Gotta admit, I started giggling before I hit “Play.” The title sounds like a queermo soap opera title. Time for me to summon the OH MYYYY FACE (This’ll be a regular occurrence). And a sound clip too, just cuz. Also, you can watch along here!
3D Chess and Spock’s Almost-Smiles
Spock has already demonstrated that he is a BOSS when it comes to 3D chess. I’ve learned to pay attention to 3D chess scenes ever since Charlie X. I count on these games to give us:
a) character exposition.
b) an allegory for something.
c) sassy shit talking.
Luckily, we get all three, with this episode opening on a game of 3D Chess between Kirk and Spock. Right when it seems like Spock is going to swoop in for a checkmate, Captain Kirk pulls a surprise maneuver. Kirk notes that Spock tends to play an irritating game of chess, and Spock retorts, “Irritating? Ah yes, one of your Earth emotions.” Spock starts to describe a human female in his family history, but we’re interrupted by a bridge update.
Let’s talk about Spock for a moment. After writing my recap of The Cage, I read a bunch of comments on how rare Spock’s smiles are. It happens so infrequently that there are t-shirts dedicated to these moments. I’m going to keep a running tally of Spock smiles (and almost-smiles) and unveil them at the end of each season.
Ship Recorder in Space
Kirk’s reveals in his Captain’s Logs narrative that the Enterprise has intercepted distress calls from the SS Valiant, a ship that has been missing for 200 years. Important side note: This show officially has me TERRIFIED of floating lost in space. Their tractor beam lugs in an old school recorder, which honestly looks like something Oscar the Grouch might pop out of.
The recorder starts to beep loudly, and Kirk puts the entire ship on high alert. I mean, with all the scary/weird shit that’s happened during the last three episodes, I really don’t blame him. The leaders of each Enterprise department have a meeting.
Women in Leadership
Uh oh, now for another awkward depiction of women in power and their struggles. Kirk turns to his new Yeoman, and acknowledges her as “Jones.” She corrects him promptly with “Smith.” Way to start off on the right foot. I wonder what happened to Yeoman Rand?
We’re introduced to Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, the new psychiatrist on the Enterprise. Apparently, a female doctor is just too hot to handle. The creep-tastic Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell asks, “Improving the breed, Doctor? Is that your line?” Ugghhhhhh. It is disturbing (and perhaps a sign of the era) that a Commander feels like he can say this during a meeting.
Dr. Dehner throws some shade right back, saying, “I heard that’s more your specialty, Commander” while Smith shoots him dagger eyes. Mitchell mutters that Dr. Dehner is a “walking freezer unit.” (WHY IS IT THAT WHENEVER A WOMAN TRIES TO ASSERT HERSELF….asdafjkl) None of the other men comment on Mitchell’s behavior. I can’t tell if they’re trying to let Dehner handle it herself, or if they just don’t care. Either way, I found their complicity annoying.
We’re distracted from this shitshow when Spock announces his ship recorder discoveries. Apparently, the Valiant crew was researching ESP before they hit an unknown force, and the Valiant captain is heard giving orders to destroy his own ship. The Enterprise team is spooked out, and they decide to leave the galaxy.
But wait! A strange purple force blocks their way, and Captain Kirk decides to fly through it, which leaves me saying “oh noooooo” instead of “oh myyyyy.” They crash into the purple force, cue the special effects. Controls on the bridge explode and sizzle, and both Dehner and Mitchell are struck by a freaky electric glow.
The crew regains their footing. Gary wakes up with SPOOKY CRAZY EYES. This is the second episode where eyes denote some kind of freaky character change. Perhaps a special effects budget decision?
Brain and ship damage
Dehner and Mitchell are rushed to sick bay, and we get some sobering news. Autopsy reports of the nine Valiant crew members show that parts of their brains were burnt out. And both Dehner and Mitchell are testing for extremely high ESP abilities. As if things weren’t bad enough, the main engines on the Enterprise are also burned out, so it’ll take them years to reach human outposts. Yikes!
Captain Kirk goes to visit Mitchell in sick bay, and they reminisce on old Starfleet Academy. We get a refreshing image of young Kirk as a book nerd, when Mitchell calls him a “stack of books with legs.”
Kirk explains that Mitchell will be kept under psychological evaluation by Dr. Dehner. Poor woman. Mitchell quips that “out of 100 women on board, you can do better than that, Captain. Didn’t I say you better be good to me?” Wow, dude. Misogyny and a threat to Captain Kirk, all at once? You are really racking up the asshole points, Mitchell!
