Monday, September 7, 2009

TOS Season 2

One might correctly assume that, between Season 1 and Season 3 of Star Trek the original series (TOS), there was also a Season 2. Odd though it may be to come last to the second of Trek's three seasons, I feel there is a certain logic to it. By this point the series had hit its classic tone and style. Recurring characters who weren't destined to make it - such as Janice Rand and Kevin O'Reilly - were well out of the picture. Most of the themes that drove the series had been introduced. The slump in quality that marked the writing of the final half-season had not yet happened. DeForest Kelley (as Dr. McCoy) at last received top billing after Shatner and Nimoy, recognizing his contribution to the central trio who lent a remarkable three-way chemistry to the show. And the last key character of the orignal Trek, Ensign Chekov, was finally introduced.

All in all, Season 2 was a remarkable season of television. It represents Star Trek at its peak of maturity - though with a few noticeable slips that, perhaps, foreshadowed its eventual cancellation. In fact, the series was canceled at the end of this season, and was only brought back for a third year after an enormous fan write-in campaign. (Among the Trek insiders interviewed in the special features for the current set of TOS DVDs is Bjo Trimble, one of the organizers of that petition and an omniscient fount of Trek trivia.) So it's also interesting to consider this season from the point of view that it very well might have been Trek's last. Some of my observations below, particularly toward the end of the season, will touch on this idea.

The Vulcan salute, complete with splayed fingers and "Live long and prosper," originated in the second-season premiere, "Amok Time," first aired on my negative-fifth birthday (September 15, 1967). A great birthday-minus present it was, too! So much of what Trekkers know about the Vulcan race comes from this episode. We meet the Vulcan queen, played by the remarkable Celia Lovsky. We discover the embarrassing truth about the Vulcan mating drive. We see Spock's wife, betrothed since childhood, and the pointy-eared boy-next-door she truly loves, played respectively by 1960s TV staples Arlene Martel and Lawrence Montaigne (lately a Romulan in Season 1's "Balance of Terror"). And we see Spock and Kirk forced against their will to fight each other to the death. If you've seen the episode, you can probably hear the battle theme in your mind's ear right now.

The ancient Greek god Apollo turns out to be an alien in the episode of September 22, 1967, "Who Mourns for Adonais?" A toga-clad Michael Forest cuts quite a godlike figure, but it's destined to end badly when he exerts his bizarre powers to grab the Enterprise with a giant, hand-shaped field of energy. Apollo isn't asking for much, except that the crew of the Enterprise beam down to his planet, adopt a bronze-age lifestyle, and sacrifice a deer to him now and then. He doesn't cope well with rejection. Shooting lightning bolts out of his fingers, he repeatedly sends Scotty flying across the courtyard of a dimnutive Greek temple that turns out to be, ha ha, his Achilles heel. The episode takes a wistful turn when, in order to escape from his clutches, Kirk orders a female crewman to betray the god she loves. Apollo vanishes just like first season's "Charlie X," while Kirk belatedly wonders whether it would have hurt to worship him just a little bit.

The main guest star in September 29, 1967's episode "The Changeling" is a levitating, talking space probe named Nomad. Originally launched by an earth scientist named Jackson Roykirk, Nomad has been missing for hundreds of years, presumed destroyed. Now he turns up with a disturbing passtime: wiping out organic life on planet after planet. The crew of the Enterprise is only spared when Nomad confuses Captain James Kirk with the name of his creator. In a classic tale of technology gone wrong, we learn that the present-day Nomad is actually the result of a merger between Roykirk's original probe and an alien device for sterilizing soil samples. The machine, which has achieved a level of sentience comparable to a life form, can only be diverted from its plan to sterilize the Earth by Kirk developing his recently-discovered knack for talking computers into suicide. It's basically the plot of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, except without the bald chick or the long, boring special-effects sequences.

