Rob Watches Star Trek – Uhura is THIRSTY!

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy, decide to look at the Star Trek franchise for the first time with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek
EPISODE: S1.E1, “The Man Trap”

STARRING: William Shatner, Deforest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nicols, George Takei
GUEST-STARRING: Jeanne Bal, Alfred Ryder
WRITER: George Clayton Johnson
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 6, 1966
SYNOPSIS: A shape-shifter gets on to the ship under the guise of Nancy Crater, one of McCoy’s former loves.

By Rob Siebert

May or May Not Be Thirsty

During the climax of “The Man Trap,” there’s a fight sequence involving the villain, a shape-shifter played by Jeanne Bal. In an attempt to prove she’s not who she says she is, Spock clasps his hands together and axe handles her across the face. Bal’s character counters with a backhand straight out of the community theater handbook. Spock goes flying.

Moments later, we learn she is in fact a hairy scary monster (shown below) capable of killing human beings by draining the salt from their bodies. Kirk is nearly successful in luring her into defeat with a handful of salt pellets.

This show is weird and random as f#$%, and I love it.

There’s a lot to unpack here, outside of this being the first episode of Star Trek to make air. (Oddly enough it was broadcast in Canada two days before it’s American premiere.) Having watched the unaired pilot, followed by the actual pilot, and now the premiere episode, this is my first exposure to DeForest Kelley playing McCoy. And here he is, the focus of the very first show. I must say, I was impressed. He had quite the presence about him. Very “old Hollywood.” I’m excited to see more from him.

Then we’ve got Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura. The kids (Read: Early twenties) I work with have recently taught me what “thirsty” means in modern slang. So all I could think of when I watched her scenes was, “Damn, Uhura is THIRSTY!”

When I watched “The Cage,” I talked about sexism and certain scenes that didn’t age well. I would suggest that none of Uhura’s scenes in this first episode age well. Along those same lines, some of the dialogue in general doesn’t age well. But they’re a little better when placed in proper context.

A little over 10 minutes into the episode we get a scene between Spock and Uhura. It serves two purposes: To put over Spock’s logical thought process, and more importantly to introduce us to this new character. When Uhura tries to have a conversation with Spock and he fails, she says among other things…

“Why don’t you tell me I’m an attractive young lady, or ask me if I’ve ever been in love? Tell me how your planet, Vulcan, looks on a lazy evening when the moon is full.”

Later on, when the shape-shifter is on board the Enterprise, it disguises itself as a handsome crew member. He makes a pass at Uhura, giving her a smoldering look and saying she seems a little lonely. She’s then charmed beyond belief when he speaks to her in Swahili. Stunned and enamored, Uhura is seemingly unable to hear a call to the bridge.

Is there anything wrong with wanting to be attractive or being attracted to someone? Of course not. But it’s when you put these scenes in the context of where we were in American History at the time that you really cringe.

It’s not so much what she’s saying as why these lines were written for her. How the writer, and the world at large, viewed women and their role in society. In this episode, Uhura is seemingly only there to titillate male viewers as a lonely hopeless romantic who’s somehow incomplete without a man in her life. You’d never be able to get away with something like this today.

But it wasn’t just Uhura. Nancy Crater, or at least the shape-shifter disguised as Nancy, gets it too. Only it’s from comments made by the other characters, which may actually be worse.

When Robert Crater, Nancy’s husband, talks to Kirk about them being alone on the planet for so long, he says…

“It’s different for me, I enjoy solitude. But for a woman, you understand, of course.”

When Kirk and McCoy arrive on the planet, they both see different versions of Nancy. Kirk sees her as the age she should be, and McCoy sees the same Nancy he remembers from years ago. When they discuss this, Kirk says…

“She’s a handsome woman, yes. But hardly 25.”

*shudders* Those lines aged like milk.

“The Man Trap” is entertaining. But in 2020, it’s unintentionally thought-provoking as a cultural time capsule.

On a side note, during this episode, a place called “Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet” is mentioned.  I’m guessing that’s a planet that’s just one big strip club, which also has a baseball team that only wins the World Series every 100 years or so.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Alex Ross Spotlight: Star Wars and Star Trek Collide

By Rob Siebert
Space Pacifist…who just happens to be right.

Happy May the 4th, everybody!

As a kid, I never understood the whole Star Wars vs. Star Trek thing. Mind you, I’d never seen Star Trek. But I understood how the two universes were different. It’s apples and oranges.

Star Trek, when it’s done right, is designed to ask us questions. Most good science fiction is. Ideally, you’re supposed to come away asking questions about yourself and your world, i.e. “Who are we as a people, really?”, “What would you do in this situation?”, etc.

Star Wars on the other hand, is more about the thrill of the adventure. Yes, all that stuff that’s been written about George Lucas, Joseph Campbell, and the hero’s journey are true. And I love all of it. But at the end of the day, we want to be along for the ride.

