The Entire Star Trek Universe at High Speed

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Captain Knight Jean-Luc Picard

In appropriate celebration for a new year, Queen Elizabeth has once again laid the sword upon the shoulders of the best men of Britain, thereby awarding them knighthood. The difference this year is that our beloved Patrick Stewart is among them.

Oh, Sir Jean-Luc. I love you. Congratulations!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Leonary Nimoy Photography

In case you want to see what our beloved Spock has been up to lately: Leonard Nimoy has a web page of his own photography. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

So Good

Dear Spock,

Um... Hot.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Sexy Androids and Absurdity

TOS: Episode 37: I, Mudd

A new officer is aboard the Enterprise. The new man bothers Bones, who isn’t afraid to express his intuitions to Spock. Something is odd, however, as we quickly find the new officer enforcing an unplanned course change upon the Enterprise. It appears that the insufficiently argued views of McCoy that Spock so determinedly revolted against were right. Now, the Enterprise has been taken over, and it seems the figure is too powerful for anyone (so far) to overcome.

Androids in Space!

Episode Summary
Our new, mysterious crewmember has completely taken over control of the galaxy class starship, sabotaging each of the alternate control posts throughout the ship. He then reports to the bridge, informing Captain Kirk that they mean the crew no harm, but need the use of the Enterprise. It is revealed that the new crewmember is not human after all, but instead is a highly sophisticated android that speaks of himself in the plural, and is programmed to fulfill some mission, which includes taking Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, and Uhura to the surface of the planet on which his programmers originate. Unable to do anything to change the situation, Kirk agrees to travel to the planet below. There more androids (all basically identical women), as well as the space pirate we met in season 1—Harry Mudd—greet the away team. It turns out Mr. Mudd, according to his own account, is in complete control of the entire planet, thanks to the help of over 500 of his powerful androids.

We hear from Mudd that the crew had better begin to enjoy themselves, and that they should expect to spend the rest of their lives on the planet. Finally, Mudd confesses that he’d been arrested after being left behind on the mining planet we placed him on in season 1, and then, very slowly works his way to explaining why the Enterprise crew is there. It turns out the androids serve and study Mudd, and demanded Mudd bring more humans for the androids study and serve

Episode 37 seems written as an odd sort of study of a character that wasn’t all that interesting to begin with. We discover more of Mudd’s personal narrative in this episode--mainly that of his former relationship to a wife that antagonized him incessently. But, perhaps more interestingly, we get to consider the reality of a world lived on and dominated by androids that have lost their makers and so also their purpose. Season 1 offered us a view of androids on a far away planet, but those androids had rather limited functionality. Those androids also depended on the instruction and programming given to them by their ruler; though in that case, we discover in the end that their ruler is an android too. It seemed in that episode, then, that some androids at least could rule themselves. Here we see a planet that, at least in the beginning, shows all androids that appear to be entirely devoted to one human ruler—Mudd.

As we get to know the android race better, we discover they are so sophisticated they are able to fulfill any wish the crew would ask for, whether it be Chekov’s need for amorous attention, Scotty’s desire to further laser engineering, McCoy’s thirst for research, or Uhura’s suddenly revealed desire for immortality. Step by step we see the crew become vulnerable to the limitless fulfillment of their desires. Kirk demands of them to contain their enthusiasm—they are going to get off that planet. They are going to escape.

Okay, can we just acknowledge that the Mudd character isn’t actually interesting, nor is he much of plot driver? We see him again in the third season when Mudd famously introduces us to the Tribbles. The upside of that episode is, of course, our opportunity to engage with the Klingons. Honestly though, I’ll have to put some thought into what would have the Star Trek writers return again and again to this character. We meet Mr. Mudd in the first season when he arrives aboard the Enterprise with three beautiful women that bewilder the entire crew with their alluring powers. There it turns out Mudd has enchanted them with a sort of super herb that heightens their feminine advantages. Mudd, then, we realize is a trickster, as well as a covert businessman trying to trick those vulnerable to his wares into purchase. Roddenberry developed the character originally. Though, again, it seems that in each episode that Mudd appears it is less for what he as himself has to offer and more for what he happens to bring along with him. In other words, the same issues could be explored in each of the episodes in which he appears without the introduction of Mr. Mudd himself. In the current episode, however, we hear Kirk pronounce Mudd as the paradigmatic example of a failure of a human being. Perhaps, then, this is the point for Roddenberry--to highlight the contrast between his exemplary star traveling crew, and this trickster. We can also recall the time period in which The Original Series was developed, as well as the way it was originally marketed. Fantasy dominated the television airwaves through not only with Star Trek, but also through shows like I Dream of Jeannie, and most predominately, the Cowboy-Western drama. Common to any Cowboy episode is a kind of patsy that isn't strong enough to fight off enemies through force, isn't brave enough to stare down those that would do him in, isn't hard working or clever enough to become rich by conventional means, but somehow gets by and gets an almost-break again and again through his irreverent, illegal, and usurious behavior. Mudd is Roddenberry's necessary patsy-cowboy--the one that will never be a person to admire, but that reminds us there are many paths to choose for survival. Mudd, then, serves as a kind of moral question for his viewers--how will you choose to catch a break in your life?

The androids here are a nice topic for exploration, though it is, of course, problematic that all androids are exact replicas of apparently beautiful women. We get further adoration of mechanized technologies when Kirk recites the line, “No! She [the Enterprise] is a beautiful lady, and we want her!” as he demands of the androids to return his ship. Returning to consideration of the androids in this episode, they, supposedly, are run entirely by logic, and systematic programming. They are meant to be without wants and desires, but the androids also obsessively pursue their human subjects of study, and they seem to also need to be fulfilled by studying and caring, both, for those subjects. In these ways it would seem they do have some form of needs and desires, though perhaps the crucial point is they do not control them in the way humans would seem to at least have the potential to control theirs.

I’ve also decided, as a side note, that Uhura is an early model for what becomes X-Men’s character Storm. Uhura originates in the southern reaches of Africa, speaking Swahili occasionally through the series. Storm holds Wakandan citizenship, that is in the fictional African country treated as a mystical, other-worldly type area of the planet by the X-Men series. Uhura's fictional origination is placed in a different part of Africa, but the point of placing her there is the same--she comes from a mystical, other-worldly area of the world and now, just like Storm, has become part of the Western fantastic elite. For Storm, such power is exhibited as a goddess and superhero. For Uhura, it is exhibited by being an integral part of the front-line in space travel, exhibiting super-human abilities for communication and language acquisition. In Episode 37, the immortality that Uhura desires, and the way in which it is offered to her, has mild resemblances to Storm’s ascension to god-hood. Of course, thanks to Kirk’s heavy hand, Uhura resists taking the same offering herself. She does not truly need it, afterall, with her already holding the ability for space travel.

As the episode continues, the androids demand that humans are too imperfect to manage themselves. As a result, they intend to take over all of humanity, via the transportation ability the Enterprise offers them. They will reproduce themselves and control humans, while fulfilling what they logically determine to be the reasonable desires of humans too. Now, Mudd is stuck on the planet with the Enterprise crew too. The androids refuse to allow him to leave with the ship, as originally expected. As Spock and Kirk reason through the possible ways to deal with the situation, they realize all the androids are actually run through the initial android that appeared aboard the Enterprise—the one that McCoy was skeptical of. With this in mind, the crew decides the best way to deal with the situation is to overwhelm their computer circuits with absurdity. Ah, here is the gem of this episode—the officers of the Enterprise all devolve into over done, and nonsensical behavior contradicting themselves intentionally, play fighting with each other, imitating ball room style dancing, and even engaging in a game of baseball with imaginary explosives.

Episode Tidbits
“I, Mudd” offers us the opportunity to explore the psyche of Spock through comparison to those that are more extreme than he. On the one side, we regularly see Spock in contrast to his human companions—those that he is unlike because he is more logical, or reasonable than he is. On the other side, now we have the opportunity to discover Spock’s contrast to beings more logical than he. What we discover is that Spock’s logic is balanced with intuition. In this way, when the human officers begin to act in their absurdity and explicit irrationality, it turns out the androids depend on Spock to interpret and make sense of the situation. Spock resembles the very skills the androids hold—logic and reason—but also has an additional ability the androids do not —intuition and spontaneous interpretation of situations. In the end, without this additional interpretive ability, the androids are outdone.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sexy Magicians and the Cold War

TOS: Episode 36: Catspaw

As the episode opens, Scott and Sulu are on away mission but missing. One away team member, Jackson, repeatedly notifies that he is ready to beam up, without response to the Captain’s inquiry on the whereabouts of Scott and Sulu. Upon arrival in the transporter room, however, Jackson is standing but immediately falls over—dead. McCoy informs Kirk of the surprise death, and then a dramatic voice over erupts through the ship notifying Kirk that a curse has been placed on all of them, and that if the Enterprise does not leave, they will all die. What of Scott and Sulu? What of Jackson’s condition? Who is this menacing, over-acting voice from space? These are the questions facing the Starship Enterprise in this episode “Catspaw.”

