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Trek fan
Tue, Feb 13, 2018, 7:53pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: Will You Take My Hand?

@Jammer -- Dare we hope that this limited review project will be your long-awaited coverage of Star Trek the Animated Series? With only about 22 episodes running roughly 25 minutes each, you would easily have enough time to dig into it at your leisure before the next Orville/Discovery seasons. And the multiple TOS/Discovery tie-ins contained in TAS might be a quite fitting transition between seasons.
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Thu, Dec 14, 2017, 8:16pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: Turnabout Intruder

@Jammer -- Why not defend your original review of this episode? You made a great argument: Shatner's acting is highly entertaining in this one, and that's enough. Despite some retroactive gender critiques, which I feel are unfair, "Turnabout Intruder" is a solid episode and I'm going to elaborate here on its strengths.

As I wrote in my review of "All Our Yesterdays," there's something very uncomfortable and weird about watching Shatner play a woman in his own body and the female guest star do likewise, but that is both the weakness and strength of TOS's final episode "Turnabout Intruder." This story by Roddenberry takes the classic Sci-Fi concept of people switching bodies -- later cheapened by Tom Hanks's "Big" and other sitcom-style imitators on TV and film -- as the vehicle for a fresh and tense examination of the great Kirkian fear of losing his ship. There are strong echoes of the Hitchcockian "wrongly accused man" trope in watching the helpless Kirk, trapped in the body of an ill woman, struggle to make people believe him as two enemies continually sedate him (her?) with claims he is delusional. Again, I think "All Our Yesterdays" is the superior episode, but I agree with Jammer's review and give "Turnabout Intruder" a solid three stars.

It may be politically incorrect, and a dramatized reflection of Shatner's own preening egoism projected into the body of Kirk, but "Shatner plays a hysterical woman out for revenge" (not that all women are hysterical, of course) is entertaintly executed in all its details from Shatner doing his nails to clucking his tongue. The early pre-credits line "your world of starship captains doesn't admit women" is clearly a reference to Kirk jilting Lester and driving her mad with the desire for revenge. Her ensuing revenge plot, carried out with the aid of her quack doctor minion, generates real tension in this episode as we watch Lester and Kirk squirm around in each other's bodies like two parasites. Say what you will, but "Intruder" is EDGY about pushing gender boundaries in a way that still feels fresh to our present debate about the impact of sex change operations on public restrooms, and this edginess generates a real discomfort that makes us wonder how the crew will resolve this situation.

Indeed, the fun of "Intruder" also includes Lester-as-Kirk testing the depth and strength of the crew's loyalty to him, especially the response of McCoy and Spock to the crisis. The threat here is really to the Big Three, as Lester threatens to destroy their three musketeers vibe by killing Kirk and replacing him. It's enjoyable to watch Spock -- him going rogue on the security guards with neck pinches is a nice touch -- and McCoy unravel the mystery and figure out how to fight Lester-as-Kirk. Incidentally, did anyone else notice that Nurse Chapel (Majel Barrett) has given up the platinum blonde hair of seasons one-two and gone brunette for this season three? There's still some blonde highlights there, but it's nice to see Barrett wearing her own hair color. As for the rest of the crew, Uhura doesn't appear in this one and only the Big Three appeared personally in "Yesterdays," so it's interesting to note that "Savage Curtain" is really the last TOS show with the full cast of regulars -- minus many of the semi-regulars like Chapel.

Finally, I don't see how the "jilted ex-lover out for revenge" plot is necessarily sexist or demeaning to women, as it's still a staple of modern-day relationship fiction. And frankly, let's admit it: Kirk can be a colossal jackass even at the same time he is impossibly heroic. Since it's clear that Captain America in Space loves only his ship, and we've seen countless women on this show end up thrown to the side of the road after entering his life briefly, I find it totally plausible that one of them might come back to haunt his paunchy butt. And what's really infuriating is that he's so freaking heroic: How the heck do you win against someone who keeps saving the universe? That seems more than enough to drive someone like Dr. Janice Lester, who really acts no less hysterical than Commander Ben Finney in Seasone One's "Court Martial," crazy. And let's remember that Lester is a DOCTOR -- a rarity for the 1960s, she's obviously a very smart and accomplished woman who (like Finney) can't stand a pompously self-assured ass like Kirk passing her by in life on his long climb to galactic fame. So yeah, I totally buy this story, and I welcome it as a sign of imperfection in the Trekverse that dissenters to the Legend of Kirk exist and are willing to go to the mattresses to wipe the smug grin off of his face. (That sounds more hostile than I mean it, as I personally love the Kirk character, but I think it makes the motives of a Finney or Lester quite relatable to us 21st century plebes.)

Other thoughts: As a series ending episode, I like how the show played its cards close to the vest here, generally running "Intruder" like an ordinary episode but including great callbacks to earlier shows as a sign of self-awareness of the ship's history. In addition to Kirk-as-Lester describing earlier Season Three stories to Spock, the Sulu/Chekov reference to the only death penalty offense being General Order 4 (visiting Talos, as we learned in "Menagerie Part I" back in Seasone One) is a nice touch. For an episode series, these overt continuity references are stronger her than in any earlier episode, giving a sense that the producers were at least aware the series cancellation might actually stick this time even as they were holding out for another writing campaign to get Season Four. As for the "Five-Year Mission," I have always considered the two seasons of "Star Trek: The Animated Series" to represent the final two years of that mission, despite Roddenberry later trying to exclude them from the franchise continuity. Since that continuity is completely muddled after 50 years of self-contradicting incarnations, and Roddenberry-produced TAS (with all its original cast, writers, and sequel episodes) explicitly cites the five-year mission in its opening narration and presents itself as "Star Trek," a continuation of the original show, I feel quite free to claim it as part of the franchise. Now I say to Jammer: Give us some TAS reviews!!! There are only a few 30-minute episodes and you've got plenty of time before "Discovery" (next month) and "Orville" (next fall) come back.

And I'll also say this for "Turnabout Intruder": There's a strong sense that the cast has matured as a unit as TOS ends here. I love how Spock and McCoy doubt almost from the start that Lester-as-Kirk is himself, how they quickly form ranks to investigate and help, and how they instantly risk their careers to fight the intruder. Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu planning mutiny is also a cool bit -- showing how the other series regulars (foreshadowing Star Trek III) have also grown close enough to the Big Three that they will likewise throw their careers under the bus for the group. It's too bad there's no Uhura in this final episode, but I think we can assume where her sentiments would have lain. That this series and TAS ends without trying to "resolve" anything doesn't bother me since the movies (especially Star Trek VI) do that quite well, and TNG has the opposite problem of a great final episode ("All Good Things") and a final movie ("Nemesis") that much like "Intruder" didn't fully admit its own end.

Anyway, at the end of my first-ever chronological marathon of remastered TOS on DVD, I feel I've rediscovered what makes this show great and grown in my appreciation of it. And watching all of those dull TNG and Voyager reruns on BBC USA, plus ho-hum Enterprise and DS9 (which is excellent but somewhat overrated, as there are long stretches of weak shows in seven seasons) on Netflix, I've felt energized by the reality that TOS remains the most original and striking of all Trek shows. There was something really special about this show back in the 1960s, before Paramount reduced everything to a cynical moneymaking formula and brought in soap opera actors to keep rehashing the same story concepts, and I say that as someone who came of age when TNG/DS9 was airing first-run. Part of it, for me, is simply that that TOS cast (even Shatner in his mellower older years) are genuinely lovely and humble people who feel vibrantly real every time they are interviewed or appear in public -- there's something about the light and unselfconscious way they wear their status as cultural icons that just makes me want to hang out with them (the few who are still alive) more than the cast of any other Star Trek series. For whatever reason, I've always felt that the other casts were just cashing their checks, including the current "Discovery" that I actually like very much so far.
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Trek fan
Wed, Dec 13, 2017, 5:08pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: All Our Yesterdays

A touching Spock story with a poignant Sci-Fi setup, "All Our Yesterday's" is one of my favorite Trek episodes. The way it separates Spock/McCoy from Kirk, and ALL three of them from the Enterprise whose interiors we never even see in this one, remains unique in TOS despite the more routine reset-romance subplot. I gladly give it 3 1/2 or 4 stars.

