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Sci-Fi Saturday #16


Welcome to Sci-Fi Saturday, a 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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I've returned from my long, unplanned hiatus and ready to jump back into my trek through the stars. I've been watching ahead a bit, but this week I'm just going to focus on the tail end of season 1 and first five episodes of season 2.

Season 1, Episode 27: "The Alternative Factor"

I know Lazarus was resurrected, but that beard should have stayed dead.

I'm not sure that I have the cognitive capacity to explain the loopy-ass plot of this episode, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with a 'matter universe' and 'anti-matter universe' connected by a dimensional portal. Also, something about time travel, but that doesn't actually seem too important. A character named Lazarus tries to convince Kirk that the universe is in grave danger and that he needs dilithium crystals to disrupt whatever is causing the threat. Kirk refuses, rightfully assuming that Lazarus is a total nutbar. Kirk ends up transported to the anti-matter universe, meets the anti-Lazarus, and then destroys both Lazarus and his 'evil' anti-matter counterpart in order to save both universes from destruction.

In addition to the nonsensical plot and hand-wavey science of this episode, Lazarus' beard is literally the worst practical effect in a show where sticking a horn on a dog and calling it an 'alien' was standard practice. Every time I saw that beard on screen I wanted to scream into the void.

2/10, would *not* Trek again.

Season 1, Episode 28: "The City on the Edge of Forever"

I've actually already written about this episode in my Harlan Ellison retrospective SF Saturday blog, back when he passed away in July 2018. In addition to reviewing the excellent "The City on the Edge of Forever," penned by the famously acerbic SF scribe, I also wrote about The Outer Limits episode "Demon with a Glass Hand" - another Ellison masterpiece. Check out both reviews here.

Season 1, Episode 29: "Operation: Annihilate!"

Eww, who's been wiping their boogers on the wall?

Parasitic single-celled organisms that looks suspiciously like fake vomit (probably because that's what the props were actually made out of) are attacking colony after colony, causing insanity and societal collapse. The Enterprise crew tracks the threat to Deneva, where Kirk's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew live - or lived, before the parasites killed them (to be fair, the nephew does survive the onslaught). While the landing crew is investigating, Spock is attacked by a parasite and briefly incapacitated. He is able to overcome the pain through sheer mental fortitude, but unfortunately the parasite cannot be removed without also killing the host.

The rest of the episode revolves around finding a way to kill the seemingly-indestructible parasites without killing their host bodies - all before the parasite can spread and wipe out further civilizations. It is eventually discovered that blindingly bright light will kill the parasites. Spock offers himself as a test subject and is seemingly blinded by the light (the jury is out on whether or not he was also revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night). Of course, you can't keep Spock down for long. It is shortly thereafter revealed that Spock's blindness was only temporary, and that Vulcan's have protective inner eyelids for just such an occasion. How lucky.

Mama said Spock you out.

This episode commits one of my ultimate pet peeves, which is to introduce some crucial part of Kirk's backstory to raise the stakes... but without following up on what happens afterwards or even giving the barest of explanations for why Kirk's brother has literally never been mentioned before now. And what happens to Peter, Kirk's recently-orphaned nephew, once the episode ends? Why not just let the audience decide they care about the citizens of Deneva organically? Why force in a personal connection? At a certain point, Kirk is going to run out of long-lost brothers, friends, former captain's, school buddies, and rivals for us to care about...then what?

But overall I will say that the episode features some fine problem-solving on the part of the Enterprise crew, and Spock being a total badass with lizard eyelids, so that alone makes it worth a watch.

7/10, would trek again.

Season 2, Episode 1: "Amok Time"

Planet Vulcan. A victim of Hollywood color-grading before it was cool.

The episode in which Spock is so horny that he'll literally die if he doesn't get laid. And then he still doesn't get laid. If that isn't a whole-ass mood for 2019, I don't know what is.

But seriously. In this episode, Spock must return to his home planet to perform the Vulcan mating ritual - pon farr - with his wife (GASP!), T'Pring. Of course, the mating ritual on Vulcan is less sexy and more logical - involving a physical challenge between competing males of the female's choosing. Initially it seems that Spock will have to battle Stonn, a strong and virile Vulcan, but in another shocking twist T'Pring chooses Captain Kirk as her champion. Kirk and Spock will have to fight...TO THE DEATH! Dun Dun Dunnnnn. Cut to commercial.

The hammer is my penis.

Of course Kirk doesn't actually kill Spock and Spock doesn't actually kill Kirk. That'd be a pretty bleak season opener. Bones gives Kirk a paralyzing drug that makes him appear dead, but we discover that he is still alive after being beamed back to the ship. Spock and Kirk go back to being buddies and all is well on the USS Enterprise.

This is a thing we do, apparently.

In addition to being our first glimpse of the planet Vulcan, this episode also introduced the famous fight music used throughout the rest of the series AND the Vulcan salute. "Amok Time" - for those reasons alone - is a truly iconic episode. It is also just well-written, well-acted, and an interesting dive into Vulcan mythology and the inner workings of Mr. Spock.

10/10, would trek again.

Season 2, Episode 2: "Who Mourns for Adonais?"

"Don't come any closer. I'm not wearing anything under this lamé."