Kirk and Spock meeting the magicians of "Catspaw"

Episode Summary
In response to the curse, and death of crewmember Jackson, the three leading officers of the ship beam down to the death-demanding planet. Wise move? No. But plot-driving risky maneuver? Oh, yes! Spock, my love, McCoy, and Kirk wander through the fog covered, gray and barren planet’s surface in search of their missing team. They head in the direction of life form readings picked up by Spock’s trusty tricorder. Strangely, back on board the Enterprise, the officer left in charge of the ship is one we have never seen before, and Chekov has impressively puffy hair. Shortly after arrival, the away team loses contact with the ship, and the officer in charge of the Enterprise reveals his strong ethical-disregard and lack of respect for others by shit-talking poor, loveable Chekov.

The planet’s surface is covered with vicious moaning reminiscent of Ancient Greek Fates—three wailing and strangely illuminated female-looking figures of decayed age chanting warnings of the future to the away team. Spock notifies us that the figures are unreal, as well as full of “very bad poetry.” Ah, Spock. I admire your frankness and accuracy.

The away team ventures on to chase down the “erratic, confused, but definitely real” life forms wandering about only several hundred meters away from them. It’s appreciable that the future relies on the metric system, even while having been written in the midst of the United States’s reliance on the English system. Chasing down the life form readings brings our officers to an eerie gothic-style castle— way to mix literary time periods, Star Trek writers. Let’s see what they do with so many historical allusions at their disposal in one episode!

We discover that, though the Enterprise had initially been able to scan our away team’s life forms on the planet below, upon entering the castle the life form readings simply disappear. Somehow, it would seem, the castle is able to block out the ship’s scanners. Inside the castle, the team is lead into a trap by a black cat that seems to have more awareness than a simple earthen feline. The trap places our three officers locked up in chain shackles within a dungeon next to locked up skeletons too. Kirk and McCoy begin to appreciate the strangeness of Halloween-like earth manifestations. Spock finally theorizes that someone has generated the appearances of those things that terrorize man most at an instinctive level. It is at this moment that Scott and Sulu appear, but in some sort of automaton fashion, unable to respond to the orders of their captain, instead physically demanding the Captain to do their will.

As horrible as this may be to die hard Original Series fans, it’s a bit of a relief to see Scott and Sulu over-under-act for once, rather than push their very specific caricatures too hard through this episode as well (that is, only over-act as they usually do). They are, after all, rather heavily designed character types; what, Scotty with his heavily “Scottish” play, and Sulu with his thickly serious-cum-laughing demeanor.

Scott and Sulu finally appear to our crew, release them from their chains, and then transport them, suddenly, to a sort of ruling chamber containing our black cat, and its apparent wizard. Whatever the source of our magician, he admits to not originating on the planet itself. He also shows us that he knows our away team officers far to well, and that he is somehow able to control Scott and Sulu, as well as communicate telepathically with his cat. It is in these moments when he also informs us that Spock is a “different one” whose thought is simply black and white, unlike the humans, who “see in color.” I must admit I am disappointed at the over simplification of Spock’s character here. Surely logic does not reduce to mere “black and white” thinking, nor does Spock’s virtue reduce to such obviousness either. Spock though, being the selfless, noble science officer that he is, is not insulted. Shortly after we hear that the illusionist actually admires our officers—seeing them as having fulfilled the tests of Aristotelian virtue such as bravery, loyalty, and clarity. Frustrated with his inability to bribe the away team, we see the wizard’s cat leave, and a seductive woman with hypnotic and telepathic powers return. The woman reveals that she controls our crewmembers, the ship itself, and their fate with her thoughts. Amazingly, by holding a model of the Enterprise over a candle she is able to raise the temperature of the ship itself. Thus, Kirk relents in his roguish demeanor enough to prevent the threat to his ship, but resists in revealing any information to the pair. It turns out the two demand to know things about the human world, in exchange for the safety of the ship itself.

McCoy is kept for the purposes of mind-probing interrogation, while Spock and Kirk are sent back to the dungeon. There the two begin to piece together the reality of the situation—aliens to our galaxy probing the human mind for knowledge of our scientific method. Obviously. Soon McCoy returns clearly hypnotized and under the control of the magicians. Kirk is unchained and led away by a semi-violent Bones. In the meantime, we see the magical pair conversing unobserved by the Enterprise crewmembers. We discover that the illusionists had traveled from a far away place (check!) sent on a mission (scientific method?) for what we do not know (oh. Heck.). But in the world and bodies with which they originate, they have no physical or emotional sensations. Now, having experienced desire and pleasure for the first time, the woman has become unwilling to give them up. As such, she is determined to forgo their mission and dominate the earth creatures. The man, however, is still loyal to their original plan and seems disturbed by her new demeanor.

As Kirk enters, the male magician leaves, and the woman reveals to Kirk that she desires him, and power too. Seeing an opportunity for escape, Kirk takes advantage of the woman’s weakness for physical sensation to overcome her control of them all. Kirk discovers she will not dominate him, because what she wants is free, willing union with Kirk. Though she’d never considered it before, now the woman realizes she wants to share power with another being. Together, she believes, she and Kirk can have all either of them desire. But for this to happen, he must want such power too. She offers to become any physically shaped woman he wants, and to help him experience the power of transmutation with her.

Oh, Kirk, you overdrawn sex-driven star traveler. You have finally stepped into the Kirk character we all remember. The one that travels the stars taking alien women freely for his own needs and purposes. The sexual drive that we all remember as integral to Kirk has only been loosely present until now. We've seen glimpses of what would develop into a central character trait for him, but now a third of the way through the second season it seems the Star Trek writers have begun to recognize the shape it offers to their Captain. It is here, then, that part of the ethic of the Star Trek universe takes hold. Kirk’s sexual prowess is all about conquering. He uses his sexual interest, and apparent attractiveness to overcome those he wants, and to take control of the worlds he explores. It is a power, not for union, as our female magician would want, then. Instead, it is a power to take and to dominate something. As such, Kirk's sexuality turns out to be about perceiving the entirety of the universe as a form of enemy that must be overcome before he is overcome by it. The whole world, then, operates as a kind of enemy to Kirk's autonomy. This understanding of Kirk’s sexuality would indicate, then, that not only is the world his enemy, but also all women. That is, sex is a means to dominate others, specifically women, rather than to share or convene with them.

We discover, then, at this point in Star Trek history that the implicit view of other civilizations, those alien to the world central to Star Fleet, is one of threat. That is, other civilizations are to be overcome, and sex too is about domination of that which is not as powerful as us. Kirk, and his sexual prowess prove to be for the sake of assuring our greater agility and ability than all others. This view of sexuality as power is congruent with the semi-isolated, solely responsible role that Kirk has exhibited as all-powerful ship’s Captain through the series so far. That is, sex turns out to be a means to proving ones own isolation. Because sex for Kirk is not about uniting with another, but instead about proving dominance over another, sex turns out to be yet another means through which Kirk keeps himself isolated from all others. Spock, of course, ultimately proves to be the one other character that Kirk is more genuinely open to, or in a sense united with. As I’ve claimed before, Kirk can only be who he is because of his reliance on Spock’s steady countenance and advice. This, of course, proves to be Kirk’s one vulnerable feature as we see later at the end of the second Star Trek movie.

Returning to "Catspaw", stimulating the sensations of the woman illusionist, Kirk upsets her as she realizes he is merely using her for the sake of escape. The male magician sees that his counterpart is now out of control and so sets Kirk and Spock free, as well as the Enterprise, in an attempt to do what is right even in the face of his irrational, now-turned-evil partner. Kirk refuses to leave without McCoy, Scott and Sulu, however. As a result, they are forced to face her ruthlessness. The man alien continues to help them escape, as they also search for both a way out, and their crew members. The man says he will face his evil partner. In saving Kirk and Scott, however, the man dies, leaving his magic wand for Kirk to try. It turns out to be the source of their power, a mighty transmuter. In escaping the dungeon, Kirk and Spock are forced to face the fighting abilities of their hypnotized ship’s mates. Impressively, then, this episode places all of the major officers under the threat of an alien life form on the surface of a distant planet.

