Monday, May 18, 2015

Short Treks Season 2.10

“The Ultimate Computer”
Air Date: March 8, 1968
Mom Title: “Captain Dunsel”

Finally, both Sulu and Chekov are back. Being known as “those two guys” driving the ship speaks volumes for their chemistry, since they were both there at the same time so infrequently.

Their mentor/career choices are fairly obvious. Sulu takes orders from Kirk, Chekov from Spock. They were the real “Next Generation” in another fantastic bottle episode, allowing us to see all kinds of cool crew moments.

That crew is reduced to twenty due to the M-5 computer. Amazingly a visible percentage of them are Redshirts. It would seem dying unnecessarily is a key need on a starship.  That may also explain why Kirk and Bones are listed as non-essential personnel for the landing party, considering how many times each of them has single handedly or in combination saved the lives of the entire away team.

The Big Three bicker constantly, but form up when something important to one is threatened, in this case: Kirk’s command and confidence.  Jim worries if he’s being nervous and petty, but Bones does his job, pointing out the fact that asking means he’s not. Spock’s support is more subtle but just as powerful.  He fully admits efficient isn’t always better when defining the importance of the command role. His statement, “A starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it or him,” contains both logic and an understanding of emotion. His actions follow that up. Even though the M-5 is “in command,” when the Captain leaves the bridge Spock immediately sits in his chair.

In a sense, the whole episode is a test of Kirk’s idea, “There are things men must do to remain men.”

Was it some kind of cruel trick that the Enterprise was selected for this test?  Nothing sets off Kirk more on his missions, which have no doubt been documented and reviewed, than a computer controlled society, or an outside force taking over his ship.  This training exercise gave him a heavy dose of both.

I believe the answer comes from Commodore Bob Wesley.  Not because the commander of the USS Lexington is a butthead, or insane like every other high level official we’ve met.   Wesley is a rare example of another highly competent and awesome starship commander.
He’s tactically competent enough to keep his ship alive when the war-game goes south.
He’s smart and compassionate enough to not blow up the Enterprise up out of spite.
He’s close enough to the Captain to call him “Jim.”
He’s cool enough to have his own groovy custom command chair.

Considering it only takes about five minutes talking to Doctor Daystrom to realize the man oozes crazy (besides that fact that he’s a vampire and a pirate),
it wasn’t much of a stretch to deduce his perfect thinking machine would turn out to be based on him, and a dangerous megalomaniacal organicophobe. (Basically, Ultron.)

The Commodore must have chosen Kirk specifically, knowing no one proclaims, “Pull the plug!” with such emphasis and panache.

With lives at stake and technical issues at the heart of the matter, the Big Three upgrade to the Big Four, with the Chief Engineer joining in.  
Spock and Scotty attack the hardware while McCoy goes straight to Daystrom’s psych files. 
Great idea Bones, might have wanted to do that before turning over the control of a craft that can vaporize a civilization from orbit, but better late than never.

Captain Kirk goes directly to the M-5 and its creator, for some spectacular Shakespearean actor drama wars between Shatner and William Marshal.  The overselling may be where the death penalty for murder idea came from.  After all, it was stated the only Federation death sentence is General Order Seven, and I’m pretty sure the M-5 hasn’t been to Talos. (Unless, he added to grow his own conspiracy, they secretly guided its development.)

Highlights of great Big Three moments.

Spock revisits his usage of interesting versus fascinating, likely to annoy Bones.  While he lets the Doctor monopolize the hysterics when the M-5 goes loopy, Spock is still the first one to the Captain’s side when it knocks Kirk down.

McCoy lends his emotional support and bartending skills to the Captain, but as soon as the engrams hit the fan, he ditches his drink as he runs back to work.

Leadership lessons from Captain James T. Kirk:  He fully comprehends that achieving, “Today I will be brilliant,” is impossible. This doesn’t keep him from demanding it from his crew in times of crisis, and providing guidance to help them achieve it.  He also knows famous scientists of the past and his present, as well as quotes from 20th century poetry, because he’s awesome.

Final personal log on Wesley’s “Captain Dunsel” barb.

I’m sure Bob did it to make sure Jim was totally focused on finding any possible flaw with the M-5 by building resentment, but it was harsh.

The line gives Sulu and Chekov a fantastic moment of non-verbal communication as they react with offense to what their commander has been called.  Even Spock’s stoic outer shell slips a little when the Vulcan equivalent of, “OH NO he di-in’t!” passes across his face.

