Friday, March 25, 2011


Picking up where I left off last time, I'll now dive in to Season Two of the original Star Trek, which I've been re-watching in its entirety on DVD with my eight-year-old daughter Maddie.

As with Season One, this won't be a review of each and every episode—I'll just be touching upon the ones that Maddie and I thought were the above-and-beyond highlights. Maddie's favorites will be noted with an "MG," mine with a "GG," and ones that we both cited as our favorites will be noted with an "MG/GG."

So here are the real standouts of Season Two, listed in the order in which they were produced. And please keep in mind—Maddie has a lot of "favorites."

"Who Mourns For Adonais?" (MG)

The Enterprise encounters an alien super-being who, thousands of years ago, had visited Earth and was known to the humans of that time as the Greek god Apollo. He demands that Captain Kirk and his crew worship him—and he falls in love with Lt. Carolyn Palamas, who finds herself torn between her captain and the god whose love she returns. (Oh—and this is the first episode to feature Walter Koenig as Ensign Pavel Chekov, complete with "Beatles wig.")

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites! I really liked it because they used Greek mythology and I like to read books about Greek mythology. I thought the man who played Apollo looked really good and I liked that they showed that Apollo played the harp (lyre), because that's in the stories I've read. I also liked that the woman did her duty even though she loved Apollo."


"Amok Time" (GG/MG)

An iconic episode, and a must-see. Spock has to return to his home planet to marry his betrothed—or he'll die. We get our first look at the planet Vulcan, a lesson on Vulcan biology and culture, the first usage of the Vulcan hand salute, a side of Spock we've never seen before, the first instance of Kirk openly defying Starfleet orders, an unexpectedand rip-snortin'fight sequence between Spock and Kirk, and, at the end, one of the most memorable Spock moments in the entire history of the franchise.

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites! I liked how they showed the Vulcan hand salute and we found out a lot of things about Vulcans and I liked the trick that they played to make it look like Captain Kirk died—I really thought he was dead and I was about to start crying! I really liked how at the end, when Spock sees Kirk alive, he smiles. That means he really cares for Captain Kirk."


"The Doomsday Machine" (GG)

This is a great episode! It's got a truly awesome threat, namely the ancient and mysterious Planet Killer that destroys worlds and then uses the vast chunks of debris to refuel itself. Guest star William Windom makes an indelible impression as Commodore Matt Decker, whose obsession with destroying the doomsday machine drives him to the brink of insanity. And the regular castparticularly William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, and James Doohanare in top form. Kirk has some terrific moments in this episode, and Shatner performs them marvelously: "You mean you're the lunatic who's responsible for almost destroying my ship?"; "Not with my ship, you don't!"; and one of my all-time favorites, "Gentlemen, I suggest you beam me aboard." And McCoy's priceless response when Commodore Decker tells him he's out of line: "So are yousir!" Sure, the special effects are a little dicey in spots, but the story, the direction, and the acting are so strong that it's hardly a distraction.


"Wolf in the Fold" (MG)

Scotty becomes the prime suspect when several women are brutally murdered in a style eerily reminiscent of the bloody crimes of Jack the Ripper.

MADDIE: "That's one of my favorites. It was a mystery and I love mysteries. I liked how it looked like Scotty was committing all these murders, but it couldn't really be him! You'd never guess who was the real killer because he was someone from long ago."


"The Changeling" (GG)

This was basically the first draft of Star Trek: The Motion Picturebut a lot more fun, with far more characterization and crew involvement. (But don't get me wrong, I like Star Trek: The Motion Picture a lot!)


"Mirror, Mirror" (GG/MG)

Another must-see episode. There's just so much to like about this one: the introduction of the "Mirror Universe," which would be revisited decades later in Star Trek comic books, novels, and the spin-off TV series Deep Space Nine; Spock's cool goatee; Nichelle Nichols getting some much deserved time in the spotlight as Uhura (and her Mirror Universe uniform is a godsend to all red-blooded heterosexual males); a nice nod to continuity by way of the mention of Captain Christopher Pike; Scotty calling Kirk "Jim" for the first and only time; Leonard Nimoy showing off his acting chops by portraying two versions of Spock that are very similar to each other, yet subtly different; and a chance to see George Takei really acting:

MADDIE: "This is one of my favorites! It was about parallel universes and you got to see everything from a different point of view. I liked how Spock had a beard and the crew was evil under the Empire. Everything was different but it still seemed the same."


