I think of The Corbomite Maneuver as a slice of life episode for a member of the Enterprise crew. The mission of the Enterprise is to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations. What could be more to the point than finding the Microsoft logo floating in space, heading towards your ship? And the episode does remind us that sometimes, very little happens. For instance, if you were to watch me on TV for a day, my life would appear very redundant. Everything is the same from one day to the next; busy but it comes down to watching people come to me with tech problems and I try to fix them; a sort of Sherlock Holmes for computers, but without the intrigue! It becomes a waiting game for that great solution and this story is a waiting game. So much so that Sulu, evidently bored near to tears, sets up a countdown for the destruction of the Enterprise. (Sure, this is probably just a means of getting your mind off the impending doom. Countdowns are great for that!)
On top of that, Uhura is back in her yellow outfit. Again, this has to be because she’s the only comms officer and doesn’t get days off. She probably borrows a friends uniform when hers is in the laundry. Kirk gets to do his own laundry because he’s off duty at the start of this story and has to be called to the bridge. McCoy is actually busy giving Jim a physical, but had previously been working on his come-backs. Today he tries out this winner: “What am I, a doctor or a moon shuttle conductor?” (Hands down, my favorite McCoy-ism, but I can find no good place to use this in my daily life! The day I do is the day you should tune into the Mike Loschiavo show because it will have really gotten interesting by then!) Oh, and speaking of laundry, McCoy must do a LOT of it. To counter his boredom, McCoy spends a LOT of time on the bridge. Sickbay not busy enough for you, Leonard? Second, he changes shirts in this episode faster than the eye can see. In close ups, he’s wearing the shiny, short sleeves, but in long shots, he’s in the material long sleeve. Maybe he does that to irk Uhura, who just can’t get her stuff done in time!
Another oddity about this episode: space “boys” (that’s “buoys” to those who know how to say the word) and flypaper. Let’s go over something: what is a buoy in space? A buoy is a stationary thing in the water that shows you where you should be – sort of a manmade landmark for orienting oneself. Who drops a buoy in space hoping it would be noticed? Clearly no one has a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide or they’d know: space is big! And flypaper?? Why does Spock think “flypaper”? Does anyone think of flypaper anymore?! I had to think about it for a few minutes myself! Further anachronisms abound. Kirk comments on having a female yeoman, clearly because he can’t keep his eyes off her. The United Federation must have recently undergone a name change since we hear Kirk is on a United Earth Ship. (Probably a period around an election; they were undoubtedly trying out the new name for a bit!)
On the other hand, we get some really great ideas in this story. Take for instance what happens when Kirk needs to make a decision. He calls all the department heads to the conference room. This is a precursor to Picard’s Ready Room, but more than that, it represents Kirk’s leadership style: he takes the advice of the experts on staff. That’s very intelligent. In this case, it consists of 4 yellow shirts, 2 blue and one red. For those who are not long term fans, let me explain this. In non-Minbari terms, this is no council of 9 formed by 3 groups of 3, for equality. This is 4 members of the Command staff, two members of the science department and one member of engineering. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that necessarily, but there is a problem related to it: what the hell is Uhura? Is she command or engineering? How does communications fall into engineering? And why does command have the highest percentage? Is it because you need 3 of them to 1 of Spock? Engineering might make sense, because no one knows the ship better than Scotty, so he may be all it takes in that category, but I’d think Science is the most important department and it is under-represented.
Then we get a pretty great quote about what might be out there:
“You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves; an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown. Only things temporarily hidden; temporarily not understood. In most cases we have found that intelligence capable of civilization is capable of understanding peaceful gestures.”
Wow. It’s lines like this that made Trek great. So is the resolution: Kirk knowing how to play poker. (Ironically, poker featured heavily in The Next Generation. It’s the last thing we see the crew playing in the series, actually!) For being a fairly mundane slice of life, it’s an interesting episode to study the characters and the ideas behind space exploration.
