FINAL World’s Worst Trekkie: “The Savage Curtain,” “All Our Yesterdays,” and “Turnabout Intruder”

Holy shit, this is it. This is it. Three final episodes, one big wrap-up, and we’re officially done with our giant Star Trek: TOS project.

Let’s just get straight to it, shall we?

“The Savage Curtain”

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In the words of Dr. Sam Beckett: oh, boy. (CW: racial slurs)

The Enterprise encounters a lava planet that shouldn’t be able to support life, and yet they’re definitely reading life signs. All communication attempts fail, though, and our heroes can’t beam down and investigate since they’d immediately be on fire, so Kirk orders the Enterprise to peace out—until motherfucking Abraham Lincoln pops up. In his chair. In SPACE. It is the most hilarious thing I have ever seen.

Lincoln, who somehow already knows everyone’s names, is granted permission to beam aboard. Kirk is obviously skeptical, but orders everyone to treat Lincoln like he’s the real deal, up to and including greeting him in their dress uniforms. (Scotty’s is particularly awesome, as it includes both a fly plaid kilt and a sporran.) Bones and Scotty are big grumps about the whole thing, particularly when Kirk and Spock decide to beam down to the planet’s surface (now suddenly habitable) per Lincoln’s request. Apparently, Lincoln has always been one of Kirk’s personal heroes, so Bones thinks his friend isn’t being objective—which seems silly, but in fairness, I think going to the planet is a bad idea, too. Lincoln, himself, doesn’t know why he wants them to beam down; he only knows that a great Vulcan whose name he can’t remember is waiting.

So, Kirk and Spock beam down. Happily, Surak (a renowned but also-should-be-very-dead Vulcan) is there. Unfortunately, so is Kahless, Genghis Khan, some evil lady named Zora, and some evil dude named Colonel Green. These four (led by Colonel Green, for some reason) make up Team Evil, and Yarnek (a big rock alien who lives on this planet) has gathered/created everyone here to fight against Team Good. This is because Yarnek’s people don’t understand concepts like “good” and “evil,” and have decided to learn about them by forcing our heroes to do battle. Kirk insists he won’t fight at first, but that’s before we get the big stakes: if Team Good wins, Team Evil dies. If Team Evil wins, Team Good and everyone on the Enterprise dies.

Surak still refuses to fight and tries to make peace with Team Evil. Predictably, he’s killed, but Surak’s not an idiot, at least; he’s fully aware of the risks when he goes. Team Good tries to rescue Surak when they hear him begging for help, but of course it’s not him—apparently, Kahless can imitate voices? God, TOS Klingons are so weird. This is all very shocking to Lincoln, although I’m not sure why; even Spock pointed out  that a Vulcan wouldn’t have cried out like that. Lincoln dies next, which leaves Spock and Kirk in a tight spot. But never fear! In a deeply underwhelming battle, our heroes still (somehow) manage to beat Team Evil so soundly that the villains all run away and forfeit their lives, as evil will always retreat in cowardice, or some dumb shit.

“The Savage Curtain” isn’t the worst episode of TOS, and there are a fair number of lines I actually enjoy, but . . . yeah, it’s pretty dumb. It basically just rehashes the plot of “Arena,” only it’s way worse because there are no lizard monsters in sexy clothes, and also Team Evil is kinda boring; I can’t believe this is our introduction to Kahless. Kahless! (Surak, at least, isn’t a total disappointment) I also have no idea why Lincoln came aboard the  Enterprise in the first place; surely, Yarnek could’ve just faked a distress call to get our heroes down to the planet. Lincoln comparing Kirk to Ulysses S. Grant is pretty painful, too, and this episodes takes an extremely (if unsurprisingly) rosy view of Lincoln. I do like Lee Bergere’s performance well enough; he has a few funny moments that I quite like. The moment he calls Uhura a “charming Negress?” Not one of them, JFC. And Uhura doesn’t even get to be offended because I guess humanity has evolved past being “offended by words?” Nope! All the nope! SO MUCH NOPE IN THIS SCENE.

Chief Asshat: Whoever’s responsible for that bullshit scene.

MVP: Lee Bergere probably gives the best actual performance, but I’m also giving this one to Nichelle Nichols for having to deal with aforementioned bullshit scene.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: Surprisingly difficult! I do kinda love when Scotty vaguely points towards Earth, and Spock feels the need to correct the direction. I like how Surak points out the not unreasonable possibility that it’s their belief in peace—rather than their fighting skills—being tested here, and also when Lincoln says, “I fear my clothing is somewhat damaged, but how delightful to discover at my age that I can still wrestle.” Heh. Still, I think I’m giving this one to Spock, who gets all Vulcan-snarky after being chastised by a possible illusion:

“Live long and prosper, Image of Surak, father of all we now hold true.”