The woman now tries to seduce Kirk again. Instead, he destroys the transmuter, causing the illusion to disappear. The true forms of the alien life forms then appear just in time for us to watch them die. We are shown a pair of blue feathered, carrot-legged muppet that release smoke as they die.

Our alien magicians in their true form at the end of "Catspaw"

More Episode Tidbits
Early Star Trek, unfortunately, reveals the callous self-investment that drives what would otherwise appear to be a noble mission—to learn and communicate with new life forms in far away places. In our own human story, there is a history of admiring and prioritizing the pursuit of knowledge, and its accompanying self-discovery. But, Star Trek: The Original Series ends up showcasing the way in which the pursuit of knowledge is not adequate to virtue. As much as I love Spock, I realize that much of his brightness comes from how he stands out as good against the brazenness of the Kirk driven Star Trek plots. We've seen this kind of highlighting effect around Spock in previous episodes--most especially the parallel "evil" universe episode from earlier in the second season when Spock shows himself to be a noble character in either universe.

Kirk is able to be the arrogant, risk taking captain that he is because he is anchored by the reasonable, thoughtful Spock. But as the focus of the show, Kirk drives the ethical tone of the plots even so. This particular episode highlights the way in which Star Trek ends up being a lenses through which we can see our own cultures self-centered arrogance. We apparently use our great technology to travel the stars in search of new life forms and new civilizations. But, here, it would seem that we actually do so for the sake of proving our own dominance. And where our technology falls short, we prove our superiority through forceful acting out that happens to succeed in the face of hopeless odds. We are the lucky ones, Kirk tells us. We are the ones that travel the stars because we have earned our place among them.

In later Star Trek, of course, we will see a world of space travel modified by other ethical precepts of non-interference, and egalitarian diplomacy. If our television shows can operate as a revelation of our own cultural ethic, surely, then, Star Trek reveals an improvement of our own ethical way of life in the United States too. That is, The Next Generation would seem to show ways in which we have transcended our own self-centered view of dominance. The Original Series was, afterall, written during the thickest parts of the Cold War, when ideas of war dominance and the ethos of international superpowers drove our politic. The Next Generation, however, came at a time when the Cold War was ending, the Berlin Wall was coming down, and we were looking, hopeful, towards a future in which perhaps the powers of the world would appear more united. We can ask what has changed for us in our national imagination in the 20 years since. I look forward, then, to making our way to the most recent movie and asking how a return to the characters of The Original Series, with an utterly transformed timeline, might reveal the ways we’ve grown.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pantaloons and Explosives

TOS: Episode 35: The Doomsday Machine

Oh my god! Rubble and asteroids. Seven planets--an entire system, excluding the star, have been destroyed. Only a supernova would seem to have such potential. And yet, the star is intact. After further investigation of the area, strangely, the two inner most planets to the system, Spock discovers, are still intact. So begins "The Doomsday Machine."

Episode Summary
Episode 35 begins with Kirk appearing in his pea green, faux wrap, gold glitter trimmed top, and puff-bottom black trousers. The trousers represent a look common to the era of American television--pant bottoms tucked into boots. It carries a kind of allusion to genie style pantaloons cinched tight at mid-calf. This tucked in pant style is also common to the Star Trek movies from III through V, in which Kirk consistently wears his black trousers tucked into black boots.

Kirk's pea green faux-wrap, sparkle trim top

In the background, additional controls and lights have been added to the set of the Enterprise bridge. Unfortunately, instead of fancying up the set, it's caused it to look far more like put on cardboard.

The crew succeeds in following a systematic scan of the damaged area in space, thus finding a floating and damaged U.S.S. Constellation (toy in space! toy in space!). Realizing she must have been attacked, Kirk puts us on red alert. Christmas lights flash in the background.

Strangely, even in the face of severe damage, life support appears to be operative about the damaged star ship. But scanners show no life signs aboard. Kirk leads an away team, leaving Spock in command of the Enterprise. Beaming aboard, the away team--Scotty, and McCoy included--investigate a seriously damaged star ship set. Cardboard tubing and plastic wires hang everywhere. Further, there appear to be not only no survivors on the Constellation, there is also no obvious evidence of previous human life. That is, there are no bodies, and no remains. Until, one stunned, and unspeaking Star Fleet officer is found aboard deep within the bowels of the ship. Treated by McCoy, we discover he is the Captain of the Constellation, and that he is so shocked by what happened he can barely face retelling the story. Finally, he tells us that, facing attack from a-still-as-yet-unnamed-enemy, the Captain beamed his crew to a planet's surface in an attempt to save them. Immediately following beaming all but himself to the planet, the transporters were destroyed. Then, the entire planet was consumed by the enemy while the crew on its surface screamed to their Captain for help. We discover, then, that the Captain's stunned (and unshaven) state is a direct result of his having been unable to help his crew. The future hasn't solved every problem, then. Men still must shave regularly, even in the face of grief, lest they develop facial hair.

The Captain of the Constellation finally is able to report on his sighting of the enemy, and his tapes of the star ship offer Spock additional information for us. The enemy turns out to be an unmanned robot emiting pure anti-protons with which it destroys entire planets to then consume for its own fuel. We discover the robot originated from far outside the galaxy, and is on a path of destruction into the most populated heart of our own galaxy. Hearing this information, Kirk theorizes that the machine was built as a doomsday device--too powerful for anyone to truly control, but built as a kind of false threat against 'the other side' of a war--and was released by a people no longer existing. We discover, then, example of Hannah Arendt's concern--the more developed our technology, the less able we are to control it, and the more it appears the results of it are outside fault or responsibility.

The Constellation Flying Into the Throat of the Alien Robot

The robot appears in pursuit of the Enterprise, the ship's energy apparently attracting the machine's attention. Just before the away team would have been beamed back, Enterprise transporters and communications are knocked out. Scotty, Kirk, and a previously unseen crew member Washburn are left aboard. (I wonder who might die if someone must?) The Captain of the Constellation, and McCoy had previously beamed back. Soon, the Constellation Captain appears as trouble for Spock, acting out of a need for vengence in the face of his own failure, and speaking as though he will exert his power of rank to out rule Spock's own wise counsel. Strangely, though the Captain has clearly been under psychological duress as a result of losing his entire crew, no one fights his claiming command of the Enterprise. The way regulations are cited here ignores rules we hear later that allow for an officer being "emotionally compromised", and thus unable to fill their post. Here, the Captain would only be relieved of duty if the doctor could certify him physically or psychologically unable to lead. But doing so would depend on McCoy having run a full diagnostic examination of the Captain, and clearly he hasn't had time to do so. This situation comes into direct conflict with scenes we see in later Star Trek episodes in which Captains are relieved of duty in quick order as a result of doctor intervention. McCoy's heated demeanor comes in useful here as he throws a fit over the clearly problematic situation.

Aboard the Constellation, Kirk and Scotty work on repairs to try and get the ship operating again. Kirk succeeds in making the viewing screen functional, just in time to see his Enterprise under attack. He pushes Scotty to get engines working for ship's manuevering. Scotty succeeds just as the Enterprise would have been sucked into the doomsday machine itself. They rush the Constellation roughly towards the machine, barely able to control its direction.

On the Enterprise, we see the Constellation Captain struggling to face that he is making poor decisions, and that the Enterprise crew is relieving him of duty. In the moment Spock relieves the Captain of command, and demands him to be arrested, or leave, we discover "Vulcans never bluff." Finally, Spock succeeds in re-claiming leadership of the ship, but shortly after, the Captain fights off his security detail and escapes into the bowels of the ship (apparently he likes it in ship's bowels). For what purpose we do not yet know, but we can only assume it is to attempt a take over of the Enterprise. Shortly, however, we discover the Captain of the Constellation steals a shuttle craft and ventures off into space in pursuit of the alien robot. Having lost everything when his crew died, he now intends to chase vengence through the throat of the alien robot. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that his doing so will succeed in destroying the robot, and instead only succeed in killing himself. We watch the Captain slowly goes crazy as he is eaten by the alien vessel without appearing to actually damage the robot itself.

