December 16, 2015
Somewhere, some former Star Trek writer is still riding the triumph of putting their English degree to such expansive use, because this episode may have the most Shakespeare references of any single episode of the Original Series. And that’s not just because this episode’s themes are based on not one, but two Shakespeare plays; it also contains two Shakespeare plays. Macbeth and Hamlet are both performed, at least in part, within this episode. It’s so meta it hurts my head, and I have an English degree. Predictably, it’s also one of my favourite episodes of TOS.
This episode is about Kirk’s manpain, and I say that without derision: this episode is legit about a traumatic childhood experience, specifically 13-year-old James Kirk (and crewman Kevin Riley, who you may remember as the warbling descendant of Irish Kings from The Naked Time) witnessing the Tarsus IV massacre, arguably one of the most discussed and debated events in Star Trek canon (by which we mean that the episode is rife with easily-fixable inconsistencies and there are no satisfactory answers within canon, leaving fans to speculate wildly).
Despite its problems, it does a good job of striking the emotional notes, particularly Kirk’s struggle with the obvious-to-everyone-else truth – is this travelling actor really the mass murderer Kodos, who ordered 4,000 innocent colonists executed in order to save the more “desirable” 4,000 from starvation?
This episode was disliked by the network for being too verbose, but everybody has some great lines in this episode, most delivered in some exceptionally pretty, appropriately Shakespearean prose. It also leaves us thinking: How reliable is memory? Is justice more desirable than revenge, and is revenge justifiable in the face of true evil? Is it even remotely possible to use the word “eugenics” without invoking Nazis? Does this episode have more holes in it than the secure perimeter of the Neutral Zone?
The answer to all of these questions (except for the last one, which is a definitive yes) is… we don’t know, really. They’re mostly unanswerables, which are mostly posed rhetorically within the body of an episode that casts James Kirk as Hamlet and his childhood nightmare, Kodos the Executioner, as Macbeth, which sounds like a piece of fusion fanfiction but I swear, mostly works as an episode… as long as you don’t think about it too much.
Trust your headcanon. Focus on the feels. Trust us: you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
December 9, 2015
So I guess you could say this is a landmark of sorts: Star Trek’s first clips episode. Two landmarks! It’s also the first two-parter. In The Menagerie, the Enterprise is called to a starbase (via a message no one can verify and may have been faked) where we’re re-united with Captain Christopher Pike of unaired original series pilot, The Cage. Due to a terrible accident Pike is now disfigured, confined to a hoverchair, and unable to communicate except for a blinky-light that only allows him to say “yes” or “no.” But don’t worry, Captain Pike. Spock has a plan. He’s going to steal the Enterprise and kidnap you on a mutinous six-day interstellar road trip!
Mostly this episode is a contrivance to allow the writers to fill space and catch up a production gap, and this two-parter is principally composed of an onboard court-martial where Spock explains exactly why he’s stolen the flagship and how the whole thing was really the only logical course of action by screening records of that long-ago mission that resulted in the ship’s destination, Talos IV, being marked as forbidden to Starfleet vessels.
The setup is, of course, a little contrived, but it does a surprisingly good job of feeling like a solid, genuine episode despite being an obvious clips vehicle. Also: Spock is the best at mutinous starship theft. This plan is amazing. Spock thought of everything, up to and including the fact that Jim Kirk is definitely stupid enough to hop into a shuttle and follow them despite the laundry-list of obvious reasons why this is a terrible idea more likely to end in his terrible suffocating demise, adrift in space, than actually catching up to the Enterprise.
It also allowed us to fast-forward through a good 75% of the episode, which we all agreed is the best way to watch The Cage.
December 2, 2015
Corbomite. Corbomite. Corbomite. Hard to say aloud, especially if you’re Corene and keep wanting to say carbonite (Corene is very excited about Star Wars). This is a solid, smart, professional episode for the Enterprise crew in which there is a mystery to be solved and a problem to be strategized away, which is one of Trek’s greatest strengths.
Well. Except for that asshole, Bailey, who spends 50 minutes losing his shit in progressively more unprofessional and disruptive ways, to such an extent that we wondered five minutes in why this man was in Starfleet to begin with and yelling career advice at the screen, e.g. You Are A Terrible Starfleet Officer.
This episode was meant to be the first episode after the real pilot, but its unprecedented amount of special effects delayed its release. Most of this story is about the Enterprise v.s. varying sizes and shapes of space-light, so you can imagine why that might flummox 1960s effects departments.
You could even call this an episode-in-a-bottle, because the crew spends 99% of the story staring out into space at the won’t-leave-them-alone mysterious space cube and outmaneuvering its big brother, Space-Disco-Ball. Our crew is cast as the reasonable victims of an outrageously unreasonable, unseen alien threat that decides they must be destroyed, no questions-asked, for trespassing into unmarked sovereign space. But our alien aggressors are apparently unaware of what we the viewers already knew, which is that you should never try to out-bluff James Tiberius Kirk. Mostly this episode is a ton of tense hurry-up-and-wait, all in all a great example of a smart, sensible starship crew trying their intelligent best against intractable space-jerks.