In "Mirror, Mirror," first aired on October 6, 1967, we finally see the face of Vic Perrin, a veteran voice actor who supplied the voices of several disembodied characters in Trek, including Nomad in the previous episode. Perrin plays the leader of a pacifist planet that refuses to allow its dilithium crystals to be used for violent purposes. After failing to convince him that the Federation only wants them for good, Kirk beams up to the Enterprise. Unfortunately, an ionized storm in the planet's atmosphere sends Kirk, Uhura, Scotty, and McCoy into a mirror universe where the Federation is a vicious Empire, and where the Enterprise is under orders to destroy the planet if it refuses to share its dilithium. The mirror dimension's version of Kirk and his landing party have, meanwhile, materialized on our Enterprise. It's a fine mess, and no mistake. Bizarro-Spock is bearded, but still logical in his pursuit of power and gain. Bizarro-Sulu is a hideously scarred sleazoid who hits on Uhura (though, with her bare midriff, who wouldn't?) and who spies on his superior officers. Bizarro-Chekov is an ambitious thug who plans to climb the promotion ladder by means of assassination. And, key to the "real" officers' dilemma, the bizarro-captain has an alien device that can make his enemies disappear forever. The good guys' burden is to prevent the Enterprise from blowing up the pacifist planet long enough to find a way back home - but it gets harder as their cover starts to slip. This exciting, brilliantly conceived piece of science fiction is one of TOS's all-time classic episodes.

"The Apple," however, qualifies as a classic only in its excessive use of the "red shirt principle," a stock device that has often brought ridicule to Star Trek. In this episode of October 13, 1967, not one but two transporter-pads full of red-shirted crewmen beam down to a "Garden of Eden"-like planet where, predictably, they are killed to the last man. Only the series regulars, plus one attractive female crewman, survive to face the giant, stone serpent-god Vaal - who, naturally, turns out to be a computer at heart. The good-looking, scantily-clad natives know nothing of sex, childbearing, or death, being kept perpetually in the prime of life by the machine, which in turn depends on the food they sacrifice to it to sustain its power. Vaal eventually proves to be no match for the Enterprise, which falls back on old-fashioned brute force (phasers, rather than psychology) to neturalize it and set the innocent natives free. In final analysis, it was the Enterprise and its crew, not Vaal, who played the role of the serpent in Eden. It's a cute little episode, once you get past the gratuitous slaughter of red-shirted crewmen, and features a very youthful David Soul, who later played the blond half of TV's "Starsky & Hutch."

If only a single episode were to survive of this series, one that might best typify the whole kit & kaboodle is "The Doomsday Machine," first aired on October 20, 1967. Maybe I'm just saying this because it always seems to be the episode that plays whenever I catch TOS on TV. I can specifically remember fiddling with the UHF antenna in my Dad's attic apartment in the mid-1980s to tune into this episode. I also have a recollection of seeing it on a huge, rear-projection TV while dining out at a pizza joint. If it isn't Law and Order or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, it's "The Doomsday Machine." Who knows? Maybe I just don't watch enough TV. Anyway, this is the one where a giant, indestructible ice-cream cone full of pure energy is found cruising through space, blasting planets into bite-sized chunks and having starships for dessert. While Kirk and Scotty are marooned on a wrecked vessel, a certifiable case of PTSD takes command of the Enterprise and nearly destroys it in an insane quest for revenge. William Windom brings a memorable blend of desperation and cunning to this character, whose son (played by "7th Heaven" star Stephen Collins) becomes Kirk's first-officer in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

What teleseries of the late 1960s would be complete without a campy Halloween episode? Leave it to Trek, which aired "Catspaw" on October 27, 1967 in a tongue-in-cheek glory of witches, skeletons, black cats, and voices from beyond the grave. One's impulse to ridicule the episode may (or may not) be defused by the main characters' perplexed reaction to all this trick-or-treat mumbo-jumbo. It seems two aliens from beyond our galaxy are behind it all, aliens who have pulled these gimmicks out of mankind's racial memory in a clumsy attempt to scare the Enterprise off. But Kirk isn't leaving without his crewmen, who have been turned into zombie slaves. To save them, he must go up against a male alien with a wand of indescribable power, and (more seriously) a female alien who is so captivated by all the new sensations of her adopted human form that she will stop at nothing to experience more of them. The former was played by character actor Theo Marcuse, who died in a car wreck only a month after this episode aired. Kudos go to the folks who cleaned up the special effects for the latest DVD issue; they really saved the final scene, in which the aliens' true form is revealed. In the version originally aired, the puppets used in this scene were atrociously unconvincing, especially as they were strung on black thread that was clearly visible.

