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Star Trek TOS, season 1: “Space Seed” (Khan!), part 3

Read part 2 of the review of “Space Seed.”

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In case I review more Star Trek episodes instead of devoting my time to writing stories about teenage girl vampires in high school, the next episode I will review is “This Side of Paradise,” and then “The Devil in the Dark,” and then I will skip Errand of Mercy because I previously reviewed it (but I highly recommend watching it), and then I will review “The City on the Edge of Forever” which everyone knows is the best Star Trek episode ever made. And then, finally, the last episode of Season 1, “Operation: Annihilate!”

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I didn’t get this episode when I watched it as a teenager. This is only barely a plot-drive episode. It’s really about the psychology of the characers: Khan, amoral and driven to rule over others at all costs, and Marla McGivers, a woman who lusts for powerful men who take what they want without asking permission.

Regardless of whether “eugenics” would create a person like Khan (I say nonsense to that), Montalbán gives an amazing performance in playing him. I have previously written of William Shatner’s Kirk’s alpha-male charisma; Ricardo Montalbán’s Khan takes that to the next level.

Marla begins lusting for Khan from the moment she sees him in his suspended animation/deep sleep chamber:

MARLA: From the northern India area, I’d guess. Probably a Sikh. They were the most fantastic warriors.

My first thought is that being a “warrior” sounds pretty ominous, and I wondered why Marla sounds so excited about it. In the future, I thought that scientists and explorers are admired, but not warriors.

Kirk is kind of pissed about Marla’s reaction to Khan, and he dresses her down in Sickbay:

KIRK: I’d like to talk to you.

(They go out into the main area, where McCoy is at his desk)

KIRK: If I were to rate your performance as a member of the landing party today I

MARLA: I know, sir. I’m sorry.

KIRK: Lieutenant, at any one time, the safety of this entire vessel might depend upon the performance of a single crewman, and the fact that you find a man strangely compelling to you personally

MARLA: Not personally, Captain. Professionally. My profession is historian, and when I find a specimen from the past alive, I’m in the sheer delight of examining his mind.

KIRK: And men were more adventuresome then. Bolder, more colourful.

MARLA: Yes, sir, I think they were.

KIRK: Good. If I can have honesty, it’s easier to overlook mistakes. That’s all.

MARLA: Yes, sir.

But Kirk does not feel threatened by Khan, even though he should. Kirk never liked Marla, and he feels overconfident in his superiority over a guy from the 20th century.

When Khan wakes up, the first thing he does is hold a scalpel to McCoy’s neck. That I think was overkill. You would think that after that happens, McCoy would request a few red-shirts to keep him safe, but McCoy never even mentions the incident to the captain.

We see that Khan immediately starts ordering people around and acting like everyone should be subservient to him.

KHAN: Where is your Captain? I have many questions.

He doesn’t even say “please.” And then after the briefest conversation with Kirk:

KHAN: I find myself growing fatigued, Doctor. May we continue this questioning at some other time?

That’s a power play, getting Kirk to come to Sickbay, and then telling him to get lost, he’s too “fatigued” to talk, even though Kirk must know he’s full of ****.

Khan’s first conversation with Marla:

KHAN: A beautiful woman. My name is Khan. Please sit and entertain me.

(She perches on another bed)

MARLA: I’d like some historical information about your ship, its purpose and

KHAN: And why do you wear your hair in such an uncomplimentary fashion?

1. Although he says “please,” it’s said like an order he expects will be followed rather than an actual request. The way Ricardo Montalbán said that line isn’t apparent from just reading it.

2. He “negs” her. The original PUA!

To summarize the rest of this story:

Khan psychologically abuses Marla emotionally, and then physically abuses her with his superior strength. But Marla likes it and helps him take over the ship.

Khan can’t deal with just being a nobody in the 23rd century. There’s a starship, he has to be in command of it, and then he’s going to find a planet and “with a population willing to be led by us.”

Khan thinks that he can get cooperation from the crew of the Enterprise by threatening to kill them, one by one, in a decompression chamber, starting with Kirk. But unlike 20th century types, the crew of the Enterprise refuses to deal with him. Luckily for Kirk, Marla betrays Khan and frees him, which then leads to Kirk flooding all decks with gas, but Khan gets away and then Kirk and Khan have that poorly filmed fight in engineering.

At the end, Marla chooses exile with her abuser rather than a court martial where she’d probably be a lot safer. We have this idea that 23rd century prisons are for rehabilitation rather than punishment. Marla just needs to be taught not to lust after bad boys.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

September 17, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Star Trek

Star Trek TOS, season 1: “Space Seed” (Khan!), part 2

Read part 1 of the review of “Space Seed”

Eugenics Wars nonsense

Maybe the word “eugenics” was thrown in there because it sounds like something Hitler allegedly did, and Hitler is really really evil, so eugenics must also be really really evil.

A good definition of eugenics that I found at Wordnet is “the study of methods of improving genetic qualities by selective breeding (especially as applied to human mating).”

Something similar happens all the time because of assortative mating. What type of spouse would a man, or woman, who is good looking, has top grades at Harvard, and is also an athlete, choose for himself or herself? I guarantee you it would not be some random schlub, but rather someone who is similarly exceptional. And the resulting children from such a union would not be supermen who have five times the strength of William Shatner and who become dictators, nope, their children are just more of the same. Happens all the time. It’s not called eugenics because it’s the result of individual mating choices rather than a more scientific attempt to improve humanity overall. In fact, assortative mating is actually dysgenic rather than eugenic, because statistically, that Harvard couple is likely to have fewer children than random low-IQ immigrants from crappy third-world countries. As reported by many sources, mothers with less education have more children, and education is a loose proxy for having better genetic stock.

