Monday, March 16, 2015

Short Treks Season 2.1

This is the season that truly defined what is known as Star Trek.  Over the break script editor Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana interviewed the cast and added what they’d learned/created about their characters to the series bible.  Basically, what worked before was amplified, what didn’t was dropped, and the show as it is known in the popular culture took form.

“Amok Time”
Air Date: September 15, 1967
Mom Title: “Spock’s Wedding”

Crazed Spock, a trip to Vulcan, the greatest fight music in television history and Nimoy’s introduction of the salute and “Live Long and Prosper” – Man what an opening!

Nurse Chapel admits affection for Mr. Spock for the first time since she had her inhibitions destroyed by the Psi 2000 virus.  Now that her friend Uhura’s romance is finished, and Christine’s fiancée is both dead and a robot, she has a clear shot.

Uhura does look sadly at him when Kirk leads Spock off the bridge, but doesn’t moon over the Vulcan anymore.

Yay, Chekov’s here!  We didn’t even know you and immediately realize how much we missed you and your banter with Sulu.

Two Questions related to Vulcan being one of the charter members of the Federation:

1)  T’Pau declined a seat on the Federation council?  Then in what capacity was Vulcan a founder? Have they withdrawn over time?

2) Spock (and presumably all the other male Vulcans in Starfleet) is not fourteen years old.  Didn’t anyone notice they go nuts during Pon Farr every seven years?

Since combat shakes off the effects of the plak-tow, are Vulcan officers sneaking into seedy bars on shore leave and beating the tar out of unsuspecting ruffians to keep this secret?

This is primarily a Spock episode, and we learn a great deal about him.

Even through the use of silly words, bizarre musical instruments and impractical weapons, Nimoy’s portrayals of his internal battles are a wonder to behold. 

In his cabin there are items that dive deeper into Spock’s personality. His tricorder and his chess set are readily available, highlighting the primary tools of his work and favorite recreational activity. There’s also a molecule made of nerf balls that may have been his third grade science project, indicating the sentimentality of his human half may not be as buried as he’d like.

As with any member of the Big Three, when the focus is on one, the story is driven by their friendship.  Exactly how far each is willing to go for the other comes out in spades.  Having seen the first officer steal the Enterprise before, Kirk and McCoy start off assuming he has an acceptable reason for mutiny, and their trust only grows from there.

The Captain and Bones immediately establish their personalities in political situations when meeting T’Pau, being respectively defiant and charming.

They also both instantaneously deduce that Stonn is the other man in the triangle.  So much for Vulcans repressing emotions.  Then again, they use a pretty broad definition for what is a feeling and what isn’t.  If T’pring’s actions are any indication, being a manipulative wench is not emotional.

Aside:  Poor Lawrence Montaigne.  Sci-Fi typecasting can be bad in general, but after playing Stonn and Decius (the Romulan tattletale officer in "Balance ofTerror”) he must have been offered countless, “Jerk with pointy ears” parts.

McCoy knows Jim all too well, which is why he keeps his own plan secret and eggs Kirk on to kill Spock.  Bones knows the Captain won’t take a dive in front of T’Pau, and psyches him up to the point that his overexertion will trigger the drug.

The whole episode is a magnificent ride to kick off the season, ending with a massive roller coaster of sadness and joy.  Spock’s crushed and defeated farewell to T’Pau is balanced by his measured yet scathing blast to Stonn:

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting.”

Nerd that I am, that line (and myriad other Trek quotes) found its way into many a high school English essay topic sentence.

The finale is nothing less than the greatest “Jim” moment in the entire series.  Spock’s transition from surprise to unbridled happiness and back to controlled explanation, coupled with the reaction of Kirk and McCoy illustrates the friendship between those three men perfectly.

That they make Chapel leave the room before giving Spock the full explanation also illustrates that the bond between those three is over and above that of anyone else on the ship.

“Who Mourns for Adonis”
Air Date: September 22, 1967
Mom Title:  “Apollo Moves on Scotty’s Girl”

The Enterprise goes to Pollux 4 and meets a Greek god…what a coincidence! 
Unless the name inspired the choice of locations…  

Apollo is an extremely powerful reality manipulating being who looks human, requires a machine beyond normal Trek science to fuel and focus his abilities, demands unearned respect and has immature tantrums.

That sounds quite a bit like Trelane. Except instead of a “strange small boy” he acts more like a hormonal adolescent.   Perhaps this is Charlie’s next training step in transforming into a being of pure thought.
Hey, I wonder when 1960’s audiences saw a giant green hand grab the Enterprise if they expected to hear a jolly, “Ho Ho Ho!”

