Star Trek: The Original Series


3.5 stars

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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23 comments on this review

Sun, Apr 1, 2012, 4:49pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Dec 1, 2013, 8:31am (UTC -5)
One of the better season 2 episodes.
Sat, Dec 21, 2013, 9:38am (UTC -5)
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
Thu, May 22, 2014, 3:47am (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Mar 27, 2015, 11:28am (UTC -5)
Totally agree, this is easily a top 10 episode from the original series. I've read reviews on other sites that didn't like this episode because of the "cheesy" special effects, but those are people in my opinion who just don't get Star Trek. Watch the episode in remastered version, and it's even better because the better special effects serve what is already a great story. Loved this one!
Trek fan
Thu, Oct 13, 2016, 1:28am (UTC -5)
Four star episode for me and I'm not sure why Jammer didn't give it the same, as his review contains no criticism or negative comments about it. This episode is the perfect blend of moralizing Star Trek with action-based Star Trek, covering themes of guilt and obsession within a tightly wound plot that never drags or gets boring. Many episodes of TNG, mired in talky moralizing, could learn from the tense pace of this one. And many generic action-adventure episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, stuffed with forgettable shoot-em-up filler material, could learn from the well-scripted conversations about moral responsibility that give the action meaning here. "Obsession" is Star Trek done right, at the top of its game.
Tue, Jan 17, 2017, 8:14pm (UTC -5)
Bones and Spock confronting Kirk over his obsession was probably my favorite scene in this episode. The easy way out would be for the writers to make an appeal of friendship, to have Bones and Spock acquiesce to Kirk despite thinking he's in the wrong. It would be for Kirk to make a plea that this is something he has to do, something to ease his soul, and for the other two to think about what's best for Kirk instead of what's best for the ship. Instead, the scene and the dialogue has everyone behaving professionally and competently. Bones goes to Kirk first as a friend, but when he doesn't get quick reassurances of his doubts, he instead moves to a formal questioning. His line of questioning is perfectly reasonable given the behavior that Kirk had been showing. And yet... Kirk responds just as professionally. He lays out a case for why he is pursuing the creature. And even though that case has a lot of assumptions built in, Spock agrees that his logic is sound if those assumptions are correct. And since it is difficult to question the captain's gut instinct, Bones and Spock are forced to go along with Kirk's argument. But Bones isn't 100% convinced, and is willing to keep Kirk's demeanor an open question. If Kirk continues to seek out the monster when and if the assumptions are proven incorrect, he makes it clear he will act accordingly. And, naturally, when the assumptions prove more true than false, Spock is more than ready to follow Kirk's approach.

Also, one thing that works for this episode was that it wasn't a simple revenge tale. Kirk's motive was redemption, not revenge. He feels he screwed up all those years ago, and this was his way to atone for that mistake. And perhaps the episode is saying that the drive for redemption is even more powerful than anger, and can be just as destructive. But while Kirk's need for redemption is nearly complete, he still has the presence of mind that he could be too emotional, he could be making a mistake. And yet, again, there's enough probable deniability that Kirk is doing the right thing that he continues... but we never really know just how clear-headed he is or if he really is obsessed. It's that nice bit of uncertainty that helps move the episode along.

