Friday, March 12, 2010

The Original Series, Season 1: This Side of Paradise

The Original Series, Season One
Airdate March 2, 1967
26 of 80 produced


The Enterprise is sent to recover the remains of what it believes to be a failed colony on a planet subject to an invariably fatal form of radiation. Instead, they find the colonists alive and well. They seem perfectly happy, too happy in fact. As the mysteries compound, it becomes clear that not all is as it seems on this colony, and the secret of the colony's impossible survival may threaten the Enterprise.
Spock whips out Kiri-Kin-Tha's First Law of Metaphysics in a ploy to get laid...


Kevin: I have to say before I start that I enjoyed this episode far more than I thought I would when I sat down to watch it. The science fiction plot is pretty good, and though they have explored this issue before in other ways, they do so better here. The spores seemingly provide everything a person could want. But what price is too high to pay in exchange for happiness? What happens to people with no problems to solve or obstacles to overcome? The same concepts dealt with in, say, Return of the Archons, is dealt with much more subtlety here. The bizarre festival and Lawgiver brainwashings make the real nature of Beta III apparent. Here, everyone is actually happy, without out apparent negative side effects except whatever the viewer may think these people gave up for their happiness.

Matthew: Definitely a strong sci-fi concept. Drugs are one thing, and we certainly have them now, but drugs that work perfectly with no side effects or abatement of effectiveness? Yeah, probably a bit tougher to shake off that temptation.

Kevin: Choosing Spock as the main character to explore the effects of the spores was a good one. Apparently, Sulu was originally the focus. While giving someone not Kirk, Spock, or McCoy the lead in the story would have been nice, Spock was a better candidate. It allowed the show to explore both the effects of the spores and add a new dimension to Spock's character. He's spent his life fighting his human side, and here we see it not only take over, but to his apparent benefit. In the end, his sacrifice to this world may have been greater than any other. The colonists gave up ambition and drive; he sacrificed his identity. He could be happy here with Leila, but in any meaningful sense, the Spock we know would cease to exist.

Matthew: My favorite line of Spock's is "I don't belong any more." It really summed up his character, at least in this iteration (in fact, up until his death and resurrection, I think this defines him). D.C. Fontana, moreso than most, really gets Spock.

Kevin: I thought the subplot with Leila was well done. The way he was practically cuddling with her when first talking to Kirk and the way they found him hanging from a branch gave the scenes a wonderful physicality. Rather than have Spock give one speech after another about how he feels, they showed it, and it was much more effective.

Matthew: Also quite effective was their parting. The scene in which she is alone in the grassy field, looking up at the sky, waiting but unaware that Spock has been lost to her, is quite sad.

Kevin: It's a bit cliche, but of course Kirk was able to resist the spores. He's Kirk. That's how it goes. That's why he's the captain.

Matthew: I agree that this is an annoying cliche. But, I think, in this episode it is used more as a meditation on Kirk's character. He remains unaffected not because of superhuman will on his part, but because he is actually exactly where he would desire to be. Whether or not this is consistent with earlier and later character revelations, I think it is what's going on here. When he opens up his medal, presumably some sort of Starfleet commendation, the doubts begin to fester. Another interpretation is that he is still angry over his crew's pseudo-mutiny, and this messes with the spores' effects.

Kevin: I will say it seemed like they were still finalizing what exactly it meant to be Vulcan. Vulcans are discussed as having no emotions at all here, i.e. Spock is not just capable of expressing love, he's incapable of feeling it at all. And he seems almost perplexed by the idea of a relationship with a human woman, which is odd given that his father, a full Vulcan managed to pull it off. It's not bad per se, and I'm not going to discredit an episode for being unaware of where the show takes Vulcans eventually, but it felt like they were overstressing the point just a little.

Matthew: It's clearly still undergoing evolution - even by Amok Time, we'd get the development of Vulcans repressing instead of lacking emotion. It works within the confines of this story, so I'm not going to fault it (just as I wouldn't fault "Q Who's" Borg birthing chambers, another superseded idea that still works).