“All Our Yesterdays”

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(Not from this episode, but thematically appropriate.)

A sun is about to go nova in 3.5 hours. Initially, it seems that all the inhabitants of a nearby planet have left (strange, as they’re a pre-warp civilization), but our Holy OT3 finds a Librarian, who insists that they’re very late and must hurry as they look through the library. Soon, Kirk hears people screaming and runs toward the sound, only to find himself in what kinda looks like, er, 17th century France? Bones and Spock run through the portal after him (ignoring the Librarian’s warning that they haven’t been “prepped”), but they end up in some kind of Ice Age. It turns out that the people on this planet have escaped their impending doom by time traveling into the past.

Though in different time periods, Kirk can still hear Bones and Spock when they’re near the portal. Unfortunately, he’s overheard talking to “spirits” and gets thrown in jail for being a witch, although he eventually escapes with the (deeply reluctant) help of another time traveler. Meanwhile, Bones and Spock look for shelter before they freeze to death. They’re rescued by Zarabeth, a political prisoner who was exiled to the Ice Age in . . . IDK, some other point in time. While Bones recuperates from hypothermia, Spock and Zarabeth fall in love. In general, Spock is acting strangely: he’s can’t organize his thoughts, he gets violently angry with Bones, and he takes Zarabeth entirely at her word that he and Bones can’t get back through the portal. (She knows she can’t get back, but isn’t actually sure about them.) Turns out, Spock is regressing to how Vulcans used to be 5,000 years ago. Bones confronts Spock, leaving his ass behind for the portal. Spock and Zarabeth quickly catch up to him and finally say goodbye—but only because Bones physically can’t get back without Spock. And with our heroes now all safe, the poor Librarian finally has the opportunity to escape into the past himself.

And like, there are solid ideas in this episode. Escaping total annihilation by traveling into the past is really interesting, just rife with potential, even if I am a bit bemused by a society that’s somehow managed time travel before space flight. (Not to mention the potential problem of time travel paradoxes.) But the same old historical periods are predictably disappointing, and Kirk’s half of the plot is pretty dull. Bones and Spock’s story is much more entertaining, but it also feels crowded and uneven to me. Spock refusing to leave Bones behind to die in the snow? Excellent. (See that, Bones? Spock refused to leave you.) Spock regressing into Primitive Spock? Interesting, especially because it starts slowly—I like that initially Spock just seems quietly, visibly upset about being stuck in a frozen cave for the rest of his life, as you do—but it also strikes me as a bit silly; plus, why is only Spock regressing? Is this a Vulcan thing, or are we saying 23rd Century Bones is basically the same as 5000 Years Ago Bones?

And as far as Zarabeth goes, well. Once again, the romance doesn’t really work because it’s so rushed. The whole plot would make much more sense if the Enterprise arrived weeks before the planet’s total destruction, rather than 3.5 hours. Making Zarabeth a prisoner is weird, too—like, I get it, nobody in their right mind would choose to spend the rest of their life in the Ice Age, but this also feels extremely random and raises way more questions about her time period and this society’s horrifying crime and punishment system than it has time to answer. I also don’t love that Bones decides that she’s lying purely because she’s a woman, and of course a woman would lie to keep from being lonely. In general, I’m inclined to just get rid of Zarabeth altogether and focus on Bones and Spock trying to survive—but I will admit, I’d miss a few last lines, which are a lovely cap for some other tragic time travel romance. Just not this one.

Chief Asshat: The tyrannical dude who thought throwing a prisoner alone into the Ice Age with a fully stocked survival cave was a fitting punishment for, uh, anything.

MVP: Leonard Nimoy, I think.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: “Yes, it happened . . . but that was 5,000 years ago, and she is dead now. Dead and buried long ago.”

“Turnabout Intruder”

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The last episode! Our final hour of TOS! And . . . whew, yeah, it’s not great. Kinda famously not great, actually: “Turnabout Intruder” is definitely not how you wanna end your series, and yet I have to admit that as much as I don’t like this one—and I don’t—I also don’t hate it as nearly much as I expected. Three possible reasons for this:

A) My expectations were already so low to the ground that they were basically under the floorboards.

B) Three seasons of TOS may have killed my feminist spirit. At this point, my rage is basically just a facepalm and a quiet FFS.

C) There are actually moments in here that I enjoy! Moments, plural! In fact, there’s a whole good episode hiding somewhere in this monstrosity—which, admittedly, is its own kind of aggravating, but that kind of aggravation is where I live.

