Fifty years ago, Gene Roddenberry’s first “wagon train to the stars” began airing on NBC. Star Trek featured a cast of many nationalities, had people of color in important roles, it commented on the social problems of the day disguised in science fiction, and it was the first time we’d seen humanity out in the stars in a ship meant to not only get us to them, but to explore. It was a show about hope for the future, a future that we continue to ape from today with our cellphones, video conferencing communications, and even equipment you can carry around that will tell you the current and future weather conditions.
Was Star Trek perfect? No. Between all the series that they put out from the ’60s, to the reintroduction of the show again with Next Generation in the ’80s, and up through Star Trek Enterprise, there were some episodes that didn’t work, weren’t necessarily poignant, and some that were just not good sci-fi. I’ve seen a number of articles out there listing the great episodes. There are several guides on how to get through the shows as quickly as possible so you get the most for your streaming buck. These guides don’t necessarily go into much detail, though. They list them, but they don’t rate them or give you much info on them. Star Trek Essentials aims to be a little different. I’m going to go over two episodes twice a week, review them, and talk about what makes them special.
Our two episodes this week are both high up on my list of favorites. We get the episode that introduces us to Khan and would set up the great sequel, Wrath of Khan, and the source of the material in Star Trek Into Darkness. The second episode is a love story, but definitely not a focus on Kirk, more a focus on the emotionally suppressed Vulcan, Spock.
As a note, I’m not going with broadcast order on these, but rather production order, although for simplicity’s sake I’ve got the episode number as they appear on Netflix for those that want to watch these.
Space Seed (Season 1, Episode 22)
The Enterprise encounters an old Earth ship adrift in space that’s sending out Morse code. Deciding to investigate, they find the ship is full of cryogenic chambers with 72 people still alive in stasis. One activates, and McCoy rushes to save the man. The Enterprise crew figures out that he is Khan Noonien Singh, a warlord and tyrant from the Eugenics Wars who held power over a quarter of the world at his peak reign. Khan is put under constant surveillance but he’s figured out his men and himself could do well in this future with a starship, and he conspires with one of the Enterprise crew to take the ship.
Now, you’ll have to set a few things aside, like no Eugenics Wars in the ’90s, for this episode to work, but overall it works if you think about Trek taking place in another reality anyway. I have to admit, after I finished this episode I wanted to immediately pop in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. As a sequel to this episode, there’s so much that resonates with this, and Ricardo Montalban nails his performance of Khan in both this episode and the film so amazingly well. Khan feels powerful, intimidating, and very much the dictator that the show makes him out to be. There’s a reason they decided to do a film based around events from this episode and it happens to be one of my favorites. The Botany Bay ship in the episode was actually designed before the Enterprise, but was set aside for later use in the series where it shows up here.
This Side of Paradise (Season 1, Episode 24)
Arriving at planet Omicron Ceti III expecting to find the colony there destroyed and everyone dead due to berthold rays, Kirk and company find a thriving colony that’s shunned modern technology to work the land like they used to. Everyone is in excellent health and they offer the chance for any of the Enterprise crew to stay. Wanting to know more, Spock is led away by Leila, a botanist that had feelings for him years ago. Spock is exposed to some kind of spore that makes him feel the emotions he’s suppressed all his life, and he begins working with Leila to get the rest of the crew infected by the spores as they all start heading to the surface leaving Kirk to try and figure out how to stop it.
This is a fantastic episode, at least as far as character development goes. Spock gets a real love story here in the series, and there are some great lines throughout the whole episode. The interaction between Kirk and Spock over this after Spock is infected is really hilarious. This episode actually gets used in Next Generation for an effects shot of the empty bridge so that Scotty can visit it in the holodeck. There’s not a lot of effects here and I admit the “spores” getting shot out of the plants look like a confetti cannon. The focus is on Spock and Leila, and on that end of things, it works wonderfully.