Star Trek: Episodes with Impact

 

KirkSpock50

You are witnessing a first here at Planetary Defense Command.  Although I frequently blog about short stories and novels, and every once in a while about a film, this will be my first post about television.  To demonstrate how irrelevant I am in modern America, I’ve chosen to write about two episodes of a television show which aired in 1967.  I didn’t see Star Trek during its original airing, but I remember that when I watched the re-runs, “color TV” was still an important distinction.  The two episodes I’ll discuss here left a lasting impact, sticking in my memory through the decades.

The first episode is called “Mirror, Mirror” (I had to look this up).  Several members of the crew, including Captain Kirk, are transported to a parallel universe, where the Enterprise is populated by “evil” twins of the regular crew.  The Enterprise is on a mission to extort natural resources from a lower-tech planet, and the ship’s officers seek promotion by killing the officers above them.  Yes, this is the episode where Spock has a goatee, and in this sexy universe, it’s perfectly natural for Kirk to share his bedroom with a female member of the crew.

As a child, I saw this as “good universe” and “evil universe”, but today, I’m not 100% sure.  What if there were an extinction-level threat, and the races of the “evil” federation had to militarize to save themselves?  I also thought the “evil” fleet would doom itself by killing its own officers.  Now, I think about Earth’s history, and wonder how many battles have been lost, ships sunk, companies bankrupted, or entire societies destroyed because the leaders at the top were simply incompetent and had no business being in charge.

I enjoyed a number of aspects of Spock’s evil twin in this episode.  It blew my mind that “evil” Spock wasn’t really evil, he was actually almost identical to regular Spock.  He was still operating in the most logical manner, but under a different set of rules.  He never tried to assassinate Kirk, preferring the second-in-command role (which apparently drew fewer assassination attempts), and the resulting two-man team was unbeatable.  I have a vivid memory of Spock threatening to send his agents after someone, and stating, in an ominous tone, that “some of them are Vulcans.”

For me, Kirk still managed to steal the show at the end, with an action I’d place among the most heroic I’ve seen in fiction.  The “good” crew members have figured a way back to their own universe, but it’s time-sensitive, and they have to go, now!  Kirk doesn’t just run home, yelling “so long, awful universe” over his shoulder.  He stops and delivers a rapid-fire speech to Spock, telling him that no empire can last forever, and that there are other ways to organize a society.  Spock promises to consider his words.  Kirk risked being trapped in the “evil” universe forever, trying to bring a better life to the people there.  Mighty heroic, in my book.

I’ll write more briefly about my other chosen episode, “Space Seed”.  This is the episode with Khan.  Fans liked this episode so much that it got its own spin-off movie, “Wrath of Khan.”

The crew of the Enterprise find Khan and his people in some kind of stasis pods aboard a derelict ship.  It turns out the people in the pods were genetically-engineered supermen (and women) who tried to conquer Earth.  They apparently were defeated at some point, and escaped or were exiled on the ship.  There have been some Khan-related books, such as The Eugenics Wars and To Reign in Hell, but I haven’t read any of them yet.

Khan and his people attempt to seize the Enterprise and go on another round of conquest, but are defeated by Kirk and crew in the end.  One of the most interesting elements of the episode is that a female member of the enterprise crew falls under Khan’s spell, and ultimately decides to go with him and the other supermen into exile following their defeat.

The episode made me think of practical questions, such as “how were the supermen defeated on Earth?”, as well as philosophical questions:  Should the superior rule over the inferior?  Does that change if the superiors are not just superior in their own minds, but under some objective standard?  What if people disagree on the standard for superior?  Bonus thinking:  try asking these questions in other contexts, from the European colonialism of the past, to the scary AIs of the far future.

The more recent versions of Star Trek haven’t made quite the same impression on me, possibly because I saw them as an adult.  For me, the most memorable episodes of “The Next Generation” series involve the Borg, a truly terrifying menace.  The “Voyager” series had an interesting premise, but I saw very few episodes, in scrambled order.  (I often didn’t get the full experience of a TV series, especially when I was living or frequently traveling overseas.)  I never watched “Deep Space Nine” because friends told me it was basically a soap opera, but maybe I should have checked for myself.  I only caught a couple of episodes of “Enterprise”, and none of the more recent show/shows.

