November 2, 2016
Apparently no one at 1960s Desilu was listening to me, because this week’s episode involves yet another goddamn parallel Earth.
And not just Earth: an Earth where the Roman Empire survived until the 20th century, and yet somehow still ended up speaking colloquial North American English.
We open to another missing Federation ship, though this time it’s the Merchant Service S.S. Beagle, captained by another old friend of Kirk’s, an R.M. Merik. Yeah, we said the same thing: it’s never a good sign when they meet up with an old friend of Kirk’s. They’re always dead or evil or evil and then dead. Guess what? You’re all psychic.
Turns out that Captain Merik, who once flunked out of the Academy for failing some psych test – we assume he answered “yes” to the question “have you ever really really wanted to be a Roman Emperor?” – is now sitting pretty as First Citizen of the somehow-English-speaking Space Roman Empire, and also, basically his entire crew has been murdered in the arena. Merik’s leash – and his privileged position – is firmly in the hands and at the whim of the Space Rome Pro-Consul, who is convinced that because he got his hands on Merik and Merik’s crew, he can easily do the same with Kirk by way of threats and/or bribery.
In the end, to literally no one’s surprise, Merik ends up stabbed by the Space Pro-Consul in the midst of helping Kirk & Co escape. And the English thing? Is all in service of a pun. And guys, I can appreciate a good pun, honestly I can. But in this case I’m going full John-Oliver-on-the-Bugle STOP IT NOW because it turns out that the Children of the Sun are actually the Children of the Son. As in: the son of God.
Yes. Space Rome, PLUS Space Christianity, PLUS fundamental misunderstanding of the history of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
This episode is fired. See you next week.
October 26, 2016
Now, I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, the habitual sci-fi consumer, but here’s a pro tip: when you give a New, Amazing, Cutting Edge Computer the sole charge of a starship/town/space station, Shit Goes Down.
In this episode, Dr. Richard Daystrom (who later gave his name to The Daystrom Institute, one of the Federation’s premiere scientific institutes of research and learning) is here to field-test his shiny new M5 computer, a device designed to take over the running of a starship in order to make a human crew redundant. Dr. Daystrom, as it happens, is, uh, a liiiiittle too emotionally involved with his Ultimate Computer.
Now, a nearly infinite number of questions might immediately spring to mind, but we think the principle ones are:
Also, naturally, the moment Daystrom comes on board he just can’t shut up about how pointless human crews and, more importantly, human Captains are, and how the future is all about super-genius computers doing the work of all these folks who have dedicated their lives to, uh, you know, running a starship, and making them obsolete. He’s getting a mystifying amount of support from Starfleet brass, even from Kirk’s so-called “old friend” Commodore Wesley, who after the M5’s first successful outing goes so far as to address Kirk as “Captain Dunsel,” which is Starfleet Academy-ese for “you serve no purpose.”
Obviously, obviously, the M5 goes a little spare, takes over the entire ship, and – oops! – murders upwards of three dozen crew on the other ships involved in the field test. Even in tech support we couldn’t label that as “expected behaviour.” It comes out that the M5 isn’t actually a pure AI, but an “imprint” of Daystrom’s own brain, and it would appear that the hybridization isn’t exactly… what’s the word? Oh yes: stable.
Honestly, we think, as always, that the #1 qualification for admittance to Starfleet Academy is genre savvy, e.g. maybe a quick skim of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
On the plus side, it appears that “once built a pseudo-computer that went rogue and murdered dozens of Starfleet personnel” is not a disqualifying CV item when it comes to getting vast, prestigious research facilities named after you, so there’s that. In the Federation, anyone really can be anything.
October 19, 2016
Okay, here’s a partial list of acceptable scenarios under which you may portray generally Earth, or specifically the United States of America, as existing on an alien planet or anywhere that is not our universe:
Scenarios where this just pisses us off:
Guess which one happens in this episode.
The frustrating thing is that this episode contains at least three barely-connected episodes, and 1.75 of them could be good stories. Unfortunately, they’re made retroactively irrelevant by the general shittiness of the final, out-of-the-blue, America, Fuck Yeah! minutes of the episode, especially since the entire debacle could have been avoided by a refresher course on Biohazard Protocols (yes, we’re back here, again) and Keeping In Touch With Starfleet.
Mystifyingly, this was one of Gene Roddenberry’s submissions for the original pilot, but NBC – rightly – made him shelve it until late in the second season when, presumably, they could no longer stop him.
Possibly this episode would seem less wretched to an actual American, but we seriously doubt it.
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.
October 5, 2016
Good news: this is our 50th Episode! Holy crap!
Bad news: Long story short, the official subtitle for this episode is “Nazis‽”
If you’re confused: that’s an interrobang, one of the most graceful forms of punctuation in the English language. No other symbol so effectively encompasses our feelings about this episode.
