Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Spectre of the Gun"

**1/2

Air date: 10/25/1968
Written by Lee Cronin
Directed by Vincent McEveety

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Members of the Enterprise crew beam down to investigate a planet, contrary to the warnings of the Melkot, who subsequently place Kirk and his men into a surreal recreation of the American Old West, where they must avoid the showdown with Wyatt Earp (Ron Soble), Doc Holliday (Sam Gilman), and crew at the OK Corral.

More intriguing than it probably has any right to be, "Spectre of the Gun" benefits from its bizarre surrealism, and has a Twilight Zone-esque atmosphere and aesthetic feel. Still, the story is sometimes stiffly executed, with dialog that has a tendency to repeat itself. At times it feels like the episode simply didn't have enough scenes to fill an hour, resulting in inefficient dialog being tacked on. There's dialog where characters make statements that are nothing short of obvious.

The ending revolves around the fact that mental discipline controls the unreality, so Spock mind melds with Kirk, Bones, and Scotty so they'll believe that unreal bullets can't really hurt them. Chekov? He dies. But he comes back to life—always a nice side effect of dying in non-reality.

Previous episode: Is There In Truth No Beauty?
Next episode: Day of the Dove

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6 comments on this review

Lt. Yarko - Tue, May 21, 2013 - 1:36pm (USA Central)
Chekov is an idiot.
NoPoet - Fri, Dec 13, 2013 - 2:10am (USA Central)
Star Trek, the legendary original series, so "progressive" and "important" that each week our crew of scientists and explorers on their fabulous starship journey into recreations of Earth's past where they must engage in fisticuffs to save the day - because that's progress!

Honestly, I love Trek, but the original series writing staff seemed hell bent on doing some kind of historical drama. The message of peace and progress seems to be lost amid all the fighting; it's like Karate Kid, which I once heard described as a series of films which teach you that you don't have to fight, then put their characters in situations where fighting is the only answer.

Quite honestly TOS is my least favourite of the Treks and in my opinion barely qualifies as sci-fi. It's all well and good having phasers and warp drives if you're constantly in Nazi Germany or ancient Greece.
Moonie - Wed, Feb 12, 2014 - 3:50pm (USA Central)
@ NoPoet, I thought the first season had a few episodes that were based on really good ideas, and even the second wasn't all that bad, but the third.....I have a really hard time making it through it. This one is next, and I'm dreading it. I love the Spock/Kirk dynamic/relationship, but as far as the shows go, I'm with you, TOS is my least favorite. I think it has not aged well. Then again I remember even from back when I was a kid in the 70s, that a lot of it seemed pretty ridiculous to me. When I decided to rewatch, I dreaded revisiting all those Earth-like plants because I had vivid memores of those. The only one of those episodes I enjoy, is A Piece of the Action, because it was such great comedy.

Ok, I'll watch this one now. I'm too OCD to skip episodes in my Watch-all-of-Trek-marathon.
Jo Jo Meastro - Sun, Feb 16, 2014 - 10:14am (USA Central)
I really enjoyed this one and the whole feel of the Western town, the crimson sky and eerily sparse buildings where a excellent touch to give a subtle yet distinct impression of warped reality.

Retro John-Wayne-era westerns are a guilty pleasure of mine so I was bound to enjoy this one! Although I do agree that there was some slightly plodding spells in the middle, I found it very entertaining on the whole and I liked the concept of desperately avoiding violence in a desperate surreal situation. 2.5 stars would be my verdict too, possibly edging more towards 3.

I don't mind taking a break from conventional sci-fi settings, especially when the results are this good and one of the things I enjoy most about TOS is its mythical fantasy-esque approach to this final frontier of mankind. I prefer this to the more harder and more drier sci-fi.

TOS just has a certain charm and magic to it even if you could never take it seriously as a viable vision of the future. When its bad it is horrendously bad, but when its good its pretty fantastic.
Adam - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 3:22am (USA Central)
The real world reason behind all of the parallel Earth, and historical stories, is for the producers to save money. They can use props , sets, and costumes on the Paramount lot.

I enjoyed this episode. It's nothing deep, but it is good fun. TOS did have a lot of episodes where they were in Earth's past, or a facsimile of Earth's past. We had the Roman planet, the gangster planet, the Nazi planet, the Wild West simulation, the ancient Greek planet (in Plato's Stepchildren), etc
William B - Thu, Sep 18, 2014 - 4:54pm (USA Central)
Having recently read the first two books of the "Dune" series, I kept thinking about the Bene Gessarit litany against fear at the end of this episode:

"I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing....only I will remain."

