Thursday, June 26, 2014

Star Trek 2x11 "Friday's Child"

rating: **
Memory Alpha summary

While hardly the most famous episode of the whole series, much less franchise (obscure would be a good word), this one's a quarter shy of being a hidden gem.  This is "Friday's Child" and features the return of the Klingons!

via Let's Watch Star Trek (yes please!)
This is the kind of story that typifies the mundane realities of the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire (and as such carries a story thread from "Journey to Babel" for being more of a Federation episode than Starfleet).  Like the Cold War between the United States and the U.S.S.R., often the real victims were the territories caught in the middle.

The story pivots less on the Klingons than the locals, and there are tons of later episodes throughout the franchise that feature similar conflicts.  In that regard, "Friday's Child" is again both fairly anonymous and also a precedent.

You don't have to go out of your way to catch this one, but it does offer dividends if you do.

four quarter analysis
franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Julie Newmar

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Star Trek 2x10 "Journey to Babel"

rating: ****

This is an episode with a number of lasting legacies.  One is the debut of Sarek, Spock's father (as well as his human mother Amanda).  The other is the expansion of the alien landscape with the introductions of both the Andorians and Tellarites.
via Trek TV Podcast
Often, the difference between an average episode and a standout one is the amount of thought put into it (okay, this is true of everything; the other relevant factor is execution, although that's pretty uniform in this series).  Three major elements tossed into a single episode is extremely rare.  Usually it's one gimmick apiece.  Except these particular elements aren't gimmicks at all (okay, so the Andorian [FIFTY YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT] is not an Andorian at all, but rather an Orion), especially Sarek.

Meeting Spock's dad and actively exploring their relationship is a huge deviation in storytelling for the series, one so notable that Sarek became a character of remarkable endurance, appearing in later movies (The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home) and series (an eponymous episode in Next Generation) that only strengthened his legacy and helped shaped a new incarnation with greater depth (Star Trek, which admittedly was partially drawn from the Animated Series episode "Yesteryear").

Expanding the idea of the Federation beyond humans and Vulcans at the same time was equally remarkable.  Despite the fact that both the Andorians and Tellarites had to wait until Enterprise to be revisited and expanded on, even merely their looks proved enduring (Tellarites, the "pig aliens" for obvious reasons, while Andorians kept popping up in the background for years).

four quarter analysis
franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Mark Lenard
Jane Wyatt

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Star Trek 2x9 "Metamorphosis"

rating: **
Memory Alpha summary

Hey!  So you know Zefram Cochrane, right?  The crazy dude from First Contact?  Turns out he was slightly less crazy in his debut, which is this episode!

People had a problem with Cochrane in the movie, actually, because it was such a departure from this appearance.  Of course, the movie makes a big deal of exploding the myth of the man.  If you still want to reconcile the two, you may still consider "Metamorphosis" a memorable episode.  As it stands now, it's about halfway to irrelevance.
via Zefram and Me. Sort of...reaching to the future!
via Mr. Comfy Pants. Not the statue.
The story of the episode is that after his historic accomplishment of creating warp drive for humanity, Cochrane went missing.  Basically he turned into something of an Amelia Earhart (who does receive a Star Trek moment in Voyager's "The 37s").  "Metamorphosis," then, is less about what he did and what became of him.  Like a lot of characters in the series, wacky alien experiences.  It's not completely wacky.  The older Cochrane from First Contact is compatible with this one, who in fact was aging when he disappeared, apparently finding a way to de-age (which is how we find him here).  One might argue that his interest in being young again is to have the ability to relive his prime years without all the mistakes he once made (which is to say, this is almost a prototype for the Next Generation episode "Tapestry").

Before First Contact, Cochrane was less well-known than another would-be Starfleet luminary introduced in the series, Richard Daystrom ("The Ultimate Computer," fifteen episodes later), founder of the later Daystrom Institute.  The existence of this episode becomes problematic for those who come to the franchise more familiar with the movie Cochrane (who later makes a cameo in the Enterprise premiere, "Broken Bow").  That's half of what I'm trying to address in these recaps.  Is it possible to approach episodes produced fifty years ago with the same integrity as fans who watched them when they first aired?  In some cases, yes.  In others, such as this one, probably not.  Different times, different expectations, different production values.  This is one of the episodes the straddles the line of relevance better than others, though.

four quarter analysis:
franchise * series * essential * character

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Star Trek 2x8 "I, Mudd"

rating: ***
Memory Alpha summary

There was a point when Harry Mudd would have been a defining character in Star Trek lore.  That point was lost some forty years ago, less if you're an inveterate fan of the original series and not the franchise as a whole.  Since I'm approaching the franchise as a whole, I'm assuming, and rightly so I think, that Harry's time really has passed.  "I, Mudd" may be his defining moment, if you care to have a look.

