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.
We continue into the second season with one of my favorite episodes of the show’s run, and it got several sequels in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a prequel in Star Trek Enterprise, and another episode premise that got pilfered again in Star Trek: The Next Generation, much like The Naked Time and The Changling for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Some more gems here in the second season as we continue on with the essentials.
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.
Mirror, Mirror (Season 2, Episode 4)
While trying to negotiate for Dilithium rights from the Halkans, a peace loving race that is afraid that their precious mineral would be used in taking even one life, an ion storm causes a transporter accident that sends Kirk, Scotty, McCoy, and Uhura to an alternate reality where the Federation and Starfleet are no longer a peaceful and peacekeeping operation, but are instead an Empire that isn’t going to take the Halkans standing up to them. With orders to wipe out the Halkans with the firepower at the Enterprise’s disposal, Kirk and the other three need to figure out a way to get back to their own reality before they’re found out and executed by Spock and Sulu.
This episode has a lot of neat worldbuilding on the Empire end of things, but like Yesterday’s Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the audience is left with a lot of questions about the alternate reality rather than answers. That’s not a bad thing here, really, but it left a lot open for exploration that the original series would never touch on again, and wouldn’t really get explored in a TV show instead of a comic book or video game until Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. It’s a great opportunity for the actors to play the polar opposite of their regular characters, although it’s very interesting that Spock isn’t changed all that much, he’s just working within the framework logically. There are a lot of great moments in this episode, and the pacing and character work here are solid all around. Still a lot of fun.
The Deadly Years (Season 2, Episode 12)
The Enterprise is on a resupply mission for an experimental outpost that they find to be staffed by elderly people when they should all be young. They find the staff and anyone that’s beamed down is affected by some kind of disease that’s making them age rapidly, a decade in a day. While Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Kirk and Lt. Galway are all aging, for some reason Chekov isn’t and McCoy thinks he might be the way to a cure. A visiting Commodore makes things even worse when he forces the ship out to head to his destination and leads the ship into a nasty fight with the Romulans with it’s main leaders fighting old age and no way out.
One of the more interesting things with this episode is the make-up effects work. While it’s showing its age in a few spots, the work is actually pretty good at making the cast look far older than they are. While not necessarily entirely accurate given we know what they look like in later ages because of the films, as far as a disease causing it, the effect works well. We do get another Commodore pushing his own agenda here which kind of drags part of the episode down, and throws the ship into unnecessary conflict, but everyone does a great job selling the audience on the idea of a rapidly aging crew. I’m a bit disappointed we don’t see the Romulans in this, just the attacks, but I’m glad they make another return appearance later on. If you’re curious which Next Generation episode kind of apes this idea, but takes it in a different direction entirely, check out the season two episode entitled Unnatural Selection.