Often, I dream about becoming a fixer. Not a political fixer or someone who takes care of inconvenient dead bodies, but a Story Fixer. Someone who walks into the Writer’s Room and says, “People, you are so close, really, you are almost there–but you’ve gotta cut this, this, and this because they’re about to ruin your entire show.” I mean, that’s an editor. I pretty much just wanna be an editor. But also, an editor with a time machine. And, one hopes, a stylish hat.
With an intro like that, you may not be surprised to hear that I have a LOT to say about “The Galileo Seven.”
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
The Enterprise is heading to the New Paris colonies to drop off some plague meds, but Kirk stops for a two-day detour because the ship has standing orders to investigate quasar phenomena whenever they encounter one. Spock, Bones, and Scotty board the Galileo to check it out. Also along for the ride are Lt. Latimer (Red Shirt #1), Lt. Gaetano (Red Shirt #2), Yeoman Mears (The One Girl) and Lt. Boma (Unbelievable Asshole, as well as clear winner of this episode’s Chief Asshat.) Unfortunately, the Galileo quickly gets knocked off course, and they crash-land on a nearby planet populated only by giant, angry ape creatures.
Kirk only has 48 hours to find his crewmen or be forced to leave them behind, as High Commissioner Ferris continuously pops up to remind him. Meanwhile, the Galileo Seven try to get back into orbit, but their shuttle needs extensive repairs; worse, two people will have to be left behind, as the ship will no longer make it off the ground with everyone’s combined weight. Naturally, tensions are high, and that’s before the giant ape creatures kill Red Shirt #1.
Spock, in his first command, gets into a series of arguments with Bones, Red Shirt #2, and Unbelievable Asshole on how to deal with the alien creatures, how to choose who should be left behind, and whether they should prioritize culture and morale over basic survival. Tensions hit a boiling point after Red Shirt #2 bites it, but eventually, the Galileo 7–well, 5 now–does make it into orbit. Unfortunately, the Enterprise, past deadline, has already left, traveling as slowly as physically possible.
In a desperate, last ditch effort to get their attention, Spock does a risky maneuver that wastes nearly all their fuel in one go. It works, though; my man Sulu spots them, and the shuttle is saved. Once everyone’s onboard, the bridge crew teases Spock over this desperate maneuver, as surely it wasn’t a logical reaction to the situation at hand. Spock, naturally, disagrees, and everyone laughs fondly at his expense.
Conceptually, this episode is fascinating. This is Spock’s first command, which–all right, that seems more than a little ridiculous, considering he’s the first officer and all, but we’ll move past that because there’s a solid narrative arc here: Spock tells Bones that he neither enjoys nor fears the idea of command, and all in all, seems pretty confident in his ability to lead effectively, presumably because he knows his decisions will be based on logic and will thus be the best choices he can make. It’s interesting because Spock never comes across as arrogant or boastful here (in fact, as this is a response to Bones once again needling him, I was very much all “YEAH, YOU GO, SPOCK”), but as the episode continues, Spock’s attitude towards leadership does seem naive, considering that his first command goes anything but smoothly, in great part because of the decisions he makes and how he arrives at them. There’s a beautiful moment near the end, too, when Spock–believing that he and his crew members are about to experience a crispy, fiery death–responds to Bones’s kind of inappropriately snarky comment by regretfully murmuring, “Yes. My first command.”
See, that? That is a solid character arc right there, and I really love the idea that it’s largely cultural differences between Spock and his all-human crew that’s driving a lot of the tension in this episode. The problem, unfortunately, is that for such a story to be at its most effective, you really want to understand and respect where both sides are coming from. Like, you want nuance here. Instead, I spent the majority of this episode wishing I could dropkick almost all the humans–but primarily Unbelievable Asshole–into the sun. Meanwhile, Spock (who I generally feel sorry for) straight up gets one of his crew killed, so yeah, I have problems.
To better illustrate this, let’s look at a few of the conflicts, shall we? First, Spock realizes that they’ll have to leave three people behind to die if everyone else is to survive. (Later, this gets downgraded to two.) It’s pretty much a narrative conflict borne out of a Philosophy 101 class (this particular lesson being on lifeboat ethics), and it has quite a lot of potential . . . until Unbelievable Asshole has to ruin everything by having a Tone (not to mention a sneer) when he asks, “And who’s to choose?” He’ll have this same tone and sneer whenever he talks to Spock about literally anything.