In a nutshell: Dr. Janice Lester, Kirk’s crazy, jealous ex-girlfriend, is so pissed off that women can’t be starship captains that she uses some alien device to secretly switch bodies with Kirk and take control of the Enterprise. She can’t bring herself to kill him, though, and eventually our heroes start suspecting the truth. Janice hysterically orders the court martial and execution of Bones, Spock, and Scotty, but thankfully, the body swap wears off for . . . Reasons . . . and Janice is led away, sobbing, while Kirk ends TOS by sadly saying, “Her life could have been as rich as any woman’s if only . . . if only . . . ”

So, everything I just wrote is appalling. What do you mean, women can’t be starship captains? The fuck? No, seriously, the FUCK? The crazy ex stereotype is obviously not a favorite. There’s a whole speech about how Janice hates her own womanhood or some shit, and and I’m annoyed that she’s too much of a girl to murder Kirk. (Men object to murder in this episode, too, but those are, like, ethical choices. Janice’s inability to kill, meanwhile, is very much written as feminine weakness.) Sandra Smith isn’t terrible at playing a body swapped Kirk, but as Janice, herself . . . oh, it’s not great, and those first five minutes are especially rough. The captain’s logs this time around are especially ridiculous, and it’s irritating that the writers couldn’t even come up with a BS excuse for why the body swap fails. And that last line is the actual worst: if only Janice could’ve accepted systemic inequality, she wouldn’t have been driven mad, you see? If only Janice could’ve swallowed her ambition and accepted her little womanly place, she could have been so happy living the life that men deemed fitting for her!

That all being said, there are several good moments in this episode. I like Janice’s initial slip-ups: Captain Kirk to Enterprise, not just Kirk; Doctor McCoy and never just Bones.  Our heroes aren’t total idiots, either: almost as soon as I yelled, “Hey, maybe we can test out this crazy story with a mind meld, hmm?” Real Kirk suggests the exact same thing. And later, when I’m yelling at our heroes, “Hey, body swaps really aren’t that weird, comparatively!” Spock makes the very same case. (Well. He doesn’t argue exactly how I did—like, he doesn’t say, “Hey, guys, remember when I didn’t have a brain?”) But he does argue that the crew has seen some weird ass shit and know full well that “what seems to be impossible often is possible.” Scotty then has a fantastic scene with Bones where they seriously discuss evidence, priorities, and mutiny. Chekov and Sulu then have a fantastic scene where they discuss Kirk, Fake Kirk, and the forbidden death penalty. The majority of our main cast is seriously on point in this episode. Also—and I admit this is less important—Christine Chapel is a brunette now!

So, there’s a lot to work with here. If we accept that Starfleet is so bullshit in 2269 that female captains aren’t allowed (something that canon obviously retcons later), then we actually have the basis for a fantastic sympathetic villain backstory: an extremely competent woman leaves or gets drummed out of Starfleet for refusing to accept a position less than she deserves. Instead of Janice being yet another ex, maybe she and Kirk were once up for the same promotion—captain of the Enterprise—only he got the job simply because he’s a dude. That simple reworking solves half your bullshit right there. Our heroes would catch on not because Janice has hysterical fits and makes terrible decisions, but because they’re smart, and they know their captain so well that even tiny mistakes begin to add up. And when Kirk and Janice do finally swap back, Janice doesn’t become a weeping disaster. She just goes off to face her punishment, while Kirk actually considers what it’s like to be trapped in a woman’s body while constantly being written off as hysterical, insane, and otherwise untrustworthy.

Would that episode have happened in 1969? Nope, but damn, it would’ve been a hell of a thing to see.

Chief Asshat: Starfleet. Fuck those guys.

MVP: Sulu, hands down. Almost everyone here has a really solid moment, actually, finally making some use of their goddamn ensemble. Nevertheless, Sulu won my heart all over again when he argues that it doesn’t even matter if Kirk is Kirk or not. What matters is A) whether or not they’re going to allow an execution to take place, and B) what he’s personally willing to do to make sure those executions don’t happen.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: Lots of solid runner ups, from Spock (You are not Captain Kirk. You have ruthlessly appropriated his body, but the life entity within you is not that of Captain Kirk. You do not belong in command of the Enterprise, and I will do everything in my power against you) to Scotty (Headquarters has its problems, and we have ours. And right now, the captain of the Enterprise is our problem). Still, for me, it has to go to this Chekov and Sulu exchange:

“If Security backs him up, how will we fight them?”
“I’ll fight them every way and anyway I can.”

THE GREAT TOS WRAP-UP

Holy shit, holy shit, I finally did it!

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Obviously, it shouldn’t have taken me anywhere near as long as it did to finish three seasons of a TV show, but I’m a slow writer and easily distractible, so. It did. Regardless, it’s complete! And while I can’t say some hours weren’t painful—whew, so painful, so very, very painful—this has been a lot of fun, seeing the origins of a franchise that I’ve been watching for roughly 30 years, a franchise which has spawned, shit, 13 live-action films, 8 live-action television shows, 3 animated TV shows, and Christ knows how many tie-in novels and games and whatever else. It was genuinely fascinating to see, oh, the very first mind meld, the first time we encountered the Romulans, the first . . . no, wait, I have a whole list.