Episode Tidbits
Okay, are we bored yet? My point-by-point retelling of the episode details has got to be laborious to read. But, it is one of those stories that holds wonderful tension in its design-- the madness of the Constellation Captain in the face of his own failure reveals a brutal sort of rationality. He is right in his intention to destroy the machine, and his determination to think creatively to do so. And yet it is clear he is driven to do so by his own agony, and gambles too much to relieve it. The Captain was Kirk's friend, and struggles (briefly) with the loss of the Captain for what appears to be no good reason. Still, the pain of the loss inspires Kirk's thinking in how to possibly destroy the machine. In his risky willingness to face the machine, he is almost killed himself, as the transporters of the Enterprise are damaged, and the Constellation is used to explode inside the machine. Still, Kirk succeeds, barely, at destroying the machine.

The episode ends with a speech by Kirk about the horrors of the H-bomb, and its parallels to their own Doomsday Device. Though mostly pitched as an action-driven sci-fi, then, Episode 35 is also used to offer political commentary for citizens of the Cold War.

The sort of attack against the alien vessel we see in this episode is one repeated in the most recent Franchise movie. There too a ship pushing itself full charge down the throat of an alien vessel, and then exploding there is repeated as the primary strategy for destroying the enemy. The idea Kirk keeps pushing of an ultimate weapon of war is also seen through the presence of the Romulan vessel in that movie. A ship from the future carries with it such advanced technology that the Romulan mining vessel out paces all other defenses in the Star Fleet universe. As such, the Romulan vessel is a doomsday device within the retooled Star Trek timeline.

Interestingly, there is also a character parallel between the Spock we see here and the Spock of movie XII, the recent Star Trek. Here, Spock's logic tells him to avoid attack of the enemy vessel because it appears they cannot succeed. Instead, he will rely on saving the crew remaining on board the Constellation, and then escaping to rendevous with, and warn Star Fleet. The belief here is that only multiple ships could have a chance of destroying the enemy robot. In the movie, Spock also avoids feelings of vengence, and seeks to quell his anger by rendevousing with Star Fleet to speak in high counsel about what is to be done. Again, the belief being that one ship cannot solve the problem. In both Episode 35, and the recent movie, however, we are taught to see that Spock's reasoning of this sort is faulty. It is exactly one ship that will make all the difference, when that ship is led with quick and creative, bold maneuvering. In both cases, the doomsday device they face must be destroyed by one ship rammed in explosive fashion down the throat of the offensive machine. Spock's reliance on group planning goes against the impulsive brilliance of Kirk's singular risk taking, and yet, it is also what makes Kirk's leadership possible. It is only because Spock here was focused on rescuing the crew, and then rendevousing with Star Fleet that Kirk's bold escapades became possible. Had Spock acted against the enemy ship instead, Kirk would have been without ability to act. We see again, then, that the two characters are intertwined. What makes one's traits possible, are the traits of the other one. Kirk and Spock in balance with each other.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The 10 Year Old Perspective: The Apple

TOS: Episode 34: The Apple

Six words (some are repeated): Boom Chicka Wow Wow Boom Wow!

Chekov and Martha kissing. Yah! Boom Chicka Wow Wow Boom Wow!

La la la LOVE! But Kirk and Vol are not friends. They don't have any la la la la LOVE. Boom Chicka Wow Wow Boom Wow. Vol was a papier mache snake head, and Kirk was a human, oh yah! And Vol was supposed to be a machine. And Kirk was supposed to be a human. Boom Chicka Wow Wow Boom Wow. And Vol was like a god to everyone, and Kirk was still a human. And Boom Chicka Wow Wow Boom Boom. And they weren't friends at all. No no no. But Vol wouldn't speak to anyone, except for some dude that never grew old old old. Boom Chicka Wow Wow Boom Wow.

Thank you for watching thewarpproject! Boom Chicka Wow Wow Boom Wow!

Sentient Plants and the Problem with Free Love

TOS: Episode 34: The Apple

Oh dear lord oh my god! It turns out Paradise, or apparently uninhabited husbandry-supporting planets covered in glorious vegetation, can be DEADLY. Remember that episode where Spock falls dearly in love with a woman on a planet they investigate that is covered in radiation and yet somehow still has people thriving on it? In that episode, there is a flower that senses people's approach and then blasts them in the face with euphoria plus health-generating pollen, causing them to regrow any organs they've lost, and to live in peace and joy. In "The Apple" we revisit the idea of flowers that sense the approach of people and then blasts them with pollen. But this time, the pollen is deadly. DUN DUN DUN!!!

Episode Summary
The crew visits a beautiful, but frightening planet only to discover their crewmen killed by poisonous plants, some mysterious humanoid watching them, lightning that can attack people unexpectedly, and a rock that looks remarkably like multicolored toffee candy that explodes on contact. Further, the rest of the crew still on board the ship discover that their anti-matter drive is being drained by an enormous generator on the planet's surface and the Enterprise is slowly descending in orbit towards the planet atmosphere (which would burn the ship up).

Then, just as Kirk and McCoy seem to be making progress, one of the mysterious poisonous planets moves to attack Kirk, but Spock intervenes just in time to get shot full of poison instead. Dear lovely wonderful Spock. He is strong enough to resist the poison momentarily, but then collapses. McCoy announces they must get him immediately to the ship for treatment, just as Scotty discovers "the entire transporter system is inhibited!"

The Enterprise visit to the planet, then, has become a nightmare. Miraculously, McCoy shoots Spock up with a treatment that actually recovers his life. Surely, Spock is as good as a holy man.

Unable to beam aboard the ship, the crew make due on the planet's surface, only to discover a massive lightning storm that strikes one of the crew men dead. More lightning strikes near the away team, just as they dive out of the way. Thank the gods they came down with so many previously unidentified red shirted security personnel! Otherwise, with the number of attacks this planet is dishing out, main characters would be dying.

Yet another security detail sets out towards the coordinates of a village settlement on the planet. The security personnel radio back to Kirk, but then in the middle of the communication, the tricorders cut out. Then, the security men panic, run back towards the rest of the away team, and end up blowing themselves up accidentally with exploding rocks. Don't worry! Again, more red shirts are still present in the original away team. And we all know that it's always the red shirts that die in Star Trek.

While investigating the security crewman's eruptive death, Spock realizes that the mysterious humanoid has returned. Kirk sets up a diversion and succeeds in catching him. They discover that the man's name is Akuta, and he serves as "the eyes and ears of Vol", an unidentified ruler, or guide for the people of the planet. Akuta agrees to take them to the other people of Vol, just as Scotty contacts Kirk to warn him that the Enterprise has been grabbed by a tractor beam pulling them towards the surface of the planet. Scotty is unable to fight out of the pull of the tractor beam. The Enterprise appears to be on the verge of burning up in the planet's atmosphere.

Who is Vol? Will Scotty succeed in bolstering the power of the Enterprise? Will Kirk ever get back aboard the ship?

Akuta finally takes Kirk to the face of Vol, which turns out to be a giant papier mache snake head with glowing red smoke emanating from its mouth. Incredible that a papier mache head with dry ice and a red light in its mouth could control and protect an entire, deadly paradise planet.

Akuta Introduces the Away Team to his Papier Mache Snake Head God, Vol

Later, visiting the people of Vol, in the village, they turn out to not have either children, or love, though they are quite friendly and welcoming to the Enterprise crew. Much like the stereotypical hippies of the American 1960's, actually, with bare mid-riffs, flower tied hair, maxi-length skirts, and flower chain necklaces and decorations. Kirk and his away team are whole heartedly welcomed in by the people of Vol, who turn out to be ageless according to McCoy's examinations. In other words, just like episode 24 mentioned above, we have found ourselves on a planet where people do not age, but are instead protected by some outside force. Star Trek, then, has actually written a number of episodes exploring this idea of paradise--a place where we seem to have everything we need to survive, and that is beautiful, but ultimately turns out to be limiting in some way that humans "should" expect to surpass. (McCoy is usually the voice of "rights discourse" in these situations--the one to point out that their freedom is being kept from them. In this way, McCoy seems to be the modern day liberal character on board the Enterprise.)

After realizing that the local inhabitants are ageless, Spock confirms that the atmosphere of the planet entirely negates the possibilities of any harmful effects on the local people. Soon, after the crew's introduction to the village, the locals enter Vol's snake mouth, apparently giving food offerings to the inside him. This leads Spock to confirm through his studies that there is no living being within the snake's mouth, and yet, whatever it is it needs to eat, and seems to need the power of the ship too.

Episode Tidbits
We get to see Chekov expressing love interest for a new female yoeman in this episode. They actually kiss and make out in the woods of the paradise planet. There is no Sulu, evil or otherwise, in this episode, which is disappointing considering his dramatically anti-good, sexually potent performance in the last episode.

