Thursday, 13 June 2013

Bailey, Bones and Balok - My Trek Through Trek (Part III)

What we’re watching: The Corbomite Maneuver. Episode 11 of Season 1 TOS (Nov. 10, 1966)
A far more fascinating version of Balok.

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 2 1/2 Tribbles who you think are cool when you first meet them but turn out to be Clint Howard in a silver poncho. 

My After Episode Thoughts: “Brilliant premise ruined by an acid fueled reference to the Wizard of Oz”

Pros: Dr. Leonard Fing Bones McCoy is in the house. Kirk’s salad. Spock’s daddy issues. Nuclear Allegory.  Fine early character development. 

Cons: Clint Howard. Ensign Bailey. Cheap, easy ending. Did I mention Clint Howard?

In the last Trek Through Trek, I wrote about how a gripping story can be cheapened by a hasty final act. The Corbomite Maneuver once again demonstrates this. If I were to look at the this episode based on its strides in character development, it is easily a 5 Tribble episode. The iconic crew is finally in place: Sulu takes his seat at the helm, Uhura in all her sexy revolutionary glory sits at communications and hails frequencies and most importantly, my favourite character of all the Star Treks, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy makes his first of many excuses to be on the bridge and not in sickbay. I swear he is the only doctor who seems to rarely want to be involved in medicine. 

Kirk: Captains don't eat no salad.
McCoy: They do if they want to fit into their velour. 
It is a misconception that the original Enterprise crew was held together by the relationship of Spock and Kirk. Some will even claim that it is the interaction of the ensemble that makes this show. I believe it is the trio of Spock, Bones and Kirk that hold this crew together. Spock is coldly logical, Bones is almost pure feeling and Kirk is the instinctual arbiter. Bones is essential to the original Enterprise. Red blooded Humanity runs through him like green blooded logic streams through Spock. McCoy is the moral centre always standing up for the little guy. Sometimes advocating so much that he allows his emotional nature to get in the way of the mission at hand. Bones is the connection we as a 20/21st century audience have with 23rd century issues. His distrust of technology parallels our unease in storm of technologic advance that we deal with everyday. It is only fitting a that a great Western character like DeForest Kelley brings him to life.  Spock is the brain, Bones is the heart and Kirk, well... he has to be the crotch.  The sex as it were. If one examines each Star Trek crew, one can find this dynamic. Apply this triumvirate to TNG: Data is the brain, Picard the heart and Riker the sex. I am sure I can do this with Voyager and DS9 and I will surely apply this when I reach those episodes. 

McCoy’s debut is not the only first in this episode. Just head on over to Memory Alpha if you want to see how many grounds are broken in these 50 minutes. The list is endless. 

Perhaps it is all this establishment that hampers the main trajectory of the episode. 

For the first three acts, Corbomite, has a lot going for it. It is a tale of first contact. The first of many such tales. It points out how fear of the unknown can severely derail future events and relationships. The episode solidifies the adage that first impressions are everything. When that poor greenhorn Ensign Bailey coaxes Kirk into firing phasers at Balok’s Fasarius ship, Kirk sets off a reaction that nearly turns the five year mission into a five minute jaunt.  Events like these have happened in our own history.  For example when Captain Cook first landed on the islands of Hawaii something he did left him dead in the sand. Magellan too. Countless explorers have by accident caused war without them knowing why. When the Zulu first saw the tall ship’s sails on the horizon, they mistook the white tapestry for clouds and thereby thought the pasty men that landed on the their shores arrived from the skies. This belief caused all sorts of repercussions for the history of Southern Africa.  It is not inconceivable that Balok would think that the humans were attempting war when they destroy his explorer buoy. This is a fascinating idea and it gives the episode real teeth. Until the end. 

This is how I feel about the Fourth Act. 
What must it be like to be Ron Howard’s younger brother? How can one ever find a name for oneself if one’s older brother is such an extraordinary young child actor, writer and oscar winning director? It must suck to be Clint Howard. His claim to fame, aside from Austin Powers innuendos, has always been his involvement in Star Trek. He has been involved in three different episodes that span the 60s, 90s and 2000s. Clint’s most iconic moment is probably his portrayal of Balok in this episode. However I don’t think it is because of his stunning performance. Trekdom’s fascination with Clint  is more likely the result the absurdity of his character. Balok is a child, alien, scientist with the voice of a muppet. He might as well have been a puppet like his alter ego. Better yet, if this puppet was the only incarnation we encounter, Balok would be far more fascinating. 

Speaking of fascinating, this episode is the first moment when Spock uses this catchphrase.

I really dislike when a story is full of potential and suspense only for it to be undercut by some extremely odd character choice. Corbomite embodies this disappointment. The whole episode goes to great lengths to set up a brilliant threat to the Enterprise. Only to turn out that the action was a master plan coined by an oddly overdubbed child. I understand that the creatives surely wanted to create a “nothing is what it seems” theme yet it turns the episode into a farce. This is often a reoccurring problem with early Trek. The creatives don’t seem to trust their material. More likely they don’t yet understand what they can do with Star Trek. Hell! This is only the third episode. They come so very close to genius. The Corbomite Maneuver has such a gorgeous message but only ends up being slaughtered for a cooky creature shot and a hip sequence. Perhaps, this is a fan words looking back at the early episodes from a position of enlightenment. Perhaps, I am being to harsh on the episode. Nevertheless it is a shame that beautifully written scenes of Kirk and McCoy are all but forgotten for Space Whimsy. 

P.S. Am I to believe that Bailey became an Ambassador for all of humankind? One moment he was an green ensign and then only a few short hours later he is worthy of inter world diplomacy. What a cheap little ‘explain away ending.’ Thank the stars the show gets better. 

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