TOS: Episode 47: The Immunity Syndrome
Our episode begins with an exhausted crew on its way to a planet for rest. In fact, the makeup technicians for our Star Trek franchise has done an exquisite job at making radical bags under the officers’ eyes, and bleaking out the skin quality of everyone as well.
As the Enterprise makes its way to their rest, they are instead called upon by a Starbase to investigate the state of the Intrepid, a Vulcan starship. Shortly after the call, Spock receives a painful psychic flash through which he becomes certain that the entire Intrepid and the star system it was traveling through has died. McCoy, of course, is skeptical and Spock is ordered for tests to sickbay. Who, after all, could know any psychic knowledge of entire star systems?
Spock departs with McCoy, and then our crew discovers they will not be taking a rest after all. Star Fleet has contacted our captain. James T. Kirk is forced to reroute to a near by star system to investigate what turns out to be a fully dead star, and the eradication of the Intrepid crew.
In the late 60’s, and throughout the 70’s, for those of you that didn’t know, discussions of the phenomenon ESP were hot in the United States. In this mild, popularized way the idea of having extra-sensory knowledge of events yet to come echoed out of fortune telling tents at public fairs, and into conversation as a phenomenon sometimes possible, experienced by members of the general public. Scientific studies to test how realistic such ideas might be were launched.
I remember my mother and her friends talking about it frequently, and as a young child there seemed, to me, the implication that it might really be possible. My mom isn’t one to easily go for slipshod ideas of the paranormal, but she had some inclinations to consider the possibility that some people really might know upcoming events in advance of their occurrence, and without direct physical evidence that would lead to such expectations.
In “The Immunity Syndrome” we see Spock enacting such possibilities. We have never before received any indications from the Star Trek universe that Vulcans may have ESP type abilities, even if they can mind-meld. Sharing direct encounter with another’s mind depends on physical contact for our beloved Spock. At the destruction of the Intrepid, however, Spock is nowhere near physical contact and yet feels the destruction of fellow members of his people.
During McCoy’s examination of Spock we discover that Spock has a deep understanding of how things happen to Vulcans, and so could feel the death screams of the 400 Vulcans aboard the Intrepid. Spock’s experience of feeling his fellow Vulcans leads to a harsh, and direct critique of human history.
We are told that the human heart has little ability to empathize with its neighbor, and as a result has little qualms with killing them, or with allowing many, from a distance, to die. Vulcans, on the other hand, have a great depth of feeling for the loss of their fellow kind.
As Spock returns to the bridge, he begins scanning areas of space surrounding the former location of the Intrepid. In so doing he discovers a dark cloud in space through which nothing can be seen. Further, the dark cloud happens to be in direct line with the projected line of travel for the now missing Intrepid ship. As the Enterprise launches a scanning probe into the dark cloud an incredible sound is heard throughout the bridge. Uhura then almost faints, and McCoy calls up to announce that half the ship’s crew did faint. McCoy is now forced to give them stimulants. Spock, however, is unable to provide any speculation or fact on the dark cloud. The crew is exhausted, and the computer has no information on the dark cloud phenomenon. The cloud is beyond all previous Star Fleet experience. The only thing that can be sorted out is that it is very possible that the dark cloud is what killed the solar system at the beginning of the episode.
Kirk decides the only thing to do is to travel the areas surrounding the dark cloud, and even to penetrate the cloud itself. In penetrating the dark area an incredible sound is released, causing the bridge officers to suffer strongly. However, once the ship is fully inside the cloud, the sound stops, and vision of all the stars that had once been present are now apparently gone. Still Spock has no information. In Engineering Scotty notifies the Captain that the ship lost a significant portion of power. McCoy lets us know too that 2/3 of the personnel is effected either via actual collapse, or exhaustion approaching it.
Frustrated, Kirk starts demanding his officers to answer questions though they have no information on what the crew or ship are suffering. Finally, Spock is able to explain that the ship has entered a strange area of space incompatible with the ship’s processes, and too with their bodily functions. McCoy demands that Kirk leave the area of space in order to focus on their possibility of survival. Kirk responds, however, that they have no mission to survive, they have a mission to investigate unknown phenomenon. The ship’s computers reveal that the ship’s crew is slowly dying. Still Kirk persists further, further into the zone of darkness.
The crew’s health is decreasing. The ship is functioning exactly backwards of how it is supposed to. They realize that the zone in space the Enterprise is within is drawing all their power, whether mechanical or biological. Finally, Spock announces that the zone the ship is within is a negative energy field but surrounding something else that is the source of the power drain. The zone would seem to only be an effect, rather than the cause of the problem. Kirk asks all to continue their research, and for Scotty to focus on getting the ship out of the zone of darkness.