"I, Mudd" (MG)

Notorious con man Harcourt Fenton Mudd (introduced during the first season in the episode "Mudd's Women" and played by the always fun Roger C. Carmel) returns, this time as the ruler of a world populated by androids. But he desperately wants to escape the planet—and to strand the crew of the Enterprise there in his place.

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites. It was funny! You got to see Harry Mudd again and of course he's with beautiful women again! I liked how Captain Kirk stuck Harry with hundreds of copies of his annoying wife!"


"The Trouble With Tribbles" (GG/MG)

Probably the best known and most popular episode of the original Star Trek. A lighthearted romp that introduced the small furry creatures called tribbles and the less-than-honest business Cyrano Jones (sort of a nicer, more likable Harry Mudd, portrayed by the wonderful Stanley Adams), it also provided Kirk with a new Klingon adversary in Captain Koloth (William Campbell, who had played Trelane in the first season episode "The Squire of Gothos"), some really nice character moments for James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and Walter Koenig, and a chance for William Shatner to show off his impressive comedic abilities.

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites. I liked how the tribbles didn't like the Klingons because the Klingons were bad guys. And I loved the part where Kirk opened the bin and all those tribbles fell on to him. I was laughing so hard I was almost crying! And I loved how Scotty beamed the tribbles over to the Klingons."


"Journey to Babel" (GG/MG)

We learn even more about Spock when his parents come aboard the Enterprise for an important diplomatic mission. Mark Lenard, who played the doomed Romulan Commander in the first season's excellent "Balance of Terror," returns in a different role: Spock's Vulcan father, Ambassador Sarek. Jane Wyatt exudes dignity and warmth as Spock's human mother, Amanda. We learn how lonely Spock has been for most of his life, never really fitting in on Vulcan or on Earth, and how his decision to forge his own destiny in Starfleet caused an 18-year rift between him and his father (no wonder his folks weren't at his wedding in "Amok Time!"). There's also a lot of intrigue and suspense when a murder is committed and all signs point to Sarek, a mysterious ship shadows the Enterprise for reasons unknown, Kirk is attacked and hospitalized, and Spock has to choose between his duty to Starfleet and taking part in an operation that will save his ailing father's life. Oh—and McCoy finally gets the last word. Talk about a jam-packed episode!

MADDIE: "This was one of my favorites. I loved to see that Spock cared for his father so much that he did a blood transfusion to save his father's life. And I liked when Spock's mommy reminded him that he was half human. I think that's what made him do the blood transfusion. I liked seeing who Spock's mom and dad were."


"The Immunity Syndrome" (GG/MG)

Another episode with a more epic scope than usual, along the same lines as "The Doomsday Machine." As with "The Changeling," certain elements of this episode would find their way into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The Enterprise encounters what can best be described as an enormous energy-draining space amoeba that threatens all life in the galaxy. Very impressive special effects this time out, and the drama and character interactions are extremely well done. There are some great moments between Spock and McCoy.

MADDIE: "I liked how Spock risked his life to save the Enterprise. And I liked how they showed that Spock was alive by having him touch the side of the amoeba with his ship and making the amoeba shake. I got to learn what an amoeba is! And I loved the part where Dr. McCoy said, 'Shut up, Spock! We're rescuing you!" and then Spock said, 'Why, thank you, Captain McCoy.'"


"Return to Tomorrow" (GG)

An effective, gripping, and even touching installment that gets to the heart of what Star Trek is really all about, courtesy of Kirk's "risk is our business" speech (which, incidentally, is quite charming and powerful, despite a slightly hammy delivery by Shatner and a particularly melodramatic musical score playing under him—Maddie actually started giggling during this sequence). My mom, who was most certainly NOT a Star Trek fan, loved this episode. And I can't help but think that writer-producer Harve Bennett had this one in mind when he was working on the script for Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and coming up with an explanation for Spock's "remember" mind meld with McCoy.


