Once again, there are many good things here, and this is a very memorable episode, but the script is a mess and lets the whole thing down. What starts as a potentially intriguing character study becomes a race against certain destruction by a drunken crew. Logic is strained, performers are forced over the top, and the whole thing barely holds together.
This may very well be one of the famous "standing on top of the desk" scripts which was revised as filming was taking place. The central story idea, a mysterious disease causing the crew to lose all inhibitions, sounds like the perfect opportunity to delve into what our characters are made of. In fact, done with restraint it could probably be just that. Here it is not handled with restraint, and it becomes a sort of cosmic frat house spiraling out of control.
The supposed payoff is the unguarded speech-making by our two leads as the episode builds to its climax. Spock takes the first shot, and gives a remarkably effective confession which fills in crucial elements of the character's backstory. In fact this speech, some of which was apparently ad libbed, would transform the character noticeably, allowing Nimoy a solid foundation upon which to build -- a foundation which had been anything but solid to this point. Even in the moments when it treads a little too close to the edge, it is saved by a very restrained tracking shot which helps retain a strong sense of dignity.
Kirk, unfortunately, is not similarly spared, and Shatner is left to twist in the wind with a cheesy soliloquy about his ship and his yeoman that really sets his character development back by a couple of weeks -- at least. Perhaps the disease grows stronger as the show progresses. Those infected early have some time to wonder what's going on while their symptoms build, but those infected late (like Kirk and Spock) seem to transform almost instantly -- from reasonably normal to blubbering idiot in about 30 seconds. Give Shatner a pass, however, because the script is really the problem. He's just doing the best he can with what he's given.
There are numerous missteps in the script, starting with a clunky teaser. The set for the frozen planet is beautiful and certainly memorable, as is the image of Spock and sidekick in their orange suits, but then a character does something unspeakably dumb. This runs counter to the desire to show our heroes as consumate professionals, and would not have been necessary at all. Since the writers had already decided that the disease would survive decontamination, he could simply have left his glove on, had the disease drip onto the outside of his gloved hand, then have it transfer to his skin while removing the glove after decontamination. This would have required no change to the concept, but would have saved the crew a smidge of humiliation (if forcing the abandoment of a nice special effect).
Another major problem is the introduction of Nurse Christine Chapel (how's that for a Christian name?) and her truly regrettable infatuation with Spock. The story of why the character was created is well known, but this fixation on Spock has, to my knowledge, never been explained. The two actors simply have no chemistry, and there's never enough interaction between the characters to explain how or why this could have formed. Each time it comes up through the course of the series, it lays an egg -- which is exactly what it does here. To top it off, Barrett's acting skills, called into question after the first pilot, are certainly not redeemed here -- nor would they be during the series run (nor during later series, for that matter).
Other minor characters fare much better. Sulu gets a nice feature, and Hyde as Riley simply shines. His little gestures to cause the doors to open are the pure stuff of character. In some ways, it would have been nice to cultivate this character and forgone the need for Chekov (apologies to Koenig for even suggesting it). Uhura -- not affected by the disease -- has a wonderful scene with Kirk which is a small triumph for both actors. The success of this little scene is further proof that the premise of this episode is unnecessary, and that there are better ways to find out about the inner workings of the characters.
It's apparent, right from the beginning, that this episode's production appears to have been rushed. The planet blinks on and off the bridge view screen, and one tracking shot (while Scotty cuts the bulkhead) is noisily jostled by something gone awry as the camera moves in. Even so, the episode never feels bottled up, and makes a strong case for the notion that there are many interesting stories to be told right on the ship.
Twenty years later this episode would be remade on Next Generation where it fared no better, suggesting that the very premise of the story is the real problem. There are more subtle ways to learn about characters than forcing them to lose their inhibitions. It feels like a short-cut, and leads to an episode not nearly as sharp as we know this team can create.
Rating: Middle (4)
I am definitely enjoying watching each episode in order-after reading your excellent analysis of each story and production. This episode could have been great, and Tormolen and Reilly could have made good semi regular cast members. You are right, ship falls to drunken crew, decaying orbit time crunch, etc... Great Review. Best Tom B.
Posted October 17, 2013 12:08 AM by Tom