February 1, 2017
So really, this episode makes a lot more sense if you think of it as the first bad fic you ever wrote for your favourite TV show.
The Empath was based off of a fan-submitted script, and we’re not sure whether to blame house-writer interpretation or the original author, but we do know one thing for sure: this episode is, in our not-so-humble opinion, a gigantic steaming pile of crap.
Zooming in to collect a two-man research team from a moon orbiting a planet orbiting a star about to go nova, Kirk, Spock, and Bones are kidnapped by alien scientists, whose fave activity is torture porn and giving frustratingly incoherent answers to straightforward questions like “why are you doing this.” Our heroes proceed to spend the next 45 minutes running around the lab trying to figure out what’s going on, and spoiler: they never really do.
Their only company is possible-fellow-test-subject (???) “Gem,” who guess what, is both a) an empath (though not by any definition that we’ve ever seen in sci-fi) and b) mute.
Coming on the heels of an episode with a great female guest star, this one’s mostly just a disappointment. But it’s a little worse than a disappointment because our villains’ motives are not adequately explained, making their actions seem capricious and pointless. And since the writers for this episode chose to make our female guest star a literal mute whose only contribution is to give comfort to men, we also get absolutely zero information about her character, backstory, or motivations.
Essentially this episode is torture porn and a lot of lines that never go anywhere, and in the end the Enterprise zooms off again without rescuing anyone, even their researchers, making this as wasted a trip for the crew as it was for us.
January 25, 2017
This week, Kirk gets kidnapped by an alien queen to become part of her man-harem.
And we love her.
It starts as all bad days for the Enterprise start: with them answering a distress call. Only when they arrive, there’s nobody home; just an entire abandoned city and a lot of annoying buzzing noises. Are they all dead? Is the distress call merely on repeat from long ago? Maybe we should just go?
But they lose their first redshirt maybe two minutes in, realize five minutes later they’ve brought something dangerous back aboard the ship with them, and then we’re off and running. Mostly the crisis amounts to irritating mosquito-sounds until Kirk, himself, disappears – or rather, is accelerated far beyond everyone else – and finds himself in a bizarro-world where his crew is frozen in place and he’s alone, at normal speed, with Deelah.
We love Deelah. She knows what she wants, knows what she has to do, and she’s not going to let any insignificant considerations like the objectively unethical shading of abducting people to be your unwilling sperm factories stop her from getting any of it.
Deelah was immediately nominated to our top 10 of female TOS characters. She’s smart, witty, unimpressed by Kirk but also unafraid to say what she wants, and then, uh, take it. She’s in a shitty situation, with her culture and her species on the edge of extinction, but she’s dealing, and did we mention this is the second or third lady in a few episodes to be the undisputed ruler of an entire civilization? I mean, that civilization is down to maybe five people, but still. Plus it seems to be a matriarchy.
Honestly, this is a pretty solid episode. We get a puzzle, characters whose motivations are clear, and a conflict where you understand why the bad guys are doing what they’re doing, even while you acknowledge that it’s ethically… uh, grey.
We do have some issues with the parting shot/decision on the part of Kirk & Co where he basically dooms the Scalosians to extinction despite having the cure, but up until the last three minutes, it’s a thing of beauty.
January 18, 2017
So fair warning on two counts:
Plato’s Stepchildren is another of those classic Star Trek stories that everyone has heard of, and in a lot of ways it’s based on a theme that’s often repeated throughout the franchise: intrepid crew meets omniscient aliens who use their ineffable power to fuck with people, omniscient aliens must be taken down a peg and justice is restored. It’s a well-worn and dependable formula.
On the other hand, though, this episode also includes a variety of some of TOS’s most explicit statements about both the perceived backwardness of its contemporary audience, and broader thesis statements about the underlying messages of Trek.
So the trouble starts when the Enterprise answers a distress call from Platonia, peopled by a race (if you can call 38 eugenically-chosen people a “race”) of functionally-immortal aliens who have based their society on the teachings of Plato, absorbed during a millennia-ago trip to Earth. Unfortunately, the Platonians don’t seem to have absorbed the full range of Platonic ideas, specifically hand-waving the parts about peace and justice in favour of living lives so contemplative and “simple” (for a certain value of “simple” that means “extreme luxury and every whim satisfied”) that they’ve gotten too lazy to maintain immune systems. This is what brings Kirk, Spock, and Bones to them in the first place: their self-styled philosopher-king has gotten a tiny cut and developed a deadly bacterial infection. Bones easily fixes this with basic medical science, and the Platonians reward them by turning them into their newest telekinetic playthings.
