Rewatching Star Trek: “Space Seed”

February 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm (Star Trek) (, , , , , , , , )


There will be episode – and some TWOK – spoilers below.

As I mentioned last post, I haven’t seen much of Classic Trek in many, many years, and I’m ashamed of it. I call myself a geek. There are reasons, but still. “Space Seed” is the first episode I’m watching in what will be a now-and-again series sort of thing I write as I – slowly,

I can't remember ever seeing a woman in gold except for a couple in this episode

as time permits – remedy this. It should be interesting; it’s almost like watching something new to me, yet with the perspective of someone who used to be – no expert, for sure, but a great huge fan. And someone who’s no longer sixteen.

In a way, this whole experiment going to be an exploration of what I do and don’t remember. One interesting thing that will impact on that: I was meticulous when I taped them, and I know the reruns I first watched back in the day were about 47 minutes after commercials were removed. The episode on startrek.com is 50 minutes and 38 seconds; I know the episode I saw last Saturday on ME-TV was kindly edited, but I don’t know the run time without commercials. But no matter what there will be a few minutes new to me, plus, if I go that route, the remastered versions. Neat.

So, “Space Seed”. There was no way I could resist the beefcake & cheese of Ricardo Montalban, Khan’s origin story and the prequel to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, one of my all-time favorite movies.

The mundane notes: This is episode 22 of Star Trek’s Season 1, Initial air date: February 16, 1967.  Guest stars are Ricardo Montalban and Madlyn Rhue (who when planning started for STII was confined to a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis; this is why her character is stated to have been killed in the interim). It was also sequeled by an episode of Enterprise, in which the

Poor Mr. Kyle

genetically engineered people are dubbed “Augments”. Series regular George Takei (Sulu) does not appear in the episode, though John Winston (Mr. Kyle, the transporter operator) does. Walter Koenig (Chekov) has not joined the cast yet. I’ll come back to that. The approximate date for the episode’s setting is 2270, from what I can find; TWOK takes place some 15 years later, in 2285. Or perhaps it was supposed to be exactly 300 years from the episode air date: 2267. Or perhaps the chronology is affected by the different planetary settings. It’s a little like keeping track in time travel …

McGivers's hair, before ...

There are transcripts of the TOS episodes (and all the rest of them, I think) on this Czech site: http://www.voyager.cz/tos/transcripts.htm – straight dialogue-only transcripts, which must have been a massive amount of work, and I thank them. It saved me lots of “rewinding”.

Joaquim and Kati, stretching

For whatever reason – that I saw it more often, or more recently, or simply that it stuck with me – I did better with “Space Seed” than the other episode I saw a little of (which was a complete blank). Some scenes I recalled vividly: Khan rearranging Marla McGivers’s hair; the other sleepers stretching artistically as Khan greets them. The former always annoyed me, which may be why I remembered it (he’s a “superman”, a tin-pot dictator, an  engineer – and a hairdresser!); it might have been different if he’d actually donesomething to her hair, but he loosened a couple of curls, which barely made a difference except to make her look scraggly, and then admired it like he’d become Vidal Sassoon.

The latter, the calisthenics of the newly-awakened, annoyed me slightly too, I think; those girls in the spangly gold see-through jumpsuits … Star Trek really was aimed at the boys. (Although Khan, lying in his chamber, was also wearing one of those spangly jumpsuits, with what looked like strategically placed bands underneath. Yet the men in the chorus line of waking “Augments” are wearing jumpsuits of actual opaque fabric. On the other hand, there were an awful lot of pec shots.)(Which reminds me – is there an extraneous hair on Khan’s whole body?)

I like that upon approaching what turns out to be the Botany Bay (and yes, it is to Star Trek that I owe all my familiarity with, among many things, Australia’s past) they go – not to yellow alert, but battle stations (no yellow alert yet?), deflector shields on maximum and phasers manned. (I wonder if the image at this time in writers’ minds was something like a tall ship, with gunners standing by their cannons with powder and shot and a flame to light the fuse…) No matter what, you don’t approach an unknown ship unprepared, particularly one which does not respond to hails. Well done. Also, later, a security detail is assigned to contain Khan pretty quickly – it’s not one of those stories where a lack of precaution results in stupid carnage.

