Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Star Trek" Review: "Spock's Brain" (September 20, 1968)

"Spock's Brain" 
Writer: Lee Cronin (Gene L. Coon)
Director: Marc Daniels
Producer: Fred Freiberger

Well, here we are. If there's an episode of Trek that's a punching bag, this is it. In truth, there are worse episodes of the show - but "Spock's Brain" gets special hate from fandom largely because of its unique history.

After the large effort Trek fandom went through to save the series from cancellation at the end of season two, this was the first episode to be broadcast in the third season. And for those loyal Trekkies who bothered to stay up and stay home for that 10pm premiere on Friday, this episode signalled that the series had been lobotimized just as Spock is.

This episode is written by the great Gene Coon, but since he was employed elsewhere during the third season, it's credited under his pseudonym, Lee Cronin. One could perhaps hope that if he had still been on staff this episode would have been polished more into something that explored its central ideas more, but...

This might be as good as time as any to discuss Star Trek's problem with gender equality. This is a television series that has received a lot of attention and praise over the years for its progressive, liberal, utopia vision of the future. And while the show does a fantastic job on issues of race & war, it stumbles and falls a lot on women's rights.

Part of this has to do with the show's creator. If you asked Gene Roddenberry if he felt women were equal to men, he'd definitely say yes. But he'd say it while he was hiding the side girl to his side girl under his desk because his wife's come to visit the office. This was a guy who was a womanizing alchoholic drug addict thief. And his attitudes translated into the "equal" women officers of the Enterprise wearing hemlines so high their underwear is frequently visible, and guest actresses wearing little more than the bare minimum of fabric to qualify getting on network television. Yes it was the Sixties and the Sexual Revolution, but Roddenberry was a womanizer: guest actresses were hired based on their potential lay factor for Gene.

At its core, Star Trek had sexism baked in, even if it didn't want it there.

So what does that have to do with "Spock's Brain"? Well, the story, such as it is, involves Spock's brain being stolen (without his hair even being disturbed!), and the Enterprise has to track it to an ice planet inhabited by a population of animalistic male cave dwellers on the surface and then an advanced society of women underground. But! The ultra-advanced society isn't actually run or maintained by the women, who are too dumb to understand how to work the technology, which is all automated. Unfortunatey their computer is broken, so they've stolen Spock's brain to put it into the computer to run their society.

The idea is supposed to be about how a gender fragmented society can't survive, the idea that we're stronger together than we are apart that's at the core of so much of Star Trek's ethos. But it's really not strongly explored at all, so what we're left with is that men without women are grunting cavemen and women without men are infantile idiots. The episode is more concerned with campy gags and plot machinations than exploring anything about the society itself.

It seems likely that the network chose the episode to air first because it ostensibly focused on Spock, the series' most popular character. But of course Spock is basically a brainless drone led around by McCoy on remote this episode -- an apt metaphor for Leonard Nimoy's own attitude to the series at this point.

However, if there's one thing to be said in the episode's favour it's this: the story is always moving forward. There isn't the feeling of tire-spinning one gets watching so many of these season three shows. Something happens, and then we're on to the next thing. The script may be ridiculous, with dialogue ripped from an Ed Wood movie, but it's paced well.

Another point in the hour's favour: without Spock, the rest of the cast -- Doohan, Nichols, Takei, Koenig -- all get ample time to shine and contribute. Indeed, season three overall has a better division of focus among the crew, an attempt to make the show more of an ensemble that perhaps may have developed more had the show lasted to a fourth season.

"Spock's Brain" is bad. It's a stupid plot based on a sexist theme. But it's fun, in a campy B-movie sort of way.

Rating: 1.5 out of 4

Next Voyage:

No comments:

Post a Comment