Did I mention that the Platonians also have telekinetic powers, which they mostly use to play games and torture people?
So, “playthings” is too mild. In fact, the lone exception to the Platonians’ superpowers is a little person named Alexander (played by Michael Dunn, who we awarded Performance of the Episode about three minutes in), who seems to be kept around to mock, torture, and push around.
Again, there are a lot of really disturbing moments in this episode. There are a number of scenes that amount to straight-up torture, which are absolutely carried out for the amusement of the Platonians. But here’s the thing: the whole thing is a set of super-unsubtle metaphors. The Platonians’ powers are the dangerous influence granted by wealth and privilege, and the way that when one part of the population has an obscenely disproportionate level of either, they will use it to oppress and harm those who don’t. When offered the power he’s been so long denied, at the point where our heroes figure out how to out-brain their oppressors, Alexander turns it down: “I don’t want to be like them,” he tells Kirk, after Kirk has laid out as explicit an endorsement of Trek’s futuristic socialism and extreme inclusiveness as I’ve ever seen in Original Trek. “Where we come from,” he tells an incredulous Alexander, “size, shape, or colour makes no difference, and no one has the power.” “The power,” here, being literally their tormentors’ superpowers, but they may as well be handing a printed indictment of the rich white supremacist elite right through the fourth wall and directly into the viewers’ living rooms.
Add to this the fact that this episode contains the famous First Interracial Kiss (though it’s under undeniably disturbing circumstances and may or may not be the “first,” historically), we can’t exactly call this episode subtle. But we can appreciate it for both its timeliness and how ahead of its time it managed to be.
January 11, 2017
This week’s episode really, really wanted to be a ghost story.
It almost manages it – Kirk, rather than saving the day, spends most of the episode floating at low-opacity in the background, waving his arms – but mostly this episode is about getting along.
And also how you never, ever fucking board a ghost ship.
The Enterprise is in search of yet another missing ship, this time the Defiant (you might recognize the name from a successor’s major appearance on DS9), which is missing and adrift in a section of uncharted territory where space is literally falling apart around it. Into this comes charging the Enterprise, whereupon they immediately become ensnared in the region’s weird physics and harmful side-effects. Specifically: this part of space does a particular kind of brain damage that makes humans go slowly insane.
This is a pretty well-worn plot for TOS, a Man vs. Environment tale where they have to brain their way out of a seemingly impossible situation. What’s unexpected is that after beaming aboard the ghost ship and finding the Defiant‘s entire crew not only dead, but murdered by each other, they beam back to the Enterprise and leave Kirk behind… and then he’s lost.
You read that right: for most of this episode, the crew is not only without the guidance of their captain, but they’re pretty sure he’s dead. They even hold a miniature, is-this-really-the-time memorial service midway through the episode, which mostly serves to highlight the tensions between the surviving senior officers, namely Spock and Bones who, absent the social lubricant usually provided by Kirk, are having what we will call “issues” with their grief, the dangerous situation, and each other.
Fortunately, the triumph of this story is basically what Kirk leaves in his Final Message addressed to Bones and Spock: we need to get along with each other in order to survive.
As for the titular Tholians? Well, they’re there, for maybe the last 25% of the episode, and they mostly serve to crank up the ticking-clock pressure and build a space-net. I mean, it’s a nice space-net. I guess.
Overall this is a pretty good bottle-episode, even if the Tholians themselves could have been replaced by, like, the ship’s rapidly dwindling power supply. Or a black hole. Or a really big space rock.
January 4, 2017
Season 3 of TOS is a strange, unpredictable beast, in that there are utterly bananas episodes that make no sense and are exhaustingly bad, like “And The Children Shall Lead,” and then there are episodes like this one, which could have stood in for a 60s/70s contemporary standalone sci-fi film and honestly have better internal logic than a lot of them. In other words: we all pretty much liked this one.
