Saturday, June 19, 2010

TOS Season Two Recap

With the somewhat schizophrenic entry that was "Assignment: Earth," the second season of TOS comes to a close. How does it stand up? Let's find out...

Our favorite Russian signs on to our favorite wessel...

Kevin's Thoughts

No two ways about it, this was a damned good season. As will be evidenced by the numbers below, this season doesn't hit quite as many highs as Season One and hits a couple of lows that it didn't. (Looking at you "Catspaw" and "The Apple") But that shouldn't really be treated as an indictment, just an observation. What season two definitely has going for it is that it did not rest on its laurels. It continues to use the framework laid out in season one, but does so in a way that enriches it. The interactions of the main three never feel forced, hackneyed or phoned in. Episodes like "Obsession" and even "The Deadly Years", where they are forced to confront the very real possibility of Kirk's diminished capacity were affecting and added depth to everyone involved. Two scenes that stand out for me are in "The Immunity Syndrome" when Kirk has to choose which friend to send to his death and in "The Ultimate Computer" where Spock calmly declares loyalty a necessary component part of a functioning starship. Taken together, all these scenes give their friendship an organic quality. They are not merely friends because the script says they are. You get the impression these people would actually form the bond they portray.

Matt and I spent a great deal of time this season expounding our dislike for "The Apple" and "Catspaw," but it's to the season and the shows credit that even with these stinkers, they don't drag the overall season down. They are anomalies, not symptoms of a larger problem. And, in the balance, if you can make your season look good when it includes those episodes, you can rest easy you've done a pretty good job.

Lastly, I enjoyed they kept making the Star Trek universe more complex and textured. Journey to Babel, while by no means perfect, gives us some great development of Spock and the Federation as a whole. It reinforces the idea that these people are part of an actual universe and it makes their struggles more interesting.

Matt's Thoughts

I for one was surprised at the consistently high level of quality evidenced throughout Season Two. If you were to drop "Catspaw" and "The Apple" from the mix, you'd get a pretty close parity with the quality level of Season One. But of course, that wouldn't be fair. They made those episodes, so they get scored along with the rest. So let's say that Season Two dropped off a bit in quality, but it maintained the general standard of excellence pretty well.

As a season on the air, it started with "Amok Time," "Who Mourns for Adonais,"  "The Changeling," and "Mirror, Mirror." Wow! Our ratings peg those at 9, 7, 6, and 10. What an exciting month it must have been to tune back in to your favorite show. Of course, then, the steaming pile which is "The Apple" occurred, and "Catspaw" not long thereafter. I wonder if fans got a sense of foreboding.

Either way, the quality level still stayed pretty consistently high. Season Two saw more comedic episodes, especially after "Tribbles" turned out so well. If there is an endemic flaw, it might be the multiple spins on similar, recurring  themes. Computers run amok (usually thwarted by Kirk's logic puzzles, ugh...), and backward civilizations perverted by interference were recurring story lines. The episodes that did this were of varying quality levels, some very good. It just wasn't the same breadth of variety we saw in Season One.

Season Two was much more Spock-centric, as producers saw the volume of fan mail the character received. This new focus was not by any means a bad thing. We get two very Spock-heavy episodes ("Amok" and "Journey To Babel") that expand on Vulcan backstory quite a bit, and Nimoy plays the character to the hilt.

Chekov also makes his debut, as producers tried to appeal to younger audiences. It actually worked pretty well, as Koenig played the character in a charming way, and the writers did not make him too intrusive (indeed, many of his scenes were written for Sulu, who was absent in many shows due to George Takei's extended shoot on the John Wayne movie "The Green Berets").


Matthew: Even though quality was up and down, the best of Season Two stand toe-to-toe with the best of Season One in terms of "classic" status. "Amok Time" contains my absolute favorite character moment between Spock and Kirk. "Mirror, Mirror" was the first and easily the best of the mirror universe shows, and must have been a mind-bending treat for sixties audiences. "Tribbles" gives us the best Trek comedy, probably of all the various series.  "The Doomsday Machine" offers a strong sci-fi yarn and a potent meditation on command styles. "The Changeling," though not unmarked by a few execution problems, was so strong a story that it got recycled for "The Motion Picture." As I look at this litany of great shows, I can easily say that the highlights of Season Two shine just as brightly as Season One.


I agree fully, though I will add a specific shout-out for "The Ultimate Computer." Except for a really unfortunate laugh-out, that was some great Star Trek and some great television.


Matthew: On the other hand, the lowlights sink far lower than we've seen thus far in TOS. The thoroughly execrable "Apple" and "Catspaw" have to lead the section, here. Severe problems with tone, utterly torpid pacing, and a lack of sci-fi cred hamper these stinkers, to a fatal degree. Some less successful experiments with themes also occur here, such as the Jack the Ripper show, "Wolf In The Fold." Another odd duck out was the strange spin-off attempt "Assignment: Earth." While certain aspects of this episode's story were strong, any show that features so few of our stalwart characters is bound to cause a lot of head scratching.

Kevin: The lows were definitely lower here. I liked "Wolf in the Fold" more than you did, but your criticism of its uneveness is certainly valid. I think this season had a few more examples of "This episode was great until..." Specifically "The Omega Glory." Great set-up, terrible pay-off. "Return to Tomorrow" is another example of a great idea that stumbles when it tries to tie up the story. I don't know if it was studio interference, or lack of time, or what, but if I had to peg a criticism for Season 2, it's that not there weren't as many great episodes, it's that a lot of really good episodes were lost to what seems like fairly fixable problems.

Matthew: Actually, I thought "Return To Tomorrow" was quite strong, and would put it in the upper quartile of this season and probable the series. But I digress...

Kevin: Because we are nerds, and nerds love charting and/or graphing things...

Here's a summary of the episodes and their ratings:

By way of comparison, the first season averages a combined 6.8996. If we were to drop Apple and Catspaw (which of course we won't), the average for Season 2 climbs from 6.5 to 6.875. So we see there is not too much drop off. And here's some pretty graphs.


Matthew: I think this was a whale of a season. Had the lowlights been dropped, in some ways it's stronger than Season 1. Pacing and characterization are more consistent. Comedy was featured, but in a tasteful and conservative way. On the other hand, we can't drop episodes from consideration just because they suck. "Stunt" storytelling, to coincide with Halloween, poor execution with "The Apple," and some poor follow-through with third acts plagued a few shows in the mix. These are, perhaps, foreboding signs for Season 3. But let's not damn with faint praise. Season 2 is strong, throughout. It's well worth buying as a set for even a marginal Trek fan (but of course, we die-hards will buy them all).

Kevin: Season 1 was better, but that doesn't make Season 2 a let down by any stretch. The season deserves all kinds of praise for not letting the concept go stale, either in terms of writing or acting. The Star Trek canon got some lovely additions and I had a great time watching it. My fondness for the franchise allows me to forget (if not forgive) "The Apple" and "Catspaw." Sound, overall, very good job. I'll be interested to see how this stands up to Season 3 and the rest of the franchise.

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