This is a fair example right from the beginning of the relationships among Kirk and Spock and McCoy. There is one classic Trek tableau: Kirk in his Chair, mediating between McCoy on his left and Spock on his right, who are going at it again.
M-S-K
McCoy – The Eugenics Wars.
Spock – Of course–your attempt to improve the race through selective breeding.
McCoy – Now wait a minute. Not our attempt, Mr. Spock– a group of ambitious scientists’. I’m sure you know the type– devoted to logic, completely unemotional–
Spock – Doctor, I would be pleased–
Kirk – All right, gentlemen, as you were.

Both Spock and Bones have moments alone with Jim, too, and there are small glimpses of their friendships. The Kirk-McCoy moments are good: they are comfortable with each other; McCoy is not afraid to express his opinions very freely; it is at least a great working relationship between a captain and his chief medical officer; he is the only one to call Kirk “Jim” here, and he uses the nickname freely, and Jim calls him “Bones”. Kirk and Spock spar a little on the bridge … well, Kirk teases him and Spock responds as he must. Actually, in a way there’s no real sign of friendship in that, to me, although Spock’s responses are made softly; whether he “gets” it or not, he recognizes the game Jim is playing, and gives the answers that allow the game to continue. Still, it feels a little awkward – he’s logical. Get over it. It always drives Bones crazy because he is an emotional man and wants emotional responses, and later of course it’s all but habit, but with Kirk there almost seems to be a little bit of mean-spiritedness. If I were going based on that I would place the episode early on in the run, when writers and producers, actors, and Kirk and Spock themselves were still working out a friendship – but “Space Seed” was the 22nd episode out of 30 in the first season.

I would have loved to have seen a little more of this: Scotty – “I think they used to call them transistor units. I’d love to tear this baby apart.” I mean, come on – it’s the sort of thing he would have probably seen only in museums till now. Of course he’d want to get his hands all over – and into – the Botany Bay. I wish he’d had more of a chance.

Kirk: Suspended animation.
Marla: Uh-huh. [there's professionalism for you] I’ve seen old photographs of this. Necessary because of the time involved in space travel until about the year 2018.

So – we are fortunate because we didn’t have a third world war in the 90′s (“In 1993 a group of these young supermen did seize power simultaneously in over 40 nations” – so were they organized or not? Or was it this lot sent off in the BB that was organized, and there were others who weren’t part of the group -?) – but we probably aren’t going to have interstellar space flight of any kind, awake or asleep, by 2018. Unless the Vulcans come spontaneously. (Where the hell is Zefram Cochrane?) Thanks, America.

Something I hadn’t recalled and which made me very, very happy was a bit of fodder for my massive crush on Dr. Leonard McCoy. Kirk was always pretty and impressive, sure, but I’ve always been uninterested in whatever everybody else is a fan of. Kirk was too popular, too obvious. Spock was awesome, but did nothing for me. Sulu, Scotty, Chekov when he came along – all dear to me – but it was blue-eyed Southern boy Bones, with his wisecracks and huge heart that won me. He might well have been my first love. And here in the first episode of my Rewatch was, pardon the pun, one of the seeds of that:

(McCoy comes in to check on his patient – who is no longer unconscious and has armed himself. In an instant Khan has him by the throat, with a stolen antique scalpel pressed into McCoy’s neck)
McCoy – Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind.

Bones also always had the eyebrow lift down

Khan – English. I thought I dreamed hearing it. Where am I?
McCoy – (Starts to speak in a normal tone) You’re – (Khan’s hand closes; McCoy starts over, in a difficult whisper) You’re in bed, holding a knife at your doctor’s throat.
Khan – Answer my question.
McCoy – It would be most effective if you would cut the carotid artery. Just under the left ear.
(Khan stares at him for a moment, then lets go)
Khan – I like a brave man.
McCoy – I was simply trying to avoid an argument. (takes the knife away)

I love a brave man. A eugenically designed hunk with, he claims, five times the strength of Kirk has him by the throat, and is not messing about, and my Bones doesn’t even bat an eyelash. You’d think patients jacked him up every day. God, I love that man. Seriously, how many men would mock something like Khan in his hearing as he does? “I have a patient here with many questions, Captain.”