Well. Except for Bailey, who ends up adopted out to the aliens in the interests of diplomacy. Probably the best thing for everyone.
November 25, 2015
So, once again, we encounter a major problem with the operating procedures of the Enterprise NCC-1701, namely Basic Security Precautions. e.g. When you are beaming up cargo from a penal colony, you should probably scan said cargo for escaping prisoners.
Of course, if the Enterprise crew were that well-endowed with common sense we wouldn’t have this episode, which is a common feature of early TOS – both a semi-successful narrative device and a writing problem. At least, the consensus at the NSMTNZ table was this: when your plot depends on all of your characters failing to display basic common sense, it’s a bad plot.
This episode takes the Enterprise to the famous and well-respected penal colony Tantalus V, and as you can imagine, everything goes to hell almost immediately.
For us, Dagger of the Mind represents a turning point for Star Trek: the point at which the Federation and human culture starts being painted as progressive, or at least, more-progressive-than-the-world-of-the-viewer; where the typical Starfleet officer begins to be defined as smart and competent rather than a reckless space cowboy; and where the show starts to take shape as more of an ensemble cast, something that would underlie every Star Trek to follow. It’s also where the heavy Shakespeare and ancient mythology references start noticeably rolling in, and features Star Trek’s first Vulcan mind meld. Because this is an early TOS episode and the worldbuilding hasn’t quite gotten off the ground, the almost-interesting commentary on the justice system of the 22nd century is a little confused and fragmented, but it still gets points for explicitly endorsing rehabilitative methods over punitive ones. Then again, since the penal facility in question seems to have brought about this revolution via brain erasure, it’s a qualified pass.
If you have issues with the rather blase treatment of mental illness common to TV, especially early TV, this one is probably not for you – there are some extremely shady mental health practices employed on this particular penal colony, and some pretty ableist language tossed around with typical 1960s nonchalance. But if you like to see ladies in unfeasibly short skirts kicking evil henchmen in the balls, mad scientists getting what’s coming to them, and seeing how many times the word “penal” makes us giggle like 12-year-olds, this is definitely worth the watch.
November 18, 2015
In this episode, in yet another example of early Starfleet’s flagrant disregard for basic biohazard precautions, Kirk, Bones, Spock, Rand and two redshirts beam down to an uncannily Earth-like planet in response to an SOS.
A planet where everyone appears to be dead, and has been dead for hundreds of years.
And creepy childlike singing and ghostly footsteps echo from around corners and beyond shadowed doorways.
…yes. This definitely seems like a safe place to explore.
The planet seems to be abandoned, apart from the aforementioned creepy singing and the pitter-patter of little feet – at least until they meet the episode’s titular character, (13/14-year-old?) Miri, who is hiding in a closet and terrified out of her mind at the sight of strange “grups.” A few minutes in an ancient, abandoned science lab nets the discovery that somewhere around three centuries ago, all the adults suddenly died, leaving only the children (cast largely from the offspring of the cast and crew), who seem to have grown feral in the interim.
Like so much of early Trek, this episode is one of those with a lot of unfulfilled potential and a lot of unfinished conversations, e.g. Is the prospect of an eternal childhood tempting or horrifying? How much of culture is passed down exclusively from adults to children rather than created anew with every generation? What cultural equilibrium can be achieved without biology forcing physical maturity? Is The Lord of the Flies a pack of nonsense that falls apart when not cast entirely with wealthy white males (spoiler: probably, but the episode itself doesn’t give us a lot to go on)?
All in all this is a very small story, an episode without a B-plot where surprisingly little happens, the cast demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of how vaccines work, and there is much debating about the appropriateness of flirting with infatuated 13-year-olds in the interest of saving everybody’s lives.
Sadly these questions are mostly left as loose ends in favour of a quick monster-of-the-week wrap-up, though at least this episode has a low death-count. Even the redshirts survive!
November 13, 2015
Early last week, CBS announced that a new Star Trek television series was in the works, and the Internet subsequently exploded.
Suffice it to say we have mixed feelings. So mixed that the announcement caused no small amount of flailing at NSMTNZ HQ. Some hand-wringing. Some shouting. Some screaming. Possibly some confused weeping.
Rumours abound as to the new series’ contents, though it does involve a couple of pre-reboot alums as well as at least one director with, uh, let us call them successful but mixed credentials.
It’s also possible that this series will be broadcast only on a paywalled (probably region-locked) streaming service, which has a lot of people worried.