The Enterprise escapes said hand by rocking back and forth like a car caught in a snow bank, because warp physics works the same way as terrestrial friction I guess.

That is one powerful hand by the way, it magically makes Chekov’s goofy wig disappear.

Chekov again takes the Spock role in the landing party, demonstrating whose footsteps he’s destined to follow in.

By dividing up the Big Three, it provides a rare example of time nicely split between the landing party and the ship.

Another HR question for Starfleet:  Why do Starships have anthropologists who specialize in primitive earth cultures on them?  I mean, aside from running into ancient gods, but how often can that happen?

Rather a lot, I guess. Never mind.

I think Lieutenant Uhura may be the only female officer who’s loyalty doesn’t threaten to crumble when faced with a powerful hunk.

Poor Scotty is starting to learn that Engineers and romance don’t mix.  It will only get worse.

Apollo is once more offering Kirk paradise in exchange for servitude. We all know how well that’s going to go.  He also compares the Captain to Agamemnon and Hercules, cementing by divine(ish) decree that Jim is a Classic Hero.

Continuing to establish patterns, Kirk laughs at the superior intellect and questions a god.

He also launches into a Shakespearean soliloquy about Ancient Astronauts the year before von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?  is published.  He’s commanding, and topical!

That level of command is why he feels terrible remorse at destroying the ego of a fellow alpha male.

Considering how strong the “We’ve outgrown gods,” message was in this story and others, I’d surmise that the second half of: “Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate,” was thrown in to keep certain conservative markets from cancelling the show.

Spock is highly complementary to Uhura, when she confidently demonstrates her technical abilities. She’s firm but polite in telling him to butt out.  Good to see even though they broke up, they’re still close friends.

“The Changeling”
September 29, 1969
Mom Title: “Nomad”

Season Two and the goodness keeps on coming…unless you’re a Redshirt.  Even poor Scotty dies after being nearly killed by Apollo last time, leading to what may be Bones’s most dramatic, “He’s dead Jim.”  Regular Redshirts are dropping like flies this time around, possibly illustrating that assigning guards to a floating death machine once it’s been proven they are incapable of stopping or controlling it may have been one more bad HR decision in a line of many.

To keep the Trek clichés running, Scotty is “Givin’ them all she’s got!” today.  In this case, he means the shields though, not the engines.  They needed all they’ve got as Nomad hits them with a blast equivalent to ninety photon torpedoes.  This is the same battle where the crew is shocked that something can withstand a single photon torpedo.   I’m thinking in the heat of battle there’s some confusion about when they mean “withstand” and “absorb.”  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Sulu’s back, which means Chekov’s gone. It must have taken a while to realize the Russian was a new main Bridge Crew member, and not yet another generic swap out in the navigator’s chair.

Some Nomad thoughts:

A) He could raise Scotty from the dead, but not reeducate Uhura?  That’s a highly selective “undo” function he has.  Then again, he didn’t erase Swahili from her mind.  That and the fact that they completely reeducated her in a week probably means her brain wasn’t erased, just temporarily reset.  Although it might explain why the greatest communications officer in Starfleet history doesn’t know Klingonese in Star Trek VI.   They may have missed a couple chapters.

Spock’s the one that points out that Uhura is a woman, and asks Nomad to reeducate her.
Awwwwww, he still cares.

By the way, fantastic acting by Nichelle Nichols, becoming a textbook alternately confused and delighted small child faced with learning a task.

B) If Nomad incorporated pieces of the alien probe to repair itself, and took on part of Tan Ru’s programming did the opposite happen as well?  Nomad went from searching for intelligent life, to looking for perfect intelligent life and sterilizing what didn’t meet its criteria.

Did Tan Ru go from looking for perfect soil samples to collect and sterilize to trying to hunt down intelligent soil samples?  The poor thing.

C) Nomad’s a mechanical being looking for perfection who eventually becomes a danger to its creator once it realizes that creator doesn’t meet its internal criteria for perfection.  Substitute “Exterminate” for “Sterilize” and Nomad sounds an awful lot like a Dalek.

The Big Three work together to take out another computer; Kirk taking the other’s advice and executing the plan on his own.

He guilt’s Nomad to death by expanding a single error (thinking James Kirk was the creator James Roykirk) into three errors (the initial error, not noticing the initial error, and not correcting the initial error.) 

That’s the equivalent of convincing someone to commit suicide over a typo.

Adding on the “My son the doctor,” line at the end, conclusively proves Captain James T. Kirk is a Jewish Mother.

And really, making the doctor joke after Nomad killed several crew members and wiped out an entire solar system?  No wonder McCoy and Spock look confused and upset.

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