One of Trek's first intentional sorties into pure comedy was "I, Mudd," first aired on November 3, 1967. Roger C. Carmel reprises his first-season role as lovable rogue Harry Mudd, who has fallen in with a bad crowd since we last met him. It's not that the citizens of the all-android planet are bad folks, as such. It's just that they want to take over the galaxy, starting with the Enterprise. Their aim is to serve mankind, in the sense of neutralizing him as a danger to himself and others. Fortunately, Kirk is still riding the crest of his ability to talk artificial intelligences into frying their own circuitry. This time, he involves Mudd and his officers in an amusing team effort at baffling the androids with sheer nonsense. It's cute, though broadly played; it makes effective use of good-looking twins to augment the visual effect of a roomful of identical androids; and while the concept isn't original (even for Star Trek), the execution is clever. This has always been one of my favorite shows on the "lighter side of Trek."

Glenn Corbett (late of "Route 66") and Elinor Donahue (late of "Father Knows Best") co-starred together in "Metamorphosis," the episode of November 10, 1967. It's one of Trek's low-key masterpieces. Kirk, McCoy, and Spock are rushing a Federation official (Donahue) to critically-needed medical care when a mysterious entity draws their shuttlecraft off course. Forced to land on an uncharted planet, they meet the handsome young Zefram Cochrane (Corbett). This is odd because Cochrane, the inventor of warp drive, was an old man when he disappeared over a century ago. He has been kept alive by the same entity that brought Kirk's party to the planetoid, an entity he calls the Companion. As Nancy Hedford sickens and dies, the officers establish communication with the Companion. It turns out to be a she, and she is in love with Cochrane. The very idea is repulsive to the guy, until the Companion comes to a solution. Merging with Ms. Hedford, the Companion forgoes immortality in order to offer Cochrane an incentive to stay with her on her lonely world. This delicate, romantic episode would be ideal for a male nerd to show to a female nerd on their first stay-at-home date.

Another milestone in Spock's development came on November 17, 1967, with the broadcast of "Journey to Babel." This episode introduces the pig-nosed Tellarites, the blue-skinned Andorians, and most importantly, Spock's parents: Sarek of Vulcan (played by Mark Lenard, who in his Trek appearances also played a Romulan and a Klingon, as well as reprising the role of Sarek several times), and Amanda of Earth (three-time Emmy winner Jane Wyatt, also of "Father Knows Best"). It's a complex episode. I really don't have space even to begin to describe it. But if you grok Spock, you owe it to yourself to see this exciting and revealing episode. It's almost flawless until the last moment, when DeForest Kelley breaks the Fourth Wall and says: "What do you know? I finally got the last word." To my taste, that's going a bit over the top.

If a show's gotta have a Halloween Episode, it's a sure thing it's gonna have a Christmas Episode too. Star Trek's nativity play is called "Friday's Child," and it aired on December 1, 1967. Written by TOS script supervisor Dorothy (D. C.) Fontana, in some ways it runs circles around the scripts many major sci-fi writers had sent across her desk. It conjures a unique and challenging culture, whose affairs entangle Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as well as the series' second Klingon character, played by Tige Andrews of "The Mod Squad." Still more significantly for devotees of 1970s camp, the episode stars Julie Newmar of Catwoman fame as an expectant mother who hates her unborn child. After her husband, the leader of a warlike nation similar to how the Klingons were portrayed from The Next Generation onward, is assassinated, she escapes into the hills with Kirk & friends. Her husband had been considering an alliance with the Federation, while his rival prefers the Klingons. While Kirk and Spock struggle to keep everyone alive until the Enterprise returns from a wild goose chase (long story), McCoy uses psychology, medical knowhow, and a strong right hook to persuade the girl to bring her baby into the world. The ending has one of the most interesting payoffs among Star Trek plots. It's simply an episode I never tire of watching. Bravo, Dorothy!