When I first saw this episode as a kid, I was moved by Spock's tragic romance with Zarabeth, as he devolves mentally into a more primitive state (and yes, I think that's plausible given his isolation from the logical trappings and mental bond with Vulcans of his own time) and begins gradually to show alarming signs of shirking his duty to remain with the woman who loves him. Today I'm a bit more "meh" on Zarabeth, having seen the entire series including Spock romances like "This Side of Paradise" that make the beats feel more routine, but Nimoy still plays the part well. This story feels like the more challenging performance for him, given that he needs to show gradual loss of control rather than a sudden alien-induced emotionalism as in earlier episodes, and he has some nice chemistry with the guest actress who unfortunately isn't terribly strong. As their shared loneliness smolders into a deep attraction, and McCoy becomes alarmed at the realization that he can't get back to the future alone without Spock, there is still some genuine tension in the dilemma.

The Sci-Fi setup of a planet whose people travel back into their own history to avoid destruction by their sun's supernova -- a highly understandable way of coping with an inconsolable disaster, as I can understand their preferring to live on their home soil even in the past to current-day diaspora, if resettling on another planet was even an option -- is to me one of the best and most intriguing in Trek. And I don't mind so much how the Big Three get there: While trying to ascertain where the planet's population went to avoid the supernova, Kirk hears a woman scream and acccidentally jumps into the time machine, and McCoy and Spock jump in after him. Makes sense to me: They wanted to stick around just long enough to find out where people went and make sure they're safe; there's no way they could have known what would happen. When they land in different places, there's a real shock in the realization that they will spend most of the episode incommunicado and completely cut off from their own time period, and I like that extra edge. The time machine -- Automocron? -- perfected by the planet's society is fascinating, as we learn that it was used in the past to sentence criminals like Zarabeth, who is apparently from a time earlier than the present-day supernova, when she was sentenced to the ice age for life by a tyrant. Meanwhile, Kirk meets a magistrate in the planet's Salem Witch Trial age who is actually from the present day and has chosen to flee into this particular time period, learning that the machine needs to prepare them to survive in the past or else they will die there. On the other hand, if they are not prepared on a molecular level before time travel, they must return to the future before they die.

On this point, watching Spock rebuff McCoy's digs and become the Alpha Male of their three-person universe is also intriguing: Spock's actions are technically logical, as he mistakenly thinks he and McCoy can no longer survive in the future, and McCoy is the one illogically clinging to the hopes of return. Yet Spock seems a bit too quick to accept the apparent logic of the situation for illogical reasons, namely his attraction to Zarabeth. In any event, his closing line about Zarabeth being dead for 5,000 years is moving in its self-inflicted coldness. If the planet's people cope with their pain by fleeing into whichever part of its past, they idealize most, Spock is a man who copes with his personal pain through logic, allowing his brain to soothe his feelings. This kind of emotional suppression is not the best coping mechanism for an emotional crisis, obviously, but it's a key part of Spock's character nicely essayed by Nimoy here.

Meanwhile, Kirk plays around in the renaissance fair and returns to the library, where he talks to Scotty (audio only -- and Scotty is the only other cast member in this episode since we never see the ship's interior) and contends with the irritating Mr. Atoz. The scene where he pushes Kirk in thte library cart is funny. Indeed, the colorful and over-the-top Kirk action subplot is almost comic relief between the increasingly desperate cave scenes. I like the Spock-McCoy dynamics when McCoy finally says something like "my life is back there, and I'm going to try, because I want that life." Another unusual touch is that McCoy (with this dialogue, in which he decides to return to the portal) and not Spock ends up saving them from the death they do not even know awaits them (they merely think they are lost in the past forever) if they stay too long in the past.

If we compare this final Spock episode to the next and final episode "Turnabout Intruder," which is the final Kirk episode, I think this one is the real winner. While "Intruder" has plenty of Shatnering, the spectacle of Shatner pretending to be a woman in a man's body, and the female guest star pretending to be Shatner in her body, feels weird and uncomfortable. By contrast, "All Our Yesterdays" delivers a classic tragedy that looks through a Sci-Fi lens at how hurting people cope with impossible loss, and offers some really solidly thoughtful stuff on that.
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Sun, Dec 10, 2017, 5:36pm (UTC -5)
Re: ORV S1: Mad Idolatry

@bleakness

To be fair, Peter G. said he hasn't seen the episode yet. But to answer your question, Macfarlane doesn't understand how religions originate and develop, as any sociologist of religion will tell you (from an entirely non-religious standpoint) that they don't begin with someone performing a miracle and being declared a god. Regarding Catholicism and Christianity in particular, I suppose Macfarlane's story implies with the Kelly analogy that Jesus was a guy who healed some people and was mistakenly worshiped as a god after he disappeared. And now we are evolving beyond that belief into a more logical and enlightened view. But I've never seen any account, least of all by Catholics themselves, that argues this view.

Anyway, Macfarlane's approach of reducing things he doesn't like to absurdity only works when they evoke real things which people universally recognize as absurd. This approach worked for me in "Majority Rule" because the government by social media, with its up-vote and down-vote culture, satirized a part of our current Zeitgeist that is very real (we actually like/dislike things on social media) but not terribly deep. The problem in taking on religion with the same absurdist approach -- especially Catholicism, which has always been full of sensitive and intelligent people, even back in the medieval period -- is that it's much deeper and quite different in reality from the vision presented in this episode. There are certainly absurdities in religion, but cutting people's hands for heresy against the great hand healer doesn't happen to be one of the vices of Catholics, and so takes all bit out of the satire. As someone said upthread, the problem here is that Seth isn't satirizing anything that feels real, because he's not tackling any actual Christian/Catholic beliefs so much as painting religious people as "stupid heads."

@Peter G.

I agree with you on the cynicism in Macfarlane's writing (which I think we both concur does not fall under your category of "good Sci-Fi" or "good comedy") that makes "Orville" feel like the anti-Trek. It reminds me of a book I once read that argued there are two kinds of comedy. One is the vulnerable kind that builds up ordinary people (i.e. Richard Pryor) by comforting the marginalized and ridiculing the powerful; it's a sort of "comedy that does justice" in an unjust world. The other is the smarmy and cynical comedy of powerful people (i.e. Macfarlane) who ridicule ordinary folks from a position of privilege and power. If the social satire on TOS and the other real Trek shows is about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the powerful, Macfarlane's Sci-Fi satire seems to be about shaming and mocking the values of ordinary people both religious and secular. To be fair, I think this kind of satire can work to an extent if it sympathizes with some of these ordinary people as their characters develop in a believeable way, like that great barista character in "Majority Rule." But I think you get my point: The basic difference is between comedy of the people that speaks truth to power (as in the best Shakespearean works and in comics like Gilda Radner) and comedy of the elite that is content to mock "the herd" (as in Macfarlane's work more generally and in "The Office") by ridiculing the values of ordinary people who are just struggling to get by in our world.

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Sat, Dec 9, 2017, 11:11pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: The Way to Eden

When I was young, I disliked this episode for the harsh comeuppance the idealistic hippies receive in the end, but now that I'm older and a bit wiser I've come to really enjoy it as an allegory about the dangers of seeking Eden (paradise in this life) without working for it. As such, much like "This Side of Paradise," this episode actually epitomizes the classic Trekkian belief that easy utopias are illusions, because the enlightened future envisioned by Roddenberry is the result of centuries of human struggle and hard work to make progress as a species. As a respectful exploration of the hopes and limits of utopian societies, I give it 3 stars.

The counter-culture movements of the 1960s and 1970s accomplished much in terms of non-violent protest, but they also made many mistakes, seeking easy comfort in sexual license and recreational drug use that altered users' perceptions more than their realities -- and not always in a good direction. To be honest, the reality is that most 1960s hippies ended up cutting their hair, raising families, and quitting drugs to become productive members of society. And the rest -- those few who kept living the hippie life without "selling out" to society -- ended up sick, homeless, and addicted. Having lived in Berkeley CA, I can show you where they live in People's Park or on Shattuck Avenue any day you please. But preferably not at night, because they ARE violent and they ARE dangerous, just as this episode shows in Dr. Sevrin. Disease and drug use really *do* make people dangerous over time.