"The Ultimate Computer" (GG/MG)

Another exciting episode with a memorable guest star—William Marshall as Dr. Richard Daystrom—and an intriguing dilemma that touches the characters on a personal level. Here, Kirk wonders if he's soon to become obsolete when Daystrom's new invention, the M-5 computer, is installed aboard the Enterprise to show how it can run the whole ship on its own. The new computer is put to the test during routine Starfleet war games and, well, it seems M-5 has some stuff in common with HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Barry Russo makes a memorable appearance as Commodore Bob Wesley, who's tasked with leading the four-ship war-game attack on the Enterprise, and finds that he may have to destroy it for real. (War games, huh? Didn't Gene Roddenberry claim in his later years that Starfleet was not, and had never been, a military organization?)

MADDIE: "I liked that the computer wasn't perfect but the man who created it thought it was. And no one knew how to stop the computer! I liked how the commodore was about to destroy the Enterprise but decided not to."


As far as I'm concerned, Star Trek found its voice fairly quickly, certainly by the latter half of its first season. It maintained that voice throughout the second year, during which some of its most important elements were introduced. First and foremost was the Prime Directive, the cardinal rule establishing that no Starfleet officer may interfere in the natural development of any planet and its inhabitants. (Contrary to popular belief, which seemed to really take hold in the wake of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the ever-rigid, always by-the-book Captain Picard, Kirk was not always violating the Prime Directive and reshaping alien civilizations as he saw fit. It was clear throughout the original series that Kirk valued, respected, and obeyed the Prime Directive, but was not afraid to acknowledge that sometimes there were situations in which it did not apply, or had to be interpreted in a broader or more creative manner.)

There are no real stinkers in Season Two, although "The Omega Glory" comes pretty close. If there's anything really negative to be said about the second season, it's that there was a bit too much recycling of ideas. "The Apple," for example, focused on the corruption and stagnation of an alien society due to it being controlled by a powerful godlike machine called Vaal. This basic premise had already been explored during the first season in such episodes as "Return of the Archons" and "A Taste of Armageddon."

Season Two also had just a few too many stories in which Kirk defeated a troublesome computer or machine by pointing out the fundamental flaws in its own logic ("I, Mudd," "The Changeling," and "The Ultimate Computer").

On the other hand, the show demonstrated just how versatile it was by displaying its willingness—and its ability—to go all-out for laughs, in comedic episodes such as the aforementioned "I, Mudd" and "The Trouble With Tribbles," along with "A Piece of the Action," in which Kirk and Spock have to act like gangsters on a world patterned after Chicago in the 1920s. Even more serious episodes like "Bread and Circuses" and "Patterns of Force" had some great, memorable bits of humor and satire. (In "Patterns of Force," check out Kirk's reaction when Spock tells him, "You should make a very convincing Nazi.")

And with Spock's growing popularity came a number of essential, truly great episodes focusing on him that revealed more about his species, his culture, his family, and his backstory—all of which would be revisited and built upon in numerous ways over the next few decades.

As I mentioned last time, DeForest Kelley's name was added to the opening credits starting with Season Two, as a result of the key contributions he made to the series during the previous year. Dr. McCoy's importance as a character becomes even more evident in the second season, and he often gets the best moments, a couple of which are recounted above. The relationship between McCoy and Spock is now shown to be extremely complex. They don't really get along—in "The Trouble With Tribbles," McCoy tells Spock, "I like (the tribbles). Better than I like you." To which Spock replies, "They do have one redeeming characteristic... they do not talk too much." In "Bread and Circuses," McCoy pulls no punches when assessing Spock: "Do you know why you're not afraid to die, Spock? You're more afraid of living. Each day you stay alive is just one more day you might slip and let your human half peek out... Why, you wouldn't know what to do with a genuine, warm, decent feeling." Their relationship is based on brutal honesty with each other. They're not friends in the way either of them is with Kirk, but they are friends, as evidenced in "Amok Time" when Spock explains that he is permitted to invite to his wedding those closest to him. Of course, he invites Kirk. But then he turns to McCoy and requests his presence, as well. McCoy's reaction is one of genuine surprise and delight-it's clear he wasn't expecting to be invited, and had no idea up to that point just how much he meant to Spock. What rich, wonderful material, beautifully performed.

Coming Soon: Season Three!