But as I got older, it started to make a little more sense. For my money it’s not about pitting the two franchises against each other. It’s about how you like your science fiction. Are you an intellectual or an adventurer? Both worlds have a certain amount of each, but there’s nothing at all wrong with leaning in one direction over another.

This is all a really long-winded introduction to this painting by Alex Ross.

Ross has depicted the two worlds separately (shown above). But obviously this is his first time mixing them. I admit, I have no idea why this piece exists. But I ain’t complaining.

Note that the Enterprise crew members have beamed in alongside the rebels. Han Solo isn’t pointing a blaster at Spock, and Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t swinging a lightsaber at Kirk. All our heroes are standing together against evil.

That says it all, right there.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Rob Watches Star Trek – Series Pilot: “The Cage”

***What happens when I, a 30-something-year-old fanboy who’s never seen a full episode of Star Trek, decides to take a look at the franchise with an open heart? You get “Rob Watches Star Trek.”***

SERIES: Star Trek
TITLE: “The Cage”
STARRING: Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver, Georgia Schmidt, Serena Sande, Leonard Nimoy
WRITER: Gene Roddenberry
DIRECTOR:
Robert Butler
ORIGINAL AIR DATE:
October 4, 1988,
First screened in February 1965
SYNOPSIS:
The Enterprise picks up a near-20-year-old radio signal from Talos IV. But upon investigation, the Talosians subject Captain Pike to a series of bizarre experiments.

By Rob Siebert
The same Rob from up top.

If you’ve watched television for any significant amount of time, you know it’s not uncommon for shows to evolve or change between when a pilot episode is picked up to become a series, and when the series actually begins. For instance, in the pilot for Seinfield was titled The Seinfeld Chronicles, and the Michael Richards character was called Kessler instead of Kramer. The Elaine character, who would eventually be played by Julia Louis Dreyfus, was absent entirely.

“The Cage” is the first pilot episode of Star Trek originally shown to CBS executives in February of 1965. It was rejected by the network, and another pilot was ordered. Ultimately, that was for the better. But that’s not to say this episode isn’t unenjoyable…

Mere seconds into very first interior shot of “The Cage,” the original pilot episode of Star Trek, it’s evident this is not yet the iconic show we’re familiar with. The only person on screen we recognize is Leonard Nimoy. He’s still playing Spock (shown left), but it’s clearly not the Spock we know. His hair is a little bit longer, his uniform (like everyone else’s) looks a little too sweatshirt-ish. He’s also got an emotional side to him. It doesn’t get much focus, but it’s there.

But the only person on the Enterprise bridge that we really need to know is Captain Christopher Pike, played by Jeffrey Hunter. The episode revolves entirely around him. He’s obviously the main character, so that’s not altogether uncalled for. But as we’ll see, he also gets a certain…uncomfortable focus. It’s because of that focus that the entire pilot doesn’t age very well.

So the Enterprise receives this 18-year-old radio signal from Talos IV, and the crew realizes there may be survivors. Pike takes a search party down to the planet, and is lured into a trap by Vina, a beautiful woman and supposedly one such survivor. The distress call was a ploy by the Talosians to lure the Enterprise on to the planet, so that they might capture a human to mate with Vina. Eventually, their offspring would be made into human slaves. The episode makes numerous Biblical references to the story of Adam and Eve.

So here’s the thing about these Talosians: Their heads really look like nut sacks. I’m sure I’m not the first to make that brilliant observation. But once I saw the shot on the right, that visual was all I could think about. I mean, what do they even need a male for? They’ve got testicles on their heads. They can just mate with Vina themselves!

MEANWHILE, IN FEBRUARY OF 1965: Malcolm X is assassinated during a speech on February 21. The iconic red and white Maple Leaf design is officially designated as the Canadian flag. 

Master illusionists, the Talosians and Vina desperately try to tempt Pike into giving in and accepting numerous false yet extremely enticing realities. When that doesn’t work, they abduct two women from the Enterprise, and attempt to place them in Vina’s role. They are Pike’s second in command known only as Number One, played by Majel Barrett, and a young lady known only by her Yeoman rank played by Laurel Goodwin (both shown below).

So from the Talosians’ perspective, because Vina was somehow deemed unattractive, two female crew members are brought into the story. We don’t know their names (though apparently Yeoman had one in the series proposal), and they are promptly judged by how they might be attractive to Pike.

See what I mean about  how this doesn’t age well?

What’s more, near the end of the episode, Yeoman has either the temerity or the stupidity to ask Pike, “Who would have been Eve?” As in, who would Pike have chosen between she and Number One? Number One quickly shuts the interaction down, and Yeoman walks off. Somebody’s jealous…

And what of Vina? Once the Talosians are defeated, it’s revealed she was the sole survivor of the ship that sent the radio transmission, and ultimately crashed on Talos IV. When the Talosians found her, they tried to heal her. But as they’d never seen a human, they had no frame of reference. As such, without the Talosians using their illusionary powers, she is old, hunchbacked, and gruesomely re-assembled. Instead of returning to the Enterprise with Pike and the others, she opts to stay with the Talosians and keep her illusion of beauty. As a consolation prize of sorts, the Talosians grant her an illusion of Pike to be with.

