Thursday, June 12, 2014

TOS Rewind #64 and #65: "Wink of an Eye" and "The Empath"

Due to reasons far too boring to go into here, we doubled up this entry with TWO episodes! Wow, are you people lucky...

Our podcast, also covering both episodes:

Up for our consideration:

Wink of an Eye (11/29/1968)

and The Empath (12/06/1968)

"Wink of an Eye" feels like it has a lot of recycled ideas. The story of aliens taking over the ship is one that we've seen before. Wait a minute, am I actually recycling my reviews in response?!?! The ways in which our heroes overcome the aliens, while not exactly the same as other episodes, has a familiar feel. There are some interesting concepts on display, such as the way that the aliens are operating on such an elevated speed that they can't even be seen. This is interesting but the way in which this idea is portrayed in the show is sloppy to say the least. The science in this episode is glaringly bad, even for classic Trek. To be fair, aside from a few fantastical concepts such as the transporter, Trek tried harder than most shows and movies to make the science believable. But this episode displays a lack of detail that you don't see earlier in the series.

On the advice of Rob, I have been reading These Are The Voyages which chronicles (in great detail) the production history of this show. I've only read through the first half of the first season but what is very apparent is how much effort was put into making the scripts ready for production. A number of writers and producers had a hand in refining or outright re-writing the stories submitted by the authors. This may or may not have been for the best but there was a lot of effort going on to make the show consistently interesting and entertaining. I suspect that as the final season wore on, there was less of this, certainly by Gene Roddenberry who had little involvement with the show, and it shows with the way these later episodes come across. You can't blame everything on low budgets.

There are decent character scenes between the series regulars and it's somewhat amusing to see Kirk explicitly (as could be done in 1968 Trek) sleep with alien woman as part of a ruse to buy more time. However the ending of this episode feels off to me. The Enterprise just leaves the aliens back on the planet without much resolution, other than their implied destruction I guess. Kirk must have not wanted to share the cure with them...

The HD/remastered version looks great of course. The main difference I see is the backdrop on the planet wasn't reused from an earlier episode.

Ah, "The Empath".

This is another one I was never that fond of in the (distant) past. The ideas of the story seem familiar: aliens experimenting on people to test them. Yep, seen/done it. The Vians, who are this super race that we learn next to nothing about, bear a close resemblance to the "butt heads" of Talos IV ("The Cage"/"The Menagerie") but are far less interesting.

The sets and direction of this episode are pretty unusual, I'll give it that. I kept thinking as I watched that this could be an abstract stage version of Star Trek. The sets are really minimalistic and obviously set up on a darkened sound stage. Cheap, but the stripped bare sets don't benefit the story all that much. The environment isn't really supposed to be an improv-theater, more like a laboratory.

The performance of the woman who plays "Gem" (the empath) is actually quite good, if exaggerated. The lack of dialogue makes her acting come across like an old silent movie dramatic performance. Or maybe she's a mime. In any case, I have no doubt the actress was directed to perform the scenes in this way. The quirkiness of her scenes along with the interactions with our usual characters kept me interested even when the details of the story didn't really work. Like I said above, this episode could have benefited from a healthy dose of the Roddenberry script hatchet treatment. Like the Vians, who are cast using actors who probably were used to playing such roles as cab drivers or union foremen, no one seemed to care enough to make this story work well.

Some of the stylistic elements of the episode, such as this long sequence where Kirk is falling in slow motion, just go on too long and needed some editorial intervention. This is, by the way, a classic scene where one could poke fun at Shatner's acting style. However, I can't blame him for this one as I'm sure he's doing exactly as directed. Somebody thought this was a good idea...The pacing doesn't move well which tends to undermine the occasionally creepy atmosphere that the episode manages to convey.

I don't recall much different in the HD/remastered version but the sharper picture sure made the yellow carpeting stand out on that set platform Gem is found on!


And Eric's turn:

Friday the Thirteenth, full moon, Mercury in retrograde, and our black cat has crossed my path multiple times. If I were superstitious, I'd be royally screwed. But I'm not, so on with the original Star Trek review. This time, "Wink of an Eye" is up.

The only episode that rivals this one for getting the science so ludicrously wrong is "Operation Annihilate." We cover many of the inaccuracies in our podcast, but there are some other egregious gaffes:

Unless the radiation sickness is highly selctive by gender, the women would've been streilized too.

If McCoy found an antidote for the radiation sickness that worked on Kirk and Spock, with a little work, wouldn't he have been able to help the Scalosians too?

Unless time was accelerated too, the phaser beam Kirk shot at Deela would have moved at the speed of light as usual.

The story is very similar to a short story by H.G. Wells titled "The New Accelerator." It also strongly resembles and episode of The Lone Ranger, and an episode of The Wild Wild West titled "Night of the Burning Diamond."

Gene Coon was the first season Producer for The Wild Wild West, and he wrote "Wink of an Eye."

Finally, what still nags me is that Kirk simply left the Scalosians there to die. This is really out of character for the good captain, and it seems to be at serious odds with the high ideals of the supposedly benevolent United Federation of Planets. "Wink of an Eye" is not, however, wholly irredeemable. The one scene I like is where Kirk is running down the corridor and sees the recently accelerated Spock. He simply smiles as if he's pleased but not altogether surprised.

So, to quote Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."

"The Empath"

I've been trying to think of something to say about "The Empath" that we didn't discuss in our podcast. The only thing I can think of is to reiterate how pointless it seems. Wouldn't it have been simpler and more revealing for the Vians to observe Gem's race to see if they met the criteria for being saved?

Also, Kathryn Hays, the actress who played Gem, seemed to be channeling an old silent movie actress. And while that may have been apprpriate for the role, I still found the overwrought emoting annoying.

And finally, I really didn't appreciate having to listen to bible quotes.

Before I sign off, I was just looking at the Memory Alpha entry for "The Empath," and apparently it was DeForest Kelley's favorite episode. Go figure. Anyway, there's some small hope that the next episode will be an improvement. LLAP.

Next time: "Elaan of Troyius"

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