Friday, May 29, 2020

Star Trek, The Original Series, Season 2: The Second Binge

Season 2
Well, here's the next set. Once again, like Season 1, we watched them all the way through in original broadcast order. Season 2 of Star Trek isn't as strong as the first, but it has fine moments all the same. Just as before, no summaries here; just a grade and a few sentences explanation

Amok Time: A
Tightly plotted, with an impressive seriousness in the dialogue and performances (i.e., no sniggers about Vulcans and pon farr), McCoy is actually a smart, quick-thinking doctor, and the ritual makes sense instead of seeming needlessly Orientalist. Justly praised, and a great start to the season.

Who Mourns for Adonis?: B-
A pretty well-scripted effort, with good stuff for Uhura, Scotty, Chekov, and others to do, and a fun "Chariot of the Gods"-style story idea to boot, but not particularly well-executed.

The Changeling: C+
Oh wow: it's the first draft of Star Trek: The Motion Picture! Only not as good, because of plot conventions about how advanced computers worked that must have seemed goofy even in 1968. And really, there was no way to investigate Nomad's power, to learn from it?

Mirror, Mirror: A
A smart, fun episode; a great introduction to the Mirror University in Trek. The characterizations are delightful: Captain Kirk is quick-thinking and persuasively commanding, Uhura and Sulu are having a blast, and even "the Captain's woman" maintains her dignity, mostly.

The Apple: C-
If you ignore the colonialist mindset, I guess it's not that bad; our youngest daughter Kristen kind of liked it, but that may just have been the dragon cave. The actors playing the villagers were really committed, you have to say that.

The Doomsday Machine: A
A terrific script, with smart action, tension-filled performances, with Commodore Decker providing some real drama and pathos. One of the very best of the whole series.

Catspaw: C-
A Halloween episode! Nothing really original here--super-powerful and strange aliens studying humans get seduced by our emotions and sensuality, like always. What could have been fun was undermined by horribly cheap effects.

I, Mudd: D+
I don't know why anyone likes Mudd; is it just that there aren't any other recurring characters in all of The Original Series to cheer for? Anyway, another weak and deeply sexist episode, without much charm to help you look past it.

Metamorphosis: C-
What could have made for a really decent sci-fi episode--a genuinely alien creature falls in love with a human, who is repulsed by the idea once it is revealed to him--is undermined by an easy dodge in the direction of, and a shrugging acceptance of, heteronormativity and a little racism in the end, despite hints in at least one scene that the Enterprise crew was better than all that. Oh well

Journey to Babel: B+
Fun stuff--Spock's family, alien spies, and suicide missions. Sexist as always, but not annoyingly so.

Friday's Child: C+
A kind of confusingly structured episode. It's best understood, I think, if you just once again imagine the Federation (and this time the Klingons too) as a group of 19th-century imperialists trying to understand and bribe the primitives they want to colonize. Some fun stuff with McCoy though.

The Deadly Years: D
I feel like I've seen this one episode more than any others, and thus I have a weird fondness for it, but man, the ageism is terrible.

Obsession: B-
Not a great episode, but a basically nice sci-fi tale about a weird monster and an obsessed captain. Kirk's focus and the others' response to it is better and more believable than it was in "Conscience of a King" from Season 1.

Wolf in the Fold: C
Jack the Ripper as a space ghost! A crazy, goofball idea, carried off with more than the usual amount of sexism (women getting killed right and left, and did they actually bring Scotty to the planet just to get him laid?), but I guess it's okay fun all the same.

The Trouble with Tribbles: A
A great comic episode; probably their greatest. But it would have been better if Cyrano Jones have been played by Harry Mudd. Why not give him a decent episode to appear in for once?

The Gamesters of Triskelion: C-
Too goofy to dislike too much, but man, what was going on Uhura and Lars? Hey look, an Andorian! And man, Kirk can play the ladies. His gambling of the Enterprise itself is way out of character, but whatever.

A Piece of the Action: A
Totally hammy, and totally fun. I really should go through the episodes and count how many times the Enterprise's mission basically involves finding a lost landing party, or fixing what some earlier landing party did wrong, or rescuing the planet from a landing party gone crazy or bad.

The Immunity Syndrome: B
A cool straight-up sci-fi episode, with far-out space weirdness threatening the Enterprise. How much better this would have been with better special effects! Plus, it has some wonderful interplay between Spock and McCoy.

A Private Little War: B-
This is a frustrating episode, because watching it with any open-mindedness makes it clear what a fabulous story they had here. Unfortunately, they dressed it up with a lot of unnecessary hamminess from the "witch," and failed to make clear the obvious critique of Kirk's and the Federation's mindset, as was present in the dialogue of the characters (I think this episode has the only honest to goodness debate between officers on the bridge). The mix of sex and violence as social corruptions makes the episode particularly heavy, and you wonder if there was supposed to be a parallel between the doctor treating Spock and the witch treating Kirk. Anyway, it has potential, but never comes together.

Return to Tomorrow: C+
A predictable and somewhat boring set-up--godlike super-beings again?--but once they've possessed the crews' bodies, you've got a cool sci-fi premise, with strange beings with unknown motivations wrecking havoc. Kirk's big speech about the purpose of space exploration is oddly out of place, and there's too much of the usual Star Trek romance, though admittedly serving a somewhat different purpose here.

Patterns of Force: A-
How many of the problems some may have with this episode are a function of the fact that we think the lessons of Nazism are different than what was apparently believed by television scriptwriters in California the late 1960s? Anyway, a thoughtful episode, a good bit of sci-fi plugged into the utterly lame economies of the television budgets of the time.

By Any Other Name: B-
Some straight up moralistic sci-fi, with some nice touches to capture the alienness of the Kalvens. But with a lame, completely anti-climactic ending.

The Omega Glory: D+
Yet another parallel Earth, and this is the worst from the entire series, I think. Not because of the acting--crazy Captain Tracey is actually kind of great--but the fight scenes and general plotting are filled with inconsistencies, bad cuts, and stuff that just doesn't make sense. And that ending? Oh man, that's just wingnut stuff there.

The Ultimate Computer: B
Talking the master computer to death, again--a trope that will never die! But while the automation vs. humanity plot points are pedantic, this one shows inklings of AI all the way back in the late 1960s, so I give them some credit there. And the character of Daystrom is genuinely compelling.

Bread and Circuses: A
Once again, a parallel Earth, but this one makes up for "The Omega Glory"; it's really the best conceived and delivered parallel story from the whole story. Lot's of efficient details make the typical Star Trek cheapness seem plausible ("Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development"!), and it manages to cram in some genuine satire as well as some dark and very adult uses of sexuality (is Marcus mocking Captain Merick because he's weak-willed, or because he's gay?). I know some don't care for the explicit--and rather reverent--mention of Christianity at the end, but I adored it, and still do.

Assignment: Earth: B-
Hey, Gary Seven is Doctor Who! Or at least has what looks like a sonic screwdriver. Anyway this is a manifestly half-done episode (why did Roberta even show up in the apartment?). I can't imagine it would have been a good television in its own right, but I give them points for trying, and for truly launching Terri Garr's career.

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