schneider to figure out how to best translate those ideas. The cloaking device, a new invention in this episode, serves to give us the sense that we don't know where the enemy is lurking, that they can attack from anywhere. The Neutral Zone gives us that Cold War sense, that the wrong decision at the wrong time could lead to a massive devastating war for both parties. And finally, the decision to make the Romulans physically identical to the Vulcans allows Schneider to work in an excellent subplot about suspicion and bigotry that recalls the treatment of Japanese Americans following the Pearl Harbor surprise attack.

Speaking of the bigotry, it seems that season 1 of Star Trek decided the position of ship's navigator should be kept open so as to have a rotating cast of screw-ups to furnish character drama without sullying the regulars -- to wit, inexperienced and tightly wound David Bailey in "Corbomite Maneuver", leering woman distracted John Farrell in "Mudd's Women" and "Enemy Within", and drunken Irishman Kevin Riley in "The Naked Time". Here it's Andrew Stiles, who has family ancestors who fought in the Romulan Wars and thinks it's his honour-bound duty to continue the grudge. So he gets to sneer at Spock and make paranoid comments and represent that guy who gets nervous when Muslims ride on the plane with him and so on.

All of this leads to great drama, with much of it bearing down on Kirk. This is perhaps Kirk at his most "Horatio Hornblower" esque, faced with making decisions that will perhaps affect mllions of lives, risking his crew to do so, and also engaging in tactics against the enemy. He berates Stiles for his bigotry, letting him know there's no place for it on a starship. He expresses his inner doubts and fears to McCoy, who offers him some advice that also serves perhaps as a mission statement of the philosophy of the series. It's perhaps one of the all-time best Kirk/Bones scenes on the show. 

It's also lit beautifully, as is this entire episode. I haven't really talked about Jerry Finnerman's cinematography on the series much, but this episode is gorgeous. Star Trek of course aired on television at a time when colour TVs were what 4K UHD 3D curved TVs are today, and since network NBC was owned by colour TV inventors RCA, all the shows on the network were in colour and expected to pimp colour. Since Star Trek was a "fantastic" series set in the future, it had a lot of leeway and so Finnerman uses a lot of colour in his lighting set-ups, as accents and rim lights and back lights. But I don't think there's a single episode of the show that looks quite as glorious as this. I love it so much.

And I haven't even talked about the Romulans yet! These guys could have just been generic, one-dimensional bad guys (much like the Klingons are when they get introduced), but Mark Lenard plays the Romulan Commander with so much pathos, and the Romulans are written with multiple dimensions to their characters. There's shifting allegiances on the ship, hints of character backstory, as well as glimpses even into Romulan politics. Its fantasic, wonderfully realized writing. And the original Bird of Prey, another Wah Chang creation, is utterly beautiful in it's simplicity and grace.

Finally, when all is said and done, "Balance of Terror" also has a classic ending, one that weighs heavily on Kirk. For one thing, the Romulans destroy themselves rather than be captured, and after the Commander tells him "in another reality, I might have called you friend." And then he has to go and tell a member of his crew that her fiancee was killed in the battle. It's somber and really brings all that stuff about the pointless tragedy of war home.

And hey! An episode with Janice Rand where the romantic tension between her and the Captain is demonstrated without stalking, harassment or sexual assault! Bonus!

Rating: 4 out of 4

Next Voyage: 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Star Trek" Review: "Charlie X" (September 15, 1966)

"Charlie X" 
Script: D.C. Fontana
Story: Gene Roddenberrry
Director: Lawrence Dobkin
Producer: Gene Roddenberry

This episode is basically a do-over on the premise of the second pilot (human with godlike powers), and while it seems a bit early in the series to be reusing plots, this episode earns it by providing a decidedly different take and focus.

Whereas the second pilot used its premise to pit Kirk and Gary Mitchell against one another, and lead to a climatic battle between the two, "Charlie X" isn't about a throw down between hero and villain, but rather an incisive and sympathetic examination of the problems of being a teenager.

