Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TOS Rewind #29: "Amok Time"

Welcome to Season 2!  Today we'll be tackling Amok Time (09-15-1967)

We did a podcast again, this time under 30 minutes!

And, if you listen to one of these 'casts and have a comment or question, we'll address it in our next round.

I'll let Eric start out the written review part:

“Amok Time” was definitely the right choice to open the second season of classic Star Trek. I hadn’t seen it in quite a while, so I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded just how good it is. As the quintessential Spock episode, it provides much important character development and fills in part of his back story, as well as adding greatly to our knowledge of Vulcan culture—we finally get to see the planet Vulcan and meet some of its full-blooded inhabitants. The story itself is interesting and imaginative, and thankfully free of any overt camp or cheesiness. The direction and acting (particularly Leonard Nimoy’s) are excellent. And the production is quite good, especially the design of the Vulcan set. To top it off, we get to hear the introduction of some of the most memorable music in the series.

With our modern sensibilities, we don’t think twice about the subject of this episode. Sexuality is common theme in today’s TV shows and is depicted both casually and explicitly, but in 1967, it was daring for Roddenberry to even attempt air an episode that dealt with such a taboo topic. I imagine the only way he got it past the network censors was that it dealt with alien (Vulcan) sexuality and was addressed in a circumspect (rather quaint) fashion. Still, this is another example of how original Trek was groundbreaking as a television show.

Another reason “Amok Time” stands out is Nimoy’s brilliant performance. His portrayal of Spock’s torment and embarrassment is completely convincing, as is his “blood fever.” And the final scene, when Spock shows open delight at discovering Kirk is alive, ranks among the best scenes in the entire series. Shatner and Kelley also turn in excellent performances. McCoy’s desperation to help Spock and Kirk’s willingness to sacrifice his captaincy to save his friend are touching. Spock’s request that they accompany him to the ceremony on Vulcan is similarly touching—he reveals that Kirk and McCoy are his closest friends. With Kirk, this is no surprise, but with McCoy, it is a little more surprising given their rivalry. What it comes down to is that the most important subplot of the episode is the affirmation of the deep friendship and affection between these characters.

Additionally, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the late Celia Lovsky’s outstanding performance. T’Pau is a great character. Kirk describes her as “…all of Vulcan rolled into one,” and Lovsky does a superb job portraying this. Arlene Martel also does an excellent job as T’Pring. The character is a stone cold bitch, but Martel plays her wonderfully.

So “Amok Time” scores high in many categories, but I appreciate it particularly because it does so much to develop Vulcan culture. This episode was written by the late Theodore Sturgeon (who also wrote the first season episode “Shore Leave”), and it is a testament to his fertile imagination and skill as a science fiction author. We get used to thinking of Spock as a human who’s a little different, but this story brings out just how alien he and the Vulcan race/culture are. The contrast of the brutal mating ceremony with the peaceful, stoic race we’ve come to know is startling and fascinating. And, when you think about it, logical. Spock established early on that Vulcans were once ruthless and warlike, in the extreme, and that they were saved by the adoption of logic as an overriding philosophy. But as a matter of biology, they still have to deal with the pon farr (the cyclical mating drive) that induces a kind of insanity. So it seems reasonable that as a traditional culture, Vulcans would maintain their ancient ritual for resolving pon farr, koon-ut-kal-if-fee (wedding or challenge). It is implied that the challenge option is very rarely used, but being the thorough, well-prepared people they are, Vulcans are ready for that possibility. And therein lies our story.

So there it is. “Amok Time” is an excellent episode and the perfect choice to begin the second, and arguably best, season of original Star Trek.

This time I had a plain old iced tea:  maybe in retrospect, I should have picked something stronger!

At the risk of repeating Eric's comments, I want to start out by saying how good this episode is.  Like him, I hadn't seen it in a good while and it didn't disappoint. 

This is one of the big Spock showcase episodes and Nimoy really rises to the challenge.  It would be easy for him to have dialed in a performance that said, "I'M A HORNY VULCAN!!!"  Sure, there's a little bit of that going on there, but he really plays out the inner conflict of the character who's quite ashamed that he has to share this with Kirk and McCoy.

I have this impression of the episode from my childhood, that the Kirk/Spock duel lasts far longer than it actually does.  The buildup to the confrontation is effective enough that the fight doesn't have to take the bulk of the screen time.  And hey, Kirk's shirt gets cut open right off the bat.  Those weapons are really nasty!

As Eric mentioned, the performance of the woman who played T'Pau just doesn't get stale.  She comes off as pure Vulcan badass.  Spock's bride is also a coldly logical operator.  Her manipulation of Spock, Kirk, and the whole ritual makes her come off as a woman not to be messed with.  Considering the whole arranged marriage business and the Vulcan ideas of women being "consorts" and "property" of the men, the actual female characters are very strong.  I have to think that perhaps Vulcan needs to look into the concept of no-fault divorce.  Very interesting.

This is another one of those classic episodes where they managed to work in a potentially thorny subject, sex, into 1960s network TV.  By inserting it into the ritualistic Vulcan traditions, they mask the real ideas here to a degree.  This was not too uncommon in old Hollywood, where some kinds of social taboos were presentable if portrayed as being part of a "primitive" culture.  In this case, the Vulcans are ironically the "savages" while Kirk and the other humans come off as more civilized.  This is reinforced by the sets, costumes, and the "ritualistic" drumming of the memorable score (reused many times later, of course).  What they do, of course, is develop a relatively rich background for Spock's planet and give us a look at the Vulcan people.  No other alien race in the Original Series gets nearly that much development.

Of course it's quite hard to top the ending scene where Spock shouts out, "JIM!" after seeing Kirk very much alive.  Call it cheesy if you want:  I happen to love it.  We also are abruptly introduced to Pavel Chekov.  After going through an entire season of Sulu+random navigator (with apologies to Lt. O'Reilley), it's good to have another character on board.

I watched the remastered version and actually liked the CG-redone Vulcan shots,  They looked good and matched the existing set footage as well as what we've seen of Vulcan from the films.  One of the few times that the enhancements did much for the show.

Next time:  “Who Mourns for Adonais”

No comments:

Post a Comment