OK, your turn to chime in by leaving me comments below.  What do you think of the episodes I chose?  Are there other episodes you would choose instead?  Is there some other TV show that still makes you think, many years after it aired?

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29 comments

  1. Nice post! I definitely enjoyed Mirror, Mirror for the reason you chose it. I enjoyed Space Seed as well, but I love Wrath of Khan more. I love that at the end of Mirror, Mirror, the “good universe” crew had no problem telling the “bad universe” crew apart.

    TNG is my favourite series of the group, with some great episodes that maybe hit more of an emotional home for me, but still make me think:
    – Measure of a Man: Data needs to defend his personal rights as a sentient being
    – Best of Both Worlds: the Borg nab Picard. Scary stuff for the five year old me.
    – Family: the follow-up to Best of Both Worlds, with Picard dealing with the repurcussions of the previous episode
    – I, Borg: the last of the trio of great Borg episodes.
    – Lower Decks: four ensigns compete for a promotion
    – Yesterday’s Enterprise: the Enterprise D crew meets the Enterprise C crew in a freak time accident
    – The Inner Light: no words.
    – Chain of Command: Picard. Cardassians. Torture. Some fine acting on Patrick Stewart’s part
    – Darmok: learning to communicate with an unaquainted race in a life or death situation.
    – Tapestry: if you could live your life over again, would you?

    I haven’t been jazzed about the newer movies because they just aren’t philosophical like classic Trek is. They are way too action-based.

    1. Good point about the “bad universe” group being spotted and captured right away in the “good universe”. I always associate bad guys with being more sneaky and dishonest, so I would have expected the opposite.

      In the TNG episode where Data was on trial to see if he was an officer or a toaster, I thought the writers missed a great opportunity. Riker knew Data’s off switch, and switched him off to make his point. I thought Picard should have had a Vulcan crewman turn Riker off as a counter-demonstration.

      I’ll have to look up a couple of your other TNG episodes, they aren’t ringing a bell, so maybe I missed them.

      1. “In the TNG episode where Data was on trial to see if he was an officer or a toaster, I thought the writers missed a great opportunity. Riker knew Data’s off switch, and switched him off to make his point. I thought Picard should have had a Vulcan crewman turn Riker off as a counter-demonstration.”

        XD Hahahaha!!!

  2. I like the Harlan Ellison sorta written City at the Edge of Tomorrow, it has a great moral, if somewhat simplistic, premise.

    I grew up in the 90s, 35 right now, so TNG and DS:9 were my shows. I think that DS:9 is the best of the Star Treks. It has all the deep moralistic philosophy without the sappy neo-commie peacenick nonsense of TNG. It also approaches religion in a very interesting way, and has a heavy focus on some of the best Alien races developed in ST, Ferengi and Cardassians.

    1. I’m thinking the City at the Edge episode is the one where they go back in time and accidentally rescue a woman who founded a pacifist movement? It was a fun episode to watch, but I hate it because of the ending, where they basically said “Pacifism in the 1930’s would have ended the world, but do it in some other time period, and it would be great and work out just fine.” I just don’t see how anyone can reconcile that in their mind.

      Wow, I’ve never heard anyone say DS9 was the best before, maybe I need to find some way to watch it.

  3. It’s true that the more recent incarnations of Trek (especially TNG) did not withstand the passing of time (and our encroaching maturity) too well, but indeed those episodes from the original series are classics that defy time and the changes in social and moral outlook.
    I would like to spend a word in favor of DS9, though: I consider it the most adult and thoughtful of all the various Trek series, and if you can hold on until season 4, when it gets down to serious business and story arcs, and if you can fly over the (too many!) filler episodes concerned with holodeck trouble and Ferengi family history, you might enjoy the journey. Probably because the story is modeled after the even more mature and far deeper Babylon 5 – but here I must be honest and confess my strong bias toward B5….