Yes, in this instance, the human who gets the godlike powers isn't an adult Starfleet officer but rather a teenager, and one who's been stranded alone on a deserted planet for 14 years of his 17 year old life. So in addition to all the normal problems of being angst-ridden, impatient, horny, and selfish, Charles Evans is also completely socially inept. He doesn't know what the expectations are, how to interact with others, about rudeness or consent. He's a real piece of shit in other words. Oh, and he's got immense godly abilities. So there's that too.

"Charlie X" can be a cringing, uncomfortable episode to watch, but only because I think we recognize ourself in Charlie. We remember being that little piece of shit, having that poor grasp of social rules and norms and thinking the world should revolve around our wants and needs. Once again, Janice Rand gets to be the target of sexual harassment (four episodes in a row!) and this time it's this 17 year old kid and it's literally up to Captain Kirk to try and explain to Charlie what consent is and why it's not okay to harass a woman twice your age. It doesn't go well.

All of which is to say that one thing that "Charlie X" has over "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is that the previous episode asks us to believe that when James Kirk's best friend and fellow officer gets god powers, he immediately turns into an arrogant, selfish villain. In this episode, we don't have to make that leap -- he's a 17 year old boy. He's already the worst person to give godlike powers to.

And yet, after an entire episode where you just kinda hate this kid, because he's the worst, the story manages to pull the rug out on you -- see, he got his godlike powers from the Thasians, the first of Star Trek's noncorporeal hyperadvanced omnipotent energy beings (and there are many), who gave him the power so he could survive on this deserted planet. Once seeing what a trouble he is when he is among his own people, they return and forcibly take him back. And what 17 year old wants to spend time with non-corporeal energy beings who can't feel or love? So Charlie is totally aghast and his pleas to stay are utterly haunting. This kid just wanted to be loved and be among his own people. Too bad he was such a shit about it.

Additionally, the episode again has great scenes of the crew, including some fantastic rec room scenes between Spock and Uhura as she sings and he accompanies on his Vulcan lyre. Eventually, scenes that developed anyone on the show other than Kirk and Spock started falling by the wayside because Shatner's ego was so injured by Spock's popularity that he started lobbying for less screentime and lines for the other actors. So enjoy these early episodes while you can, I guess.

Significantly, "Charlie X" was a Gene Roddenberry story idea, but he was so busy as showrunner at this early stage, staying up late nights rewriting almost every episode to ensure it fit his vision of the show, handling all aspects of the show's creative production, that he handed the script off to his secretary at the time, Dorothy Fontana. And it turned out she was so good at this that she got Peggy Olson'd and soon found herself Trek's new story editor after Roddenberry and John Black had a falling out, after which she would be one of the primary architects of the series and writer of some of its best episodes. That's all in the future, but it started here, with Roddenberry shoving work of his desk and on to someone else's.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4

Next Voyage:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Star Trek" Review: "The Naked Time" (September 29, 1966)

"The Naked Time"
Writer: John D.F. Black
Director: Marc Daniels
Producer: Gene Roddenberry

"The Naked Time" is one of the quintessential episodes of the Original Series, a must-see. Which makes it surprising when you watch it and the moments its famous for are so small, and so much time is spent on other things, that don't work quite as well.

The premise is simple, and basically a clever writer's cheat. The crew beams down to a dying world, picks up a mysterious new disease there basically because one of the landing party members straight doesn't understand what hazmat suits are for, and then it spreads quickly through touch. The disease is a form of space madness -- it basically makes you drunk without alcohol, without staggering or slurring or the common cliches of drunkendom. But it does render you without inhibition. Unforunately the ship needs to maintain a tight, careful orbit around the planet as it breaks up, else they risk getting caught in its changing gravity well. So of course a mad crewman turns the engines off, and the ship is doomed if they can't cure the disease, restore the engines, and break out of orbit in time.

