Saturday, January 2, 2010

TOS Rewind #36 and #37: "Metamorphosis" and "Journey to Babel"

This time we present a two-fer:  Metamorphosis and Journey to Babel.  The podcast also covers both episodes.

I'll have Eric start us out this time:

"Metamorphosis" is an odd episode, which may be why I like it. It's not action/adventure; there's no discernable sociopolitical commentary; and it's not farce or satire. So what is it? On one level it's an examination of the needs of the human spirit, but mostly it's an odd, almost surreal, love story. There are some disturbing elements, such as the way the Companion took over Commissioner Hedford's body. (Although we aren't privy to any discussion between the good commissioner and the Companion.) And Kirk is amazingly nonchalant about having to explain, as he surely would have, how they managed to lose the commissioner they were supposed to save.

Still, this episode is a refreshing change of pace, and in many ways. it's a touching love story. I've been trying to think of more literary analysis, but I couldn't come up with anything. Sorry. If you're really interested, though, our podcast gives a more detailed discussion. (Yes, a shameless plug.) In the meantime, let's move on to the next episode.

"Journey to Babel" has always been one of my favorite episodes. It's got everything: drama, action, lots of strange aliens, and we get to find out a whole lot about Spock, including meeting his parents. And the underlying theme of this episode is one that is echoed throught all of Star Trek (perhaps most profoundly in Star Trek II and III):  the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one...except when they don't.

This is demonstrated by several characters. To begin with, Sarek, Spock's father, knowingly risks his life to personally attend the Babel conference because he is committed to making sure that the rights and welfare of the Coridanians (presumably millions if not billions of people) are protected. Their needs outweigh his own and those of his family. And when he falls ill, Spock volunteers to take a dangerous drug so that he can provide enough blood to make a life-saving operation for Sarek possible. The needs of the one win out in this case, at least until Kirk is attacked and injured and the Enterprise is pursued. At this point, Spock's priority shifts to his duty to protect the Enterprise and her crew, as well as the passengers and their mission. Amanda, Spock's mother, argues that Sarek's life is more important, and Spock is agonized over the decision. Until, in the final demonstration of self-sacrifice, Kirk leaves sickbay to resume command so that Spock can give his father the transfusion with a clear conscience. And all ends well.

But this leaves an important question unanswered: Do the needs of the many actually outweigh the needs of the few or the one? Sarek, Spock, and Kirk all demonstrate that putting the needs of the many first is noble and worthy, yet they also demonstrate that giving priority to the needs of the one is equally commendable. Quite a quandry, and it's one that is never resolved in this episode, or in any other Star Trek episode or movie, because it is entirely dependent on the particular situation. It can't be decided by logic--it's one of those pesky conundrums that we emotional humans have to feel our way through, hopefully with family and good friends to help.


"Metamorphosis" is one of those episodes I really hadn't seen in a long time.  The neglect comes from the fact that it's not one of those great classic episodes, but it isn't an amusing stinker either.  In my Trek consciousness, it gets a bit buried.  And that's actually too bad really.  This episode, while flawed has some very thought-provoking elements and manages to defy the typical formula of the series.

The story and ideas presented here are something I would usually attribute to a series such as The Twilight Zone; it's actually quite self-contained like a short story and could have been written with unfamiliar characters.  One of us mentioned on the podcast that it had the feel of a meditation, if you will and that actually fits pretty well for this one.  The things that nag about this episode are the sections that feel rushed and resolve themselves too quickly to be satisfying.  This would have to include the part where Kirk and co. deduce the nature of the Companion and of course, the resolution.  I have to wonder how this episode would have played if they'd stripped out the scenes back on board the Enterprise entirely.  It would have been a bit strange not to know what the ship was doing while the shuttle and its occupants were missing, but it might have added a touch of mystery as well as given the story back on the planet some breathing room.  Of course, the scenes between Scotty and Uhura on the bridge are very pleasant and gives us some small personalty development for these characters.  Or, maybe they could have abridged the bits where Kirk and Spock are writhing around on the floor after attacking the Companion.

