So much to like, so much to question. That's the problem with this episode, like much of Roddenberry's writing. As a farewell, it actually has some strong moments, even though this probably wasn't intended. As an everyday episode, it has some very weak moments. The weakest part, however, may just be what Roddenberry brought to it: the very premise on which it is built.
"Your world of starship captains doesn't admit women," snorts Lester as the story begins. Kirk acknowledges it, but we know this is just not true. In fact, the very heart of Trek is that no such arbitrary distinctions exist anymore in their century (didn't Uhura say as much just a couple of weeks ago?). Of course, he's trying to talk about an Issue again, and that's all well and good. But he does it clumsily, with little regard for what has gone before, and this is uncharacteristic.
It's inexcusable that this made it through the editing process, when there are so many better alternatives. Suppose Lester was never fit for command, but chose to blame her lack of success on being a woman -- when that simply wasn't the case. Suppose she was unstable, had flunked some emotional competency screening and went slowly insane with jealousy of Kirk, who passed. Suppose she had some sort of physical condition -- maybe a certain blood type -- that got her grounded. Any of these would have allowed, with careful writing, the discussion of the same issue (exclusion from the captaincy for arbitrary reasons) but without compromsing one of the founding premises for the show. It would have taken only a few small changes in dialogue, and might have punched up the episode substantially (although, maybe the creative team feared that somebody out there wouldn't get it).
As it is, it's just not plausible that someone who is not a starship captain could successfully pose as one for very long. To the writers' credit, Lester as Kirk begins to falter immediately, and is ultimately undone without any magical spells. But even that satisfactory outcome is undermined when the transfer weakens all by itself and then fails. This lets everybody off the hook without anyone coming up with the solution. In other words, the problem on which this episode is based solves itself. That's not good writing. That's simply lazy.
This episode, which is so good in so many ways, is somewhat rotten at its core.
The acting is mostly quite good. Shatner does what is asked of him, and quite successfully projects the image of having his body inhabited by a (stereotypically) female consciousness. The nail file goes a bit over the edge, as does some of the prancing and emotional outbursts in the later scenes. But he does what was asked of him by the script. Unfortunately, the script wants Kirk to "act like a woman" which necessarily brings out a one-note performance. Smarter writing would have had him inhabited by a failed captain candidate who just happened to be a woman. Instead of making the gender central, the power grab would have been most important, and he could have garnished it with gender-related touches. On the flip side, Smith is most plausible as Kirk, and resists the urge to macho things up just to make her case.
The ensemble acting is uniformly superb. Doohan and Kelley each have memorable scenes, as does Nimoy while Spock is defending his position. Even Baldavin, sitting in for Uhura, adds some nice touches as her very expression moves the plot forward more than once. No doubt this might have been even more effective with Nichols, whose character has a bit more history with Kirk. Landers' performance as a second-rate scientist in love with his patient is underrated. His job was to play as if he's in love with Lester inside Kirk's body. That's no small task, and he does it most effectively.
It is somewhat fitting that one of the final scenes of the series has Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Kirk (played by Smith) confined together in a cell, supporting one another. Over 79 episodes, this became a central theme of the show: loyalty to one another and to doing what is right regardless of consequences. That's easy to forget given the garbage which inhabited much of the third season. But the series found a distinctive voice through this concept and through characters who embodied it.
Rating: Middle (4)
I wish there was a way to delete all of these repetitious, pointless spam "reviews" from your excellent site. I've enjoyed your analyses of TOS, and looked forward to reading your reviews after viewing an episode. Having been born in '66, I'm amazed that I never saw Star Trek as a young person. My wife and I watched The Cage a few months ago, and were immediately hooked. We just finished the final episode last night. I think the reason why I've enjoyed your reviews is that you demand high standards from this show, its writers and performers. You help the newbie viewer to discern quality from laziness and cliche. Thank you for taking the time to put these reviews on the web. They enhanced the enjoyment of an excellent series that I will now miss.
Posted September 12, 2014 2:10 PM by Kevin