Perhaps that's putting things too harshly, because "The Way to Eden" actually treats the hippie movement with tremendous respect, as Spock even says at one point that Sevrin's madness does not alter his respect for the cause at all. I love how Spock, totally in character as a cultural outsider himself, is the simpatico one with the hippies here. It's great to see him jamming with the musicians led by Adam (the great character actor Charles Napier of "The Blues Brothers" and "Austin Powers" among many other films) on his Vulcan lute here. It's cool seeing Spock as the most hip and sympathetic to the hippie outsiders who have abandoned technological society.

I also love Chekov's back story here as he encounters the Russian hippie, a Starfleet Academy dropout and former romantic interest. Honestly, I'm not sure why Jammer finds Chekov's defense of Starfleet and anger that the girl he wanted turned her back on it out of character here, as his character on the show has been defined entirely by his DEEP pride to be in Starfleet and his STRONG love of technological knowledge. He's always been a know-it-all who loves all of humanity's technological accomplishments -- i.e. the grain in "Tribbles" -- which are precisely the things these hippies scorn. And he's angry that Irina turned her back on the things he loves. Of all the TOS shows, this one is the biggest "Chekov episode," as his thread actually runs through the whole show from start to finish, and he even gets a cute exchange of advice farewell scene with his crush. Too bad TOS was cancelled: It would have been great to see Uhura and Sulu get stories like Chekov got here. And Spock gets a nice line at the end, telling Chekov's girl to keep looking for Eden, which again defies the "reactionary" tag some people give this one.

Good touch of continuity here, too, with the reference to Sulu's love of botany and other skills. And I *love* the teaser where we watch the hippies (presumably stoned) fly their stolen spaceship into ruin, then promptly form a drum circle on the Transporter Room floor when the Enterprise beams them aboard. It's just a lot of goofy fun to see contemporary hippies on the ship, fitting for the age, and somewhat thoughtful as well when we consider that someone in the 23rd century might one day revive the old hippie movement for a new generation of space travelers.

In the end, the message of "Eden" is that we all have to grow up sometime, resisting the urge (which is dangerously infantile according to all modern psychologists) of returning to a womblike state of childlike innocence and freedom from responsibility. To be a healthy and mature adult is, ultimately, to take responsibility for our own actions and make hard choices in life. And folks, this message of "Way to Eden" is PROFOUNDLY in line with *everything* we've seen on TOS, even if the style makes it feel different from the rest of the series: Much like "The Apple" (where the "Eden" planet is likewise poisonous) and other episodes earlier in TOS, the Federation here encourages people to think for themselves rather than seek easy answers in messianic groupthink, and so "Eden" is perfectly consistent with Trekkian ideals. If "Way to Eden" is reactionary for saying we all have to leave the Garden of Eden to overcome infantile dependency, then so is pretty much every TOS episode where Kirk refuses to let alien races be the pawns of charismatic leaders seeking artificial utopias. (See also "Return of the Archons.")

Having said all of that, I was sorry the Romulans were teased without actually showing up, as I was totally game for the kitchen sink to drop in our laps. Yet the concept of paradise being a poisonous planet in Romulan space, so useless that even the Romulans don't patrol it, makes for a memorable ending where the hippie named "Adam" (as Spock reminds us with irony) dies from eating a poison apple in "Eden." Even the hippies here have to grow up, except of course for Dr. Sevrin who takes the Jim Jones-style exit.

The hippies turning evil through Sevrin's influence isn't a total loss, as the episode maintains respect for them and their cause despite their crazy leader. And it's not like Sevrin is trying to kill the crew, take over the ship, or conquer the universe: He just wants to go to this planet he's obsessed about and stay there with his people. So the hippies here are dangerous, but not necessarily murderous, and the episode raises good questions about well-meaning people who give up their best judgment to charismatic visionaries with mixed motives. Incidentally, it amuses me that some people get upset at TOS for too often making that charismatic leader a computer, but also get upset when TOS makes that leader a hippie or a Nazi. Is there someone else you had in mind to exemplify the excesses of groupthink? Perhaps Paris Hilton?

Anyway, "Eden" isn't a top tier episode for me, as it's a bit too weird/atonal to feel truly satisfying, and it kind of meanders in the shipboard scenes for a while without advancing the plot. But I like it. And like several commenters here, I don't understand why some people are okay with Trek criticizing religion or AI run amok in a society, but self-righteously hate on "Eden" because Trek dares to take the counter-culture to task for the same problems. The truth is that any big social movements, even a counter-cultural or justice-oriented one, is vulnerable to the unhealthy whims of a charismatic leader -- it's not just religion and computers. Hitler also started as a social reformer: We tend to forget that the National Socialists (like the German Communists and others who favored government ownership of property) were liberals/progressives in 1930s Germany, not conservatives like the German Republic group or reactionaries like the pro-Kaiser German monarchists. So let's not throw the word "reactionary" at Trek so easily.
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Sat, Dec 9, 2017, 8:15pm (UTC -5)
Re: ORV S1: Mad Idolatry

I agree with the few dissenters on this post: I found "Mad Idolatry" to be a predictable, derivative, and weak season finale. The overall take-away for me is "that's it?!" Like a train wreck, it's hard to look away from this one, but I found the whole show went downhill in a mishmash of bad stereotypes and TOS/TNG/VOY cliches after the initial romance-relationship prologue between Ed and Kelly. I give it 1 1/2 stars.

For whatever reason, and perhaps it's because I've watched too much Sci-Fi, there wasn't a single plot beat I didn't see coming a mile away here. As soon as Kelly and crew got into the shuttle, I said: "Oh no, something bad is going to happen to them, and we're going to forget that the wonderful first 15 minutes of the ep ever happened." Then Voyager's "Blink of an Eye" (itself a better take on TOS' "Wink of an Eye," where a planet of hyper-accelerated people is aging at a different time rate than the crew) intuitively popped up in my head as soon as the primitive people appeared; the plot of "Idolatry" indeed followed the same Voyager pattern of checking back in on the planet every few centuries to see how the crew's existence has affected its development until a ship finally came up to meet the crew. And when the "pope" character was left alone with the "cardinal" character, I knew he was going to get stabbed before they even spoke.

I'm sorry, folks, but this is pretty lousy plotting-by-numbers -- and there feels like a real disconnect between the early Ed-Kelly stuff (which I really enjoyed this time) and the main plot here, as their relationship merely bookends the show without any connective tissue. That's more weak writing from Macfarlane with an A-B story structure that feels tonally disjointed like the worst of post-TOS Trek. As for the story itself, I acknowledge the TNG "Watchers" reference of some posters, but I found myself thinking more of Voyager here, as Voyager did tons of stories (including the great space dinosaurs episode!) on cultures struggling between religious dogma and scientific progress, on developing societies (like the ep where the Doctor finds himself in an alien museum and the ship guilty of mass murder) affected by our crew's contamination, and on time paradoxes. In some ways, I think the themes of "Idolatry" are all Voyager staples more than any other Trek show. And folks, I never thought I'd say this out loud, but even the worst "Voyager" story along those lines feels like Shakespeare compared to Macfarlane's turgid mess in this one!

The Orville story's added critique of a society locked in mindless ideology recalls TOS episodes like "Return of the Archons," but generally was done far better in TOS and TNG shows like "Who Watches the Watchers," with greater nuance and respect for people's beliefs. Here we get the feeling that Orville, despite boasting a far bigger budget than TOS, is doing the old "parallel earth" trick to reuse old costumes and studio backlots. We have someone dressed in a Franciscan friar's habit torturing people, cathedrals and stained glass windows, religious figures dressed as pope and cardinals, and finally 21st century televangelists and TV news talking heads. Huh? At least TOS offered the "parallel earth" theory to explain this setup; "Orville" doesn't even acknowledge the parallel here, as not a single series regular comments on how similar the planet's trappings are to Earth's past and how all of the aliens look exactly like humans. We could excuse these shortcuts in the 1960s, but in 2017? I call BS on the lazy writing here.

Of course, the parallel is obviously meant to evoke Christianity in this episode, which we might excuse if the story's presentation of religion was in any way believable, or at least as believable as Kirk becoming the god "Kirok" in TOS. Unfortunately, we only get the very stupid notion that the entire religion revolves around Kelly healing someone's hand, with heretics punished by being crucified (which the History Channel tells me simply means being hung up on a pole, which is not something Christians did to each other historically) and their hands sliced. I'm sorry, but this is *really* dumb and offensive to serious-minded people. Unlike "Majority Rule," where this show's average-Joe allegorizing hit home in tackling our current-day attitudes in a way that felt close to reality, "Idolatry" serves up a critique of a Christianity that never was, taking potshots at a straw man ("the past") rather than at who we are today. Even "Life of Brian" is more believable than the religion we see here.