Because that’s right, kids. We’re there. Nazis in space.
You’ve probably heard of this episode even if you haven’t seen it. Most sci-fi does metaphorical Nazis. Allegorical Nazis. (Uncomfortably topical Nazis, especially today, especially if you spend thirty seconds taking in American campaign coverage.)
Only Trek took one look at the tradition of putting our failings as a society into sharp relief by making clever and subtle references to one of the greatest horrors ever perpetuated by a human country and went “subtle? hah! SUBTLE IS FOR CHUMPS.” And then raided the Desilu costume store for every piece of World War 2 regalia they could lay their hands on, plus all the genuine Third Reich footage they could scrounge up. The least-subtle cherry on top? The downtrodden class of Planet Space Nazi are called Zeons, most of whom have spaceified Hebrew names. Imagine the word “subtlety” painted big and bright on one of those paper circles the mascot bursts through during a high school pep rally and you’re close to the levels we’re talking about.
The central plot of this episode: a famous and respected Federation historian tries to usher a chaotic and war-like alien world into the harmony of a united society by… replicating the Third Reich, with the argument that it was the “most efficient” state in Earth history.
Yes. These are words spoken on actual television, a mere twenty years after the end of World War 2. Imagine that.
Supposedly the historian in question intended to use a defanged version of Naziism, sans runaway bigotry and mass murder, but Something Went Wrong, that something in question being One Bad Guy who… ruined the Benign Nazi Revolution for everyone? I guess?
Obviously there are endless arguments to the contrary, e.g. There Is No Such Thing As Benign Nazis, most of which apparently fell on deaf ears in the room full of mostly-white, mostly-Christian, mostly-male Trek writers and producers, but perhaps the most bizarre choice made by the folks in charge was writing an episode like this and then sending two of the original series’ cast’s three Jewish actors down to impersonate and later get beaten up by space Nazis. It was an… interesting choice, to be sure.
All things considered, There Is No Such Thing As Benign Nazis is probably the best lesson we can draw from this episode, especially given the chilling similarities between in-episode nonsense rhetoric and the so-called debate we watched last week. It’s something that was obviously on the writers’ minds, and maybe something that should always be on everyone’s: that we’d damn well better learn from our history; otherwise, some day, someone might decide to hit replay on us.
September 28, 2016
So in case you were still on the fence about this, here is the lesson for this episode: never, ever, ever let a semi-ascended super-being, especially one who considers you a child or ant by comparison to themselves, inhabit your body, even temporarily.
Like, how are we even still having this conversation? How? How has at least a year charting the vast reaches of unknown space not taught anyone on this ship even an iota of genre-savvy? I’ve known this since I learned to read. Anyone with a post on board the Enterprise is, by definition, much smarter than me, so how do they not know this? How does anyone in Starfleet not immediately go “oh, this is a terrible idea for about thirty-seven reasons to start with, no matter how scientifically fascinating it is?”
Because that’s what happens in this episode: three apparently intelligent, sciencey adults consent (and oh, boy, are there ever some consent issues on the table here: Mulhall and Kirk’s tenants last about three seconds in their new bodies before commencing makeouts) to have the consciousnesses of three “dead” aliens from an extinct race “borrow” their bodies while they build themselves new android ones.
That this will immediately go horribly wrong should be a foregone conclusion, but Kirk sways the room with his famous “risk is our business!” speech, and apparently to Kirk, Spock, and Dr. Anne Mulhall (played by Diana Muldaur, who would later play Dr. Katherine Pulaski on Next Gen), this is just too cool an opportunity to pass up. Clearly we have different priorities. Fine.
I just remembered that once, an actual human physicist stuck his head into a particle accelerator just to see what would happen. And there wasn’t even the knowledge of the infinite at stake. Nothing should surprise me anymore.
September 21, 2016
Pro tip #1: guns are bad.
Pro tip #2: the Non-Intereference Directive is there for a fucking reason.
So this episode? Was actually sort of well-delivered? In a way? I mean, if you ignore that it was originally supposed to be a Vietnam metaphor and actually ended up being about disarmament and mutually assured destruction and how there often is no “good” answer to a conflict so much as there is the possibility of balance.
Also on this planet: random space yeti called Mugato. The gift that keeps on giving.
Ostensibly, the Enterprise is on the planet of the week to follow up on Kirk’s 12-year-ago survey which declared the planet to be, basically, lousy with medicinal herbs, and home to two cultures: the Hill People, AKA: Definitely Not A Native American Stereotype, and the Villagers. Both are discussed in ultra-naive infantilizing Deep Green Ecology terms, and supposedly live in harmony with nature and each other
During his first visit, Kirk also made friends with one of the two indigenous cultures through the Hill People’s new leader, Tyree. Apparently this planet has no conflict and no weapons, though a secondary purpose for the visit is to make sure the Klingons aren’t violating their treaty with the Federation by interfering with the natives’ cultural development.
