Season 1 starts to take shape. We’ve got some classic aliens, some developing characters, and a mostly rock-solid beginning to the series as a whole.
S01E02 – “The Corbomite Maneuver”
An alien cube obstructs the path of the Enterprise, matching her move for move. When Kirk finds a way to destroy it, he must match wits with Balok, the captain of the Fessarius, flagship of the First Federation.
Moving out of the pilots, we’re going to make rapid development into what would become the standard for the series. Spock is in proper makeup, still loud (“quite unnecessary to raise your voice, Mr. Bailey”), and he doesn’t smile… much. His curiosity is on display as he keeps attempting to get a visual on their opponent. He establishes his mother to be human in this episode. Dr. McCoy is introduced, running Kirk through a physical, ignoring the red alert. His instant chemistry is obvious, making him an excellent foil for Kirk and in short order for Spock. Yeoman Janice Rand makes her first appearance, and Kirk grouses about having a female yeoman as Pike did. His first priority is Enterprise. Lt. Uhura is aboard, making her first appearance, and Sulu is at the helm, both in gold uniform; Scotty’s now in engineering red. The collars on uniforms are now black, but still thick, rank braiding on sleeves now consistent.
The navigator post is rotating for guest stars at this point. Bailey seems to buck authority at all points, first with Spock, then with Kirk. Kirk makes it known his command is first and final aboard his ship. By comparison, Kirk is cool and collected while Bailey cracks under pressure. This is all more to showcase Kirk as he first plays chicken with the alien cube, and then as he plays poker against Balok. I absolutely love the tension of starship commanders going head-to-head. Some of the best stuff comes out of those setups.
Spock’s corded earphone (seen in previous episode) is replaced with a giant Bluetooth type earpiece that’s now familiar. My question is, why does the navigator need one? I get it for science and communications, but seriously? Navigation?
The entire episode is essentially a rip on The Wizard of Oz, complete with the man behind the curtain (Clint Howard!). It’s an excellent showcase of the Federation morals on display as Balok tests them in both shows of strength and of compassion. It’s interesting to note that Balok refers to his puppet as the “Hyde to my Jekyll.” This reference will come up again in short order.
S01E03 – “Mudd’s Women”
After a chase through an asteroid field that cripples the Enterprise‘s power reserves, Kirk must contend with the scoundrel and con artist Harcourt Fenton Mudd, whose “cargo” of three beautiful women threaten to compromise the male members of his crew.
Harry Mudd is the only recurring nemesis in the original series (though not the only character to make a comeback in later incarnations of the franchise). While somewhat comedic here, there is more of an undertone of a sinister nature that is played up considerably more in Discovery. His effect on the crew is plenty obvious. Scotty calls him a “jackass” for having blown the engines during the pursuit, and even Spock sighs in frustration.
“The sound of male ego. You travel halfway across the galaxy, and it’s still the same song.” This quote pretty much says it all about this episode. The point of it is to demonstrate that true beauty comes from within, exterior beauty is a fading illusion, and a woman’s worth is in her mind. Excellent points, but not exactly showcased here in spite of the intent. There’s a comparison that Spock makes indirectly to the burned out crystals still being beautiful in spite of having no further use. Ouch. Combine that with a con to basically wed the ladies off to lonely men on a mining planet… this episode just falls flat for me in spite of what it’s trying to do.
If nothing else, Kirk’s restraint is admirable.
S01E04 – “The Enemy Within”
A transporter accident splits Captain Kirk into his positive and negative selves, while a landing party stranded on the planet’s surface fights for survival.
In the previous episode, McCoy made his first gripes about not trusting the transporter. Well, now we see one of the many reasons why. Jekyll and Hyde come up as a reference again, a literary shorthand to get the ideas across to the audience. It’s interesting that the balance is achieved by acknowledging how necessary both halves of a person are. The negative qualities give will to a person, while positive qualities temper them to effectiveness. Being split in half, Spock understands what it’s like to fight oneself for control, in his case, logic vs. emotion. As a transwoman, I get it as well, the female mind and emotions vs. the male physiology… we all have our special contradictions that make us who we are, whether we like them or not. As Kirk says, “I’ve seen a side of myself no man should ever see.” Exactly. Welcome to hell, Jim. Spock and I are right there with you.
Thought for the day: does gender confirmation require surgery in the 23rd century, or do they run people through the transporter? I think I’d still opt for surgery, especially since it’s likely more than just cosmetic. Besides, I’m with Bones on this one. I know way too much about that transporter. As much as I hate sitting in traffic, I’d never use the thing.
Speaking of… why not just send a shuttlecraft to pick up Sulu and the landing party instead of letting them freeze half to death? Oh, right… they didn’t have the budget to build that yet.
Negative Kirk’s attack on Rand and the aftermath is handled rather well for the time period. Her own guilt (why do women seem to think it’s our fault?) and her not wanting to get Kirk in trouble are addressed, but we also see a sort of MeToo aboard the Enterprise as others verify her side of the story. That’s gutsy to point the finger at your superior officer. Ultimately, it comes down to restoring Kirk’s reputation when Spock suggests there’s an impostor on board. Spock also suggests to Kirk that, as captain, he cannot be seen by the crew as anything less than perfect. It’s harsh, but he’s right about that. It’s handled well here all around, I think, given the confines of the episode. And we some of Shatner’s finest hamfisted overacting. Say what you will, he absolutely sells the psychological split.
As positive Kirk wrestles with his lack of ability to make decisions, we’ve got Spock and Bones flanking him, offering points. It’s our first real look at the triumvirate as a single unit, even if that unit is hobbled somewhat. Sulu, Rand, and Uhura get some time to shine, and Scotty gets to wrestle with the transporter.
Other notable firsts: the green tunic makes its debut, and McCoy declares of the alien dog: “He’s dead, Jim.” That never gets old.
S01E05 – “The Man Trap”
When the Enterprise checks in with a professor and his wife on a lonely planet, McCoy wrestles with feelings over an old flame, and crew members start dying, one by one.
I’ll never know what the executives at NBC were thinking, but for whatever reason, this was the first episode of Star Trek that the public ever saw. It’s a strong episode, don’t get me wrong. It’s also centered more around Dr. McCoy than anything else, which seems like an odd choice. You’d think they’d showcase Kirk right out of the gate. But seen in context, this episode gives us some character development for Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and even Uhura. She really was underused in this entire series, but she always makes the most of it. And like Dr. King told Nichelle Nichols, just her being there is important at this time.
As a monster kid growing up, I always appreciated the really memorable aliens on this series. As with Balok, the salt vampire is one that nobody forgets. It really is astounding how many new spins on classic ideas this show put into place right from the outset.