Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Immunity Syndrome"

3 stars

Air date: 1/19/1968
Written by Robert Sabaroff
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The high-concept description would read simply: "Giant amoeba in space!", which pretty much sums it up. Hoping not to become the victims of an 11,000-mile-long single-celled organism as did the Vulcan starship Intrepid, the Enterprise crew attempts to figure out how to escape the organism's dark, mysterious void before being sucked into the protoplasm.

Dare I ask just where an 11,000-mile-long space amoeba came from? I don't think I will. Anyway, "The Immunity Syndrome" is well-executed starship-based entertainment. The core of the episode resides in Kirk being forced to choose between sending either Spock or Bones on a suicide shuttlecraft mission to study the organism from the inside, in the hopes of finding a way to destroy it. The engaging rivalry between Spock and McCoy, who both want to go on the mission, is particularly interesting ... it's an episode like this (in which, for example, Bones can't bring himself to wish Spock luck until after he has left the room), that makes the Spock/McCoy relationship so memorable.

As always, Sol Kaplan's score makes a big difference in selling the excitement, and Spock's sarcastic edge ("Thank you, Captain McCoy.") boosts the episode on the "pure enjoyment" scale. It's not particularly meaningful, but who said all Trek had to be meaningful?

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Next episode: A Private Little War

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23 comments on this review

Jay
Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 11:29am (UTC -6)
Trek never cares about how the crazy lifeforms it conjures up, with the apparent notion that they are simply and inexplicably unique, could have come into existence. We've had this amoeba, and the planet killer from this series, the crystalline entity from TNG, the telepatcic pitcher plant from Voyager; never was the subject addressed in the slightest.
NCC-1701-Z
Mon, Jan 7, 2013, 4:30pm (UTC -6)
The conversation between Spock and McCoy in sickbay is very ironic considering the events of Wrath of Khan.

Excellent ep, combines sci-fi imagination and good character work very well. One of my faves. 3.5 stars
mike
Thu, May 2, 2013, 1:43pm (UTC -6)
This episode needed a guest star to give it some conflict or someone else's perspective. Without it this as story remained all it could hope to be -- a straight forward problem solving episode with every character doing precisely what he or she predictably does up to and including Scotty's dire warnings about the ship loosing power. Spock is not on a suicide mission simply because you know he isn't going to die. Spock and McCoy are at odds but that's nothing new. And why of all things an 11,000 mile long ameoba? I didn't find the task before Kirk and crew intriguing or frightening. It's okay but is hardly only one star short of the suspense and tension in the Doomsday Machine.
Doc
Sat, Jun 8, 2013, 6:09pm (UTC -6)
Why an 11,000-mile-long amoeba?

Possibly Robert Sabaroff had found inspiration in the 1966 film "Fantastic Voyage." Or wanted to rip it off a bit. ;)
Grumpy
Sat, Jun 8, 2013, 6:46pm (UTC -6)
Incidentally, I immediately thought of this episode when, in the new movie, Spock describes Khan as the most dangerous enemy he ever faced. Uh, space amoeba! Or the Doomsday Machine. Or Nomad. Or V'ger. Or Lazarus. What of Lazarus? What... of Lazarus?
Grumpy
Sat, Jun 8, 2013, 6:48pm (UTC -6)
Sorry. I tried to avoid one small spoiler but I let a big one slip through.
Paul
Mon, Jun 10, 2013, 11:34am (UTC -6)
@Grumpy: Well, Khan nearly stole the Enterprise, he stole the Reliant, he killed most of the people on Regula 1, he stole the Genesis device, he nearly killed the entire Enterprise crew and his actions led to Spock's death.

Anyway, I think Spock was comparing Khan to other humanoid enemies. V'Ger, the cigar tube in ST:IV, Nomad, the Doomsday Machine were all more machine than man. Other than maybe Chang and Kruge -- and Spock probably has no memory of Kruge -- was there a super-villain that haunted the Enterprise crew like Khan?

I mean, the closest thing to a repeat villain appearance (other than Khan) was probably Harry Mudd! None of the Klingon or Romulan bad guys from TOS appeared more than once.

So, yeah. Khan probably was the most dangerous adversary.
DavidK
Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 10:26am (UTC -6)
@Paul

Yes, I took that to mean "most dangerous adversary" by virtue of the fact it cost the crew the Enterprise and Spock himself, for a period of time. Granted those things were a bit random, they were the result of battle damage as opposed to specific genius acts by Khan, but nonetheless the encounter with him was the most costly of all.

PS Hey, the anti-spam question changed! This has rocked my world.
Grumpy
Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 7:02pm (UTC -6)
I guess Gary Mitchell didn't measure up as an adversary because they didn't have the budget to cut loose. But that's more a criticism of the new movie than this episode.

