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  • Shelby Cadwell

Sci-Fi Saturday #8

Welcome to Sci-Fi Saturday, a new column that is devoted to all things science fiction: film, television, comics, novels, video games, and local Metro Detroit events. If there is a topic you'd like to see covered in an upcoming column,

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After what has felt like a long hiatus, I am finally back at my marathon of Star Trek: The Original Series. This week I watched the two part episode "The Menagerie" (Season 1, Eps 11-12), "The Conscience of the King," and "The Balance of Terror."

"The Menagerie" reintroduces Captain Pike from the original ST:TOS pilot episode, "The Cage," as the former captain of the USS Enterprise, and Spock's old commander. As the original pilot hadn't ever been aired, the production company decided to integrate the unused footage into this 2-part episode in an effort to cut their losses. The framing device is that Captain Pike has been badly burned and disfigured in an accident, and Spock has promised to return his former captain to the forbidden planet "Talos IV" where an advanced alien race can make the captain believe he is young and able-bodied again.

Because travel to Talos IV is strictly prevented, a ruse is developed to keep Captain Kirk in the dark until they reach the planet - a fictional "court martial" is arranged by the aliens, who through the power of illusion make it seem as if starbase commander Commodore Mendez is on the Enterprise, grilling Spock about some sneaky subspace calls between himself and Pike. During the court martial, Spock presents the pilot footage as evidence - trying to slowly build a case to Kirk that allowing Pike to return to Talos IV is the most empathetic and ethical course of action (despite starfleet regulations against travel to the planet). In the end, Pike is returned to Talos and reunited with Vina (his love interest in "The Cage") and is given back his former body, before the disfiguring accident.

Given the overly complicated plot of this episode and the shoehorning of old footage into the new storyline, I wasn't a huge fan. I do enjoy sneaky Spock, though. And so many of the Trek parodies I've enjoyed make reference to these episodes that I have to appreciate it on that level. 6/10.

"The Conscience of the King" centers on a case of uncertain identity. Kirk is contacted by an old friend who is convinced that Anton Karidian, the leader of a Shakespearean acting troupe (apparently they still have those in the future), is actually Kodos "the executioner" - a disgraced former governor of an Earth colony who committed genocide against his people when a plague and food shortage threatened to wipe them out. Kodos has long been thought dead, but after doing some research, Kirk begins to suspect that his friend may be right. As Kirk is one of only a handful of survivors of Kodos' massacre who had seen the governor in person, he feels responsible for figuring out whether Karidian is an innocent actor, or a man trying to run away from his dark past.

Anxious about making the wrong call, Kirk decides he must get closer to Karidian - he invites the acting troupe onto the Enterprise to put on a play for the crew, and also develops a romantic relationship with Karidian's young daughter, Lenore. Needless to say, when a Shakespearean actor is accused of being a genocidal maniac in disguise, shit gets pretty dramatic. There is a weird subplot with Spock and Bones trying to run a parallel investigation on Kodos, which kinda works and kinda doesn't. The Kirk/Lenore relationship is also pretty icky, since it is explicitly stated that she is only 19 years old and Kirk is definitely at least 10-15 years older than her. At the very least, Lenore does figure out that Kirk's advances are really a ruse to get more information about Karidian/Kodos, and she calls him out for being a tool. All that is somewhat undercut by the revelation that Lenore is a serial murderer who has been silently taking out every single survivor who could potentially identify her father as Kodos.

The tragic ending of the episode is that Lenore accidentally shoots and kills her father, who is trying to atone for his sins and jumps in front of the laser blast to protect Kirk. I think the lesson here is that teenage girls are somehow worse than old men who have committed actual genocide. Like, I know I'm supposed to feel bad for Kodos because he thought he was saving his people and all that, but c'mon - can't we all just agree that genocide, regardless of the surrounding circumstances, is a bad thing? Thanks for saving Kirk, though, I guess. 8/10 for ~drama~ and some pretty solid performances. I prefer mentally tortured Kirk to physically tortured Kirk, at the very least.

"The Balance of Terror" is the first episode with Romulans, which is pretty cool. The crux of the episode is that the Enterprise engages with a Romulan ship, which is destroying outposts in the "neutral zone." Travel into the neutral zone is forbidden by treaty and is considered to be an act of aggression/war. The rest of the episode is a cat and mouse game between the Romulan ship and the USS Enterprise, with the Romulan commander (Mark Lenard) and Captain Kirk evenly matched. Despite the bottle-episode style, "Balance of Terror" manages to hit all of those Trek high notes I've come to expect: introduction of a new alien race, an important lesson is learned, Kirk does cool shit and outguns the enemy. The subplot with Spock, who happens to look a lot like the Romulans, and Lieutenant Stiles, who distrusts Spock and insinuates that he may be a Romulan spy, is well executed and less "a very special episode-y" than I was expecting. Also, I'm weirdly attracted to the Romulan leader. He's like Spock, but definitely DTF. Don't @ me. 10/10 - would trek again.

[Where I collect the most interesting and science fiction-y headlines from the last week]

  • Scientists discovered an entirely new celestial phenomenon and named it STEVE (because scientists are big effin' nerds)

  • Using a "quantum switch," researchers at the University of Queensland were able to alter causality so that particles of light express 'before' and 'after' states simultaneously; I don't know enough about quantum physics to decide if this means we're one step closer to time travel, but maybe?

  • A review of scientific literature in animal behavioral studies found that the word "promiscuous" is too widely applied, inconsistently defined, and connotatively loaded to be of use; in other words - stop slut shaming animals

  • Through DNA analysis of a 50,000 year old bone found in a Siberian cave, scientists have discovered a first generation Neanderthal-Denisovan interspecies child, aka the kissing cousins of the Paleolithic age

[Where I share upcoming and ongoing SF-centric events in the Metro Detroit area]

Sunday, August 26th:

Tuesday, August 28th:

Wednesday, August 29th:

Thursday, August 30th:

Friday, August 31st:

Saturday, September 1st:

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