That's where "Idolatry" really falls short for me: The sting of a good allegory comes from hitting close to home, taking on attitudes that intelligent people actually espouse. "Majority Rule," with its spot-on critique of social media culture, excelled in presenting well-rounded people who look and talk enough like many of us in the U.S. today that I felt like I was watching something real. To be blunt, I *know* Americans (myself included) who sometimes act like the casual "down-button voters" (love the barista character) in Majority Rule, but I don't know any Christians outside of the extremes who act like the zealots in Mad Idolatry. And the extremes is not a good place to go for intelligent Trekkian dialogue so much as a mob scene, like we see in too much of our world today.

Another problem with "Idolatry," as in some past Orville shows including the equally Trek-derivative "If the Stars Should Appear," is that it seems to be lifting Prime Directive stories from Trek without a Prime Directive, which means the implications of its cultural encounters remain overlooked and underdeveloped. In stories like this one, we're never quite sure what the first contact rules of "the Union" might be, as Macfarlane seems to be stopping just short (does he fear a lawsuit?) of saying the "Main Principle" or something else that sounds like "Prime Directive." Since there's no clear sense of Union law here, we get none of the debate over principles and ideas that makes Trek prime directive episodes like TNG's "First Contact" so great, but rather trite and sophomoric cheap shots. And let's be clear that "Idolatry" is not an intelligent debate between reasoned people, as we see even in the most-disliked Trek shows (TOS' "The Apple"?) where Kirk talks a computer to death, but rather a screed at caricatured Christian "true believers" we are invited to dehumanize as backward neanderthals. There is a cynical and ugly underside to this "us against them" approach to religious polemics that doesn't feel anything like Roddenberry, no matter how many people feel (wrongly, I think) that "The Orville" is more truly "Trek" than the more promising "Discovery." In the best of "Trek," we get difficult encounters with worthy adversaries whose beliefs and motivations are respectable discussed as understandable and relatable, not ignorant people doing stupid things while uttering cartoon villain lines. Folks, I don't know a lot of things in life, but I know one thing for certain: Despite its trapping, this "Orville" show is not "Star Trek" and never will be.

Ok, rant over. On the plus side, I loved the funny early scenes of Mercer bouncing around looking for company, and the Moclan game "stinger" was a great gag. I'm just sorry Macfarlane jettisoned the whole relationship story to plug into a routine and unconvincing polemic against "Christianity" that, far from achieving even the exchange of ideas in something like the cheeky interviews of Bill Maher's "Religulous," doesn't even bother to take its subject seriously. And that's the biggest problem, here, in the end: To have a true dialogue between ideas in the Trekkian fashion to which "Orville" aspires, you have to take the other side seriously and understand it on its terms, which requires a story that invites us to say more than "those people are so stupid." Dialogue requires us to treat others with the same respect we expect for ourselves. On the other hand, if all you're looking for is a show that says "look at how stupid religions are and how we will one day evolve out of their childish beliefs," then "Mad Idolatry" is for you. Watching the crude and childish interpretation of Christianity in "Mad Idolatry," however, I kind of wonder if Macfarlane's unexamined atheism/agnosticism is really more mature than the "Christianity" it satirizes.
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Fri, Dec 8, 2017, 3:03pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: The Lights of Zetar

PS - On second thought, I'll give this episode a steady 3 stars, perhaps a bit on the low side there. It was late when I rewatched it last night, but an earlier commenter mentioned something I failed to observe: The aliens on "Zetar" are REALLY creepy when they take over people. There's still a certain point -- I've never quite been able to figure out where -- when the energy goes out of the show, my mind wanders, and suddenly everyone is in sickbay ready for the climax. But there's a definite sense of the unknown with the Zetarians, a sense of torment to their possession of people, and a lack of resolution that is once again (compared to most neat TOS resolutions) strong in leaving more questions than answers. This one just seems to need a little extra shot of energy; the execution seems to be getting a bit tired as the series progresses into late third season. Anyway, not a great show by any means, but I think "Zetar" is entertaining enough.
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Thu, Dec 7, 2017, 11:27pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: The Lights of Zetar

@Trent -- Never fear, here I am! Your final paragraph actually makes it sound like you enjoyed the episode. Or at least brings out some of its stronger points.

Over the years, I've watched TOS and other Star Trek episodes in random order, finding much fault with them. But as I rewatch TOS in airdate order (except that I started with The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before) for the first time right now, I find myself appreciating the creativity more deeply in its original context. And yes, I'm finding I enjoy many of the episodes, even ones I've disliked in the past.

With "Lights of Zetar," I see more evidence that TOS (from little moments like the garbled speech effects to the guest star characterizations) was still doing very creative things in Season 3, trying to show us new stuff even with a new (and evidently inferior) group of writers and directors. There are also touches of continuity throughout this season, including here the return of Chief Kyle (absent for quite a few shows) and the medical decompression chamber (called a gravity chamber here) we haven't seen since "Space Seed" in Season 1. I find the Zetarians interesting, their choice to victimize Romaine intriguing, and the mystery fairly interesting here. So yes, I give "Zetar" 2 1/2 or 3 stars!

Memory Alpha, the namesake of the great Trek wiki, is a cool little throwaway concept here. Jan Shutan offers a bit more personality as Romaine than the blonde alien of the week we've seen lately. And I actually find Scotty's protective attitude toward women fairly in-character for someone who is clearly a blue collar, hard-drinking, working class Joe: This is not a man we expect to have hip and progressive attitudes about women, but a somewhat awkward/clumsy math and science guy (again, this makes sense for the type) who goes all gooey around women.

On this note, let me point out another realization in the long list of "things TNG lifted directly from TOS" that I'm accumulating in my rewatch: Like Scotty, Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge ALSO acts like a TOTAL IDIOT around women (see Leah Brahms, whom he awkwardly lures to a romantic dinner without realizing she's married) throughout TNG. Like Scotty, his professional boundaries go all over the map with the professional colleague he likes. But unlike Scotty, self-righteous Trekkies (and there are many of us, myself included at times) do not accuse Geordi of embarrassing sexism even as he *clearly* crosses professional boundaries. So again, allow me to call BS on Trek fans who view TOS as somehow uniquely sexist in comparison to the uniquely enlightened TNG. I'm sorry, but all of the stuff people find backward-looking about TOS (i.e. the miniskirts on crewwomen) was edgy and hip and provocative for TV at the time it aired, whereas TNG merely added 1980s leotards and bland self-righteousness to the elements it recycled. There's a difference between truly pushing boundaries and self-consciously pretending to do so in safe ways, and I can only say for myself: More TOS, please.

As for "Zetar," despite appreciating its efforts to do new stuff, I can't go higher than 2 1/2 or 3 stars partly because the long computer analysis of Romaine in the briefing room kills the pacing for me. Like "The Deadly Years" in Season 2, this long and talky sequence that reveals the aliens taking over Romaine's brain patterns tends to over-talk things past the point where we need exposition to advance the plot. It's at about this point in the story that my attention wanes and mild boredom or disengagement sets in. Also, while the Zetarians prove irreducibly hostile, I do lament the loss of Trekkian idealism in this episode's conclusion that is content to relegate them to oblivion. It would have been nice to see a great effort on the part of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy to at least attempt a solution.

But in the end, I find Scotty's central role in this episode to be a plus, as his warmth for Mira Romaine yields that great scene of trust at the end. And her fight to assert her personality with Scotty's help is fitfully engaging. For a split second as he expressed his belief Mira would not hurt him, I sensed Scotty's vulnerability and thought he might actually die, even though I should probably have known otherwise. As Scotty episodes go, this one ranks among the best for showing us a personal side of the engineer, and may even exceed "Wolf in the Fold" where he is more of a cog in the slasher film plot than a character.
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Wed, Dec 6, 2017, 7:43pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: That Which Survives

Hmm, I actually like "That Which Survives," although there are times when I've disliked it. Although the execution feels a bit pedestrian in the shipboard crisis, Lee Meriwether makes a great guest star for the mysterious Losira, and I like the way the mystery resolves in a nifty high concept. I give it 3 stars.