In any case, the way the secrets are revealed comes off as abrupt and the way that they suddenly have the Commissioner's fate resolve can be read as creepy.  Was the decision really mutual?  And, does she always have to talk with that boomy reverb in her voice?  Aside from that, the exploration of the idea of love displayed here is interesting and can also be read as a message of tolerance.  That message is one that could still be used today, quite frankly.  This episode can be looked at from a "gender studies" POV:  the Hedford character is conveniently without any personal attachments and has "never known love."  She is of course a successful career woman and emotionally damaged.  This is a very old-school way to write career women, there are many examples in classic Hollywood cinema.  Usually the woman, in some kind of high-powered career, is never truly happy until the right man comes along and she can leave it all behind...for love.  This time, it's the combination of the "right man" and an energy being that show her the way to true happiness.  That whole business surrounding galactic peace was really a crock.  If I seem a bit harsh here, consider that fact that they would never have written a male character into this sort of situation, would they?  After all, Kirk is "married" to the Enterprise and while it may have some real impact on his love life, he seems to get by all right (the counter-argument to this would have to be the "no beach to walk on" speech in "The Naked Time").

The actor who plays Cochrane does so in a combination of "gee-whiz astronaut" and thoughtful world-weary man.  The woman playing Commissioner Hedford does fine; the main faults with her are they way the character is written.  Shatner and Nimoy are a bit restrained here and, as Eric pointed out, Kirk seems awfully chilled out about leaving Cochrane and Hedford on the planet.

I viewed the BD version with the new effects.  The Companion effects were cleaned up a bit and the shuttlecraft footage no longer looks like it was reused from The Galileo Seven.  The one place where the new effects fall down is the look of the planet:  the original planet matches the color scheme of the set sky while the new planet effect looks quite different.

I often found this episode to be on the boring side when I was a kid.  It was too slow-moving and I remember finding the Hedford character to be, shall we say, bitchy?

Okay, on to "Journey:"

This episode is up there in the top tier of the series.  It is tightly constructed, has great character writing, some wonderful guest actors, and a good mix of action, drama, and humor.  The episode also provides a great deal of insight into the world the Trek characters inhabit, particularly Spock.  Yes, this is a real Spock/Vulcan embarrassment of riches, really.  Between this one and "Amok Time," we get some very rich Spock character background.  The contribution to the Trek canon of this episode can not be understated.  New Federation races are introduced and we even get a glimpse into the way the Federation operates, politically.  I find it interesting that this is one of the first times we get any idea that things aren't always perfect in the happy Federation:  how un-Roddenberryesque!  I have to wonder if the writers of the new film took a lot of the Vulcan backgrounds they used from this episode.  One of the best lines from this one, spoken by Sarek:  "Threats are meaningless and payment is usually expensive."

Of course the main attraction here is the story between Spock and his father.  The opening scenes between them are particularly icy as we learn how the two of them interact.  The scenes are written and played in a subtle way that gets the point across without too much exposition to bog down the pace.  Mark Lenard and Nimoy really make it work here.  D.C. Fontana also handles the relationships surrounding Amanda and Spock/Sarek well.  We actually get a sense of how this unlikely family operates.  I also like the way that the warmth between Amanda/Sarek comes across in a way that's believable.

The story moves along at a good pace with events that all culminate nicely for the climax:  risky surgery and a cat/mouse space ship game.  The ending is quite satisfying with the main characters in sick bay and McCoy grinning from ear to ear.

The effects on the remastered version were pretty decent.  More new shuttlecraft and landing bay sequences are here (the original re-used earlier footage) as well as a redone alien space ship.

In the past, I tended to like this one a lot.  I dug the space battle as well as the back and forth between Spock and Sarek.  The fight between Kirk and the Andorian was effective (and still is today, actually).

Next time:  "Friday's Child"

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