What’s so evil about trying to nudge humanity towards better genes by encouraging those with better genes to have more children, and those with inferior genes to have fewer children? But once again, whether that’s good or bad, you don’t create superhuman dictators merely by breeding the best with the best. Real-world dictators usually come from lesser pedigrees. Benito Mussolini’s parents were nothing special, a blacksmith and a Catholic schoolteacher. Above average maybe, but not exceptional. Hitler came from even lower origins. His father was a civil servant and his mother was a housewife, described thus at Wikipedia: “Klara came from old peasant stock, was hard-working, energetic, pious, and conscientious. According to the family physician, Dr. Eduard Bloch, she was a very quiet, sweet, and affectionate woman.” Nothing there that would make you think that Klara would be the go-to woman if you wanted to breed evil dictators or supermen.

Spock states with the absolute certitude of his Vulcan logic that “superior ability breeds superior ambition” thus neatly explaining why any sort of attempt to create superior humans would automatically mean that they would become evil dictators, but the real-world experience shows that to be false. Our dictators have not been the people with the must superior abilities. Perhaps they come from the top 10% of their countries, but they are definitely not supermen of any sort.

Now maybe it would be possible, with genetic engineering, to create supermen, and maybe genetic engineering could give people psychopathic personalities that crave domination over all others (although why anyone would want to do that I don’t know), however there is no mention of genetic engineering in this episode. According to Spock, it was an “attempt to improve the race through selective breeding.” As I’ve already pointed out, selective breeding would only create more of the same and wouldn’t create new humans with super abilities like Khan is supposed to possess.

To pile on the nonsense, the Eugenics Wars were supposed to have happened in the 1990s, which means that if Khan were 30 in 1997, he would have been already born when the episode aired. So Star Trek was implying that there already existed, in 1967, a secret program by mad scientists to selectively breed humans with super abilities and a psychopathic desire for world domination. And it all happened in a single generation. Or maybe two generations if the program started in the 1940s. I’m sorry, THIS IS ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS.

This episode is consistent with a Star Trek theme that any attempt to improve mankind itself, rather than just improving the technology available to us, is a bad thing to do. Recall that in the episode Miri, an alternate Earth destroyed itself by trying to create a virus that would extend human life expectancy. And in What Are Little Girls Made Of?, trying to improve humanity by moving our consciousness into robot bodies was shown to have bad consequences.

Other anachronistic nonsense

This episode is hard to watch because it recounts a future history of the 1990s which never happened. In addition to the eugenics stuff, this episode predicted that in the 1990s there would be atomic-powered interplanetary spaceships with large crews of humans, plus the technology for putting people into deep sleep so that they could survive interstellar journeys of more than two hundred years. Well it should be obvious that none of this stuff ever happened, and it seems highly unlikely that space travel technology is going to reach the level predicted even by the 2090s. Fifty-one years after this episode aired, and the best we can do in space is put a small handful of people into a low Earth orbit. We can’t even send people to the moon anymore.

I suppose that in the exciting early days of the space program in the 1960s, lots of people really did believe that man’s destiny was the stars, and that it would all happen very quickly. We now know that it was a false hope.

Read part 3 of the review of “Space Seed.”

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

September 14, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Star Trek

Star Trek TOS, season 1: “Space Seed” (Khan!), part 1

There’s so much to write about, I will make this a multi-part review like I did with Balance of Terror.

This episode may have easily wound up being another below average Trek episode with a really bad fight scene and hopelessly outdated, except for two factors:

(1) This episode inspired the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (TWOK) which was a sequel to this episode and which became a big box office hit that in turn induced the creation of more Star Trek. If TWOK had been another flop like the first Star Trek movie, the franchise would have died.

(2) Ricardo Montalbán! As one internet commenter wrote, “this was a case where the actor was way better than the material he had to work with.”

Before getting into the meat of the episode, let me cover some Star Trekisms:

(1) This is the first episode where McCoy complains about being transported. “I signed aboard this ship to practice medicine, not to have my atoms scattered back and forth across space by this gadget.” I don’t mean to be a Luddite, but I agree with McCoy. According to how the transporter is supposed to work, it disintegrates you, and then creates a clone with your identical memories at a different location. Theoretically, they ought to be able to use transporter technology to create multiple clones of a single person.

(2) This is the third time in the last four episodes that a guest onboard the Enterprise gets up to no good because Kirk doesn’t bother to guard him at all, or because the security guards are completely incompetent. Doesn’t anyone ever learn from the mistakes of previous episodes?

(3) Second-worst fight scene after the lizard fight in Arena. You can actually see Shatner and Montalbán turn into their stunt doubles, with Shatner’s stunt double looking nothing like Shatner. Maybe, when people originally saw this on broadcast TV with low resolution and bad reception, it wasn’t as obvious, but on the cleaned-up high-definition version on Netflix it’s as clear as day that Shatner has suddenly turned into a different person.

Also Khan brags that he has “five times” Kirk’s strength, but he doesn’t look that much stronger than Kirk in the fight scene. Unlike the lizard guy in “Arena” who was obviously way stronger.

(4) In TWOK, Chekov and Khan remember each other, but Chekov wasn’t introduced to the series until the second season.

(5) Kirk says “I’ll need somebody familiar with the late 20th-Century Earth. Here’s a chance for that historian to do something for a change. What’s her name?” And then we see Lieutenant Marla McGivers, the babe of the episode, in her spacious cabin, painting famous men from history, and looking annoyed that she’s called to an away mission.

In the future, when we have robots doing all of the value-creating work, we have to give people bogus featherbedding jobs like an Earth historian aboard a starship. We will see how bad this almost turns out for the Enterprise. The need to create make-work may also explain why the Enterprise has so many useless security guards.

RACIAL ISSUES

Is Ricardo Montalbán a white man, or an “actor of color”? Why does this matter? Because there are many complaints on the internet that in the 2016 Star Trek movie, Khan, who is supposed to be Indian, is played by a white actor, and while it was not ideal that Montalbán was not Indian, at least he was “Latino” and thus an “actor of color,” and the 2016 movie “whitewashed” him.

