Captain's Blog supplemental: Some Parting Thoughts

Well well well, the end of another blogging project. Parting is bittersweet, my friends.

I guess the meadow beyond the King's Highway was full of stars.
It's imperfect, of course, and incomplete, even more of course. I'm sure I'll add to it somewhere down the line. 

I'm happy enough with setting this as the finish line, though (not counting the DS9 blogs, still to come.) I was unsatisfied with the overviews I'd read or heard, particularly for TOS, whose psychosexual catacombs are criminally unmapped, and set out to create an alterative road map to the Trekverse. But it ended up being a Billy Pilgrim-esque defragmentation of that portion of my mental hard drive related to Star Trek: that house on the hill with many windows and pocket dimensions in the back of the closets.

Forget that house on the hill metaphor: if Trek is the Great Pyramid of Giza, this was akin to Caliph Al-Mamoun-esque tunneling through its walls and stumbling upon the chamber that leads to the heart of the mystery. But the mystery remains unsolved, and the pyramid remains the pyramid. (And hardly anyone remembers Al-Mamoun.) 

I'm often puzzled by (and sometimes irritated with, to be honest) the insistence that people get into Star Trek for its rosy depiction of a future that works for everybody. That's part of it, sure, and it's certainly a nice part. (And important, as fiction and myth are collective dreaming which leads to individual action and yadda yadda.) But so much is made of this that I sometimes feel like its subversive theatricality is undervalued. When it comes to the "family" aspect of Trek, I have to agree with Patrick Stewart, who said of the original draft of Insurrection, "I think that is sentimental and uninteresting and eventually leads to space heroes sitting round a campfire singing 'Row Row Row Your Boat.'" 

Truth. I don't feel it's uninteresting altogether, mind you, just the over-emphasis.
The Genes, Bennett, Berman, and Abrams Eras represent such different periods in my own life and interaction with the Trekverse, as I'm sure they do for you. How could one feel-good broad stroke cover all of it? For anyone, really? And yet, it is such a common refrain out there and in all the books. (Shatner's Get A Life is practically gushing with this kind of sentiment, and it's not an ironic reflection on the title.) 

I don't mean to knock the admirable accessibility and general good nature of Trek; I'm just way more interested in the crazy implications of its intersection with my own life and development, its abundance of interpretations, and its relatively deft handling of complex themes in a pop art environment.

It'll be interesting to read future overviews of Trek by people with no personal memories of growing up with it. A series such as this one, comprised of at least 40% personal memories and associations, will be obsolete in 2071. But just as likely not: the franchise could very well still be kicking at that time and producing new material.

I'll get another post up with links to all points previous for ease of searching sooner or later. 

If I didn't cover your favorite episode(s), my apologies. Take comfort in the statistical improbability of our ever being marooned on the same desert island together; you'll more-than more than likely never have to abide exclusively by my choices. But if that's how it happens, just remember: the bullets are not real.

As sincerely as I can convey this via the computer screen or mobile device, live long and prosper. 

Captain's Blog pt. 97: Catspaw

This is the last of my desert island TOS episodes. Like Trek itself did back in '67, I'll exploit the holiday for occasion - Happy Halloween!

October 27, 1967

Title (1) I actually quite like the title and should rate it higher. Except I'm confused. Here's Eugene Myers from Tor:

“I had never heard the word “catspaw” before (...) McCoy directly refers to the title of the episode when he says You kept Scott and Sulu as catspaws to lure us down here. I looked it up and discovered that the term, which means a person unwittingly used by another as a dupe or tool, originates from a fable called The Monkey and the Cat by Jean de La Fontaine. In it, a monkey tricks a cat into plucking chestnuts from a fire, burning its paw while the monkey eats them all. I wonder how common this term is, or was back then.”

That’s interesting. The Monkey and the Cat? Not the nautical term? Here's that definition, which is what I'd always assumed was the reference:

"A light air of wind perceived at a distance in a calm, sweeping the surface of the sea very lightly, and dying away before it reaches the ship. "

It also refers to a deceptive wave, one that resembles the white underside of a cat's literal paw raking the underside of the sea and gives the false impression of a huge tidal push that never comes.

