Wednesday, April 22, 2015

TOS Rewind #74: "The Savage Curtain"

Help me, Spock! For today we get to review, The Savage Curtain (3/7/1969)

Here's the podcast:

This is an episode that I may slightly like more today than I did in my youth. The space scenes are practically nonexistent and the hand to hand combat is, shall we say, lacking. However, today I appreciate some of the other elements that didn't mean a whole lot then.

Alas, we have here another Trek story where some random aliens test humanity (or at least humanoids, as there is a Klingon and a Vulcan in the mix) by pitting our heroes against some notorious opponents. The concept, in its broad form was pretty tired by this time in the run of the series and you can just imagine the writer(s) scratching their heads to come up with a new wrinkle on the formula.

How about having the crew meet Abraham Lincoln?!

As goofy as the premise of the giant floating image of Abe in space is, I rather enjoyed the scenes were Lincoln is aboard the Enterprise. Kirk is obviously thrilled to be meeting one of his personal heroes and the other members of the crew play along. Of course Kirk knows he isn't meeting the real Abe but plans to enjoy the encounter while he tries to figure out just what's going on. Kirk gives a scaled back "risk is our business" talk while he and the crew debate beaming down to the alien planet with Mr. Lincoln. Again, this is a redo but I didn't mind it so much.

Once the action turns to the planet's surface, the game begins with the introduction by a representative of the world's inhabitants, a weird rock creature with pincers for hands. Fun. The costume/effect for the alien is not so bad, especially for a budget-starved Third Season episode. At this point we meet Surak, the remaining "good" guy and the "evil" opponents. There is enough time spent with Surak that we get some actual development of the Vulcan peoples' backstory. Surak, the original hippy Vulcan, does live true to his ideals. Those ideals are ones that Spock understands, even if he doesn't necessarily agree with them. Spock always has more flexibility which is true to his character. I enjoyed seeing Spock alongside a different Vulcan character besides Spock's father. 

Surak, and the introduction of Kahless, the Klingon figure give this episode more importance than it might otherwise merit. Unfortunately the villains are poorly represented. Kahless is introduced and does little else but participate in the melee. Genghis Kahn and Zora (?) are just filler, though Kahn does get to throw a few spears. Colonel Green is the only one of the baddies that has any character at all and he's pretty predictable. Philip Pine gives a good performance as the sleazy despot who talks about mutual cooperation while he plans to attack. In the end, the episode doesn't really have enough time to fully explore the good v. evil ideas and gives us a pat unsatisfying conclusion. The crew is victorious and the aliens learn some dubious things about good and evil. So, with all these planets where apparently powerful life forms capture and torment Federation people, does Starfleet just tell everyone to avoid the area like the plague or do they get a force of ships to come back and deliver some payback?

So, I'm sure Eric will label this one with a resounding "meh". I have to say, the episode is quite flawed and derivative but it does stick with me. Or maybe I'm just grading this one on a season 3 curve.


“The Savage Curtain” is yet another mehpisode, but I am somewhat fond of it because it features Abraham Lincoln (or Kirk's conception of Lincoln). I too am fascinated by our sixteenth President. And having him show up in the teaser is actually fairly effective as a hook. It is also interesting to see Surak for the first time. He behaves as one would expect the father of Vulcan philosophy to act. And it's fun to meet Kahless as well, although he does nothing except scowl and fight. (The founder of the Klingon warrior tradition is given much better treatment in TNG and DS9.) But this is where the positives end.

The plot of an alien intelligence testing the Enterprise crew is derivative and pointless. At least in “Arena” there is a sense that Kirk might lose to the Gorn. But here there is no doubt that Kirk and Spock and their heroes will win. And the contrived motivation of the Enterprise engines exploding after X number of minutes/hours is beyond tiresome at this point.

The plot offers no surprises or real interest. The only villain with any appreciable lines is Col. Greene, and he is predictably teacherous. In the end, no real people die and nothing of consequence happens. Yarnek and his fellow Excalbians gain no appreciation of the difference between good and evil, despite the pseudo-philosophic discussion with Kirk. The only effect that might be positive is that Kirk and Spock feel they've met monumental historical figures, but even then, Lincoln and Surak are only Kirk and Spock's idealized versions—thrilling for them, no doubt, but ultimately meaningless. Which also sums up “The Savage Curtain.”

Next time: “All Our Yesterdays

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