The Enterprise crew is held captive by an incredibly powerful alien who refers to himself as Apollo. "Apollo" makes references to other gods of Greek mythology who have ceased to be worshiped and thus faded from existence. Kirk and Spock speculate that perhaps an omnipotent group of aliens visited Earth centuries ago and inspired the Greek myths of old. Apollo might be all-powerful, but he is also a bit of a greedy man-baby, insisting that the Enterprise crew stay on his planet to love and worship him for the rest of time. Kirk, being the salty bitch he is, wouldn't trade his freedom for immortality in paradise with an all-powerful god, NO MATTER HOW CHISELED HIS JAW MAY BE. Spock and Kirk devise a way to drain Apollo's power, allowing them to return to the ship and leave. There is also a subplot involving one of Trek's many Disposable Blonde Actresses (TM), who acts as a love interest to Apollo and must betray him in order to help the Enterprise crew find his weaknesses. She suffers emotional whiplash at the hands of Captain Kirk, being manipulated first into loving Apollo and then into rejecting him, and once Apollo fades into nothing, we never see her again. Bleak.

"I really hope my boss doesn't intervene and fuck this relationship up..."

This is a weird episode. The Greek mythology angle could have been interesting, but the pacing is bizarre, the subplot with Apollo and Carolyn just seems cruel, and the dialogue is repetitive to the point of being grating.

3/10, would probably not trek again.

Season 2, Episode 3: "The Changeling"

"Now listen here, you little shit..."

When billions of inhabitants of the Malurian star system have been suddenly wiped out, the Enterprise crew go to investigate. There they discover a space probe named NOMAD - launched from Earth several centuries ago - that for some unexplained reason has been wiping out all 'biological imperfections' it encounters using an incredibly powerful energy bolt. This robotic menace mistakenly believes that Captain Kirk is its original creator, and thus agrees to be beamed aboard the Enterprise. The remainder of the (bottle) episode involves the Enterprise crew trying to contain, examine, and understand how NOMAD transformed from an innocuous space probe to an uber-powerful killing machine. When Spock uses his Vulcan mind-meld abilities on NOMAD, he discovers that the probe merged with another alien probe, one designed to collect and sterilize soil samples. The damaged NOMAD probe interpreted this mission as "destroy all imperfect life forms" and had continued along that path until being intercepted by the Enterprise.

In standard Star Trek fashion, Kirk destroys the probe with logic. If NOMAD must destroy all imperfections, then logically wouldn't it have to self-destruct? NOMAD is imperfect because it mistook Kirk for its creator, and because it failed to recognize its own mistake (okay, that just seems punitive, but whatever). The crew beams NOMAD into deep space right in the nick of time for the probe to meltdown and self destruct. The episode ends with a weird joke about NOMAD being Kirk's son (the probe continually called him "creator"). Slightly creepy when you literally just just compelled your robot son to commit suicide, Kirk, but you do you, I guess.

Overall this was pretty cool, although I'm not typically a fan of bottle episodes. NOMAD is genuinely pretty menacing, despite being a floating metal tube with some buttons on it. And if NOMAD never existed, we wouldn't have NEPTR (Adventure Time) or V-GINY (Futurama), both of which are hilarious.

8/10, would trek again.

Season 2, Episode 4: "Mirror, Mirror"

Subtle.

When attempting to beam aboard the Enterprise during an ion storm, Kirk, Scotty, Bones, and Uhura are unwittingly transported to a "mirror universe" version of the ship, inhabited (as is always the case with mirror universe) by evil duplicates of their normal crew. They devise that their own mirror-universe counterparts must have been beamed aboard the "good" Enterprise. Unfortunately, we don't get to see much of what evil Kirk, Scotty, Bones, and Uhura were up to on the good Enterprise, as the rest of the episode mainly focuses on how the good crew manages to blend in with their evil surroundings so as to avoid suspicion, detection, and punishment. Kirk, Scotty, Bones, and Uhura quickly realize that on this evil version of the Enterprise, danger and treachery wait around every corner.

Evil Spock and Evil Aaaabed (not pictured)

There are a few subplots going on (one involving the Federation mining dilithium crystals, one involving evil Kirk's love interest, Marlena), but the most interesting part of this episode to me was the interaction between mirror-universe Spock and the Enterprise crew as they prepare to beam back aboard their own ship. Even when "evil" Spock discovers what's truly going on, he still agrees to assist the crew in transporting home. Kirk remarks that Spock is a pretty stand-up guy in both universes, which really comes as no surprise. The biggest difference between Spock and mirror-universe Spock is probably the unattractive facial hair. This reinforces two things: 1) Spock has the most consistent moral, ethical, and logical code of any ST:TOS character, 2) fake beards are bad, always.

I'll be in my bunk.

On a somewhat unrelated note, mirror-universe Uhura's outfit is fire. I'm pretty glad they didn't just slap a fake beard on her and call it a day.

10/10, would trek again.

Season 2, Episode 5: "The Apple"

Can't a snake/computer/God run a civilization around here without being judged? Damn.

A society of innocents, led by an enigmatic and unseen force known as Vaal, is (unintentionally) introduced to sex and violence once the Enterprise crew arrives on their planet. In reference to the biblical story of Genesis, Kirk offers the primitive villagers the metaphorical "apple" when he orders the Enterprise to destroy Vaal, which has been both providing for and controlling them. Vaal has granted the villagers immortality and a paradisiacal life, in exchange for their obedience and supplication (part of Vaal's orders are that the villagers are to maintain their 'innocence'...and since they are virtually immortal, there is no need to reproduce). Kirk is like "nah, sex and self-sustenance is better" and commits them - really against their will - to a life of sexy, sexy drudgery.

Thanks a lot, Cap.

3/10. Bad costumes. Bad story. Bad Kirk. Would not trek again.

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