Friends, this one started out promising, it really did. Sulu and Bones are on an away mission! Super wacky shit starts happening! A single massage ignites the passionate ship that is Spock and Kirk!
. . . sadly, then the episode continues.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
The crew of the Enterprise are tired, what with the last few months being full of Romulans and Shakespeare and people who keep trying to either highjack or blow up their ship. Bones and Sulu (as well as Rodriguez and Martine) scout a possible planet for shore leave. It’s green and pretty enough, but it’s absolutely nothing like Alice in Wonderland, no matter what the hell Bones says–at least it isn’t until he actually spots a giant white rabbit saying, “Oh! My paws and whiskers! I’ll be late!” before scampering off. (Alice, herself, also briefly appears before likewise running away.)
To Bones’s credit, he does actually report this, but Kirk doesn’t believe him and heads down to the planet with Yeoman Barrows, having been tricked by Spock into actually accepting vacation time. Quickly, even more weird shit starts happening. Sulu finds a rare antique gun (the kind he’s always wanted), Kirk runs into his old Academy nemesis (a prankster that Kirk’s always wanted to punch), Kirk runs into yet ANOTHER old flame (this one’s named Ruth), etc. There’s also tigers and airplanes and samurais and medieval jousting knights, the latter of which kills McCoy when he refuses to move, stubbornly insisting that he can’t be harmed by a hallucination.
The knight is also killed and, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a mannequin. Then, after both the mannequin and Bones’s bodies disappear, Spock begins to finally realize what’s going on. Before he can tell Kirk, though, Finnegan the Prankster reappears, and Kirk chases him so they can have possibly the longest, most boring fight scene I have ever seen. Galaxies are born and die by the time this fight finally ends. Eventually, the Caretaker (not, alas, the Caretaker from Star Trek: Voyager) pops up to explain that this whole planet is basically one big VR amusement park. Bones, along with two fascinatingly dressed women, also pops up to prove he isn’t dead, as sexy sax begins to play and Yeoman Barrows jealously confronts the dude she spent a whole four minutes flirting with.
Then Kirk orders everyone (save Spock, who’s had enough of these shore leave shenanigans) to come down and partake in the fun. As for Kirk, he’ll be spending his vacay with Ruth, cause, you know. Sexing it up with the fake version of his real life ex who still looks 15-years-younger than him isn’t creepy at all!
It’s genuinely nice to see a lighthearted episode of TOS, and there are a lot of fun moments here. Sulu fights a samurai! Classic children’s literature starts coming to life! Kirk is hot for Spock’s strong, logical hands! I’m all about the less sinister version of Needful Things, the planet–which, come to think of it, feels an awful lot like a precursor to the Holodeck.
Unfortunately, it takes everyone in this episode an absurdly long time to figure out what’s going on. Not the amusement park bit; I don’t expect people to jump from “our shared hallucinations can kill us” to “Space Disneyland.” But the part where someone says, “I was just thinking about Homicidal Winnie-the-Pooh,” and lo and behold, Winnie-the-Pooh with a bloody chainsaw pops out of the woods, and everyone’s just like, “Huh, that’s pretty weird. I wonder why that happened.” Nobody manages to verbally cause-and-effect this shit until 42 minutes into the show. It kills me.
And the planet, for all its awesome potential, comes up a little short in regards to imagination. As always with Trek, there is rarely an old weapon, novel, song, or thematically relevant period of human history that doesn’t take place in either the year the show was made or any of the years prior. Bones won’t see a popular figure from a kids book in his century anymore than Jean-Luc Picard in TNG would see a “primitive” alien society and be reminded of New Zealand’s Dark Era of 2076. Not to mention, literally anything, anything, these people can think of will appear on this planet, and we get, what, tigers, jousting knights, and chorus line dancers? I can go to Vegas and see all that shit. Also, while vengeance can be a powerful fantasy, I really don’t think I can stress enough just how boring this fight scene is between Kirk and the awful, awful, AWFUL Finnegan. It is soul crushingly bad.
TOS, too, continues to not quite stick the landing here. The amusement park idea is cool but also incredibly anticlimactic, perhaps because everyone’s immediately like, “Ha ha ha, how silly we were to be needlessly traumatized by all the apparent weirdness and death. ‘Let’s party!'” And seriously, Kirk taking a few days off to fuck the fake version of an old girlfriend is just creepy. I get that it’s not gonna happen because, like, the 60’s, but it would be cool if at least one episode of this show didn’t creep me out or piss me off in how it treats women–and more on that shortly.
This episode begins with Kirk in the captain’s chair, complaining about a kink in his back. The young, pretty yeoman who’s noticeably not Janice Rand begins giving him a massage. “That’s it,” he says. “A little higher, please. Push. Push hard. Dig in there, Mr. Spo–” And, then immediately cuts himself as he realizes that Spock isn’t the person rubbing his back.
