Rob Watches Star Trek: Prisons, Mental Illness, and the Vulcan Mind Meld

***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.E9. “Dagger of the Mind”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley,
GUEST-STARRING: James Gregory, Morgan Woodward, Marianna Hill
WRITER: S. Bar-David
DIRECTOR: Vincent McEveety
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: November 3, 1966
SYNOPSIS: A patient from a penal colony on Tantalus IV escapes and winds up aboard the Enterprise. Upon investigating said colony, Kirk discovers the lead doctor is not what he says he is.

By Rob Siebert
Screwball of the Brain

So we’re taking on the prison system, mental health, and the Vulcan Mind Meld in one episode? Yeesh. Imma need some coffee…

Actually, if Dr. Tristan Adams can use a gimmick machine to plant thoughts in people’s minds against their will, I’m going to use this opportunity to use my computer machine to play with the format of “Rob Watches Star Trek

– If they’d done Arkham or a similar insane asylum for villains on the old Batman TV show the Doctor Simon van Gelder character from this episode would have fit it like a glove. He had that guttural shout and those bulging eyes (shown below).

As long as I’m sneaking Batman references in, Kirk wasn’t exactly Adam West with those punches he was throwing late in the episode.

– I couldn’t help but smile when Spock and Bones were inclined to believe van Gelder, despite his obvious instability. You might be hard-pressed to find someone who would do that even today. And here we have a piece of media over 50 years old. In its own special way, Star Trek really was a progressive show. Albeit one wrapped in campy and colorful ’60s sci-fi.

– That awkward moment when you realize that unlike Kirk you’d have fallen for Helen, Marianna Hill’s character, even without influence from future tech. Maybe it’s that she looks so much like an actress I worked with in a play several years ago. On the other hand, maybe it’s her weird cone-shaped bra (shown below).

MEANWHILE, IN NOVEMBER 1966: On November 1, the National Football League awards an expansion franchise to the city of New Orleans. The team would eventually be called the New Orleans Saints.

– This episode introduces us to the Vulcan Mind Meld, i.e. the Vulcans’ ability to look into human minds. Modern television trained me to expect a flashback, perhaps even with Leonard Nimoy walking through the scene. Instead, he simply orates what he’s seeing. Obviously it’s a cool concept, though, as it’s endured for all these years.

– Speaking of Spock, he once again calls the human race on its B.S. with the line: “You Earth people glorify organized violence for 40 centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately.”

I adore that line. It might be my favorite from the series so far, from an episode that’s most definitely my favorite so far.

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

Rob Watches Star Trek: Spock, Sulu, and the Sword

***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.E4. “The Naked Time”
STARRING: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, DeForest Kelley, Nichell Nichols
GUEST-STARRING: Bruce Hyde, Majel Barrett, Stewart Moss
WRITER: John D.F. Black
DIRECTOR: Marc Daniels
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: September 29, 1966
SYNOPSIS: Members of the crew find their inhibitions lowered after contracting an infection from a dying world.

By Rob Siebert
Wants a Sword, Doesn’t Have A Sword

“Oh wow. We’re here already?”

That’s one of the first things I said when I did my initial research on this episode. I have no idea why that shot of Sulu and the sword is so iconic. Perhaps it’s the sheer absurdity of it. Perhaps it’s the ludicrous amount of oil on George Takei’s chest. Either way, I wasn’t ready to come upon it so soon. I’m still not ready…

“The Naked Time” is widely considered one of the best Star Trek episodes ever produced. But until the last 20 minutes or so, this one was more annoying than anything else. The previously unseen crew member singing over the ship’s intercom for minutes at a time just didn’t do it for me. Then we got to Spock and Nurse Chapel and everything clicked.

There’s a line early in this episode that initially irked me. Bones is examining Spock after he comes back from what’s essentially a crime scene on that dying world. Moments later, he says:  “Your blood pressure is practically non-existent, assuming you call that green stuff in your veins blood.”

I understand why lines like that are there. They separate Spock from the pack and establish him as one character on the show that’s really different. But in that moment I actually felt indignant for him. We’re only a few episodes in, and already Spock has saved the crew multiple times. Hell, in the very first one he plays a pivotal role in taking down someone they think is Bones’ old girlfriend! Yet the good doctor can’t help but sneak that little remark in there at Spock’s expense.

We’re reminded in this episode that he’s half human, half Vulcan. As is evidenced by Spock’s behavior up to this point, Vulcans operate via logic, as opposed to emotion. Thus, he works hard to purge himself of emotion. But when an illness spreads through the crew that causes their inhibitions to drop, naturally (or unnaturally as it were) that emotion comes out.

For me, that Bones line is volleyed later in the episode when Nurse Chapel, under the influence of the illness, confesses her love for Spock. Came out of left field, mind you. But it’s a really nice, “You’re not alone” moment. But ironically, as of course Spock doesn’t end up with Chapel, in the end it only served to remind us that he is alone. Alone and torturing himself emotionally, yet still cared for.

Then we get to the crying scene., where a now infected Spock suddenly finds himself overcome with emotion. Oye. Poor Leonard Nimoy. Some actors can bawl their hearts out on command. Some simply can’t. It would seem that at this point in his career, Nimoy fell into the latter camp. This was right up there with Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as one of the most cringe-worthy crying performances I’ve ever seen. Not even a hint of wetness or redness on his face. Do Vulcans not cry? Is that it?

Then the poor guy gets smacked around by Kirk for being a wuss. Supposedly it’s to try and snap him out of it. But let’s be honest: Kirk bitch-slapped him.

I wonder how many times this poor pointy-eared bastard said to himself, “What the hell am I doing here? I’ve done nothing but bail these shaved monkeys out of trouble since day one. And I have to do this for five years???”

On an unrelated note, Sulu’s first name is Hikaru. Hikaru Sulu. I mean, it is kinda fun to say…

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.