Ricardo Montalbán may have been born in Mexico, but his parents were European Spanish. Are Europeans from Spain not white? Do white Spaniards give birth to babies of “color” merely because they relocate to Mexico?

In order to play Khan, they gave Montalbán a black wig and had him put on skin-darkening makeup to make him look Indian. Under the crazy modern rules of what’s racist and what’s not, a light-skinned actor wearing skin-darkening makeup to play a non-white role is supposed to be super super racist thing.

When TWOK was filmed, Montalbán was allowed to look like himself and they didn’t try to make him look like an Indian.

It is said Gene Roddenberry’s purpose for making the character an Indian was to quash the notion that “eugenically” bred superior humans would look Aryan. I will write more about the stupid “eugenics” stuff later.

In my opinion, Khan being Indian added nothing to the script. If they were going to have Montalbán with his Spanish accent play him, they should have just re-written him to be a Spaniard, a Mexican, or maybe an Argentinian. Carlos instead of Khan.

ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS OF RICARDO MONTALBÁN

(1) He was 47 years old in 1967 when this episode aired, but I think the character of Khan was supposed to be younger than that.

(2) He was damned muscular for a guy in the 1960s, which is surely one of the reasons why he was selected for the role. He was built like a superman for the standards of that decade, before anyone was familiar with the look of massive roided-up bodybuilders with their veins visibly showing.

(3) His chest was shaved for this role. In older photos of Montalbán, he had quite the hairy chest. Was this the beginning of Hollywood actors shaving their chest hair?

Read part 2 of the review which discusses the Eugenics Wars nonsense.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

September 13, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Star Trek

Star Trek TOS, season 1: A Taste of Armageddon

The next episode I will review is “Space Seed” (Khan!), and then “This Side of Paradise,” and then “The Devil in the Dark,” and then I will skip Errand of Mercy because I previously reviewed it (but I highly recommend watching it), and then I will review “The City on the Edge of Forever” which everyone knows is the best Star Trek episode ever made. And then, finally, the last episode of Season 1, “Operation: Annihilate!” I am watching the first season in production order instead of the airdate order used by Netflix. For the second season, I will make things easier and just watch them in Netflix order.

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This episode, “A Taste of Armageddon,” is clearly intended to be an allegory rather than any sort of realistic presentation of a non-human alien civilization. Consequently, the aliens look exactly like humans and speak better English than Yeoman Tamura who speaks with a thick Japanese accent (which is probably just as fake as James Doohan’s Scottish accent). The aliens are involved in a “war” which makes absolutely no sense, and can’t be written off as weird alien thinking because the aliens are stand-ins for humans.

500 years ago, when war with another planet in the same solar system got too much, the two planets came up with the idea for a computerized war, where the linked computer system would determine the casualties, and people declared dead by the computer would simply go to disintegration chambers to be killed. One to three million people per year! But much cleaner than a real war, because no buildings are destroyed, and life goes on as normal as long as you’re not declared a casualty by the computer.

As a normal viewer watching the show, you think that this makes no sense. The war is obviously pointless. No one ever wins or loses and there doesn’t seem to be any objective. Why don’t they just stop the fake war and stop the unnecessary slaughter? And then let’s apply the same message to Earth. Let’s stop the stupid wars so that people can stop dying.

The problem with comparing this episode to 20th century Earth, or even 21st century Earth, is that wars here are fought with an actual goal. At least one side expects to get something out of the war that they won’t get by not fighting the war. We don’t just fight wars for the sake of fighting wars.

There are two other concepts thrown in here. The first is Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). If the consequence of war is too scary, neither side will fight one. In retrospect, the people who endorsed MAD were right. We never had an all-out war with the Soviet Union. But on the other hand, we do engage in a whole bunch of small scale wars, like the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and afterwards the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War, the endless nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq. All of these wars share the feature that there’s no direct impact on the United States. There are some combat deaths, but the numbers are acceptable. Especially to the elites who rule our country who rarely have their own children die in any foreign wars.

Robert Heinlein has been called “fascist” because in his novel Starship Troopers (which predates this Star Trek episode) he presented a fictional future Earth government in which only military veterans can vote or hold political office. But actually the concept is anti-war: only the people who suffer the consequence of a war should have a say in whether or not we go to war. Presumably such a government would be less likely to get into a war in the first place.

The second concept of this Star Trek episode is the benefit of having galactic policemen. These two planets would have gone on forever killing one to three million people a year had not Kirk come with his powerful starship and forcefully put an end to the nonsense. He did this by destroying all of the disintegration chambers, destroying the computer that made the whole simulated war possible, and by threatening to use General Order 24 on the planet. What is General Order 24? Total destruction of a planet! Scotty, who is left in charge of the Enterprise while Kirk and Spock are hostages on the planet (albeit poorly guarded hostages), gleefully explains via communication channel:

This is the commander of the USS Enterprise. All cities and installations on Eminiar Seven have been located, identified, and fed into our fire-control system. In one hour and forty five minutes the entire inhabited surface of your planet will be destroyed. You have that long to surrender your hostages.

Scotty also says a little earlier in the episode, “Diplomats. The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank.” Isn’t Scotty awesome?

The message I got from this episode is that the Federation represents the United States, and the United States should use its military power, or the mere threat of its military power, to stop dumb pointless wars between sh**hole third-world countries. As well as rescue hostages. Maybe if President Carter had issued General Order 24 against the Iranians, they would have quickly released all of the hostages!

Science fiction has helped me to see the wrongful thinking of a certain strain of paleoconservatism which believes that the United States should just let the rest of the world go to hell. The Robert Heinlein novel Citizen of the Galaxy was even more helpful.

