The show finally starts to hit its stride with this episode, perhaps one of the very best they ever would make. The mystery draws us in, but it is not drawn out past its welcome (like so many later mysteries). All of the performances contain subtlety and nuance. Nimoy inserts a subtle hand tremble long before the close-ups reveal this detail. Shatner has a couple of Gene Coon moments that could have been played for comedy but are ultimately quite restrained. On the planet, the ceremony is filled with intrigue and mystery, due in large part to the tone set by the actors. The staging and camera work during the ceremony (with a couple of small exceptions) is complex but never distracts from the characters.
The great episodes all turn on the characters which have been created, adding selectively to their stories, and revealing the complicated interactions which are generally not explored in episodic series television. Often when shows try to explore such things, the devolve quickly into soap opera. Star Trek TOS never let that happen, but their best episodes explore the inner lives of these characters within a science fiction backdrop. Though no real social issues are included, our characters are all made a little more human (including Spock), which allows us to move with them comfortably through their adventures. Acting plays a major role in this (as would be revealed in the contrasts between later starship captains we would come to know).
It is also impossible to overstate the importance of the script to this episode's success. Everyone involved rises to the level of the material they are given, and this script is a gem. Character motivations are carefully considered and laid out with masterful precision. Questions are raised skillfully, answers are given one by one and always satisfy. Even the fight scene, a staple of the series which often feels artifically inserted into the action, is here completely motivated by character decisions and the unusual circumstance. It is all the more exciting.
The two missteps -- the tinfoil attendants on the planet, and the unfortunate final scene -- are forgiveable because of the depth packed into the rest of the episode. (As director, Pevney chooses close-ups on the bell trees which is far preferable to the wider shot which would no doubt have been painful to watch.) Keep in mind that the subtext introduced here will carry forward throughout the life of the series.
Watching this episode post-Enterprise reveals one of the great problems with the backstory which now exists in the Star Trek canon: If Vulcans and humans have been interacting since First Contact, it is hard to believe that the Vulcan mating rituals could have remained so utterly unknown. I do not care much for the canon aspect of the Star Trek universe, and this episode shows why. Later (and usually lesser) creative teams have the power to change the context in which older episodes are viewed. Done with care, this might not be a problem. But it has generally not been done with care. It is inexusable that Berman et. al. have the authority to sully this masterful piece of art.
Rating: Top (2)