And once again, keeping tally of the body count: no one dies, but we are still down a crewman because Kirk takes his hot-headed navigator to the alien ship and then basically forces him to stay onboard. We may never know what happened to Bailey but let’s hope his cultural exchange was a good thing. Maybe we start having fake captains on ships to mislead would-be intruders. Whatever the situation, we’re down to 413 crew men. Ahead warp factor 9…. ML
The view from across the pond:
Isn’t it strange how the simplest things can so often be the most effective. This week the Enterprise comes up against a spinning cube, and it’s somehow really scary because it just seems so out of place in space, and so completely alien and mysterious. Although the ball that replaces it is not quite so simple, it is still very far removed from anything that looks like a spaceship, and is actually a great bit of design work, with all the smaller spheres attached to it, apparently capable of breaking away on their own. The sheer size of the thing, about a mile in diameter, also inspires awe. A silent enemy is also a frightening one, and for a significant chunk of this episode the Enterprise is up against something that is incredibly powerful and says nothing. You can’t reason with silence. So as soon as the first message comes through and it’s the booming voice of Ted Cassidy, the episode loses much of the fear factor. Cassidy is brilliant, but at that point we are moving away from the terror of a silent foe to clichéd booming alien voice. It has something very scary to say though: the Enterprise is going to be destroyed in ten minutes, and is completely defenceless to stop it.
This episode really shows what a brilliant strategist Kirk is, and life isn’t easy for him. He has to come up with a solution to this near-insoluble problem while his own crew are on the verge of mutiny. That might seem like a strong word, but Kirk has to spend the entire episode with members of his crew trying to undermine him. I mentioned in a previous article how his command technique seems odd, certainly in comparison to anything I saw when I grew up watching TNG, DS9 and Voyager. At times it seems more like a bunch of friends flying around in space, with some of the crew calling Kirk by his first name, and openly challenging him on a regular basis. The way he is spoken to just wouldn’t happen with Picard, or if it did there would be severe consequences. So far that friendly team dynamic has somehow worked, but in this episode it all comes crashing down. Firstly there is McCoy, who sees the red alert light flashing and deliberately fails to inform the Captain. When Kirk complains, McCoy of course has an answer for everything, as usual. He is the most difficult regular character to warm to so far, and I think that is because he undermines his captain far too much. Later, when Kirk orders practice exercises (which, let’s face it, those jokers need), McCoy criticises his decision: “Your timing is lousy Jim.” It’s not just the fact that he is criticising, it’s the blunt, disrespectful language he uses. Finally, we get the big bust up, which does at least have a purpose to it, because it gives Kirk the idea to play a game of poker and bluff the enemy.
If McCoy is Exhibit A in the case against Kirk’s leadership style, then Exhibit B is surely the clincher: Bailey. Right from the start, when he’s advocating firing on an alien vessel without provocation, he’s clearly… well, let’s face it, he’s an idiot. It’s hard to understand how anyone like that would ever hold such an important position on the Enterprise. Then he tries to second guess Kirk at the meeting, and Kirk has to put him in his place. He is a loose canon and should have been removed from bridge duty immediately at that point. Lives are in his hands. But Kirk fails to act, and Bailey continues to cause problems. He loses his cool when he does finally get the chance to fire on the cube, wasting valuable seconds, which brings the explosion a little closer to the Enterprise than it needed to be. Eventually he does get removed from the bridge, when he has a complete breakdown and starts behaving like a child, and then later inexplicably pops back up on the bridge (why was he allowed anywhere near it?) and Kirk lets him return to his post. I just couldn’t believe what was happening at that point. What a joke. And that wasn’t the only thing that grated on the nerves about Kirk this week…
“If I get my hands on the headquarters genius that assigned me a female yeoman.”
“What’s the matter, Jim, don’t you trust yourself?”
“I’ve already got a female to worry about. Her name’s the Enterprise.”
There’s no way to slice that other than sexism. Anyway, he can hire and fire who he wants, surely? Maybe he doesn’t quite understand that, with fools coming at him to undermine his authority from all angles. McCoy should be the first to go. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m watching Babylon 5 at the moment as well. What is it with arrogant doctors in sci-fi who think they know better than everyone else, and never get fired? There seems to be an epidemic of them.
On a happier note, Kirk’s bluff is a brilliant example of script writing, and the childlike alien hiding behind a creepy puppet was a fun idea. Ron Howard’s kid brother Clint sure was good at that lip-synching at the age of, what, about 7? But a quick glance at IMDB shows that he was already a seasoned performer at that age, with five years in the business behind him already. What a career! The revelation that he was testing Kirk was just the sort of jolly jape a bored child-alien would come up with, and I disliked Kirk’s cheery response to that fact intensely. What right does Balok have to stand in judgement over anyone? Kirk should have sent him to bed without any supper, but instead our puppy captain rolled over and failed to bite. He might have a brilliant tactical brain and nerves of steel, but in the end he proved himself a weak man. He was weak with McCoy, weak with Bailey and weak with Balok. I loved the mysterious ships, I loved the slow-build tension and the fear of the unknown, but in the end it was Kirk’s lack of strong leadership that turned this episode into a load of Baloks. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Star Trek: The Menagerie