On December 8, 1967, "The Deadly Years" showed us what make-up artists 40 years ago thought William Shatner would look like today. Boy, were they wrong! Due to a planet passing through the tail of a comet, blah blah blah, Kirk and several of his crewmen start to age somewhere around 30 years per day. Obviously Dr. McCoy has to come up with a cure and quick, because he's one of the oldest in the bunch and he has the disease too. One of the charms of this episode is a repeat performance of the Corbomite Maneuver, introduced in the first-season episode named after it, and made necessary by the ineptitude of the Starfleet Commodore who strips the increasingly senile Kirk of his command. (Denny Crane, anybody?) On the other hand, the problem is as preposterous as its solution is obvious. Why did it take them so long to think of adrenaline? When you see it, you'll know what I mean.

"Obsession," aired on December 15, 1967, is like "Metamorphosis" and quite a few other episodes in that its title doesn't help much in remembering which episode it was. Suffice it to say that it's the vampire cloud episode, featuring Stephen Brooks (best known for his role on "The F.B.I.") as a young security officer whose father was a Starfleet captain. Kirk had served under the elder Garrovick eleven years ago, until a gaseous entity with a sickly-sweet smell attacked their ship and drained half the crew of their red blood cells. Kirk has always blamed himself for the disaster, because he hesitated for a crucial moment before firing the ship's phasers at the entity. Now the same creature is back, killing Enterprises, and the younger Mr. Garrovick catches the blame for a similar incident. I have always thought it was a pity Brooks wasn't added to the regular cast of the show. Few of the non-recurring crewmen in the series had so much going for them in looks, presence, and character definition. Ah, well! I guess it's all the more reason to enjoy this taut, spooky, psychologically penetrating episode.

Trek's episode of December 22, 1967 was "Wolf in the Fold," a murder mystery in which it's really surprising not to hear Spock quoting the Sherlock Holmes dictum about how "whatever remains must be true," etc. On a pleasure planet, recovering from a traumatic accident, Scotty becomes implicated in a Jack-the-Ripper-style murder. As the planetary authorities and the ship's crew work together to probe the crime, more killings follow and Scotty looks increasingly guilty - though he has no memory of doing any of them. The planet's rules of evidence are as bizarre as those that hold sway on the Enterprise. The one involves a seance (during which the lights go out, a woman screams, and when the lights come up again Scotty is holding her dead body in his arms). The other involves a lie-detecting library computer whose findings enable Kirk to make a series of amazing deductions - almost as amazing as the fact that everyone else buys them - leading to the discovery that the original Jack the Ripper actually done it. It's another spooky, suspenseful, and (especially towards the end) over-the-top weird episode, featuring John Fiedler of Piglet fame and Charles Dierkop of TV's "Police Woman." If the actor who plays the planet's ruler seems familiar, it may be because he played Landru in first season's "The Return of the Archons."

One of Trek's most popular episodes ever, "The Trouble with Tribbles" debuted on December 29, 1967. It has a considerable cast of well-remembered TV and feature-film talent, including the God-voiced Ed Reimers ("You're in good hands with Allstate!"), B-movie maven Whit Bissell, William Schallert (who starred in such series as "The Patty Duke Show" and "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"), the broadly comic Stanley Adams (who co-wrote third-season episode "The Mark of Gideon"), and Charlie Brill (who played an older version of the same character on the DS9 episode "Trials and Tribble-ations," in which characters from the latter-day Trek series were inserted into this episode). Plus, playing the Klingons, we have the charming William Campbell (who played Trelane in first-season's "The Squire of Gothos" and who later reprised the role of Capt. Koloth on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and the sneering Michael Pataki (who later guest-starred in the TNG episode "Too Short a Season"). Nevertheless, all these fine actors are upstaged by a rapidly growing population of cute, furry critters called tribbles. These creatures are a public nuisance and an environmental disaster, but they are awfully cuddly and, quite by accident, they save an entire planet from being poisoned. Nevertheless, beaming them all on board a departing Klingon cruiser is rather cruel - to the Klingons. Cruel, but funny!

