First, some housecleaning: I wasn't all that happy with the way the last entry turned out, so I'm going to gear down from three to two episodes a week. At the very least, things won't feel quite so rushed. Also, no update next week, as I'll be on vacation in Chicago, but we'll back for February, so no worries. For those of you playing a long at home who haven't heard about it, you can watch the original Trek via CBS.com. It's only available in the states, and I can't vouch for the visual quality, but it's free, at least.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled review…
TOS was never big on continuity; there are bits here and there, but in general, the episodes don't comment on each other in the way we expect these days from even our most self-contained series. But by coincidence or intention, "The Enemy Within" makes for an interesting response to the directly preceding "Naked Time." Whereas "Time" was about the whole crew succumbing to their basest desires, "Enemy" focuses on one man divided against himself; and since that one man is Kirk, we're talking about some seriously complicated math.
The Enterprise is in orbit around a new planet, with Kirk, Sulu and a surveying team scurrying about on the surface, doing science-y things, walking the space dog (or whatever the hell it is Sulu has in his arms), and working hard to get finished before nightfall. The planet doesn't seem all that comfortable even in the daylight—constant wind, lots of fake rocks—but once the sun sets, the temperature drops rapidly till bottoming out at 120 degrees below zero. Since as far as we can tell nobody on the ground has much in the way of protection beyond a few blankets and their uniforms, the hard freeze makes an already dangerous situation becomes that much more deadly.
Still, it shouldn't be too big a deal to get back; after all, we've got those magical transporters. Unfortunately, one of the techs on the ground gets himself covered in some magnetic dust, and when he's beamed back to the ship, the dust screws up the energizers somehow. Nobody notices the problem, and Kirk comes up next; he seems fine at first, if a little dazed, and Spock leads him out of the room with a suggestion he make a quick stop off at Sick Bay. Too bad they didn't wait another minute, because when the transporter tech comes back, there's another person stuck in the matrix. A quick flip of the switch, and out pops EVIL KIRK!
Apart from his fevered monologue in "Time," "Enemy" provides William Shatner with his first chance to really, really tear things up, and as EVIL KIRK he does his level best to leave no plywood wall uneaten. Generally I enjoy Shatner's theatrics; he sets the tone for the series, and his commitment to the role helps sell some of the sillier effects work. But every so often he goes over the edge, and EK is a prime example. In some scenes he does well, but others—like his "Emcee from Cabaret" styleintroduction—are just so hilariously awkward that they kick you right out of the episode. I don't have a problem with ham, but I do have a problem with acting that looks like a first take with no direction and no restrictions. It makes sense that EK is at his goofiest when he's alone on screen; without another actor to play off of, Shatner has to supply all the beats, and he can't quite manage it.
That said, there are two Kirks this time around, and Shatner's performance as the "good" side is very solid stuff. Even before you know why, you get a clear sense of him being diminished, and there's a certain tragedy to his rapidly softening presence. The basic plot of "Enemy" is a familiar one; I think two thirds of the cartoons I watched growing up had an ep devoted to somebody getting Jekyll-and-Hyde-ed. But it works here, because, theatrics aside, the acting is solid, and the script (penned by genre stalwart Richard Matheson) is thoughtful and logically laid out. When EK starts running around the ship threatening people, Spock and the Good Kirk immediately figure out the problem (with a little help from a bifurcated space dog); there are a few moments of mistaken identity, but the plot doesn’t waste our time with them.
One of those mistaken identity moments is worth mentioning, as it gives us this week's installment in Everybody Loves Rand. After EK busts into Sick Bay demanding Saurian Brandy from McCoy (an aside: EK's obviously going where he knows the booze is, but I like how EK winds up talking to McCoy first, while GK goes with Spock), he makes an impromptu visit to the yeoman's cabin. Shatner turns down the volume for most of this scene, and it's terrifically creepy, with Rand balancing her feelings for Kirk, their respective positions aboard their ship, and the physical threat a drunken, horny sociopath represents. For the most part, “Enemy” relegates EK to yelling and grimacing, but for those few minutes, the danger of having the most important person in the crew's little universe reduced to his basest instincts becomes horribly relevant. (Which makes it all the weirder when Rand’s two encounters with EK are reduced to a bad joke from Spock at the end.)
The first two acts of the episode play out smoothly; we get ourselves a threat, we discover that threat is more complicated than we initially believed (there’s an Evil Kirk! Oh crap, the good Kirk is a total wuss!), and all the while, lives are in danger on the planet below because of the malfunctioning transporters. This gets a little silly—I can’t help wondering what sort of degree system the Federation uses, since 120 below seems immediately fatal in Celsius and Fahrenheit—but it ensures that the problem of the two Kirks is more than just a philosophical one. Writing-wise, my only real issue is that the third act seems redundant; Spock figures out that the Kirks need to re-integrate fairly early on, and there are no new revelations after that point. Having EK trapped in Sick Bay, only to break out and run up to the Bridge, was fairly unnecessary, although Shatner does some nice work here with both sides of the personality. In the end, Kirk becomes singular again, Sulu and his frozen friends are rescued in the nick of time (funny how nobody mentions using the shuttlecraft to go pick them up), and a valuable lesson is learned by all: that a man without at least a little monster in him isn’t much of a man at all.