Warning Bells, Everywhere!
Mitchell begins speed-reading through computer files, and Spock spies on him with a l33t remote desktop screen. Spock turns to Kirk and asks, “Is that Gary Mitchell, the one you used to know?” SEE! SPOCK KNOWS SOMETHING IS UP! LISTEN TO SPOCK!
Dr. Dehner enters Mitchell’s room and tries to patch things up. “Women professionals tend to overcompensate,” she explains, in reference to his “freezer unit” insult. Nooooo, Dr. Dehner, you don’t need to apologize!
Things get weird when Mitchell exclaims, “Watch this, doc!” He then *mind-controls* his vital signs down to zero, and appears to die for a few seconds.
Dr. Dehner rushes to his bedside to revive him. Mitchell pops back to life and clings to the doctor’s arm, spitting off some poetry. Turns out, he’s memorized a love sonnet called “Nightingale Woman.” (Fun fact: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote this poem as an ode to his airplane.)
Remember that terrifying scene last episode, when Spock began yelling verses from William Blake’s “The Tyger,” while he’s being controlled by Charlie X? So full of NOPE!
Poetics during these early episodes are creeping me out, indicating a character’s loss of control or a sinister change.
We Might Have a Carrie Situation on Our Hands
Well, Mitchell’s strange brain powers begin to escalate. He reads the mind of Lee from Engineering, and declares that a vital circuit has been blown. If the crew can replace this circuit, then their engines might work again.
Sulu points out that Mitchell’s powers will continue to grow. “Soon, we’ll be useless to him, actually an annoyance,” Spock explains. I see this as a reference to the 3D chess match earlier, and yes, Spock you totally understand annoyance (and its dangers). Spock recommends that they fill up on lithium power on a planet called Delta Vega. He gives the crew two options: strand Mitchell there or kill him now.
Dr. Dehner attacks Spock for his lack of feeling, then goes on to defend Mitchell. “A mutated superior man could also be a wonderful thing!” Really???
The jig is up when Kirk and the other officers walk in on Mitchell doing mind-floating tricks with his cup. Mitchell doesn’t hesitate to reveal his uber Bad Guy plans—he boasts that he’s going to become a god. When the officers move to sedate him, Mitchell screams, “You fools, I’ll crush you like insects!”
Spock’s Deadly Logic
The Enterprise crew lands on Delta Vega, and Lieutenant Kelso rushes to complete their engineering repairs. Kirk instructs Kelso to wire the planet for an explosion, just in case Mitchell gets out of hand. I feel really bad for the Captain during this scene — you can tell that he is struggling with the decision to maroon his old Academy buddy.
They trap Mitchell inside of a prison cell secured with an invisible force field. When Mitchell crashes against it, his eyes momentarily return back to normal. He looks at the captain with an expression of hurt and confusion, then his eyes return to their eerie silver color.
Spock orders a phaser rifle from the Enterprise, and Kirk reacts with surprise and disappointment. Honestly, I don’t blame Spock for getting armed to the teeth. “What makes you right, and a trained psychologist wrong?” Kirk asks, pleading with Spock to show some mercy.
Spock responds calmly. “Because she feels. I don’t. All I know is logic.”
You know, if I’m ever trapped on a far-off planet with a crazed megalomaniac, I want Spock on my team!
Eden Allegories Galore!
Dr. Dehner then announces that she’s STAYING on the planet. Seriously? I’m chalking this up to the weird lightning blast and ESP abilities. Maybe she’s feeling some weird alignment with Mitchell. Dehner’s eyes turn silver. That’s right, she’s becoming a god too, and it’s just a matter of time before she becomes all-powerful!
Unfortunately, Mitchell has become powerful enough to strangle Kelso with his telekinesis. When Kirk finds Kelso’s body, he directs the crew to return to the Enterprise, and to nuke it with radiation if Kirk doesn’t return within 12 hours. Shit is getting really serious. I really admire the Captain’s dedication to his crew in this scene.
So Mitchell breaks out of his prison cell. He and Dehner go frolicking around Delta Vega, conjuring up an idyllic paradise. Mitchell presents her with an apple, which they eat together.
Kirk Buries an Old Friend
Kirk carries the phaser rifle and hunts for the two gods-in-training. He runs into Dehner and begs her to retain her humanity for a bit longer. “You were a psychiatrist once! You know all the ugly and savage things we keep buried, that none of us dare expose. But he’ll dare!” Kirk warns her against Mitchell.
