Monday, 10 June 2013

My trek through Trek (Part II) - Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

This is what crossing forcefields will do to you. 
What we’re watching: Where No Man Has Gone Before- Second Pilot. Episode Three of Season 1 (1966)

My Rating out of 5 Tribbles: 3 1/2 Tribbles...... Who can read your mind. OOOOWEEOOOOWOOO!

A Snapshot of my after episode thoughts: “Kneel before Mitchell!”

Pros: Captain Kirk. A quirky villain. Great space sequence. Mysterious. Vulcan Spock. A great sense of humour

Cons:  A slow and messy 4th act. Self important dialogue. Lack of motivation for Kirk's revenge. 

I conceived of this journey through Star Trek I debated for a long time, 3 or four hours which is a long time for a guy like me, in what order I would tackle the episodes and movies. There are three different ways one can travel through the Trek, canonically,  chronologically by broadcast date and chronologically by production date. Each order poses different problems. If I chose to view canonically I would have to begin with Enterprise, which would mean I would jump into a fresh series for me as I didn’t watch it when it was on TV. I was timid at this because I am not if I will like the show and ultimately abandon my project before it has begun. The broadcast order poses its own problems as it confuses the development of the series. Following that order would make  this episode the third in succession. This position is incorrect as Where No Man Has Gone Before was intended as a second pilot. I ultimately decided to go ahead and view Trekdom in its production order. This order may not be optimal if I want guidance and illumination into the history of the Federation, but it does offer insight into how this world developed. This is a far more interesting order for a young director in training like myself  This will cause a problem when I enter the The Next Generation when the episodes loose canon when watched in production order, but we’ll navigate that Nebulae when and if we cross it for I possess a legendarily short attention span. 

To understand the monumental importance of Where No Man Has Gone Before, one must first ask Lucille Ball. No
Every Trekker owes a debt to Lucy!
kidding here. Fricken Wah Wah Lucy. Without Lucille Ball there would be no Star Trek past the Jeffrey Hunter sweater epic that is The Cage. The story is as follows. After the failure of The Cage, Gene Roddenberry continued to shop around his idea for a Sci-Fi epic. No one was buying, until Lucille Ball, a friend of young Gene, somehow saw the pilot and said in passing to the president of NBC that they should greenlight a second pilot and actually air it to get sample of audiences  reaction. This testing was not done with The Cage which wasn’t broadcast until 1988. Long story short NBC did. Gene under NBC guidance overhauled the show, hired a young Canadian actor cutting his teeth on Sci-Fi on shows like The Twilight Zone to replace Jeffrey Hunter who had returned to his career as a matinee idol and the rest is history. Trekkers love Lucy indeed. 

All right, boring nerd history aside, let’s talk about pilot deux. 

Right at the top one can tell that this is a different beast then the terrible first pilot. It does not overwhelm with pretension of Jeffrey Hunter and Martian Spock. Instead we are greeted with a comedic battle of wits between the colder more logical Spock and the charismatic Kirk. Snide jokes are being traded back and forth between two friends. Friendship is the core of this episode and indeed every good Star Trek episode hence forth. 

From this point forward the vision of the future is very different. It is cleaner, more sleek
and spartan. This is reflected in the redesign or perhaps clean up the Enterprise set. As the episode progresses it becomes well understood that this is not a cluttered claustrophobic war vessel but a visionary bastion of human exploration. 

You may recall, if you read the last entry, that I in my ineloquent manner I made a big storm of the inefficient women on the bridge. I put the blame in no small manner on psychedelic sexualization of every skirt. The women of this episode’s enterprise are night and day (as far as can be under the moral lens of the 60s). Dr. Elizabeth Dehner is a women of wry humour, with a constant upturned grin that seems to suggest that she is secure with her womanhood and her life. When Gary Mitchell throws some 60s style degradation at her, she easily makes mince meat of the crass helmsmen. You can still see the 60s female role peep through this episode though. When the Enterprise crosses the forcefield, a sleek and suspenseful sequence that evokes thoughts of ancient mariners falling over the edge of the Earth, the young blonde clad Yeoman raises her hand inexplicably to hold onto the strength of male courageous limb.  Even the damsel in distress exists on the bridge of the Enterprise. 

The bridge is populated by many other firsts. George Takei makes his first appearance as Sulu, but is curiously in charge of physics, Jimmy Doohan sits at the helm in his Pseudo-Scottish presence as Scotty and there is even an unnamed man of colour sitting there pushing buttons. Spock stands for the first time in his mainstay location just to camera right of the Captain’s chair. His performance bares more similarities to iconic Spock, yet at one point he yells in a very un-Spock-like manner. Un-Nimoy-Spock-like, for Quinto is all over the place vocally.  It is clear that Nimoy and perhaps Trek itself is still unclear as to the role that this character will play. 

What the creatives of Star Trek are sure of in this episode is the power of discussion. All the characters clearly set out the issue of sudden powers in a human and this conflict is not one centered on the destruction of a threat, but rather the ramifications of evolving before our time. Gary Mitchell is a human who is suddenly given the ability to grasp all the information that his brain can handle and then some. This imagines what happens to humans when they are suddenly offered a surplus of information. Can we handle too much information? A timely question for us now that we have all the thoughts of human kind (and pornography) at the touch of our finger tips. It’s obvious Gary cannot handle this as his mind explodes in a myriad of godlike powers conveyed in some cheesy yet surprisingly effective effects sequences. Most noticeably in  the really good and probably simple telekinetic sequences. 

"You cannot kill me. So let's discuss why."
Where No Man Has Gone Before is not without its flaws. The final act is hampered by self important dialogue that seems to slow the conflict between Kirk, Mitchell and Dehner into a staring contest (at least we get great views of the expensive contact lenses). The final standoff plays as a thought experiment of the evils of an imperfect god, a debate upon the illogic of praying to deities that ask for obedience for no reason and are perhapss political allegories of deflection of human inadequacy on their creations. Namely the gods they pray to. A common anti-religion theme that pops up many times later, even in the feature films. This “climax” takes the teeth out of an otherwise fascinating episode, but manages to satisfyingly convey a timely criticism of human development.

Flaws in an unfocused climax aside, Where No Man Has Gone Before is a grand episode that makes it obvious why this show was able to greenlight three more series. What can be said is the greatest element that adds to the future success of Star Trek, is the addition of William Shatner’s Kirk. Say what you will about the man but he is willing to go for it. Throwing himself convulsing when he wishes and essentially oozing charisma, where Jeffry Hunter oozed nothing but an eel like aura. Certainly Hunter would not throw himself to the floor in flailing turmoil. The Trek trek is on!
"I just don't get green blooded humour." 

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