There are many things about this episode which seem un-Star-Trek-like, starting with General Order 24. Does the peace-loving Federation really have such a thing, and does the ship’s Engineer really have the authority to carry it out on the command of his Captain? Or would he return to the Federation as a war criminal? Along with everyone else on the Enterprise under the legal theory that just following orders is no excuse for the genocide of an entire planetary civilization.

Many people on the internet ask “what of the Prime Directive?” Well the Prime Directive was first mentioned in Return of the Archons, which immediately preceded this episode in production order, and no doubt the person who wrote this script was unaware of the Prime Directive.

Some Star Trek weenies insist that the Prime Directive doesn’t apply because it only applies to pre-warp civilizations, but (1) I see no evidence that they had warp drives. Spock explains, “They’ve had space flight for several centuries, but they’ve never ventured beyond their own solar system.” I think that if they had warp drives, they would have taken at least one trip to see what was out there; and (2) just because a planet has warp drives doesn’t mean that a starship captain is allowed to come in and totally re-order their civilization because he doesn’t like the way they are doing things.

Some other observations about this episode:

(1) We have another stupid bureaucrat in charge of the Enterprise. In The Galileo Seven we had Galactic High Commissioner Ferris, and here we have Ambassador Fox. Even in the future, we still have the problem of morons getting promoted and then giving dumb orders to the people in the field who actually know what’s going on.

(2) Who’s in charge of the Enterprise when Kirk and Spock are away? In Court Martial, there was a guy on the Enterprise who had the same rank as Spock who we never saw before. Are there more people like him? In previous episodes, Sulu was in charge. But this time, Scotty is in charge. What’s going on?

My guess is that what they heard from the fans is that Sulu is boring but they want to see more of Scotty. And I have to agree. Scotty is delightfully fun in this episode, and in most future episodes where he gets to be in charge. Even though it doesn’t make sense because Scotty wears a red shirt which means he works in operations and isn’t a command officer.

(3) The episode gives you the impression that a major factor in Kirk deciding that he has to destroy all of the disintegration chambers and put an end to the war is because the beautiful blonde alien is listed as a casualty by the computer. So it’s all about white knighting.

(4) The Japanese Yeoman’s fake Japanese accent would be considered racist today. But SJWs would be OK with Chekov’s fake Russian accent because Russians are white.

(5) Why doesn’t anyone on this planet protest the war the way Americans protested the Vietnam War which had a much lower death toll? And to answer my own question, it’s because the people who created this episode only cared about telling an allegorical tale and didn’t care about believability.

(6) Kirk hates computers. In “Return of the Archons” he also destroyed a computer. And he will destroy many more computers in future episodes The lesson from the original series is don’t let a computer get too powerful. Don’t cede control over human affairs to a computer. They forgot this lesson in TNG when they made Data a Starfleet officer who people below him in rank had to obey.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

September 11, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Star Trek

Star Trek TOS, season 1: “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”

I will skip Return of the Archons because I already watched and reviewed it two years ago, so the next episode I will review is “A Taste of Armageddon,” then “Space Seed” (Khan!). I am watching the episodes in production order instead of the airdate order used by Netflix.

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“Tomorrow is Yesterday” is quite an enjoyable episode, and has held up pretty well. I’ve previously explained that I’m a lot more tolerant of messiness when the episode doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this episode is presented as a lighthearted humorous affair rather than a heavy and serious episode that wants to teach you a moral lesson, like Arena.

Also, Arena had the worst-choreographed fight scene of the series, while this episode has the best, with Kirk going against three 1960s military police at an airforce base. (Yes, the Enterprise has traveled back in time to the late 1960s!) Unlike the Arena fight scene which is unintentionally funny because it’s so bad, the fight scene in this episode is intended to be funny and it succeeds.

[Engineering]

KIRK [OC]: What is it, Scotty?

SCOTT: Progress report, sir. Everything’s jury-rigged, but we’re coming along with the repairs. We could re-energise in about four hours, but

[Captain’s quarters]

KIRK: But what, Scotty?

[Engineering]

SCOTT: Well sir, as I say, the engines are being repaired, but we’ve no place to go in this time. If you, if you see what I mean?

That could have been the start of a whole new series! What do you do when your starship is trapped in the past? Colonize an uninhabited planet? Beam down to Earth and blend in with the population? Seek out alien civilizations which had warp-capable spaceships back then, like the Vulcans? But alas, none of those things were ever discussed, because Spock figured out how to send the Enterprise back to the future.

Back to the Future was a better time travel dramedy. When Marty (played by Michael J. Fox) returns to the future, the future is different because he changed the past. We never see anything like that happen in Star Trek.

The time travel paradox problem is resolved very poorly. Somehow the Enterprise travels back in time before going forward again, and they are able to beam the two 1960s military guys they picked up back to where they were when they were beamed up to the Enterprise the first time, and somehow the events never happened. It makes no sense at all.

Now that everyone in the future knows that time travel is so easy, doesn’t that open a huge Pandora’s Box? What if the Klingons or Romulans use time travel to send a warship back in time to destroy Earth so that Earth never becomes the dominant power in that part of the galaxy? Except for all of the super-powerful aliens who don’t seem interested in establishing a space empire. Why don’t the Metrons, or the Organians, or Trelane’s parents, or Charlie X’s adopted parents, or that guy Baylock from The Corbomite Maneuver do something about the Borg?

This episode doesn’t say anything deep, but it was fun to watch. Even though the 1960s Air Force stuff was already dated when I first watched this episode in the 1970s.

The next episode I will review, “A Taste of Armageddon,” is not quite as enjoyable as this one, but I think I will have a lot more to say about it.

