Over a year ago, I made a resolution: to watch and review the entire original series of Star Trek. Considering it’s only three seasons long, I figured I had a decent shot of finishing it all by 2019; I certainly assumed I’d at least finish the first goddamn season by then. But of course I am easily distractible, and over the past 16 months or so, I have found numerous distractions: working on my novel, working on other MGB reviews, marathoning Netflix, doing various life stuff, and–of course–binge-reading fanfic, which is obviously the highest priority of all.
Anyway, it’s nearly April now, and I’m here to review the last episode of Season One: “Operation–Annihilate!”
I wish I could say we ended on a high note.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
Planet Deneva is incommunicado. It appears that over the past few hundred years, there have been mysterious outbreaks of mass insanity on various planets in the system, and Deneva is next in line. The only contact the Enterprise has made thus far is with a pilot, right before he flies his shuttle into the sun. “It’s finally gone,” he says, before exploding. “I’m free.” It’s a pretty bad omen, all in all, especially since Kirk’s brother, sister-in-law, and young nephew all live on Deneva.
The planet initially appears deserted when the Enterprise arrives, save a handful of irrational people who scream “go back” and “we don’t want to hurt you” immediately before attacking the away team anyway. Soon after, we find that Kirk’s brother, Sam, is dead, while his sister-in-law, Aurelan, is nearly incoherent, and his nephew, Peter, is unconscious. (Disappointingly, Bones doesn’t actually say, “He’s dead, Jim,” nor does Kirk make a My Brother Sam is Dead joke. Admittedly, such a joke would be tonally inconsistent and also impossible without time travel; I’m just saying, it’s all I could think of during this scene.) Aurelan and Peter are transported back to the Enterprise for examination, and it’s discovered that parasitic creatures–henceforth known as Jelly Borg–have attached themselves to everyone on the surface, causing such intense pain that it drives their hosts to madness and eventual death.
Aurelan, herself, quickly dies, and Spock, that unlucky bastard, manages to get a Jelly Borg parasite of his own. To be fair to Spock, he only tries to take control of the Enterprise once before–mostly–reasserting control. (Pain is in the mind and all that.) He stupidly goes back alone to the planet and grabs a Jelly Borg for research purposes. (Like, I get it; he’s already exposed, but Jesus, he’s also sick, in incredible amounts of pain, and possibly not in full control of his faculties; obviously, this job should go to a landing party in a full tactical gear instead.) Kirk realizes that intense light can kill these creatures, and Bones comes up with a treatment, only they need a human test subject. Spock volunteers and the procedure works, but unfortunately, it also blinds him. Worse, his blindness was completely unnecessary because nobody waited the whole two minutes it would’ve taken to get conclusive prove that the light didn’t have to be that bright.
Fortunately, Spock has Super Special Vulcan Eyes with some dumbass deus ex machina biological feature that means his blindness is only temporary. All the Jelly Borg are killed and the day is saved.
So. This one has . . . problems. Like, a lot of them. Settle in, folks: this is probably my longest Trek recap to date.
One of the main issues, I think, is that Kirk is needlessly an asshole for half the episode–and it’s weird because we should totally empathize with where he’s coming from: first, legitimately freaked out about his family, then grieving for that family, and also in danger of losing not only his young nephew, but also his space husband, Spock.
Kirk’s anger and frustration should be understandable, even relatable, but so much of his snapping and yelling and generally poor decision making feels entirely disconnected from his grief. Honestly, it’s easy to forget that he’s related to Dead Sam at all. And that poor, unconscious kid in Sickbay? Shit, he could be anyone, just some random waif they found in an alley somewhere. Kirk has almost no dialogue concerning his blood family, so it’s almost laughable when Bones tells him that everyone needs Kirk right now, not just Spock and Peter. Kirk has given no indication that he’s been struggling with these priorities at all, so where the hell is this line coming from? And as William Shatner doesn’t emote much throughout this episode beyond “vaguely dickish,” the emotion that ought to be fueling this episode just isn’t there.