Like many TOS episodes, TNG later lifted this concept ("crew fights planetary defense system left behind by long-dead culture") in an early episode, namely "The Arsenal of Freedom" in Season 1. Admittedly, I think TNG offers the stronger episode, mixing more action (shipboard battle with Geordi in command while the top officers fight for survival planetside) with a good character moment in Picard stranded down the hole with wounded Dr. Crusher. But "That Which Survives" is also pretty good, treating the concept as more of a Sci-Fi mystery than battle setup. And the payoff here is particularly satisfying: Lee Meriwether's final recorded monologue as the real Losira is thought-provoking and even moving. She comes across, even in the echo of her holographic ghost, as a very strong woman leader for Star Trek.

The execution is a bit pedestrian, however, and the lack of urgency about the ship blowing up in 15 minutes really leeched any excitement out of the shipboard peril. It just felt a bit too routine here, unlike early TOS where the cast and direction really sold the idea that these people feared for their life when the ship was in danger. As for Spock, he is indeed a bit tight here, but I think we can allow that even Vulcans can have bad days and bad moods. Personally, my theory is that Leonard Nimoy was the one having a bad day, either because he was fighting with the director/writers or didn't like the script, or for personal reasons completely unrelated, and his irritation leaked into the performance. Honestly, I don't think Spock's dialogue here is negative so much as Nimoy's line delivery, as he brings noticeable irritation to the story that comes from who knows what. But given Dr. Mbenga's reaction to one of Spock's snippy lines over the comm system, it seems the story is self-aware over Spock's irritation, and I admit it's a disappointment the script doesn't acknowledge or comment on his bad hair day even so far as to have someone say "he hit his head." It might well be that some of the writers wrote Spock as more of an arrogant prig in this one than usual and Nimoy doubled-down on the nastiness in protest. Whatever it may be, it doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of the episode since Spock still has a lot of good reasoning scenes here, but it's noticeable.

Kudos to TOS, though, for doing some universe-building even in Season 3: It's great to see Dr. Mbenga back from Season 2's "A Private Little War" as well as the backup female helmsman from "Gamesters of Triskelion," plus a new blue shirt scientist in Lt. Yamato. Early on, Mbenga even refers to another doctor in sickbay, giving us the sense for the first time in the history of Trek that the Enterprise has a whole staff of doctors that isn't reduced to the CMO and an assistant or two.

Also good to see Sulu mixing it up on the landing party again after so many episode of him just kind of hanging out at the helm, going all the way back to Season 2 -- albeit with certain exceptions -- when he went through a whole story in "Catspaw" without a single line and then missed half the season due to Takei's movie obligations. Anyway, Sulu gets a little more to do here with Kirk and McCoy than usual, which is always welcome. Chekov is referenced by Kirk to Sulu, incidentally, but doesn't actually appear in this episode.

The little dancing around by the landing party to avoid Losira, whose avatars are programmed to take out only specific persons, is a good example of TOS working on a limited budget to do something creative that feels more impressionistic than realistic. The show obviously couldn't afford a special effects battle at this point on a part with "Arsenal of Freedom" in TNG. The shuffle dance is kind of silly, but also fun to watch, like much of TOS. So I give it a pass.

Overall, a good episode for me despite these flaws, and I'll still take it any day over more than half the Trek episodes that appeared post-DS9 and pre-Discovery.
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Tue, Dec 5, 2017, 5:49pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: The Mark of Gideon

I used to hate "Mark of Gideon," but now I kind of dig it, as it explores the question of overpopulation resulting from medical advances allowing people to live longer (still relevant today) and offers some delightful Spock diplomacy that fits his character's family background and future role as ambassador in ST VI/TNG. Ever-patient Spock and the oily Spock-baiting Hodin are genuinely fun to watch in their diplomatic chess game, the duplicate Enterprise is another clever (albeit implausible) TOS budget-saver, the gradually unspooling mystery of Kirk's location/fate, the unclear purpose of Odona, the ominous wound that appears on Kirk, and the creepy green faces in the window are all highlights. I give it 3 stars.

On the negative side, the episode does move slowly, as some scenes (especially between Odona and Kirk, who endlessly tries to operate the fake ship) feel like filler. Their romance is a nice example of Kirk's schtick, but plays out as a bit obligatory. The elaborate villainy of Odona and her people feel a bit forced here, as if the story feels obliged to make us side against them even though their solution to overpopulation is not demonstrably the worst one possible.

The writers seemed to intend this episode as an argument for contraceptives, holding up the silly image of the immortal Gideons crowded shoulder-to-shoulder on their overpopulated planet to invite our ridicule of their belief in the absolute value of life. Indeed the Gideons' insistence on re-introducing a terminal disease through Kirk, and their isolationism that presumably keeps them from settling off-world, is intriguing. But I actually ended up sympathizing with the Gideons more than Kirk here: By the strict rule of the Prime Directive and general respect of the Federation for warp-capable cultures not yet accepted into its ranks, they are free to solve the population issue in their own way, without the Federation imposing its values on a non-member planet. While the Gideons must be faulted from our perspective for using Kirk without his informed consent to reintroduce morality into the population in a highly suspect way, this episode gives us an example of the Federation trying and failing to reach a common understanding with a planet of very different values which are perhaps irreconciliable. As such, it continues the Season 3 trend of giving us a fresh tone and story for the series, but the execution and plot beats feel just tired enough in spots to keep it from being one of the best.
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Mon, Dec 4, 2017, 12:48pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

I've always loved "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield" as a classic Trekkian exploration of racism, a topic all-too-sadly missing on pretty much every series after TOS, as if we've "solved" the issue or something. Frank Gorshin is great as always in the role of the more self-righteous/haughty of the two aliens, and their black-white/white-black makeup is a clever illustration of racial differences that boils racism down to the simplest elements so that all viewers can see its absurdity. There's also the devastating and sorrowful shock ending, very rare for Trek, that leaves a big impression. I give this one 3 1/2 or 4 stars.

The sequence of the two men chasing each other through the ship corridors while images of the planet are superimposed is memorable. The struggle and failure of the crew to confront the racism of Bele and Lokai add to the sorrowing feel of the show: Racial hatred defies all reason and can reach a point of insolubility. Lots of contemporary parallels in this allegory even today, with all of the ethnic cleansing and mass migration going on in the world. Maybe "Battlefield" is uncomfortable viewing for some people who view racism in the past tense, but I think it's an essential Trek episode that remains more relevant than ever. Love it or hate it, it's one of the most iconic examples of Trekkian ideals ever filmed, and the lack of resolution feels very real at the end. As a geek, I also love the introduction of the Enterprise self-destruct codes, to be re-used later as an Easter egg in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
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Sun, Dec 3, 2017, 8:57pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: Whom Gods Destroy

I absolutely love this episode, it's so much fun. But "Whom Gods Destroy" is also a thoughtful examination of the thin line between genius and insanity. I give it 3 1/2 or maybe 4 stars.

One thing I appreciate is that "Gods" teases the "take over the Enterprise" trope without actually carrying it out -- it's much more fun to spend the episode inside Crazy Town, where Garth is the mayor, than to devolve into a more standard ship takeover plot. Steve Ihnat is extraordinarily entertaining as Garth and his fellow inmates/cronies, drawn from the Federation's major races, are likewise colorful -- especially Marta. The bizarre banquet scene hints that Garth's crew may actually be incapable of carrying out the ship takeover even on the best of days, but we still feel Kirk and Spock are in danger because the nuts are so deeply insane.

As has been occurring with the most ridiculous scenarios throughout Season Three, Spock has some great deadpan moments in this one, especially his delicious response to the two Kirks in front of him. Nimoy and Shatner -- especially when Garth is impersonating him -- really shine in this one. I also like how Kirk devised the sign-counter sign with Scotty before beaming down, as his voice and/or likeness have been impersonated in so many episodes by this point that it's nice to see the series learning from its own history.

I also love how Garth's cure at the end makes it clear that he was simply "off his meds" during the story and had no memory of his actions. That's an utterly charming and unexpected angle for Trek: Sometimes people are evil just because they're having a bad meds day. But even off his meds, Garth is threatening enough to maintain tension in the story, and moments like his killing of Marta make it clear that he's a threat even when he's delusional about things like forming a fleet of allies with the Enterprise. This episode quite effectively plays off the universal fear of being trapped in an asylum run by the inmates, but maintains a sense of skewed fun throughout the runtime.

