Star Trek – Season 2, Episodes 05-08

S02E05 – “Amok Time”

Caught in the throes of pon farr, Spock must return to his homeworld to be with his betrothed or die… but she chooses another to fight for her to the death: Kirk.

It’s a rare treat indeed for Star Trek fans: our first look inside the culture of Vulcan, inside Spock’s quarters, and on his homeworld.  It is the only time in the series we see Vulcan, but it makes an impact.  This is the stuff of high level geekery.  For a race of logical beings, they’ve turned their violent past into a matter of ceremony, as a reminder of everything they’ve gained.  To oversee the ceremony: T’Pau, the only person ever to turn down a seat on the Federation Council.  We’ll see her again in her younger days during the final season of Enterprise.

Outbursts of anger, nervous twitches, barely contained anxiety, smashed computer monitors, murderous focus… another excellent performance by Leonard Nimoy.  It’s easy at times to overlook the acting when Spock is always cool as a cucumber.  But when Spock’s holding everything back, Nimoy’s at his best.  Something about that pushes the rest of the cast to raise their games accordingly.  It’s a truly fantastic episode, full of memorable character moments and some of the most infamous music in the series.

 

S02E06 – “The Doomsday Machine”

The Enterprise crosses paths with her sister ship Constellation, highly damaged and adrift.  The sole survivor, Commodore Matthew Decker, commandeers Enterprise, intent on revenge against a robot weapon that feeds on entire solar systems to power itself.

We’ve got another entertaining variation of “Kirk vs. the Computer,” writ large, with an overlay of Melville’s Moby Dick.  Ahab wants his whale, in this case a weapon that’s compared a couple of times with the atomic bomb.  With the obsessed Decker in command of Enterprise, dealing with Spock and McCoy, Kirk and Scotty work their miracles on Constellation just to get her moving again.  It has to be absolute hell for Kirk to watch a madman abuse his ship in a lost cause.  There aren’t too many episodes that center around starship combat, but Star Trek always manages to ratchet up the tension and make it count.  There’s really not much to say about this one, but it’s a fun ride.

There’s some Trek lore to connect up here, both canonical and not, for those interested.  In canon, we’ll see Commodore Decker’s son in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  According to that film, Kirk took young Will Decker as his protégé following the five-year mission, personally recommending him for promotion to Captain and for his first command, the redesigned Enterprise, of course, the refit of which Decker oversaw.  In the novels, there’s a fantastic tale from author Peter David called Vendetta.  It’s a TNG novel wherein we learn the Doomsday Machine was a prototype Borg-buster.  Guinan’s sister is going after a later version of the weapon to take on the Borg at their homeworld.  It’s some bold work, highly enjoyable.

 

S02E07 – “Wolf in the Fold”

While on medical leave for a concussion, Mr. Scott becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation.

Psycho novelist Robert Bloch wrote three episodes of Star Trek.  The first was “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” back in season 1, which I mentioned.  I did not call out the second, the first season 2 episode “Catspaw.”  This is the third.  As the Summer of Love turned towards winter, Charles Manson took up residence in Los Angeles, and pop culture really leaned on Jack the Ripper for some reason I can’t fathom.  The two ideas would soon converge for obvious reasons.  These things go in cycles, and it was the Ripper’s turn.  It was assumed that Bloch’s horror pedigree could give the Ripper a science fiction spin, and so we have this episode.  Poor Scotty is being hung out to dry, while an unseen entity feeds off fear.  Sounds like a good idea, right?

While the idea is good, the setup as written for this episode is so incredibly contrived, even for Star Trek, that it’s beyond groan worthy.  Even so, it’s a chance for James Doohan to step into the spotlight.  If you can get past the conceits, it’s not a bad little procedural.  But… it’s always a little weird for me to consider that Jack the Ripper has been hiding out in plain sight all this time, as a beloved cartoon character.

The Ripper is Piglet.  Redjac, indeed.  Careful, Pooh…

 

S02E08 – “The Changeling”

An Earth probe launched in the early 2000s to seek out new life reappears as a killing machine.  The only thing keeping it from sterilizing Enterprise is a malfunction: it thinks Kirk is its creator.

“Kirk vs. the Computer”… again!  Endless variation abounds on this theme, and that’s fine by me.  These are some of the better episodes in most cases.  I tend to think of this episode as the rough draft for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  I mean, somebody clearly had this in mind.  “Non sequitur.  Your facts are uncoordinated.”  No, really.  A machine exterminating “biological infestations” at the behest of its creator to fulfill its programming?  Yeah, that little nugget evolved considerably for the first film into a machine exterminating biological infestations while seeking to join with its creator in order to evolve.  In both cases, it’s believed the probe was damaged and repaired by something that didn’t quite known how to put it back together.  Ah, the magic of rewriting.

It’s curious to me that Nomad is able to repair Scotty’s “structural damage” simply, but it has issues wiping out Uhura’s memory.  It also says a great deal for Uhura’s intellectual capacity that she was able to relearn everything in… a week?  Ok, maybe not everything.  She kept her command of Swahili, and a verbal command of English, but to start reading at a first grade level and proving to have an aptitude for mathematics is a long way from being the best communications officer in the fleet.  No matter how you slice it and dice it, Uhura is amazing!

 

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