In my reviews of the other seasons of TOS, I mentioned that the only "point" of some episodes is to provide a framework for pointless violence. Such could be said of "The Gamesters of Triskelion," first aired on January 5, 1968. This could, perhaps, be analyzed as the beginning of the Season 2's slide down the slope to series cancellation, similar to, but not as precipitous as, Season 3's. The titular Gamesters are three brightly colored, glowing, breathing brains who have evolved beyond the need for bodies - except that life seems to be boring without them. So they abduct bodies from other planets, then breed them and train them to fight in their games. Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov become the newest trainees when they are whisked off the, oh forget it. The only thing watchable about this horrible episode is the sexual chemistry between William Shatner and guest-star Angelique Pettyjohn, who was a Las Vegas burlesque queen throughout the 1970s and later went on to star in hardcore porn films with titles like Stalag 69. I only know this through Wiki, honest. The harmless yet suggestive love scenes of many Trek episodes, like this one, often seem to suggest that a lot more happens between the characters than what you see on-screen. This is the episode that ends with Kirk's woman gazing up into the camera, or rather the sky, and saying, "I will remember." Hff. I wonder how many women in the galaxy... Well, anyway, the head thrall was played by a very unwell-looking Joseph Ruskin, who nevertheless appeared in a 2001 episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. His outfit seems to incorporate the same red plastic place-mats that later formed the entire costume of the bodyguards in "Elaan of Troyius."

Trek took another stab at humor in "A Piece of the Action," aired on January 12, 1968. This time it missed its aim, with painful results. Perhaps the lack of really light episodes after this is a result. I can hardly imagine anyone failing to notice on this episode's lack of success. Nevertheless, it set a pattern of episodes featuring the "parallel evolution" concept, prevalent during the last half of Season 2. It could be argued that Season 1's "Miri" was really the start of all this preposterous nonsense, as it depicted a planet identical to Earth up to a given point in its evolution. It could also be argued, however, that the "parallel worlds" theme contributed to a decline in Season 2's quality and its (albeit aborted) cancellation. Synopsis, in one breath: The Enterprise pays a follow-up visit to a highly imitative culture, whose development was contaminated when a previous starship left behind a book on "Chicago Gangsters of the 1930s." When they find that the whole culture has reformed itself "by the book," Kirk and Spock don zoot suits and throw themselves into the part. Vic Tayback (late of TV's "Alice") and prolific character-actor Anthony Caruso guest-star as the top crime bosses of this ridiculous planet. The concept of the Prime Directive (forbidding interference with other cultures' progress) sees significant development here, but there isn't much else to say in favor of this episode.

"The Immunity Syndrome" debuted on January 19, 1968. Its only guest-star is a giant amoeba in outer space. Nevertheless it's another classic example of the original Trek's tone and the chemistry between its characters. Contact with this planet- and starship-killing creature quickly begins to drain both the Enterprise and its crew of power. Their only chance to break free of its pull is to learn more about it, but whoever drives a shuttlecraft into its nucleus is dead meat. McCoy and Spock argue bitterly over which of them should have the honor. Later, their concern for each other is touching. Without alien-planet scenery, costumes, babes, and villains, there is nothing for this show to focus on but its characters; and that it does well.