I agree with Jammer that this episode is more engaging than it seems like it should be; the only obvious "idea" in all this is the way Spock recognizes that the situation they are in is unreal, and that the only way to escape it is to believe they cannot be hurt by it. I think there is something pretty profound in that observation. Obviously in real life, if you get shot, whether you fear it or not, it will hurt you pretty badly. But the way in which they end up in this obviously-a-soundstage Western town, with some shops being just a facade with no interior at all, suggests the unreality of their situation in very stark, obvious terms, like a Brechtian distancing tactic. And yet, they are *still* threatened by it -- because the human mind is so easily fooled even by obvious fabrications, if these fabrications speak to a person on an emotional or instinctual level, or even an intellectual level. Fears, including irrational ones, can become devastating. Propaganda can create entire false realities inside people's heads that then control their actions. It takes tremendous effort to escape from the prison of one's own fears and the lies told by others -- even if one intellectually understands that they are irrational.

So on the one hand, I agree with the first commenter Lt. Yarko's succinct observation that Chekov is an idiot. Apparently all it takes is for a pretty woman to bat her eyelashes at him, and he starts believing that he has a real relationship with her and, I guess, that this relationship actually exists even though she thinks he's a historical figure in 19th century Tombstone and that he's got on totally different clothes than the one he has on. Instead of working on how not to die or how to get out of this trap, he expends mental energy flirting with her, agreeing to go to the dance in a week (?) but telling her that marriage is out of the question, too serious! I mean, it seems obvious that this is not a real person, that none of this scenario is real, and that this romantic subplot is totally irrelevant to the more important concerns. But, well.... I think the thing is, humans are much more suggestible than we like to admit, and if placed in a completely bizarre situation that nonetheless "feels" real, and in dealing with a person who seems sentient, it's hard to remember that it's fake, especially for a young and open-minded and friendly and flirtatious person like Chekov. I don't know whether his apparently forgetting that none of this is real for periods of time is "realistic," but I kind of suspect that humans are less focused and more distractible by what their senses are telling them.

One of the interesting consequences of the choice of the OK Corral gunfight as the setting for the episode is that the Enterprise crew are cast as the Canton gang, and their opposition the Earps. Quoting Wikipedia here:

"According to the Earp version of events, the fight was in self-defense because the Cowboys, armed in violation of local ordinance, aggressively threatened the lawmen, defying a lawful order to hand over their weapons. The Cowboys maintained that they raised their hands, offering no resistance, and were shot in cold blood by the Earps. Sorting out who was telling the truth then and now remains difficult."

Popular depiction of the fight, though, in things like John Ford's "My Darling Clementine" (with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp) and John Sturges' "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (with Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday and Burt Lancaster as Wyatt, and DeForest Kelley as Morgan Earp!) (and "Tombstone," which comes out years after the episode did) sides very heavily with the Earps and Holliday -- symbols of law and order staving off chaos. It takes just a little tweaking for representatives of civilization and order to become tyrants, figures of illegal chaos to become victims of an oppressive system they cannot escape. The choice is particularly interesting because the setting is one in which the Cantons are "trespassers" -- instructed to leave Tombstone, but with no particular way of making their way outside it, which ends up mapping quite well onto the away team, who *want* to escape the conflict but have no way to do so, and this also makes the aliens running the show map very well onto this depiction of the Earps brutally gunning down people for trespassing into their territory.

That Kirk spares the life of the Earps at the end is not all that meaningful since they're not real in the first place. But still, the point being made is that the human instinct to kill is alive and well in Kirk, but he can overcome it. This really comes back to the same thing as Spock's helping Kirk, McCoy and Scotty recognize the unreality of what they are facing. The stagey, false Western town of Kirk's imagination is not the *real* Old West, but the imaginary one which lives on in many people, especially Americans, in which the conflict between civilization and freedom is fought out with physical violence. And so it's appropriate that the way to escape the kill-or-be-killed mentality is to escape from that mental framework altogether, by recognizing that *it is not real*.

Still pretty silly and slow-paced but I'm somewhat fond of it. 2.5 stars also.

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