I mean, it’s a story about a generation ship, which we all love. But it also features Natira, High Priestess of the Fabrini, and probably the best (only?) standalone female leader on Trek so far.
The wild thing about the Fabrini – and the root of the danger and conflict and danger in this episode – is the fact that they don’t know they’re living on a spaceship. Apparently their ancestors, pre-supernova, decided to send them off on a generation ship hidden inside an asteroid, but decided to make the inside of the asteroid look like a planet and not tell them that they’re on a spaceship. This turns out to be a questionable decision, because it apparently led to the foundation of a religion hinged on absolute obedience to the ship’s computer, and sometimes-fatal head pain if you either disobey or think bad thoughts that question that authority. It also doles out unlimited electric shocks for all nonbelievers.
It’s into this society that Kirk, Spock, and Bones arrive, mostly because the ship is on a collision course with a populated planet and they need to either correct its course or destroy it.
But seriously, we love Natira. She’s smart and committed to her people, she knows how to make high-stakes judgement calls and, despite her questionable – and really really fast, but hey, lady knows what she wants I guess? – choice of Leonard McCoy as her mate, a fair and even-handed leader, even under the duress of the Oracle (their authoritarian ship’s computer).
There are actually some really interesting conversations about the prime directive and the development of a closed society under utterly bizarre conditions, and in the end, our heroes’ Did We Break The Prime Directive This Week score comes out looking pretty good, even taking into account Bones’ decision to move in with Natira and leave Starfleet (he thinks he’s dying of an incurable disease at the time; it’s a whole thing). Natira even gets to choose whether or not to be told the truth about her world, which is a refreshing change from Kirk unilaterally deciding, justified or not, to dismantle an entire set of cultural rules. We’d love to know more about what happened to the Fabrini, planetary winner of the 2017 Most Agency in a Female TOS Character award.
December 28, 2016
So just to get this out of the way before we start: oh god, later Klingons are so much better than TOS-era Klingons. Not just in terms of, you know, a vastly more fleshed-out and consistent culture and general coolness factor, but also because of the wow, really terrible (both in terms of, you know, just being brownface and also because of the impossibly bad quality) brownface makeup. It is somehow most noticeable on Kang’s science officer, wife and one of only two Klingon ladies in the original series, Mara.
(A heads-up at this point that this episode does include a scene with a sexual assault.)
We’re not sure what the goal here was, since earlier TOS Klingons didn’t… really… have this? So we’re not sure what makeup and wardrobe were smoking that day, but.
This week’s episode also purports to deliver a subtle message of not letting yourself be riled up by bullshit, hate-mongering propaganda to hate and fight things that actually have nothing to do with your own life (we try, guys; we try) that could conceivably be relevant to today’s mediasphere, but actually just brings us a torturously drawn-out metaphor for how we should all just hug it out.
Here’s the rundown: the Enterprise and a Klingon ship under the command of one of our favourite Klingons, Kang, are tricked into a rendezvous. The planet supposedly had a Federation colony on it, but it`s mysteriously gone, with no sign on their instruments that it ever existed. The Klingon ship, on the other hand, suffers a catastrophic malfunction that (possibly) kills 400 of their crew. Tragedy on both sides! How terrible! And then the Enterprise beams the survivors aboard, leaving them with equal numbers of Klingons and Federation crew, and suddenly shit gets weird.
The takeway is that the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated by a glowy disco-ball alien that feeds on negative emotions like hatred, specifically “race hatred,” because while Star Trek has never been a subtle beast when it comes to its messaging, TOS is somehow even less subtle than its descendants. The disco ball wanted to keep them fighting so it could suck up all those delicious, delicious bigotry feelings, even going so far as to revive fallen fighters when they’ve been killed by the other side.
Like I said, Trek is not subtle. On the other hand, we mostly don’t mind.
December 21, 2016
Do you enjoy bizarre sci-fi-esque westerns like Wild Wild West and Westworld? Alternately, have you been doing a lot of drugs? Then this episode is for you!
