Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Obsession"

***1/2

Air date: 12/15/1967
Written by Art Wallace
Directed by Ralph Senensky

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Kirk becomes convinced that a gaseous cloud that is killing his landing-party crewmen is an intelligent creature—and the same intelligent creature that killed 200 crew members aboard the USS Farragut, on which Kirk served 11 years earlier.

"Obsession" is perfectly titled, showing Kirk at the mercy of his past when he makes the questionable decision of keeping the Enterprise in planetary orbit to search for this creature even while a vital rendezvous with the USS Yorktown has been requested. There's obviously a lot of guilt residing in Kirk's memory of the encounter 11 years ago—which is nicely demonstrated when he levies harsh discipline upon Ensign Garrovick (Stephen Brooks) for hesitating to fire phasers upon seeing the creature. Meanwhile, McCoy and Spock confront the captain for his unexplained decisions in a powerfully executed scene that exemplifies just how well the "big three" work together when the dialog is sharp and performances on target.

The plot is tight, the use of all the characters is effective, and the punchy finale and exciting Sol Kaplan score sends the show out just right. But it's the study of Kirk's feelings of that terrible encounter long ago that sets "Obsession" well above average.

Previous episode: The Deadly Years
Next episode: Wolf in the Fold

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5 comments on this review

NCC-1701-Z - Sun, Apr 1, 2012 - 4:49pm (USA Central)
I consider this to be one of TOS's unsung gems, right up there with "City on the Edge of Forever", "Doomsday Machine" and "Enterprise Incident".

Really, stripping the episode down to a straightforward action premise only made it better. I love TOS-style morality plays, but I also love well-executed action shows too.

What is there to be said? Everything is pitch-perfect. Shatner does an excellent job of portraying an obsessed Kirk, which goes to show how much mileage you can get out of acting if you put genuine passion into it (1st season TNG could have learned from this, although I see they are slowly getting better). The development of Ensign Garrovick (one of the few redshirts to not die within the first 10 minutes--GASP--blasphemy!) was very well done, for a disposable secondary character. Of course, the guy playing him was excellent too at portraying a young, inexperienced person.

And the music. Even though you can hear where it was reused from previous eps, it's still very effective, energetic and powerful. 1st season TNG could learn from this too (I'm currently going through it right now).

And of course, this ep is also awesome because it holds the record for number of redshirts killed in one ep- 2 guards and Rizzo, then one wounded and one dead, then another wounded and another dead when the creature entered the Enterprise. 2 wounded, 5 dead at the end.

And, it gave us the classic McCoy line "What a stupid way to travel! Spilling a man's molecules all over the damned universe!". Heh.

All in all, 4 stars.
Moonie - Sun, Dec 1, 2013 - 8:31am (USA Central)
One of the better season 2 episodes.
Alex - Sat, Dec 21, 2013 - 9:38am (USA Central)
I'm wondering if the antagonist entity in this episode served as inspiration for LOST's smoke monster, especially considering the famous redshirt reference in one of the episodes
Stallion - Thu, May 22, 2014 - 3:47am (USA Central)
I enjoyed this episode. Great use of the cast. I know he was off filming the green beret, but this episode would had been perfect if it was sulu instead of garavick
William B - Fri, Aug 8, 2014 - 12:46pm (USA Central)
I quite like this one, too. It's interesting to compare/contrast this one with "The Doomsday Machine," which has a pretty similar basic plot -- Kirk/Decker obsessed over sentient gaseous cloud/sentient planet eater which is a stand-in for all evil (or the devil!), as a result of the deaths of an entire crew in the distant/immediate past, obsessed to the point where they threaten the security of the Enterprise and Spock has to step in (or consider stepping in); ultimately, the obsession proves to be at least partly right -- in that this creature is dangerous enough that it needs to be stopped. The similarities are probably because both are presumably variations on Moby-Dick (...a work that Trek returns to often). The biggest differences are:

1) Decker's guilt is based on his feelings of responsibility as *captain*, whereas Kirk's are based on a somewhat exaggerated sense of importance as brash young lieutenant on his first mission;

2) Decker is in the first blush of guilt and madness as a result of the loss of his crew, whereas Kirk has "mostly" moved on from this incident in the intervening years, except insofar as the "knowledge" of his "failure" has gotten in deeper into his view of himself;

3) ultimately, Decker sacrifices himself/is sacrificed by the narrative in order to get to the true solution -- whereas Kirk and Garrovick find a way to escape death (even though there were lots of other redshirts who died beforehand!)