Unlike his previous appearance in "Mudd's Women," this one's a lot more about the character than the, ah, effect he has on people.  It was rare enough to have a sequel at this point in television, much less franchise, history.  To have one that delves more deeply into a guest character's life was rarer still.  That, in a nutshell, was the significance of Harry Mudd to that point.

I'm not arguing that the character no longer has any worth.  He has exactly the same amount as he always had, except now his legacy has been dwarfed by subsequent Star Trek history.  Khan leaped ahead of him.  He has no answer to the Borg.  Well, anyway.

"I, Mudd" is the one with all the android women.  Yes, Mr. Data in Next Generation is not unique.  The original series had a surprising number of androids.  The difference between them and Data is that the later was always considered (with an exclamation point in "The Measure of a Man") an autonomous individual capable of determining his own fate, considered in his own regard and not simply in relation to or as a pawn of others.

What Mudd does have in common with Data is a complicated relationship with family.  He hates his wife.  It might be said that his whole nefarious life is a reaction against her.  That's what this episode ultimately pivots on.

The most notable legacy of the episode, other than the defining Mudd moment, is that in some ways it's a prototype for "The Trouble with Tribbles" seven episodes later, complete with the humorously ironic ending (one might almost have imagined Cyrano Jones from "Tribbles" as having originally been penciled in as Mudd).  Taken in that context, "I, Mudd" is significant indeed.

via Subspace Communique.  Will the real Kirk please stand up?
The Animated Series episode "Mudd's Passion" features the character in this same outfit, by the way.

franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Roger C. Carmel

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Star Trek 2x7 "Catspaw"

rating: [no stars]
Memory Alpha summary

So, a Halloween episode (originally broadcast 10/27/1967).  Featuring the customary black cat.  Is there really anything else to say?  It's the rare episode I think you can just skip, and that's really all you need to know.
via Memory Alpha

A lot of the time when talking about an episode, I will reference other episodes that are similar.  The fact that there really isn't anything comparable (except "Qpid" from Next Generation that blatantly hopped on the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves bandwagon) isn't really the reason I think you can ignore it exists.  It has no real legacy for one.  That in itself is not a reason, either, although in terms of the original series, and an otherwise thoroughly remarkable second season (it should be noted that "Catspaw" was the first episode in production for the season, so technically this is Chekov's debut, which also explains why his wig is far more egregious than usual), this is a bad realization.

I mean, you could enjoy the episode all the same.  Perception is always in the eye of the beholder.  Especially for an episode like this (and this goes for the entirety of the Animated Series, too), the fact that this could easily be a personal discovery and therefore experience, could make it more valuable.

It's just, it has no impact.  And for a franchise, let alone a series, that's got to say something about its worth.  Sometimes the story itself is the impact.  But again, this one is thoroughly unremarkable, an unprofitable aberration, like something from a different series entirely.

Move along!

franchise * series * essential * character

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Star Trek Continues 1x3 "Fairest of Them All"

Below is the latest fan film I've watched (admittedly I haven't watch too many of them).  It's a direct sequel to "Mirror, Mirror," the first Mirror Universe episode, from the original series, later festooned with sequels in Deep Space Nine and Enterprise.  Also, this Kirk sounds a lot like Richard Dreyfuss.  Chris Doohan, son of the original Scotty, the late James Doohan, plays Scotty (he's also appeared briefly in both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Star Trek 2x6 "The Doomsday Machine"

rating: ****
Memory Alpha summary

"The Doomsday Machine," among other things, is one of the most famous examples of Starfleet Doesn't Have Better Officers Than Those Serving Aboard the Enterprise there is.  The Officer Who is Not as Good as Kirk this time is Matt Decker, who happens to also (possibly unofficially) happens to be the father of Will Decker from The Motion Picture.

via Howard Andrew Jones
The picture frozen in the video, and the guy who isn't Spock in the above picture, is Matt Decker.  Like a number of other Star Trek stories, it can be seen as a version of Melville's Moby-Dick, a tale of revenge against an enemy that will never really understand what's going on (see: "Obsession" seven episodes later, or Wrath of Khan or First Contact).  The eponymous device is far less impressive visually than the effect it has on (this) Decker, so if you're looking for the reason I'm listing this as a classic, look elsewhere.

