Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 25, 2004)
The Return of the Archons (broadcast 2/9/67) provides about three-fourths of a good episode. During those parts, we're treated to a nice detective story as Kirk and company attempt to get to the heart of an omniscient being called "Landru" who controls a population of outwardly-blissful but zombie-fied people. Most of the show moved at a nice pace and kept me interested and curious, but the ending completely collapsed.
This occurred because too much of the story happened for no apparent reason and remained left unexplained. Early on we see an chaotic event called "Festival", which is the only time in which the calm disappears. It's clear that Landru controls this, but why? Maybe I blacked out and missed something, but this aspect of the story is never explained and never made sense to me.
Plenty of other parts of "Archons" go similarly by the wayside, though this doesn't present a problem until the ending. That's when the preceding carelessness causes the story's fissures and the climax fizzles. I still found enough of "Archons" to like to make it worth watching, but that ending left a bad taste in my mouth.
More bad special effects also mar this episode. The Enterprise is back in outer space - where more flaws can be hidden - but some problems still appear, such as when the ship is being affected by Landru; the expected impact of the attacks seems nonexistent. I also noted some poor use of fake rocks as Kirk and friends attempt to escape the insanity of "Festival"; they bounce harmlessly off the fleeing crewmen and don't seem terribly heavy.
Perhaps some may think it's unfair of me to come down so hard on the effects of some episodes considering the then-current state of technology, but I don't do so consistently; my other Trek reviews lacked these criticisms. I only mention the problems with a few shows because they seem weak even compared to other episodes of Trek.
Space Seed (broadcast 2/16/67) is one of the best known of all 79 Trek shows since it connects to 1982's film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Overall, "Seed" presents a good program but I must admit I found it a little disappointing, probably because of the high expectations its history engendered in me.
In "Seed", the Enterprise encounters a derelict ship from the 20th century with faint signs of life aboard. These turn out to be its crew, most notably including their leader, Khan (Ricardo Montalban). McCoy revives Khan - and eventually the other survivors - and we slowly see his story unfold and learn of his quest for power.
"Seed" works well overall, and proceeds at a nice clip. As with many Trek episodes, much of it is predictable - let's see a show of hands for anyone who thought Lt. McGivers (Madlyn Rhue) would last for more than just this episode - but it's fun to see how the events unfold. As with James Bond films, the most enjoyment from Trek revolves around how our heroes will escape apparently impossible situations. "Seed" is a minor disappointment in that regard; I don't want to reveal the climax, but I thought it lacked cleverness and ended the tale on a bland note.
The show's finale also revealed one of the worst stunt doubles I've yet seen. Oh, he's a fine stunt man, but he looks little like William Shatner, and the guy appears on screen in many shots that make it absurdly obvious we aren't seeing Shatner; they did a terrible job of cutting around his face and hiding his true identity.
(As for the event "Seed" predicted that never happened? A world war in the 1990s. I guess you can't win them all!)
Trek doesn't have a great record for predicting the future - as shown in "Space Seed" - but A Taste of Armageddon (broadcast 2/23/67) does sort of foreshadow the invention of the neutron bomb. A diplomatic mission sends the crew of the Enterprise to Eminiar VII, a planet that's supposed to be "off limits"; Ambassador Fox (Gene Lyons) insists that they ignore that status in an attempt to establish diplomatic contact. Inevitably, it turns out there was a good reason this planet was on the "stay away" list: they've been at war for 500 years with another planet called Vendikar.
Also inevitably - since it's Trek - this is no ordinary war. Instead of normal weapons attacks, this fight occurs through computers which simulate effects and then report casualties. Anyone who would have been hit in a real attack then has to report for "disintegration".
This reminded me an awful lot of the "clean wars" the neutron bomb was supposed to allow; the participants in this conflagration stick with the technique since it "only" kills people and allows the infrastructures of society to continue. The warring factions don't suspect the price they have to pay for such "progress", and it's up to our crew to teach them.
"Taste" offers a fast-paced and dramatic episode of Trek. Of course we know that our heroes will escape annihilation, but this show makes it even more interesting than usual to watch how it occurs. I found the program to provide unusually thought-provoking material as well, since it concerns the nature of warfare itself and depicts the drawbacks to apparently "civilized" forms of battle. "Taste" kept me involved and stimulated from beginning to end; it's a strong episode.
This Side of Paradise (broadcast 3/2/67) provides a moderately uncompelling show as the crew of the Enterprise is affected by a mysterious force that alters their judgment. This starts with Spock, who actually displays emotions (and scores, too - whoo-hoo!), and eventually spreads to all members of the crew.
Hmmm... Haven't we seen this one before? A similar plot appeared in "The Naked Time" and we'll almost certainly see its likes again; hey, they have to find some reason to make Spock behave unnaturally! While it was nice to see Leonard Nimoy get to display some range of emotion, I thought the show itself was unspectacular. It proceeded along a mildly interesting line but didn't do a whole lot for me.
Possibly the most distinct aspect of "Paradise" is that - despite the usual rather liberal politics of the Trek world - this show could be seen as making a stand for capitalism. In this episode, we see how stagnant society becomes when everyone seems mindlessly happy and no longer strives to succeed and move ahead with the culture. Maybe this is a reach, but I saw that as a slam on communism, and the solution to everyone's problems was to crack the whip and get to work! (Everyone except Spock that is, whose reality provides the episode with a bittersweet ending.)
