Friday, April 2, 2010

TOS Rewind #41: "Wolf in the Fold"

Up this time:  Wolf in the Fold (12/22/1967)

As usual, Eric, Rob, and I did a podcast:

This episode has a number of notable things about it.

It was written by Robert Bloch, who is probably best known for the novel that Psycho was based on (he also wrote an earlier episode of Trek:  Catspaw).

This is one of the few episodes where Scotty gets a significant role in the story.

The actor, John Fiedler, who played Hengist was also the voice of Piglet in the Disney Winnie the Pooh films and TV/video specials.  I remember him appearing in the 1970s "Bob Newhart Show" as a regular character.  He was quite the versatile character actor!

What we have here is a murder mystery combined with a science fiction plot.  Our heroes are here on the planet Argelius so Scotty can chill out and supposedly get over his "total resentment towards women."  This is apparently due to an incident where Scotty was injured due to the error of a female crew member.  McCoy seems to think this will be cleared up by some shore leave and hot dancer (prostitute?) action.  Uh, Okay!  They don't dwell on this very long, which is just as well really.  After some extended ogling, Scotty is walking out the door with the dancer and before long, the dancer turns up dead with Scotty holding the knife.  Scotty remembers nothing of the incident and can't explain what happened.  Before we know it, "the law" shows up  and since this planet is usually all peaceful and quiet, they have an off-world law enforcement bureaucrat, Mr Hengist on the scene (he really doesn't come off as an actual cop).  Naturally, the law of this idyllic planet dictates that the punishment for murder is "death by slow torture."  Gulp!  So what the hell's going on?  Normally, as Kirk/McCoy point out, Scotty wouldn't be capable of this sort of act, but there's this psychological "resentment" thing in his head.  Ruh Roh!

As the investigation continues, there's a seance-like scene where the Argelian Prefect's wife does this empathic ceremony to determine the truth.  They first try the high tech solution, scanning Scotty's brain, but the female technician who's conveniently left alone in a basement room with Scotty, is killed before it can be performed.  Scotty is now on the hook for another killing.  The ceremony commences, quite effectively:  there are some fun camera angles and the timing of the lights going out/screaming works very well.  And yes, you guessed it:  the lights go out and the Leader's wife is found dead--another notch in Scotty's, er post, but not before she is able to utter some names and clues to what's really going on here.  Hengist is ready to get out the torture equipment and get all Gitmo on Scotty's ass, but Kirk manages to talk them all into moving the proceedings aboard the Enterprise.

Now that they're all on board, I really don't get why they wouldn't do the mind scan on Scotty before going any further.  They say they're going to get around to it, but first we need another Trek Trial (I should trademark that!).  After a lot of dialogue, they figure out that maybe someone like, I don't know, Spock(!) should check out those names the Argelian Prefect's wife shouted out before she was killed.  This part of the episode reminds me of how differently we look at tools such as computers today.  When Spock asks the computer to search for the term "Redjac," it comes up with nothing.  Only after he tells it to search for a "name" does it spill the beans.  Apparently the Enterprise didn't have its Google Appliance installed yet.  This is the point where the episode runs off the rails a bit for me.  Once unmasked, Hengist/Redjac or the energy fear-feeding entity, takes over the computer and threatens to kill off everyone.  This would have been somewhat more sinister if they'd used someone other than John Fiedler's voice for the "Jack the Ripper" computer.  It makes me giggle, frankly.  And of course, the bit where Spock announces he's going to make the computer solve Pi, is hilarious:  "Nooooooooo!"

McCoy shoots everyone up with "tranquilizers" which happen to work like weed and the entity, after being defeated by Pi, re-enters Hengist's body.  I was never clear whether Hengist was just some poor sap who got possessed or whether he was never really a non-Redjac person.  Oh well.  Hengist makes one last attempt at sowing terror but is shot full of drugs reducing him to a silly psycho.  One amusing thing:  apparently, the script called for Scotty, McCoy, and Kirk to be drinking booze at the cafe at the start of the episode, but the network objected.  Uh, Okay.  So they were fine with the entire crew being high on cosmic mushrooms?  Anyhow, they drag Hengist into the transporter where his atoms are scattered around the cosmos, presumable never to be heard from again.  Cue the jokes and laughter.

Despite the ribbing I gave here, I do enjoy watching this one.  James Doohan manages to not overact too much and Shatner even keeps things in check, sometimes more than is called for; he seems a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing.  As I said before, the seance scene is very effective and the pacing of the first half is fine.  I just find the ending unsatisfying, on the whole.  It's like they didn't know how to finish things off.  I like the idea that a figure such as Jack the Ripper could be a nearly-immortal fear-feeding energy being; that's good sci fi.   John Fiedler actually does pretty well with this role.  On the surface, he looks right (Piglet wouldn't do THAT!), but there's something a bit shifty and a bit off about him.

There wasn't much different about the new effects on this episode other than the usual replaced shots of the Enterprise orbiting the planet.  As far as I could tell, all of the music was recycled from earlier episodes, including the "exotic" dance music heard at the beginning of the episode, heard earlier in "The Cage" and "The Menagerie."  I'm sure I'll hear it again before we're done.


And now, on to Eric's review:

"Wolf in the Fold" is another solid original Star Trek episode penned by Robert Bloch, who also wrote the episodes "What Are Little Girls Made Of" and "Catspaw." (More notably, however, he wrote the book "Psycho," upon which Alfred Hitchcock based his famous movie of the same name.) It is essentially a horror story, and as such, it fills the role well. There are genuinely scary scenes. Seeing Scotty holding a bloody knife after a brutal murder is particularly disturbing. The "séance" scene is also very well done. What I still find most fascinating, though, is the concept of Redjac; it's not only interesting SF but also a compelling explanation of Jack the Ripper.

This being said, there some flaws that have become more glaring over the years. One is that the premise--that Scotty becomes a raging misogynist when an accident due to a woman befalls him--is not only ridiculous, it speaks very poorly of Scotty's mental stability and resilience. Further, I find it very hard to believe that Dr. McCoy would prescribe shore leave on a planet that's essentially a worldwide whorehouse as effective therapy. The "Get-him-laid-and-everything-will-be-fine" approach? I think not.

Another less obvious point is that the character Hengist (who turns out to be Redjac's host), is played by John Fiedler, who also provided the voice for Piglet in the original Winnie the Pooh cartoons. Knowing that, it's difficult to be intimidated by him when he's mouthing gruesome threats. I keep picturing Piglet shouting: "Die, die, die, everybody DIE!" and well, it just doesn't work.

Most notably, the last act of the episode, aboard the Enterprise, takes a comic turn that's rather jarring, and it completely destroys the menacing atmosphere of the episode. And while it makes sense, in a way--the crew would be pretty jolly after being loaded up with happy juice--I would've preferred to see the macabre mood maintained throughout.

Still, this is an episode I can, and do, enjoy despite its flaws. All in all, another solid entry in the canon of original Start Trek

Next time:  "The Trouble With Tribbles"

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