"Doomsday Machine" has long been considered a standout episode, and it deserves such a distinction.  Even if it sounds (despite) like I've been mocking it so far, it's really a pretty good one.  Yes, No Other Officers in Starfleet Are As Awesome as Our Crew, but the fact that anyone else gets acknowledged at all is still a mark in the plus column for the series, helps flesh out the Star Trek universe beyond the characters we see every week.  Things happen to other people, too, basically.

Decker usurping command of the ship evokes the later awkward Jellico era in "Chain of Command" from Next Generation, as McCoy and Spock butt heads with him.    It's a way of exploring the dynamics of command without necessarily endangering anyone's reputation.  Decker will remain a more distinguished example over someone like Jellico because this is a personal story for him.  Had Kirk been the one going after the device, chances are it would have been a very different episode, so this is again (and this time phrased more positively) a case of exploring what a character isn't by what someone else does.  By the end of the episode, Kirk ends up vindicating Decker anyway, so there's also a little of everyone admitting that maybe the guy wasn't as unhinged as he seemed.  Later, when Kirk loses Spock (and then his son and then his ship, over the course of Khan and Search for Spock) we do get to experience what it'd be like from the other side.

franchise * series * essential * character

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Star Trek 2x5 "The Apple"

rating: *
via Danger Mouse

Memory Alpha summary

"The Apple" has the distinction of being the prototype for one of the series' favorite tropes: an alien culture that is controlled by forces it doesn't properly understand.  As in: if Kirk exposes this thing, the culture is freed from tyranny.  (It's a trope that recurs throughout the franchise but is best known as something that frequently occurs in the original series.)

And so it's one of those Violating the Prime Directive with Impunity episodes.  But we feel all warm and fuzzy about it because our familiar characters have been put in mortal peril because of the local lunatics.  The whole thing is actually Gene Roddenberry's critique of religion and/or Christianity (that's where the title comes from, which is a fairly presumptive way of saying that Kirk introduces true wisdom to the Garden of Eden; the devil we know, as it were).  It's a fairly well-known episode of the series, although not in the good way that a great number of second season entries are.

What's more significant about "The Apple" is that it's another prototype entirely: it's the secret origin of the Red Shirt Curse.  It may be worth noting that Kirk is actually pretty distraught over the alarming series of Red Shirt deaths ("Red Shirts" being the security officers, who wear red tunics, who routinely die on away missions).  John Scalzi's Redshirts is a whole book that looks at the phenomenon, won a Hugo and everything.

In that sense you could probably add the episode to a kind of list of essentials.  But only if you really want to.

franchise * series * essential * character

Friday, June 6, 2014

Star Trek 2x4 "Mirror, Mirror"

rating: ****
Memory Alpha summary

You mean besides the fact that there are seven sequels to it (five, starting with "Crossover," in Deep Space Nine and concluding with the two-part "In a Mirror, Darkly" from Enterprise), what makes this one a classic?  Evil Twin Spock's goatee became a whole standard for evil twins (in Futurama Flexo, for instance).  Is that good enough?

Fine.  Anyway, bottom line is "Mirror, Mirror" is one of those episodes that easily transcends anything else the series was doing at the time or ever did at all, even.  It was the second of a long series of such episodes from the second season, although it's among a small handful to be immediately identifiable (arguably "The Trouble with Tribbles" eleven episodes later is the leading contender for most iconic in this stretch).

It's not like the series hadn't done evil doppelgangers before, and would do so again, but never near to this effect.  This is also a case of embracing the concept of alternate realities.  Kirk and a few others (he's the only one that really matters in the episode, even though McCoy is in this group, surprisingly) have a transporter accident (another Star Trek trope this episode typifies) that lands them in what's since been deemed the Mirror Universe (after the episode's title), where the Federation doesn't exist.  In its place is the Terran Empire.  Both employ the services of Starfleet.  By necessity, everything else has developed the same except how people behave (or gain rank).

