Star Trek: The Original Series

"Catspaw"

2.5 stars

Air date: 10/27/1967
Written by Robert Bloch
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Kirk, Spock, and Bones beam down to a planet to investigate the death of a crewman scout who beamed up from the planet, well, dead. What they find is literally a Halloween setting, complete with a ghostly greeting that seems to be straight out of a haunted house parody. Kirk & Co. subsequently locate the missing men from the first landing party—Scotty and Sulu in a catatonic state, under the command of two aliens with a great power of illusion, who have created the whole Halloween setting as a way of learning about humans.

The aliens, Korob (Theo Marcuse) and Sylvia (Antoinette Bower), slowly become at odds with each other, as Sylvia finds herself attracted to the sensations and experiences of humans—manifested, of course, through her physical attraction to Kirk. Meanwhile, the most wooden lieutenant in Starfleet (Michael Barrier) has command of the Enterprise, preventing the ship scenes from being particularly interesting.

"Catspaw" is a primarily gag-driven episode, with a hit-and-miss track record. Kirk's encounters with Sylvia are moderately interesting. But the episode is fundamentally formulaic, and lives and dies on each piece of its fragmented puzzle. As a lightweight adventure, it's okay; just don't look for much substance.

Previous episode: The Doomsday Machine
Next episode: I, Mudd

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13 comments on this review

Strider
Fri, Jun 1, 2012, 1:06am (UTC -5)
I grew up watching TOS, but I haven't watched all the episodes all the way through before like I'm doing now. I'm finding the whole second season to be kind of hit and miss--or, rather, swinging back and forth between brilliant and "meh." Sometimes they are just trying too hard, but when it all comes together, like in The Doomsday Machine, it's amazing. Thanks for your reviews!
redshirt28
Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 9:28pm (UTC -5)
I havent watched this episode in quite some time and there is a reason; I dont want to.

I rate 1 star only because im still high from watching doomsday mach week before.
William B
Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 11:09am (UTC -5)
I just watched this. I found the first half to be almost intolerably dull -- maybe not "And the Children Shall Lead" or anything, but still pretty awful and airy and lifeless. It picks up a bit in its second half, but even then it's mostly just a series of Trek cliches. Korob's coming around is a little interesting, and it's interesting watching Kirk play Sylvia. The reveal of Korob and Sylvia's true form is a bit of a hoot as well. Still, I think this episode overall is hardly better than TNG's "Devil's Due," which has some similar elements (seductive master of illusion playing on people's fears, ship in jeopardy from below) or "The Squire of Gothos" (...master of illusion misrepresenting human society due to inaccurate info), and I'd put it below both of those. 1.5 stars, I guess.
John TY
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 8:50am (UTC -5)
Incredibly thin. I wish I could say this is as bad as it gets.
William
Tue, Sep 9, 2014, 12:05am (UTC -5)
This is another one I liked as a kid but roll my eyes at now. But it was a cool adventure when you're 10.
todayshorse
Tue, Nov 18, 2014, 9:32am (UTC -5)
Ludicrous. How this could follow the brilliance of the Doomsday Machine is beyond me. Somesort of Halloween special? It wasnt very 'special'. I did enjoy the ending though, ive never laughed so much at the actual forms of the fat bald bloke and the cat. What was that all about???
lt. holman
Mon, Feb 2, 2015, 8:25pm (UTC -5)
I gotta say this episode always stood out to me not in so much as the show but the music always stuck in my head in this one so everytime I hear the music played in other episodes I'm just looking for Kirk and spock to come around the corner with a giant black cat chasing them (mrooogh!!!) Always makes me smile :)
Pam
Tue, Oct 13, 2015, 12:48am (UTC -5)
"Captain. A little more alacrity, if you please."
Greg
Tue, Oct 13, 2015, 12:20pm (UTC -5)
A Star Trek Halloween episode. No more and no less. Scary when I was a kid but pretty dull now. No big questions asked or answered. Just black cats and castles. There was one joke though. Sulu and Scotty were catatonic. Yuk Yuk. About a 1.5.
Skeptical
Wed, Jan 4, 2017, 6:39pm (UTC -5)
Oh yeah, I agree this is a weak episode. When TNG did a "horror" episode, namely Night Terrors, it worked the horror into the plot. With this one, what point was there in all the horror elements? Spock talks about how this all relates to the human psyche at the subconscious level, but A) that doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the story, and it's never explained why Karob did it, and B) explain to me why black cats and medieval castles are part of the sub-conscience when it has nothing to do with surviving the African savannah? If they were trying to create a theme in that sense, it failed miserably.