Deadlines are another huge problem here, maybe even worse than I initially realized. For starters, the mass insanity and destruction of civilization is a problem that’s plagued this sector of space for literal centuries. How, HOW, has no one addressed this by now? Why the fuck are there even still people on Deneva? Why is the Enterprise the only ship here, trying to figure this out? I mean, Jesus, the Jelly Borg apparently landed on this planet eight months ago. Seriously, in eight months time, no one managed to get a signal out?
But all of these are just mild complaints. Much worse, Kirk actually considers killing everyone on the planet–that’s about a million people, folks–just to make sure the parasites don’t spread anywhere else . . . but, like, is that actually an imminent threat? Aurelan says that the parasites are forcing the Denevans to build ships, but again, eight months, right? Apparently, they aren’t building them that fast. More importantly, the Enterprise is here now. An option that might be worth exploring is targeting those incomplete ships and enacting a mass quarantine before trying out mass murder. And, sure, Kirk ultimately decides not to kill a million+ people, but why exactly was this a serious consideration in the first place?
And speaking of those pesky deadlines: let’s discuss the decision to rush Spock’s medical treatment. Kirk blames Bones for this, and Bones blames Bones for this, but as I recall, the doctor is the only one who actually seems wary about the procedure, warning Spock about the risks and trying to come up with preventive measures to keep him safe. It’s Kirk and Spock, really, who are all, “Let’s do this. Let’s do this now.” Either way, though, it’s a pretty dumb ass decision, one that only makes sense if all the Denevans are literally about to die. Unfortunately, the episode never really bothers to set that particular death clock. (Not to mention, Spock actually isn’t, IMO, a great human test subject. On one hand, he’s probably the only person of sound mind who can give informed consent, which is absolutely important; on the other, he’s half-Vulcan, and–as we’re about to discuss–his anatomy is obviously different. There is no guarantee that what would safely work on him would work on anyone else.)
Finally, look . . . erasing a character’s permanent disability just so the episode can have a happy ending–as if people with disabilities or permanent injuries can’t actually be happy–well, that’s already a pretty problematic, bullshit trope, even without being all, “Shit, how fortunate that I completely forgot about this super convenient bit of Vulcan physiology!” I mean, dude. This might be the most egregious deus ex machine I’ve seen on Trek yet. Besides, why even take away Spock’s sight if you’re literally just gonna give it back to him four minutes later? Like, come on, that’s some Star Trek Into Darkness shit right there.
There is some honest to God potential in “Operation–Annihilate,” like, I really do think this episode could be fixed. But sweet Jesus, the execution here is a train wreck.
So, how do you fix this train wreck? For my money, I’d say you nix the whole ancient history and planet-hopping aspect immediately; it’s a little convoluted, and honestly, you don’t need it: you’ve already got a million lives at stake, plus Kirk’s family, plus Spock. Emotional stakes, surprisingly, aren’t this episode’s problem–we just need to actually show them. Give Kirk a couple of scenes, even very brief scenes, to show that his brother’s death means something to him. I’m not even asking for tears and soliloquies here. Shock will also do quite nicely. Then set a very clear plot clock: all of the Denevans will die in this fixed amount of time if Bones can’t figure out how to kill these creatures. Make sure the test results they’re waiting on will come days too late. Don’t give us the reveal that Spock’s blindness was unnecessary until such time has passed in the denouement. And, finally, don’t erase Spock’s blindness because, seriously, this trope is problematic AF, and also, holy shit, this is a great way to move into Season 2. My only real concern about keeping this is the fact that it takes away a little from the progressiveness of Geordi’s character in TNG, but hell, having two blind characters in Trek is not a bad thing, and how cool would it have been to see Spock with some (likely Vulcan) prototype of the visor?
Although, truthfully, if I had my druthers, I would make one other change to this whole storyline: I’d give it to someone who isn’t Spock.