I never much cared for McGivers. Actually, I think my teenaged emotion was hissing, spitting, outraged

Open your heart!

contempt and a deep desire to rip her face off – how dare she betray her captain and her ship?! And for lust of a man who would probably punch her in the face for a wrong word? A man whose first words to her included “My name is Khan. Please sit and entertain me”? A man who forced her to her knees, begging and in pain, while telling her “Open your heart. Will you open your heart?” And then she betrays him! She should have been court-martialed – she should have been shot … And at the end of the episode Khan calls her “A superior woman”. Superior to … what? A bad romance novel heroine? No, wait – that’s exactly what she resembles. How could Khan really be attracted to such a feeble, weak female?

It was a little odd that as they watched Khan beginning to come back to unsuspended animation, and faltering, her response was not “Scotty! You’re a miracle-worker with machinery! Help!” or “Dr. McCoy! You’re the best doctor, like, ever! Spring into action!” No – it was “Do something, Captain.” Why? What’s he going to do? Was it because he was the alpha male present and that’s who she instinctively looks to? Some 23rd century independent woman. (As it turned out, Jim was the one to accomplish something, but that’s beside the point.) The wiki on Memory Alpha gives it that in a deleted scene Yeoman Baker tells the simp “that Lieutenant Hanson wants to go to a ship’s dance with her. McGivers tells her to tell Hanson to get lost, that she is waiting for a man who will ‘knock down my door and carry me to where he wants me.’” For a woman of the 60′s, that might not have been impossible, or at least a man’s view of a woman of the 60′s. For a woman of the late 20th – early 21st century, that’s contemptible. For a woman of the 23rd century, that’s perverse.

Kirk: If I were to rate your performance today–
McGivers: I know, sir. I’m sorry.
Me, for Kirk: Let me finish, Lieutenant. You were an embarrassment to your gender and to Starfleet. I question whether you truly belong on this ship or in that uniform. If I see one more incidence of the drooling stupidity you demonstrated earlier, I will – at the very least – put you on report, and make sure notations are made on your permanent record. At worst … as a historian you may know something about keelhauling?

Actually, had something like that happened, it might have been motivation for her to join Khan. Dang.

Kirk – And men were more adventure some then…bolder, more colorful?
McGivers – Yes, sir, I think they were.
- She is standing on a starship, saying that to the youngest captain in the fleet. That might be a good illustration of “irony”.

Khan is my name.
Khan–nothing else?
Khan.

He was plotting from the moment he woke up. He had to know that his full name would give them his history – but perhaps he was too proud to use a name not his own. Whatever enhanced bodily functions he had, he sized Bones up and knew that he would be able to play the patient card: “I find myself growing fatigued, Doctor. May we continue this… questioning at some other time?” He ignores Jim to appeal directly to McCoy, who – almost reluctantly, I think, but still willing to give the benefit of the doubt, and a doctor first and last – overrides Jim’s intent to continue. Later, at the little dinner, he pulls it again – “But if you will excuse me, gentlemen and ladies, I grow fatigued again.” I would have liked it if it had been obvious that he was concerned about giving away too much, that he really wasn’t yet up to par and didn’t want to take a risk. Otherwise, exposing weakness like this seems uncharacteristic – unless it’s disguising a greater weakness, or taking advantage of theirs.

There were a few “- ???” moments in the show (besides “Here are the full technical manuals for the ship – would you like a phaser too?”)…

- Kirk, looking at all the sleeping beauties: “Is it possible they’re still alive, after centuries of travel?”
Um. Jim, sweetie, what part of “heartbeats” do you not get? Revivable, maybe, would have been a better word, but alive – as in, hearts beating and not dead? You’re lookin’ at it.

