Monday, July 10, 2017

Must It Always Be So?: Star Trek episode 8, "Balance of Terror"

"We have seen a hundred campaigns together, and still I do not understand you."
  
"I think you do.  No need to tell you what happens the moment we reach home with proof of the Earth men's weakness; and we will have proof -- the Earth commander will follow.  He must; and when he attacks we will destroy him.  Our gift to the homeland: another war."
  
"If we are the strong, is this not the signal for war?"
  
"Must it always be so?  How many comrades have we lost in this way?"
  
"Our portion, Commander; our portion is obedience."
  
"Obedience; duty; death and more death."
  



It's an interesting title, isn't it?  It seems somewhat incongruous to think that a "balance of terror" could even exist.  After all, terror, as a concept, is fundamentally wild and ungovernable.  How, then, can it be balanced?
  
I don't know that this essay will answer that question, or even seek to answer it; but it's worth keeping in the back of our minds, maybe.
  
The episode-analysis portion of this post is going to be a bit more abbreviated than has been the case with other episodes.  This is not necessarily because there is less to say (there's plenty to say), nor is it necessarily because I'm disinterested in saying it (I'm plenty interested).  No, it's necessarily because of the willful obstinance of our mortal enemy: time.  I've had relatively little time for blogging lately -- a recurring theme of all my blogs -- and have been letting this post sit, unfinished, until such time as more ... well, more time ... materialized.  It's looking like weeks before that will happen, though, and I thought maybe it was best to just get a few thoughts on the episode out and move on.
  
With that in mind, I want to touch on a few things, beginning with this episode's blatantly militaristic -- and specifically naval/submarine -- backbone.

Ask the average person who is inclined to write about the philosophy of Star Trek what the philosophy of Star Trek actually is, and they will likely deliver unto you some manner of sermon about its/Roddenberry's progressive ideology.  You're gonna get an injection of liberalism, I'm sayin'.  This is fine by me.  Mostly.  I'm a liberal (albeit an increasingly cynical one), and I believe that Roddenberry really did have liberal intentions in crafting his show during the early going.
  
All that is true to one extent or another.
  
But it's, at very least, equally true that there is a massively conservative streak running right through the heart of the series.  You want proof?  Look no further than "Balance of Terror," which is where the militaristic aspects of the Enterprise became ascendant for (arguably) the first time.  They were there in pretty much all the previous episodes; but here, it is beyond question that this is a military vessel, crewed by military officers, pursuing a military agenda.  It may not be an exclusively military agenda; but it IS a military agenda, at least in part.
  
This means that at this point in the series (i.e., approaching the second third of the first season), the series must be said to be at least partially militaristic in nature; and, therefore, conservative.  This is not to imply that there's no such thing as a liberal militarism, or that all conservativism is militaristic.  But historically, Conservative = Military, and so we're going to adopt that shorthand here and proceed.
  
I'm not particularly interested in discussing Left vs. Right as it applies to Star Trek.  Frankly, the notion of doing so for more than a scant amount of time sickens me.  The notion of discussing Left vs. Right in ANY context sickens me, given the current climate -- which is itself perhaps less a "current" climate than the climate that has existed all along, like a sinkhole underneath a parking lot, merely waiting to gobble up everyone attempting to pass over it -- of our culture.  I'd just as soon settle down to a nice bowl of milk and beetles.
  
I can only stand to approach it metaphorically.  But, again, let's perhaps keep some of those ideas in the back of our mind; because when we talk about the Progressive Trek vs. the Militaristic Trek, it might behoove us to know what we're really discussing, if only at a remove.
  
In any case, suffice it to say that while a great many cultural commentators might like us to believe that what has powered Star Trek lo these many decades is its progressive mindset, I'm disdainful of the notion that that is actually true.  I think a progressive mindset has powered those commentators; and that is a very different thing.  As for Trek itself, even going back to the original series, how many episodes are there which don't involve violent conflict of some sort?  Hint: we're nine episodes in, and haven't seen one yet.  I'm not inclined to sit down and do an inventory on how many one would find going forward; but if memory serves, there are very, very few.
  
And in many cases, the conflict ends up being of a military/political nature, with Humanity (or, later, the Federation) on one side and __________ on the other.  This week, it's the Romulans; next week, it might be somebody new.  But the bottom line is this:what Star Trek is implicitly saying is that while humanity will eventually get its act together enough to go to the stars, what it's going to find there is an abundance of opportunity to keep fighting the same old fight(s), but with fresh adversaries.  The hope is that we'll be able to convince them that our way is best; but in many ways, the grand message of Star Trek is that we're going to have a great many occasions to kill other people in the name of virtue.
  