* * *

I wish I had time travel so I could go a year into the future, find out what stock is going to go up the most, come back and put all of my money into it.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

September 10, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Star Trek

Star Trek TOS, season 1: The Alternative Factor

The next Star Trek post will discuss “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.” I will then skip Return of the Archons because I already watched and reviewed it two years ago, so the episode after that will be “A Taste of Armageddon,” then “Space Seed” (Khan!). I am watching the episodes in production order instead of the airdate order used by Netflix.

* * *

“The Alternative Factor” appears on most lists of worst TOS episodes. I didn’t realize that going in. But it was definitely a very bad episode. Boring, the first episode in my re-watch of the series that made me feel like I just wasted fifty minutes of my life by watching it. A godawful “special effect” is repeated over and over again.

MCCOY: He’s got to get some rest, Jim. And would you get that muscleman out of my Sickbay. (gestures at the security guard)

KIRK: Dismissed.

(The guard leaves.)

MCCOY: He’s in a lot of pain.

KIRK: Sometimes pain can drive a man harder than pleasure. I’m sure you know that, Doctor.

MCCOY: Well, don’t worry, he’s not going anywhere. Not this time.

I thought it was strange McCoy calling the red-shirt guy a “muscleman”

And then as soon as Kirk and McCoy leave, Lazarus leaves sickbay and steals some dilithium crystals. What kind of crappy operation is Kirk running? This complaint isn’t limited to this episode. In the very next episode (that I will review, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”) we have another guest on the Enterprise who gets up to no good because of improper supervision. Everyone on the Enterprise needs to go back to Starfleet Academy and re-take Starship Security 101.

There’s no point saying much more about this, the worst episode ever. Probably even worse than Spock’s Brain which I am looking forward to re-watching.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

September 7, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Star Trek

Star Trek TOS, season 1: “Arena.” Kirk fights a lizard alien!

It has been a week since my last Star Trek review, so those following along at home have no excuse for not having watched this episode yet.

The next Star Trek post will discuss “The Alternative Factor” (which sucks, so I won’t have much to say about it) and then “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.” I will then skip Return of the Archons because I already watched and reviewed it two years ago, so the next episode will be “A Taste of Armageddon,” then “Space Seed” (Khan!). I am watching the episodes in production order instead of the airdate order used by Netflix.

* * *

“Arena” is one of Trek’s most iconic episodes. Who among us who have watched this series as a child can forget Kirk fighting a lizard alien? The Gorn, lizard aliens, destroy an “Earth observation outpost” on the planet Cestus III. Everyone is dead except for one survivor. Kirk chases the alien ship into an unknown area of space with the intent to destroy them and set an example so that hostile actions like that won’t be repeated. But they are stopped dead in space by the Metrons, a super-powerful alien race. The Metrons say that they don’t like space battles in their area of space, so instead they are going to transport the captains of both ships to an “asteroid” where they will fight to the death. The winner will be free to go about his way, and the loser’s ship will be destroyed.

Kirk is hopelessly outmatched by the alien lizard captain who is way stronger than him. Unless somehow Kirk can find a weapon. Kirk is able to build a small hand cannon from diamonds, sulfur, potassium nitrate, coal and a hollow bamboo tube found on the planet, and he shoots the Gorn captain, injuring him severely but not killing him. Kirk then refuses to kill the Gorn, and an androgynous Metron appears and praises Kirk for showing mercy.

* * *

So does this episode stand the test of time? Unfortunately, not. It sucks. It sucks the big one. It’s so sad that you can’t go back and enjoy things that you enjoyed such a long time ago.

This episode is a cross between Balance of Terror and Errand of Mercy (where a battle between humans and Klingons is stopped by the super-powerful Organians). Alas, the whole is much less than the sum of its parts. There will also be a future episode, “The Gamesters of Triskelion” where Kirk is forced to become a gladiator to entertain super-powerful aliens. Looking back, most TOS episodes aren’t very original.

In “Balance of Terror,” after the Romulan ship destroys Earth outposts, Kirk also decides that he must destroy the enemy ship in order to dissuade future hostility. The difference between the two episodes is that in “Balance of Terror,” Kirk is shown to have made the correct and necessary decision, even logical Spock approved. But in “Arena,” Kirk is presented as being a barbaric hothead for going after the Gorn ship. This sort of discontinuity annoys me. If Spock is going to counsel against pursuing the enemy ship, he ought to explain why this scenario is different than the Romulan scenario.

Spock says “I thought perhaps the hot pursuit alone might be sufficient. Destruction might be unnecessary.” That’s the sort of logic which failed in “The Galileo Seven.” Spock said then they’d just have to fire their phasers at some rocks and the giant humanoids would be scared away, but it didn’t work. Maybe Spock isn’t so good at understanding the motives of illogical and violent species?

However, the intent of the script is to eventually show us that Spock is right and Kirk is wrong, which is why Kirk is presented as a hothead, doing his own thing instead of seeking advice from his senior staff as he did in “Balance of Terror” as well as many other episodes.

The episode starts off with an unusual request by Commodore Travers of Cestus III to beam down with his “tactical people.” Spock is suspicious, but Kirk and McCoy shoot him down because everyone knows you can trust Commodore Travers, because he serves such great food! This is the same sort of blind trust that failed Kirk previously in the episodes What Are Little Girls Made Of and Dagger of the Mind. Why doesn’t anyone ever learn from the mistakes of previous episodes? If someone you think you can trust makes a weird request, it’s because they are mad scientists, robots, or it’s a fake message sent by hostile aliens. Or something else. Kirk needs to remember the motto of the X Files, trust no one!

It takes more than half the episode before Kirk finally gets to fight the Gorn. Before that happens, the episode is OK. We have the Gorn firing mortar shells at them on Cestus III, Kirk doing these dumb fall and rolls everytime a shell goes off, then Kirk finds this “grenade launcher” (actually a mortar, they can’t even get the name for it right) in the colonies armory (do all colonies on unoccupied planets have such powerful ground weapons, and why?) they fire it and there’s a huge flash and all the Gorn go quiet. Good thing all the Gorn had are WWI type of mortars while the Federation has super-weapons! Except for the red-shirt guy who was killed by some energy beam. I guess the Gorn must have used up all of their power on that one last energy beam, and then they had fall back to using early 20th century explosives.

