I’m torn as I come into the final batch of classic Trek episodes. On the one hand, Season 3 has been a bit weak by comparison to the rest of the series. On the other, there are some highlight moments. I don’t think The Lights of Zetar does anything extraordinary but, like last week’s That Which Survives, we are given another basic adventure. In so doing, I think I recognized one of the things that is keeping Discovery from greatness. This episode opens with what appears to be a storm in space. That storm attacks the Enterprise and gets into the mind of Scotty’s latest love interest, Mira Romaine (also known throughout the episode as “the girl”). This storm ends up being an entity. And that made me realize: we don’t have any strange storms or weird events in Discovery largely because the new mode of storytelling is big arcs. To do a non-arc story these days feels like filler. Yet now and then we needed that completely weird thing; those Lights of Zetar or that amoeba in The Immunity Syndrome. I think Trek needs to go back to exploring to really capture the feeling we used to have with this series.
I mean, this episode explores the strangest of the strange: old age romance. “When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love…” Wait, how old is Scotty? I didn’t think he was that old! In fact, I’d put him around 40, at most, in classic Trek. Sure, it’s the advantage of those younger than us to see us as ancient but Kirk’s comment is strange indeed. I mean, I’d like to hear Scotty’s Engineers Log. “When a man of Jim’s womanizing power falls in love with a woman from the 1920’s…” Meanwhile, even Sulu gets in on the jibes at Scotty: “I don’t think he’s even noticed she has a brain!” Oh, guys, you’re such kidders! Scotty does border on the obsessive though and I do think his behavior is dreadful. He can’t focus on his job because he’s fawning over this younger woman to the point where Jim asks his engineer if the ship’s doctor happens to be in Engineering. But what was to love? She’s aggressive when asked questions and only responds when someone is idolizing her. Starfleet material, she is not!
The alien of the story is fascinating. It says it’s the dreams and desires of the last people of Zetar. Does that mean it’s the soul of those people? If so, they are selfish because they’ve been looking for Mira, or someone like her, for centuries and feel that entitles them to take her body. But did that justify Jim committing genocide? What? You didn’t get that? They said they are the last of their species; the final 10 souls, if you will. Sure they exist on borrowed time, and they did just wipe out the visitors to Memory Alpha (a name that has become legendary in Trek lore, for being the library of libraries!) but maybe an alternate solution needed to be offered. Like, where’s the body of Watkins from the previous episode? Surely that dude is as intelligent as Romaine? (He did shout out his entire death to let Scotty know what was happening; I mean, that guy is a genius in my book!) If they can inhabit that body, everyone wins! Isn’t the mandate of Trek to seek out new life forms? I didn’t get the message that it was “seek out new life forms and destroy them in decompression chambers”. Which, by the way, makes no sense. These beings could pass through the entire ship but get stuck in a decompression chamber? Why isn’t the whole ship made of that stuff? But what a weird life form too! I absolutely loved the weirdness of their attempted speech. The scene of them taking over the woman on Memory Alpha and the freeze-frame death was so utterly bizarre. Those garbled sounds and the weird colors… I loved it!
On the other hand, we get to learn a bit more about the crew. Spock can identify exact matches in sine waves. I mean, he’d be the man to have on your team in a “spot the differences” tournament! Scotty admits that McCoy can’t even cure a cold, which we’ve suspected for a while. McCoy thinks people need training on how to breathe. That’s it: in…out…in…out…in… Dude, she knows. She’s been doing it all her life! And McCoy also flips between calling the aliens “Zetars” and “Zetarians” in the same conversation, so maybe it was like breathing, depending on the breath, the name could change. In, Zetars, out, Zetarians…
The episode ends with the fun epilogue that I loved in classic Trek; a bit like the “back to the TARDIS” epilogues of classic Doctor Who. I miss those moments. Having Kirk, McCoy and Spock together to wrap up an episode was always the icing on the cake. (Although in this case, a bit more of a crumb cake than an ice cream variety… good, but there’s a lot better out there!) ML
The view from across the pond:
When new recruit Lt. Mira Romaine arrives on board the Enterprise, Scotty immediately starts hitting on her. Kirk doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem with one of his senior staff behaving in such an unprofessional manner. He is reasonably strict with him when he is neglecting his work, but stops short of giving him the telling off the situation calls for, instead engaging in wistful musing:
“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him.”
One thing this episode has in its favour is some very poetic writing. I particularly like “its silence is ominous”. However, the writers might be able to string some pretty words together, but they lose sight of their plot (which is, let’s face it, very simple) at a key moment.
The seeds are sewn for this problem early in the episode. Romaine is possessed by the entity, collapses and then starts speaking in a voice that is not her own, in an impressively creepy Exorcist-like moment. When McCoy comes to help, nobody thinks to mention that to him. As far as he’s aware she collapsed and that’s it. Doesn’t anyone think it might be important to tell him how she was just speaking with somebody else’s voice? Then later in the episode McCoy refers to “the same garbled sounds Lt. Romaine made”, the writers forgetting that he wasn’t on the bridge at the time. At least they capture his usual characterisation:
“Bones, can you do something?”
“Not a thing, Jim.”
I suppose it’s not surprising he struggles to do anything useful to help his patients. He basically has a load of light bulbs to work with. In sickbay he provides a huge amount of detailed information about Mira by looking at some flashing lights. Leaving aside how he gets facts from looking at bulbs, you would have thought he would have a permanent headache. Maybe he does, and that’s why he can’t bring himself to make much of an attempt to save anyone before trotting out his usual catchphrase:
But hey, why am I complaining about McCoy this week, when we have a 49 year old man perving on a younger woman for an entire episode? Even without the age disparity, it’s beyond creepy. He latches onto her like a limpet. One scene that will stay with me for all the wrong reasons plays out with Scotty’s arm wrapped around Mira’s chest for the whole time, with his face pressed so close to hers she must be able to smell what brand of whisky he had for breakfast that day. Ah, but that’s fine apparently, because according to Kirk love saves the day. How about crediting Mira with having enough inner strength to break the cycle of possession, without chalking it up to Scotty’s lecherous behaviour? This is by far the most sexist television series I have ever watched, and “of it’s time” doesn’t even begin to be a good excuse. This is massively worse than any other 60s series I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. Woman really are treated as little more than delicate objects in virtually every episode, and on the few occasions they aren’t conquests then they are generally sirens instead. If this really is a story about love conquering all, rather than a middle-aged man hitting on a pretty female officer, then presumably we will see their love blossom in future episodes, won’t we? Surely a love capable of defeating a near-omnipotent entity won’t be just forgotten by the next episode? I won’t be holding my breath… RP