Chekov's enthusiasm is the driving source of virility here, and serves as a counter point to the asexuality of the planet's inhabitants. The planet dwellers claim to have no sexual activity of any kind, and ultimately the episode actually asks a question as plain as: how does sex happen in a culture where sex never happens? In other words, according to this episode meeting a sexless culture in a world full of attractive, ageless people is unimaginable. We discover, however, that Vol has forbidden "the touching, the holding." But, later, Chekov, and the female yoeman, Martha, exhibit "the touching, the holding" off in the woods thinking they are on their own. It turns out though that some of the planet's hippy locals see what Chekov and Martha are doing and start to feel confused about the motives behind such activity. "What is to be gained? It is not a dance. It does not gather food. It does not serve Vol. But it did seem as though it was pleasant to them," one of the local men asks. Then, suddenly, the hippy planet dwellers discover the power of free love, just like Americans did only a few years prior to the release of the episode "The Apple." Oh! to revisit the 60's in a papier mache snake head controlled planet!

In his people's discovery of free love, Vol grows angry, threatening to eradicate the strangers as a result. They are dangerous, Vol says. The strangers, as we know, are the away team from the Enterprise. Our crew, then, we discover, invites danger into their lives through the power of sex.

It's an old story--there are two things that can mess up our lives--sex, and violence. According to Vol, however, sex is apparently the worse of the two. When sex is introduced, Vol demands violent death in response. "The Apple" then takes up classic American morality and illustrates it explicitly. That is, violence is the safer activity when forced to choose between it and sex. An interesting moral choice when you start to think about the values it implies--the loss of life, or serious harm of it, is preferable to that of physical exchange and pleasure through sex. An odd choice when considered in that way, but a choice Star Trek enforces through the planet of Vol. Such an episode is not surprising when considering that the hippy free love "movement" really was in full force around the same time the episode was released. NBC's small attempt to fight the power of sex in America.

Episode Quotations
"Chekov! I understand you two find each other fascinating. But we are not here to conduct a field experiment in human biology!" --Kirk

"Doctor, you insist on applying human standards to non-human cultures. I remind you that humans are only a tiny minority in this galaxy." --Spock "There are certain absolutes, Mister Spock, and one of them is the right of humanoids to a free and unchained environment, the right to have conditions which permit growth." --McCoy "Another is the right to choose a system which seems to work for them." --Spock ... "This isn't life. This is stagnation." --McCoy ... "Gentlemen, I think this philosophical discussion can wait until after our ship is out of danger." --Kirk

"Second degree burns. Not dangerous. But I bet they smart." --McCoy examining Spock's back after he is struck by lightning. "Doctor, you have an unsurpassed talent for under statement." --Spock

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The 10 Year Old Perspective: South Park vs Star Trek

Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror Assessment:

Evil Spock really has a little bit of good on his inside, and I really enjoyed it.

Episode Summary:
The show starts out with Dr. McCoy, Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Uhura on a channel asking for some sort of diamonds, and there is an ion storm and so they have to go and the people won't give them the diamonds, and so they call to beam up, and they're in position and everything, and they beam, and they have hold of the people of them, but during the time when they're blasting up an ion crashes into the ship and makes it so they don't end up in their world, or universe as you may say, they end up in a parallel universe where there is an evil Spock and all the other characters are there and everybody has these guards and stuff and secretly McCoy, Kirk, Scotty, and Uhura are making it so they can get back to their parallel world but Mr. Spock can read minds and he reads Dr. McCoy's mind and finds out that they are good and so he helps them get back to their parallel universe and they get back and both universes are fine.

Good Uhura confronting Evil Sulu

South Park Assessment:
South Park "Spooky Fish" was strange and I did not enjoy it as much as I did the Star Trek.

Episode Summary:
Stanley got an evil fish that was killing people and his mother thought it was him and so he tries to bring the fish back but the guy at the pet store pretty much won't let him because it will be the 9th return that week and they find out that he has a parallel universe to an evil world and there is a Cartman, a good one, that ended up being in the evil world, and a bad one that was in the good world, and there his parallel people come to try and get him but with this gun that will bring him to their parallel universe but before they can get him back the good ones get the gun and shoot the two which shrink and go back into their parallel universe then try to shoot their Cartman into the parallel universe but rips off the other Cartman's beard so they can't tell and says you better just destroy us both for the sake of the world and so shoots the other one which actually turned out to be the good one and that Cartman had just done it to make it so that he would get to stay in the universe.

Stanley's Evil and Linguistically Capable Fish

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

South Park Interlude

South Park: Season 2: Episode 15: Spooky Fish

South Park is of course known for its thoroughly offensive appropriations of pop-culture elements. The creators of the series are not afraid to borrow, riff on, steal, damage, insult, or prank from any commonly known reference. It's no surprise, then, that they would create an entire episode paralleling a Star Trek episode about a parallel universe.

"Evil" Cartman from the Parallel Universe

Episode Summary
"Spooky Fish" appears as the Halloween Special for the series Season 2. The episode opens with the kids school bus running over Predator. Cartmen, then appears way too polite, and with a goatee. Confused, his friends realize they are in some creepy, alternate universe in which everyone is nice to them. Stanley travels home to find there is a goldfish waiting for him as a gift. Something is totally spooky. Suddenly, Cartmen appears again, this time acting utterly jerky, as usual. Stanley attempts to sleep as a lightning storm goes on outside.

As the lightning flashes on and off, we see Cartmen's persona continually switching back and forth--polite and goateed, rude and hairless. Everyone in town is confused by Cartmen's behavior. In the midst of the lightning storm we begin to see the fish is actually a murdering aquatic vertebrate. Clearly.

South Park Parallels
The parallel of the South Park episode rest in the Cartman character. The humor is, of course, found in that Cartman is a complete jerk in regular South Park, and so in the parallel situation, Cartman must be nice. You've gotta love that nice Cartman is the one with the goatee--but that normal South Park can't help but regard everything from the alternate universe as absolutely evil. Spock, of course, is wonderful in both universes in the "Mirror, Mirror" episode.

"Spooky Fish" also riffs on the movie Pet Semetary by explaining the evil murdering fish as originating from a dead pet burial ground.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Evil and the Demands of Another Universe

TOS: Episode 33: Mirror, Mirror

Our episode opens with the crew meeting with aliens in a distant galaxy discussing the possibility of mining dilithium crystals from their planet. The counsel of the planet has declined stating they would rather face the possibility of their own race dying out, then to go against their policy of supporting peaceful activities. Though the alien counsel admits Star Fleet is peaceful now, the dilithium crystals represent awesome, potentially destructive powers that could be used to harm others. The counsel is unwilling to allow the possibility that their crystal could be used for war. What a Camusian species!

Episode Summary
While Kirk and the crew are on the planet a magnetic storm surrounds the planet. They communicate with Spock and he tells them there is just enough time to beam aboard the away team. In the midst of the transportation process a mishap occurs and the away team is beamed into a parallel universe. A parallel universe with hot hot evil Spock. Oh Spock! To think, you exist (fictionally) in multiple universes, expressing, through the culmination of each, the beautiful range of wonderous possibilities that is you.

Hot Hot Evil Spock

Unfortunately, being hot hot evil Spock includes relentlessly punishing your inferior personnel with a small device called "an agonizer." It turns out each crew member carries one so that officers may punish them with it when the crew member fails to perform up to evil-universe standards.

The four members of the away team find they are in an altered universe, on an altered Enterprise close to their own, but importantly different. It appears the four of them have switched places with their counterparts, who must be on the Enterprise we're used to. As a result, Uhura, Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty (the away team) must pretend to be the versions of themselves that would appropriately belong with this parallel locale.

Kirk stalls for time by making contact with the leader of the alien counsel and demanding them to comply or be annihilated. The leader of the alien race replies that they have no choice to comply, because they must operate based on an ethical demand--preserve peace. They would die to preserve who they are, rather than stay alive and break their ethical commitments.

Kirk is attacked by Chekov who tries to assasinate him in order to move up in rank. Kirk then discovers that he became captain of the Enterprise in the parallel universe by killing Captain Pike (the captain we met in the original pilot, and then later again in "The Menagerie"). The away team must, then, find their way back to their own universe, and survive within the new one, while worrying about what their counterparts must be doing aboard their original Enterprise.