What was the point of all of the horror? What was the purpose of Karob and Sylvia being here and dealing with the Enterprise crew? They try to warn the crew away with the curses and stuff, but then say they passed a test by still showing up. Then they ask about their technology, even though they can do far more. Also, Sylvia can apparently read their minds, so why not just learn everything from Scotty earlier? Then Sylvia starts being catty (har har) to Karob, and then starts trying to seduce Kirk while torturing the rest of the crew. OK, fine, that part works as a plot point, Sylvia falling for her new form, causing conflict between the two godlike beings. But it still doesn't explain all the riddles and mystery at the beginning. It doesn't explain what the purpose of it all is.

That's the problem, I think. It's a collection of scenes brought together in an attempt to be a Halloween episode, but with no logic and reason through it. Couple that with cheap effects and some obvious filler scenes on the Enterprise, and this is just bad.

Oh, by the way, what's with the most wooden engineer in the Federation (as Jammer called him) being in command? Doohan and Takei had virtually nothing to do as the brainwashed victims of Sylvia, why not leave one of them in command of the Enterprise? Kinda strange.
Rahul
Tue, Feb 28, 2017, 3:19pm (UTC -5)
A disappointing episode, especially coming after "The Doomsday Machine" - but the Hallowe'en theme is appropriate given when it first aired.
Still, it's lots of gimmicks without much meaning; it's another twist on "The Squire of Gothos" or "Who Mourns for Adonais?" where more powerful beings that lack wisdom threaten the Enterprise crew. It's a well-worn formula; interesting soundtrack though.
I wasn't a fan of the redshirt (LaSalle? DeSalle?) who was left in command of the ship - there was a missed opportunity. Would have been better if Scotty was left in charge rather than being a zombie the whole episode.
Even the final scene wasn't that compelling - Why does Korob lose all his power? He has the transmuter. Then, Sylvia is pointing a phaser at Kirk who has the transmuter. Can't she stun Kirk and get the transmuter?
I'd give this episode 2/4 stars and I think that might be a tad generous as it was quite slow paced and only really got interesting about 40 mins. in.
Trek fan
Fri, Sep 8, 2017, 10:22pm (UTC -5)
I have a soft spot for this one. It's not deep, but it's fun in spots, and good for the kiddies. Given all the weird things that happen on Star Trek, it's not THAT much of a stretch to imagine that two aliens fascinated by human experience might groove on 20th Century American Halloween party stuff. I mean come on, let's not give TNG too much credit: For every "Night Terrors," you get a Sub Rosa (Crusher sleeping with a ghost?!) and a "Devil's Due." All in all, "Catspaw" is a fun little haunted house show that manages to keep its tongue firmly in cheek, and I'll give it 3 stars out of 4 on a day when I'm feeling charitable. Jammer's 2 1/2 stars seems fair. Like much Trek, there are boring stretches in this one, but I dig the Sylvia-Kirk scenes and the gag climax revealing the unimpressive true form of the two aliens. Aliens don't always need deep cosmic, humanitarian, or evil motives on Trek: Sometimes they can just be screwing around with Our Heroes, like Sylvia and Korob. It's nice to imagine a universe where some aliens just like to prank humans.
Trek fan
Sun, Oct 22, 2017, 9:04pm (UTC -5)
Rewatching this episode again as I marathon the series on DVD in air date order for the first time, I really enjoyed it! I have to say it's a solid 3 or 3 1/2 stars for me. Spock has some really intriguing dialogue about how the aliens feed off the human subconscious and seem to take it for reality: Not sure how I've always missed this exchange in the past, but it really adds to the story's mystique for me, and Bloch really writes this stuff well. The mystery of the story and Kirk's final observation that it was real in one sense -- Jackson is dead -- hint at deeper ideas than the haunted house surface initially suggests. So yeah, consider me a "Catspaw" fan, even though I wish Sulu got a little dialogue -- even Scotty gets ONE line when they de-zombify!

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