Unless... What if this amoeba *is* Gary Mitchell?? I never believed that he could be stopped by a rock falling on him. Assuming he survived, perhaps his powers mutated out of control, like Tetsuo in "Akira," and this Lovecraftian monster is his final form.
captains log 4456.7
Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 6:09pm (UTC -6)
@mike-
I know its a bit late but you commented that the story needed a guest star to act as additional conflict I agree it could have made the story more interesting however I think they tried that with the dialog between Kirk and bones when they first returned the "dark zone" bones determined crew dieing bones recommended leaving to save the enterprise Kirk to argue and override must explore dispite danger it was brief but I think the writers wanted to draw our attention to "all" the enterprise was capible when they pulled resources and talents together.....
William B
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 11:16am (UTC -6)
One of the things about the original series that makes me laugh with some delight is that not only do music cues get reused again and again, but those music cues are startlingly specific. Part of the score from "The Doomsday Machine," where Decker (and later the Enterprise) approach the planet-eater, gets reused again and again as the music theme for, "SLOWLY APPROACHING GIANT BIZARRE SPACE MONSTER OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN," such as in "Obsession" and this one. Just as the "Amok Time" battle theme comes to be the "ENTERPRISE CREW IN RITUALISTIC COMBAT PLANETSIDE!" ala "Gamesters of Triskelion." These are very specific situations which repeat with surprising regularity.

In a season that also gives us "The Doomsday Machine" and "Obsession," "The Immunity Syndrome" doesn't seem quite as essential in the GIANT SPACE MONSTER genre. Unlike those ones, though, this episode is not about obsession, but about togetherness. It's about the Enterprise crew as a unit, in general and especially the Big Three. In some ways the TOS episode it's probably closest to is probably either "Balance of Terror" or "The Corbomite Maneuver" -- an episode that is devoted to how the Enterprise crew reacts to a crisis on-ship, and how they weather the increasing strain that near-death puts on them. It begins with Spock's anguished cry at a ship full of Vulcans dying, with a line to McCoy about the difficulty caring about a large number over an individual, and ends with the fates of Spock and the Enterprise crew overall intertwined, as we wonder if both the ship and the individual will escape. Spock, for his commitment to the Vulcan people and feeling for them, devotes what he believes are his last moments to speaking highly of the crew of the Enterprise, "the finest ship in the fleet," demonstrating that his belonging to the Enterprise crew overrides, in some sense, his sense of belonging with the Vulcans. The Enterprise crew responds in kind, saving Spock at risk to the whole of the ship, in one of those need for the many/need for the one balancing acts that forms the crux of TWOK and TSFS. Kirk names the key crew members on the bridge for commendation as they wonder if they're going to get out, and he singles them out both as individuals and as their function/rank, in an episode in which we spend a lot of time on each crew member's duties. In combination with the GIANT SPACE AMOEBA, and McCoy and Kirk's conversation about the possibility that the Enterprise and her crew constitutes antibodies combating a virus infecting the galaxy, the episode seems to me to be showing something like belonging, Kirk et al. both being individuals capable of their own choices and conflicts, and also little functional parts of the giant cell/organism which is the Enterprise.

The Big Three interplay, especially Spock/McCoy, is delightful, especially in that last segment (the sarcastic "thank you, Captain McCoy" Jammer points out). I love the way in which Spock and McCoy's competitiveness and subtle desire to protect each other comes through here -- and Kirk trying to figure out a way to manage them, as if they're squabbling children.

I would give it 3 stars as well.
Skeptical
Thu, Feb 9, 2017, 5:36pm (UTC -6)
As the episode moved along and it became clear that this was a space amoeba episode, I feared the worst. I mean, Enterprise crew must find a way to escape weird space anomaly episodes are usually acceptable at best and rarely among the best. But I did end up pleasantly surprised at how this one progressed. And I think there's two reasons for that.

For one, I think there was an actual sense of danger in the episode. Yes, we know the Enterprise will be saved, and we even know that Spock won't die either. And yet, the tension was enough that we could still pretend that they could. It felt real, akin to Balance of Terror or Corbomite Maneuver. Perhaps part of the reason the threat felt real was because the crew was committed to finishing the mission, not necessarily to save their own necks, but rather to save the galaxy. There was at least the possibility that a heroic sacrifice might be needed. So when Kirk ordered Scotty to keep a little bit of impulse power in reserve, it allowed you to think, sure, they will use it to escape... but maybe they won't. Maybe they'll have to use that power. And plus there was the tension of the shuttlecraft, and how they would be reunited. So yes, I think the episode did a good job of building up the suspense.