So let’s see. We’ve had a couple of super-power episodes, a mind-warping virus episode, and a sci-fi metaphor episode, but I’d say that “Mudd’s Women” is the first overtly comic episode of the series. It has some sci-fi elements, of course, and it gets a little serious by the end, but at by and large this is the kind of “whacky guest star” ep that would become a staple of Treks down the line. Harcourt Fenton Mudd may not have the powers of a Q being, but he does have a sense of humor, an ego, and the unshakable presumption that the rules are largely a matter of someone else’s problem. With TOS, the jokes don’t always work; there’s a tendency, especially in later seasons, to go overly broad, punctuating every gag with a double-take and musical sting. For seem reason, I’d assumed “Women” worked much the same, but re-watching it, I was happy to find I was misremembering. Some of the jokes centering on the male crew’s immediate obsession with Mudd’s lovely ladies fall flat, but in general, this one has a pleasantly light touch, helped out by some clever character work and an enthusiastic performance from Roger C. Carmel.
The Enterprise comes across an unidentified ship in their travels, and when they try and make contact, the ship immediately bolts; this being fairly suspicious behavior, the Enterprise follows, eventually forcing the other ship into an asteroid belt where it overheats and explodes. Fortunately, Scotty and crew are able to beam the ship’s four passengers aboard before the explosion, but the pursuit burns out a number of the Enterprise’s lithium crystals, leaving them in a bad state. For their pains, they’ve managed to capture a large guy dressed in clothes apparently stolen from a high school drama club, as well as three women whose impact on every man they meet (apart from Spock) is immediate and devastating. The guy in the goofy outfit claims to be Captain Leo Walsh, and the women—well, they have names, but honestly, when you look that good, you don’t really need a name.
Kirk smells a rat, even after meeting with the hotties, and for good reason. Captain Leo Walsh is not a captain, nor is he a Leo Walsh; his real name is Harry Mudd, and he’s got a rap sheet as broad as his belly. He claims to be on a purely legitimate errand, ferrying the women (Ruth, Magda, and Eve, aka, The Conflicted One) to Ophiucus III so they can pick up husbands, but Kirk isn’t convinced. There’s something strange going on here, and it has something to do with the way the men can’t stop starring at Eve and her friends. Sure they’ve been in space a while, but the Enterprise is a coed operation. The women are beautiful, but “pound for pound” (as McCoy delicately puts it) are they really that much more beautiful than any other pretty girl?
They aren’t, honestly; Mudd’s been giving them a “performance enhancer” called the Venus drug, but even when they’re at they’re supposedly most desirable, none of the women seems to justify the saxophone music that follows them wherever they go. But maybe that’s part of the point; as Kirk ultimately explains, there are only two kinds of people in this world, those who believe in themselves and those who don’t. The looks aren’t as important as the way they’re carried, and all Eve needs is a little Dumbo-esque magic to let her stand on her own.
Much has been made of how TOS is basically a Western in outer space, and there are times in “Women” when the tech trappings seem to have been forgotten altogether. After the last lithium crystal burns out, the Enterprise heads to a mining planet to pick up some spares; Mudd, through careful application of his Angels on the ship’s crew, manages to make contact with the miners before Kirk does, and offers up the women in exchange for his freedom, and the command of the ship. Obviously this doesn’t sit well with Kirk, so there are some tense dialogues both on the Enterprise and on the planet surface—a surface that, weird colored rocks aside, wouldn’t have looked all that out of place in an episode of Bonanza. The miners themselves, led by a man named Childress, are a tough looking crew, and there’s some unpleasantness between them when the women finally beam down. It seems bizarre that you’d only need three guys to mine a planet, and that their living quarters are rustic despite being, as we’re repeatedly told, fabulously wealthy; and the fact that Kirk puts up with them as long as he does doesn’t really make sense. (Even if he couldn’t call for Federation back-up to put pressure on Childress, he could at least threaten to send a message letting the folks back home know that the miners were willing to let over four hundred people die for sheer stubbornness.) But as flaws go, these are minor; the tension created by the situation, even if it doesn’t entirely make sense, is good enough that I don’t mind suspending a bit more disbelief than usual.
And man, Harry Mudd is a lot of fun. I think it’s the way he manages to roll every piece of dialogue that comes out of his mouth; he’s like the budget Zero Mostel, and even with his ridiculous costume and distracting neck hair (seriously, I can’t imagine what watching this in high-def is like—I kept wanting to shave my TV), he makes a great foil for Kirk, and a nice change of pace from most of the villains we’ve dealt with so far. Carmel comes back for another go-round in the second season in “I, Mudd,” and it’s not hard to see why they brought him back. Recurring characters outside the main leads are great for world-building, but I imagine Mudd was a lot of fun to write for, too. It’s a familiar character type, but an enjoyable one.
Like I said, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this on seeing it again. I especially like the tone shift in the final act—it’s a risky move, taking the focus largely away from the Enterprise crew and putting it on Eve and Childress, but it works. The two have a nice chemistry together, and I like how neither of them come off as particularly bright or remarkable; just two frustrated people trying to figure out if they fit together. As always with TOS’s sentimental moments, we’re skirting the line between corny and authentic, but in this case, it's largely successful.
In the end, the women get their husbands (although is anybody else creeped out wondering what happens to Ruth and Magda when they run out of meds? Childress wasn’t too happy, and he seemed like the most normal of the lot), the Enterprise is saved, and Mudd is on his way back to the authorities, sputtering all the while. Kirk, after being briefly tempted by Eve, has remained true to his first and only love, and McCoy has gotten several eyefuls worth of lady flesh. Oh, and Spock? He gets some really good smirking in there, so everybody goes home happy.
“The Enemy Within”: A-
“Mudd’s Women”: A
--Continuity alert: at the start of “Enemy,” Kirk’s uniform doesn’t have the standard Starfleet insignia on it, but it comes back after the opening credits. Wacky!
--Didn’t talk about them much, but Spock’s disdainful reaction shots through the first half of “Mudd’s Women” are hilarious.
--Riley’s gone for now, and in his place we’ve got Johnny Farrell. He’s—goony looking.
--Next week: Vacation! Week of Feburary 6th: "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" and "Miri"