S02E21 – “By Any Other Name”
A race of beings, in need of a ship to take them home, takes human form and then the Enterprise.
One of the great criticisms of 1960s television is that there is no continuity, no callbacks to previous episodes to suggest an ongoing storyline. This episode has not one, but two callbacks from the first season. That’s virtually unheard of in this era of American TV. The first is to the Great Barrier from “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the second being to Spock’s long range mind meld on Eminiar VII in “A Taste of Armageddon.” A third callback, if you want to call it that, is a return to the heart of Kirk’s character, where we can actually see him suffer over the helpless loss of his crew. It’s a surprisingly convincing portrayal after a bit of extra ham this season.
The Kelvans, of course, are highly susceptible to heightened senses and emotions, now that they’ve assumed human forms. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty each demonstrate their own talents towards exploiting that weakness, resulting in some classic character bits. Scotty drinking his charge under the table is probably the best one. “It’s green.” We’ll get that particular reference to an unknown liquor again in The Next Generation when Scotty returns in season 5’s “Relics.”
S02E22 – “Return to Tomorrow”
Kirk, Spock, and astrobiologist Dr. Ann Mulhall temporarily allow Sargon and two other survivors of his race to inhabit their bodies long enough to build android bodies before they completely expire.
Speaking of The Next Generation, does anyone else remember Diana Muldaur, who played Dr. Katherine Pulaski in season 2? She’ll make two appearances on classic Trek; this is the first. Also worth noting, it’s good to see Sulu at the helm again. Also, I love the purple lighting in the transporter room! I’m forced to wonder why that particular aesthetic. Random, I know, but it pops. Let’s be real here. The real star of this episode is Nimoy, playing a delightfully impish villain.
“If you let what is left of me perish, my children, then all of mankind must perish too.” That’s a fine “how do you do?” from a disembodied voice at the top of the episode. Of course, it’s probably just as creepy — and inadvertently funny — to hear, “Your probes have touched me, Mr. Spock.”
The theme of the episode is, once more, ancient astronaut theory. Sargon and his people have existed for millennia as disembodied thought forms, but before they were like humans, and perhaps Vulcans as well, if Spock is right, having planted “seeds” across the stars. There’s a common ancestry, according to TNG later on, that humans, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians, and indeed most of the humanoid species of the Alpha Quadrant have common ancestry. It’s interesting to consider. Likewise, the theme that stands alongside this comes from Kirk’s monologue about halfway into the episode, reminding us that leaps in advancement come with risk. “Risk is our business.” And then, of course, there is the third theme, about the price tag of immortality and how truly special the human experience really is, which feels more like an extension of the previous episode. It’s a lot to cram into one episode.
It also proves that Spock can cram his consciousness into a mere human mind, which will come in supremely handy later on in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
S02E23 – “Patterns of Force”
When an Earth historian goes missing, the Enterprise tracks him to a world where the evils of the Third Reich have been resurrected. But this time, the Reich is armed with nuclear weapons.
A single generation after the end of World War II, the Nazis were shorthand for everything that had gone wrong in the modern world. That continues today, of course, but as our politics grow continually more extreme across the globe right now, the lessons have been largely forgotten, stereotyped, and put squarely into the category of “this could never happen here.” I would argue it’s because depictions of the horrors in popular culture have dropped, awareness sacrificed in the name of sensitivity. For example, note that the first Wonder Woman solo film took place during the first world war instead of going headlong into the story as her comic book source material portrayed, while Captain America faced HYDRA as an indirect subgroup of the Nazis rather than use the Nazis themselves. Even the insignia changed lest it offend someone. In fact, I would not be surprised if some business servers block this page for being NSFW merely for the using the term “Nazi.” And yet, the message of this episode is still the same: if we adopt their ways, we are no better. That’s the best benchmark I know considering that fascism will look differently in every country it invades. It begins with censorship. If we can’t talk about it, how can we teach it, let alone avoid it?
At the top of the episode, Spock says that what impressed him most about John Gill is how he treated history as a series of causes and effects rather than dates and events. This simple statement right here is how I learned to appreciate history, how it quickly became one of my favorite subjects. In fact, it was on the heels of seeing this episode the first time that my Dad gave me a copy of William L. Shirer’s hefty tome The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich… because every pre-teen is capable of reading a book like that. Even so, that book is still considered to be the definitive record on the subject, and it would be difficult to argue the point. This was how I learned the idea that if we fail to heed the lessons of history, we’re doomed to repeat them. This sort of speculation is what quality science fiction offers. It’s a blunt instrument in the form of television, but it’s effective against a 12-year-old.
Interesting side note to tie this together, one of Shatner’s first significant movie roles was in a 1961 courtroom drama film, Judgment at Nuremberg, based on a 1959 play of the same name. Shirer’s book was published in 1960, made possible by the overwhelming wealth of evidence presented for the original trial.