But let's say the nautical term came into usage as a result of this Monkey and the Cat story. Does it make any sense as a title for the story we get? Not really. It's an odd detail of the story to hang a hat on; it makes more sense for something like "Whom Gods Destroy" or "The Mark of Gideon." But mainly, the problem is that the story doesn't make much sense, either.

Script and Theme (5 / 4) It's my last chance to bitch about the Tor and AV Club re-watches, and bitch I shall, but first, there's pretty much wide consensus on what is wrong with this episode. First, here's Mr. Myers:

“The whole episode is a mess of conflicting information, which perhaps ties in with Sylvia’s own confused impulses:

"Though it only flirts with an idea that is explored more in a later episode, this is a story about an alien seduced by the flesh.

“We never find out what the aliens really want, and I’m not sure the aliens or the writers do either. The most interesting conclusion we can draw is that these creatures are Lovecraftian invaders, with the reference to the “Old Ones” and their true forms resembling tiny Cthulus.”

The Lovecraft reference makes much more sense here than it does in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" Right down to the octopus beards.

Of these creatures, Zack Handlen writes (and I very much agree:) "Look, I'm sure most people saw that and laughed. They're these ridiculous contraptions made of what looks like shrimp and blue fur, and you can see the hundreds of strings holding the damn things up. They can't be more than a few inches tall each, and they're goddamn absurd.

"I dig it, though. There's something freakish about those damn things, something that makes them truly alien, in spite (or maybe because) of the tackiness of the design. 'Catspaw' isn't all that strong, but those few times it works, it's like nothing we've seen on the series before.

Both reviewers are correct to point out the various ideas of the episode are under-realized. Bloch does his customary blend of traditional genre with sci-fi, but perhaps he needed to stir a bit more. It's a slight episode, hardly one of the best. I include it mainly for its successful creation of mood, its visuals, and its ending lines:

"All of this, just an illusion."
"No illusion. Jackson is dead."
I love that. I don't think it's too much to say that this unexpected recall of the crewman who dies at the beginning (the one who falls from the transporter and through whom the curse on the ship is uttered, aka the one who is not mentioned again from beginning to end) has a Roy Lichtenstein quality to it. Really, if "Jackson is Dead" was the name of this episode, its reputation would be much improved. It would be lifted into the realm of the Pop Art Surreal.

Visual Design (3)

Good use of dry ice. TOS was often so theatrical. It could easily be recreated as a series of stage plays by some Max Fischer Players-esque company. (And should be.) Though, as was discussed in the entry for them, I guess Star Trek Phase II is that already, somewhat.
“It's odd--Sylvia is strong enough to make a voodoo-type mini-Enterprise, endangering the whole ship at her whim, but all she really wants is to know the mysteries behind a digital watch."

Guest (2.5) Torie Atkinson: “It was interesting to see what appeared to me as an entirely random redshirt commanding the Enterprise (yes his name is LaSalle but how often have we met him?)”

Three times:

"The Squire of Gothos"
"This Side of Paradise"
And great crikes, that's not his name. I know that Torie represents the first time Trek viewer side of that Tor re-watch, but come on. I'm more disappointed that no one called this out in the comments. Hey, more power to her/ everyone.

As for Sylvia and Korob.
Korob is played by Theo Marcuse. The subject of an impassioned Outer Limits screed here.
And Sylvia by Antoinette Bower.
Just one of her many other television appearances: Eve Norda from the classic Twilight Zone episode "Probe 7, Over and Out."

Kirk and the Gang (20)

I'm kind of surprised this didn't already exist out there on the interwebs.
"We're... burning up..."

Memorability (3.5)

 Total Points Awarded: 40

There'll be a wrap-up entry or two (and of course the DS9 blogs, when I get those) but here endeth the five year mission (done in only eight months) for yours truly. Three months of TOS, one on the movies, one on TNG, two for all the others, and one for asides and what-ifs = a sabbatical from all * things Trek until Halloween 2014 at the earliest.

* Well, most


Captain's Blog pt. 96: The Enemy Within

On October 6th, 1966, a day that lives in infamy for Merry Pranksters everywhere, Captain Kirk (and through him, America) confronted:

Title (2.5) If I taught a college course on Trek, it would be fun to spend a few weeks on this episode, with each class organized around a different reading. "The Enemy Within" is an invaluable object of meditation that rewards the field researcher with varied interpretations, all more or less equally credible thanks to the story's broad accessibility. We've seen this before, of course; the only show to achieve more success than TOS in this multiple-meaning arena is The Prisoner (arguably) and it had to abandon linear narrative altogether to surpass it.

