Monday, June 18, 2012

TOS Rewind #49: "By Any Other Name"

Up this time around:  By Any Other Name (02/28/1968)

Here's the podcast:

There are two things that always come to mind when I think about this episode.

1.  The scene where Scotty drinks an alien under the table.

2.  The scene where the (female!) redshirt (redskirt?) is, to quote an old SNL sketch, "turned into a cube, and crushed."

Besides these two memorable moments, this episode is unfortunately uneven; I just get the feeling that the writers just didn't have the pacing and tone of the show balanced. Eric points this out well, but it bears repeating.

The first few acts of the episode are quite serious and, assuming an SNL sketch hasn't made it into a joke, the early scene of Rojan coldly killing the crew member to make a point has a dramatic impact. Once the Enterprise leaves the galaxy and Kirk has decided to not destroy his ship (more on that later), the tone shifts to a less serious insurrection. It almost feels like, "well, we can't beat these guys so we might as well have some fun messing with their minds." Hmm, okay. I can't fault the tone here too much as the scenes where our heroes are undermining their captors' new "human" natures are just too much fun. Kirk is clearly enjoying his alien seduction duties even more than usual and Spock totally knows when to strategically place the right button-pushing statement to push Rojan over the edge to jealousy. I am going to pause for a moment to ponder just what Kalinda's job on this colonization crew is exactly? I get that a long-time expedition might have couples aboard but only Rojan seems to have a, er...spouse(?). No one else seems to have any sort of relationship. Leadership has its privileges...

I suppose the main point is that all this setup at the beginning seems like a waste; it's easy to forget the seriousness of the opening acts when we're laughing at Scotty, who just twenty minutes prior, was ready to destroy his beloved Enterprise. And that's a shame really. The buildup to the point where Kirk has to make the call on whether or not to blow up the ship is nicely done with a tense buildup. The resolution, the Kelvans being undone by their choice of life form to morph into (good thing they didn't decide to become Vulcans!) has its problems, but at least Kirk and the crew get out of this situation on their own. There is no cosmic force that helps them out at the end.  The resolution results in a, to quote Eric, "group hug," but the strategy of pissing their captors off and sleeping with the alien leader's lover is not without risk.

It's hard to imagine this episode without all the humorous character elements but I wonder if the pacing and tone would have worked better if the setup were somehow different. The material in this episode could have been made into two different and perhaps more successful shows.

As I have mentioned, the Kirk/Spock/McCoy/Scotty characters are all given plenty of good material. Despite the flaws in the story, if one were to compile a short list of original series episodes that really demonstrate the core characters of the show, this would have to be among them.

I did view the remastered version of this episode but there were minimal changes to the special effects. The space scenes in the original version were pretty decent.


And now we have Eric's review:

Before I get to my review, I want to note that Warren Stevens, the actor who played Rojan in "By Any Other Name," passed away on March 27th. He also played Dr. Ostrow in the 1956 classic SF movie "Forbidden Planet." He was 92.

Now for my comments on "By Any Other Name," an episode that has many things going for it, such as: a great title (gotta love the Shakespeare), some interesting intrigue by Kirk and company, and a healthy dose of great character scenes. Unfortunately, however, it also suffers from some glaring weaknesses: a jarring shift in tone halfway through the episode, an abrupt resolution that strains credulity, and a subtle but significant continuity problem that I address in my closing.

The title of this episode is from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" (Act 2, Scene 2): "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
 by any other name would smell as sweet." Lovely blank verse, but I'm not sure exactly how it relates to this episode. Perhaps it is meant to point out the familiar Trek theme that aliens are not so different from us (particularly when they take human form, as in this episode). Or it could simply be a reference to the scene where Kirk quotes that line to Kalinda. Your guess is as good as mine.

I also like the way the crew figures out how to defeat the Kelvans. No deus ex machina like we saw in "Return to Tomorrow." It's a logical, well-reasoned plan that is executed to delightful effect. Which brings me to the character scenes. All of the main characters (who were not turned into styrofoam tetrahedrons) got to have great scenes turning the Kelvans' newfound emotions against them: Kirk awakens the sex kitten in Kalinda (the hot alien, naturally); Spock brings out Rojan's jealousy while playing a nice, sedate game of chess; McCoy drives Hanar to distraction with some sort of stimulant; and best of all, Scotty drinks Tomar under the table. This last may be Scotty's best scene in the entire series, and it is certainly one of the funniest in original Star Trek. ("It's green" is a favorite quote among fans.)

The drawback to these great character scenes is that their onset signals a jarring shift in the tone of the episode. Before, on the planet, the situation is quite serious--no hint of humor--but as soon as we get back to the Enterprise, the crew starts having these amusing, often hilarious, interludes with the Kelvans. This is followed by a group hug resolution that is facilitated by an abrupt, diametric shift in Rojan's attitude. He goes from being a hostile invader bent on conquering the Federation to a friendly visitor looking for guest accommodations, and he does this while being held in a headlock by Kirk. Sorry, that just doesn't ring true. But in defense of the producers, I think they simply ran out of airtime for the episode.

So, as with many other episodes, "By Any Other Name" is a mixed bag--enjoyable but best not examined too closely. Despite that, I want to sign off by posing a question that's been nagging me: what happened to the incredible upgrades the Kelvans made to the Enterprise engines after this episode?

Next time: "The Omega Glory"

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