It's a fine premise, but it's not really what we're here for. The conceit is that the disease basically means we get to see a glimpse of who each of our crewmen is "deep down", what hidden desires and impulses they keep locked away. However, several of our main cast are never affected -- Scotty, who instead has the impossible task of restarting the engines from cold in far less time than is physically possible; McCoy, who has to cure the disease; Uhura, who instead gets accosted by Sulu; and poor Rand who has to deal with being followed by all these horny crewmen. It's a bit of a shame, especially because this is now the third episode in a row with characters basically sexually harassing Janice, and having her get the disease would have been a nice insight into what she thinks about all this -- ie, treating her like a character instead of a sex object. 

Instead the crewmen we do see affected are mostly new with the exception of Sulu, Kirk, and Spock. Of the new crewmen the most prominent are navigator Kevin Riley, and Nurse Christine Chapel. Someone, maybe Black, clearly thought Riley was charming. He gets the "wackiest" stuff to do and a large share of screen time. I guess in many TOS circles he's a fan favourite character, but I find his antics about as annoying as Kirk does. He's clearly meant to be a new recurring character, but ends up only appearing again in one more episode. Maybe he could've been more, but I prefer Chekov.

As for Chapel, well, she may be under a blonde wig but Roddenberry couldn't hide that he'd given one of his mistresses another role on the show, after she'd been booted from it after the first pilot's rejection. Network execs apparently remarked "look who's back!" She's fine as Chapel and giving McCoy a nurse is a good idea, but the revelation that she secretly loves Spock doesn't really land anywhere when we just met her. And no offense to her performance, but I think she was better suited to Number One than Nurse Chapel.

That said, the idea that she loves Spock, who can never love her back, does lead us to this episode's most effective exploration: Spock himself. Continuing on from the fine character work for him in "The Enemy Within", Spock gets a star turn here, as we continue to explore the inner turmoil his character feels, having to lock away his emotions lest they get the best of him. It elevates Spock to a tragic, almost Byronic, figure, and his cool unavailability but stirring sympathetic plight I think also makes him a sex idol for the first time in this episode.
Yes, Leonard Nimoy reportedly saw his fan mail increase by several orders of magnitude.

Significantly, the showcase scene for Spock here was, like the famous Vulcan Neck Pinch, something created and adlibbed by Nimoy when he wasn't satisfied with the original script's depiction. It goes to show you just how important Nimoy was to the growth and popularity of Spock, who basically officially became the show's breakout character in this episode.

Sulu gets an excellent bit of fun, with his fencing hobby exploding into a full-on Musketeer impression. In a nice bit of continuity, Riley complains about Sulu's fickle hobbies by complaining that "last week it was botany!" George Takei of course had a blast doing these scenes, and it's a real shame that basically Sulu was forgotten as a character over the course of season 2 for a variety of reasons.

Finally, we have Kirk. All we really learn about him is that he yearns for the freedom of not being a Starship Captain, resents his ship for its hold on him, and wishes he could live a normal life, perhaps with Yeoman Rand. Which is funny, because whenever he does retire from ship captaining, he immediately becomes unhappy and needs it back. Also, as I mentioned a few reviews ago, the well on the "I wish I could be with Rand" idea has really already been somewhat poisoned. Shatner plays the wistful yearning quite well, but it really doesn't work for me.

The ending of the episode is where things start to fly off the rails. While Spock and Scotty working together against the clock to achieve the impossible is fantastic, and gives a great sense of our heroes all having different skills that when added together provides the solution, the episode spends way too much time on the aftermath of this solution -- namely, that it somehow propels the Enterprise back in time three days!

It's a bizarre non sequitur, this accidental invention of time travel, stuck at the end of the episode and not used for anything in particular. It's clearly there to potentially set up new episode premises -- but jeez guys, the infinite expanse of space wasn't enough? And besides, time travel on Star Trek will I think never be done using this method again? I dunno.