Guess what happens. Yeah, you guessed it: the dark-haired Villagers have been getting weapons upgrades from those jerks the Klingons, who helped them fast-forward their weapons technology 1,200 years from bows and arrows to flintlock projectile weapons, not to mention playing the snake to the Villagers’ Adam. Apparently merely suggesting that war and killing might be super-fun was enough to turn the once-peaceful Villagers into landed Saxon raiders, and they’re frankly slaughtering the Hill People.
Setting aside the (pretty gross) Temptress/Eve treatment Tyree’s witch-wife, Nona, gets, this is a rare episode where the biblical analogy is pretty well carried-out, if you substitute “gun” for “apple,” but it (perhaps wisely) doesn’t attempt to give a definitive answer to the question it poses. It’s all very well to talk about throwing away our gatling guns and our nuclear bombs – a noble goal, certainly – but the knowledge of how to build more is out there, and it is, despite the hardcore cliche status of this phrase, very hard to kill an idea. So what do you do?
According to James Kirk, the provisional answer is “I don’t know, but it’s probably better if more than one guy has the bomb.”
September 14, 2016
This episode is called “The Immunity Syndrome,” but frankly this is a missed opportunity to title an episode “Attack of the Giant Space Amoeba,” or to gleefully over-use the word “entropy.”
Because that’s what this episode wants to be about, folks: entropy, and why it’s the enemy.
This is another one of those times when you can just about see the episode that the episode wanted to be, but it never quite made it out into the world.
What this episode wants to be about:
What this episode is actually about:
As so often happens with TOS, the episode you will inevitably write in your head while watching is far superior to what’s on the screen. And maybe sugar up before sitting down to watch, lest the entropy get you, too.
September 7, 2016
So, depending on your point of view, this episode is either a condemnation of accidental colonialism, an apologist screed for colonialism, or is saying something chilling about casual gun violence.
…orrrr it’s a thinly-veiled excuse to have James Kirk cosplay as Al Capone.
About a hundred years ago, we learn in the cold open, the proto-Federation ship Horizon visited Iotia, and may possibly, slightly, just a little bit definitely fucked up their cultural evolution. The visit happened before the introduction of Starfleet’s non-interference directive, which also explains why the mysteriously-vanished Horizon‘s report took so long to reach Earth (we never do learn what happened to the Horizon, either). The Enterprise is just now getting around to checking on Iotia, and they find that “interfered” is not quite strong enough a word for what contact with the Horizon has done to Iotian culture.
Namely: inspired the Iotians to perfectly mimic Hollywood 1920s Chicago, with a heavy emphasis on the mob.
This is mostly a hijinks episode, not unlike The Trouble with Tribbles – and interestingly, is one of two Original Series episodes DS9 writers considered returning to when they were creating Troubles and Tribble-ations. Kirk and Co. are forced to adapt quickly, first appearing utterly alien in both time and place, and then to play along with a farcical situation that eventually has Kirk adopting a movie-Capone role and “taking over” Iotia in the name of the Federation.
How this turned out in the long run is anybody’s guess – canon gives us conflicting reports on the fate of Iotia – but we do know that we’d love to see Kirk’s report on this particular mission.
August 31, 2016
In this week’s episode, our brave (stupid?) crew is once again kidnapped by a race of jerkface omnipotent ascended aliens.
There’s a whole painfully-artificial B-plot that we won’t go into much, but the A-plot is basically that Kirk, Chekov and Uhura are innocently beaming down to a planet for Totally Legitimate Mission Reasons and find themselves, instead, lots of light-years away, being pressed into gladiatorial slavery, for the amusement of giant brains.
Yes, it’s Yet Another Giant Brain/Energy Squid Villain, where the all-powerful alien race in question has subjugated humanoids for reasons that only make sense if you’ve decided to forcibly evolve yourself out of inconvenient glandular concerns like a conscience.
Honestly, I mostly liked this episode. It’s got some great worldbuilding, a couple of it’s-not-their-fault-it’s-the-writing solid lady guest characters, one of whom is multi-tasker extraordinaire Ensign Jana Haines, who is the responsible officer actually responsible for locating the missing away team while Spock, Scotty and Bones are arguing for no reason.
The other two lady guest stars are alien gladiators, and one of them, Shahna, repeatedly kicks Kirk’s ass, which let’s face it, can only be good for him. If only it weren’t for the super-awkward and pretty-inappropriate romantic subplot, I’d give it an extra fifty points.
Shahna also carries most of the episode’s worldbuilding, having been born and raised on Triskelion. We like to imagine that one day, she’s re-introduced to the greater galaxy as Prime Minister Shahna, because god knows she’s earned it.