Replying to a distress call, Kirk and crew find themselves on a stunningly colorful planet. They encounter humanoids that can immobilize them for some classic 60’s “stand still” action. Kudos to the cast for really sticking with it and not moving a muscle. I don’t think I could have done that. (What I want to know is: what was McCoy saying to Spock? Kirk has just been told that the Rojan is going to take over the Enterprise and Kirk says he has a strange sense of humor. McCoy turns to Spock with his finger pointing. What was it to be? See the value of a sense of humor, Spock?)
Anyway, the Kevlins hail from the Andromeda galaxy and they are here to conquer; it’s their way. They intend to use the Enterprise to leave the galaxy for a 300 year journey back to their own, which brought a few things to my attention. First, up until now, everything we’ve seen in Trek has taken place in our galaxy! Second, there was a lot more continuity than I ever realized in Classic Star Trek. When the Kelvan leader says there is a galactic barrier, Kirk says they’ve encountered it. To add to that, Kirk reminds Spock of something he tried on Eminiar 7 from A Taste of Armageddon. Wow… in all the years I’ve been a fan of Trek, I only remembered one reference in a season 3 episode to a season 1 episode. This episode has 2 continuity references. I was surprised and impressed.
Now, like the previous episode, By Any Other Name has a message. This is another major life lesson: survival of the fittest. Or at least, that’s what the Kelvans want us to believe. What it really ends up being about is that humanity is the best, woohoo, go humans. We are the end-all-be-all and we can “infect” other races so much that they want to be like us. Eating, getting drunk, kissing, even simply appreciating beauty… these are all things that all beings universally want and the Kelvans forgot that. Kirk, thankfully reminds them. (Kirk explains that kissing is something for men and women to do! I’m just going to leave that alone until we rewrite our own history and hide this line in the re-remastered version…)
Tell you what though, this is an interesting episode with some funny moments. Watching Scotty give himself cirrhosis of the liver by drinking at least 3 bottles of strong alcohol was funny. Watching McCoy ogle Kirk and Kelinda as Spock tells the good doctor to go to the sickbay with him did make me laugh. Even Kirk’s massage tap… I mean, karate chop to knock Kelinda out was hilarious. Watching Yeoman Thompson be reduced to a hexagon was sad for her, but funny considering the special effects. (Aren’t those the things you put in terra cotta pots to keep things stationary? I’m sure I’ve held at least one and I had no idea I was crushing a person!) Speaking of Yeoman Thompson, did Rojan have a thing about the color red that the two people he decides to use from the landing party are redshirts? And how many more secret abilities do Vulcans have? (My favorite moment in this story is when Spock says he’ll need a moment to get into a meditative state and for all his logic, he fails to sit down. As soon as he’s in said state, he falls and if not for Kirk and McCoy catching him, he would have had a serious concussion!) And let’s take a quick second to talk about the ship: 400-odd people on board, but the Kelvans identify four essential personnel??
Teasing aside, there are a few things that make this episode interesting. There’s the slightly obscured fact that the Kelvans are a lot like Vulcans. They repress their emotions and as a result become uncaring towards other life. Is this a preview of what Vulcan can become? Then there’s the more important message: cultural exchange may be the answer to a lot of problems. It’s once the Kelvans are actually invited to try things that the situation improves for the crew. It’s the one thing that really bothered me: Kirk does the same thing he did with Trelane in The Squire of Gothos; he fails to be nice. Once McCoy suggests Tomar try the food, we start to see a shift in things and it made me feel like that was the answer all along. It wasn’t really about whether we should be converting others to our ways but rather inviting them in, being kind and sharing. That made the difference in the end. I love when Rojan asks if the Federation would extend a welcome to invaders. Kirk replies, “No. But we would welcome friends!” That is Star Trek in a nutshell!
The episode is marred by being overly talky and that detracts from an otherwise enjoyable episode. I mean, what was the reason they stay on the planet so long before going to the ship? Rojan should have just told Kirk: “We will control everything but we have to wait until act 2 to get to the ship…” And let me be very honest here too: I would have loved it if we got to see the Kelvans in their true form: descendants of Cthulhu from the sound of it: giant bodies with hundreds of tentacles? My kind of species. But it makes me wonder: is Cthulhu such a monster because no one invited him to sit down to dinner, have a few drinks and kiss a few people? Maybe life would be very different for us all, eh? ML
The view from across the pond:
Wherever the Enterprise goes they seem to find all-powerful aliens. I can understand why the Trek writers wanted to do this a lot, because it’s a great starting point for an episode, to pit Kirk and his crew against aliens whose abilities and/or weapons are vastly superior to their own. It means that Kirk has to find a clever way to defeat his enemy, and can’t simply rely on fire power. The way the Kelvans just casually appear on the Enterprise, freeze everyone and calmly get on with things is very impressive. It takes just a few of them to take control of the ship, and that’s scary. The Enterprise crew are rendered helpless in no time at all.
That of course involves another example of actors in Star Trek pretending to be frozen on the spot, and you can immediately see who were the winners and losers at musical statues as children. Wobbly DeForest Kelley’s attempt to stay still was doomed from the start, having chosen an awkward position to freeze in, a rookie mistake in musical statues, while William Shatner obviously thought his eyes were an exception to the paralysis. On the other hand, Leonard Nimoy puts all that practised Vulcan self-control to good use, and barely moves a muscle.
Just when I thought Trek had given up completely on making aliens look like aliens, it turns out that the Kelvans don’t just happen to look like us, but instead are Lovecraftian monsters in disguise. It’s best not to think too hard about why looking like humans makes them experience human senses and feelings for the first time, but I’m not complaining about that because it makes for a really fun story. Star Trek has attempted comedy episodes before. Let’s be charitable and just say that the results have been mixed, but I enjoyed this one very much. The sneaky way the crew undermine the Kelvans is really entertaining, and plays to the strengths of each of them: McCoy tricks Hanar into being drugged, Spock uses a bit of psychology on Rojan, Kirk tries to seduce Kelinda, and Scotty tries to drink Tomar under the table. The funniest of those is of course Scotty, who goes through his whole stock of alcohol, finally resorting to something unidentified (“er… it’s green”), and then his trusty scotch does the trick. The problem is, it does the trick on Scotty as well. After watching this episode, I’ve decided the thing Star Trek needs more than anything is funny drunks.
The odd one out in those endeavours is Kelinda, because Kirk’s seduction of her isn’t really played for laughs. But it’s far from being same-old-same-old, because it doesn’t go as Kirk expects. Kelinda enjoys the kissing, but never falls in love with Kirk. If anything, she makes use of him. He is just a warm body to practice on, and as soon as Rojan turns up she’s off to show him what she has learnt. This comes the closest Trek has ever got to a statement about female empowerment. Its track record with the portrayal of women has been so poor that I would have been suspicious that this was accidental in the hands of a male writing team, but DC Fontana put the finishing touches on this one, and I think she actually managed to find a way to say something about women being more than helpless playthings for men here. It’s also worth noting that Drea is a very strong female character, although she disappointingly has very little screen time.
It has to be said that this episode squanders the potential of a near-omnipotent foe from another galaxy, but what it does instead is an effective comedy episode that makes good use of the talents of the four regulars, along with some entertaining guest performances. It also had something to say about finding your own way in life, rather than following the path your parents have laid down for you, which can be an issue for a lot of people:
“This is an opportunity for you to establish a destiny of your own.”
The Kelvans learn that there is more to life than the grand plans of their forefathers. There’s kissing, and something to drink that’s… green. This is an episode that shows us the important things in life: love and fun. It’s hard to argue with that. RP