I think that as entertainment and in terms of mythical stature, "The Doomsday Machine" stands above "Obsession," even though we don't know Decker as well as we know Kirk. Certainly the impact on me is greater. And I think that a big part of it *is* that the episode walks a delicate line with whether or not Decker's obsession is a good thing and, indeed, whether his *guilt* is justified. If we view his obsession as purely destructive and pointless, then his death is something like a (narrative) punishment for his obsession. If his feelings of intense guilt over the deaths of his crew are justified, then he sacrifices his life as something of a deliberate attempt to restore the karmic balance -- he "deserves" to die with his crew, even if he does so afterward. But he also gives Kirk, who stands outside Decker's obsession, the clue to how to destroy the planet-eater, and the sacrifice of the Constellation (and the last remnant of Decker's command) is what finally destroys the planet-eater. Decker is the genuine hero of the piece, and the tragic hero, rolled into one, and the episode ends up, IMO anyway, going beyond a simple yes/no on whether Decker's attitude toward the planet-eater and feelings that *he* should have gone down with his crew were justified.

In this episode, by contrast, it's pretty much stated outright that Kirk and Garrovick are wrong to beat themselves up, full stop. Blaming themselves is pointless and even selfish/self-pitying (as Chapel and Spock both point out). I think that the episode's argument is that Kirk/Garrovick are clouded by emotion stemming from their own guilt, and they leave themselves open to the gas attack in ways related to their problems -- obsession in Kirk's case leads him not to fix the impulse engine thing that Checkov points out, which allows the cloud to get into the ship, and Garrovick's anger which leads him to toss an object across the room and switch the air filter to bypass allows the creature to get at him directly. This contrasts with Decker's self-recrimination having some positive outcomes, even if it's hard to say for sure whether Decker was right or not. I think it's partly because of this overall argument of *this* episode, that Kirk and Garrovick are too hard on themselves, that the episode has a happier and ultimately less costly ending than "The Doomsday Machine" does: Kirk and Garrovick, and the crew in general, make it out in one piece, and Kirk and Garrovick are both cleared of their guilt. Sucks to be one of the redshirts from earlier in the episode (or the crew of the Farragut), but for the most part Kirk just needed to ease up on himself.

And the thing is, I agree with this episode's perspective much more: I think in general it's wrong to beat oneself up over a momentary hesitation or mistake, to the extent that Kirk and Garrovick do, and that self-forgiveness is important. That said, that Decker (and the Constellation) have to be destroyed for the planet-eater to be taken down is a lot more narratively satisfying to me, even though it doesn't align as closely with my worldview.

The episode does have a bit of an ambivalent attitude about Kirk's obsession -- certainly his emotionalism, his snapping at his crew, his harsh treatment of Garrovick, his ignoring the need to transport the medicine, are all negative traits in and of themselves, and I think we're meant to be pretty strongly sympathetic to Spock and McCoy that Kirk is acting crazy. But Kirk is basically right that this creature needs to be destroyed, that it is more dangerous than it seems, and he's right that it has space travel which makes it a bigger threat. Even Kirk/Garrovick's mistakes which allow the creature onto the ship and into Garrovick's quarters lead to the solution indirectly. I think the idea is that Kirk needs to sort out which parts of his intuition about the creature are true and which are false, and there is some validity to his quest and some irrationality.

In that vein, I do like that the episode portrays Kirk as somewhat, but not all *that*, unhinged. He comes across badly to his crew, because his obsession is destructive, but also because he is embarrassed about his guilt and the emotional basis for some of his decisions, and so waits until actually confronted by Spock and McCoy to give his rational reasons for pursuing the creature. I like also that Kirk recognizes when he actually crosses a line (as in when he apologizes to Scotty after accusing his senior staff of conspiring against him). I do think that Kirk's obsession is still a tiny bit overplayed -- this is a man who took his own brother's death pretty much in stride back in "Operation -- Annihilate!", for instance -- but overall the episode makes some effort to temper Kirk's behaviour.

Anyway, this is a very good show -- the comparison to "The Doomsday Machine" popped out at me because the episodes are so similar, and I think the comparison suggests to me why I find "Obsession" just a tad lacking. However, falling short of one of the series' absolute best episodes is hardly a slam. I think 3.5 stars is my rating for this episode too.

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