Or maybe you'd rather look at it as an act of ongoing self-defense, wherein we must continually guard our way of life by expanding ever outward, and by hauling our philosophies along with us.  There will be times in Trek's history when episodes come up that dispute the rightness of doing things this way; there will be others when episodes permit for no other course.  It is a tension that exists within the franchise, and maybe that's part of what makes it so fascinating.
  
I suspect you know which side I land on, philosophically.  But I think I'm an unusual Trekkie in that regard, and it is my belief that the average Trekkie is far more interested in the action/adventure of Trek than in its moral and ethical philosophy.  To this day, the most popular Trek movie of all is The Wrath of Khan, which foregrounds the space battles and the action/adventure.  And hey, I mean to imply zero disrespect of that wonderful film.  But was it a clear repudiation of the more science-fictional/philosophical element of the movie that preceded it (The Motion Picture)?  
  
You'd better believe it.  And the popularity of The Wrath of Khan says quite a lot about what it is that "the fans" -- not merely the vocal ones who spout off about such things, but the totality of the fandom -- actually wanted.  Every film since (with one notable exception, The Voyage Home) has relied on violence and mayhem as a selling point, and every subsequent series has had notable elements of the same.  It took the inherent violence of the Borg to make The Next Generation a phenomenon, for example.  And the series most likely to be named Best Trek by so many current Trekkies (Deep Space Nine) is positively awash in war.  Voyager couldn't get away from it despite traveling clear across the galaxy, and when Enterprise went back to find a sort of origin story, it ended up with mass destruction that necessitated a season-long story to unravel it.
  
This is not to damn any of those movies/series.  I love most of them.  I bring all this up to ask a simple question: is Star Trek actually what Star Trek says it is?
  
I think the answer is pretty clear.  I think maybe it wants to be that; I think it can summon the energy and resolve to actually do so occasionally.  But on the whole?  No way.
  
I was thinking about a lot of that as I watched "Balance of Terror," and I was surprised by how much of that resonated within the story itself.  Watching Kirk in this episode, I get the feeling that he knows everything I've just said.  
  
  
  
I feel as if his Romulan counterpart is equally self-aware.  He's a fascinating fellow, isn't he?  We never actually see him in the process of ordering the attacks on the Earth outposts; we can assume, however, that the actions sicken him.  And yet, he goes along with them, because ... well, if he doesn't, then somebody else will simply take his place.  It's still going to get done; the only thing he can do is allow himself to be ground into mulch beneath the treads of the machine as it marches along.  Better to ride the machine and wave a flag, right?
  
I'll defer answering that semi-rhetorical question for now, and return to the stance the real-world Trek takes.  As I've hinted, it is my belief that fans, in their totality, have demanded that Trek in its many iterations include a generous portion of violent conflict.  It does not appear as if Discovery is going to change that any; and as Trek video games become more prevalent, it's easy to find ways to indulge your desire to blow up ships, presumably murdering everyone aboard.
  
AND THAT'S FINE.  No strong criticism is intended; I object not to the violence, but to the blindness so many Trekkies have for seeing our beloved Trek as it truly is, not merely as they wish it to be.  Bottom line is, if more of them genuinely wished it to be that, it'd BE that.
  
It isn't.
  
And I have to wonder: what does that say about us?  What should my takeaway be when I reflect on the fact that we seem to be incapable of creating a version of Star Trek that isn't dripping with (implied) bloodshed?
  
The cynic in me has one answer: that we are incapable of genuinely imagining a future that does not involve violent struggle.  We don't believe in it, not really.  So we invent a story in which we've allegedly solved our problems, and we've gone out among the stars, and we've found new problems to solve; we don't really want those problems, and did not go looking for them, but because they are literally everywhere, they tend to find us (about once a week).  And what are we gonna do, just ignore them?  No!  So we fight, even though we say we don't fight anymore; and because we figure it's bound to be an issue eventually, we put fuckin' really powerful fuckin' weapons on our spaceships of peaceful exploration.  Just in case anybody messes with us, you know?  Which they always do.
  
THAT'S the future we imagine?!?
  
But that's the cynic in me speaking, and, as I've hinted, the cynic is ascendant just now.  The other side of the equation is how often Trek has determinedly pushed back against these ideas.  for example, in "Balance of Terror," where even the alien antagonist is depicted in very humane terms.  He's a man who kills because he is ordered to, but doesn't take any pleasure in it.  As evil goes, he's not very; and the implication is that if there were more Romulans like him, then maybe the Romulans might be a more friendly people.  He's the odd man out, but must it always be so?
  