The Devil In the Dark (broadcast 3/9/67) made a political statement, though it walked upon standard Trek ground. The show starts as a standard monster story but evolves into something more interesting. A creature is killing members of a mining crew on Janus IV, which ultimately endangers the lives of residents above the surface. When Kirk and company stalk the beast, they (inevitably) discover all is not what it seems.
Although this growth seems fairly predictable, I found it interesting and convincing, and the conclusion actually was tense; the threat to the Horta - the monster in question - appeared real and for once, I wasn't completely sure how an episode would end. The show offers a nice little ecological message, in that when we destroy without knowledge, we can endanger more than we know, but it's not incredibly overt. All in all, I liked this episode a fair amount.
Errand of Mercy (broadcast 3/23/67) is historically-significant for one reason: it marks the first-ever appearance of the Klingons. Although the appearance of these neo-Nazis would change significantly in later shows - they're recognizable as Klingons but just barely - the attitude wouldn't; even with this first bow, the brutes were as vicious and fascist as ever.
Other than that historical footnote, I found "Mercy" to be somewhat bland. I liked the episode mainly because it kept me guessing until the end. The Klingons and the Federation have come to blows over strategically-located Organia, but the residents of the planet seem curiously unconcerned over their fate. Kirk and Spock lead a two-man resistance which - we ultimately discover - truly was futile.
The semi-surprise conclusion was the best part about "Errand", or at least the tension that led to the ending was good. The actual finish seemed rather patronizing and stiff, but the program kept me interested until that point, at least, so it stands as a decent episode of Trek.
Judging by the fact that it was shot twentieth but not shown until very late in the season, I'd take that as a sign that the show's producers knew that The Alternative Factor (broadcast 3/30/67) wasn't much of an episode. It's a completely uninspired mess, really, from the bland title all the way through the muddled story and forced philosophizing of its conclusion, this one's quite forgettable.
The plot really is what kills this episode, as it's far too complicated. That doesn't mean it's deep or intellectual and my tiny brain couldn't handle it; it simply means that the story doesn't get told effectively and the result is a botched mess. There's some potential to the tale of alternative universes, but the execution kills it by making the entire affair thoroughly confusing. I suppose this one might work better upon subsequent viewings, but probably not.
Continuity strangeness redux: the main guest on this episode - Robert
Brown as the mysterious Lazarus (not too creative in the naming department!) - bears an odd fu manchu-style mustache and a stringy little beard. Enjoy yourself as you note how the density of his facial hair varies radically throughout the show! I kept waiting for some alternative-universe oriented explanation as to why he sometimes looked like a 23rd century relative of the guys in ZZ Top but on other occasions displayed almost no growth, but that assistance never came.
The City on the Edge of Forever (broadcast 4/6/67) is viewed with very high regard, and I can understand those opinions. The story itself is nothing spectacular, as it involves the semi-usual time-traveling and various urgent problems to be solved, but the character development of the show is what makes it stand out from the crowd.
Trek was never afraid to be different than the typical sci-fi shows; most of them were all silly heroics and whiz-bang theatrics, while Trek often took a more cerebral and more ambivalent tone. As such, we often encountered shows that ended in a rather melancholy way.
"City" takes that bittersweet quality to a different level and features greater moral complexity than usual. In a way, it's a precursor of the theme seen in Star Trek II, the whole "the good of the many outweighs the good of the one or the few" deal, as Kirk has to decide if one death to save many is an acceptable bargain.
I won't spoil the ending, but it isn't something you see everyday on network TV, and I'm sure it stood out even more starkly in the mid-Sixties. Across the board, "City" is a well-made episode; even Shatner's usual hamminess seems toned down to a degree, and he makes Kirk more human than ever. All in all, it's a very good episode.
Operation - Annihilate! (broadcast 4/13/67) proceeded along a mildly interesting line but didn't do a whole lot for me. Its storyline is typical Trek: a mysterious disease is killing inhabitants of a planet - Deneva, in this case - and it's up to the occupants of the Enterprise to stop it. To up the ante, Spock gets stricken by the malady.
The episode offers one historical oddity: the only appearance of Kirk's older brother Sam. Apparently Sam is mentioned in an earlier episode - "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" but "Operation" provides his only on-screen "work"; he's played (as a corpse) by a lightly made-up William Shatner.
Unfortunately, the use of Sam and his family are one of the episode's weak points. One would think that Kirk would be tremendously upset by the demise of his brother and the infection of his extended family, but he barely seems phased by the incidents. I felt as though Sam, et al. were used as a cheap plot device that was completely unnecessary; they add to the bathos but for no productive purpose, as they come and go quickly and have virtually nothing to do with the plot of the Enterprise's involvement in the problem.
One positive aspect of this episode, however, comes from Leonard Nimoy's terrific acting as Spock. When Spock gets the disease, it takes incredible effort on his part to control the pain. Nimoy effectively conveys the presence of our favorite Vulcan as he does his best to maintain his "game face" while subjected to intense agony. Nimoy provides some of his best acting as he does this; it's a remarkable performance.
That's all about "Operation - Annihilate!" that I can call "remarkable", though. In any case, it offers a solid though unexceptional piece of Trek that I generally enjoyed.