Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Star Trek 3x22 "The Savage Curtain"

rating: ***
Memory Alpha summary

In one of the final episodes of the series, a couple of Star Trek icons debut.  That's about as much as you need to know about "The Savage Curtain."

Both of them are historical figures, Surak of Vulcan and Kahless the Unforgettable (a Klingon).  A third, Colonel Green, is less significant but also important.

Historical figures, history lesson: Surak was the founder of Vulcan logic.  His legacy is later explored in the Enterprise episodes "The Forge," "Awakening," and "Kir'Shara."  Kahless was likewise the founder of the Klingon code of honor.  His clone appears in the Next Generation episode "Rightful Heir," while Deep Space Nine features the rediscovery of "The Sword of Kahless."  Green is from Earth's past, a figure from the WWIII era prior to First Contact, who also serves as the inspiration for xenophobic madman John Frederick Paxton in the Enterprise episodes "Demons" and "Terra Prime."

All of which makes "Savage Curtain" itself historic.

Curiously, all of the reasons to recommend the episode don't necessarily reflect on the series itself.  (When I say that, it may indicate that at base, it may just not be that awesome an episode.  Even when there are very good reasons to watch one, there may be some others that mean you have to have a good excuse to care.)  At the start of the story, it's basically an Abraham Lincoln episode, which means the series has reverted back to the second season trend of basically trying to do every general story type available at the time.  Lincoln has an enduring cultural appeal.  That's basically all he's here to do, blatantly.  If it had just been Lincoln, "Savage Curtain" might end up representing everything you've always believed about the third season (assuming you had any preconceptions).  There's nothing wrong with Lincoln, using Lincoln, or trying to make a point with Lincoln, but that smacks of egregious gimmickry in a series that sometimes smacked very badly of such offenses.

So it's good to have Surak.  Outside of Spock's dad Sarek, he counts as only the third notable Vulcan in the whole series.  Any episode (that's another reason why "Amok Time" has always endured in the minds of fans) that spends time with another Vulcan will always have to be considered notable.  Even though Kahless ultimately emerges as a better character to explore, once the franchise takes a more nuanced view of Klingons in general (though the characteristic lighthearted approach of the original series will always be something worth revisiting), it's Surak who's the winner in their mutual debut.  It's basically a Surak episode disguised as a Lincoln episode disguised in what basically seems like a fairly throwaway episode.  Series fatigue.  But unknowingly at the time, a very fruitful case of it.
via Star Trek
The other notable thing about the episode is that the aliens who create this somewhat nonsensical situation are rock creatures.  William Shatner later wanted rock creatures in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (didn't get them, obviously).  Galaxy Quest featured rock creatures.  Clearly a compelling idea.  The rock creatures' idea in the episode is to test humanity's sense of good and evil.  Q tested humanity throughout Next Generation (at least in the first and last episodes, and everyone's patience, including the casts of DS9 and Voyager).  Anyway, another link if you want.  More if you want to look.  That sort of thing.

four quarter analysis
franchise * series * essential * character

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