April 6, 2016
In the first season finale of Star Trek: TOS, the Enterprise goes to war against murderous sun-dried jellyfish.
Investigating a two-century-long wave of mass insanity that’s destroyed at least three civilizations, our fair ship arrives at Deneva, a long-established colony planet that has been out of Federation contact for over a year. Deneva also happens to be home to Kirk’s brother, Sam, and his family. Naturally, Jim and Sam haven’t spoken in years. And neither the planetary government or Sam’s private number are picking up the phone. Worried about his family but in typically-emotionally-constipated fashion, Kirk’s a little short with Uhura over their inability to raise the colony, but Uhura is having none of it.
After an encounter with a suicidal one-man ship that flies into the Denevan star screaming “I’m freeeeee!,” the Enterprise books it into orbit and beams down an away team to investigate. Most of the population is unconscious inside of buildings, apart from a few roaming violent mobs, who are easily dispatched by phasers. A scream in the distance leads the team to Sam Kirk’s house, where they find Kirk’s sister-in-law Aurelan, still screaming and basically losing her shit, a tragically dead Sam, and their improbably-ginger son, Peter, who is unconscious.
This might sound like the setup for a really great emotional story arc, but unfortunately after another five minutes the fact that Kirk’s last living family is mostly dying or dead more or less drops off of the motivational radar. This is because after a brief interlude where Aurelan graces us with a brief infodump – “they’re making us build ships! you can’t let them win!” – before simply dying, and Bones admits that he has no idea what’s going on, another trip down to the planet results in Spock being attacked and infected by the villains of the week: the murderous, mind-controlling flying sun-dried jellyfish that have been controlling the colonists for months.
That sounds ridiculous, but guys, these things are extremely disturbing. IMHO the creepiest – certainly most organic – creatures we’ve seen in Trek so far (I invite you to Google them, but they are genuinely revolting). Moreso once they’re analyzed and it’s discovered that these things are neural parasites which after stinging their hosts – like the Kirks, and Spock, and the million Denevans below – control them with excruciating pain. They’re also each a single cell of one big brain that has been sweeping from system to system for at least the last two centuries. Bones has no cure, and no suggestions. Everyone is on edge. The parasites can’t be allowed to spread, but if they can’t free Deneva from their control, Kirk will have no choice (apparently?? this seemed a little 0-to-massacre for a Federation policy???) but to destroy the colonists, Spock, and his young nephew, in order to protect the rest of the galaxy.
Again, this sounds like it should be a really great, emotionally interesting episode. And it is, but Kirk’s family is pushed swiftly and unsubtly into the background so that all of the crew’s emotional energy (especially Kirk and Bones, obviously) can be focused on Spock’s predicament and Kirk and Bones’ angst about it. There’s even a deleted scene (the only one in which Peter talks) where Kirk and his nephew talk about the kid’s future, which was removed because, idk, it was deemed unnecessary?
This feels really, really clumsy? Though in terms of the Golden Trio of Original Trek, it at least makes some sense. Kirk seems to be pretty disconnected from the typical emotional bonds with his blood family, and his surrogate family is the Enterprise crew. It takes a while for this ensemble-cast/family vibe to really solidify – some might say not until the films – but in our opinion, it’s worth waiting for.
Public service announcement: we will be going on a brief hiatus before we start Season 2. Fear not, for we have already started recording! But 2/3 of us are going to ECCC next week and also there’s a brand-new theme song coming down the pipe for you guys. See you soon!
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