Then there’s the hot pursuit of the Gorn ship, where Kirk orders Warp 7, and then Warp 8, with Spock and Scotty and everyone else on the bridge looking at Kirk like he’s crazy. Doesn’t he know, or care, that speeds like that will probably cause the ship to blow up? Once again, the episode is trying to tell us that Kirk is being a barbaric hothead.

Then there’s the first scene with the Gorn. Kirk and the Gorn get in to the absolute WORST choreographed fight of the entire series. It looks absolutely ridiculous. I couldn’t help laughing, but it was not intended to be comical. This is an episode that takes itself very seriously. Kirk throws a big very heavy rock at the Gorn, and it bounces off his rubber lizard like it’s made of foam rubber. The Gorn responds by picking up a boulder that must be ten times as heavy as Kirk’s rock which he could barely throw, but Kirk is able to dodge the boulder and run away.

And then the Gorn stupidly stands underneath a cliff with a boulder while he’s building some traps and polishing a dagger. Kirk pushes the boulder off the top of the cliff and it lands right on the Gorn. Dead Gorn right? There’s no way anyone but superman could survive that. But the Gorn is like superman.

Then Kirk gets caught in the Gorn’s trap. Luckily for Kirk, instead of just killing him, the Gorn first removes the trap in order to kill him better, but with the trap removed Kirk just runs away.

Then Kirk gets the idea to build that cannon made from bamboo, diamonds, potassium nitrate, sulfur, and coal. (That’s coal, and not charcoal which is normally used for gunpowder.) As a kid, I just bought it. As an adult, I totally DO NOT BUY IT. There’s no way Kirk would get black powder to explode on a first attempt, especially not when it’s made from coal instead of charcoal, and then even if it did explode, it would blow up the bamboo tube and kill Kirk instead of the Gorn. I call BULLSH*T!!!!

How would Kirk even know it’s potassium nitrate that he found? He tastes it, but who among us know what potassium nitrate is supposed to taste like? A white powder could be anything, including common sodium chloride salt.

And finally we get to the moral message which the episode bludgeons us with. Kirk refuses to kill the wounded Gorn. Kirk screams to no one “No, I won’t kill him! Do you hear? You’ll have to get your entertainment someplace else!” One gets the impression that Kirk is too much of a wimp to kill with a dagger even though he’s willing to kill with phasers. That’s not what Kirk is supposed to be like. Kirk is badass who will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of his ship and of Earth and the Federation.

Then a Metron appears. The Metron looks like some androgynous guy dressed in white with a glowing halo, and he praises Kirk for demonstrating the “advanced trait of mercy.”

How it so advanced and civilized of the Metrons to sanction a gladiatorial fight to the death? What would have happened if one of the starship captains were a frail old woman? How is it fair or moral to let the physically strong kill the physically weak? Shame on you Metrons. Kirk should have called them out and told them what a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites they are. But instead, Kirk basks in the androgynous guy’s praise. I half expected him to suck the Metron’s ****.

Let’s review what happened to make Kirk chase after the Gorn:

(1) The Gorn, without any notice, massacre all humans on the planet Cestus III (except one lone survivor).

(2) They create a fake message to lure Kirk to beam down with his “tactical people” so they can kill more humans and destroy the Enterprise with its captain and “tactical people” off ship.

How is Kirk not justified in pursuing justice against the Gorn? Should President Roosevelt have turned the other cheek after Pearl Harbor? Why should Kirk or anyone else on the Enterprise have any regrets? Their only regret should be that they lack the superior technology of the Metrons.

* * *

And the strangest thing about this episode: Kirk’s shirt did not get ripped! In every other episode where Kirk gets into a fight with someone, the shirt gets ripped. Why not here?

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

September 6, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Star Trek

Star Trek TOS, season 1: The Squire of Gothos

It has been three days since my last Star Trek review, so hopefully those following along at home have had time to watch this episode.

The next Star Trek post will discuss “Arena,” (one of the most iconic Trek episodes in which Kirk fights a lizard monster alien! how will it hold up?) and then “The Alternative Factor,” and then “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.” I am now watching the episodes in production order instead of the airdate order used by Netflix.

* * *

I wasn’t expecting to like this episode, but I was delighted to be so wrong. “The Squire of Gothos” is definitely on my list of greatest Trek episodes. The guest actor who plays Trelane, William Campbell, does a fantastic job with the role. He’s played with just the right amount of campiness, energy, and sincerity.

I see a trend where I’m willing to forgive a lot more stuff in episodes that don’t take themselves too seriously. But when the tone of the episode is “this is really serious stuff” then I can’t help but focusing on all of the corniness and the plot holes.

The most noteworthy thing about this episode is that the alien Trelane is obviously the model for Q, a recurring character in The Next Generation series, and the first episode of that series, “Encounter at Farpoint” heavily borrowed from this episode.

Initially I hated Q, and indeed, the first episode of TNG was pretty bad. For starters, I’m not a big fan of omnipotent beings. It was a mistake of the original series to rely too much on super-powerful aliens as the basis for a whole bunch of episodes, and TNG started out by repeating that mistake with its very first episode. And then there is the problem that “Encounter at Farpoint” bludgeons you over the head with the accusation that humanity is really awful and we should all feel great guilt and shame about our history. “The Squire of Gothos” actually makes all of the same points, but does so in a much more playful and non-obvious manner. In fact, it’s so non-obvious that most of the reviews of this episode that I found on the internet don’t even get it!

