I had always liked The Immunity Syndrome but, as I’ve said before, putting the episodes under a microscope does have its disadvantages. While there’s a sense of mutual appreciation on the Enterprise, with both Kirk and Spock offering commendations to the whole crew when they think they are respectively going to die, the admiration gets undercut by McCoy. The trifecta that is Kirk, Spock and McCoy is undeniably enjoyable, but Roger planted a doubt in my mind about Dr. McCoy and that notion has taken root. McCoy comes off a bit like a petulant child, pouting that he doesn’t get to study a creature that is killing the crew. Then he doesn’t even wish his friend luck when going on what is sure to be a suicide mission. Worse, after the “commercial break”, McCoy asks Jim if he’s just being “sentimental” about thinking Spock might still be alive. No, Bones, that’s not being sentimental; it’s realizing you were a jerk to a man who was risking his life for the entire crew. Bones is a difficult man to admire in this episode. In fact, that’s becoming a common trait and I can’t say I’m happy about it.
But that’s a personal gripe with the character of McCoy; surely not enough to derail my opinion of the whole episode. This story features a whole mess of questions though. For one, Vulcans work a bit like Time Lords; they can sense when there are more of their own kind around. (Another fun link between the Doctor and Spock, I guess.) Another oddity is that Starfleet has an entire ship populated by Vulcans. This gives rise to the complaint Roger has rightfully expressed in the past about a very questionable society based on “logic”. Apparently, Vulcans can’t believe what is staring them in the face if it’s not “logical”. That’s highly illogical, actually! If we take it at face value though, logic would surely dictate that a ship full of Vulcans was bound to be destroyed by something. “I don’t believe it! A Klingon vessel is opening fire on us in Federation space, therefore it can’t be true. Don’t worry about raising shield ensign T’pa…” Kerblamo! If we are to believe Vulcans are so smart, they’d better be able to believe things that are illogical. That said, Starfleet isn’t exactly logical either. Barring the questionable idea of a ship full of Vulcans, they also order Kirk to go investigate something that just destroyed an entire solar system. Where’s the “wait for backup” order? Surely that was coming. Yet none of that scratches the surface of the biggest amoeba… I mean, problem, I have with the story. Let’s rewind…
The Enterprise is coming off a particularly tough mission – evidently an off-screen story because Bela Oxmyx certainly didn’t take the warp out of Kirk’s engines! The crew is heading for some R&R at Starbase 6. “Uh-oh, something destroy The USS Unbelievable and an entire solar system. Go check it out!” (Yeah, the Intrepid… I know. Wrong title for that ship, though…) They arrive at what should be an incredibly interesting episode, and you know what: it is! Weirdly I was sucked into this story like I was being pulled into a giant space microbe (… macrobe?). The strangeness of it is exactly what Voyager should have been exploring but that show failed on a level equivalent to the crew of the Intrepid. This was the sort of weird mind-candy I loved about Star Trek; take an idea and just hypothesize over what would happen if… The story then gives us a great moral dilemma: “Which of my friends do I condemn to death?” The truth is, Kirk makes the right call. Being in a leadership role myself, sometimes you have to ask the tough things of the team and you evaluate who is best suited to handle those things. The answer is often difficult because it puts people in the line of fire; frequently the very people you’d want to keep out of the fire! This is the core of the episode for me: the moral dilemma that emerges from this event.
However, one of the big selling points to classic Trek is how far ahead of the time it was. But I can’t look at this episode for confirmation of that. McCoy is the biggest offender, not being able to give Spock the dignity he requests simply because he doesn’t understand it. The fact is, that’s the whole point of the show: they are seeking out new life and learning about those they encounter. Spock’s people are not exempt. McCoy makes no attempt to even try to learn. Instead he’s mean-spirited about Spock’s way of life. So much so, that when Spock is mourning the loss of 400 Vulcans, McCoy asks if Spock would wish that on humanity. It’s a cold and unreasonable comment. McCoy also doesn’t grasp what’s going on at any time. “Jim, you should take a nap” is incongruous with the notion that they are about to die in 10 minutes. “How much longer can you use stims,” is a moot point if they die in the next 6 minutes. Give him the stims, for the love of Spock! However, I couldn’t help but laugh when McCoy tells Kirk how swamped he is in sickbay; the camera shows him leaning over a desk while a nurse injects one person after the other in a line. Real busy day at the office… Scotty also made me laugh; worried that they didn’t have time to turn on a tractor beam, yet without moving a muscle, Scotty turns it on in .004 seconds. Good thing Kirk pushed, huh? Sadly, Kirk doesn’t fare much better. Annoyed by the situation, he reprimands Spock for not having data; “I’ve asked you three times for an update…”. Yeah, 3 times in row, in as many minutes; it does not offer any opportunity to have gathered data! And Kirk’s repeated comments at the beginning and end of the episode that he wants to enjoy time “on a lovely… planet”, while staring at his attractive yeoman is a bit lascivious even for him.