Well, that being said, I think the episode does suffer somewhat coming after Doomsday Machine, which I agree with William B was a better episode with very similar themes. The overall feel of this episode was ok, but there were a few minor points that bugged me. People kept name-dropping the word obsession way too much. The subplot with the ex-captain's kid didn't really go anywhere and didn't add too much to the story. The cliche that the Enterprise had to rendezvous with someone to give away critical medical supplies is a bit annoying as well. And, once again, Spock's Vulcanness ends up saving the day, or at least saving him (and what's with Spock trying to keep a cloud from coming through the vent by covering it with his hands?). Minor issues, yes, but well, it's enough to keep it from being a true classic. Still a good one though.
Fri, May 19, 2017, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
Great episode that combines the portrayal of guilt/obsession and some good, credible action. It's a compelling tale that shows the power of the Big 3 when McCoy/Spock confront Kirk over his obsession. Well written, well executed.
We do get to see Kirk's obsessive side like in "Operation -- Annihilate!" -- it's well-done. And a junior redshirt Garrovick getting to play an important role was good to see for a change - the episode also gives us the chance to understand well his frustration and desire to get things right.
I just question right at the start of the episode - if Kirk's so sure of what he's dealing with and he sends 3 redshirts to go check out the monster, doesn't he realize they will likely get killed? I guess he hopes they get a chance to fire a phaser at it.
And flushing radioactive waste through the ventilation system? Isn't that hazardous to the crew? Does the cloud creature need to be able to travel at high warp?
I did like hearing the Doomsday Machine score at the end - that is classic tune. Really emphasizes the impending danger.
Some very minor nitpicks for a terrific episode - shows how good TOS can be with the Big 3 at their best and compelling contributions from 2ndary actors.
3.5/4 stars for me.
Lennie K.
Wed, Oct 18, 2017, 10:56pm (UTC -5)
I love this episode because it really shows off William Shatner's acting ability. Watch his face closely in certain scenes. When Scotty tells Kirk that they can't maintain speed as they pursue the creature, Kirk just glances at him annoyed and goes right back chasing the creature. Also, when Kirk tells Garrovick it would have made no difference whether he delayed firing or not, look at Kirks face, as he says "it would have made no difference, not then, or 11 years ago." Shatner was amazing in his evocation of complex emotions, and he does not get the credit he deserves for his fine acting.
Thu, Nov 23, 2017, 8:08am (UTC -5)
Just a very bad day at the office if you ask me.
Sun, Dec 31, 2017, 5:12pm (UTC -5)
A much better episode than the previous one.
Tue, Feb 6, 2018, 8:05pm (UTC -5)
Obsession is definitely among my top 5. The use of time honored precepts of command bolster a first rate representation of human frailty vs duty.
Joe Menta
Thu, Jul 19, 2018, 8:33am (UTC -5)
Great episode. For some reason, though, Netflix is showing the original version, without the new special effects (all the other episodes they’re showing feature the new effects). Not that the original effects are bad.
Sat, Oct 20, 2018, 4:41pm (UTC -5)
Kirk yet again gives the giant space salute (which resembles a 20th century middle finger) to colonists who are dying and desperately need medical supplies. Seriously, why do Starfleet keep giving him these missions? At least this time he has an actual motive, other than "Screw the plague victims, this is a NEBULA damn it, we must scan it for three days". And Kirk's motive - his traumatised obsession - is well played. However when Janeway acted the exact same way when pursuing Equinox or trying to defeat 8472, people made Youtube videos talking about what a clueless arsehole she is. It's obvious that episodes such as Obsession inspired the Voyager writers, with Chakotay and Tuvok taking the roles of McCoy and Spock. And yet nobody bemoans the TOS characters. Maybe because in Obsession, Kirk realises he was wrong, whereas Janeway never learns.

It was good to see Spock going to McCoy of all people for advice. Then again, who else could it have been? No wonder Spock is such an iconic character: TOS would still be a good show without him, but with him, there are many episodes that will still be worth watching a hundred years after they were made. And that scene led into another excellent scene between McCoy and Kirk. It's strange that in this show which callously murders or disregards human life, there is so much humanity. That again led to the confrontation where Kirk's officers try to beat logic into the head of a man driven by emotion.

TOS was more character driven than later Trek in which the characters are simply there to advance the plot. It also featured some truly alien monsters, probably more in all of TOS than in TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT combined.

Knowing that redshirts will be murdered left right and centre creates genuine threat, leading to sustained tension. There is a hostile and unfriendly feel to some of these strange new worlds. I am unhappy with the callous disregard for their lives but here we have a redshirt with a personality. He plays his part in making this episode excellent.

No sign of time travel either, hooray! Unless you count Kirk's memories as time travel.

I have my share of criticism for TOS. But I keep coming back to one question: how come the other Trek shows weren't more like TOS?
Alex Boyd
Sat, Feb 16, 2019, 11:31pm (UTC -5)
A good episode that somehow did not make it on to either the Best of Kirk collection that's out there or the Captain's Log collection.
Tue, Apr 2, 2019, 11:17pm (UTC -5)
Very good episode, one of two a star trek version of moby dick.The other was the doomsday machine.
Fri, May 10, 2019, 11:38pm (UTC -5)
Well, I've been watching but gotten way behind in commenting.

Just not really inspired by these eps.

Not a huge Kirk fan, and this ep is very Kirk focused. Lots of good stuff, lots of silly stuff - average overall, maybe slightly above.
Sarjenka's Brother
Mon, Jun 17, 2019, 8:01pm (UTC -5)
Wow -- much better than I had remembered. One of the few of TOS that I had not seen since the 1970s.

The Big Three really standout in this episode, but the supporting players and guest stars turn in strong performances as well.

The episode has a quality to it you don't see again until DS9. It's pretty dark -- in a good way.
Thu, Jun 25, 2020, 10:30pm (UTC -5)
:great Episode, no 'Bones" about it!
Love Kelly's performance in this. Filled with righteous rage to stop nefarious Kirk obsessions
Tue, Sep 8, 2020, 4:35am (UTC -5)
Just watched this episode and, really, go back and rewatch it and tell me that you don't hear John Williams' score for Jaws in the music when the gas cloud appears, particularly towards the end. Duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum...

Anyway, great episode.
Tue, Sep 8, 2020, 8:52am (UTC -5)

That music is from Sol Kaplan's original score for "The Doomsday Machine" -- frequently re-used in Season 2 episodes and yes "Jaws" definitely borrowed from it, however I don't think too many realize Williams' score wasn't truly original. Kaplan didn't get all the credit he deserved.
Tue, Sep 8, 2020, 8:54pm (UTC -5)

I'm watching "The Doomsday Machine" now and I'm hearing it again. Not sure if Williams copied the music or just ended up with something similar in the quest to build tension, but I agree completely, it's great score.

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