October 12, 2016
So with guest-host Trisha joining us this week, the NSMTNZ crew is 50/50 on loving this episode and finding the Kelvins some of most genuinely scary villains of TOS so far.
The story begins rather generically, with the Enterprise responding to a distress call… and then being immediately taken prisoner. “Thanks for picking up the phone,” says Chief Villain Rojan. “You, your ship, and your crew are now ours to command.”
“…huh,” says Captain Kirk.
The thing about this story is that you expect it to go down just like every other episode: our brave crew, taken prisoner by seemingly all-powerful aliens, notices a flaw at the outset, makes a plan to exploit that flaw, and ultimately defeats said all-powerful aliens. And ultimately, that’s what happens. Intellectually, as viewers, we know that ultimately, the Enterprise crew will triumph. But the difference in this episode is, chiefly, two-fold.
First: the episode defies your assumption that the crew will progressively one-up the aggressors by having the Kelvins repeatedly, ruthlessly, foil our protagonists’ attempts at rebellion, starting with a calculated, cold-blooded murder in the first five minutes of the episode. This murder is not only utterly cold-blooded, but deliberately calculated for the purposes of breaking Kirk, and making him less likely to take risks later on in the episode.
And the crazy thing? It works. Former-space-squid Rojan reads Kirk like a book in the first forty seconds of their acquaintance and works out exactly what will keep Kirk in line when faced with the deaths of more of his crew, to the point of making Kirk decide against initiating a self-destruct that will protect the Federation and the entire Milky Way Galaxy.
Second: the crew gives up. Not for long, admittedly; the time between “oh, we’re fucked” and “oh hey, a plan!” is a matter of seconds, in-episode. But it happens, and the Eureka moment that gives them the idea for their plan is essentially an accident: their enemy makes a mistake. But if that hadn’t happened? Damn. Who knows?
It’s a rare episode of Trek that can convince us, even for a fraction of a second, that maybe this time, just maybe, the good guys might not win the day. And even though the solution to the problem descends into Wacky Hijinks – tricking the Kelvins into giving in to the unexpected barrage of inconvenient urges that come hand-in-hand with stuffing an ultra-rational space-squid into a tiny human body via booze, makeouts and fisticuffs – that qualifies it, IMHO, for entry into the Surprisingly Good Episodes Hall of Fame.
June 23, 2017
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