Operatic baritone Ned Romero played Trek's fourth Klingon Captain, if anyone is still counting, in February 2, 1968's episode "A Private Little War." Like Season 1's "A Taste of Armageddon," it makes a surprising case in favor of the "balance of power" policy that fueled the international arms race throughout the late 20th century. In this particular parable, the Klingons are arming one tribe on a previously peaceful, paradise-like planet. Kirk, who spent a long time there as a young lieutenant, returns to find that he must arm his friends (the Hill People) to prevent their enemies (the Villagers) from wiping them out. His mission is hindered, first, when Spock is gravely wounded by gunfire; then, when he himself is poisoned by the venom of a white, apelike monster called the Mugatu (interestingly spelled "Gumato" in the credits); and, finally, when a local witch woman comes between him and his most trusted, and trusting, friend. It's a very effective episode, filled with that strain of dreadful inevitability that makes for true tragedy.

In "Return to Tomorrow," aired on February 9, 1968, Diana Muldaur made her first appearance on Star Trek. You may recall that she also starred in Season 3's "Is There in Truth No Beauty?" and, for the whole of TNG's second season, played the Enterprise's chief surgeon. Here her beauty, her sultry voice, and her intelligent yet sensuous manner - sort of like a brunette Sally Kellerman - play to best advantage as her character, Kirk, and Spock, are possessed by a trio of aliens whose life-force survives, though their world perished eons ago. Sargon, the leader of this group (appropriately inhabiting Kirk's body), only wants to borrow these people's flesh long enough to build android bodies for themselves. His wife Thelassa is somewhat less anxious to give up human sensations; the third alien, Henoch, is willing to do murder to keep Spock's body. Their conflict plays out like the long-delayed final act of a very, very ancient tragedy: complete with romance, suspense, betrayal, and a final surprise. It's a bit strange, and it relies perhaps overmuch on such obvious effects as a change in lighting and an echo effect added to characters' voices, but for my money it's one of Season 2's most lasting treasures.

"Patterns of Force," however, is one of its most dubious ones. First broadcast on February 16, 1968, it's perhaps most readily recalled as "the Nazi episode." Paramount saved production costs by forgoing the fabrication of original costumes and sets, using the paraphernalia of a World War II film to create another lesson on the Prime Directive and, at the same time, another variation on the "parallel worlds" theme. This time the contamination resulted from the deliberate, though well-meaning, interference of a Federation historian. Seeking to bring order and industry to a chaotic world, Professor John Gill inaugurated an at-first benign version of Germany's Third Reich. But then, an ambitious underling named Melakon drugs this "Führer" and uses him as his puppet. The result is similar to the police state and antisemitic "final solution" of Nazi Germany, complete with a purge of immigrants from the neighboring world of "Zeon." Kirk & co. do a lot of more or less pointless running around, changing disguises, and breaking into rooms that are supposed to be in different buildings, though they are unmistakably situtated along the same hallway. The episode attempts to generate surprise by having characters switch allegiances, but in most cases you can see the "surprise" coming from a good way off. If you remember anything about this episode besides its lack of good taste, it may be the sight of a bare-chested Spock standing on Kirk's back in a jail cell and aiming an improvised laser at the lock on their cell door. It's little things like that - like the thought of how long it must have taken to get all that green makeup off - that make it possible to distract yourself from what a lousy episode this is.

"By Any Other Name," aired on February 23, 1968, is another oasis of Classic Trek in the desert of the last half of Season 2. Forbidden Planet's Warren Stevens and Casino Royale's Barbara Bouchet co-star as members of a many-tentacled race from the Andromeda galaxy who have come to the Milky Way as advance scouts for an invasion. Taking human form, the better to hijack the Enterprise for their ride home, they suddenly find themselves susceptible to human passions and desires. This proves to be the key to stopping their evil plan, in spite of their ability to paralyze people, appear and disappear at will, and (most sinister of all) turn people into polyhedral chunks of Swiss cheese. OK, maybe it's styrofoam. Kirk, Scotty, Spock, and McCoy stir up the aliens' lust, jealousy, anger, and gluttony until they realize that they have become irrevocably human. I have always liked this episode, in spite of its immensely forgettable title; by any other name it would be just as good.

