I couldn’t let the anniversary of Star Trek pass without another round of episode commentaries. Live long and prosper, my friends.
S02E17 – “The Gamesters of Triskelion”
Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov are teleported off the transporter platform to a planet different from the one the Enterprise is orbiting, where they are immediately inducted as thralls and gladiators.
It really is a good thing that so many episodes of this series are smarter than the *ahem* eye candy the network executives kept demanding. Almost every single one, in fact. That’s a pretty good track record, don’t you think? Of course, if you’re reading this, I’m preaching to the choir. Just a few years before this, in 1960, Stanley Kubrick gave us one of his very best movies: Spartacus. That film broke all kinds of rules and inspired an interest in all things gladiator for a lot of years to come. Of course the networks took advantage of it. In standard fashion, Star Trek went above and beyond to come up with something as thoughtful and intelligent as that original film, in between the gratuity and obligatorily sappy romantic scenes. Most knock-offs didn’t try.
As a character piece, the real highlight for me is, as always, Spock and McCoy. Usually their bickering is in the name of comedy, but in this one, it’s played up for dramatic effect in a way that really showcases their concern for their crewmates. Meanwhile, Kirk plays his drill thrall Shahna like a harp. It’s one of those great things that people love to argue about as part of “Kirk drift,” where the captain gets to flirt, but it’s all in the name of using every advantage he has to gain freedom. It’s not the only thing he does well in this episode. He also argues with the Providers the way he does against any computer, in the name of civilization and evolution. It’s pretty impressive if you listen to what he’s saying. And it’s one incredible gamble. But then, the one thing he’s never had is a shortage of is moxie. Kirk is SO not Spartacus. Worked to his advantage too.
S02E18 – “Obsession”
Kirk chases after a gaseous, blood-draining life form that he first encountered eleven years previously.
Ahab Kirk wants his whale vampire cloud. It truly is impressive how often Melville gets used as a basis for science fiction. It’s even more impressive that those derivative works tend to be more entertaining than the original novel. lol. One of these days, I’m going to have to give Moby Dick another shot. It’s been about 30 years since I last attempted it. In any case, we get a bit of trivia that Kirk served aboard the Farragut as a junior officer.
In all honesty, this episode isn’t heavy on story, though they did try for emotional resonance with the Farragut backstory. It’s worth noting as another feather in Kirk’s cap that his first assignment out of the Academy was as a rank Lieutenant aboard a Constitution-class starship. Most exit as an ensign, and it goes without saying that the Constitution-class vessels are the top of the line in this era. It’s a good reminder of just how hard Kirk worked at the Academy and throughout his career. That’s the kind of prestige that gets you promoted as youngest captain in the fleet. Even so… this story is more about killing off redshirts, one of the episodes that serves to perpetuate that unfortunate myth about body count and survival probability. The numbers don’t lie: it’s the goldshirts that are still in more danger, statistically speaking. But by single department… yeah, security is screwed. If you want to live, wear blue to increase your odds. That’s all I’m saying. The episode itself is still worth it, if for no other reason than to witness McCoy’s confusion when Spock needs to come to him for advice.
S02E19 – “The Immunity Syndrome”
When Spock senses the loss of the USS Intrepid with over 400 Vulcans aboard, the Enterprise is called in for rescue operations to a planetary system, once teeming with life in the billions, now completely dead. Meanwhile, the crew, already exhausted, becomes susceptible to further mental and physical shutdown.
The Intrepid, another Constitution-class starship, is crewed entirely by Vulcans. With Spock as the first Vulcan in Starfleet (thus implying there can’t be that many of them by this point), I spent a lot of years wondering how that worked, given that Intrepid is a Starfleet vessel. Thanks to the prequel series Enterprise, now we know. T’Pol served the Vulcan High Command, which had a special relationship with Starfleet from even before the founding of the Federation. Of course, T’Pol also accepted a commission in Starfleet later on, a canonical inconsistency that continues to prove my theory that Enterprise (and thus Discovery as well) is in an alternate timeline that’s very similar to that of the classic series. Just enough wiggle room. I should probably talk more about this episode…
Behold, the space amoeba! Draining all forms of energy, be it biologically or mechanically induced, the space amoeba seems like a variation on a theme in the wake of the previous episode’s vampire cloud. If it is, this is a far superior one so far as I’m concerned. Ironic that we also use the exact same method to dispose of it: anti-matter.
We get all manner of incredible character moments from an exhausted crew, and especially from Spock. His insights into Vulcan logic and history don’t seem like much, but they really open up that culture in contrast to humanity. Having never been conquered in their history, their logic cannot conceive of the idea that they were being killed. We don’t yet have in the canon the idea of the katra and their means to preserve it after death, but the introduction of that idea will negate what Spock offers here. Even so, his rebuttal early on to Dr. McCoy about the coldness of the Vulcan heart is the stuff of Shakespeare, masterfully written and delivered. The professional and personal rivalries and friendships between Spock and McCoy are ramped up to 11 in this as Kirk makes his choice of which of his officers is best qualified to pilot a shuttle into the heart of the creature… potentially a death sentence. “Shut up, Spock! We’re rescuing you!”
Speaking of pilots, I can’t help but notice we’ve not seen Sulu in a few episodes now.
S02E20 – “A Piece of the Action”
The Enterprise is ordered to investigate the planet Sigma Iotia II, where the SS Horizon was lost 100 years before, when that ship’s old style radio signal finally reaches Earth. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to discover the highly imitative natives have rebuilt their entire culture around a book accidentally left behind by the Horizon‘s crew… a book about the Chicago mobs of the 1920s.
This usually comes as a surprise to most people when I make this claim, but this is actually my favorite episode of the series for reasons I’m at a complete loss to explain. I latched onto it early on, and it gives me a good laugh every single time I watch it. Fedoras, pinstripe suits, Tommy guns, AM radio, classic cars, glammed up tarts, really terrible mob slang, even worse word play, some of Shatner’s most over-the-top acting while Kirk makes stuff up, Vic Tayback… what’s not to love? Break out the drinkin’ stuff and celebrate the syndicate! I’m convinced this episode inspired the comedic aspect of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I’m betting it was just as fun to make too. The highlight, of course, is the worst bluff in the history of Kirk’s long and otherwise impressive career involving the card game Fizzbin. Let’s face it, he’s not Lando Calrissian. Then again, Lando would never make it in Starfleet.
I always wanted to see a sequel to this episode that would make sense. To my knowledge, there have been two very different versions so far. In the comics under Peter David’s pen, we learned that the Iotians were keeping Kirk’s “cut” for him and have made pretty much zero progress otherwise. Not the best world building David ever pulled, but the story itself — “The Trial of James T. Kirk” — was way too much fun. On the other hand, the entry for Sigma Iotia II in The Worlds of the Federation book (an early TNG era manual) reveals a more interesting option given what we know about the communicator that McCoy left behind. Since the communicator contains transtator technology, the basis for most of the tech in Starfleet, the next Federation ship to visit the planet found something akin to a functioning Starbase. Given that only Krako saw the interior of the Enterprise, and only the transporter room at that, I find this even more unlikely, but it’s still fun to think about. What could the Iotians do with a communicator, and how fast would they pull it off? Oh, the storytelling possibilities. Check? Riiiiight.