This round consists of truly top notch episodes: plenty of legal drama and the dangers of pure escapism.
S01E14 – “Court Martial”
Captain Kirk stands accused of murdering a crewman who harbored a personal grudge.
There’s something about a court procedural that works very well for TV. The minimal need for sets. The heightened sense of drama in spite of the seemingly mechanical process. The naturally combative nature of two opposing sides. It just works when the stakes matter. In this case, the stakes matter. Kirk is the first starship commander to stand trial for malicious intent, which runs counter to both his own heroic and decorated service record as well as the principles of Starfleet Command. What better way to drive those stakes than to make the victim a personal friend, the prosecutor an ex-girlfriend, and the defense attorney an archaic throwback to a bygone era with idealistic delusions?
As personal as the story can be, it also hangs a lantern up front that this story is “Kirk vs. the computer,” one of the greatest and oft-repeated memes in TOS. What this story does at its core is restore faith in the process of justice, in the character of humanity, and in the idea that no matter how far we go forward as a species, the foundations of where we’ve been are still so very important. On a personal note, I currently work in a law firm. There are a great many ambulance chasers out there who live down to the reputation of shedding their skins and eating their young. But there are some truly magnificent heroic crusader types who will stand up for the right and argue the spirit of intent vs. the letter of the law. For storytelling purposes, combine that archetype with someone who truly understands and respects books… Samuel T. Cogley, attorney at law, is just a fantastic character. Then add in that this is one of those episodes that truly spotlights Kirk’s rock solid character in the attempt smear it, as well as Spock’s tireless devotion, and everything just clicks. To my mind, this episode is one of those often overlooked gems of the series.
S01E15-16 – “The Menagerie,” parts I and II
For the sake of his former captain, Spock commandeers the Enterprise and sets course for the one planet in the galaxy that will invoke the Federation’s only death penalty: Talos IV. When Kirk catches up to his ship, a court martial hearing is convened, where Spock presents as his defense incredible evidence of a mission so classified that none of the details are in the secured files.
This episode was something of a “Hail Mary” play, a gamble that paid — and continues to pay — in ways no one could have imagined. The production was low on budget, behind on schedule, and facing some pretty harsh demands from the network. The decision was made to reuse footage from the original, unaired pilot “The Cage” (S1E00) in order to stretch a single episode’s storyline into two parts. The result was genius. The story they managed to weave added so much to the history of Star Trek and its characters. Actor Jeffrey Hunter was unavailable to reprise his role as Captain Pike, so look-alike Sean Kenney was cast in the role and covered up with some makeup effects.
I have nothing but respect for this episode, as a feat of storytelling and as the gift that keeps on giving. Pike has been realized as a recurring character in comics, novels, the Kelvin timeline films, and he will appear in the upcoming season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, this time portrayed by Anson Mount (who was amazing in Hell on Wheels). What it must have been like to see these episodes first run… Even though only a couple of years passed between the pilot and this story, the production aesthetic looks old enough to be convincing that 13 years had passed. Pike himself is a tragedy. I know from experience what it’s like to be trapped in a body that does not serve my mind or emotions. Even so, I could think of few hells worse than to be trapped in a body that’s virtually nonfunctional and kept alive only through mechanical means. Those in a vegetative state mercifully don’t know they’re in such a state. Pike’s mental capacities are at full power, but his body is an irradiated husk. It makes me grateful by comparison. Better to be in the wrong body than to be in a helpless one. And as such, it serves as a most logical — and compassionate — reason for Spock to betray everyone and everything he knows, risking the death penalty to help restore some semblance of life and dignity to his former captain. It’s the same kind of loyalty Kirk and company would show for Spock later on in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. That’s the kind of loyalty to friends that I admire and attempt to emulate in my own life in the hopes that someone will be inspired enough to do likewise. That’s the power of Star Trek in action.
S01E17 – “Shore Leave”
A landing party is sent to evaluate a world for purposes of allowing some much needed down time. But this supposedly uninhabited world is full of marvels that seem to pop out of the crew’s imaginations.
After three episodes of court room drama, it’s only natural that the crew of the Enterprise should get a little rest and relaxation. This is one of those charming little goofball episodes that offers as much backstory as it does comedy. I love the whimsy of it. It doesn’t go overboard, it doesn’t try to be something it’s not, and it’s just a really well-constructed episode all around. I’ll even go so far as to point out this has one of the most fun scores in the entirety of the series. So many memorable cues found their way in this one episode, which gives it that “not quite a dream, not quite a cartoon” feel.
I do wish they’d have used Yeoman Tania Barrows more often. She comes across as a more developed character right out of the gate, both confidence and beauty. I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to be just like her. Interestingly, the actress’ name is Emily. *squee* I know, it’s the little things… Anyway, she had a great deal of potential, I think, but being a yeoman, they never would have given her much more than they did here. Lt. Uhura’s still being underused, after all. And Barrows is there because at this point, Yeoman Janice Rand had been written out to free up Kirk for more love interests. TV executives, I swear… Good thing the writers know Kirk better. His first love is still the Enterprise, and accordingly Barrows is ignored the same way Rand was. And it doesn’t seem to matter. She seems to have something going on with Dr. McCoy anyway.