  1. I love reading what Maddie has to say about all of this. Brings me right back to my own days of total TREK immersion on Channel 11, staring when I was around eight. (I remember seeing the show during the tail end of its NBC run because my mom was a huge fan, but it wasn't until Channel 11 that I was able to watch it and grasp it for myself.) And now, some notes:

    1. If Maddie is into Greek mythology — which most intelligent people tend to be, and good on you for encouraging her interest — I hope she has a copy of D'AULAIRE'S BOOK OF GREEK MYTHS, a book that to me holds more value than The Bible. If she doesn't have it, GET IT IMMEDIATELY. BUNCHE HAS SPOKEN!

    2. I hate, Hate, HATE Harry Mudd. I can tolerate "Mudd's Women" for its serious tone, but "I, Mudd" has turned me off since childhood. I just can't stomach the character.

    3. "George Takei REALLY acting." Nice nod to MST3K!

    4. I'd forgotten how this was the season that really put Spock on the map. Christ, I love him! And I guarantee you that I'll be a goddamned mess when Leonard Nimoy inevitably passes on... (I'm not a guy who's afriad to say "dies," but in this case...)

    5. What, no Maddie commentary on "Metamorphosis," "The Gamesters of Triskelion," "A Piece of the Action," "Patterns of Force," or "Assignment Earth?"

    6. One of the things that drives me insane about this season is the inordinate number of worlds that the Enterprise encounters that have indigenous populations whose cultures are identical to or based upon aspects of Earth history. I've always been particularly vexed by that trope as seen in "Bread and Circuses," thanks to that crap about parallel cultural development; I can buy that to a certain extent, but to the degree found here? Uh, NO.

    7. How in hell can you not consider "The Omega Glory" a stinker? The whole KOhms and Yangs thing was incredibly ham-handed, and do NOT get me started on the "Ee'd Plebnista." (Although Shatner's signature performance of that "big reveal" is downright hilarious.) Also, "Catspaw" has been in my personal Bottom Ten since I was a kid. Appalling. No, worse than appalling, thanks to it being written by the guy who have us PSYCHO. There was simply no excuse, and those shitty puppets at the end...PTUI! PTUI!!!

  2. Love your responses, Bunche! I'll address them point by point--

    1) Rest easy, my friend! Maddie already has a copy of D'AULAIRE'S BOOK OF GREEK MYTHS. She loves it.

    2) Please note that only MADDIE listed "I, Mudd" as a favorite, so take it up with her. I certainly have always liked Harry Mudd and I enjoyed both of the episodes in which he appeared, but I wouldn't rate either of them as among the very best of the seasons in which they aired. I think Maddie got a kick out of the pot belly, the handlebar mustache, and the larger than life performance by Roger C. Carmel. Interestingly, she prefers "I, Mudd" over "Mudd's Women."

    3) I knew you'd get the MST3K reference. I simply couldn't resist.

    4) Amen, brother.

    5) For each season, I've gone through every episode with her and asked her what she thought. For some episodes, including the ones you mention above, she simply didn't have much to say. I think "Metamorphosis" was a little over her head, "The Gamesters of Triskelion" sort of left her cold, she liked "A Piece of the Action" but wouldn't rank it among her very favorites, she didn't fully understand "Patterns of Force" because she doesn't know a lot about Nazis yet (though she did laugh out loud at Kirk's reaction when Spock tells him that he'd make a very convincing one), and "Assignment: Earth" just didn't grab her--and she didn't like Roberta Lincoln's sense of fashion.

    6. I totally get where you're coming from. In the case of "Bread and Circuses," that always came off to me, for the most part, as a satire about the television industry, so I've been more willing to suspend my disbelief with that one.

    7. There are some moments in "The Omega Glory" that I think are pretty good, and that prevents the episode from being a complete write-off. The first act or two are actually fairly strong. Then it goes into the crapper. I'm just kind of neutral on "Catspaw." It doesn't thrill me, it doesn't offend me.

  3. Oh, and make sure to get her a copy of D'AULAIRE'S NORSE GODS AND GIANTS. It's just a wee hair lesser than the Greek mythology book and it gave me my first real grounding on the Norse legends (Thor comics do not count). And when you do get it for her, make sure to consult the guide in the back for proper pronunciation of the names. I mean, how often do you run into names like "Utgardsloki" and get it right the first time out?