Spock discusses the fate of the Intrepid with Kirk and reveals that working against their survival was a lack of collective memory of being conquered. Vulcan was never taken by another species, and as a result cannot conceive of the idea of being overcome by an external force. Spock claims, therefore, that the Intrepid died in astonishment, unable to logically face what was taking them over. The implication here is, of course, that humans have a greater capacity for facing the possibility of defeat in the face of a stronger enemy, and so then too to overcome it, simply because of a repeated history of being conquered.
The crew channels all available power into an attempt to escape the zone, but their attempt is ineffective. In exerting so much power the unknown power-sucking object reveals itself to the Enterprise. Spock cannot say what the object is, but he can confirm that the incredible, Technicolor fish-looking object is certainly the thing taking all their power. They launch another probe, this time succeeding in coming to know more about the power drain. They discover that the space object is not only absolutely enormous, but also living, filled with protoplasm, and covered in space debris. McCoy further studies the probe information and realizes that the several thousand mile wide protoplasm filled organism is actually a single-celled living organism, simpler than an amoeba.
McCoy, Spock, and Kirk begin an argument over the idea of entering the single cell, and each presents an argument for why he must be the one that goes inside the enormous cell to study it. Kirk agrees that someone must enter the cell, but he struggles over who will be the one. “Both are right, both are capable, and which of my friends do I condemn to death?”
In the meantime, the ship’s power levels reduce to below 50-percent. Spock is chosen to be the one to board the shuttle and enter the giant amoeba. In facing that he has not been chosen to board the shuttle, McCoy throws a fit, believing Spock to be in competition with him. He refuses to acknowledge Spock’s dignity to his face, but immediately upon the launch of the shuttle that will take Spock into the belly of protoplasm, McCoy reveals his emotional strain and care for the situation by wishing Spock luck, though Spock himself never hears it.
We watch as Spock slowly slowly enters the alien cell, sure never to return. Upon entering the alien, Spock is tossed about but is able to continue his tests, though apparently without enough power to return from the alien life form. Spock explores the murky pink ribbon-filled insides of the organism. Inside he discovers that the cell is apparently ready to split into two, and thereby reproduce. Immediately after sharing this information contact is lost with Spock. However, information from the shuttle deep inside the alien body begins to transmit. Spock is still alive.
On board the Enterprise, McCoy and Kirk understand that they must destroy the organism before it reproduces. On board the shuttle, Spock is looking more and more haggard, but he manages to send a low level message to the ship providing them with information about the cell body. The message makes clear that Spock knew how to destroy the cell, but the message stops before the information is delivered. It would seem that Spock has died.
Discussing their grief, Kirk and McCoy realize they can serve as antibodies to the cellular activity. With this in mind, Kirk decides to go ahead and enter the cell itself. Though it would seem a death sentence, the Enterprise is entering what would seem the end of their lives anyway, and so the risk seems worthwhile.
McCoy keeps sensing Spock’s presence, reliving the earlier references to ESP. Though McCoy is skeptical that his green-blooded colleague could really be alive, he keeps feeling as though he must be.
The ship enters the giant cell, and discovers only minimal damage from impact, though ship’s power is greatly reduced. Now inside the cell, Kirk announces they will release anti-matter into the protoplasm of the cell. They will shoot an anti-matter probe directly into the nucleus of the cell.
The episode flashes again to the shuttle where we see that Spock is still alive, as McCoy has sensed. Aboard the shuttle Spock is recording his final will and testament through which he bequeaths his highest accommodation to the entire Enterprise crew. Similarly, Kirk announces his recognitions of his officer staff, and highest accommodation to Spock.
The crew now plans to launch an antimatter probe directly into the nucleus. But then, to survive, the ship must release itself from cell membrane. In reversing itself the ship encounters the shuttle and Kirk demands a tractor beam on the shuttle, even though it will risk the ship’s escape. Spock demands the ship relinquish its attempt, but Kirk refuses. Still inside the cellular membrane, though near its outer limits, the probe explodes. The ship’s crew believes it will die, but after much camera and set shaking, complete with dramatic head waving by Captain Kirk, the stars have returned. The monstrous cell is dead. Spock is alive. And he and McCoy are back to giving each other hell.
Our crew, finally, is on its way to a nice period of rest, but not before Kirk flirts excessively with his short skirted crew members that he might gain his rest with.