Tuesday, March 9, 2010

TOS Rewind #40: "Obsession"

Up next:  Obsession (12/15/1967)

Our usual group recorded a podcast for this episode.

"Obsession" has two basic elements to it.  One, a story surrounding our heroes battling a deadly alien creature.  Two, a closer look into Kirk's personality/backstory and his relationships with the crew.

The monster story here has a fairly conventional arc, right through the climax on the planet where Kirk and Garrovick have their final showdown with the creature.  The part in space where the creature turns and attacks the ship is a good twist in the story.  The thing I find more interesting about this episode is the focus on Kirk's past and a demon that haunts him from it.  This is one of the first times we're given much about Kirk's previous military career other than brief bits of information.  The character focus in this episode reminds me a bit of the one in "Conscience of the King."  There, like here, Kirk is driven almost single-mindedly to fix something from his past; even if it puts his command or other lives in jeopardy.  It's compelling to see Kirk's character stripped of its usual veneer or confidence like this and I believe the inner turmoil on display here is done even better than in that previous episode.

One aspect of Trek that works so well for me is that way that the main characters interact under stress.  Most of the time, the familiar characters work together, using their collective strengths to prevail.  This time, Kirk spends much of the story working alone or even against his friends and crew to an extent.  Kirk seems to forget the trust that Spock and McCoy have in him.  This would normally be an inconsistency, but in this instance it reinforces personal nature of the situation.  Kirk's feelings of guilt over his past inaction is so intense that he doesn't want his closest friends in on it.  The one odd thing about this is the way Kirk seems to leave them clues to the situation.  This doesn't always make a lot of sense, but it does make the story flow well with a nice buildup of tension.  The way Spock and McCoy team up to figure out what the hell's going on with Kirk helps the story and provides some interesting character development and a few good scenes between them.  I also enjoy the scenes with Garrovick who comes off as a genuine character beyond being a cipher for Kirk's self-pity.  Garrovick is still new to the whole thing and not 100% sure of himself.  Another interesting thing is the way that Spock learns about and tries to deal with Kirk and Garrovick's self-guilt.  Spock almost plays ship counselor during a couple of scenes, talking about things such as "wallowing in a pool of emotion."  Ha!

One thing that I'm not crazy about is the way that Kirk seems to "sense" what the creature is up to (reminds me of "Metamorphosis").  Of course we need to know some of this information, but it comes off as a somewhat contrived.  I also wonder if the suspense would have been more effective if they had not shown the creature right off the bat.  It's not a big deal of course.

The performances here are generally good.  Some may find a bit too much Shatner for their liking but considering how Kirk is written in this episode, I don't think it's too far out of line.  The rest of the cast is in good form and the guy who played Garrovick got the balance of the role right without overplaying the scenes with too much sullenness.

I liked this episode well growing up as it had lots of drama, dead red shirts, and even some action in space.  I noticed that they recycled some of the music from "The Doomsday Machine."  As Rob pointed out on the podcast, this is a drawback of watching the series in broadcast order.  It becomes easier to catch things like this as you work your way through.  The enhanced effects added a little bit this time around.  The scenes in space where the creature is pictured look less like a white blob on the screen and they have a new shot of the Tycho planet after the bomb is detonated with an appropriately large hole on it.

Now let's see what Eric has to say:


I remember "Obsession" being a favorite episode (in the top 20) when I was younger, and upon rewatching, I was pleased to find that it held up. It has pretty much everything: action, drama, pathos, and some really interesting character interactions. But what I like best is that it is a Kirk episode. It fills in some of his back story, and it develops his character in a surprising way.

One thing I've noticed about 60s TV is that heroic, leading characters are rarely portrayed as genuinely flawed. If there are chinks their armor, they're the kind that are more admirable than detestable. Not so with Kirk in this episode. He's faced by a demon from his past, and in his struggles to deal with it, he acts irrationally, risks lives, and mistreats his crew, most notably Ensign Garrovick--the newly-assigned security officer whom Kirk harshly punishes for a completely normal, and forgiveable, reaction to an emergency. And what is particularly reprehensible is that Kirk is not motivated by fair-minded attention to his command duties; rather, it is a vicarious way for him to do penance for his perceived inadequacy in a similar situation when he was a young officer. The problem, of course, is that Garrovick has to bear the burden of Kirk's self-flagellation, which is not only undeserved and grossly unfair, it also creates, in Garrovick, the same demon that has plagued Kirk for eleven years.

Kirk's behavior is understandable, if not entirely excusable. We can sympathize with having something in your past that haunts you and affects your behavior and ability to function until, and unless, you deal with it. We expect our heroes to deal with such issues better, though, and that's why Obsession is such a good episode. It shows us that the noble James T. Kirk really is a human being just like us, complete with infuriating flaws. Of course, he does ultimately defeat his demon and manages to redeem himself in the process. Which is as it should be--he is, after all, a hero.

Next time:  "Wolf in the Fold"

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