"The Naked Time" was really created as a character showcase for the cast by John Black, who was at the time serving as the show's story editor. It's just a shame that a lot of time in it is spent on characters and situations that don't really matter? That said, what it does accomplish is memorable, and classic.

Rating: 3 out of 4

Next Voyage: 

"Star Trek" Review: "The Man Trap" (September 8, 1966)

"The Man Trap"
Writer: George Clayton Johnson
Director: Marc Daniels
Producer: Gene Roddenberry 

So, the famous thing about "The Man Trap" is that it was the first episode of Star Trek ever aired, despite being the sixth produced. So I'd like to take a bit of a digression to discuss that bit of trivia for a bit.

Growing up, I never understood this. Why would you air this episode first? Why not "Where No Man Has Gone Before"? Sure, it's got a very different cast from the main series, but that's explained by most of them being dead by the end of that story anyways. And if you weren't going to air that particular episode first, then why air it third?? That's even more confusing! But I guess NBC considered that episode too "expository"? Good enough to get the series a green light, not good enough to introduce it, I guess. My second pick would have been "The Corbomite Maneuver", but it was held up by its many optical effects.

"The Man Trap", seemingly, was picked for a very shallow reason: it has a monster. Despite the starship Enterprise being on a mission to discover new life, their attitude towards it in this episode is to hunt it down and kill it. NBC, it seems, felt 60s audiences associated sci-fi with Bug Eyed Monsters, and picked this episode because it had a clear villain. Okay, fine. But what are it's other positives?

Well, one thing I will say for it is that "The Man Trap" does, like many early episodes, serve as a good showcase for the entire cast. Everyone gets a moment, a scene, something to do. Uhura gets a great scene with Spock near the start, which almost reads as meta-commentary about how little she'd had to do before now. Sulu gets to show off his botany hobbies. We got to see Rand interact with more characters without being an assault target (although she does get stalked by the creature), and of course the episode is a big showcase for McCoy, as well as Kirk and Spock of course. So it shows us all our major characters aboard ship, but this time without the awkwardness of space hookers or a rapist duplicate of the show's hero.

It's also the first episode of the series directed by Marc Daniels, who will go on to be one of the series most prolific and proficient directors. Daniels was an old-hand at Desilu, having served as one of the major directors on I Love Lucy. And the monster is great, with an eerie performance carried between all the actors who portray it (it's a shapeshifter, see) as well as a delightfully creepy "true form" designed by the unfortunately uncredited Wah Chang. 

It's a fun hour, even if Kirk and Spock do seem rather cold in their willingness to kill this creature and render it's species extinct, but it gets across Kirk's loyalty to his crew. And DeForest Kelley gets a lot of great scenes playing the conflict in his character, who initially thinks the creature is an old love of his.

In terms of the "grand themes" of Star Trek, a future without prejudice and all that, the episode isn't a great beginning. But in terms of the adventure of Star Trek, the characters of Star Trek, which are ultimately more important, it's a fine episode. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 4

Next Voyage:  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Star Trek" Review: "The Enemy Within" (October 6, 1966)

Yeah, get used to this planet.
"The Enemy Within"
Writer: Richard Matheson
Director: Leo Penn
Producer: Gene Roddenberry

This episode is sort've, for me, where we leave "prototype Star Trek" and the series starts settling into its familiar finished form. The uniforms aren't looking as rough, the characters are becoming more fleshed out, Spock's hair looks right, etc.

It's a pretty simple premise from famed horror writer Richard Matheson: Jekyll & Hyde by way of transporter accident. The really brilliant part though, is that Kirk isn't strictly split into "good" and "evil" Kirks. Spock talks of them as positive and negative: Positive Kirk is intelligence, compassion, love, ethics. Negative Kirk is agression, lust, and fear. But ultimately you can't have one without the other. Without the positive, Negative Kirk is basically a babbling bag of compulsions, unable to exist with others. But without the negative, Positive Kirk is indecisive, weak willed. They need each other.