Ah, the laughs we would have at each other’s expense playing Starfleet Battles, marking a friend’s egregious tactical error (such as my penchant for blowing a high energy turn, sending my command ship spinning through an asteroid field) with taunts of “Captain Dunsel” for the remainder of the afternoon.

Man, we were such geeks.

Actually, we probably still are such geeks.

But geeks who lack the time to spend hours on end pushing cardboard space ships across black hex paper while carefully plotting the next phase of our space navy’s assault.

I’m kinda sad about that now.

“Bread and Circuses”
Air Date: March 15, 1968
Mom Title: “Space Romans”

Sulu’s gone once more, as they clump “people less worthy than Kirk violating the Prime Directive” based stories.  This time, Captain Merik washed out of the academy, making him even worse than the Starfleet screw ups we’ve seen before.  Here’s a question: if Merik joined the Merchant Marines, why was the Beagle doing a survey?  Considering the Enterprise is the “only ship in the area” ninety-five percent of the time, Starfleet must be conscripting civilian ships for some of its lower end tasks.

The Enterprise crew beams down to one more in a seemingly endless string of Earth equivalents.  This one is explained away by Hodgkin’s Law of Planetary Planet Development. No wonder they were captured at the Batcave. This law also explains why the folks on planet 892-IV speak English, just like they did in the real Roman Empire…or something. This is in contrast to all of the other planets that seemed to contain English speakers, but were actually filtered through the universal translator, which somehow has more and complex powers than the TARDIS telepathic circuits

This culture is clearly morally bankrupt if not fully stagnant.  It features slavery and gross violations against human rights.  For some reason, Captain Kirk picks this location to suddenly become a giant fan of the Prime Directive.
(Even though they beam down in full uniform, oopsie.)

Is it because Marcus Claudius is clever, commanding and confident, granting him protection in the “guy like Kirk” category?
(He’s far from perfect though.
“Let us kill your entire crew, or we’ll kill these two members of your crew.”
Maybe it’s time for a night class in “How to threaten,” or at least basic set theory.) 

Is it because the “slaves” have medical benefits and a pension?
(And wouldn’t that be “a job”? 
Put one of them in a cubicle, and it’s more or less what I do.)

No, I think there is a crystal clear and basic reason why Jim refuses to disrupt this society.

When love slave Drusilla convinces Kirk she’s his “gift’ with the phrase, “Command me,” he does a take that puts his gaze directly at the viewer. The expression on his face has one overwhelming meaning,
“I have found the planet I’m going to retire on.”

“You're a Roman, Kirk, or you should have been.”
No fooling.
We may not learn James T. Kirk’s middle name is Tiberius until the Animated Series, but here is where we learn why it’s a perfect choice.

As usual, the hallmark of the quality episodes is the character interactions.

We learn of an upgrade in the security protocols. Condition Green means, “We’re screwed but don’t do anything.”  Is there a whole rainbow of “conditions” to cover wide scenarios using tactics they’ve demonstrated before?
“Condition Maroon – Beam up everyone in the room, and keep non crew members in the buffer.”
“Condition Burnt Umber – use the ship’s phasers to stun a four city block area.”
“Condition Brown – We’re hopelessly outnumbered, send down some extra underwear.”

Kirk doesn’t need a whole system, because he trusts Scotty to work out how to do something on his own, which he does expertly.  He must have gotten help from Uhura monitoring the planet’s broadcasts to tell him the key moment to arrange the blackout.
Kirk also trusts Spock to be able to kick some serious butt, no matter who they throw at him.

Spock and Bones start out on the cranky side. This ratchets up considerably when McCoy is in danger of being filleted in the games, producing one of his most entertaining tirades.
 Things cool off once Spock rescues him, but both of their concern for the Captain (who ironically is busy being Drusillaed at that time) brings it back to a fever pitch.

Kelley’s impassioned rant against the Vulcan’s lack of emotions is completely in character and based on the concern, compassion and friendship that are the core of the Doctor. 
Nimoy also remains in character, proving once again that Spock controls his emotions, and only pretends not to have them to annoy Bones.  His “Really, Doctor?” contains as many feelings as McCoy’s entire explosion.

Other moments are now expected. Kirk forgets he has a gun again, being far too excited at the sword based society he’s found. 

