Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Where I Discuss The Alternative Factor

It's been a year since I last posted my thoughts on an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, which means I've pretty much made a hash of one of my New Year'sResolutions for 2014. I suppose I can only resolve to do better in 2015. Anyway, without further ado, here are my thoughts on The Alternative Factor.

I was first exposed to the story of Lazarus and "anti-Lazarus" more than thirty years ago when I read James Blish's adapation of the teleplay in Star Trek 10 (by the way, the cover of the book, which depicts a battle between the Enterprise and a Klingon battlecruiser, is completely misleading – no such scene is portrayed in any of the stories contained between its covers).

I thought the story was interesting, even compelling.

The cover of Star Trek 10 – no such battle is portrayed in any of the stories in this book - needless to say, I was taken in by the cover and snapped up the book and ended up being quite the disappointed grade-schooler

Viewing the actual episode just highlights one of the main problems with the story – the crew of the Enterprise are merely spectators to the story of Lazarus and anti-Lazarus, which goes a little something like this: Lazarus has been driven mad by the discovery that an anti-Lazarus exists in a parallel antimatter universe, and, despite the fact that Lazarus and anti-Lazarus can only come into non-cataclysmic-causing contact in a "corridor" connecting their respective universes (Lazarus on anti-Lazarus contact outside of this "corridor" would result in the destruction of both universes), Lazarus is intent on cornering anti-Lazarus outside of this "corrider" and coming to grips with him.

Because he's insane and that's what insane people do.

Lazarus...or possibly anti-Lazarus...either way, one of them, looking rather unhinged

The problem with the episode (I'm referring to the problem of Kirk and his crew being immaterial to the story, not to the rather unsatisfactory motivation of the villain) didn't really register when I read the novelization because the characterizations of Lazarus and anti-Lazarus were interesting enough to captivate me – when I read James Blish's adaptation, I imagined anti-Lazarus, the real hero in this story (Kirk is relegated to being his sidekick in The Alternative Factor), someone who is willing to consign himself to being trapped for eternity battling Lazarus in the "corridor" joining their respective universes so as to save both their universes, as being a tragic yet heroic figure with Lazarus being a malignant enigma.

Unfortunately, Robert Brown, the actor who portrayed both Lazarus and anti-Lazarus, wasn't really up to the task of essentially carrying the episode. As the calm and rational anti-Lazarus, his performance is barely adequate. As the unhinged Lazarus, his portrayal is limited to mad scenery chewing rants and frequent dizzy spells which usually end with him falling from great heights onto very rocky surfaces and somehow managing to avoid turning into strawberry jam from the impact.

Lazarus about to fall, something which happens with alarming, giggle-inducing frequency in The Alternative Factor

The frequency of Lazarus's episodes of vertigo and his being seemingly impervious to blunt force trauma results in many parts of The Alternative Factor being unintentionally hilarious.

Unfortunately, the hilarity of the bad bits aren't enough to catapult The Alternative Factor into the category of being So Bad It's Good.

It's merely bad.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Random Thoughts on Errand of Mercy

It's already December 2013 and this will probably be my first and last post of the year. I won't go into detail explaining why I haven't written at all this year but suffice it to say that real life suddenly intruded at the end of 2012 and during much of 2013.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Now, onto Errand of Mercy.

My opinion of Errand of Mercy has evolved over the years.

Initially, I loved this episode. It was the episode that introduced the Klingons to Star Trek fans and they're here, as they were initially conceptualized, in all their greasy cruelty and sneakiness. No politically correct, retconned, Samurai warriors/Sioux braves in alien makeup these, the Klingons in Errand of Mercy are a far cry from what they eventually evolved into in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

However, what caused my opinion of this episode to change is that, once again, we are subjected to yet another Star Trek: The Original Series episode which employs a Deus ex machina, this time in the form of the highly evolved Organians, to tie together all the narrative threads at the finale. The role of the Organians as objective observers of and commentators on the behavior of the Federation and the Klingon Empire is about as subtle as a sledge hammer; from the point of view of exposition, was it really necessary to have a Greek, or in this case Organian, chorus point out that in its propensity to view war as an option that it doesn't necessarily shy away from, the Federation isn't all that different from the Klingon Empire, especially since Spock, who usually fills the role of the "outsider looking in" in the regular cast of Star Trek: TheOriginal Series, points this out himself at the very beginning of the episode?

