Tuesday, February 12, 2008

TOS Rewind #15: "The Galileo Seven"

Tonight's episode:  The Galileo Seven (1/5/1967).  The drink:  orange juice (I'm trying to get over a cold, so no booze for me).

Without a doubt, this is a Spock episode.  Sure, there's the conflict between Kirk and the Commissioner, but this is a sideshow.  By placing Spock in a stressful command situation, we get a great chance to see more character development at work.

I've always appreciated this episode for the added complexity it gives Spock.  The script shows him having to deal with a very difficult command situation where logic isn't always the right solution.  You can really see the character struggling with this as the situation deteriorates on the planet.  Nimoy pulls out a good performance with actual nuance.  The scene where everyone feels it necessary to kill some of the cavemen/aliens to keep them at bay illustrates the very well.  Spock knows that this is the way to go and yet he allows his ideals as a scientist and as an individual, sway him.  By refusing to take life, which he slams the human members of the shuttle crew for having disregard for, and stubbornly clinging to the idea that the creatures will behave logically, he puts his command in further jeopardy.  This "routine" scientific mission becomes the ultimate command training scenario, with real stakes.  Making matters worse is the fact that the crew under his command doesn't have much confidence in his leadership abilities.  In fact, they're downright mean to the guy!  The one exception is Scotty; probably due to the fact that he's too busy repairing the ship.

Some things I didn't like as much: 

The tension between Kirk and the Commissioner was a bit over-the-top.  The time crunch pressure should have been enough tension without having the Commissioner, the reminder of the time factor, having to be such a cold-hearted asshat.  The shuttle crewmen seem overly hostile toward Spock from the beginning.  The blatant disregard for his command seems silly and unrealistic.  They could have done that situation with more subtlety.  I'm sure they were trying to work in more bigotry and added tension, but this is overdone in the context of the Starfleet military structure.  Don't get me wrong, it's really a minor quibble in what's got to be one of the best TOS episodes.

I watched the remastered version of this episode, since I had it handy.  I found this to be one of the better efforts with the new F/X.  Since there are a number of shots of the shuttle, the planet, and the space quasar phenomenon, I actually liked it pretty well.  Here's a sample:

Of course, all the plastic boulders and goofy caveman guys and their spears are just as fake as you remember.  The thing I remember being most impressed about growing up was the visual of the shuttle leaving the hangar bay.  The original shot still holds up well today, though the new scene adds some CG goodies.  Other than that, how can you beat watching a random crewman (non-red shirt) getting impaled by a giant spear!

And on to Mr. Eric:


Somehow, after freezing my ass off shoveling a mountain of snow out of my driveway for the 10,581,869th time (yes, I’m keeping track), I managed to rewatch “The Galileo Seven".  Not surprisingly, it was far more enjoyable than shoveling snow. In fact, this episode holds up very well and remains a favorite of mine. I find it fascinating because it’s an insightful examination of the qualities that make a good leader, and it’s done through a clever comparison of Kirk and Spock in their respective leadership roles.

Before I get started, one bit of trivia is that this was the first episode that featured the shuttlecraft. It wasn’t shown or referred to earlier because AMT (the company that produced the original series
model kits) built the full-sized shuttlecraft mockup and was very late finishing it. This is also why Roddenberry came up with the transporter—without the shuttlecraft, he had to have some way of getting people to and from the Enterprise.

Another piece of trivia, technical this time, is that the depiction of the quasar in this episode was accurate based on what we knew in 1967, but in the intervening 41 years, astronomers have reached
consensus that quasars are the very bright, distant, and active nuclei of young galaxies. 20/20 astrophysical hindsight...

Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed “The Galileo Seven" because it takes an insightful look at command and leadership. Spock gets his first command when Kirk puts him in charge of the science team being sent to investigate the Murasaki 312 quasar, and as soon as the team’s shuttlecraft crashes on Taurus II (a planet within the quasar), we see just how committed Spock is to basing his command on logic. On the Enterprise, by way of contrast, we see Kirk’s very human approach to command. He is determined not to leave his missing crewmates behind, despite the demands and threats of this episode’s resident bureaucrat, Galactic High Asshole Ferris. Kirk chooses compassion and loyalty, and insists on searching for the missing team until the last possible second, even though it could cost him his captaincy. Spock, however, takes a dispassionate approach that discounts the fact that emotional creatures, humans or the primitive anthropoid inhabitants of Taurus II, don’t react logically to emotionally charged situations. And this causes significant trouble for him. Thankfully, with McCoy’s “guidance", Spock starts to understand that while logic and reason are important tools for a commander, feelings (intuition?) are just as important. And armed with this realization, he manages to get the team (minus two crewmen) off the planet, hopefully to rendezvous with the Enterprise.

This is where there is a wonderful convergence of  loyalty and irrationality. Kirk, under duress from Ferris, is forced to abandon the search for Spock’s team, but he proceeds at the slowest possible
speed and keeps every sensor directed toward Taurus II. And as ingenious as this is, it is Spock who makes it possible for the team to be rescued (in the nick of time) by making the completely illogical choice to burn the last of the shuttlecraft’s fuel to send a distress signal that the Enterprise picks up. So the team is rescued and Kirk and Spock show that a good leader has to base decisions on reason and logic that is leavened with emotional insight and occasionally, irrationality. And if they’re lucky, friendship.

Next time:  “The Squire of Gothos"