Oh!  And here is a good chance to remind you that Chekov has been a part of the show since the season premiere!  This is bad news for him in "Mirror, Mirror," however, because he gets stuck in the agony booth (which is exactly as it sounds).  Not such a (good) Russian epic this time around, Pavel.

Sulu and Uhura have bigger roles than usual, with Sulu coming out more favorably playing the most villainous person in the Mirror Universe (the only case of even a hint of the "evil Japanese" concept in the character's history, twenty years after WWII, thankfully).  It's odd that the only real sign of his career ambitions before Wrath of Khan Undiscovered Country comes this way, but at least it's there.

The episode features one of the more effective lectures from Kirk about his moral superiority (it's easier than usual to agree with him, although anyone probably usually does unless they consider how condescending and anti-Prime Directive his typical attitude really is) as he explains to Mirror Spock how one man actually can make a difference.

Plus, seven sequels!  That never happens!  Except in this incredibly rare exception.  Easily reason enough to call it a classic.  And it remains very enjoyable to watch, too.

franchise * series * essential * character

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Star Trek 2x3 "The Changeling"

rating: **
Memory Alpha summary

There are two fairly significant reasons to take "The Changeling" more seriously than your probable lack of any real memory of it would suggest:

1) It's the template for The Motion Picture.
2) It's an Uhura episode.

No, really.  It's an Uhura episode.  It's pretty much the only Uhura episode, so if that's pretty important to you, "The Changeling" is probably pretty important, too.  It's not heavily an Uhura episode, but it features her more significantly than any other one.  The probe wipes her memory, and she needs to have it reprogrammed.  That's it, really, but it's still the most significant thing, other than kissing Kirk, that happens to her in any episode.

Personally, I would've loved for that whole business to have been handled differently.  In later eras, it would have been.  But in this series it is what it is.  It does suck that her big spotlight is having her memory wiped, and getting it back isn't the whole focus of the episode.  That would certainly have been interesting.

The episode quickly reverts to the same story featured in Motion Picture, and that's all you really need to know.  All of this means that you can certainly enjoy "Changeling" for these elements, but it's not as awesome as you might hope.  It's perhaps the only time you'll want to just watch the first movie instead (with Uhura being replaced by Ilia).

franchise * series * essential * character

Monday, June 2, 2014

Star Trek 2x2 "Who Mourns For Adonais?"

rating: *
Memory Alpha summary

Okay, just so you know from the start, "Adonais" is not even who anyone might consider mourning in the episode.  It's actually Apollo of Greek myth.  Whoever came up with the title might have been thinking of the poem Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelley (husband of Mary "Frankenstein" Shelley) written about the death of Keats or a different Greek god, Adonis.

Well, who knows for sure?

The whole point of the episode, if you can fathom one, is the Roddenberry god box getting its most literal iteration ever by using an established cultural deity directly in the story rather than inventing from whole cloth some being with unlimited power (such as Q, although that description/association would greatly distress Picard, so I wouldn't mention it to him).

Anyway, so "Who Mourns for Adonais" is basically the Star Trek version of the Greek adventure.  Think of Kirk as Hercules for this episode (and thusly swell William Shatner's ego to even greater proportions).  The story goes, the crew needs one of those helpful Starfleet historian types who only happen to appear when needed to verify someone the viewer knows but is presumably something people from the future might not know about (although Khan remains an exception even though he...should have done his nasty eugenics stuff by now and been shot into space sleeping).

The main thing to remember about the episode is that it's another keen reminder that the second season somehow amplified the whole concept of the series.  I guess it's no wonder that there was still so much trouble keeping NBC interested.  If it thought Star Trek was hard to take seriously before, what about the fun house mirror version?  (Speaking of which, Mirror Universe showing up in two episodes!)

This is not an episode you have to go out of your way to catch, but it's certainly one that helped form the reputation of the series.  Chances are you know about it even if you don't think you do.  It's one of those episodes.

Also, just the title has a peculiar legacy in the franchise, too.  A Deep Space Nine episode used it as a callback: "Who Mourns for Morn?"  (Everyone, that's who.)

franchise * series * essential * character
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