It’s time to close out season 2.
S02E24 – “The Ultimate Computer”
The Enterprise is to be “the fox in the hunt” as the M-5 computer is installed to test its battle capabilities against a small fleet of other Federation starships.
The Enterprise is reduced from a crew of 430 to merely 20. We’ll see her jury rigged later to run on only 5, but given that example, it’s pretty easy to see how bad of an idea it is. Obviously, this is another classic “Kirk vs. the computer” episode, this time with the ever-scary concept of automation taking human positions and careers being the central theme. Dr. Daystrom becomes the name among names in the world building when it comes to artificial intelligence, with the M-5 being an improvement from his duotronic system to the multitronic system. Of course, by the time we get to TNG, Daystrom has been overcome by Dr. Soong and his positronic technology, which resulted in the creation of Lt. Comm. Data and his complex neural network.
The important thing to remember is that Data evolved. He had the capacity to do so, and he was sentient as a result. He was no longer merely a machine, but a life form. M-5 was capable of mimicking human thought patterns, but it couldn’t distinguish between war games and real battle, between simulated damage and actual human casualties. As Spock says, a machine is meant to serve, not to lead. Sentient, truly thinking beings will never be obsolete, least of all those who are skilled in the art of true leadership, the vision to do see more and to inspire others to more than a machine understands.
S02E25 – “The Omega Glory”
An infection strands the Enterprise landing party with the former captain of the USS Exeter, on a planet that offers perpetual immortality, where the natives are divided into two distinct factions: the “civilized” Kohms and the “savage” Yangs.
No matter how forward-thinking Star Trek was in its day and continues to be half a century later, it’s a mark of success on some level when our own modern perceptions can make a well-meaning episode by series creator Gene Roddenberry look outright antiquated. Its thinly veiled “Kohms” and “Yangs” are, of course, Communists and Yankees. It’s a political story. Unfortunately, it becomes a racial one as well as the Kohms are clearly Asian and the Yangs are white European descendants. Or, Chinese and white Americans, if you will. The episode calls it out explicitly for those who can’t see it for themselves. The average child under the age of ten can figure this out and see something is very wrong with this picture.
The episode reveals this is another parallel Earth, one where the Asians won the war that our own avoided, suggesting the nuclear war. This contradicts the through-line of Star Trek canon where we had the Eugenics war / World War III. Things were fast and loose in the early days when it came to world building, and this is one that just doesn’t fit anymore. Another interesting point is that the symbol of the American flag and the words of the United States Constitution are turned into religious symbols alongside the Bible. It’s a modern neo-conservative’s wet dream, taken to the next logical conclusion, laughable at best in context of the episode, whether seen by audiences of the day or by those of us watching now. What the episode calls out so well is that for these things to mean anything, what they mean has to be taken to heart, understood in context of its own time and as living wisdom that points the way forward.
“These words and the words that follow were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well. They must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing.”
Have to say… for all of the missteps in the setup, the message is there. And it makes quite the eloquent point when Sulu beams down at the head of a security contingent at the end of the episode. Living proof that the idea of diversity in unity speaks for itself.
S02E26 – “Assignment: Earth”
Having gone back in time to 1968 for historical research, the Enterprise intercepts a transporter beam from a thousand light years away bearing a man from the 20th century.
Another time travel episode, but also one of the more unique episodes in the series. It’s made even more memorable by Robert Lansing as the enigmatic Gary Seven and Terry Garr as the somewhat clueless Roberta Lincoln. Seven’s mission is to prevent the foundations for an orbital nuclear platform by causing a rocket malfunction that sets it off course. I’ll be quite honest here, I’ve never understood what prevents anyone from sending up another one, knowing what I know about the space race and the cold war in general. But it sends the right message: there are unseen forces at work that will prevent us from destroying ourselves. It’s actually a comforting thought, all things considered.
Even though this is the season finale, I’ve often wondered if there was ever a plan to use this as a backdoor pilot for Lansing and Garr. I’ve heard it both ways from credible sources, but nothing concrete. It certainly seems plausible when we consider that Kirk and Spock take a backseat to the entire story. They’re practically incidental, more in the way than of any real help. Even their screen time is reduced so as to focus on Seven and his mission. It’s bizarre for a season finale, especially considering Star Trek was on the chopping block. Then again… maybe that was the point. Maybe Gary Seven’s series would have been a cheaper replacement. Food for thought.
And that’s season 2. Season 3 coming soon!