If you discount all the stuff I just ran down with Vina, Number One, and Yeoman, “The Cage” is actually a pretty fun watch. It’s got cheesy ’60s sci-fi aliens and monsters. Oddly enough, there’s also a viking. Many of the known and loved elements from Star Trek are there.

The Captain Pike character, judged strictly by his own merits, is fine. The problem is all the female characters in the episode are obviously drawn to him. Thus, their worth becomes largely based not on their merits as individuals, but on how attractive they are. Vina even decides to live inside a lie just so she can remain attractive.

Sadly, this pilot wasn’t turned down based on its sexist writing. Rather, it was deemed “too cerebral,” “too intellectual,” “too slow,” and without enough action. When NBC got to look at it, however, they made the unorthodox decision to pay for a second pilot. This one had William Shatner in what would become the iconic Captain Kirk role. It would eventually air as the third episode of the first season, entitled “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

One thing I want to note in closing: As I’ve indicated, the writing of the female characters in this episode really rubbed me the wrong way. Especially as the father of a young girl. But I can’t bring myself to be overly angry with series creator and the writer of this episode, Gene Roddenberry. In 1965, we had yet to really get into the heart of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Like all of us Roddenberry was a product of the times he lived in. Considering he’s largely responsible for what at the time was one of the most diversely cast television shows in history, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Alex Ross Spotlight: “Lightning of Spirit”

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Considering he draws characters that look and feel so realistic, it’s a little surprising to hear Alex Ross say that his work, and superhero comics in general, aren’t about practicality or realism. In the end, it’s about how it makes you feel. Which is what all art is about, really.

Ross says something in the video below that really jumped out at me. It’s about superheroes having a “lightning of spirit.” That’s perfect. I love that.

Email Rob at at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Blatant Insubordination: “What’s Star Wars About?”

Captain Kirk, You haven't seen Star Wars?By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“What’s Star Wars about?”

A young lady asked me this at work the other day without a hint of snark. She’s an outdoorsy girl without much use for movies. But still, it’s easy to just assume everybody knows what Star Wars is. You’d think people would inevitably see the original simply by virtue of being alive.

But I think that’s a geek bias seeping through. After I got this question I put the above meme (Get it?) on my Facebook. One of the comments I got read: “I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie. Thought about getting the DVD and starting from the beginning, but I’m not sure where it starts.”

I don’t push Star Wars, or anything else I love, on other people. But if people are curious about this kind of thing, I’m happy to offer my opinions. And this idea of explaining what Star Wars is about intrigues me. How do you offer a simple explanation of something that’s come to encompass so much?

Star Wars, trioFor whatever reason, when I got this question I thought of Kyle Gnepper over at Unshaven Comics. I’ve seen Kyle and the Unshaven crew a bunch of times at Chicago area comic conventions over the years. When he’s hyping a new comic series, he’s always got a one-sentence pitch to hook you in. Something to catch your interest and intrigue you. I won’t try to directly quote him for fear of butchering his words. But for instance, he might hype Unshaven’s The Samurnauts by saying: “It’s about a group of samurai astronauts led by an immortal Kung Fu warrior monkey.”

At that point you’ve got to at least look, right?

So what would a similar pitch be for Star Wars? And by Star Wars, I mean the original 1977 film. The young lady I spoke to was shocked to hear there were seven movies in all, with more on the way. But Episode IV: A New Hope is how the world at large was introduced to this strange universe, and it obviously served as the basis for everything else. That’s where newbs should start.

Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Star Wars: A New HopeI figure simplicity and conciseness is important when you begin to explain something like this. Don’t start by trying to explain who Darth Vader is, or what a Jedi is, or how the Skywalkers are all related to each other. You’ll lose them if you try to explain all that stuff.

Here’s the “Gnepperfied” Star Wars synopsis that I came up with: “It’s about a galactic dictatorship with a weapon that can destroy a planet, and the rebel heroes fighting against them.”

Some might argue it’s too simple or generic. But that’s the point, isn’t it? You lure them in with the broad strokes, and then explore the intricacies as you get closer. Once you’re past the simple explanations, you can get into how the Empire works, who the iconic characters are, etc.

On the subject of those iconic characters, I’ve recently started wearing character socks to work. Star Wars, superheroes, etc. Because, you know, that’s what cool people do. One such pair features little images of C-3PO. This girl in question sees the socks, her eyes pop and she asks: “Are those Minions on your socks?”

We can only do so much.

Click here for more Blatant Insubordination.

Image 2 from usatoday.com. Image 3 from digitalspy.com.

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