Remember the sparkle lazer effects from The Cave? Well, they’re back! Bust out your glow sticks and join the sparkle lazer party.
Mitchell is unimpressed and he conjures up a gigantic grave, complete with a headstone. Kirk’s headstone. What a presumptuous meanie!
Mitchell uses his telekinetic powers to force Kirk onto his knees, into a prayer position. While Kirk can’t control his body, he can still plead with Dr. Dehner. He tells her there will only be room for one god, one jealous god. Apparently this message gets through, because Dehner begins to blast Mitchell with her super powers. He returns fire, injuring Dehner with his godlike abilities.
Kirk knocks Mitchell into the grave and shoots outcropping rocks with the phaser rifle. Mitchell is buried and defeated.
Dr. Dehner lays on the ground, suffering from battle injuries. She apologizes to Kirk for her actions and dies. While I couldn’t root for Dehner during most of this episode, I feel like she definitely redeems herself by the end of episode four, becoming a hero through her sacrifice. (Although I feel like a Sassy Gay Friend might have helped her stay away from Mitchell in the first place…)
Kirk is beamed back up to the Enterprise. He fudges the Captain’s logs, reporting that both Mitchell and Dehner gave their lives while performing their duties, in order to keep their service records untarnished. Spock turns to Kirk to offer some comfort. “I felt for him too,” Spock says. And Kirk gives him a sad smile, replying “I believe there is some hope for you Mr. Spock.”
I really enjoyed this episode because it reveals a TON of background info on Spock, even though he isn’t the focal point. It was great watching him adjust to tactical situations under stress. I’ll be keeping my eye out for more 3D chess scenes and almost-smiles! Thanks for reading (and watching!). Tune in next week to rigorously analyze/kinda make fun of the next episode, which is called The Naked Time and is thus v. relevant to your interests.
This has been another kick-butt installment of Star Trek N00b. Growing up, I had never watched a Star Trek episode all the way through. My family members weren’t huge sci-fi fans, and they’d flip the channel whenever Star Trek came on. Now I am embarking on an epic nerd rite of passage, chronicling my reactions to every episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).
I haven’t been able to watch a TOS ep all the way through in a very long time… but I’m thoroughly enjoying these recaps. It puts them all in a very different (and interesting and amusing!) light.
You know, I think I’ve only seen this episode a couple of times, and not really recently, so I didn’t remember a lot of the Spock stuff! You’re right, that’s a lot of nice enriching background for his character! And Spock’s almost-smiles are just adorable, I think. Aw. I also forgot they were still wearing those stupid uniforms at this stage. I think this is the last episode with that though? At least the women had the option of wearing pants back here. That’s nice. :P
Lorraine, I think you must not realize that this episode is the 2nd pilot shot, the one to test the new captain and crew after Roddenberry was forced to jettison his female “Number One”. I am not sure it was ever broadcast, and it is very strange that on my discs and on Netflix, it shows up as episode 4. The answer to “Where is Yeoman Rand?” is that she hasn’t been cast yet, this pilot includes the old costumes, before the change to micro-minis had been ordered by the network. Spock’s eyebrows are much slantier, and Uhura, Sulu, and Dr. McCoy hasn’t been cast, either. It is very disorienting to have it after the world of Star Trek has been changed into something quite different. Note, too, the natural hairstyles of the women–none of those weirdly woven wigs that give the female officers (and guest stars) a very unnatural, ultra-feminine look.
From here on out, we’ll have a more rational chronology, although it is interesting to note that the episodes were not shown in the order in which they were shot to begin with. I did watch my disks once in chronological order, rather than in the order in which they appear on it, and many things made more sense. But we won’t see many more smiles from Spock. I’m glad you’re enjoying the show, though. Have fun!
Also, Rand does disappear early on because of drug problems (I think). It wasn’t for any other reason.
Alcohol, I think. She ended up on skid row, quite literally, then made a slow recovery. She has bit parts in a couple of the movies.
as to geekery, it should be pointed out that cap’n kirks tombstone will bear some inspection here. note the midle initial “R”. his official middle name was ultimately ” Tiberius” … so ……..
This was just the pilot, not part of the series itself. Lots of stuff was changed, as I’ve said above, but good catch! I noticed it too, but forgot by the time I posted the above. It’s fun seeing these again.