While the Captain and Mr. Spock work on the bridge, the rest of the crew stops in awe to watch, similar to how the Muppet performers venerated Jim Henson and Frank Oz. (There’s an analogy you’ll never see on the SATs)

Uhura gets a starring role in the final scene. We learn the importance of having a woman in the command crew. While all the men are busy running around, fighting and Drusillaing, the Communications Officer is the only one really paying attention to what’s going on.

Everyone is puzzled because at the idea of Sun worshipers in Ancient Rome, because this ship load of historians seems to have all been absent the day they covered Egypt.

Uhura’s the only one who figures out it’s “the son of God,”  which Spock and McCoy both refer to as “ philosophy of total love and total brotherhood.”  The threat of cancellation was great enough at this point that Trek stopped attacking religion to take jabs at television network practices.

Kirk’s thoughts on having both Caesar and Christ, “Wouldn't it be something to watch, to be a part of? To see it happen all over again?” is a clear cover to come back to his little Drusilla furnished retirement cottage.

Those automatic weapon fueled crusades are going to be messy, though, aren’t they?

Final thought: We get an extremely rare sighting of one of Kirk’s bluffs not working.  I guess he was a little too overconfident.  A good rule of thumb - don’t assume the jail break is successful until you’re outside of the cell.

Luckily Captain Merik decided to help him, after being subjected to what may be the most emasculating insult in the history of television:

“Would you leave us, Merik? The thoughts of one man to another cannot possibly interest you.”

“Assignment: Earth”
Air Date: March 29, 1968
Mom Title: “Gary Seven”

The season ends with both Chekov and Sulu, working smoothly together, even at other stations.

This failed pilot is the closest the world will ever see to Classic Star Trek meeting Doctor Who.
Gary Seven has a ditzy companion he lets get kidnapped,
a sonic “pen”, advanced knowledge of time and space, a concealed teleportation machine, and superior physical abilities and resistances.  Basically, it’s a Third Doctor episode with Star Trek music.

Note to the network, if you’re planning a pilot, hiring an actor like Robert Lansing who contractually refuses to do a series might be a poor choice.

It’s the Enterprise, not the Doctor stand-in, that travels in time – on a mission for the Federation no less.  Hey, what could happen?  All that occurred on the two accidental time travels they had was a key member of earth’s space program was almost erased from existence, and the Nazis’ almost won World War II. This makes the biological and security safety protocols of the Federation look amazingly competent by comparison.

We learn the Andromedan’s invasion has been influencing earth for a while.  Mr. Seven has a super intelligent computer and travels to Earth via and intergalactic transporter, from a place where aliens have captured and bred humans to have perfect human bodies, like the Kelvans, for missions.  I’m not really sure why any of that prevents the Vulcan neck pinch from working, maybe it’s a side effect of the sonic pen? 

Isis appears to be the same kind of feline shape shifter as Sylvia from "Catspaw."  That means either Sylvia was a deliberate test for Korob/Charlie…or something far more sinister.  These extra galactic beings keep trying to steal the Enterprise or some other ship. Much like Doctor Who’s Silence, it seems the Andromedans were influencing the human race all along to insure that space travel was developed, in order for them to usurp the technology in the future.  That would fit under the line they fed Gary, that their goal is to protect lesser cultures. They just left out the part that they’re protecting them for their own purposes, as they continue to train and test humans to guide them in a certain direction.

Three character connection notes:

1)  We see Lieutenant Leslie tempting fate in his usual red shirt immediately after seeing him in another part of the ship in gold. I think we’ve found the explanation for his surviving the vampire cloud.  There’s a batch of Leslie clones serving on the Enterprise!
2) Finnegan, Kirk’s academy tormentor, had an ancestor who was Irish policeman in the late sixties.  Lieutenant Hadley also had an ancestor at that time working at McKinley Rocket Base. Hmmm…Billy Blackburn also played one of Mudd’s Androids, the android body Sargon and company were creating and multiple other roles. Perhaps he and the Leslie series are robotic spies from Andromeda!!!!

3) Her portrayal as Roberta Lincoln dispels any doubt whatsoever that Terri Garr was the perfect choice to play Phoebe’s mom on Friends.

The boys in their nifty disguises react to Ms. Lincoln exactly as one would expect.  Captain Kirk’s initial instinct is to completely trust the blonde in the miniskirt…but he needs to get the OK from Spock to approve acting in a non-logical manner.

And so, the season that defined all that is great about Star Trek comes to a close.

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