Later I came to enjoy Q because his role was to mock and insult the regular crew of the new Enterprise, and they really deserved all of Q’s criticism. But that’s another reason why, even if you are going to introduce a character like Q, don’t put him in the first episode. Mocking the regular crew means nothing before we even know who the regular crew are.

The biggest difference between Trelane and Q is that Q rarely says anything that isn’t laced with sarcasm, while Trelane is completely sincere; we may even say that he has a childish sincerity. Trelane, you see, is a big fan of humanity’s military history and warlike nature. Trelane’s observation of Earth only goes up to the Napoleonic era, but even in the 23rd century, humans are still wearing military uniforms and still carrying around weapons, much more powerful weapons than Napoleon had.

KIRK: Our missions are peaceful, not for conquest. When we do battle, it is only because we have no choice.

TRELANE: Ah, but that’s the official story, eh?

KIRK: I must ask you to let us go back to our ship.

TRELANE: I wouldn’t hear of it. You shall join me in a repast. I want to learn all about your feelings on war and killing and conquest. That sort of thing. Do you know that you’re one of the few predator species that preys even on itself?

I love that last line, an insult against humanity, but Trelane thinks it’s really cool that humans prey on themselves. It’s one-hundred percent sincerity without the least bit of condemnation or judgment. Trelane then takes a childish delight in the phaser that one of the guys tries to use on him. He shoots at his exhibits (including a taxidermied salt monster from the first episode The Man Trap) and says “Oh, how marvellous! Devastating! Why, this could kill millions.”

Reminds me of the previous episode, Shore Leave, where Sulu finds an old pistol and has a jolly good time shooting stuff with it until Kirk takes it away from him. Both Sulu and Trelane take the same delight in playing with a more primitive weapon. We later learn that Trelane is actually a misbehaving child, so what does that say about Sulu?

Indeed, Kirk theoretically comes in peace, but they are always carrying around these super-powerful phasers whenever they leave the Enterprise. How would you feel if some people came to visit you, but they were all carrying around AR-15s? I wouldn’t feel very safe, or that they were very peaceful. In many places in the world, most places in the more civilized parts of the world, they’d be ARRESTED and put in PRISON for illegally carrying around weapons in public.

Some other cool things to note about this episode:

1. In the court scene, Trelane dresses as an old English judge with a wig. They re-used the same imagery in the TNG episode “Encounter at Farpoint.”

2. Trelane explains that he is able to manufacture all of his stuff by converting matter to energy and back to matter but in a different form. Like how transporters work but a lot better. And in fact, this technology will exist in TNG where they have replicators that do the same thing. Once again, we see how much TNG borrowed from this episode.

3. Trelane sends the Enterprise a text message in a fancy font. Maybe that seemed ridiculous in 1967, but today you really can send someone a text message (or at least an email) in a fancy font! The future was accurately predicted!

4. Trelane says upon looking at Uhura, “Ah a Nubian prize. (he kisses her hand) Taken on one of your raids of conquest, no doubt, Captain.” He thinks it’s really cool that Kirk has a black slave. The purpose of mentioning this, of course, is to remind us of the bad parts of our history, just like “Encounter at Farpoint” but with more subtlety.

Despite the good intention that this remark is supposed to educate us that we should feel guilty about slavery, I am sure that this would NOT be said on a modern show where it’s considered RACIST to even talk about this stuff even when the context of how it’s talked about shows a benign motive by the writers of the script.

5. There’s another blonde Yeoman, and she gets to wear a pretty dress. Just like last episode. I love the totally gratuitous insertion of the hot Yeoman babe of the week.

6. Trelane’s mother says “If you cannot take proper care of your pets, you cannot have them at all.” So funny how humans are seen as pets by such an advanced super-powerful alien species that Trelane comes from. And the father says “Stop that nonsense at once, or you’ll not be permitted to make any more planets.”

My only complaint about the ending is that they overdid it just a little bit with Trelane acting like whiny 6-year-old. Too much camp, but still I loved the part about him not being allowed to make any more planets.

And a general complaint about the series in general. While I enjoyed this as a standalone episode, too many times the series draws from the same well and re-uses the plot of super-powerful aliens that the Enterprise can’t possibly defeat, and they are only saved by something they have no control over (a deus ex machina plot device). More specifically, the ending of this episode is exactly the same as Charlie X, where they would have been totally screwed had not Charlie X’s super-powerful alien adopted parents showed up to save them.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

August 31, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Star Trek

Thoughts on Star Trek TOS after re-watching half of the first season

Yes, there is a disappointment here. In my memory, the original Star Trek series was the greatest thing ever to air on TV. But the reality is that it’s actually not that good. What happened?

It would probably be accurate to say that the original Star Trek series was the greatest thing ever to air on TV as of the year 1979. Especially if you like science fiction. But even if you don’t care for science fiction, early television just wasn’t very good, and those of us old enough to remember it look back on it with rose-colored glasses.

Even when the next generation of Star Trek first aired in the 1980s, my reaction at the time was that it wasn’t as good as the original. How could that be? For starters, I was put off by the enhanced level of political correctness of TNG, the insistence that a robot should be treated as if he were human, the wimpiness of Picard compared to the brashness of Kirk.

Today, objectively, I can see that TNG has production values that are light years ahead of TOS. I think this wasn’t as obvious in the 1980s for two reasons:

(1) On crappy low-resolution analog over-the-air broadcasts on CRT televisions, the improvement over TOS weren’t as obvious, but it’s a lot more obvious when watching these episodes on Netflix with high-resolution screens. They did an amazing job cleaning up TOS and it looks way better than it did when I watched it over-the-air, but that has the unfortunate side-effect of giving me a better view of how hokey and cheap everything looked.