In this episode, we ask and sort of answer a lot of questions, including but not limited to:
Seriously though: for the most part we’re cautiously pleased about the prospect of the return of Star Trek to its natural medium, but we do hope that this series heralds a return to the fundamental principles of Trek, as transposed onto our modern television storytelling expectations. More diversity, please, CBS. More wonder. More hope. And above all, more transcending the limitations and trials of our youth as a species to become something more: Per Aspera Ad Astra.
Please be good, new Star Trek. Be better than what came before.
November 11, 2015
This week’s episode asks the (largely-unrelated-to-the-plot-of-the-episode) question: what are little girls made of? Some of you may have you automatically answered “sugar and spice and everything etc.”, but you’re wrong.
It’s robots. The answer is robots. Because spoiler: everyone in this episode is a robot.
We could also call this the “Christine Chapel is pretty fuckin’ great” episode, because it turns out she signed on with a starship, abandoning a high-flying research career, to travel the stars in search of her fiance. Said fiance, the famous space archaeologist Roger Korby, has been missing for five years. Apparently accepting the verdict of two space expeditions to far-flung-ice-hell-planet is for chumps.
To Nurse Chapel’s delight, they approach Planet Exo-3 (aka: Yet Another Wretched Hell Planet, Ice Edition) to hear the sound of Dr. Korby’s voice transmitting from the surface. He asks that only one person beam down – the captain – and then, when he learns that his beloved Christine is aboard, he asks for her to beam down as well. Kirk agrees, because that’s a totally legit request, right?
Fortunately, Christine Chapel aka: Our Queen Majel Barrett is around to save the day, which is a real stroke of luck, because Kirk is really not bringing his A-game to either escaping or hostage-taking.
This episode is a bit slow, being one of the TOS episodes without a B-plot but does contain the seeds of some interesting future Trek conversations about artificial intelligence, the nature of the soul, and what it really means to be human. I mean, somewhere in there. They tried.
November 4, 2015
In this episode the crew of the Enterprise has their first encounter with Leo Walsh, aka: Harry Mudd, aka: Harcourt Fenton Mudd: space pirate, con artist, and… space pimp, apparently?
We meet Harry Mudd at least twice more in later episodes, but in his introduction, he’s escorting a “cargo” of three lovely ladies destined to be the wives of lonely frontier space miners. Evidently they’ve signed on with Mudd in order to escape their lives of lonely toil on their own terrible frontier planets. If you’re thinking that this already sounds resoundingly awful and enough to be getting on with, here’s a bonus: in rescuing Mudd and Mudd’s Women from their exploding ship, the Enterprise has blown out its engines, potentially stranding them in space.
But that’s not all. These ladies aren’t just lovely, they’re impossibly attractive, to the extent that every (presumably straight) man who lays eyes on them, including the well-trained male contingent of the Enterprise crew, are immediately reduced to drooling animals.
A number of questions arise, including:
What follows is a hot mess of confused messages: the importance of agency, the perils of vanity, a very uncertain treatise on the objectification of women, and a minute or two of the 1960s version of OMG TRICKED BY MAKEUP. The true message of this episode is difficult to extract, but it’s definitely very preoccupied with the importance of a woman’s appearance over all other qualities, which is probably why we spent so much time dissecting everybody’s outfits.
October 28, 2015
Okay, pop quiz: your only method of transit between your giant starship and the surface of nearby Crappy Frozen Hell-Planet-of-the-Adorable-Unicorn-Dogs is an occasionally-dodgy matter-transport device which, if malfunctioning, stands a not-inconsiderable chance of scattering your component atoms across time and space. One day, the transporter starts acting weird. Do you:
If you answered B, you might not want to pursue a career in starship engineering. Maybe Ship’s Counsellor! God knows they could use one.
In an episode based on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which drives home last week’s Always Follow Biohazard Protocols lesson), we see Captain Kirk accidentally duplicated in a freak transporter accident, split into Good! and Evil! Kirks. I’m sure it surprises no one that Evil gets better lighting.
Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault (an attempted sexual assault is contained within the Trek episode itself).
October 21, 2015
It’s hard to explain this episode, despite it having a surprisingly simple plot: our fair ship is in a perilous, risky situation where survival depends on quick reaction times and the crew keeping their heads… so, naturally, everybody gets space-drunk. *rattlesnake noise*
But there’s so much more going on with this episode, to the point that we felt like we, too, were growing more and more space-drunk as the story progressed. (Which is actually a pretty good metaphor for the whole experience.) If you’re me and Kim, and your affections for this episode were already firmly secured by nostalgia and the TNG companion episode of very similar name, you’ll love this one. If you’re Corene and insist on silly things like “plot” and “sense,” you’ll probably spend a lot of the 50 minutes screaming. To each their own.
Lesson for this week, and we cannot stress this enough: Always. Follow. Biohazard. Protocols. (We’re looking at you, Joey.)