And secondly, the Big Three all did a good job this episode. Sure, there were some parts that were very awkward, such as Spock continuing to needle McCoy even while on a very dangerous mission (I would get McCoy doing that to Spock, but not the other way around). But in general, the banter and the concern over all aspects of the mission were real. I liked Kirk's dilemma of who to send, and I thought his and Bones' concern for Spock when they thought him dead were nicely understated. Obviously, they couldn't focus on it too much at the time, they needed to complete the mission. But you could tell it was in the back of Kirk's mind, and more or less the front of Bones' mind. Someone said this episode needed a guest star, and I disagree. I think the three leads all contrasted nicely with each other, and no real need to have someone else there to provide a different perspective.

Of course, all of that is against the backdrop of an admittedly hokey premise (so it eats energy, so everyone feels tired, but because it eats energy we need to move forward to move back, and antimatter will kill it because its negative energy?). And for all the buildup of their impossible situation, it's a bit of a deus ex machina ending (we are told they don't have enough energy to escape, and then... they do, somehow. With the shuttle intact, no less). So while it may be a good space anomaly episode, it's not exactly a real classic. Just good enough to be an acceptable hour of entertainment.
Rick
Sat, Mar 18, 2017, 9:24pm (UTC -6)
This is my favorite episode. I've seen each episode hundreds of times, and my favorite ones are those that have something to say, or have personal interplay. Sure there are many holes (Not including the holes in the amoeba!) - But the important part is the story. As always there are continuity errors out the wazoo - switching for meters to miles was particularly annoying - But I overlook that as I usually overlook "believability". With of course exceptions like Spock's Brain.

What made this story remarkable was that I think the only sets were the ship and the shuttlecraft. No guests, little other characters. Just the story. Of course we know that no one ever dies who is important - Even Spock lived in ST III, which kind of made his awesome dying scene in ST II a bit bogus. I just loved the character interplay and storyline.
Okrad Del Diablo
Fri, Mar 31, 2017, 10:11am (UTC -6)
Just another "giant dangerous space-creature" plot. But since this is TOS, I suppose this is where the trend began so it was original at the time I guess.

More interesting to me was to watch the interactions between Spock and McCoy. Reminded me why I can't stand Vulcans and their thinly-veiled arrogance under a mask of "logic", and am glad the sub-sequent series did a good job of knocking them off their high perch (especially enjoyed the destruction of Vulcan in JJ Abrams first movie, probably the only thing good about that crap, I can't think of any species who deserved it more, just for being so fucking insufferably arrogant and with a house-sized superiority complex). "Superior capability" my ass, so he got knocked around in there a bit, and he tells McCoy he wouldn't have survived it? Oh please.

And the way McCoy took that crap from Spock so passively... if it were me, that pointy-eared freak would have got a earful on the subject, to say the least.

I like TOS, it has it's moments, but Spock manages to ruin most of it for me, just by being there and sucking the air out of the bridge with his god-complex, and the way the crew holds him in awe. Something to be said for the Terra Prime movement, the mirror universe and the Terran Empire, where we put those arrogant Vulcan jerks in their place by a shotgun to the chest and subsequent conkuest. So much for their "superior capability". Until... lo and behold... a Vulcan fucks it up for us 100 years later. Surprise, surprise...

Anyway... 1.5 stars. And thats being generous, since the plot was original at the time. The Spock/McCoy dynamics made me sick to my stomach, as they do most of the time.
Peter G.
Fri, Mar 31, 2017, 10:34am (UTC -6)
Is it possible to be racist against a race that doesn't exist? :/
Okrad Del Diablo
Fri, Mar 31, 2017, 11:07am (UTC -6)
It is. Vulcans, to me, are a metaphor for all the self-righteous, arrogant types. No shortage of people like that in the world today. So it's not so much about being "racist" as having an issue with certain kinds of people and attitudes.
Vanessa
Tue, May 16, 2017, 8:47pm (UTC -6)
I'm just not clear on why they see this unknown mass ahead and after one probe fails they drive into it. They know it killed another starship ( and a galaxy.) If I were the Captain though, it would be a boring show.

The Spock/Kirk/McCoy dynamic never gets old to me (I refuse to accept that Star Trek V is canon.)