(2) Even up to the 1980s, the future hadn’t yet arrived. The control panels in TOS still looked believable, while the flashier TNG sets gave the impression that someone was trying too hard to make everything look futuristic. If you look at the interior of an actual real-world space vehicle, yes they have one on display at the Smithsonian Institution, it looks a lot more like a set from TOS and nothing at all like a set from TNG. But with hindsight, the people who created the sets for TNG did a pretty damn good job of imagining, if not the 24th century, at least the next thirty years The flashing screens in TNG don’t seem especially futuristic any more, while the sets in TOS look very old-fashioned. It now seems pretty ridiculous imagining that a future starship would have buttons all over the place.

My sophistication as a consumer of television has increased immensely since then. We now expect to see characters in TV series acting in a more subtle and naturalistic way, rather than the overacting prevalent on early TV, which was perhaps suited for small low-resolution screens with many viewers getting poor broadcast reception on top of that.

Computer and other technology has progressed fifty years, and with computers being a big part of Star Trek, it’s too easy to see what they got wrong about the future. A computer that you could talk to and would understand what you said, that seemed pretty impossible in the 1960s, but we are pretty close to that today. I think that in 10 years, Siri or Alexa will have just as good verbal comprehension as the Star Trek computers. Star Trek massively underpredicted computer automation. All those people on the bridge of Enterprise pushing buttons seems pretty unlikely, a future spaceship will surely just fly itself. And most of what passes for traveling through space on Star Trek as well as most other science fiction shows violates the laws of physics.

Star Trek should be credited for what they were able to accomplish given such an aggressive shooting schedule and such a low budget. The first season of Star Trek had 29 episodes, whereas a season of Game of Thrones has only ten or so episodes, created with a vastly larger budget.

So why continue with re-watching the original Star Trek series? I am still fascinated (to use one of Spock’s favorite words) by how much my expectations about television have changed. I’m old enough to feel the pull of nostalgia for things from my youth. My grandfather used to watch these ridiculous old Western movies on television, and now I see why he did that.

And there’s still a lot to learn about how society has changed since the 1960s. You may ask, wouldn’t it be better to see that from something that wasn’t science fiction? Yes, and no. Star Trek explored ideas that simply weren’t explored in other television at the time. Partially it was the science fiction theme that enabled that, but also television wasn’t a very sophisticated medium back then. It was mostly dumb entertainment for the masses. As badly as you may think Star Trek has aged, if you enjoyed the A-Team as a kid but try to watch it today, you won’t believe how you were ever able to watch that dreck. I suspect that I will not get much enjoyment out of any 1960s sitcoms. Were there any dramas from the 1960s other than western stuff like Rawhide, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, etc? I am open to suggestions. I think that I would enjoy Petyon Place, but there doesn’t seem to be anyway to watch it without buying the DVDs for $25.56 per five DVDs, which seems outrageous. The only 1960s show on Netflix is the Andy Griffith Show, which is said to be a pretty good show for the 1960s; maybe I should give it a try.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

August 29, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Star Trek, Television

Star Trek TOS, season 1: “Shore Leave” (sexbots!)

The next Star Trek post will discuss “The Squire of Gothos,” and then “Arena,” and then “The Alternative Factor,” and then “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.” I am now watching the episodes in production order instead of the airdate order used by Netflix.

* * *

The Enterprise discovers a planet where whatever you think about happens. It’s an amusement planet created by an advanced unknown alien race. Initially, no one understands what’s going on.

There’s an epic fistfight where Kirk beats up the upperclassmen from Starfleet Academy who he hated, who is actually an android created by the planet’s super-advanced machinery because Kirk thought about him. During the fight, Kirk’s shirt getting seriously ripped. But Kirk isn’t the only shirt that gets ripped in this episode. The pretty female Yeoman Barrows has her shirt ripped by an android Don Juan. She literally has a bodice-ripping fantasy! And then she changes into a princess costume which includes a hilarious cone-shaped hat with fabric dangling from the top.

Eventually the planet’s Caretaker appears and explains the whole thing.

CARETAKER: This entire planet was constructed for our race of people to come and play.

SULU: Play? As advanced as you obviously are, and you still play?

KIRK: Yes, play, Mister Sulu. The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.

CARETAKER: Exactly, Captain. How very perceptive of you.

Kirk then accepts the Caretaker’s offer to let his crew use the planet for Shore Leave.

This episode is fun! Except when McCoy got killed by an android knight with a lance. But then the aliens put him back together with advanced technology. It’s all fun!

At the beginning of the episode, we have Yeoman Barrows massaging Captain Kirk’s back while he’s sitting on his captain’s chair, but then later in the episode it’s McCoy who gets the girl. A big win for the nerdy sort-of-ugly middle-aged guy!

And what about the sexbots? We see McCoy with two hot babes (who are actually androids), because he was thinking about two girls from a cabaret on Rigel 2. He gets a very nasty look from his new girlfriend Yeoman Barrows, but I can imagine what most of the male crew is going to do on this planet, and it’s NOT suitable to show on broadcast TV! But what happens on the Shore Leave planet stays on the Shore Leave planet.

It’s kind of surprising that Kirk agreed, at the end, to let his crew enjoy the planet. Previous episodes of Star Trek, including The Cage, The Man Trap, and What Are Little Girls Made Of had a very negative view of fantasy women.

The aliens who created this planet obviously didn’t know about holodecks. Holodecks can do anything that this planet does, even better. With less danger. (Except when the holodeck goes bonkers and some holo-character takes over the real-world ship.)

Spock criticizes the whole idea of Shore Leave (before they knew the secret of the planet). “On my planet, to rest is to rest, to cease using energy. To me, it is quite illogical to run up and down on green grass using energy instead of saving it.” Vulcans are too logical to waste their hard-earned money on expensive vacations when they can just rest at home for free.

This is an underrated episode, I was able to enjoy the fun without thinking about plot holes and outdated special effects.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

August 28, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Star Trek

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