"The Omega Glory," broadcast on March 1, 1968, came from one of Gene Roddenberry's original story outlines for the series. One would think that, having taken nearly two years to evolve into a shootable script, it would be a better episode. Instead, it's kind of like Season 1's "Arena": it tries to pull off too many tricks, and thereby risks botching them all. The first concept you're supposed to accept is a plague that can sweep through a starship's crew within hours, turning them into little heaps of salt crystals - or whatever is left of a human body after all the water is removed. Next, you're supposed to buy the idea that, on the planet below, an infected person can survive indefinitely, due to some kind of immunity provided by the atmosphere. Then there's the matter of a rogue Starfleet captain taking a whopping, stinky dump all over the Prime Directive, as he wants to arm one group of primitive natives with phasers so they can fight off another group. This sets up the main conflict of the story, as Captain Tracey (played by Morgan Woodward of Season 1's "Dagger of the Mind") tries to pressure Kirk into getting him those phasers off the Enterprise. Kirk spends some time as the cellmate of one of the savages (played by physically imposing character actor Roy Jenson), then witnesses a ceremony in which the planet is revealed to be another parallel of Earth, this one having been devastated by a nuclear holocaust. A bit of courtroom melodrama (in which Tracey accuses Kirk of being in league with the devil), a bit of mortal combat, and a bit of patriotic flag-waving that can only be meaningful to Americans, squeeze themselves into the final act of this bizarre installment. I'm not sure what should be made of it. Maybe four different episodes?

"The Ultimate Computer" aired on March 8, 1968, providing Kirk with yet another chance to talk a thinking machine into self-destruction. His victim this time is M5, a "multitronic" breakthrough, designed to replace the entire crew of a starship. The computer's ability to make human-like decisions results from the transfer of human engrams (?) into the computer's logic circuits. Unfortunately, those engrams came from the mind of its maker, Dr. Richard Daystrom (played by William Marshall of Blacula fame). Once regarded as a "boy wonder," Daystrom has grown increasingly unstable. This instability transfers to his computer, which takes command of the Enterprise in a series of war-game exercises. By the end of the episode, M5 seems to have forgotten that it's only a game, and attacks a fleet of starship with deadly force. The only way Kirk can stop the killing is to give the computer such a guilt-trip... Oy, vay! It's not a terrible episode. In fact, it's one of the few episodes of TOS that fuel every American kid's make-believe games about big space battles with lots of ships maneuvering and shooting, with explosions and casualty reports and the whole nine parsecs. But the only thing it really adds to the series is the exquisitely hurt look on Captain Kirk's face when another officer calls him "Captain Dunsel" - Starfleet Academy slang for "a part serving no useful purpose."

The penultimate episode of Season 2, "Bread and Circuses" first aired on March 15, 1968. Now, just imagine: if that fan petition hadn't worked so well, Star Trek would not have been brought back for a third season. In that case, this would have been the last real episode of Trek. I'm not counting "Assignment: Earth," which I interpret more as a pilot for a spinoff series (which was never picked up) than as a proper episode of this one. If you imagine "Bread and Circuses" as a series finale - and if you suppose that the producers already knew they were not being renewed for another season - it's possible to read another layer of significance into many aspects of this episode. For example, its script aims several pointed digs at television, notably the culture of network executives and advertisers. But enough generalities; to specifics! This is the episode where the Enterprise follows a trail of debris from a lost merchant ship to an undiscovered planet that (once again) has developed parallel to Earth. In this incarnation, the Roman Empire never fell, but survives into the 20th century as a worldwide empire. Slaves have pension plans, gladiatorial contests take place on television, and the peaceful cult of the Sun turns out to be a late-flowering faith in the Son, i.e. Christ. The local procurator is played with villainous glee by TV character actor Logan Ramsey. Playing the merchant captain who betrays his crew (in a variant of the "Prime Directive" storyline seen so often in this season) is William Smithers, late of "Peyton Place," Papillon, and the groundbreaking legal case Smithers v. MGM. Among the other guest stars are Ian Wolfe (later seen as Mr. Atoz in Season 3's "All Our Yesterdays") and Rhodes Reason, younger brother of Rex Reason of This Island Earth fame. In spite of all this talent, it's a slightly off-color episode, owing again to the attempt to bring too many concepts into focus. The plot line regarding Captain Merik is the strongest part of the episode, while the scene with Spock and McCoy in a jail cell reads like the writers' last, desperate attempt to have these characters tell each other what they need to say.