Seriously. First of all, the reason given for the Enterprise visiting this planet either makes no sense at all or makes them look like assholes, which always gets us off to a glowing start. Second of all, this episode takes place in a 19th-century Wild West town that apparently did not feel the need to put walls or ceilings on any of its buildings, something that is never, at any point in the episode, commented upon by anyone.
Basically, Kirk, following orders from higher-up, approaches a planet that has done them the damned courtesy of sending a probe telling the Enterprise in no uncertain terms that they are not at home to visitors, thanks. Naturally, this means that when the away party beams down, they find themselves quickly lectured by an almost unbelievably shoddily-constructed Guest Alien who informs them that because they can’t follow simple instructions or respect sovereign space, they must now be executed… in the weirdest fucking way I have ever heard of, even in Star Trek.
Basically, they’re zipped to Pretend Tombstone Arizona, the away team is cast as the Clantons, and the Earps are going to kill them if they don’t skip town by 5pm. Yes, Death by O.K. Corral. Supposedly this was chosen from Kirk’s mind because he (and his crew) must die by the “violence of [his] own past.” The fact that Kirk’s ancestors are from Iowa, not the Wild Wild West, is apparently immaterial to the moment, but… whatever.
Obviously the away team does not perish at the hands of the Earps and Doc Holliday (weirdly cast as Snidely Whiplash-level black hats in this story). But neither do they, really, escape via application of their smarts, as usual. They work out that the whole Wild West set is an illusion, but that the bullets can still kill them if they believe in them. But do we get to see the power of human imagination being wielded as the ultimate weapon against violence and death? No. It turns out that humans? Just too emotional to logically believe that an illusion is unreal.
Like, there are parts of this episode that definitely come out the other side of Bad and all the way back around to This Is Amazing, but the ten minutes of our lives we gave up to Spock doing the most awkward series of mind-melds ever really didn’t help.
Floating sky clocks can only make up for so much.
December 14, 2016
Hold on to your hats, listeners, because something astonishing has come to pass: we all liked this one.
Right on the tail of one of the worst episodes of TOS is one of the best so far, and one that comes with an interesting question, also the title of the episode: is there, in truth, no beauty? Or is unvarnished truth necessarily ugly?
This week, the Enterprise is swinging by to pick up the ambassador to the Federation for species called the Medusans (unsure whether that’s what they call themselves or if that’s just the Jerkface Human translation), who are apparently so “hideous” to look upon that any human that does so goes insane.
Well, except for Vulcans. So it’s Spock who meets the ambassador and his interpreter, Dr. Miranda Jones (played by Diana Muldaur), in the transporter room. Dr. Jones is instantly fascinating to absolutely everyone – mostly because she’s hot – but also because she’s a) a telepath, b) also human? we think? so she’s one of the few mystifying exceptions to the “no human telepaths in Star Trek” rule, c) studied on Vulcan to get her powers under control, d) kind of jealous of Spock, who was offered the job she’s now trying to secure, but turned it down and e) utterly, explicitly uninterested in the creepy romantic advances of all the gross dudes around her.
Also beamed aboard: engineer Larry Marvick, whose chief extracurricular interest is stalking Miranda and failing to take no for an answer. (Content warning: this episode contains at least one brief moment of unwanted sexual contact, i.e. a kiss that is immediately, viciously rebuffed. Larry is not a nice dude and we’re happy when he dies.)
The central conflicts of the story are Miranda vs. Human Emotion (she’s just not that into feelings), Larry vs. Miranda’s Explicitly Stated Disinterest, and Larry vs. the Enterprise. It should also be mentioned that the Medusan ambassador, Kalos, is blameless in the entire affair. He spends 90% of the trip hanging out in his shielded box to protect the squishy human brains aboard the ship from his insanity-inducing magnificence, except for a brief sojourn inside Spock’s head to navigate them back to a known part of the universe after Dickface Larry gazes upon the unfathomable Kalos, loses his mind, and takes the Enterprise on a joyride right before expiring of Toxic Masculinity Poisoning.
(There is so much happening in this episode.)
Anyway, we love Miranda. And Miranda and Kalos, ultimately, settle their difficulties and beam off to the next stop on their tour as simpatico as a human (?) and a formless energy being can be. And do we ever get to see the Medusan in the box? No. We don’t even know if it’s really “ugliness” that drives people mad, though we’re inclined to think that’s just nasty human prejudice-speak for “ineffable.” But we also think that’s kind of the point.