Yet the biggest issue I have still not gotten to. “We must destroy that organism!” While I agree that this life form might have destroyed all of reality, Kirk is branded a hero for saving the day … by committing genocide. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only creature of its kind in existence, and Kirk murders it. And everyone applauds the death of a creature that was utterly unique in the universe. This is a good thing, how? Shouldn’t this have been one of the new life forms the crew is tasked to seek out? Was there no way to identify it and communicate with it? Yes, I understand they brand it as a virus and we don’t try to chat with them, right? (“Please Covid-19, leave this reality and give us peace…”) But I still felt the idea of killing this creature was not in keeping with the mission of the Enterprise.
“We’re in the middle of a creeping paralysis.” There are some fun lines, but most come from the banter between Spock and McCoy. The sting of “Tell Doctor McCoy he should have wished me luck” is a good one, but for a bit more fun, I enjoyed the casual “Dr. McCoy, you wouldn’t have survived!” My favorite is Jim’s gentle smacking of Bones to the word, “An-ti-bo-dies”. Strikes my funny bone every time! Overall, this episode held my attention more than almost any other, but it’s riddled with problems. They creep up like amoebas; you don’t see them unless you put it under a microscope, but when you know they are there, they are as large as the organism the crew is up against! ML
The view from across the pond:
After a run of disappointing episodes, Star Trek is back on top form with The Immunity Syndrome. One of the most frightening kinds of enemies are the monsters who can’t be reasoned with. The “hole in space” here doesn’t speak and doesn’t think. It just destroys, and is awesomely powerful. That’s scary, because you can’t reason with it and you can’t trick it into making a tactical error.
When Kirk encounters this deadly force they are already exhausted, and that makes it all feel even more dangerous. Tired people make mistakes. I have noticed that Kirk often makes questionable decisions when he is down on an alien planet, dealing with another society, but the bridge of the Enterprise is his home soil and he is brilliant there. I can’t recall a bad decision from Kirk when he’s in the Captain’s chair. But here he gets it all wrong, at least initially. He is reckless, and keeps flying towards danger when he should have been trying to get away, resulting in the Enterprise being drawn into the creature, and once inside they are trapped. It’s not a black hole, but exhibits a similar characteristic, pulling everything in and destroying it. Scary stuff.
This episode has no guest cast apart from Enterprise crewmembers, so the interactions between the regulars take on an even greater significance than usual. Kirk’s frustration is palpable, trying to get any kind of information or suggestions out of Spock and McCoy, who just keep telling him that they have encountered something beyond their experience, which really doesn’t help. Cleverly, when Spock is unable to offer any clues as to what the enemy is, Kirk turns that on his head and asks what it isn’t. That’s an important theme of this episode. To defeat this one, you have to be counter-intuitive. If you want to reverse, you have to accelerate, fast.
“We seem to be in the middle of a creeping paralysis.”
The dialogue throughout is brilliant. As usual, McCoy is an idiot, but his stupidity actually works well here as a contrast to Kirk and Spock in particular. At the start of the episode, McCoy is loitering on the bridge as usual, and he offers little throughout the episode other than snipey little remarks.
“I recommend survival.”
Gee, thanks McCoy. All he does to counteract the crisis is to pump stimulants into everyone, which seems to be his answer to everything, but that does heighten the feeling of helplessness that pervades this episode. As usual, McCoy is at his most moronic when interacting with Spock, refusing even to wish him luck when he’s about to fly to his near-certain death. At least when he later shouts out “shut up Spock, we’re rescuing you,” it’s not just a powerful moment but there is some acknowledgement that McCoy has been overstepping the mark, albeit played for laughs.
“Well thank you, Captain McCoy.”
The solution to the problem is… penetration. Spock understands what this (mis)adventure is about. It’s about sex.
“Brace yourselves. The area of penetration will no doubt be sensitive.”
The innuendo is so overt and so obvious, and there is so much of it, that I can’t believe it’s accidental, but it all fits very well with the idea of an enemy that can’t be reasoned with. It has only base instincts, and they are of course the basic impulses of all life: survive, eat and reproduce. Once Kirk and Spock understand that, they have the key to their own survival.
“We’re going to enter the body of the organism, rather abruptly I would think.”
As is often the case, the final seconds of the episode let it down a little, with this bizarre need to end each week on a light-hearted note of jollity. Having just penetrated an alien creature with his ship, Kirk casts a lascivious glance in the direction of a female crewmember, and his best buddies know exactly what he’s thinking. Females of the Enterprise… brace yourselves. RP