Ouch. March 29, 1968 brought to light the original Trek's Season 2 finale, "Assignment: Earth." For all anybody knew at the time, it was also the series finale. Plus, it was trying to set up Robert Lansing and Teri Garr as stars of a new series, which didn't take off and no wonder. It has a cat with Barbara Babcock's voice dubbed in saying "Meow." I tell no lie, my cat Sinead was mesmerized by this episode. When "Isis" spoke, she literally tried to climb through the TV screen. Me, I wanted to escape. It was dreadful seeing Teri Garr looking so bloody stoned. Did you notice that one of the cops who gets momentarily transported to the Enterprise was played by the same actor as Kirk's boyhood nemesis in "Shore Leave"? I had to rewind to that scene after spotting Bruce Mars in the credits, and do a freeze-frame within the 0.5 seconds when you can clearly see his face, but it's him all right. Only that could interest me in reviewing any part of this tacky, campy, heavy-handed episode about an agent sent to Earth by unspecified aliens to tweak the flow of human history. Gary Seven, as he calls himself, climbs a rocket gantry in the minutes before a critical satellite launch. He does all kinds of wonderful things with a penlike gadget that he calls a "servo." He holds conversations with his cat, who is sometimes a woman - but only long enough to elicit a double-take. And he employs a stoned-looking ditz in an outfit that inflicts pain on the eyes as his secretary in an office too deeply grounded in 1968 stylishness to fit the tone of a series set in the 23rd century. It just doesn't fly. Every Star Trek series has at least one episode you wish they could take back. TNG's, coincidentally, was also its second season finale. Enterprise's, unfortunately, was the series finale. If it hadn't been for Bjo Trimble and her ilk, the same could have been said for TOS.

Season 2 ended weakly, but not nearly so weakly as Season 3. And in the meantime, what have you seen? You'll have seen Scotty killed and raised from the dead. You'll have seen Uhura lose her mind and have to learn everything over again. You'll see a mysterious stretch of Sulu-free episodes, due to the shooting of The Green Berets going way over its schedule. You'll see a girl with a disturbingly deep voice take a shine to Chekov. You'll see an evil smile play across Spock's lips. And you'll see Kirk getting laid again and again and again (if you read between the lines). Besides all this, you'll see a handful of the most important episodes of classic Trek, from the Cold War parable of "A Private Little War" to the feverish originality of "Friday's Child," vast strides for our understanding of Spock's vulcanity in "Amok Time" and "Journey to Babel," penetrating character studies such as "Obsession" and "The Immunity Syndrome," tender romances such as "Metamorphosis" and "Return to Tomorrow," sheer comedy as in "I, Mudd" and "The Trouble with Tribbles," sci-fi classics like "Mirror, Mirror" and "By Any Other Name," and simple workaday episodes like "The Doomsday Machine" that lie in the very center of the semantic range of the phrase "Star Trek." I wouldn't miss it for all the worlds in the Federation!

1 comment:

Robbie F. said...

I never expressed an opinion about which episodes of DS9 or Voyager I wish hadn't happened. A lot of Voyager fans seemed to think the first-season episode "Twisted" should have become a lost episode, but I think it's OK. I'm partial to "Fury," the one where Kes comes back & isn't happy about where she's been. It wasn't the right direction for that character. Some of us had hopes for Kes, & "Fury" let them down.

As for DS9, I think the cast and crew thought their first-season episode "Move Along Home" was a classic example of all that can go wrong with an episode, but again I think it has some merit. I kind of wish they hadn't made third-season's "Life Support," which crushes the hopes of all who liked the character Bareil.