Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Original Series, Season 2: Obsession

Airdate: December 15, 1967
48 or 80 produced
42 of 80 aired


On a planetary survey for the rare and ultra-strong substance Tritanium, Kirk encounters a memory from his past - a deadly memory. Will the mysterious creature he encounters be stopped, and will Kirk keep his composure, not to mention his command, in the attempt?

Garrovick: Captain, do you smell something?
Kirk: (Chuckles nervously)


Matthew: As far as the story goes, we get a sci-fi variant of the "White Whale." Is Kirk out of control in his obsession over slaying the beast that wronged him in his past? This affords us a nice character study, and it is a relatively complex one. A wonderful scene plays out in which Spock and McCoy come close to relieving Kirk of command, which Kirk avoids by convincing them of his rationality. Yet, he displays a sort of cracking facade of the opposite throughout the episode. The tension is very well done.

Kevin: The strongest part of the story for me was certainly the conflict between the main three. I can't land on an opinion for how I felt about this particular white wale. I think the writers deserve the credit for making Spock and McCoy's concerns credible. Usually when someone tries to relieve Kirk of command, it's a Federation bureaucrat who doesn't understand anything. Having it be his closest friends and having their concerns appear at least facially justified makes Kirk's character much more interesting. He's always been the perfect captain regardless of the nature or scope of the crisis. It's unsettling and compelling to know that he is fallible.

Matthew: Tired tropes aplenty...Oh, no, perishable vaccines! Yet again, we get an arbitrary time limit on the action imposed by perishable items and endangered/starving/sick colonists somewhere or other we don't care about. Also, this episode suffered from some Serious redshirt carnage. I counted no fewer than five red-shirt deaths. At this point, it no longer really underscores peril or danger, it just seems like lazy writing.

Kevin: I swear to God, I would never be a Federation colonist. They are always suffering from horrible diseases and have apparently no means to take care of themselves.

Matthew: We get some interesting lines that develop Kirk's character. He served on the USS Farragut, 11 years ago, and Garrovick's father was his commanding officer and mentor. Kirk says that Garrvick was his commander "from the day I left the academy," and was "the finest man I ever knew." This strongly implies that Garrovick the elder was aboard the Republic, Kirk's first ship, and must have brought him with to the Farragut. Kirk also states that "No one can rise to starship command without relying on intuition." I love this kind of stuff in general, because it expands characters and makes them feel more real. Unlike certain recent movies...

Kevin: We've said this before, but one of TOS's clear strengths is its ability to flesh out its characters, and this is certainly one of the better examples. Even with a set of well established characters and relationships, it's easy to let them fall into a rut, and interactions like these keep the characters and their relationships evolving.

Matthew: One of the better scenes is Nurse Chapel's. It's great when an ancillary character gets developed, especially when the lines are written so well and delivered so well. Chapel tricks Garrovick into thinking that Dr. McCoy has ordered him to eat, with the judicious use of a data tape and some psychology.

Kevin: I like that the writers had the skill and confidence to put that much into a scene between secondary characters. It's moments like those that really make the Star Trek universe feel more real and accessible. Just because they don't get their name in the opening credits doesn't mean they only exist to interact with the people who do.

Matthew: Science note: an ounce of antimatter as powerful as 10,000 cobalt bombs. Now that's powerful! I suppose an "ounce" is probably a lot, on the order of trillions of anti-matter particles. It would be nice if they went a little further - how do they synthesize it? How do they contain it? Are they atoms? Subatomic particles?


Matthew: Ensign Garrovick, portrayed by Stephen Brooks, was a nice addition to the cast, and yet again it sucks that this was his only appearance. The actor did a fine job appearing both brash and insecure at the same time. 

Kevin: I've been watching some early TNG and DS9 lately, and I think we have to add on "ability to cast guest actors" as one of TOS's strengths. They've done a pretty well rounded job of casting people for one episode who still manage to imbue the character with depth and dimension.

Matthew: Shatner was at his usual excellent standard for acting here, portraying the turbulent emotions of a Captain facing both his past and his present all at once. It all comes to a head with his wonderful scene with McCoy and Spock in which he pleads his case. All three actors did very well..

Kevin: Shatner deserves particular credit for his portrayal of vulnerability and irrationality. It elevates the story and is a credit to both the actors and the writers for the balls to make their hero imperfect.

Production Values

Matthew: I liked the antigrav sled that Kirk and Garrovick used to transport the antimatter. There was no obvious fishing line holding it up. This was probably the best effect of the episode.

Matthew: Some pretty obvious styrofoam mountains littered the landscape, and we got some equally obvious reverse film effects to make the "gas monster" move. The hemoplasm jar looked a little silly, too. So overall, there was a certain aura of cheapness present. I can't say it really detracted from the story, though. Generally, the simpler the effects, the less noticeable they are.

Kevin: I have said it before and I will say it again. Anytime they have an alien that is not a blob of light painted on the film negative, I am a happy camper.


Matthew: I've got to go with a 3. The writing had both good and bad elements, the acting was good but not stunning, and the production values were just sort of "there." I like this episode, and it's a high 3 to be sure, but nothing lifted it above the fat part of the bell curve for me.

Kevin: Ditto, really. The standout moments are certainly the interaction of the main three, but it's not enough to make this an above average episode. That makes a total of 6.


  1. Aside from the standard issue movie defense (it seems pretty obvious to me that the TV show, with an hour to fill each week is going to have an easier time fleshing out characters, giving secondary characters an inner life, and building its world than a movie which has around 2 hours total) I totally agree about the way spending time with other characters makes the Star Trek universe feel more real. I just saw Menagerie last week, and in the scenes where Pike's first officer was having meetings and discussing the problem of how to get Pike back from the aliens I was floored by how similar but different it felt. And not just because for once I wasn't trying to figure out if Chapel's hair was a wig or not. I know Menagerie was an attempt to get mileage out of old Pilot footage, but the effect I took away from it was that Kirk & co. really were just one set of people, and that they really were part of a larger world of teams like them.

  2. Betsy,

    I think you're right on the nose about the strengths of the two media. So what's to be done? Well, a good director and writers will either say:

    1. Film is a tough medium to develop realistic characters, emotions, logically consistent worlds, and character arcs in. So we'll be extra careful to put just the right amounts of exposition, character moments, and appropriate action. (In Trek movie history, movies like this include ST2 and ST6)

    2. Because film is a difficult medium to do the above in, we simply won't try. In the case of Star Trek, we'll rely on the work already done in the various series by respecting and referencing it briefly. (ST1, ST4)

    In my estimation, Abrams and Co. did neither. They rejected the work already done, and then they totally flubbed giving their "new" characters recognizable motivations and histories, and destroyed Starfleet as a logically coherent concept.

    As bad as TOS can be at times with consistency and continuity, you can see easily that they are TRYING to build something, and just haven't gotten it right yet. Star Trek (2009) tries to be "cool," logic be damned.

    Basically, I think they tried to strip Star Trek of everything that an audience schooled in Michael Bay's "Transformers" would deem "boring." In doing so, they made it not-Star-Trek.