For a bad idea, this turned into a pretty good episode. It seems like the writers wanted to talk about over-population and birth control, so they created a planet so crowded that no one could even sit down (the only way to understand the Perpetually Milling Masses -- it's like a cocktail party that never ends, which would certainly be hell).
Unfortunately, nothing they say hits the mark. When it comes time to talk about birth control, it gets done in a rather preachy speech which lauds the sanctity of all life while arranging to kill. Come to think of it, that's not far off from the contemporary abortion/death penalty dichotomy. If I thought there was that level of sophistication going on in the writing here, I'd forgive the whole thing. But this isn't complex. Its message is cheap, shoe-horned in, and not very well thought out.
But the scenes are so beautifully written, and the dialogue so sharp, and the pacing so wonderful, and the mystery so palpable that I want to forgive the cheap bastards for setting it on an extremely convenient but implausible Enterprise replica, and having the whole thing turn on inverted transporter coordinates. Sheesh. We've never heard a transporter coordinate given in the past, here it's trotted out multiple times just in case no one noticed that, hey, they gave us the wrong coordinates! That Kirk couldn't figure out he was on a fake ship (but Spock could) says a lot about how well the writers know the characters -- or maybe just laziness in plotting, or maybe the studio's cheapness. As I've said before, an empty starship is pretty creepy, and it works in that regard here despite how preposterous of an idea it is. Again, one has to ignore a central part of the episode in order to talk about it. Ah, the third season...
So let's get to the specifics and admit that Theiss goes both ways again. Odona's garment is amazing, and the hexagon-emblazoned tunics are awful. Especially bad are the black-hooded guards, whose round faces grin just a bit too much. Don't they know how stupid they look in those cheesy get-ups? And are we really to believe that everyone on the planet is wearing a variation of that hooded thing? Every single person, elbow to elbow across the entire planet surface? Please.
The romance between Kirk and Odona doesn't have much basis, but she's so cute and vulnerable that Kirk probably just can't help himself. I mean, the ship is deserted...no one will know...one thing leads to another... We know how that goes. Acker plays her role with a great deal of nuance, and close viewing (don't get too close to those hoods, though) reveals that she maintains a very subtle acknowledgement of her dishonesty right from the beginning. A lesser actor would play it straight ("I'm not lying.") and then completely change when revealed -- as if she were the perfect liar. Acker avoids this trap and manages to take her lines (which are wonderfully sly in many cases: "Don't tell me the sky is out of order now.") and say them with just a hint that she is not a perfect liar.
Our other guest star, despite being given a pair of terribly unflattering stretchy black pants to wear, is given a fine collection of diplomat-speak, and makes very fine work of it. His babble is so maddeningly on target, that you can forget he's a character being played by an actor. Cudos to the writers and Hurst for making this believable. They also make great work of the highly unprofessional and inappropriate interjections of the bridge crew. Setting aside the fact that this would never happen with the characters we've come to know, it provides a bit of levity.
While Kirk is clearly the focus of the episode, the real character work is left to Nimoy, and we see a very different, yet highly compatible side of Spock. He acknowledges himself as primarily a scientist, and shows restrained but palpable disdain for the proceedings he must endure. Then he makes a fine command decision, showing once again the loyalty between characters (while not giving in to McCoy, which was marvelously played by both actors), and forcing Spock to use a bit of intuition. The writing for Spock borders on emotional (if cynicism and annoyance are to be considered emotions), but Nimoy works the fine balance, and it comes out well.
There's a lot to like here, but a lot which must be ignored in order to like it. When it comes right down to it, the premise is bad and overdone. At the heart of this episode is an idea which belongs somewhere else. No amount of craft can save such an episode. But it can make it watchable, and for that, credit must be given.
Rating: Middle (4)