Now, admittedly, tone policing can be utter bullshit in many instances, but sometimes tone does matter. The Enterprise is, after all, a military vessel, and Unbelievable Asshole starts the day at about an 11 on the “Holy Shit, Maybe Don’t Talk To Your Commanding Officer Like You’re Sixteen And Your Parents Just Grounded You Before That Big Party” scale. Which is a problem for multiple reasons: one) if you start at an 11, it’s really hard to actually build any tension between characters, and two) even if you as an audience member agree with Unbelievable Asshole that the people left behind should be chosen randomly, it’s hard to have much sympathy for a guy when his very first instinct is to aggressively whine like a giant man baby–and a racist giant man baby, at that. His attitude towards Spock throughout the entire episode feels indicative of his feelings towards Vulcans as a whole–and since Unbelievable Asshole is also the only black character on the shuttle, this feels like an especially poor choice.
Now, this isn’t to say that Spock doesn’t make mistakes because he absolutely does. After Red Shirt #1 is murdered, for instance, Spock says that bringing his body back to the shuttle is probably okay since it shouldn’t interfere with rescue efforts, which, ouch, that’s understandably not going to go over well with Red Shirt #2, who just saw his friend and fellow crew mate get killed.
I totally get Red Shirt #2’s disagreeable tone here, just like I get why he refuses to let Spock help carry his friend’s body back. This is an example of a genuine interpersonal conflict. Another one, I think, is when Spock refuses to preside over a funeral service for Red Shirt #1 because, well, time is money, and he’s far more useful helping to repair the ship than acting as Captain/Priest. This is a completely understandable and very practical attitude, but I can also legitimately see why it might alienate others: death rituals are extremely important to many people, and after all, it’s not like Spock’s doing the bulk of the repair work here (that would be Scotty), nor is he being asked to perform a thirty-minute sermon over the dead. A quick “he was a good officer and we’ll miss him” probably would’ve sufficed. Spock’s trouble isn’t just that he has difficulty relating to his crew; he also clearly doesn’t see why it’s even necessary. But at a certain point, it is necessary, and his inability to discuss sensitive matters with any real tact is a serious problem for his command.
Still, Spock isn’t exactly wholly to blame here. Part of that is because a few of the conflicts presented are total crap. Disagreeing about how one chooses who’s left behind to die is interesting, for instance; Bones insisting that Spock shouldn’t even consider the notion and good God, man, where is heart, well, that’s just nonsense. Likewise, while death rituals are important to many people, no reasonable person should expect you to bury someone while giant murderous creatures are closing in with their equally giant spears.
Except Unbelievable Asshole, of course, who’s seriously just the worst. Spock’s difficulty with empathy may be a problem for his command, but Unbelievable Asshole, Bones, and Red Shirt #2 aren’t going to be winning any higher ground arguments on that score, considering how they continuously act like Spock’s a monster simply because he doesn’t conform to human values. Indeed, Spock’s beliefs are, again and again, treated as though they’re immoral, inconceivable, and/or downright inferior to a human’s way of thinking. Basically, everyone just wants Spock to be a whole other person, and it’s kinda gross because I really don’t know that we’re meant to disagree. While we are occasionally invited to sympathize with Spock, I can’t shake the feeling that the moral of the episode seems to be “Spock needs to get in touch with his humanity,” not “we ALL need to work harder to understand one another.”
And that, my friends, is some bullshit because, seriously, if Spock had just murdered half his crew in the beginning and flown home with Scotty (who’s too busy fixing the shuttle to be a racist, whiny dickweasel) and The One Girl (who’s so insignificant that she barely even has time to be annoying), shit, man, I’d have cheered him on.
If this recap has taught me nothing else, I can at least say that–after many, many mistaken tries–I finally know how to spell “Galileo” now. I feel very proud.
Here’s a thing: when I first watched this episode, I never caught what the original mission was before Kirk sidelined the trip to go quasar gazing. Therefore, I just figured the High Commissioner was being an obnoxious ass about leaving the crew of the Galileo behind because he was late to some galactic conference or something. I had no idea that Kirk had pretty much said, “Well, I know people are suffering from this whole plague deal, but we’re actually two days ahead of schedule to drop off their meds, so rather than arrive unfashionably early, we’ll just spend those two days investigating this phenomenon instead.” Like, seriously, WTF, Kirk? I’m all about Starfleet’s mission to explore cool looking shit–and this quasar is pretty cool looking, actually–but my dude, a plague takes priority. You should know that. Everyone knows that. How did you even get your job?