Kirk – Would you estimate him to be a product of selective breeding?
Spock – There is that possibility, Captain.
Wha -? I thought it was kind of a given by that point. Bones just got finished telling him and us a few minutes ago about tremendously enhanced lung capacity and heart function; he could pick us both up with one hand, he said. Where do you think that sort of thing comes from?

need a weapon take a weapon

Khan – Captain, I wonder if I could have something to read during my convalescence. I was once an engineer of sorts. I would be most interested in studying the technical manuals on your vessel.
Kirk – Yes, I understand. You have 200 years of catching up to do.
Khan – Precisely.
Kirk – They’re available to any patient on the viewing screen.
- WHAT?! Is it my post-911 viewpoint, or is that just flat-out insane? I mean, keeping a wide-open display case on the wall of ancient and barbaric medical instruments, including scalpels, is one thing; most of the patients in a starship sickbay aren’t going to be violently inclined (I should check that), so it ought to be a safe “see how much worse things could be” decoration – although I don’t know if staring at clamps and scalpels would aid in my convalescence – – but handing out the technical manuals to the entire ship? To someone you haven’t even identified yet? Found under mysterious circumstances? That’s just … nonsensical.

A moment I enjoyed but which counts as a ” -???” is after Kirk’s assist to Spock after McGivers has let him out of the decompression chamber:
Spock – Surprised to see you, Captain, though pleased.
Kirk – I’m a little pleased myself. Situation?
- And they hurry out, leaving McGivers behind, disregarded. She betrayed them, then turned her coat back round again and betrayed Khan – and yet they hasten away and leave her loose to do whatever she wants. (Not much, apparently.) Then Kirk drops the charges against her. Then Khan indicates he esteems her above all other women, and 15 years later grieves so deeply for her that he wants to kill everyone he meets. I don’t get it.

There is one fact about this episode which for some reason has caused angst: As I mentioned way above, Walter Koenig had not yet joined Star Trek. And yet in TWOK, Khan says something like “Mr. .. Chekov, isn’t it? I never forget a face.” The question of how Khan he could not forget someone we never saw him meet is dealt with all sorts of ways; the explanation I like, with the virtue of simplicity, is that Chekov was simply a lowly crewman somewhere in the bowels of the ship, and ran into Khan while the latter was reconnoitering. (I seem to have a memory of Koenig positing that late one night Chekov kept Khan from getting into the bathroom, but I could be making that up…Ah! No, I’m not) Then Pavel was promoted and began serving on the bridge, which is when we meet him in Season 2. Ta da.

The biggest question of all, though – besides “What on earth could Khan still want with McGivers after he’s used her and she’s betrayed him?” – is how the Augments got out there in the first place.

Spock – I find no record whatsoever of an S.S. Botany Bay. Captain, the DY100 class vessel was designed for interplanetary travel only. With simple nuclear-powered engines, star travel was considered impractical at that time. It was 10,000-to-1 against their making it to another star system. And why no record of the trip?
Kirk – Botany Bay… That was the name of a penal colony on the shores of Australia, wasn’t it? If they took that name for their vessel… [Why on or off earth would they?!]
Spock – If you’re suggesting this was a penal deportation vessel, you’ve arrived at a totally illogical conclusion.
Kirk – Oh?
Spock – Your Earth was on the verge of a dark ages. Whole populations were being bombed out of existence. Criminals could have been dealt with far more efficiently than wasting one of their most advanced spaceships.
Kirk – Yes. So much for my theory.

What exactly did Kirk use as a weapon?

Well, then, what?? They build such a convincing argument against the Botany Bay being out there, but never provide a real explanation for how it, after all, is there. Khan’s only response is “A new life, a chance to build a world… other things I doubt you would understand.” I wish some questions like that had been resolved, or not opened to begin with: it’s odd, and leaves a huge amount of backstory unexplored.

I don’t recall ever seeing anything about plans to create a sequel to this prior to TWOK. But it seems so obvious, now – it’s tailor-made:
Spock – It would be interesting, Captain, to return to that world in a hundred years and to learn what crop has sprung from the seed you planted today.
Kirk – Yes, Mr. Spock, it would indeed.
A hundred, or perhaps fifteen or sixteen. It’s perfect. It would have been fascinating to see the world Khan would have built on Ceti Alpha V had things gone as expected. There must have been an interdict on the planet – hands off, do not approach, armed and dangerous … Had Ceti Alpha VI not “exploded, six months after we were left here”, would Khan have maintained his iron rule over his people? Or would there have been war? 72 beds still operating, of which 30 are women – would the women have been strong and independent, or would they have been fought over by the men who outnumber them? Or would there have been some system imposed by Khan as to who was paired off? An alternate universe story seems like a given here – but I don’t think there is one. (No, I’m not going to write it.)