I'd start off said class with the assignment to read the goings-on as a breakdown of Shatner's Narcissistic Personality Disorder, simply because it's incredibly amusing to do so. Try it on your next watch. Google your preferred definition (or set of definitions,) hit play, and have a blast.

But we’ll stick with the reading closest to the surface: that of the Id, Ego, and Superego. A common enough issue of the era, to be sure, and of no small interest to the Genes.

These are probably familiar terms to you, but should a quick refresher be of use to you, click here. I'll get into this more below, but I mention it here because "The Enemy Within" works pretty well as a catch-all title, but given the tertiary nature of the concept, the title should perhaps be plural. "The Enemies Within" would have been confusing, though. It's a very minor red flag but enough for me to dock half-a-point.

Script and Theme (7 / 10) Okay, so Id, Ego, Supergo. This is already written into the show via its holy trinity (Bones, Kirk, and Spock) but here their shared dynamic is explicitly sub-divided (if you will) via a split Captain Kirk. "Two of the same animal but different.

"One gentle, this. One mean and fierce, that:
"Some kind of savage, ferocious opposite."
The genius of the Genes was taking original material

and re-shaping it into this sort of prism of simultaneous meaning described above. They weren't 100% successful all the time ("Mudd's Women") and alienated some of the writers whose scripts they worked over in this manner ("City on the Edge of Forever.") But when they were on, they were on. The source material might have its own implications or subtext, but what the Genes did was harness it towards their own preoccupations and their Trek-occupations, if that makes any sense. I'll trust you know what I'm getting at well enough by now: TOS is the warp-nine intersection of all these various factors. Or as Freud put it: Underneath the surface, our personalities represent the power struggles going on deep within us. True for Western civilization, true for 1960s television.

The Captain's ego ("good") is paralyzed upon discovery that his Id ("bad") has taken on a life of its own and roams the decks of the Enterprise:

He's so distraught he can't even bring himself to use traditional sentence structure in his as-it's-happening report to Starfleet: Captain's Log, stardate 1673.5. Transporter... still inoperable. Negative self is under restraint in Sickbay.


My own indecisiveness... growing. Force of will... steadily weakening. On the planet, condition critical. Surface temperature is 75 degrees below zero... still dropping.

Spock's role in the proceedings (as he helpfully summarizes about halfway through the episode) is to play the supergo, to help re-fuse Kirk's Id and Ego back into a functioning whole. He is ideally suited to perform this task, as he tells Dr. McCoy: Being split in two halves is no theory with me, Doctor. (...) I survive it because my intelligence wins over both, making them live together.

“As if the ego's job wasn't hard enough, playing referee between the id and reality, its performance is under constant scrutiny by a relentless judge, the superego. While the ego negotiates with the id, trying to prevent another tantrum, the superego judges the performance. (Superego) expects your ego to be strong and effective in its struggles against the libido's force.”
Among the Superego's duties is to goad the ego into action by appealing to its vanity, as Spock certainly does: You're the Captain of this ship. You haven't the right to be vulnerable in the eyes of the crew. You can't afford the luxury of being anything less than perfect. 

When it comes to the imaginary integrity of the space navy and the men (and women) who hold command positions within it, that kind of dialogue is so much more palatable in service of pop-psychological pastiche such as this than for its own sake as an attempt to generate tension or drama. It's part of the reason I have trouble with episodes like "The Doomsday Machine." As cool as the planet-killer-bugle in space is, all the Starfleet captain bravado really grates on me. To each his own, of course.

Another psychological phenomenon on display here is splitting, i.e. “the failure in a person's thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole.” This leads to idealization and devaluation. (And is essential to understanding modern media techniques of manipulation, but that's a story for another day.)
Let's stick with Splitting.
"I'm the Captain. Isn't that obvious?"
"Look at his face."
"Look how he's tried to hide them."
"You know who I am."
"A perceived threat to the narcissist's self-esteem..."