Episode Tidbits
Sulu is the most convincing evil evil character in this episode. Dear Spock is not even evil in the evil evil universe. He's still wonderfully Vulcan, just also meeting the demands of the social circumstances of the universe they are operating within.

"Mirror, Mirror" has us explore the way in which historical conditions shape both social dynamics, and personal behavior. The three are utterly intertwined, according to "Mirror, Mirror." That is, who we are, and how we operate with each other is largely shaped by the historical circumstances in which we have been placed. To put it another way, what we see through Episode 33 is the way in which we can't help but face the demands of the time, place, and culture in which we are raised, and also live. "Mirror, Mirror" forces us to accept that what is ethical cannot be abstracted away from the lived reality of our daily lives.

Episode Quotations
"Mister Spock, in every revolution, there is one man with a vision." --Kirk

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mind Melds and Perfection

TOS: Episode 32: The Changeling

We open the episode with more than 4 billion people entirely missing from the sector the Enterprise is searching. There is no substantial evidence pointing to any known explanation for the absence of life. Our mystery begins.

Episode Summary
Almost immediately the crew finds themselves under attack from a mystery energy source from an unknown, unseen enemy. The force of the energy is so great the Enterprise would not survive more than a few hits, and the speed of the attacks is so great, there is no way to outrun them. They fire on the unknown target only to discover that it absorbed the energy of the torpedo, without any damage whatsoever. Kirk takes the next step and hails the unidentified vessel.

Spock discovers the unidentified vessel to be less than a meter in length. After extensive communication attempts, the crew discovers the alien aboard the vessel to be one that communicates mathematically via binary. They are able to match English to binary communication to help the machine communicate with them via English. Shortly after the alien agrees to transport aboard the Enterprise. Scotty, Spock, McCoy, and Kirk rush to the transportation room to greet it, only to discover what appears to be a highly sophisticated machine.

Kirk interacting with Nomad

The machine introduces itself as Nomad. Looking through the Enterprise's history data banks, Spock determines that Nomad is a probe that was sent out from Earth decades previous on a peaceful exploration mission to search for new life forms. On Earth Nomad was believed destroyed when hit by an asteroid. It appears, however, that somehow after being damaged by the collision, Nomad was repaired and relies on its limited, and corrupted memory banks for operation. As a result, Nomad has taken a new mission, to search for perfect life forms (perfection being measured by its own logical demands), and destroy any less than perfect life forms as a type of parasitic infestation.

Kirk realizes he has brought aboard the ship a mechanism that must eventually destroy them all. Soon after both Uhura and Scotty are attacked. Our chief Engineer is killed, and Uhura is left without brain damage, but with total memory erasure.

Episode Tidbits
Uhura's singing, which we haven't heard much of since early in the first season, gets the crew into trouble. Nomad is attracted by the sound of her song, since music is something Nomad is unfamiliar with. When Nomad asks Uhura to explain what music is, she does so in a way that is of course illogical. Nomad zaps her brain, and then kills Scotty as he tries to stop Nomad from the scan. Believing Kirk to be his creator, however, Nomad offers to repair Scotty, and inexplicably brings him back to life. We discover, however, that the machine is unable to repair his damage to Uhura. Her memory banks have been wiped clean. Instead, Uhura must be entirely reeducated. Nurse Chapel becomes her teacher. As we watch Uhura's reeducation, however, it is only English that has been lost from Uhura's memory. She often reverts to speaking in Swahili. According to this episode, it would seem 'primitive' languages do not get recorded in the same memory banks English does.

"The Changeling" presents itself as the prototype episode for what later becomes the first Star Trek movie. There, of course, VYGR originates as the Voyager probe that was launched from Earth in the 1980's but having traveled far past the edges of our galaxy, and encountered other life forms that add to its structure, it appears as a very different entity than it did originally. In "The Changeling" Nomad appears similar in structure to how it did at launch, but now understands its programming very differently. In "The Changeling" Nomad is not searching to resolve its lonliness as we will later see VYGR struggling to do. But the idea for such a possibility is latent in this episode. Kirk repeatedly refers to the probe thinking of Kirk as its mother. So, while Nomad in no way behaves emotionally, Kirk speaks of it as though it wants a familial relation. The VYGR situation would seem to be a simple expansion of this idea.

Awesomely, Spock mindmelds with the machine to the high drama of stringed background music. In the mindmeld, Spock encounters incredible knowledge and depth within the machine, but then becomes locked into the binary thinking cycle. Kirk is able to break the cycle Spock is stuck in and discover the history of the probe from Spock's experience. What we hear is that Nomad was severely damaged deep in space, but encountered an alien probe that had repair powers. The two combined and became a new probe form with incredible power, and the inclination to destroy any life form less than perfect.

Episode Quotations
"Intelligence does not necessarily require bulk, Mister Scott." --Spock

"It will find the Earth infested with imperfect biological units." --Spock "And it will carry out its prime directive--to sterilize." --Kirk

"Your logic is impeccable, Captain. We are in grave danger." --Spock

"My congratulations, Captain, a dazzling display of logic." --Spock "You didn't think I had it in me, did you, Spock." --Kirk "No, Captain." --Spock

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Inspiration and the Denial of Love

TOS: Episode 31: Who Mourns for Adonais

Episode Summary
The crew is surveying an area of the universe that, strangely, shows no intelligent life of any kind in standard scans. It goes against statistical norms, we are told. A giant glowing green field of energy suddenly appears out of no where, just as the crew has become comfortable with there being no real life in the are. The energy is in the shape of a giant hand that wraps itself around the Enterprise, and holds on.

Hand in Space! Hand in Space! Oh my dear lord Apollo god, Hand in Space!

Though the crew tries everything it can to repel the hand, it remains unaffected. Finally, the hand in space transforms into the image of a giant face speaking to them, calling them his beloved children, and congratulating them for making it into space. The apparition announces he will not release them, and instead they will share sacramental wine together. He begins referencing the ancient Greek heros, finally announcing himself to be Apollo and demanding that Kirk beam down to a planet with all his officers but Spock.

The crew travels to the planet, believing themselves to have no choice but to obey. Leaving Spock behind, Kirk tells Spock that he is the best man to find the answers. A new female officer, Carolyn, travels to the planet, as well as a new lieutenant with long man-hair, and a heavy accent. Soon after landing, Apollo announces he will take the female lietenant as his bride. The crew attacks, but Apollo drives them off with electrical bolts, then disappears. The crew begins searching for the source of power that allows him to deliver such illusions.

Apollo Enlarges Himself to Show His Power

Episode Tidbits
We are introduced here, for the first time, to Chekov, who announces himself to be only 22. He appears as a long haired dramatic helmsman with a heavy accent, declaring for us the obvious strangeness of a green hand in space. In case it wasn't obvious enough that being held by a giant energy appendage is a highly serious situation, just make sure a man with a heavy accent announces it for us. Chekov to the job! On the planet surface Chekov proves a pleasant diversion with his accidental irreverance.

With this episode Star Trek asks us to consider that those we call gods are simply those with "a bag of tricks", as Kirk puts it. That is, that the Greek gods were likely only aliens space travelers landed on earth demanding to be worshipped, and those with less technology had no choice but to believe them holy. The mix of science fiction and ancient Greek lore is amusing, but otherwise the idea of gods only being our own projection is an old consideration that thinkers before have asked us to reflect on before--that we could be fooled into believing a mere man (or finite creature) to be a god when they have no unlimited power after all. In this sense the episode has only limited interest.

More obvious, in this episode, is the reduction of a woman to a mere object of beauty to be wanted for her delicacy, to be protected by those that would win her. The woman in this episode is lured in too by her being worshipped in such a manner. Lured in, she also uses Apollo's appreciation of her to gather information about him. But in this episode even with the idea that a woman is meant ultimately to be loved by a man for her beauty, we see that a Star Fleet woman is bound by duty. Carolyn loves her Greek ruler, but denies her own heart for the sake of her duty to the crew. Star Trek would then have us deny the needs of our own feelings in exchange for the obligations of our work.

By the end of the episode, though we have been taught to see that even our gods are only extended versions of ourselves--that is, also limited beings but with a little more ability than we have ourselves--we are also taught that our gods are great sources of inspiration. Though we should not trick ourselves into thinking that the gods are omnipotent, we might remember that our own dreams for them push forward our dreams for ourselves. In considering the demands of genuine obligation, and the potential inspiration of the gods, we are taught that our only true duty is to the to the one thing that is truly ours--humanity.