    1. All the DS9 praise is blowing me away!

      I’m also a fan of Babylon 5, although I missed the first season during the original airings, only catching some of its episodes much later.

      1. The first season of B5 takes some time to find its proper course, and it’s often more appreciated if you watch it after the other seasons – strange as it might sound. Yet this has been my experience as well (I started watching from S. 2) and it worked out for me.

  4. If movies are bacon (and going moldy and bad in the fridge) then tv is the vege-bacon equivalent.

    I’ve never liked Shatner so I couldn’t stand TOS. It doesn’t help that tv is something I do for background noise for the most part,not something I sit down and pay attention to.

    1. I’m gonna have to strongly disagree. Modern TV is fantastic, and far outpaces movies. Shows like True Detective, Fargo, Breaking Bad, Made Men, on and on are vastly superior to modern movies.

      1. And there are some great movies too. But you listing a handful of what you consider to be great tv shows doesn’t in any way change my statement.

      2. I don’t watch enough modern movies or TV to make an intelligent comparison as to quality. I do feel that television is pushing the “social engineering” harder than movies are.

    2. For me, Kirk is the archetype of the heroic leader. If I’d seen the show during adulthood rather than childhood, maybe I’d feel differently.

  5. I second the recommendations for DS9. Maybe look up a “Best of” episode listing to start with. Agree the arc stories are best and, yeah, too many fluff episodes in the early going. But DS9 is not simple or juvie Trek.

    1. I never expected this, I’d never heard anyone stick up for DS9 before making this blog post.

  6. I watched the original airings as a little kid. I am a Khan fan, but then you had a pretty decent actor portraying him too.

    1. Yeah, he really nailed it as a megalomaniac dictator.

  7. Great choices. These were my two favorite episodes.

    1. Thanks! I have another television post planned for the future, where I criticize everyone’s favorite show and make them hate me. But, maybe my prediction will be wrong — I never knew so many people loved DS9.

  8. Yep, those are great. When I showed the kids ST:TOS those episodes were included. We watch most of season one, half of season two, and a few season three eps. Haven’t shown them the rest yet but I’m wanting to go back and see the DS9 seasons I missed on the original run.

    1. I never thought about kids today watching older TV shows. I always imagine them staring at seizure-inducing flashes of colored light.

      I may have children in the next couple years, so I guess I’ll need to think about what they should watch.

  9. I LOVE “Mirror, Mirror,” but I am a little iffy on “Space Seed.” Of the original series, I think my favorite episodes are: “City on the Edge of Forever”; “The Trouble with Tribbles”; “I, Mudd”; “The Immunity Syndrome”; “Balance of Terror”; “The Omega Glory,” “Shore Leave,” “The Galileo Seven”… There are a lot!

    Star Trek: Voyager was excellent from about season four onward. It’s first three seasons averaged good to meh, but if you can hold out to season four, things will pick up. Star Trek: Enterprise was pretty good, too, though it had its moments of “what the heck…?” as well.

    Great post – thanks for writing it! 🙂

    1. I’ll have to look up some of those episodes. I’m sure I’ve seen them all, but other than the obvious Tribbles one, I don’t know most of them from the titles.

      If I decide to watch Voyager, maybe I’ll just jump in with season four, then. I don’t know if I could make it through three seasons if they weren’t great.

  10. I think you’d like DS9. It is kind of a soap opera, but it also explores some pretty deep and dark themes, and it forces the crew to deal with the consequences of their actions rather than letting them fly off in their starship at the end of every episode.

    1. Sounds like I need to find out where I can watch it.

      1. I think it’s available on Netflix.

        1. Unfortunately, I seem to be that one last guy who hasn’t subscribed to Netflix … but, I’m building up a list of TV shows that have been recommended to me, and someday I’ll get a way to watch them!

          1. You’re not the last one. I haven’t joined either, but people keep telling me I should sign up because they have all the Star Trek series.

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