Curious how often you Humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.

From a narrative standpoint, the interference of the Organians also provides the Klingons with the opportunity to give their side of the story explaining how relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire had deteriorated to the point where war seemed to be inevitable, a juxtaposition of viewpoints which is solely needed given that the story, up until the exposure of the Organians, had been told entirely from the Federation's point of view.

Kirk and Spock, incarcerated in a highly unusual prison: The exit is in the background – so what function is served by the bars in the foreground?

There's a lot to like about Errand of Mercy; the Klingons are an interesting addition to the rogues gallery of Star Trek villains, the story of Kirk and Spock's guerilla war campaign against the Klingon occupation of Organia is compelling and the frustration felt by Kirk and Kor, his Klingon counterpart, at the sheeplike apathy of the Organians living under the cruel yoke of Klingon rule provides some humor while further illustrating that the Federation and the Klingons are not as different as they would like to believe but the reliance on Deus ex machina as a narrative device just strikes me as being unsatisfactory not to mention lazy. And it's not as if the writers are unaware of the effect the Organians have on the narrative. Kirk himself comments, at the episode's conclusion:

Oh, no, no, no, Mr. Spock, we didn't beat the odds; we didn't have a chance. The Organians raided the game.

This almost smacks of apologia for the way the episode plays out; not with a bang, but with a rather disappointing whimper, especially given the potential of the Klingons to serve as a catalyst for that narrative bang. Had the ultimate goal of this episode been to knock the Federation down a peg from its position as the paragon of virtue in the Star Trek universe by pointing out the similarities in its policies and those of the Klingon Empire (and, via allegory, convey the same message about the Western and Eastern blocs circa 1967), a less clunky narrative device than the overused Deus ex machina would have been preferred by this viewer.

Friday, August 31, 2012

My (Random) Thoughts on Star Trek: The Devil in the Dark

I first began posting articles on Star Trek: The Original Series back in August 2010, starting with the second pilot episode, Where No Man Has Gone Before. I originally posted them on my web-site, but in April 2011, it occurred to me that a more appropriate vehicle for my writing would be a blog and this is where I have continued to expound on Star Trek while also transferring over my old articles from my web-site.

Thus, the rather muddled order in which my commentary on Star Trek is presented here.

Given that the last Star Trek article I posted was on The Galileo Seven, you may be excused if you expected my next article in the series to be on The Squire of Gothos. Such is not the case; my article on The Squire of Gothos was the first of my discussions on Star Trek that I posted to this blog and it can be found here.

If you're interested in what I have to say about The Devil in the Dark, just keep on reading.

A hideous monster strikes from the darkness, viciously murdering its victims and leaving behind nothing but badly charred remains. The Enterprise crew arrives at Janus VI, the mining colony terrorized by these attacks, and discovers that the monster feels the same way about the human miners as they do about it; it turns out that the miners have been unknowingly murdering the monster's kindred and what seemed at first to be a series of unprovoked attacks motivated by cruelty and evil was actually part of a desperate campaign of guerilla warfare intended to drive the colonial genociders from the planet's surface.

By then, the monster, a silicon-based life-form which calls itself a Horta, has been badly wounded by phaser fire from Kirk and Spock and is weak to the point that it is now easy prey for the vengeful miners, who somehow manage to overpower, while armed only with sticks and other makeshift clubs, a supposedly elite and armed-to-the-teeth security detail from the Enterprise which stands between them and bloody (?) revenge.

The miners are stopped from beating (!) the Horta to death when Kirk yells out desperately in rebuttal to the miners's statement that the creature has killed fifty of their own that it was only answering in kind for the murder of thousands of its own kind.

A few carefully chosen words from Kirk and a would-be lynch mob turns remorseful...and their priorities shift from vengeance to avarice

At which point, the miners recognize that it was all a big misunderstanding and form a deal with the Horta in which it, and the thousands like it which will soon hatch from the eggs that the miners had been destroying, will help the miners dig for the rich deposits of pergium, gold, platinum, etc. for which Janus VI is famous and everyone lives happily ever after.

I know The Devil in the Dark is a perennial favorite amongst fans of Star Trek: The Original Series but I found it to be perplexing on at least two levels.