In some ways, this episode recalls the strong Season One episode "Dagger of the Mind," although that was about psychiatric experiments on high-security prison inmates whereas "Gods" is simply about a mental institution. Kirk even ends up in a psychiatric torture chair in both episodes. But while I like Helen Noel and the whole story of "Dagger" quite a bit, I find James Gregory's prison psychiatrist villain to be a bit unconvincing, as his motivation for being evil is never once made clear. One thing we can say for "Gods" over "Dagger" is that Garth's megolamania is always clearly motivated by psychiatric instability, and yet the story ends with some sympathy for him. Kudos to the screenplay for maintaining some realism in the midst of all the nuttiness of "Gods," hinting at deeper complexities beneath the character actions.
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Thu, Nov 30, 2017, 9:28pm (UTC -5)
Re: ORV S1: New Dimensions

I also liked this one better after last week's exaggerated dumpster dive into the old "rookie crewman anxieties" through its unconvincing plot device. Here we find a somewhat interesting concept -- 2D aliens -- presented somewhat half-baked, but at least it's a straightforward hook rather than a high concept cheat. As for the character stuff, Norm MacDonald's Yaphet is really growing on me as a surprisingly sympathetic character, and I appreciate that the show is at least *working* on John LaMarr even if his character still feels like the least sharply drawn to me. Not really sure why being chief navigator (or whatever he is, he still sits at the front of the bridge) is considered a "dumber" job than chief engineer, and the intelligence note in his file seems like an odd character twist to me, but it's interesting to see him with some stuff to do in this story. I probably can't go higher on this one than 2 or 2 1/2 stars, as there aren't really any inspired gags like Bortus eating glass last week, and the whole prank on Yaphet thing feels a bit ambiguous -- the story can't seem to decide if we should really laugh at it (as the sickbay scene with Bortus invites) or feel bad about it as LaMarr does. That mutes the humor a bit. But it's pleasant enough fare and an improvement, for me at least, over last week's shock-value reset plot.
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Thu, Nov 30, 2017, 9:19pm (UTC -5)
Re: ORV S1: Firestorm

@PerryP yes it does come down to opinion. And there are some things I really like about "Orville," especially the episode "Majority Rule" which is my favorite of the season. I know what kind of show I'm watching and I really think it's improved in a few areas; I sometimes find the gags supremely funny. But I also reserve the right to have a strong negative reaction to something like this episode. Other than the engaging clown sequence -- a nice pop culture nod to scary clowns like the recent remake of Stephen King's "It" -- I found this episode a gradual descent into tasteless and tired horror film tropes without a satisfying payoff. I found it to be a superficial "shock show," rather than a humorous or clever story with a believable (as opposed to wildly exaggerated) character hook. After the tense clown stuff, I gradually checked out of the episode when the "fun" moments (like the continued exploitation of Dr. Finn's character for cheap shock moments) made me cringe.

Also, like Jammer, I reserve the right to watch both "Orville" and "Discovery" as I've been doing all along. Overall, Discovery is for me a better and more creative show even with its problems, but Orville has its moments too. And Jammer's reviews concur with me here: Although he and I sometimes differ on star ratings, he's only given THREE episodes of "Orville" more than 2 1/2 stars. To be specific, he's given 3 stars to only three episodes the entire season, and with two shows left he hasn't given 3 1/2 or 4 stars to any episodes of the entire season. Honestly, I really want to like both shows, but it's a struggle with "Orville" more often than not because of the frequent feeling that I'm consuming heated-up leftovers from 15-50 years ago. There's some promise here, but I basically agree with Jammer's critique that the whole show feels somewhat like an uninspired knockoff of better material, a copy of a copy that feels middling-to-average on its best weeks. Since I've watched this far, it's hard to stop watching until the show gets cancelled, and I'd be surprised if it goes past two seasons.

But I'm willing to be surprised: I would love for "Orville" to prove me wrong and run 7 seasons. That ball is in Seth's court, not mine. To the makers of "Orville" I merely say: Impress me. Like you and Jammer, I've seen a lot of Science Fiction including all of the Star Trek shows ever made, and I have standards for "Orville" to rise above my sense of "average." Am I a snob? In life, no. In 99% of things, no. But with Star Trek and its imitators, more than anything else in my life, I kind of am. It's one of my few lifelong obsessions and the bar of entertainment after 50 years of stories is pretty high for me.
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Thu, Nov 30, 2017, 7:41pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: Wink of an Eye

PS -- Three standout moment in this one for me: 1. The queen's disappointment when Kirk (albeit faking it) suddenly pretends to become compliant and obedient; she likes to be the queen, but she likes to mate with men who are "stubborn and independent." And not long after, she doesn't seem TOO disappointed when Kirk proves to be faking it and wins the day with Spock. 2. Spock's stone-cold "fascinating" line when he observes that McCoy is moving slowly, then turns promptly and walks out, is uber cool, top-shelf Nimoy. Nimoy says the line with amusement and later says the same thing to Kirk ('you seem to be moving very slowly') with amusement; not sure why, but it's a whimsically fun delivery. 3. And finally, I want to add that I like how everyone ends on good terms, with Kirk returning the Scalosians to their home in a goodbye that establishes respect without pretending all of their differences over the whole taking-over-the-ship thing are solved. It's good to see a little optimism remaining in Season Three after so many episodes where the aliens have simply been good or evil in a black-and-white way.
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Thu, Nov 30, 2017, 7:25pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: Wink of an Eye

I've always liked "Wink of an Eye" as a fun high-concept Sci-Fi outing that we rarely see on TOS before Season 3. While the execution in TNG's Timescape and Voyager's Blink of an Eye (clever title, that) may be slicker, "Wink" has always been a solid 3-star episode for me, maybe even 3 1/2 stars. Although TNG stays entirely in the accelerated time, and Voyager stays mostly in the slow-paced real time, "Wink" provides us the great fun (provided we accept the vague/fudged time frames) of watching the crew work this problem from both sides of the time acceleration.

The mosquito buzzing sound, initially suggesting a tiny rather than accelerated group of people, is clever. I love the growing mystery of the ship shutting down and being linked to an alien device; the revelation of a ship takeover is cleverly revealed. The slow-motion effect when Kirk drinks his coffee, and his genuine distress as he journeys through accelerated time, are cool. And the red shirt who mutinies to become a drone of the Scalosian queen is intriguing. Meanwhile back in real time, it's neat to see Spock and McCoy working the problem at a rate that seems impossibly slow, and Kirk's Hail Mary log entry for Spock in mosquito-talk feels like a plausible gamble (fitting the characters) that Spock will find it in the wrong place, play it, and realize someone is trying to communicate.

One thing holding this episode back from a higher rating, for me, is that some of the beats feel a bit recycled by this point in the series. While Kirk's utter helplessness makes his seduction of the Scalosian queen -- who may or may not (she tells Kirk "you won't last forever") keep her new "king" for very long -- a bit more necessary than usual, and we accept that a strong woman might prefer the ship's alpha male to Red Shirt Ricky as a consort, the dynamic between the king and Kirk and her head male drone feels much like what we saw in By Any Other Name second season. And the red shirt death also feels par for the course. Finally, although we can excuse all of these things because the execution in this one is so darn fun, "Wink" just isn't very deep: It's a cerebral pleasure, a Sci-Fi concept show that gives our heroes an intriguing puzzle to solve, but it lacks the greater human and moral themes that mark the best Star Trek episodes. Still, it's a darn good watch!
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Wed, Nov 29, 2017, 5:54pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: Plato's Stepchildren

One of the all-time classic TOS episodes, "Plato's Stepchildren" is a riveting examination of human cruelty writ large by omnipotent power, and a clever meta-commentary on the Greek gods with perhaps more interest than the stately "Who Mourns for Adonais?" of Season Two. Together with "The Tholian Web" and "Day of the Dove," Season Three delivers three classics in a row here, with better lighting and special effects and acting overall. And "Stepchildren," with its dignified central arc of the dwarf Alexander who gains the upper hand and proves to be the bigger man than his former tormentors, is a 4-star classic for me.