As encouraged by Spock and Bones, the Id and the Ego realize the destruction of one means the destruction of the other and slowly reconcile and re-fuse.

As every TOS fan could tell you, he wanna live!

I originally went with scores of 10 apiece for this category, but I'm deducting 3 points from the script for the end, where Spock tells Yeoman Rand that the Captain's Id had some... "interesting qualities, wouldn't you say, Yeoman?"


He's clearly suggesting that the Yeoman (and by extension all women) are secretly turned on by their rapists. (Oh yeah, I guess I should have mentioned that: once out from under the thumb of his ego's rules and restrictions, the Captain's Id hastens to Yeoman Rand's quarters and urges her to STOP PRETENDING, JANICE.)

Like Chekov's attempted sexual assault in "Day of the Dove," the horror of it all is somewhat undermined by the actors' hammy (though perfect) delivery. You don't die... not yet for "Dove," and the Too Much Woman matter-of-factness, here.
As Grace Lee Whitney wrote in her memoir: I can't imagine any more cruel and insensitive comment a man (or Vulcan) could make to a woman who has just been through a sexual assault! But then, some men really do think that women want to be raped." All the more chastising given Whitney's real-life sexual assault(s) on the show. (Also: that Shatner slapped her, repeatedly, admittedly with her permission, to get her "into character" for this scene.)

Add it all up, and it's a big bowl of discomfort for your humble narrator, and, I imagine, more than a few other people. That the script "goes there" is good; the Freudian catacombs are indeed filled with Cthulhian horrors, well worth mapping out. It'd probably be a cheat without it. That Spock wraps this episode up with this obscene bow? Less good. Substantially. Like double-plus-un-good, times infinity. 

Come to think of it, it's always Spock who gets these sorts of lines, isn't it? I think we're meant to believe Spock is a little sexist, because he's all about logic and women (makes whirly-finger gesture at ear) amirite? I prefer to look at that as the sexism of the era and not deliberate characterization of Mister Spock. It's certainly an aspect of the character that Nimoy never revisited after the 60s.

Anyway, I should probably deduct even more than 3 points for such an incredibly tasteless thing, but of course no addition or deduction on my part does much of anything. Who knows what the hell they were thinking or trying to get across, but if it isn't what it seems (i.e. You know you wanted it) they really dropped the ball in conveying it.

Visual Design (1.5) I guess it's the first time we ever see Engineering, so that's something, but it's not one of the more visually exciting episodes. Plenty of close-ups that emphasize the Captain's eye shadow, to be sure:

Kirk and the Gang (35)
Not the most coveted part ever offered an actress, but Whitney does a good job here.
"C-captain K-k-kirk..."

Guest (2.5)
As Eugene Myers writes: "The poor dog in that furry costume was very silly, but I was amused that almost every cast member cradled it at some point with a straight expression."

Internal Logistics (1.5) One of the earlier episodes so still plenty of stuff coming together. Mr. Farrand makes a good point, though, re: Spock's line about his human half as well as an alien half, submerged: "Did he just call his Vulcan half "alien?" I thought Spock prided himself on his Vulcan heritage. Wouldn't he be more likely to identify his human half as alien?"

- Also, we saw Deela admiring the Captain's grooming products in "Wink of an Eye." Here we see he has stage make-up at hand, too - amazing! I bet he keeps that stuff around just for the ladies. Straight out of the Playboy Guide.

Memorability (5) #TrekConfessions: In the late 1990s, I attended a poetry reading in Dayton, OH and was asked to participate. Everyone may have been a little out of their minds on Saurian Brandy, among other things. I approached the microphone with a bit of trepidation, which was just for dramatic effect; I was actually quite composed as I knew exactly what I had to say and how to say it. "(Pause) Get those men beamed back aboard fast." * Mic drop, arms raised, exit stage left.

In my imagination, this brought down the house down, a calculated, Kaufman-esque send-up of the whole experience. In reality, the lone chuckle of my buddy Mike was all I heard against an awkward backdrop of chairs scraping against the floor, murmurs, and glasses clinking behind the bar.

* The actual line is Get those men aboard fast, but that's how I said it. (If someone had shouted that out from the audience, correcting me, that would have made it way cooler. I'm tempted to add that detail - I mean who would know?)

Total Points Awarded: 65