Kevin: I also think the resolution was a little quick. I would have liked a little more confusion or soul searching before deciding that getting back to work and making something was better than infinite bliss. I understand they have 50 minutes to wrap up a story, but it was a little too clean. And, even in Rodenberry's universe, how could this not become the best drug ever? Perfect total bliss, and physical rejuvenation and someone just has to piss you off when you need to come down? Sign me up.

Matthew: The problem with the resolution for me was the notion that if anger and annoyance could break the spell, it's hard to believe that nothing in the space of three years would occur. I mean, maybe if you're always around the plants, they could give you a boost after a bad day. But why didn't that happen on the planet in this episode?


Kevin: The central characters did a great job here. Kirk's frustration and sense of loss at what is happening to his ship is genuine. Jill Ireland did a good job as well, especially the scene in the transporter room when she realizes she has lost both Spock and the happiness caused by the spores. Nimoy, however, should have gotten an Emmy for this episode. His transformation was subtly and honestly achieved. Much like in the Naked Time, he manages to portray great depth to the duality of his nature. I particularly liked how he physically altered Spock's demeanor. Normally, he is reserved, hand clasped behind his back. Seeing him moving freely, even playfully really drove the change home in a way that didn't beat me over the head with it.

Matthew: Every time I see this episode, I think about The Laughing Vulcan And His Dog. But seriously, yes, yes, and yes. The primary actors all nail it. Any time Nimoy smiles, it's beautiful and jarring all at once (best Nimoy smile - Amok Time). It's too bad Scotty wasn't in this episode, because it would have been interesting to see Doohan's take on the spores. Would Scotty really want o be anywhere but with his bairns?

Kevin: Again, the scene in the transporter room between Spock and Leila was beautiful. Even with his emotional control in place, there is a tenderness and thoughtfulness to Spock that makes him sympathetic and compelling. I wonder to what degree the eventual true depth of Vulcan emotion in the series was inspired and sculpted by Nimoy's performance. Nimoy deserved praise for another reason. Jill Ireland was Charles Bronson's wife, and he was on set, jealously observing all the make-out scenes. Can you imagine going to work and being asked to neck with the wife of the Death Wish guy?

Matthew: To me, the best part of their relationship was the way Nimoy played it as embarrassed, before the spores hit him, that is. It suggests the repression that was later fleshed out in future stories.

Kevin: The secondary characters had pretty good turns as well. McCoy, as always, manages to pitch his Southern-ness with the precision of tuning fork. It changes based on the episode and the context, but it's never wrong.

Matthew: McCoy definitely got the laugh line of the episode, with his quip about how Sandoval certainly appeared to be "alive." Kelley is a good comic actor.

Production Values

Kevin: On the one hand, I liked the plants. I did. They were clearly plastic or something, but looked like credible botany while still being exotic. And I really liked the open spaces. I like it whenever there's a real sky over the actors. It's adds a veracity. The farm set was pretty and well done, but I'm actually gonna come down opposed to it. It doesn't make sense 23rd century colonists would get to a planet and build wooden structures. They would probably build the prefabricated ones they brought with, and it just made the point "IT'S A FARMING COLONY" a little too bluntly. But that's a minor quibble.

Matthew: I like Kirk's Samsonite briefcase. As far as the farm goes, I think everything looks a little too weathered for 3 years under perfect "California" weather conditions. But, although it makes more in-universe sense to have pre-fab buildings and shelters more in keeping with the Trek aesthetic, two things serve to blunt my criticism: one, the mention of a Liam Dieghan-esque Neo-Transcendentalist philosophy for the colonists; and two, the fact that Star Trek just didn't have the budget for something more consistent. Plus, it just looks so darned good in high definition. The lack of optical effects, the preponderance of close-ups, and the bright lighting make this episode one of the very best 1080p transfers on Blu-Ray. If you want to watch one episode to see how good TOS looks in HD, this would be high up on the list.


Kevin: This episode gets an enthusiastic 4 from me. I think the too tidy conclusion keeps it from a five, which I am being stingy with on purpose. Great story and some really great acting, particularly by Nimoy make this episode for me. Like I said, I sat down expecting a cheesy clunker. It was great to be surprised by Star Trek, even after all this time.

Matthew: This episode is practically the Form of 4. It has a ton going for it with just a few execution issues (the resolution mentioned above). That gives it a strong 8 from both of us.

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