And it's this examination of human nature that provides "The Enemy Within" with its best moments. McCoy pointing out to Kirk that while the negative Kirk has strength, he's also afraid. You need reason to overcome fear. Spock pointing out that the idea of being two warring halves is no theory to him. He's at war with himself every day.

Despite being ostensibly a "Kirk" episode, "The Enemy Within" is pivotal to our understanding of Spock. So far in the series we've learned he has a "Vulcanian" father and a human mother, we've learned that "Vulcanians" can "switch off" their emotions, but the portrayal of what this means and looks like has been inconsistent. This is the episode where Leonard Nimoy really figures out what being Spock means, thanks to the dialogue that reveals his internal struggle between his emotional human half and his logical Vulcan half. "My intelligence wins out over both, makes them live together," he says, and you can feel the victory in his voice. Nimoy is brilliant in this hour. This is Spock.

The rest of the cast gets good moments too, from Shatner having a ball playing the weakened positive Kirk and the raving lunatic negative Kirk, to Sulu being just the sassiest son of a bitch trapped below on the planet freezing to death. (Seriously, Sulu is great).

Unfortunately, this episode also provides a large role for Yeoman Rand, by having her become a victim of attempted rape at the hands of the negative Kirk. It's terrifying, it's brutal, and it's real real awkward and uncomfortable. The episode kinda recovers from it (it happens early on), but makes the mistake of bringing it up again in the coda. Transporter accident or not it would probably ruin Rand and Kirk's relationship going forward in real life, even if I forgave Kirk - not his fault at all - I would still probably request a transfer to another ship.

It also kind of doesn't work, even for what it is. Rand and Kirk are supposed to have this sexual tension relationship, where she wants him to notice her but can't go too far because she's his yeoman, and he wishes he could notice her but can't allow himself to because she's his yeoman. But the series hasn't really shown a lot of that yet. It came across better in "The Cage" with Captain Pike and Yeoman Colt, really. In the main series she's been more "worrying mother figure" around him, and he's seemed more annoyed by her. So negative Kirk's attack on her doesn't quite gain the narrative goals I think it's trying for, and if anything just kind of poisons the well on any "will they, won't they" the audience might feel by going right for "raped by evil doppelganger" before the underlying sexual attraction between the two has much of a chance to get established.

However, "The Enemy Within" is still a victory. It's the first, and probably still the best, transporter accident story. It solidifies and establishes Spock's character for the better. It introduces, as well, the Vulcan Neck Pinch -- a bit of business Leonard Nimoy came up with when he decided it didn't seem in character for Spock to knock out the negative Kirk with a judo chop. And finally, most significantly of all, it stumbles onto the key foundational element of The Original Series -- the Trinity of Kirk, Spock, McCoy.

There's a scene where the weakened positive Kirk, who can't make command decisions, is seeking advice from Spock and McCoy. Spock is offering the logical, pragmatic approach and McCoy is advising a more cautious, subdued one. And Kirk must make the decision. And it's like a thunderbolt. Boom. There's Star Trek. Spock is reason, McCoy is emotion, and Kirk must arbitrate between the two. That's the format of the show.

"The Enemy Within", despite it's really uncomfortable and ill-advised rape subplot, is ultimately an essential episode of the series for being the point where so much of it clicks into place.

Rating: 3 out of 4

Next Voyage:

"Star Trek" Review: "Mudd's Women" (October 13, 1966)

"Mudd's Women"
Script: Stephen Kandel
Story: Gene Roddenberry
Director: Harvey Hart
Producer: Gene Roddenberry.

Ugh. "Mudd's Women". For years, the Harry Mudd episodes have been fan favourites. Harry Mudd is, in fact, the only "antagonist" the original Enterprise crew encountered multiple times over the series! So clearly this episode must have struck a chord with someone at some point. But it's really hard to imagine what that chord was, because this episode is bad. 