December 7, 2016
This week’s episode is widely considered to be the worst of the Original Series, and while we beg to differ on “worst,” it’s still pretty damn bad. From inconsistent characterization to random dialogue to one of the most random stunt-casts in our shared experience, this ep goes from “uhh” to “what?” to “umm, no” with great speed and all the agility of a drunken wildebeest.
The ship’s first mistake is answering a distress call. Seriously, when does that ever go well? They arrive at Triacus to find that all the adult members of the archaeological expedition have committed suicide, leaving only their children alive. Children who are… shall we say disturbingly unaffected? Creepily cheerful? by the horrible deaths of their parents, apparently right in front of them.
Now you know, and I know, that creepy orphans are not to be trusted, especially in sci-fi, but the crew takes the kids aboard without even a biohazard scan (yet another checkmark in the fail column for the Enterprise crew!) and they promptly take over the ship.
What follows doesn’t make a whole lot more sense than what comes before, nor does the tone get any less inconsistent. We discover that the children are being manipulated by some kind of immortal demon, Gorgan, a translucent holographic dude who most closely resembles an inverted lampshade, but the villain’s motivations – beyond “conquest!” – and the children’s reasons for going along are never really explained or, when they are explained, even remotely plausible. Not to mention that for an episode centred around children, the children themselves are so bizarrely written that we have to wonder if the people writing them had ever met a genuine human child.
Verdict: baffling, off-key, and left us cold. Even Shatner’s famous, oft-mocked performance in the Homoerotic Turbolift Scene couldn’t save this one.
November 30, 2016
So we’ve been looking forward with – not anticipation? More like trepidation? Dread? knowing this episode was coming up pretty soon, and here we are: The One Where Kirk Gets Amnesia and Cosplays A Hollywood Native American. To give you an idea of the level of cultural sensitivity on display for this episode, the alternate episode title was “The Paleface.”
Is this episode, super, super-racist? Why, yes! How did you guess?
So to summarize, briefly: there’s an asteroid headed for a planet that is home to a pre-warp culture. The Enterprise is going to divert the asteroid and keep it from killing everyone, which is apparently nbd in the 23rd century. Cool. Fine. I’m with you.
Except then for no reason at all, even though they are on an extremely tight schedule (this is mentioned at least three times in the first five minutes of the episode), Kirk, Spock and Bones beam down to gawk at a) the weird alien monolith that seems strangely out of place on a world with no industrial development and b) the natives, who look curiously like pre-European-contact Native Americans of the These-Are-What-We-Had-In-Wardrobe tribe and write an ode to how “idyllic” and “uncomplicated” their lives seem. (This is the first mention of The Preservers, aka: the omnipotent aliens who went around plucking up “primitive” cultures and preserving them in situ on other worlds, who we can only assume were invented to retroactively explain away all the highly questionable Alternate Earth writing decisions so far.)
They’re in a hurry, so naturally Kirk has to trip through a hole and get lost, forcing Spock and Bones to leave him behind in order to keep their appointment with the planet-killing asteroid,
Kirk gets himself electrocuted, gets amnesia, and emerges from the monolith to be greeted by the tribe’s priestesses, one of whom promptly falls in love with him. Kirk – or rather, Kirok, as he comes to be called – gets adopted by the tribe as their new, uh, wizard? And worshiped as a god? and it only gets worse from there.
For what should be pretty obvious reasons, we were not huge fans. In addition to being ultra-terrible and full of holes big enough for a starship captain to fall through – the conflict makes very little sense, when it turns out that the planet had an asteroid deflection machine all along, and Spock comes to the solution mainly via inspirational lute-playing – but rife with the kind of infantilizing characterization of Native Americans/First Nations people that should give any decent human contact humiliation. Kirk’s whole character arc in this episode is a desire for a condescendingly-idealized “simpler life” that’s handily delivered to him by amnesia and being slotted into a position of power and basically worshiped as a god. Not to mention the rampant brownface and the fact that the sole female guest star exists only to…
…no. I could go on. But honestly, you can probably guess, and if we had to watch this, so do you.