Rahul
Fri, May 26, 2017, 10:33pm (UTC -6)
I think this is a terrific epsiode - very similar to "The Doomsday Machine" but not quite as great - but I consider the DM to be the best TOS episode (and possibly the best in all of Trek - but there's plenty of TNG, DS9, VOY for me to still see - doubt ENT gets anywhere near this level of excellence).
Terrific dynamic betweek Kirk/Spock/McCoy - reminds me a bit of something like Masterchef when Kirk breaks the news to Spock that he's going - when first watching it you think the captain has selected McCoy.
To me the big difference between the IS and DM is that IS doesn't benefit from a supporting actor like Bill Windom - who elevated DM with his performance. Also, the pacing of IS isn't as good - it's quite slow to get going.
I've even wondered who would win between the DM and the space amoeba. (I think the amoeba takes it).
The ending seems a bit fortunate - the tractor beam on the shuttle with Spock holds after the anti-matter explosion (but of course it would).
But the suspension of disbelief is par for the course in Trek and it doesn't take away from the interaction of the Big 3, which is top-notch.
For me, "The Immunity Syndrome" gets 3.5 stars out of 4.
Alex
Mon, Aug 28, 2017, 1:05am (UTC -6)
I think one of the biggest disappointments was how Star Trek never followed up on the idea of an all-Vulcan starship. Or maybe in the wake of what happened to the Intrepid Starfleet decided it wasn't a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket.
RandomThoughts
Sat, Sep 2, 2017, 12:04am (UTC -6)
Hello Everyone

@Alex

I've wondered about that before. My Star Trek answer is that the Vulcans demanded and received a ship of their own, because, you know, Vulcans. After it was destroyed, perhaps all parties realized that was a bad move.

My regular answer is that they just wanted Spock to "feel" the ship die, and that the crew felt "astonishment". And from that we got the Intrepid.

Regards... RT
Trent
Sun, Oct 8, 2017, 9:11pm (UTC -6)
The Immunity Syndrome obviously influenced TNG's Where Silence has Lease, and at least 2 similar Voyager episodes. In my opinion, however, nothing beats this original. It's stripped down, minimalist, and one feels the ship and crew slowly dying as the "space amoeba" sucks away at all life.
Derek
Tue, Oct 10, 2017, 7:16pm (UTC -6)
Hadn't watched this episode in years. I was remembering this as like a "2" episode, but after seeing it again and thoroughly enjoying it, I would now give it a 3 1/2. The interactions of the Big Three, the crew working as a cohesive unit, Kirk at the top of his game. Loved it.
Trek fan
Fri, Nov 3, 2017, 10:42pm (UTC -6)
I'm not a fan of "bizarre space phenomena" episodes on Star Trek, but this one (because of its character moments) and TNG's "Where Silence Has Lease" (because of its entertaining unpredictability) are exceptions. For me, "The Immunity Syndrome" is a slow burn that tends to lull me to sleep in the first half's Heart of Darkness-style journey due to the lack of human drama, but the climax redeems it. I give it 3 stars and I think Jammer's review is fair.

It's not terribly entertaining or dramatic to watch the stars disappear and crew members get sick in the first half here, as this episode treats the problem in an extremely cerebral fashion, and the crew sits around and talks about it rather than acting. Watching everyone look sick, depressed, and short-tempered doesn't yield any pleasant viewing moments. But one thread sticks out to me: Spock's lack of answers and eventual scientific need to explore the space amoeba firsthand in a shuttlecraft. Kirk's irritation at Spock lacking answers feels genuine and is somewhat diverting, as he (and we) expect Spock to explain everything we encounter with the info dump theories he's dispensed throughout the series up to this point. His lack of answers prepares us to expect the unexpected.

Indeed, the general outline of this episode feels like Star Trek The Motion Picture without the eye-popping visuals, full of expositional padding: The Enterprise journeys into a great void, discovers an object (an amoeba instead of V'ger here) at the center, and Spock journeys to the center (in a shuttle rather than thruster suit here) with his usual scientific curiosity to get answers firsthand. What sets "Immunity Syndrome" apart is the Spock-McCoy conflict where we realize that beneath the surface of their [urine] contest they are actually willing to die for each other and the crew. Their conversation in the hallway after Kirk decides to send Spock on a possible suicide mission, where McCoy's belated "good luck Spock" makes us realize he's struggling to say goodbye to a friend, is a good moment. Spock's sarcasm toward "Captain" McCoy as he faces his own possible death is also great stuff.

So this is where the interest level picks up for me, around the 27-minute mark, but the lack of a personalized adversary (even V'ger communicated through Ilia!) and any guest stars make the show a bit soporific. Watching people look awful and faint puts me to sleep and makes me feel awful too. Yes, this one is a good example of the crew facing a space obstacle together and striving to work together in overcoming it, but I don't care for this one as much as other TOS space adventure plots like "Balance" and "Corbomite" or even "The Changeling" with its TMP overtones. In the end, I think "Immunity" is good, but not great. You really have to fight to stay awake watching people who look tired and sick to make it to the payoffs at the end, and perhaps the show makes viewers work a bit too hard by over-selling the crew's low energy in a way that makes us feel low energy in watching them. Just my two cents.

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