Uncomfortably, Kirk tells the yeoman, “That’s sufficient,” and exchanges glances with Spock. Meanwhile, I’m practically falling off my couch, dying with laughter, because oh my God, Kirk is disappointed that Spock isn’t the one giving him the sexy massage! THIS! THIS IS WHERE IT ALL BEGAN, PEOPLE. I know there’s always someone whining that nobody involved in the show ever intended for these two characters to be romantically paired, but dudes, no. You don’t get to include a scene like this and then act surprised when people interpret it in the most obvious way imaginable. I mean, and that’s coming from me, and I am extremely inclined to favor platonic interpretations over romantic ones when I watch TV.
Oh, look, it’s another uninhabited planet. TOS better not have any episodes about overpopulation, or I’m gonna have to magically beam myself onto this ship and remind them about the dozen planets out there with, like, two people on them at best.
While this place doesn’t have people, animals, or insects–oh, how I long for a planet without insects-it does have a shit ton of wind chimes. People. SO MANY WIND CHIMES.
I do appreciate that Kirk immediately puts short leave on standby once he’s seen the giant bunny tracks on the supposedly empty planet, rather than risking any additional crew. This is some solid captaining from Jim Kirk.
On the other hand, Kirk continuously splits up the away team, which is obviously a terrible idea. He stops searching for Sulu (last seen running after a man who attacked Yeoman Barrows) in order to pick pretty flowers and lovingly stare at some ex-girlfriend of his who obviously isn’t real. Kirk also sternly asks Barrows, “Are you sure you’re not imagining this?” as if her account of being attacked by a caped dude with a jeweled knife is somehow more impossible than Sulu finding an antique gun from Earth, Kirk running into a classmate that apparently hasn’t aged in 20 years, or Bones seeing characters from Alice in Fucking Wonderland. This, you sexist bastard. This is why you’re winning Chief Asshat this episode.
Seriously, the blatant sexism is so pervasive in this episode, like . . .
There isn’t much to say about Martine, except that a) she wants to flirt rather than work, b) she apparently got over her doomed wedding in “Balance of Terror” pretty quickly, and c) she either “dies” after getting shot by a plane or just straight up knocks herself out by running into tree. I’m honestly not sure which.
Yeoman Barrows, unfortunately, is much worse. You see, Barrows seems to spend a fair amount of her time thinking about all the things every girl really needs. For instance, she thinks to herself, “All a girl needs is a Don Juan” (which, thanks but no thanks), before being violently attacked by Don Juan himself. Soon afterwards, she tells Bones that a girl here ought to be dressed like a princess. (Why she’s still all giggly and charmed with this planet, I couldn’t possibly tell you, considering how justifiably upset she seemed to be roughly five minutes before.) Of course, Barrows immediately finds such a dress, and what does she do? Well, she holds it up to herself and says, without the slightest shred of irony, “Look at me, Doctor! A lady to be protected and fought for!”
To her credit, Barrows does hesitate before trying the dress on, understandably feeling scared and vulnerable in this weird and dangerous place, but Bones creepily tells her that he’d like to see her in the dress, so she’s immediately swayed. Barrows, of course, is also the only one on the team to break down in tears and–more than once–be verbally bitchslapped into suppressing her emotions and keeping a level head. Meanwhile, I’m on the couch, head in my heads and longingly wishing for the sweet release of death by way of imaginary tiger.
FASHION REPORT: Oh, it’s all about the ladies today. We begin with the Princess Dress. It’s mint green, trimmed with gray, and is exactly the kind of nonsense I imagine female employees wear at Medieval Times. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Medieval Times, but I’d genuinely like to go at some point. It sounds like good silly fun.) Of course, the dress is complete with one of those tall, pointy hats, the kind that comes with a big white veil. (Note to self: get one of those.)
But if medieval isn’t your style, how about chorus girls? The two cabaret dancers who escort Recently Dead Bones back to his crew are wearing, like, diamond shaped, furry pastie-bra-things with matching furry underwear that sort of snakes down one leg. One woman is all in canary yellow, the other bright pink. This even includes their color coded belly button rings. It’s just, wow. Wow is what it is.
Finnegan is the most annoying character in all of Star Trek. This is my decree.
If a woman can physically put on a “hallucination dress,” then you can totally get killed by a “hallucination knight.” Come on, Bones. Get your shit together. (Also, with Bones being the corpse this time, there’s sadly no one around to say, “He’s dead, Jim.” It’s a little disappointing.)
I’ll admit, I briefly harbored the hope that when Spock beamed down to the surface, it wasn’t really Spock, just Kirk manifesting his First Officer in order to finally get that massage. Sadly, this ended up not being the case.
Finally, it’s totally weird that Spock is the one to explain the concept of an amusement park to the others, though perhaps that’s why this explanation (“an old Earth name for a place where people go to see and do all sorts of fascinating things”) is so bad. Seriously, Spock. That description could apply to almost anything. Burning Man. Pride parades. Comic Con. SantaCon. A LARP summer camp. The local stripper club with Furry Fridays might be fascinating to some people, but that doesn’t make it an amusement park, Spock.
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“With all due respect to the young lady, I’ve already had as much shore leave as I care for.”