With that in mind, maybe it's worthwhile that even as its modern incarnations continue to exploit the violent aspects of the show's concept, a vocal contingent of fans persist in seeing the potential for what the show -- and by that, I mean the future -- COULD be.  Trekkies of that nature are not entirely unlike the unnamed Romulan commander of "Balance of Terror": making their way the best way they know how, trying to minimize the chaos and speak up for more peaceful alternatives when the time is right to do so.  
  
I think Roddenberry himself probably knew this was likely to be an issue, right from the outset.  You couldn't sell an expensive sci-fi television show by preaching about ethically responsible and socially progressive scientific exploration in 1965; you can't do it in 2017, either, and unless things change radically very soon, you won't be able to do so in 2065, either.  Must it always be so?
  
Maybe not.  But it's so for now, and while that's a depressing thought in some ways, it's an oddly exalting one in others.  If we are indeed on any kind of a road to a future like the one Trek points toward, then we have to know it's going to be a difficult road.  Right?  This won't happen overnight; it won't happen easily, or peacefully (I'd imagine), or without sacrifice.  If we expect it to happen in those ways, then it WON'T happen, because we were too weak to stand up and insist upon it.
  
In that way, we have to hope we are like Kirk: committed to our ideals regardless of what it costs us to strive for them.  Without the Kirks to make the decisions, we leave the future to men like Stiles, who have hated their way from one era to the next, unchanging, unrelenting, unwilling to move forward.  Progress is inconsistent, and not to be taken for granted, lest it be halted dead in its tracks; you celebrate its victory while its opponents are sneaking up behind you, ready to throw a bag over your head.  You might think everyone you know gives Vulcans a thumbs-up, but all it takes is a single rumor to let the side-eyeing begin.
 
 
 
  
  
The future, as it turns out, is what we make of it.  It frustrates me sometimes that we aren't able to use our imaginations more ... imaginatively ... but perhaps our inability to do so speaks to the fact that with the present so incredibly unsettled, it might be actively irresponsible to let go of it, even in our imaginations.  Why argue about what's on the other side of the river before we've even built a bridge to get us there?  We could argue about it, but while we're arguing some asshole might knock us both into the river and drown us; then, what fucking difference does it make what's on the other side?  Whatever it is, it belongs to that asshole, now.
  
These are the things "Balance of Terror" made me think about.  That, and why there was a need for Spock to work silently; because, like, there's no sound in space.  Those are spaceships, not submarines.  Good drama; bad science.
  
Speaking of good drama, I'd now like to return to one of the running themes that has marked my Trek analysis thus far: the Kirk/Rand relationship.
  
Janice Rand is only in a few moments of "Balance of Terror," and has only a few lines (as well as very little action of her own); but what's there counts, and is compelling.
  
The episode begins with a wedding ceremony that is interrupted by Romulan aggression.  It's an interesting way to begin, and it's interesting that Rand is present in the scene.  She's almost Kirk's assistant or something.  Makes sense, given that she kind of IS his assistant.  Still, there's no getting around the fact that Rand is there.  
  
  

  
  
Do I read anything into that?  Not really, no; and to whatever extent I do, it's as beneath-the-surface material.  The relationship between Kirk and Rand is one of potential romance that has been suppressed by both parties; and willingly, with only occasional hints -- transporter accidents notwithstanding -- of regret on one side or the other.
  
But I think the series takes opportunities to subtly remind us of it once in a while.  So here, at the beginning, we get some proof that romance IS possible onboard a starship, and between two crewmembers who are in a direct chain of command with each other.  Huh.  Okay.  HOW, exactly, is it different for Kirk and Rand, again...?  Nevertheless, willing though Tomlinson and Martine are, their martial marital bliss is not to be; the wedding is interrupted, the relationship itself put on pause and eventually deleted by the duty Kirk has to keep the ship on its mission.  Their romance was possible; but not, as it turned out, probable.
  
Rand's next appearance comes when things are the darkest for the ship (and, by implication, its Captain): while they are fleeing from the plasma discharge the Romulan vessel has fired at them.  Never mind asking why they had to run away from it in a straight line; let's assume they were literally incapable of dodging it in that manner.  They've done the only thing they could, which is run away and hope that the energy loses its potency.  While the end result of this is still very much in doubt, Rand comes onto the bridge, and asks in a very efficient and professional manner whether she should continue to do her job.  The implied question is: Captain, even though we may literally be about to die, should I maintain my composure?  Should I be myself right up until the very end?  Kirk's reflex is to give her a "why are you asking me shit you already know the answer to?" type of rhetorical reply, but moments thereafter, he softens, and relents a bit ... but still answers in the affirmative.
  
Think about that for a second.  For Kirk, duty and service ARE the solace.  And he expects the same from his crew, of which Rand is a willing member.  I'd kind of like to try to tie this impulse in with some of what I was talking about earlier, regarding the forced continual pursuit of progress; I'm sure the two concepts do tie in.  But I'm going to opt not to; I'd like it to remain a bit more ... unstated ... than that.  But should we keep it in the back of our minds?  You bet.
  