I mean, I love the guy and all, but dude’s had so many story lines already this season. Maybe the movies should’ve prepared me for this–obviously, I’ve always known that Kirk, Spock, and Bones make up TOS’s Holy Trinity–but I really thought that Scotty, Sulu, and Uhura would’ve each managed to snag at least one episode in a 30-episode season, and I’m pretty disappointed by how wrong I was. Of course, giving this storyline to someone else would mean that we’d lose all the Space Husbands Angst, but a) seriously, Kirk’s brother is dead; he’s already got angst, and b) it wouldn’t actually hurt to show the captain give a shit about someone who isn’t Spock or Bones. Besides, Spock could totally help whoever’s infected with some whole, like, Vulcan mind meld therapy shit! That’d be awesome! I admit, though, that I’m torn on which character I’d like to see take on the storyline. I can imagine potential arguments for all. Thoughts?
Kirk, being an asshole, yells at Uhura in the first five minutes of this episode. Uhura, being awesome, gets this incredible “excuse me” look on her face as she politely explains that what he wants isn’t physically possible. Let it be known, if it is not already known, that the magnificent Nichelle Nichols is the master of the understated “fuck you.”
Scotty is also pretty awesome this episode, getting the upper hand against Spock when he goes rogue. And you know, it’s interesting. I’m primarily familiar with James Doohan’s Scotty as a comic relief character, one who I’ve never particularly liked all that well, TBH. But so far in TOS, he’s mostly been a consummate professional who gets shit done. I’ve been surprised and delighted by him all season.
Sulu Report: Sadly, Sulu easily gets the least to do this episode. He’s on the bridge in the very beginning and at the very end when they fry the Jelly Borg. Oh, and Spock does throw him halfway across the room at one point. At least, Sulu is one of a half-dozen or so officers who takes Spock down, I suppose. Still. Poor Sulu.
Good Lord, the Jelly Borg are so ridiculous looking. They’re nearly impossible to take seriously as a threat, like, even for the decade, this is pretty bad, right?
I know I’ve been very hard on this episode, but in the interest of being fair: the scene where Kirk sees Dead Sam (also played by William Shatner, but with a bad mustache) works for me, particularly when Spock hesitates, not knowing what to say, and then tries to tell Kirk he understands how Jim must feel, a sentiment Kirk somewhat abruptly cuts off. This, all this? It’s good stuff. It feels real to me. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty much the last moment where the show bothers to address Kirk’s grief. Is it fair to assume that Dead Sam will also never be addressed again in the series?
Hey, Chapel is back! And her hair is different! It’s nice to see her again, even if she’s mostly just around for Bones to yell at her.
Bones also gives us some helpful exposition, telling Kirk that whenever Aurelan tries to answer their questions, it causes her even more pain, like she’s fighting her own body to help. I found it useful exposition primarily because that’s not really what I got from her line deliveries at all, even though I’d already figured we were dealing with parasitic creatures. Seriously, people. The disconnect in this episode is wild.
FASHION REPORT: Not much in the way of fashion, sadly, but these protective goggles are pretty great. I want my own pair immediately.
I’ve been meaning to mention this forever now, but my favorite Enterprise gadget is definitely the black-and-white swirly bridge display that, as far as I can tell, does absolutely nothing at all. Although I’m also a fan of what appears to be the ship’s Lite Brite, which shows us the linear progression of mass insanity and destroyed civilizations in this part of space.
I know I keep whining about this every other episode, but goddamnit, the away team knows about the mysterious outbreaks of mass insanity; that is specifically what they’re beaming down to investigate, and they’re still refusing to wear any kind of protective gear whatsoever. FFS, at this point, I almost wish they would wear their completely ineffectual shower curtain suits. WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING? HOW ARE YOU NOT DEAD ALL OF THE TIME?
Finally, this episode title has absolutely fascinating punctuation.
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“If killing five people saves ten, it’s a bargain.”