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That Which Survives

One thing can be said for third season Trek to this point, even when it was bad, it was never boring. This episode breaks that streak. It is, without a doubt, the most boring regular episode they ever did (The Motion Picture establishes the boring standard for the movies). Here we get endless shots of Sulu scanning, McCoy scanning, blue-shirted guy scanning, reporting mysteries to each other, talking about how this or that makes no sense. It is tedious and unimaginative filler.

There is barely more to say. Meriwether is severely under-utilized as the computer-projected version of the last of her species (a cliché that gets more annoying with each passing episode). She looks good, but her cell-busting seductions grow tiresome pretty quickly. With the mystery so built up, no explanation can be satisfying. The first season writers knew this, and carried such mysteries only into the second or third act, at which time solutions and fall-out became the focus of the story. In the third season (and much later Trek), the mysteries are carried until the last scene, at which time a quick fix or technical innovation pops into place. It's lazy because mystery is easy to maintain, and character fall-out is terribly difficult.

It's also instructive to note that what makes a good first season character moment often makes a terrible third season character moment. It might be interesting to count how many times Spock corrects someone who did not use enough decimal places (or used an "emotional" expression not meeting with his approval). Now that we know the character pretty well, it's not useful. It's just plain annoying:

SCOTT: We should reach maximum overload in 15 minutes.
SPOCK: I would calculate 14.87 minutes, Mr. Scott.

(The difference, for the record, is 7.8 seconds -- about the amount of time it took for Spock to say the line.) It would also be interesting to count the number of times someone gives the countdown to explosion (20? 25?). Scotty speaks for all of us in his "cuckoo clock" comment.

Technical aspects are a mixed bag. The phasers get used extensively, and there are some nice effects. And the disappearing effect for Losira has a nifty complexity about it, though it's a bit too much like a 1960s-era television being turned off. But the earthquake effect, which probably cost a lot of money, ends up looking like Styrofoam rocks on springs (which it probably was). Most unfortunate.

Wallerstein's direction is also surprisingly weak. At one point Kirk, McCoy and Sulu engage in a weird dance around Merriwether, but are so close to her that she could simply reach out and touch any one of them at any point. Very bad blocking, and a sign that all concerned were just trying to get through this one. When the cavalry finally arrives, Kirk instructs Spock to "shoot the computer," at which point Spock dutifully aims his phaser at the cube hanging from the ceiling and shoots. Instead of disappearing, as you might expect, or even just going dark, the flashing lights merely slow down. Is the computer dead, or just not running in turbo mode anymore?

Fontana took her name off of this episode for good reason. Why Lucas did not is a mystery (perhaps politics, hoping to get another commission). The heroes of this episode are Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Takei, Nichols, and Meriwether -- for managing to get through this crap with a straight face.

Rating: Very Bottom (7)


Correction, it was not Spock that dutifully aims his phaser at the cube, it was the red-shirt accompanying him.

Posted September 17, 2008 12:25 AM by Trekkie