What's all the more insane, is this concept is one of the first Gene Roddenberry came up wth for Star Trek, and was suggested as both the first pilot and second. Good thing the network said no, and for the same reason they also waited on airing this one til the series had been on a while -- it's an episode about space hookers, for cryin' out loud!!

It's an episode where it's really hard to figure out what the point is supposed to be. Now, obviously, the premise of "wiving settlers" and the crooked con artist are the kind of old Western tropes that I guess you might expect when you remember that Star Trek was pitched as a Western in space. 

But despite this episode's arguable themes of "beauty is about confidence" and "a good wive is a partner, not a trophy", it's reeeeeallly hard to see this episode as anything other than an excuse for the camera, crew, and cast to oggle some sexy 60s babes and for Roddenberry to try his luck on the "casting couch". Ugh. 

With this being only the fourth episode, it's a bad look for our cast of Starfleet officers in a utopian future without prejudice who work in a co-ed space navy to be standing around dumbfounded oggling women. The whole deal with sailors and women is supposed to be that they're girl crazy because they've been without for so long. There are women on the Enterprise! So the episode comes up with this crazy space drug the women take to be extra super hot and thus give our characters a reason to look like jackasses. But then, in the ending of the episode, it turns out the drug is Dumbo's feather and the ability to magically will make-up and good hairdoes onto your body was just a matter of believing in yourself!

It's fucking nonsense. It's also early enough in the series that things are still a bit off. Spock is still smug af, Uhura's still in a gold uniform -- she gets a bit more to do in this episode, but not much, because her even existing begs the question "what do the women Starfleet officers think of all this?" I wish the show could've gone so far as to show them affected by the super hypnosis beauty of Mudd's Women too, but alas. 

Everything's a bit weird, from Mudd's old school Pirate clothes, to the miners on Rigel who's homes look like futuristic trailers from the outside, but like fucking Fred Flintstone's house on the inside. Everyone's just a bit too comfortable talking about buying and selling people, and generally acting like the Star Trek future is much less like the utopian tomorrow it develops into, and much more like a kind of anything goes Wild West galaxy where Starfleet is like Texas Rangers or US Marshalls.

One thing I really notice watching the early episodes of the series that I do like, though, is a greater focus on the rest of the crew. The Enterprise feels alive and full of people. Sulu gets a lot of good lines and wry observations. You see this more in the early shows, more of a sense of focus on more than just Kirk and Spock, and it goes away I think largely for budgetary reasons. Sulu helping steady Navigator Farrell, who's just a bit too hypnotized by the women, is a good bit.

It's also worth pointing out that in an episode about sexy women wandering the ship in their William Ware Theiss skimpy sparkly dresses, getting the men all riled up, Captain Kirk does not engage them. He does everything he can to avoid their seductions. Why? Because he's a professional and not a fucking creep! The idea that Kirk's a total horndog is one that I think has come about as a result of exaggeration and parody over the years, and solidified in Chris Pine's portrayal of Kirk in the two JJ Abrams Trek movies as a kind of SNL caricature of a walking sexual harassment lawsuit. Kirk in the Original Series has a lot of flames, but he's not the wolf from a Tex Avery cartoon.

Ultimately, the problem is the episode has very little to say to justify its objectification of women. While the themes of the episode (confidence is attractive, wives shouldn't be trophies) are good, they're expressed through basically the worldview of a 1960s womanizer. So "confidence" means you can will yourself into being hot, and not being a trophy means staying home to cook and clean and sew. 

It's fucking weird, and really cringeworthy.

That said, the most successful element of the episode is, indeed, Harry Mudd. I'm not his biggest fan, but he works as a goofy smarmy scoundrel adversary for Kirk. Their interplay works where nothing else does. So I can see why he comes back. If I had to guess, I'd say Mudd is Stephen Kandel's addition to this story, and all the weird space hooker stuff is Roddenberry.

Rating: 1.5 out of 4

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