Not exactly what I’d call the best of the season in this batch, but there’s always some good to be had. Let’s proceed, shall we?
S03E05 – “And the Children Shall Lead”
The Enterprise is taken over by a cult of children who take orders from an alien entity.
I believe I mentioned it before, but I truly do not like little kids in my Star Trek. Months before Charles Manson became a household name, these kids were taking orders from a “friendly angel” who makes it known they’re going to be instruments of death. In fact, they’ve already killed their parents. Ok, not directly, but they’re carriers of… whatever this thing’s evil is supposed to be. In an especially creepy turn, the episode introduces them with a rousing rendition of “Ring a Ring o’ Roses.” No matter what the folklorists say when arguing about its origins, it’s still creepy. Sadly, this is about as good as this episode gets for me. It just sort of slides downhill from there, at warp speeds.
There are only two saving graces about this episode in my opinion. First, Kirk would have been a good father, had he been given the chance to do so. Second, no matter how long it seems, it still only lasts 50 minutes and 40 seconds. That’s still 50 minutes of your life you’ll never get back, but depending upon your level of dedication, it could be worth it. To my mind, it’s not the worst episode of the series, but it’s so… very… close. *head/desk*
S03E06 – “Spock’s Brain”
A mysterious intruder steals Spock’s brain. The race is on to recover it.
According to most sources on the internet (and to most fans before the internet existed), this is the absolute worst episode of Star Trek ever filmed. After the previous episode, I’ll push back against that. This one is at least entertaining from a Saturday matinee B-movie perspective. Hey, we all have our standards. I’ve slogged through some truly bad monster movies that make this award-winning by comparison. It’s melodramatic in the extreme, and it’s anything but boring. Besides, it’s an absolute joy to watch DeForest Kelley say his lines with a straight face. He doesn’t say much, but every word counts. “I’m trying to thread a needle with a sledgehammer. What am I supposed to do?” That man has acting chops! See? Not a complete loss! Screw the internet’s popular opinion!
With all that passionate defense, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. There are some truly indefensible things about this episode, from remote control Spock to “the teacher” to Spock-guided surgery to… ok, pretty much everything about this episode from start to finish. It’s goofy in ways that most 60s sci-fi could only aspire to be. I’m sure I could comment on the setback to women’s lib or all the magnificent go-go boots, but I’m laughing too hard for all the wrong reasons to think much about it. “Brain and brain! What is brain?” Yes, it’s magnificently bad. But before you consider this to be as insipid as it gets, let me remind you of a little sing-a-long around a campfire in Yosemite about 20 years after this. Yeah. Moving on, before my brains leak out all over the floor…
S03E07 – “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”
An alien ambassador comes aboard, one whose presence causes madness upon sight.
Diana Muldaur returns to the Enterprise, this time playing a jealous scientist / ambassadorial aide. She’s a Vulcan-trained telepath determined to overcompensate for her blindness by essentially switching off her humanity. There’s a dynamic in the script between Spock having been asked to serve in her role and another guest aboard ship who’s in love with her that gives her plenty to work with. It’s a smart script… perhaps too much after “Spock’s Brain,” what with the secondary plot of needing to pilot the ship beyond anyone else’s capability to do so. But I always applaud such attempts to raise the bar back to levels we understand.
This is the episode that gives us the Vulcan IDIC — Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations — a symbol Spock wears at the ambassadorial dinner to honor Dr. Miranda Jones. To my mind, this idea is the heart and soul of Star Trek, the perfect expression of equality and advancement. Despite any shortcomings this episode may offer in the eyes of the beholder, no one can fault the concepts in play, and it’s always a pleasure to see Nimoy perform a dual role. With a little extra refinement of the script, this one could have been something truly special.
S03E08 – “The Empath”
When Kirk, Spock, and McCoy become part of an alien experiment, their lives are in the hands of a mute woman.
DeForest Kelley once claimed this to be his favorite episode. With all respect to the man who portrayed my favorite character in the series… this episode is an absolute slog for me. For all of its heart, it’s boring beyond words, magnified by a complete lack of anything interesting in the visuals to distract. I know, I know… it’s a character piece, done in the format of minimalist theater. I will never fault actors for craving this sort of spotlight, and I will certainly never fault directors for giving it to them. There’s a purity of the craft there that hearkens all the way back to the Greeks. But without all of the trimmings, the only abstraction I ever truly appreciate is the musical aspect. A minimalist presentation is just not something I appreciate much, with few exceptions, even when it’s a masterful performance of Shakespeare. You’d think with all of my issues with sensory overload that something like this would be right up my alley. I don’t try to explain it, I can only call it as it comes. Fact is, I can’t watch this episode in one sitting without falling asleep. I’ve never managed to do so even once.
The Vians seem like lesser knock-offs of the Talosians to me (whom you’ll remember from “The Cage” and “The Menagerie“). The setup of the Vians to test if Gem is selfless enough for to sacrifice for another to determine whether or not her race is worth saving is a sick joke. Thankfully, Kirk agrees and accuses the Vians of lacking compassion. All parties agree Gem has passed the test. As unenthusiastic as I am about the episode and its presentation, I’m still pleased to see the undercurrents of what maintains Star Trek‘s enduring legacy is still here. Our heroes aren’t wrong about the probability of meeting someone like Gem being low. That in itself is the great shame of it all. The world we live in could always use more kindness. Always.
And peeking ahead (as if I need to), the next batch is far more interesting. Stay tuned.