The First . . .

  • “Fascinating”
  • Vulcan neck pinch
  • Someone crawling around in a Jeffries tube
  • “He’s dead, Jim”
  • Shakespearean reference/homage,
  • Overloaded phaser
  • The Neutral Zone
  • Time travel!
  • The Prime Directive
  • KHAAAAAAAAN
  • Mother Horta
  • “I’m a doctor, not a . . .”
  • Klingons
  • Pon farr
  • “Live long and prosper”
  • The giant green space hand
  • The Mirror Verse
  • Zefram Cochrane
  • Memory Alpha
  • The Vulcan salute
  • Sarek and Amanda
  • Dr. Richard Daystrum
  • Dr. M’Benga
  • A bunch of shit I only learned about from Kelvin/AOS fanfic: Tarsus IV, Sam Kirk, etc.)

And probably many more things I’ve forgotten about. Also! I learned some extremely important things about myself, like how I’m a Jim/Bones shipper in AOS fandom, but a Kirk/Spock shipper in TOS fandom. (Bones/Spock is potentially interesting, but I don’t like it quite so much in TOS—I think Bones is just too much of an asshole to Spock for it to really work for me, which also obviously rules them all out as a personal OT3.)

Also, would you like more lists? Obviously, you want more lists! Let me present . . .

TOS: The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious (A Wildly Incomplete List)

THE GOOD

  • I mean, just the sheer influence this little low budget show had on science fiction and pop culture in general
  • Star Trek (2009) didn’t make a totally random choice pairing Spock/Uhura. There is absolutely evidence in TOS to support this ship.
  • The many, many, many Kirk/Spock/Bones moments to choose from
  • Shirtless fencing Sulu! (Sulu anytime, really. I love you, Sulu!)
  • Nichelle Nichols’s various fantastic background expressions and silent fuck you moments
  • Spock’s awesome (if wholly and laughably inconsistent) psychic abilities
  • Holy shit, Scotty is a super competent MF, actually
  • That time they use the term “black star” because the term “black hole” hadn’t even been invented yet—that’s just neat!
  • The theme song! All of Nichelle Nichols’s singing! Every time Spock plays a musical instrument! Basically, all the music except for the Space Hippies.
  • Spock is my hero 90% of the time . . .

THE BAD

  • . . . The other 10% of the time when Spock is such a dick
  • Episodes like “The Paradise Syndrome,” “The Omega Glory,” and “The Menagerie, Parts 1 and 2,” just to name a few offhand. (Oh, I’m holding my ground on this last one. I know it won a Hugo. I know many consider it to be one of the finer moments of TOS. I despise it.)
  • General Orders 7 and 24
  • The sexism. I mean, it’s just constant.
  • Almost every Kirk love story or ex-girlfriend. How are there so many ex-girlfriends? Did Kirk even have time to do anything besides sleep around?
  • Also, so many super computers and logic bombs! (I like one episode, one)
  • Also, all the deserted planets
  • And all those omnipotent alien sonsofbitches.
  • That time we wiped Uhura’s brain
  • That time we met Alien Apollo and Alien da Vinci (among others)
  • Hodgkin’s Bullshit Law of Parallel Planet Development
  • Never, ever enough screen time for Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, or Chapel
  • Spock claims he saw a dragon—and we never get to see one ourselves

THE HILARIOUS

  • Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet is a real place in canon
  • That one time we visit the Enterprise gym
  • ALL THE GLORIOUS COSTUMES
  • Basically, all of William Shatner’s overacting
  • That canonical moment when Kirk thought Spock was giving him a sexy back rub on the Bridge and became visibly disappointed and uncomfortable when he realized it was a pretty lady yeoman instead. (Obviously, this also belongs on The Good List.)
  • Kirk Fu
  • Televised gladiator fights on the Roman Empire Planet
  • That time Jack the Ripper was an alien serial killer
  • That time aliens stole Spock’s brain. His literal brain out of his literal head.
  • Alien Batgirl boldly takes credit for Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18”
  • The VULCAN DEATH GRIP. (Yeah, it’s not real, but it’s still amazing.)

Finally, in no particular order, a list of my Top 11 Favorite Episodes (because fuck it, this is my blog, we’re doing 11):

1. The Naked Time
2. The Corbomite Maneuver
3. Amok Time
4. Mirror, Mirror
5. I, Mudd
6. The Trouble With Tribbles
7. The City on the Edge of Forever
8. The Ultimate Computer
9. The Enterprise Incident
10. Day of the Dove
11. Is There In Truth No Beauty? (As long as you ignore the last five minutes)

Feel free to scream about any and all of this in the comments, and I really hope you enjoyed this (extra long) journey as much as I did!

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