There's also the particularly strong sense of tension here, as the crew is genuinely tormented (rather than threatened by abstract countdowns to doom) by the villainous Parmen (the guest characters are especially vivid and strong here) and other "philosopher kings." And while Chekov and Sulu sit this episode out, Uhura and Chapel figure in the main plot as captives brought to enact humilitations for the Platonians, with clever continuity in the Chapel-Spock dynamic (a real Schroedinger's Cat relationship decades before Picard-Crusher) contrasted nicely against the Uhura-Kirk dynamic that is clearly forced in every way by contrast. Chapel has real feelings for Spock, but there's nothing between Kirk and Uhura, and the whole spectacle of their torment is riveting and edgy television even without the interracial kiss.

This one is fun to watch simply to see how the crew gets out of an impossible situation, with the Kirk-McCoy-Spock friendship bolstered by the addition of Chapel and Uhura to the mix. For philosophical debate, Spock has some great lines for Parmen in critique of his alleged paradise, and the sight of the Platonians laughing hysterically at people humiliate themselves at the end feels like a remarkably fresh social critique of the way our culture finds entertainment in the shaming of others. Spock's keen intellectual torment and the way McCoy, of all people, fiercely stands up for him really pushes their love-hate relationship further into the friendship zone as we'll see again later this season on shows like the brilliant "The Empath." Good character stuff here for the regulars, well-performed, and it's a high point for TOS.

But the central arc of Alexander and his tormentors is especially touching, feeling real at every beat. Alexander is a remarkably sympathetic character and the story steadfastly refuses to demean him (Kirk's joke at one point is genuinely funny because it comes from a place of affection rather than the sadism Parmen displays) or reduce him to a revenge-driven cipher. He's one of the better-rounded and well-realized guest stars in the history of Trek. I really empathized with him and liked him; the story treats him as a real person deserving of respect whom the Federation values equally to others. Great Trekkian idealism here: In the face of barbarism, the crew works with Alexander to preserve their common dignity, and Alexander himself is so disgusted by the behavior of his tormentors that he can't bring himself to behave likewise when he gains the upper hand. In a word: Wow. Very rare depth and complexity here for a TV show of any era, even our own today.
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Tue, Nov 28, 2017, 12:58pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: The Tholian Web

A great "ghost ship" story with a strong Sci-Fi hook centering on inter-dimensional phasing, "The Tholian Web" stands out as one of the few TOS episodes that ends with the mystery unresolved, and I like that ambiguous feeling here which doesn't try to over-explain everything and tie it all up with a neat bow. I liked this one as a kid because of the cool Tholians and their web weapon, but there's a lot of good character stuff here as well, continuing a Season 3 theme of testing how the characters react to the loss of their own. I give it 3 1/2 stars as one of the really good and memorable TOS episodes that borders on great-to-excellent in its mix of pure Sci-Fi elements and strong character moments.

We all know that Season 3 suffered from a reduced budget and the departure of some great craftsmen from the show. To me, that's most visible in the frizzled hair/makeup (everyone looks a little frazzled in this season) and the garish over-lighting of every scene that washes out people's faces on the bridge in what looks like harsh halogen lighting. But low budgets can also spark creativity, and "Tholian" combines some really cool special effects (hands passing through tables and people, ships and people phasing out of solid matter, etc.) with "crew under duress" moments in a way that really generates some good Sci-Fi thriller tension.

As the crew tries to solve the mystery of the Defiant and locate Kirk, the arrival of the Tholians and space madness symptoms really up the ante. Compared to "Immunity Syndrome" in Season 2, where the crew likewise suffered from space madness but there was little sense of tension or urgency until the very end, I actually much prefer "Web." Like "Syndrome," "Web" gives us some classic Spock-McCoy moments, and I love the touching scene where Kirk's farewell log predicts their enmity in his absence and urges them to work together, which yields a great payoff at the end when the recovered Kirk asks if they played his death log. For whatever reason, perhaps because of the lack of a tangible threat like the Tholians, "Immunity" has always been a really slow burn for me that lulls me to sleep until the great final act featuring McCoy-Spock-Kirk.

I also love Uhura's strong role in the story of this episode and the next one, "Plato's Stepchildren," giving her some strong moments regarding her affection for the captain. The plight of the person who sees something that others think is a hallucination, recalling Shatner's own Twilight Zone episode with the Gremlin on the airplane wing, is a classic Hitchcockian theme and Sci-Fi thriller trope. Nice to see Uhura be the one to see Kirk, rather than the usual suspects, and to be vindicated at the end of the story. Her deep affection for Kirk makes it natural for the others to believe she is seeing what she wants to see; this is a nice bit of building on what we already know about the character.

And I have a confession to make: I love Chekov, who was my favorite character as a kid because he is such a hot mess of inexperienced youth, and Walter Koenig flipping out with some alien torment is always a guilty pleasure for me. It's campy but fun. Indeed, one of my lasting disappointments with "The Deadly Years" in Season 2 is that Chekov's initial freakout proves a false alarm, as he is the one member of the landing party not afflicted with the aging disease. A pity: There's something fun and goofy about watching Koenig get horribly tormented by things throughout the series and movies.
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Mon, Nov 27, 2017, 5:57pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

I liked this one as a kid, when I found it somewhat moving, and am still rather fond of it despite the flaws. The crisis of the generational asteroid ship is cool and the McCoy disease subplot generates some good Bones-Spock dynamics even if it feels somewhat muted and overshadowed by the bigger plot. I give it 3 stars.

The A-B story structure in this episode, where a character's personal drama works within a larger Sci Fi plot, really resembles what most Star Trek episodes from TNG onward will look like. Indeed, this structure is a hallmark of TOS Season 3, and it's easy to imagine the show would have further developed into what TNG became had it not been cancelled after this season. Season 4 would have developed many of the minor characters like Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura, as happened on a smaller scale in the 30-minute episodes of TAS. Indeed, episodes like "For the World is Hollow" truly debunk the fans who draw a sharp dividing line between TOS and everything from TNG-DS9-VOY-ENT, as if there's nothing in common between TOS and the later shows. Season 3 of TOS proves that these shows are all cut from the same larger fabric, as much of the stuff we see here provides germs for later shows.

Anyway, I do like McCoy getting his own story, perhaps only the second time (if we don't count "The Man Trap" where he was really just a jumping-off point) since "Friday's Child" in Season 2 that this has happened. And I actually think Kelley, as much as we might criticize his low-energy and downbeat portrayal of a man facing death, makes an acting choice here that fits his character: McCoy may be irascible, but he's not the type to have an emotional scene after being diagnosed with a terminal illness that won't really affect him for a year, and it's quite possible that someone with so lively a personality might well react with denial and/or muted depression to this kind of news. So I find McCoy's behavior here plausible enough.

But I just really love the central concept of this story about a generational ship hurtling toward its doom. The priestess character is sharply drawn and the society of people who don't realize they live on a ship is a fascinating idea. The idea of the ship computer ruling over people like a god and the imposition of previous generations' ideology on the society's future are worthwhile concepts adequately executed here. And, as with many third season TOS stories, I find this show fairly thought-provoking and unpredictable overall. I appreciate the effort at doing something fresh.
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Sat, Nov 25, 2017, 12:34pm (UTC -5)
Re: ORV S1: Firestorm

What starts out looking like TOS' "Obsession" ends up as a hodgepodge of bad, good, and average reality-bending TNG episodes here. And make no mistake: Other than the all-too-brief cameo by Robert Picardo of Voyager, this episode of "Orville" is ferociously bad. It's not just awful, it's *aggressively* awful and manipulative and tasteless to boot. No wonder Jammer hasn't mustered the energy to review it yet: The juice hardly seems worth the squeeze for such a relentlessly derivative story filled with bad acting and tacky shock moments.
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Trek fan
Wed, Nov 22, 2017, 7:02pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: The Paradise Syndrome

I've gone back and forth on this episode for years, but I'm finally going to land on "good" and give it 3 or 3 1/2 stars. Space Indians, the captain living out a new life in another culture, and a crew member being mistaken for a god will all be done later on TNG as some viewers here have noted. But I like how this episode pushes Shatner way beyond his usual glib invincibility -- normally Kirk is hyper-resistant to anything taking him away from his ship, but this episode really sells the idea that he falls in love with something (Miramanee) else. I like how Spock is truly anguished in his command decisions regarding the asteroid after so much time goes by with the captain lost. And I love the touching farewell between Kirk and Miramanee followed by the equally touching effort by Spock to relieve the captain's sense of loss with a selective memory wipe. Wow, this is edgy stuff for these characters, and I like how this story goes for broke on everything.