(Not-quite-related: I’ve seen the movie’s Joachim referred to as Khan’s son … but it was only, best I can find out, fifteen – seventeen years between stories. Unless the years were very different on Ceti Alpha V, Judson Scott was not playing a fifteen-year-old. In this episode is a dark-haired SOB named Joaquin – he’s the one who hit Uhura. (I hope he died, painfully, with a Ceti eel in his ear. Each ear.) I have no idea what any of it means – and neither did the writers, I think.)

- – Incredibly obvious stunt doubles –

Something struck me as the episode ended on the second re-watch. Someone on TORn had a footer reading “The pity of Bilbo may *&#! Up the fate of many” or something like that, twisting (not inaccurately) Gandalf’s line “the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many”. To wit: Bilbo had Gollum at his sword’s point, and could easily have seen to it that no one would ever have to worry about the sound of flapping feet in the dark again. But he thought about the horrid existence the creature had always had, and couldn’t being himself to kill him … and many years later that turned out to be both a good thing and a bad. The good I won’t go into (“Spoilers!” said River Song), but the bad included, among many, many other things, mothers finding empty cradles under open windows where a hungry Gollum had passed. (It would be fascinating to try to remove Gollum from LotR and see what happened. I wonder if anyone ever has. I wonder if I’ll ever have time.)

What ... on earth... or off... are they serving?

Kirk sat in judgment of Khan at the end of the episode, and … dropped all charges. The man – and his people – tried to kill him, was just about to try to kill Spock, would have moved on through the crew until he grew bored, all after having hijacked the Enterprise, and I don’t excuse him from holding a knife to McCoy’s throat. Years later, he caused an untold (literally) number of deaths, including those of Scotty’s nephew and, heaven help us, Spock. An act of mercy – in his scope as Captain, based, it seems on an understanding of the bastard’s psychology (Bones said he’d make a fair shrink) and an admiration for the intelligence and power, an unwillingness to cage something like him, never mind 70 somethings like him … It was somewhat understandable – “Khan and his people – what a waste to put them in a reorientation center” – but in a way showed a remarkable lack of forethought. Of course it would have been a massive challenge to either contain or integrate the Eugenics Warriors (aka Augments). But Starfleet has dealt with all sorts of aliens.

Great line – “Would you reveal to war-weary populations that some 80 Napoleons might still be alive?”

Star Trek tropes honored in this episode:
Kirk and McCoy teasing Spock about his logicality

McCoy really hates the transporter:

Uhura = awesome

Kirk – You ready, Bones?
Bones – No. I signed aboard this ship to practice medicine, not to have my atoms scattered across space by this gadget.
Kirk – You’re an old-fashioned boy, McCoy.

Romulan ale?

Taken all in all, it’s not a bad episode. It could have been great. I do like a few McCoy scenes (obviously), and a few lines here and there; Uhura has very few lines, but has some very nice moments – her reaction to that bastard Joaquin hitting her is fantastic: now THAT’S a superior woman; it’s a terrific story and set the stage for a truly grand movie. It was nice that dress uniforms were trotted out – even if it was somewhat improbable that a dinner like that would be thrown for a complete unknown, and WHAT was that on the table, and isn’t Romulan ale illegal?! What keeps it from being great: let’s face it, Montalban was no Olivier. He left the scenery with some tooth marks. McGivers is an awful character and makes me want to burn my bra. There are several instances of objects and devices present which may not ever be seen again through the run of the series: the display of old medical implements in sickbay; the decompression chamber (it makes sense that sickbay would have one, but …)… a ship’s historian …

And one more general note on the episode and a half I’ve watched: the producers of the show loved that starship. Which might be a reason I love that starship so much. She wasn’t like anything that had been seen before, and the show – especially the opening sequence – is full of long, loving looks at Enterprise – I think the ‘net phrase for it would be starship porn. I can’t remember whether other Sci-Fi shows spent as much time giving viewers an eyeful of their beautiful spacecraft (I should clock it). Indeed, for me I think the reasons I love Star Trek can be listed something like:
1) The vision of the future
2) The ability to live there vicariously
3) Bones
4) Enterprise
5) the crew’s relationships, particularly the three boys at the top

Bones and the ship might be tied. I’m not sure.