Episode Highlights
This episode offers the most wonderfully dramatic set shakes seen so far. That is, the crew does a wonderful job at throwing themselves about the set of the ship.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fan Art of Vulcan Feeling

Fan made poster for Episode 30: Amok Time
image from flickr

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friendship and Fighting

TOS: Episode 30: Amok Time
(Start of Season 2)

As though the stress we suffered on Spock's behalf in Episode 29 wasn't enough, we enter Season 2 of The Original Series watching Spock struggle to retain control over his emotions. The end of Season 1, Episode 29, also invited us to consider, though there briefly, what it would be like to watch best friend's fight. Our Star Trek staff pushes us now to suffer the strain of our beloved Spock losing control, and to face the ultimate risk--best friend's fighting to the death.

Episode Summary
The episode opens with Spock clearly struggling to keep himself together. He turns to the captain and requests a leave of absence to return to Vulcan, his home planet. Kirk asks Spock to explain his reasons. Instead, Spock only answers that there are some events Vulcans cannot speak about. As a result, Kirk declines. Spock emphasizes again his absolute need for the leave. Again, without adequate explanation from Spock, Kirk declines.

Soon after Spock has a violent outburst. After a medical examination, McCoy declares that Spock's life is at stake. If he does not return to Vulcan within 8 days, he will die. Hearing there is nothing McCoy can do, Kirk diverts the ship to Vulcan. But immediately following he is told by Star Fleet that they're needed at the inauguration ceremony of the new president for another planet in the area. Kirk decides they have enough time to do both, and Spock's health is worth the risk of demotion. Again, the deepening of Kirk's feelings as shown at the end of the previous season has been confirmed.

Soon after arriving on Vulcan, Spock turns to Kirk and McCoy and explains that he has entered a phase that Vulcans go through unavoidably every 7 years. Telling them that he can bring his two closest friends, Spock asks Kirk and McCoy to face the trial with him. We discover, that the difficulty Spock must face is a return to both his biology and his betrothal. That is, he must return to mate with the woman he has been committed to since the age of 7. We discover, then, too that even in the midst of his antagonism with McCoy, in actuality the two do consider each other friends.

Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, then, go together to the sacred site on Vulcan where a betrothed couple are to reunite. Shortly after arriving though Spock's wife, T'Pring, invokes her right to call a challenge for her hand. She asks Spock to fight a man of her choosing. He is bound by duty, and so agrees, though the fight must be to the death. T'Pring then chooses Kirk.

McCoy and Kirk are horrified. It is clear that Spock is physically stronger, not to mention more passionately driven by circumstance, and so will no doubt beat Kirk. But because they have attended as Spock's companions to the ceremony, Kirk is bound by duty too. He agrees to fight, hoping one of them will solve the problem so that both Kirk and Spock can escape with their lives.

Kirk and Spock fight.

Episode Tidbits
Oh dear lord! The drama! Either we lose Kirk, or we lose Spock. How could either be acceptable?

Even more dramatically, our dear Spock reveals his vulnerabilities. Even a man approaching such perfection is utterly weak in the face of his own biology. Our dear Spock reminds us that reason will not save us. We are beholden to the demands of our bodies. This episode also allows Spock to show us the importance of friendship. At the end Spock believes himself to have killed Kirk and is horrified at his own actions, even if he was under the power of his Vulcan lust. In the end when we discover Kirk to be saved (of course Kirk is saved--the how I'll leave you to discover while watching the episode), we receive a full-hearted, dramatic smile from Spock. Friendship is important enough to push him into genuine feeling beyond his commitment to logical self-control.

The importance of friendship is also emphasized through the political explorations of the episode. Though Kirk's refusal to simply follow Star Fleet orders means he could face punishment for his actions, in the end his commitment to Spock is the very thing that saves him from such response.

This is the first episode that brings us to the planet Vulcan. It is also the only episode in The Original Series in which we travel to Vulcan. We don't see the planet again until Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Beautiful Spock embracing his best friend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The 10 Year Old Perspective: Operation: Annihilate!

TOS: Episode 29: Operation: Annihilate!

I really enjoyed it, and I would definitely watch it again. All done.

Neural Rays and Nurse Chapel

TOS: Episode 29: Operation: Annihilate!

We open this episode to discover a straight-line of mass insanity from planet to planet through space. The Enterprise is in pursuit of a ship flying right into the heart of the local sun. The crew had been hoping to arrive at the next planet inline for insanity before the condition took hold, but instead discover that the flier of the sun-chasing ship (a) came from Deneva, the planet next in line for going crazy, and (b) headed into the sun on purpose. Surely such a situation bodes poorly for the Denevian condition. Even better, we then hear that Kirk's brother, Sam, and his family are stationed on Deneva too.

Episode Summary
Jim's own family, who we have not heard of prior to this episode, are stationed on what is considered to be one of the most beautiful planet's in its galaxy. His brother is there as a research biologist. Jim and his away team beam to the surface only to discover that the inhabitants of the planet have confined themselves indoors. Shortly after arrival, a small group of men approach screaming for the away team to stay away, saying "we don't want to hurt you," and yet the men approach threatening with clubs. The team stuns the men, and McCoy scans them discovering an unusually high level of activity in their nervous systems, as if they are being violently stimulating even while unconscious. Immediately following we hear a woman screaming, and discover Jim's brother, Sam, dead, and his son and wife unconscious, though still alive. Jim beams aboard with McCoy, and Sam's unconscious family, leaving Spock in charge of the away team. On board the Enterprise the family turns out to be in extreme pain, and the crew is left unaware of the cause. Jim turns to Sam's wife to ask for information. She reports that "things" traveled to the planet eight months before causing the problems. She begins screaming again.

"When she answers questions, any questions, it's as if she's fighting to get the answers out. As if something is causing her pain." McCoy explains. Sam's wife continues to answer questions even in the midst of her struggle, until all her life signs stop, and she dies, there in Kirk's arms.

From Sam's wife, we hear that something is forcing people to serve as their arms and legs, to build ships and transport them through space. All we know is that it is some kind of creature, willing to kill to get its way.

The Away Team Discovers the Farting, Buzzing Rays

The crew pursues a strange buzzing sound, only to discover a slimey, farting, flying, ray-like animal. They fire. The creature is left unharmed, and Spock explains, that the thing is life unlike anything they have known before. Shortly after, Spock is landed on by one of the creatures, and though Kirk removes it from him, it leaves a puncture wound on his back, causing Spock to behave strangely. During surgical exploration McCoy discovers that a stinger has been left in Spock's back from which tentacles have grow all over Spock's nervous system. Spock wakes, in a violent state from severe pain, fighting against what the creature would make him do.

Eventually, we discover that the strange ray-like creatures are single cells of a vastly connected brain creature operating without physical connection to each other. The fact that the rays are interconnected in some fashion is meant to explain why the are unaffected by outside attack. How to destroy them remains a mystery.

Episode Tidbits
Spock is the sweetest character of all time. This episode only reinforces the sincere loving admiration I cannot help but have for him. Though all evidence shows Spock to be in almost unbearable pain, being pressured by the creature inside his body to take over the Enterprise, he still asserts "I have my own will" and so proves his own conviction to be greater than that of the pain being caused him.

It occurs to me that my ever increasing love of Spock reveals my overly Kantian ethical commitments. Kant describes a pure form of morality as a kind of perfectionist ideal in which we overcome our animalistic inclinations, or subjective interests, for the sake of following the moral law itself. Kant is often criticized as offering too high a standard, and so treating the moral life as an ultimately unhuman one. We could take Spock to represent such a high ideal too. I think this is a misunderstanding of Kant's own project, however. Not to mention Spock's ultimate character. Though Kant's earliest works on moral philosophy do read in terms of this perfectionist standard, he also described the point of these texts as only the early portions of his overall moral project--the later parts of which were to ground the demands of moral law in the life of real human beings through a kind of moral anthropology. Kant in other words, did not intend that we should imagine human life to be so devoid of reality, simply that if we could abstract to what might allow us to understand a moral demand at all, we would recognize a kind of pure moral law that we cannot help but feel beholden too. Spock would seem to illustrate the kind of demand Kant points to here. There is a sense in which Spock's dedication to logic would often seem both inexplicable, and yet make sense at the same time. That is, it would surely be "easier", in one sense, for Spock to do otherwise, but he cannot help but feel the demands logic-making places on him. In this way, Spock, I think, serves as a beautiful example of someone facing the high demands of Kantian perfectionism, while also integrating that perfectionism into a developing, thoroughly lived life.

