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 finish off Season two and head into the handful of episodes that really stand out for me in season three with this set of essentials. In the backdoor pilot that is the second season finale, the Enterprise ends up back in the ’60s again on a research mission gone wrong. Then we move into the third season with a seemingly insane Kirk taking the Enterprise into Romulan territory for reasons unknown.
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.
Assignment: Earth (Season 2, Episode 25)
The season two finale of Star Trek opens with the Enterprise on an assignment from Starfleet. The Enterprise uses the break away maneuver Kirk and company will employ decades later in Star Trek IV to travel back in time. Originally heading back to 1968 for historical research, they stumble across a man calling himself Gary Seven who’s working for advanced beings trying to help the Earth. Things have gone awry with the past, and with an assassination and a botched rocket launch, Kirk and company find themselves trying to right what Gary Seven had tried to fix in the first place so the world didn’t head into war.
By the end of season two, Roddenberry was looking at a possible cancellation of Star Trek, and while Assignment: Earth had originally meant to be a pilot of its own, it ended up being a backdoor pilot episode within Star Trek that never got picked up on its own. Robert Lansing as Gary is at least interesting as most of the episode focuses on him and his mysterious cat, and Teri Garr as Seven’s new assistant is charming. It’s kind of an odd episode of Star Trek but it’s an interesting look at what Roddenberry might have cooked up if it had been picked up. There are some real world parallels that happened along with events in the episode as Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated after the episode, and there was a problem with a rocket launch soon after, much like one of the earlier Star Trek episodes predicted the important launch of another Apollo rocket years before it happened. This isn’t necessarily a great episode, and the pacing is weird, but it’s kind of a neat look into what might have been. Ending the season on a backdoor pilot is equally strange.
The Enterprise Incident (Season 3, Episode 02)
Captain Kirk’s behavior has become increasingly irrational and restless, and while the crew objects when he does it, they still follow through his orders and take the Enterprise into Romulan territory. This leads to the ship being surrounded by Romulan ships and unable to escape as Kirk’s behavior gets worse and Spock ends up having to take control and negotiate with the Romulan Commander. While it appears things have been going extremely wrong for the ship, it seems this has all been a carefully planned incursion for Starfleet to get their hands on a Romulan cloaking device, but can the crew pull the hesit off while Spock is keeping the Romulan Commander distracted?
While this isn’t necessarily Ocean’s Eleven in space, there are some great moments in this episode. Scotty seeing Kirk made up like a Romulan is one of them, and Spock pretending to be seduced by the Romulan Commander is another. I have always loved the Romulans, much more so than the Klingons, and the Romulan Commander, who only gives her real name to Spock, is played brilliantly here by Joanne Linville, even if the wool is pulled a bit too easily over her eyes. Based off a real life incident, the episode gives the feeling that something could go wrong, even with some of its absurd moments. This is also the first Trek episode to feature a female in command. I really do enjoy this one. The pacing and reveals are well-timed, and it’s easy to overlook its story flaws because it flows so well.