This story continues the trend, which is very clear at this point in the series, of focusing on our regulars: McCoy, Scotty, Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura are all in fine form here. Watching all the episodes in order, more or less one a day as I've been doing, really shows how the cast chemistry grows throughout the series as stories begin accentuating just the regulars without shoehorning too many guest crewmen. Nicely done here. But the star of this one is Shatner: His love for Miramanee and heartbreak at the end feel unusually vulnerable for the character, shunning his usual glibness, and the concern and love of Spock for his friend really come through. I like this material.

The Space Indian stuff is okay, the Obelisk is suitably alien and mysterious, but all of that is just backdrop for the central story of "captain catches Tahiti syndrome." And you know what? It's a good story, well-acted, with good location shooting and some beautiful moments. I think this is a highly underrated Star Trek episode.
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Trek fan
Tue, Nov 21, 2017, 5:28pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: The Enterprise Incident

Here we have a great espionage-realpolitik Star Trek episode of the type that utopian TNG will later flirt at doing and DS9 will excel at pulling off. What's not to love? "The Enterprise Incident" has great pacing, suspense, and a terrific guest star as the central Romulan antagonist. I give it 3 1/2 or 4 stars.

The Spock stuff works well here, with the Pon Farr finger-touching a nice bit of continuity from Journey to Babel (we'll see it again on Star Trek III with young Spock and Saavik) and the Vulcan-Romulan relationship an ongoing source of fascination carrying over from Balance of Terror way back in Season One. Yes, "Incident" is a linchpin Trek in many ways, tying together many threads of TOS and establishing many things that will carry over into later series.

Following on the same in Spock's Brain, we also see what will become a distinctive strength of Season Three here: Women in the main guest star roles. Joanna Lumley is great in her interrogation scenes with Kirk and seduction scenes with Spock that later turn out to be not quite what she thinks. Shatner's overacting in yelling "I'll kill you" at Spock in front of the Romulan Commander teeters on the brink of "too much" for me, but gets a pass because Kirk is *supposed* to be insane here, meaning we can allow it even as we give Shatner a bit of side eye for quite how far he goes in the scene.

Another thing I love about Enterprise Incident is the way it develops the ensemble feel of TOS that really started gelling on Season Two: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Chapel are the main focus in this episode. (And yes, the ubiquitous Lt. Leslie is in this one too, but he's mainly a stand-in like Billy Bones's helmsman/navigator character.) It's nice to see the show coalescing in these last two seasons around its best characters, increasingly abandoning the bland "Yeoman of the Week" and "female lieutenant of the week" approach. And yet Season Three will also give us some classic Kirk-Spock-McCoy shows, another successful formula.

If Season Three suffered from budget cuts in its day, I'm not sure that's a valid critique anymore, as the remastered special effects and picture-sound of the latest Netflix/CBS Video releases negate these issues. Season Three now looks as great as the rest of the show in the remastered episodes. Granted, it looks a bit more pulpy than the earlier two seasons, with more vivid colors (someone said the uniforms switched from velour to polyester?) and a more daringly creative style in the camerawork and angles. And the writers have changed: On balance, we're going more for "fun" than Big Sci-Fi Ideas in this season, although there are still some strong shows of the latter kind and some great episodes that mix the two. Not too many Godlike Aliens or Earthlike Planets in this season, as seemed to be the case in 90% of Season Two, and that's a good thing.

In fact, Season Three gives us some truly new stuff, mixing truly alien-looking aliens (Medusans, etc.) with more human-based DS9-style universe-building dramas (this one, Cloud Minders, Elaan of Troyius, etc.) about interplanetary disputes and politics. And you know what? I like it! I think Season Three is actually really underrated. It's not as deep as Season One, it doesn't have as many ensemble classics as Season Two, but it's consistently daring and fresh as we see in "The Enterprise Incident."
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Trek fan
Mon, Nov 20, 2017, 6:24pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: Spock's Brain

To me, old-school Star Trek is like pizza: Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. And "Spock's Brain" is a fun little slice of B-movie 1950s Sci-Fi pulp that sneaks its way onto the series for an offbeat hour of quirky amusement. As a kid, I actually found this one pretty terrifying, as the brainless remote control Spock left me with a queasy and uncomfortable feeling of terror. Ditto for the surgery scene at the end. I suppose I'd give this one 2 1/2 stars, as it's not nearly as embarrassing as TNG's "Sub Rosa" and many so-horrible-I-wish-I-were-dead shows on Voyager and Enterprise.

John DeLancie ("Q" on TNG) describes "Spock's Brain" with utter seriousness as his favorite TOS because it shows actors at the top of their game doing what actors do best: Trying to sell low-budget material as top-drawer stuff. If some TOS shows like "The Deadly Years" are examples of good concepts suffering from pedestrian execution, "Spock's Brain" is an example of an bargain-basement concept (crew seeks to recover Spock's brain from alien thieves) that gets a wonderfully fun execution. The whole notion of organ thieves terrified me as a kid; it didn't matter to me that a brain doesn't seem ideal for transplant, as I suspended my disbelief to believe anything in the future is possible. Also, this plot is not unlike the Vidians and their Phage on Voyager, where Neelix basically wakes up like Spock in one episode: Missing the vital parts he needs to survive and (like remote-control Spock) temporarily stabilized by Future Medicine, Neelix must wait for the crew to recover his organs. So the basic story setup of intergalactic organ thieves, despite the gloriously silly "brain and brain" line, is believable enough in the Trekverse for me. It's actually pretty terrifying. And the idea of a civilization living off technology it doesn't understand, despite Gene Coon submitting this story under a pseudonym, works for me. So no, I don't think SB is as bad as everyone says! It's not great, but it's GLORIOUS, to quote the great Commander Kor.
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Trek fan
Fri, Nov 17, 2017, 7:53pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S2: Bread and Circuses

Just to echo Derek, who was echoing me, this episode is a perfect example of classic TOS chemistry. Many great bits include McCoy's delightful joke about the archangel Gabriel and griping at Spock while fighting for his life; Kirk's self-winking seduction game with the slave girl and decisive leadership; Spock's efforts to make sense of a deeply irrational society; the redemption of Merrick who is ironically a Starfleet dropout unlike the storied captain of "Omega Glory" and other burnouts we've seen; the delightfully suave Roman villain and heroic gladiators/slaves; Uhura's puzzling out of the "son/sun worshipers," etc. Yes, Season 2 is the Paralell Earth season, but it's FUN and thoughtful. And that's all I ask of Star Trek at times: a good time with some thought-provoking ideas, colorful variety of characters/situations, and a main cast that enjoys being with each other. And again, I love the social commentary of the televised gladiator games.
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Trek fan
Thu, Nov 16, 2017, 8:41pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S2: The Ultimate Computer

Astonishly thoughtful, well-paced, and still-fresh: "The Ultimate Computer" is one of the best Star Trek episodes ever made, as Jammer recognizes, and I think the nitpickers here are being irrationally hard on it. Here we have the dilemma of Kirk being threatened with the loss of his ship, the dilemma of the scientist who peaked too young and now cuts corners to maintain his reputation, the Big Three in classic friendship-discussion mode, Starfleet war games, man versus machine, the great William Marshall as guest star Daystrom, and so much more. I give it 4 stars.

The overall theme of man's struggle to find his place in a world that increasingly replaces him with automated technology continues to resonate in our shifting job market today, where thrifty billionaires make bank on intellectual capital while working-class people find their industries drying up. And the story raises the excellent question -- a Sci-Fi staple from Asimov onward that remains to be answered -- of whether any artificial intelligence designed by human beings can somehow replace human beings to the extent of running their instruments of exploration and military defense. In a world of drone warfare, that resonates, as do Kirk's struggle with the possibility of losing his job to a machine. To put it bluntly, this is simply a story that "works" as well today as it did in 1968, and it's a great show. I especially love how the ship being emptied of human personnnel leaves us with our seven main cast regulars: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu. Good stuff to see them all together here. What more can we say? This is just a really well-done show that resonates emotionally with real life in a way that still holds up.
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