The worry I would have in my loving obsession with Spock is that it could show itself as too strong an attachment to the perfectionist side of Kant's moral philosophy. My love of Spock though comes not only from his incredible ability to assert his "own will", as he put it, in the face of genuinely human/animalistic struggles such as pain, temptation, and even pleasure, but also because of the way he develops and refines himself over the course of his life. It is older Spock, in all his handsome glory, that calls forth my greatest love. Towards the end of his life Spock shows not only the incredible self-control he's always had, but also a great sensitivity to others feelings and needs, the ability to express that sensitivity through a sophisticated compassion, and a great appreciation for the value of life. Spock, then, ultimately represents a shift from simple Kantian perfectionism, to a thorough intergration of that high level demand with the long term, lived reality of Aristotelian virtue ethics. To put Aristotelian virtue ethics simply: the standard we face to be good is not in perfection, but instead in careful, moment by moment consideration of the best choice we can make, the best thing we can do, based on who we are, within whatever situation we may face. Best in such a context would have to be understood as housed, absolutely, in what we are able to do, what we are able to think through and decide. In this way, virtue must be understood as in relation to who we actually are, not in relation to some external standard we couldn't possibly meet. Spock shows how we may improve our perfectionist drives by striving for long term, and continual care of who we are, and how we behave in relation to others, and in relation to the circumstances we find ourselves within.

Perhaps, more interestingly, Episode 29 showcases an excellent fight scene between Kirk and Spock. As the final episode of Season 1, we get to see Kirk and Spock fight each other for the first time. The excitement of this fight comes from us seeing most clearly too in this episode how strong the feeling and commitment they share for each other really turns out to be. With Spock almost incapacitated, it is clear how dearly Kirk loves him. The fight, and its accompanying friend-love, we see in this episode is surely the very thing that encourages what comes at the beginning of Season 2, in Episode 30--the fight to the death that Spock and Kirk engage in on planet Vulcan.

"Operation: Annihilate!" also showcases a greater complexity of our main characters. Spock shows a great strength of character, as well as the facing of his own limitations more readily than ever before. McCoy shows his own pain in the face of radical failure, when he believes himself to have damaged his fellow officer. And Kirk struggles over the loss of his family, and the potential loss of one of his best friends. After a half-season absence, Nurse Chapel, long affectionate towards Spock, returns too to suffer along side the man she can't help but love, as he deals with his own ultimate pain and limitation.

The lovely Nurse Chapel

As a happy side note: I'm convinced that Spock was Gene Roddenberry's favorite character too. As many of us know, Nurse Chapel is played by Majel Barrett, the wife of Roddenberry himself. Her character is written with a great softness towards Spock, in a way no other character shows to him. She would love him, if he would let her. I believe that in knowing the beauty of the love Roddenberry's own wife could offer someone, he made sure she was the one put in the position to offer that love to his own favorite character--Spock--because he knew no one besides Spock could be more deserving. The one deserving of such tenderness, for Roddenberry, is only the one that can be so incredibly good as Spock.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sabrina 10 Years Old

Congratulations are in order to Sabrina 10 years old, whose sign on name has changed by one digit. Why? Because she's not 9 years old anymore. Sabrina 9 years old had a birthday, and so now logs in and reports as Sabrina 10 years old.

From what I can tell, her brevity and charm are consistent, however, with her lovely 9 year old self.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lost Love and the Mutable Past

TOS: Episode 28: The City on the Edge of Forever

Episode 28 stands as what many people consider the best Star Trek episode ever written and produced. Interestingly, it carries with it a complicated production history. That is, Harlan Ellison, the original writer, dictated what was considered by Gene Roddenberry to be a brilliant story. Unfortunately, it didn't fit the Star Trek form, and so Roddenberry rewrote the story and produced it based on the new version. Ellison was displeased. He shortly after submitted his own original script for consideration and won the Writer's Guild award for outstanding teleplay of 1967-8. Roddenberry's reworking of the story won the 1968 International Hugo Science Fiction award. More recently, the episode has also been regarded one of the top 100 television moments ever produced.

"The City on the Edge of Forever" offers a number of exciting elements. First of all, we get our first full view of Kirk genuinely vulnerable to love. Though he's shown strong interest in women in previous episodes, Episode 28 will show us a new Kirk. Secondly, we have launched fully into a genuine sci-fi exploration. Star Trek has come to understand itself more completely, now almost at the end of season 1, and so episodes are framed in genuine speculative circumstances. In "City" we find ourselves, once again, dealing with the complexities of space-time, alternate realities, and too the possibilities of utterly changing history. Finally, the irreplaceable Joan Collins of Dynasty fame, among other things, guest stars, early in her television career, as our fair love interest. Beautiful!

Episode Summary
As the episode opens the ship is exploring unexplained temporal disturbances, that is, ripples in time. Sulu is hurt during a consol explosion, and McCoy rushes to the bridge to treat him. In the midst of a temporal disturbance (ship shake) McCoy accidentally overdoses himself with a medication that serves as a maddening intoxicant at such dosages. Rushing off, McCoy beams himself down to the planet below. Following him, Kirk and Spock arrive on the planet with an away team, discovering a flashing, talking ring, that turns out to be the cause of the time ripples. The ring speaks to Kirk, introducing itself as The Guardian of Forever. McCoy runs into the ring, and the Guardian announces, shortly after, that in doing so McCoy has arrived on earth, and radically changed human history. Kirk and Spock are forced to follow with the hope of correcting the error.

Arriving in the past, Kirk and Spock find themselves in the Great Depression of the 1930's. Overcoming the problems of their out of place costumes through theft and lying, Kirk and Spock accidentally meet Edith, a social worker played by Joan Collins. Almost immediately, Kirk is struck by feeling for her. Edith shows herself as a charismatic, and positive thinker, with a great vision of the future. Kirk is moved by her views, and her demeanor, and falls deeply in love. In the meantime, Spock determines a way to sort out what detail McCoy changed in the past, though it will take time. Waiting for McCoy to arrive on the one hand, and Spock to determine the change on the other, Kirk has ample time to spend with his new love.

Episode Tidbits
With the popularity of the episode, I can admit to some of the plot points that drive the poignancy of it. It really is a dear love story. Joan Collins has a beautiful, and charming determination in her characterization of Edith that pulls the story along. Kirk's feeling for Edith softens his character too. The episode differs aesthetically from previous ones. It is told with the help of dramatic stringed music, unlike that used in any other Star Trek episode previous. It depends too, on character exploration--McCoy in his madness, Kirk in his affection, Spock in his steely determination to succeed.

The unfortunate truth of this episode is that Kirk must choose between the loss of his heart's desire, or the loss of all history and the universe as he's known it. In Ellison's original teleplay, Kirk was unable to choose at the expense of his own heart. Spock instead made the decision for him. In the retelling, Kirk does choose, and decides that sticking to history as it had occurred before McCoy's intervention is what must be done. Roddenberry decided that the collapse of Kirk into his own ultimate vulnerability of being in love, at the expense of the universe itself, would contradict the forthright dedication to larger principles that Kirk has always shown. Further, Roddenberry also thought that such an event would undermine the audience's trust in our captain.

The moment when Kirk chooses is heart breaking. The episode does well at making us sympathetic to Kirk's own feeling. William Shatner acts the part convincingly, most especially at the end when he is facing his own loss.

This episode really deserves its regard as the best Star Trek episode ever written. I know Next Generation devotees that will try to disagree with me, perhaps. I'll certainly include Picard's experiences in "The Inner Light", Episode 125 of that series, in which he encounters a space probe that 'transports' him to another life complete with family, as at the top of that list as well.

Be careful with how you watch "The City at the Edge of Forever." This is no Star Trek Drinking Game.

Comment from Harlan Ellison during a 1990's interview on His View of The Import of the Episode:
"The human heart will always win out over logic. There is a nobility in the human heart, that we have to pay attention to. It's exactly what separates us from everything else that exists in this universe. Time and gravity take their toll. But kindness, courage, ethics, friendship, and love will always yank you through one way or the other."

Episode Quotations
"In this zinc-plated, vacuum tubed culture?" --Spock describing the earth's past

"A lie is a very poor way to say hello." --Edith (Joan Collins), upon meeting Kirk and Spock for the first time

"I don't pretend to tell you how to find happiness and love, when everyday is just a struggle to survive. But I demand that you do survive. Because the days and years ahead are worth living for." --Edith, speaking to the people she feeds in her social efforts

"I find her most uncommon, Mister Spock." --Kirks expression of his feeling for Edith