One down.

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What happened to my Trekkiness?

February 16, 2012 at 9:51 pm (Star Trek) (, , , , , )

I haven’t watched Star Trek TOS (how geeks say The Original Series) in about … um. Twenty years, maybe? It used to be on all over the television, and I used to watch it as often as possible. When I was first discovering it I remember it was like a hunt – stalking through the TVGuide to try to find episodes I hadn’t seen yet, seeking out a list of all the episodes so I could check them off and make notes and whatnot (and memorize it – I used to test my memory when I was really bored at work by listing all 79. Or 78, depending on who you ask.) After a while it got so that I could identify an episode within about four seconds.

It’s been a while. It hasn’t been on at a convenient time in years; I used to have quite a few episodes on tape, but I think it was when I revolted against The Undiscovered Country that I gave away a lot of them, and sold quite a few more on eBay. That’s another factor in the deterioration of my Trek geekiness; I developed a loathing for Shatner for a while (it was the “Get a life” comment combined with my being very young and sensitive) (I was gleeful when Kirk was killed off) and then I came very close to walking out of the theatre during TUC (I’d explain, but it’s very, very geeky, and I seem to be the only one who feels as I do; I still have never seen the movie again) and went largely off the whole … enterprise.

But, deep down, I’m still the same geek/nerd who cried her heart out when Spock died, and when the Enterprise blew up, and then – for different reasons – when the little shuttlepod rounded a turn and Enterprise-A came into view. (I miss that kind of fierce joy.) I can still recite chunks of TVH and TWOK, my two favorites of all the films.

Which brings me to the present. There is a new (to me at least) network broadcasting locally which shows only oldies, classics, The Good Stuff. Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke, The Bob Newhart Show, M*A*S*H – in an uncut or less-cut version I’ve never seen before in some cases. And, on Saturday evenings, they put up an episode of Star Trek. I discovered this a couple of weeks ago… And not only could I not identify the episode in four seconds, I couldn’t have identified it at all if I hadn’t seen the title. (It was “Return of the Archons”.) It was bizarre. I scared my mother when I told her; I think she might have started worrying about early onset Alzheimer’s or a mini-stroke or something (she is a world-class worrier). It was so bizarre. There are the boys – Kirk and Spock and Scotty and my Bones; there’s that red-shirt who never went the way of the red-shirt, who was in the background of a whole bunch of episodes but I don’t think ever said a word or even, maybe, got a name and why do I feel like I should know who he is …? And … Landru. Right. And….Whoa. You could get quite a bit past censors if everyone stayed relatively clothed and women being carried off by men assumed balletic poses. But I didn’t remember a thing about the episode; didn’t remember character names; didn’t remember what happened next … That weekend I couldn’t stick around to watch the whole thing, and I was unhappy about it, because I have no memory of the show – it was like watching it brand new.

It’s strange, because while watching some of these M*A*S*H episodes – also, some of them, not seen in many years, I can predict lines that are coming up down to the intonation and remember bit characters and suchlike. I figure I saw them more often than I did Star Trek episodes, and saw them earlier, in my more formative years: I remember dinner every night as a child as 5:00, right after Dad got home from work, all five of us at the kitchen table with the tv by the door to the living room and M*A*S*H on. Mac and cheese by the light of spurting arteries in the OR. No wonder I’m not more squeamish.

I have NO memory of Sulu in a fluffy cravat.

Sitting there realizing I had no idea what happened next in “Return of the Archons” was when I started thinking about rewatching the series. I don’t know if this is going to wind up being the whole series or not, and heaven alone knows what order they’ll come along in between ME TV and whatever renting I do from Netflix … or … I might even buy the series, especially now it’s been remastered … Hm.

What convinced me to make a start was the next episode: Space Seed. Whee! Khan! I’m in.

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