Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Beast Within Captain Kirk (My Trek Through Trek - Part V)

What we’re watching: “The Enemy Within” Episode 4, Season 1 of TOS (October 6, 1966)

My Rating Out of 5 Tribbles: 3 Tribbles that think they are “THE CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP!” 

My After Episode Thoughts: “A brilliant performance that places Shatner in the pantheon of the acting gods.”

Pros: Shatner’s performance, Epic moment in McCoy history, did I mention Shatner’s performance?

Cons: Spock’s supposed logic, Sulu’s B-Plot, the chauvinism, the damned dog in an alien suit!

Shatner Giving IT ALL HE'S GOT!
If there was any doubt that William Shatner is one of the most important and special actors in television history, this episode should put all of them to rest. From the opening moment when we see Beast Kirk materialize on the transporter deck, his presance is astounding.  The way he uses his eyes and physicality to embody his alter-ego’s predatory nature is no easy feet for any actor. Kirk’s two sides are clearly set up as opposites and there is not a lazy moment in which we can see this conceit. His two characterizations are grabbed by the throat and he forces the watcher to believe that his personality has literally split in two. 

William Shatner raves aside, this episode is sadly ‘run of the mill’ and backward. The sexism of the last episode is still frighteningly present. At one point Beast Kirk attempts to rape the unsuspecting Yeoman Rand in a scene that is unsettling and ahead of its time in brutality. The result is a moment that is very unusual for the largely melodramatic television of 60s. A moment of real fear. Grace Lee Whitney who played Yeoman Rand says in her memoir that to achieve the right kind of brutality for the scene Shatner slapped her to catch her off guard. Bill is truly a man that goes into these things full throttle and I wonder if that kind of conduct would be tolerated in this day. 

After this frightening moment the crew allows the Captain interrogate Rand after she accuses him of attempted rape. The prospect of a suspected rapist interviewing the victim is an unpalatable idea and dates the episode horribly. The final dialogue of the episode, uttered by Spock, further serves to paint the show with a chauvinistic brush. Spock suggests to Rand that Beast Kirk had some desirable qualities for a mate. This strikes me as an extremely insensitive and barbaric comment. Trekkers might attribute this up to Spock’s coldly logical nature. I, however, believe it is the result of dated chauvinistic writing, and it really put me off my overall experience. 

Further, I question Spock’s logic in this episode. Usually his logical explanations are entirely on the mark, but in the case of this episode, I am not sure. When Kirk denies the misdeeds that are perpetrated by Beast Kirk, Spock arrives at the conclusion that there must be an impostor aboard the ship. Is this really the most logical answer? Is it not more logical, that with the example of all these crew member's accusations, Kirk maybe lying? No character ever entertains that idea. This seems like a missed opportunity narratively. 

Then again, the episode only had so much time to cover the main story as a lot of screen was wasted on a distracting B-plot. Crew members are freezing on the planet and cannot return to the ship because the transporter is down. In later episodes this conundrum would be fixed by a shuttle bay, but this is still early in the series so no one obviously thought of this yet. The B-Plot only serves to distract from the far more interesting core plot of Kirk’s issues. 

There are two fantastic moments that occur in this episode and they served to etch themselves into Star Trek Lore.First, there is a poor dog in an alien costume that is tossed from character to character. It is the most distracting prop/character I think I have ever seen. The stuffed carcass that later doubles for him would have served better then a nervous canine covered in rainbow fluff. Nevertheless this canine’s performance is iconic and is a running gag in Trekkerdom. Second, this is the first episode in which McCoy explodes toward Jim that something is dead

This was the best they could do?

When it happened I actually applauded. It was like the feeling the Wright Brothers must have had at Kitty Hawk. 

What a wondrous moment! 

All problems aside, this episode remains the moment Shatner stepped out from space oddity to the mythological titanic force that he became known for. I am happy I witnessed it but sad it was in a terrible episode. 

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