Tuesday, April 7, 2015

TOS Rewind #73: "The Cloud Minders"

Up next:  The Cloud Minders (2/28/1969)

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This time, Kirk and the Enterprise crew get a lesson in, uh, labor relations?

Okay, so not quite. We're back in the familiar trope of dealing with a society where the division of labor and the fruits thereof are pretty well divided into haves and have-nots. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? A difference this time is that the society in question is on a planet that is a member of the Federation, not some backwater primitive planet. Unfortunately this is one of the few elements of this episode that doesn't feel like a complete retread. 

Once again, the Enterprise is sent to deliver some Unobtainium ("Zenite") to combat a deadly plague on some other world and time is of the essence. Kirk must do (sigh) anything to deliver the goods. The needed shipment gives Kirk the justification to meddle in the conflict going on and once again show those guys how cool we Earthers are. Heh. At least this time we don't have the Prime Directive standing in the way. 

The setting for most of the episode, the cloud city (years before Star Wars), is interesting and the sets more distinctive than most third season episodes. Also, distinctive is the outfit worn by Droxine (what a name!), the daughter of the planet's leader. She is obviously interested in Spock and while I'm always glad to see Spock recognized for his appeal to the ladies, the scenes between the two range from awkward to silly. Also silly is Spock's internal monologue which states the obvious and seems out of place. 

The Zenite fails to appear and Kirk, after several arguments with Plasus, the leader, decides to deal directly with the workers to get the shipment. The toxic gas that effects the brains of the workers in the mines seems like a contrivance, and really not a necessary one. Isn't the issue of inequality itself enough without the gas? The use of masks allows the episode to have a showdown between Kirk and Plasus, which is amusing/dramatic but it also gives us a false sense of closure. The workers may now be smartening up but the conflict itself is far from resolved. 

I like the fact that the leader of the workers is a woman; nice change there. Plasus is a pompous ass but he seems credible, given the scenario, though he seems unmoved by the events of the story. As we don't really have any way of knowing what becomes of the society once the Enterprise is on its way, the episode doesn't really have much impact other than, "those silly people, not using masks!" So we're left with a story where we care more about how Kirk and the crew deal with the task at hand than we do with the conflict of the planet. I enjoy seeing the characters work around these obstacles but it feels a bit stale. This is a far cry from "seek out new life and new civilizations".

And now Eric's turn:

With “The Cloud Minders,” we're back to another mehpisode. Like its companion mehpisodes, the basic idea (in this case, the inherent problems and immorality of a society malignantly separated into Haves and Have-Nots), is interesting and worth exploring, but the execution is lacking. 

To begin with, I'm sick and tired of the “In order to stop a deadly plague, the Enterprise must obtain ____ substance, available only from ____ planet.” And, of course, there is a time imperative and there is some obstacle to obtaining the desperately needed substance. This plot device is so overused in third season Star Trek, it's like fingernails scraping a chalkboard.

I'm also perplexed by the reason for having the raw zenite emit a gas that affects the mental status and capabilities of anyone who breathes it. I suppose an argument can be made that it was needed as an excuse for the stratosians' bigotry against the troglytes (a blatant derivation of the term “troglodyte”) who labor in the mines on the planet. It also sets up the confrontation at the end of the episode, but it is still a rather obvious plot device that serves no real purpose—bigots such as the stratosians need no justification for their bigotry.

What I did like about this episode is that, ultimately, nothing is resolved between the stratosians and the troglytes. Kirk gets the zenite, and the troglytes get the gas masks that they need to protect them from the debilitating zenite gas. They're still the Have-Nots, and the stratosians are still very much the Haves, but with their improved mental status, the troglyte impetus to rebel will be even greater and more cunning. As the troglyte Vanna says “...our demands have just begun!” So Plasus, the stratosian leader, and his ilk have a big problem on their hands, and they richly deserve it.

Next time:  "The Savage Curtain"

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