If you take the story at face value, the rapid about face in the collective mood of the miners when the rationale behind the Horta's attacks is revealed to them is too unbelievable to take seriously. These miners aren't real people; they're icons of a human race that is capable of more compassion and objective reasonsing than human beings today..because human beings now would have brushed aside Kirk's and Spock's arguments in defense of the Horta and attempted quite gamely to beat the silicon-based creature to death.

The story is also unbelievable when one considers the deal brokered between the (accidentally) genocidal colonists and the Horta – the Horta get to help the colonists get rich by plundering Janus VI's natural resources...and in return, the "inoffensive" Horta get to keep living. It's sort of a bizarre allegory of colonialism where the natives cut short their uprising and decide to accept their lot in life to serve their "betters".

And somehow, we're supposed to buy into the fact that this is a good thing.

The colonial overseer of Janus VI gleefully reports the profits reeped in no small part due to the efforts of the now pacified native population – all the Horta ask for in return for their toil is that they get to keep living

Score one for the good guys.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where I Discuss Star Trek: The Galileo Seven

This article was first posted on September 27, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

The Galileo Seven is an odd episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It's basically a disaster movie. With Spock in the role of the plucky hero who leads everyone to safety. His turn as leader is hindered by the fact that for some unfathomable reason, he has lost all of the emotional sensitivity that he exhibited in the previous episodes. Not only has he lost his emotional sensitivity, he has turned into a Forrest Gump of emotional sensitivity, unintentionally alienating everyone around him. It doesn't help that everyone around him, with the exception of Scotty, seems to have collectively taken leave of their senses.

For most of The Galileo Seven, we are presented with Spock making what are basically very sound, rational decisions given the situation the eponymous seven Enterprise crewmembers are in, and everyone else, with the exception of Scotty, who spends most of this episode with his head under the hood of the stricken shuttlecraft Galileo, objecting to the choices that he makes, mainly, it seems, out of spite. It's as if being stranded on Taurus II has resulted in everyone binning themselves into one of two categories: Persons principally driven by their id or persons principally driven by their ego...with almost everyone almost gleefully giving themselves over to their id.

Irrationality abounds in this episode. Not only that, but it's trumpeted as something to be proud of, something that makes us human.

Following this strange logic, the residents of the local asylum would be the ideal exemplars of all that is human. I would argue the contrary, that what makes us human is our rationality or at least our capacity for such. In which case Mr. Spock would appear to be the most human of all the characters in this episode. How deliciously ironic that someone who constantly struggles to suppress his humanity turns out to be the most human of them all. A foreshadowing of Kirk's eulogy at the end of The Wrath of Khan?

Or maybe I'm reading too deeply into an episode which is, at the end of the day, basically a disaster movie.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Star Trek: Shore Leave

This article was first posted on September 15, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

Kirk complains of a sore back and when someone starts giving him an unsolicited back rub, he assumes it's Spock, rather than the scrumptious Yeomen Tonia Barrows, that's giving him relief from his aches and pains.

Kirk confounds Yeomen Barrows's handiwork with Spock's

McCoy sees a giant rabbit, gets "killed" by a medieval knight on horseback and then shows up, alive and well, arm-in-arm with bunnies of a different sort.

McCoy in a heaven of sorts after "dying"

Then there's the sub-plot of how a strange force field emanating from the seemingly idyllic planet that the Enterprise is orbiting is draining its engines; this sub-plot is rather abruptly dropped by episode's end and not satisfactorily concluded.

I'm not saying that Theodore Sturgeon, the writer responsible for Shore Leave, was on drugs when he put pen to paper, but it sure would explain a lot.

And am I the only one who caught on to the fact that every member of the crew that walked on the bridge at the conclusion of the episode got laid? Knowing Kirk, he definitely got it on with the simulacrum of Ruth, the girl from his past. McCoy and Barrows presumably did something to explain the smiles on their faces. And you can't tell me that the swashbuckling Mr. Sulu didn't do anything with the simulacra of the cabaret girls he ended up arm-in-arm with in the final scene on the planet's surface?

Everyone is all smiles after their shore leave

Or am I reading too much in what may be just a bunch of goofy smiles?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Star Trek: Balance of Terror

This article was first posted on September 13, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

Balance of Terror is like a Chipotle burrito: Sinfully yummy...but so stuffed with ingredients that it's close to bursting open like Kane after his run-in with the facehugger. Not only is Balance of Terror a thinly disguised WWIIU-boat versus destroyer yarn, it's also a cautionary tale about racism. If that weren't enough, there's also a message thrown in about the futility of war: War is bad, mkay?

