It’s generally accepted that the second season is the best of the series. Does that claim hold up after some of the heavy hitters in the first season? It’s time to find out! As with season 1, and probably even more so, the production and airdate orders are very different. As a reminder, we’re going by production order for this entire series.
S02E01 – “Catspaw”
The Enterprise is under a curse! Kirk, Spock, and Bones beam down in search of Sulu and Scotty only to find experiences that step out of old, scary stories.
Sing with me now. “This is Halloween! This is Halloween!” Witches, black cats, an old castle complete with dungeon, a sorcerer… all the trappings for Trick or Treat. The only thing missing is Jack Skellington, but he wasn’t around when the episode aired, so we can forgive this. That’s what this episode was all about. It wasn’t the first aired of the season, but it was their Halloween episode. It also marks the introduction of Ensign Chekov (with his original mop top Beatles haircut), ultimately rounding out Star Trek‘s “magnificent seven.” Chekov was meant to appease Russian criticism regarding their role in the space race (let’s face it, they were right — they were way ahead of the Americans on most fronts there), and to skew to a little younger demographic (because Spock was getting the lion’s share of the fan mail for reasons the network could never fathom).
No matter how straight they play it, this is still a goofy episode. I enjoy it for what it is, certainly, but it was never going to win any awards. I do love Sylvia and Korob, though. They’re interesting, both as characters and as alien designs when they’re revealed at the end.
S02E02 – “Metamorphosis”
Shuttlecraft Galileo, en route to Enterprise with a Federation envoy aboard, is pulled off course by a strange, electrically-based entity to a planet with a single human inhabitant.
While not the most exciting episode, this one has a lot to offer in terms of Trek history. Here we’re introduced to Zephram Cochrane, discoverer of the space warp. We’ll learn later on that Cochrane also constructed the first warp capable spacecraft, which attracted the attention of a passing Vulcan science vessel, initiating First Contact between Vulcan and Earth (Star Trek: First Contact). Cochrane was said to have disappeared 150 years before this episode, setting off as an old man to die in space. We see his last address to Earth in the pilot episode of Star Trek: Enterprise (set, curiously enough, 150 years before TOS). This is where the character begins in the lore. It really is the little things that add up over time when it comes to quality world building.
The episode itself is a human condition episode, with loneliness as the central theme. Kirk, Spock, and Bones were grabbed off course to keep Cochrane company. The energy being known only as the Companion is immortal and doesn’t quite understand human sentiments. As Cochrane puts it, immortality is essentially boring. Can’t argue with that. Try living 150 years in a young body with nothing to do and nowhere to go after being ready to die at age 87, see how you feel about it. Might be fun and relaxing… for about a week and a half. Hey, Companion… what would it take to whip up something like a holodeck? Too soon? Sorry, Cochrane, I tried…
S02E03 – “Friday’s Child”
On a world of warriors, Kirk must negotiate for a rare mineral used for medical purposes. But the natives of Capella are also dealing with the Klingons, whose customs are more closely aligned.
It’s a very rare thing to see Dr. McCoy take point on an ambassadorial mission, and it is awesome beyond words. For a man with limited bedside manner, he’s surprisingly good at it. Or maybe it’s fair to say he has excellent bedside manner, but chooses upon whom he’ll bestow such graces. It isn’t Kirk or Spock, that’s for certain. I will also say that whoever cast the incomparable Julie Newmar to play as the foil against Bones and Kirk is a freaking genius. Batman‘s loss is Star Trek‘s gain, at least for one episode. Meanwhile, Scotty is in command, playing cat and mouse with a Klingon vessel, and he’s really good at it too. You can tell he hates it when he’s not in engineering, but he’s still ever the professional. Seriously, this episode is completely over the top, but what’s not to love? Ok, maybe not so much the technicolor full body socks with contrasting feather boa accents that they call warrior uniforms. And yet, somehow these warriors absolutely sell the idea they’ll kill everyone around them. Probably has something to do with taking out a redshirt as efficiently as all that. I suppose I’d be willing to kill too if someone tried to put me in one of those body socks. They’re hideous! lol. But you know, they do make the early Klingon uniforms a bit more fearsome by comparison, even if the Klingon himself isn’t. Colicos, you’re a hard act to follow.
The real highlight for this one is the whole “The Taming of the Shrew” bit between Julie Newmar and DeForest Kelley. I don’t condone violence against women under any circumstance, but damn… I have some mixed feelings here. You see, there’s a Hollywood factor in play that absolutely does not translate to the real world. It says that sometimes a girl just needs slapping, and that slap will somehow mark her as a goddess as a direct result of being slapped. Vivien Leigh taught me that. “You’ve gone too far in your awesomeness against the lead actor. He will slap you down, and you will still be awesome.” The corollary to that is to follow Joan Collins’ example: “if you’re going to be the girl that needs to be slapped because you want to be that goddess, make sure you slap harder, faster, and memorably better.” As I say, it doesn’t translate at all to the lessons of real life, but for some reason it turns feisty women into screen legends. Also, while I adore Clark Gable for all the reasons, DeForest Kelley is still better in my book. Maybe it’s that bedside manner.
S02E04 – “Who Mourns for Adonais?”
When a giant energy hand seizes the Enterprise, Kirk must face off against the Olympian god Apollo.
It just so happens that I’m working my way yet again (after about 20 years) through The Iliad right now, and I can’t help but grin ear to ear about this one as Apollo name drops the likes of Odysseus and Hector to an audience that certainly would have known them better than modern audiences do. Sure, it’s corny, but they do play it straight. The incredulity of the crew just makes it even better. And credit where it’s due, Apollo beat Darth Vader to the patented Force choke by a decade.
This episode plays up the “ancient astronaut theory” that Battlestar Galactica would practically build itself upon in another decade. It was first proposed in 1919 (see what world war does to the minds of people?), and it would become extraordinarily popular a year or so after this episode aired with the bestselling book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich Von Däniken. It’s fun to think about, but it’s also proof that if you open your mind too much, your brains leak out. I kid! Except I don’t. What I do respect about Von Däniken’s work, and the work of those who have continued on his vein, is that it dares to ask questions that archaeology and history won’t because scholars are too precious about their reputations in specific fields (looking at you, Egyptology). It’s not the questions that are the problem. They’re great questions. It’s the conclusions that some people are coming to that are a bit bonkers, and that’s on both sides of the scholastic divide in many cases. But you know what? Ancient astronaut theory makes for a great story, and it works pretty well right here.