Despite the fact that I’m completely on his side now, the High Commissioner is still kinda the worst–as useless as The One Girl but nearly as obnoxious as Unbelievable Asshole. He smirks so evilly in the opener that I assumed he was somehow responsible for the Galileo crashing, which is fine if that’s an intentional red herring, but it’s clearly not because it doesn’t go anywhere. In fact, his entire character doesn’t go anywhere: HC’s whole role in this episode is to storm onto the bridge, act snippy to Kirk, remind him of the Plot Clock, and storm off again. This happens, like, FIVE TIMES, before the High Commissioner just vanishes. Like, you’d think this was building to something, right, some kind of Big Showdown between him and Kirk, maybe after The Enterprise finally leaves but only at a snail’s pace? Well, you’d be wrong; the HC isn’t even there for that scene, nor is he there when the Enterprise heads back for the lost shuttle or after everyone’s safely back on board. Which means the High Commissioner serves absolutely no purpose, and should I ever become a teacher–unlikely–I would use his character in a lesson called Narrative Clocks: How NOT To Do Them.
FASHION REPORT: On first glance, the High Commissioner appears to be wearing some kind of futuristic track suit with a small cape and an ascot. On further inspection, I’ve realized that it’s not actually a cape, but man, it looks like one in certain shots. Sadly, the ascot still appears to be very real.
I’m unclear on why this many people are going to investigate a quasar. I’m especially unclear why the Chief Medical Officer is tagging along for this brief astrophysics jaunt. I also can’t help but note that I haven’t seen much sign of Bones’s aviophobia (so notable in the 2009 reboot and the accompanying fanfiction) thus far in the original series. Is this an invention of the reboot, I wonder, or does it actually come up later?
First Time We’ve Seen: a shuttle actually leaving the Enterprise. It’s notable primarily because it’s hilarious. Oh, 60’s special effects.
Speaking of which, every scene where a giant ape creature throws a weapon is the funniest scene of all time. For instance, when Red Shirt #1 is killed: we see an alien throw a spear-shaped thing through the air, where it clearly just falls on the ground, I mean the trajectory is pretty obvious. But that doesn’t stop Red Shirt #1 from screaming in agony and falling off a small cliff with the most massive sized spear you’ve ever seen sticking out of his back, like, it’s basically a fucking flagpole. I also laughed out loud when one of the off-screen aliens threw a rock at Red Shirt #2, and again when that same alien slowly lumbered toward him. Honestly, people, I don’t think I can even describe this creature. He’s tall (although not quite tall enough for those flagpole-spears to make sense) and appears about as wide as maybe two people, wearing a pretty terrible fur suit that definitely made me think “bear” before “ape.” It is, in a word, delightful.
I do like that, for all their unacceptable whining, Bones and Unbelievable Asshole go back to rescue Spock instead of leaving him behind. I also really like that Spock, who actually yells at them to leave, refuses to thank them later for disobeying his order.
It’s pretty cool that Spock is respectful of all different types of life and refuses to kill the alien creatures, believing that scaring them off will work just as well. It is worth mentioning, however, that this attitude–while fitting in nicely to general Star Trek ideals–doesn’t really reflect the Spock I’ve been watching so far, or at least not the one who was in “Balance of Terror.”
Red Shirt #2 is killed when Spock leaves him behind alone to, IDK, guard the path to the shuttle or something? Whatever, it’s incredibly dumb, and it clearly only happens so that Spock doesn’t actually have to make any choices about who to leave behind. This is obviously disappointing: in my second future hypothetical lesson entitled “When and When Not To Incorporate Classic Philosophical Dilemmas Into Your Fiction,” we’ll be discussing this episode and how it’s unacceptable to introduce this kind of ethical crisis if you’re just going to solve it with ridiculously giant spears and illogical decision making from your notably logical characters. (OTOH, we’ll watch and praise the hell out of “The Trolley Problem” from The Good Place because that episode is the BEST.)
I have to admit, I initially assumed Spock was going to choose to sacrifice himself because that’s usually how these stories go, but it would’ve been pretty interesting to see him make the big choice and not pick himself. I can’t say for sure if I would’ve liked that moment or not, but it would’ve been pretty different to see.
The Enterprise Doesn’t Stick The Landing: yes, once again, TOS gets the denouement all wrong. After a pretty decent scene where the Galileo Five are rescued, we end this episode not by discussing what it takes to be a leader or how commanders deals with the hard decisions they had to make (such a scene between Kirk and Spock, who both clearly made some pretty poor judgement calls here, could be phenomenal), but with everyone on the bridge teasing Spock for his non-logical desperation, which a) shouldn’t be the point of this episode, and b) is in pretty poor taste, partially because two crew members are dead and maybe this isn’t the time for chuckles, but also once again, Spock’s Vulcan logic is being devalued in favor of a human response. That’s not exactly unfamiliar ground for TOS, but after an episode like this one, it really does put a bad taste in my mouth.
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“I say we hit them dead on.”
“Yes, I know, but fortunately I’m giving the orders.”