Romulan Bird-of-Prey, the 23rd century's answer to the U-boat

As in many of the early Star Trek episodes, we're treated to the spectacle of Spock using logic to justify kicking some ass; in this case, he points out that showing weakness in the face of Romulan aggression will only result in interstellar war. Thus, to avoid war, the Enterprise crew must pursue and destroy the Romulan Bird of Prey that has encroached upon Federation space.

Logic dictates, captain, that we open up a can of whoop-ass on the Romulans

After his turn as Mr. Sensitivity in The Conscience of the King, Spock reverts to type as the coldly logical Vulcan, cutting the bigoted Stiles short during his clumsy (and roundabout) attempt at an apology for his earlier racism by pointing out that Spock saving his life was dictated entirely by Stiles's value to the Enterprise's crew as a highly trained navigator. Or maybe Spock being short with Stiles had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with him being peeved by the latter's bigotry.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My (Random) Thoughts on The Avengers

While waiting for the crowds to die down before going to see The Dark Knight Rises, I thought this would be a good time to discuss this summer's first superhero blockbuster: Joss Whedon's The Avengers.

While I am a fan of Firefly, I am not a fan of Joss Whedon due to what I see as his tendency to try a little bit too hard to make the dialogue he writes witty and amusing. So, despite all the positive press that it has received, it was with some trepidation that I went to see The Avengers.

The Avengers, assembled

I'm glad to say that I was proven wrong; the dialogue in The Avengers was witty and amusing but it didn't come off as being forced. The Avengers had just the right mix of action and humor and every one of the ensemble cast got a chance to shine, even the two relatively normal members of The Avengers, Black Widow and Hawkeye. And in a bit of film-making legerdemain, Joss Whedon managed to use all the resources at his disposal, namely the above mentioned action and humor blended with some good pacing, to distract the audience (or at least this viewer) from the film's 143 minute length and a major plot-hole. At the movie's end, I walked out of the theater surprised at how long it had been and I wasn't even aware of the plot-hole until someone else pointed it out to me.

Hawkeye and Black Widow, normal people with freakish skill sets

The plot-hole in question is the unexplained transition of the Hulk from out-of-control rage monster to in-control rage monster. This is a pretty big plot-hole since out-of-control Hulk ends up being as much a danger to the other Avengers as the film's villain, Loki, and wreaks considerable havoc on board S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying aircraft carrier halfway through the film while in-control Hulk plays an important role in foiling Loki's attempt at conquering the world. One gets the feeling that a pivotal scene ended up on the cutting room floor, perhaps to prevent the film from being overlong.

Out-of-control Hulk smashes expensive government property

In-control Hulk smashes extraterrestrial invader

The absence of any explanation of this change in the Hulk's character is all the more suprising considering an embarrassingly clumsy and completely unnecessary bit of exposition which occurs early in the film when Loki appears at a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. Dr. Selvig, the mentor of Thor's love interest in the filmbearing his name, upon seeing Loki, blurts out, "Loki – brother of Thor!", presumably for the benefit of anyone who hasn't seen Kenneth Branagh's contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What's particularly puzzling is that throughout the film, Thor, through his words and actions, repeatedly explains his relationship to Loki, rendering this clunky bit of dialogue moot. It's so bad that I suspect it may have been thrown in there as some kind of joke, especially considering that Joss Whedon is very adept at exposition, the one exception that comes to mind being the first few minutes of Firefly's The Train Job.

Loki, brother of Thor

Plotholes and clumsy exposition aside, my only real quibble about The Avengers is the question it raises of what will the Avengers do next? The villain for the next film to feature this superpowered team was revealed after the credits, so we know who the Avengers will be battling next. However, what villainy will the individual heroes attempt to foil in their own films? After all, Iron Man 3 is currently in production and sequels to Captain America and Thor are reported to be in the works. After having stopped an attempted invasion of Earth by extraterrestrials, battling more "mundane" threats such as Russian arms dealers or other miscreants seeking monetary gain would seem a bit beneath them.

Black Widow, moments away from taking down some Russian arms dealers – it's difficult to imagine her going back to her day job after having helped thwart an extraterrestrial invasion