Welcome back to Underrated Trek, where I take a special look at Star Trek episodes that I loveâ€¦which may not be the most popular or even liked by most. This has been a long time coming as I wanted to do this for awhile. Today let’s talk about an episode that has problems, among other reasons, because of the time it was made. The 1960’s. I give you :
This was the series finale, and thanks to “These are the Voyages” is not the worst series finale of the franchise.Â It came at the end of a painful year and you get the feeling that the cast just wanted to get it over with. But does that mean it’s all bad? Let’s take a closer look:
Plot Synopsis:Kirk, McCoy, and Spock beam down to a planet where a distress call has come. They find the whole archeological team dead except for Janice Lester and Dr.Coleman. While Spock and McCoy leave, Lester tricks Kirk into a machine which switches their minds into each other’s bodies. However, Lester is unable to kill Kirk before Spock and McCoy return.
Disguised as Kirk, Lester tries to resume the role of captain of the Enterprise. A role she has long coveted. Meanwhile, Kirk struggles to get figure out what has happened and get someone to help. He finally convinces Spock of the truth by getting him to do a mind meld on him. Convinced, he tries to help Kirk escape but is caught instead and put on trial for mutiny.
At the trial Lester starts screaming like a nutcase, which makes McCoy and Scotty realize that what they feared is true. Somehow, Spock is right and that is not really Kirk. When Lester declares they are to be executed, Sulu and Chekhov are also convinced since Kirk would never order an execution even if he was losing his mind. With Spock’s help the transfer is broken before Lester can act, and Kirk is returned to his body. He can’t help but for sorry for her, since she is clearly insane.
Guest Stars:Sandra Smith as Janice Lester. More on her in a bit.
There are some great little moments in this episode that I can’t help but love. The discussion between McCoy and Spock about what is wrong with Kirk is a nice scene. I like how Kirk convinces Spock of what has happened, with the mind-meld. Spock is Kirk’s best friend and there is no question he wouldn’t recognize him. Even when it defies all logic, he has to accept the truth. Nimoy handles the scene well. I also like it when Sulu and Chekhov discuss things on the Bridge, that Kirk is just acting to crazy. Chekhov has the great line that I paraphrased above. Even Scotty comments he has seen Kirk “feverish, sick, delirious, drunk, terrified, overjoyed, boiling mad….but never red faced with hysteria! That discussion between him and McCoy was well done too. These moments show how well these characters know each other that they can look beyond the impossibility of it all.
I really liked the transfer sequences. Yeah the effect is a little dated but he music really sells it. Even though I don’t think it’s anything new for the episode, it just works and makes those moments really strong with the clips flashing by. Of course it’s possible the creators added that when they realized the acting was way to campy. Yeah we’ll discuss that.
Before we discuss the bad stuff, it gets overlooked some of the more subtle moments Shatner has that really do work. When Lester first becomes Kirk she seems startled by little things and says “Capain Kirk” over his communicator rather than “Kirk”. When he/she goes on the Bridge, Shatner makes it different enough so that we can notice, but it’s believable the crew did not. Her scenes with Coleman are also pretty good, he seems really sinister and evil. He does a great job….for a little while.
And the other big thing that gets overlooked in this episode is Sandra Smith herself. Before the 2009 movie, she had been the only other performer to play Captain Kirk. And I think she does a fantastic job! Sure she plays Kirk pissed off, but that’s what you would expect him to be feeling. I love her performance in this episode, it’s one of the things that really works.
Ok, let’s get into it. The big flack for this episode is the fact that Lester is pissed because “your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women” or whatever. This is often taken as a insult toward women, how could women be captain’s? And if they do want that then they are just crazy or power hungry. The final line is Kirk saying “Her life could have been as rich any women’s. If only….”Â Â If only what, she didn’t desire man things? She wasn’t batshit crazy? Well?? Of course we’ll never know but I prefer to look at those lines as being directed to Lester specifically. In other words, she couldn’t be captain because she is nuts. During the hearing scene Kirk as Lester says she wanted power and “a position she didn’t merit by temperament or training”, which could imply the problem was her specifically. She hated the fact she was a woman and punished Kirk for it. But….this was 1969 and it is quite possible it was intended to be a generalization about women wanting “men” jobs. If that’s so then shame on the episode, and Gene Roddenberry. Of course women can be captain’s they can be anything they want! We finally got a woman captain in Star Trek IV but it took time to get to Captain Janeway (and we saw a female captain in Enterprise who kicked ass, one of the few things I give that series credit for). I guess it comes down to how you want to view it, I choose to believe Lester was a nuts and that’s it.
Of course, there is another big problem in this episode. Shatner was waayyy over the top in some of these scenes. I noted that early on, he wasn’t bad at being sinister and adjusting his performance to show the change subtly. Like the scene where he is filing his nails while talking to McCoy. But man that doesn’t last and it does get silly. William Shatner seemed to blame it on the directing, and I can buy that. There is one scene where Kirk turns to leave and apparently the director didn’t notice or care there was no door the way Kirk was headed. But some of the freak out’s are just way over the top.
While it’s fair that Spock handles things badly after he discovers the truth, I still have to ask…What the hell is up with the security in this episode? Since when do they kiss Kirk’s ass the way they do here? If you watch the episode you’ll see what I mean, Chekhov even comments that they can’t do anything against Kirk “as long as security backs him up”. What is this, the mirror universe? Especially after he has announced an execution which is against every rule in the book! If Spock declares Kirk unfit for command and removes him (which he should have done) that should be the end of it. McCoy at least tries that but can’t make it stick.
And one last criticism. Man does this episode have a lot of questions left unanswered! I noted the final line, after which Kirk, Scotty, and Spock board a turbot lift and that’s it. So what are the ramifications of this? Does Lester stand trial? How does Kirk deal with being in her body, does he have to recover? What insights has he learned? How did they explain things to the crew after it was all said and done? Where in the world did that technology come from anyway? It’s implied that the technology was myth until Kirk as Lester says it isn’t (because he is living proof). Ok, then when did Lester find it? How did she study everything about the Enterprise anyway, even the names of the crew? Even the fact Kirk calls McCoy “Bones”? Well I can answer all of these questions very simply….NEVER EXPLAINED!!
Fast Forward Moment:
The whole thing with Spock’s hearing drags on forever, as if the creators needed to fill time or something. At least in “The Deadly Years” the hearing helped to explore what was happening to Kirk. Here it’s just an excuse for more Shatner overacting. It just tells us what we already know! They could cut almost the whole scene and lost nothing.
Final Thoughts-With all due respect to my fellow critics, I just can’t bring myself to call this the worst. Like Spock’s Brain it’s bad but in a goofy B movie kind of way. At least it’s watchable unlike some other third season episodes I could name (Way to Eden or Plato’s Stepchildren anyone?). I admit the underlying message hurts it but if I can accept that Chekhov met Khan in an episode Chekhov wasn’t in, I can accept the problem was all in Lester’s head.