Regardless of Kirk's path, and regardless of Rand's acceptance of it, as the threat from the plasma weapon simultaneously intensifies and begins to fade, Rand goes to Kirk, and they fall into a sort of almost-unknowing embrace.  
  
  



  
This probably won't be our last moments alive, their body language says; but if it is, we will face it with this small acknowledgment of our love for each other.  In death, we will become more than what we were in life.  It's a deeply fascinating moment.
  
Another comes when Rand makes her next appearance of the episode, during the scene when Kirk is supposedly sleeping, but is in fact lying in bed staring at the ceiling.  Without signal, Rand enters the room, and seems somewhat surprised to find Kirk present and/or awake.  She asks if he needs anything.  He simply stares at her, in a somewhat odd manner.  
  
  

  
I'm aware that many people would read the words I just wrote and assume that I'm implying the episode is trying to make a salacious joke of the whole thing.  "Yep, I need a blowjob," 2017 says, lamely.  To be clear, I don't think ANY such thing is intended, nor am I implying it here; whatever is going on between those two, it is far deeper than surface-level innuendo of that nature.  I think the look that passes between them is more like Kirk saying, "You KNOW what I need; and you know I know what YOU need.  But you also know that neither of us can have it, and you know that I know it, too.  This is not that life."
  
  

  
Kirk sit up and says he'll have coffee; on the bridge.  As soon as even a hint of a connection between them as passed, Kirk feels the need to stifle it, so much so that he's willing to interrupt his rest and return to duty.  Right about then, McCoy walks in.  As Janice leaves, McCoy and Kirk share a smile.  For Rand, only a blank -- though loaded -- stare; for McCoy, a friendly smile.  What has passed between THESE two?  In my assessment, it goes back to the scene in "The Corbomite Maneuver" in which McCoy good-naturedly needles Kirk about not trusting himself with the yeoman.  Hey, continuity!  And it WORKS!  McCoy knows what Kirk is feeling; and likely what Rand is feeling, too.  He knows his Captain is keeping this beautiful woman at arm's length because he feels he has no other choice, and he sympathizes with Kirk for it.  Kirk knows this, and so he can unburden himself to McCoy somewhat; not about this directly, but about the issues that underlie and therefore necessitate it, which serves well enough.
  
  



  
Finally, near the end of the episode, we get one more Rand scene.  Kirk is in sickbay, and McCoy tells him about Tomlinson's death.  His bride-to-be, Martine, is in the chapel, Kirk is told; and as he turns to go confront that situation, the door opens, and Janice Rand walks in.
  
  
  
Psychologically, this links the Kirk/Rand situation to the Tomlinson/Martine situation: it is a situation Kirk feels he has caused, a situation for which Kirk has inherent guilt and regret, and a situation which he needs to confront.  He can't confront the Kirk/Rand situation, though, so his conversation with Rand focuses on the professional: she informs him that command base has answered a previous communication and has informed Kirk that they will back his decision to enter the Neutral Zone, if it proves necessary.
  
This decision has weighed heavily on Kirk; he knows good and well it could cause more deaths like Tomlinson's, not merely restricted to the Enterprise (or even the Romulan ship), but on untold other ships and even planets.  This is the full weight of Kirk's command; this is, in fact, the full weight of responsibility that prevents him from considering a more normal life, one which might include a lovely woman with a huge blond hairdo.  When she gives Kirk this news from command base, Kirk turns and looks at Spock and McCoy, giving them a bitter little smile.  As Kirk leaves, Rand does not permit her eyes to follow him; she, too, turns and looks at Spock and McCoy, but not (as I interpret it) in a confused or questioning manner.  
  
  
  
She isn't looking to them for a clue as to why Kirk reacted as he did; she instead looks ... defiant ... in some way; or perhaps merely resolved.  I can't quite get a read on the specifics of it, but I know this: her look implies no weakness.
  
Then, an amazing crossfade cuts to Angela Martine, literally crying in the chapel.  
  
  
   
Through this editing technique, her face and Janice Rand's are temporarily side by side: two portraits of women who are, in their own ways, handling their own kind of lost love.  As Rand fades out of the scene, Kirk takes her place; they continue to be linked.
  
  
  
  
  
With Kirk, the professionally-suppressed emotion that exists between the two of them strides into the chapel, where it -- in the form of the Captain of Earth's starship Enterprise -- does what it can do to comfort this grieving subordinate.  Soon thereafter, Kirk is striding through the corridors again, freshly reminded of how dire the consequences of his decisions can be, but also freshly reminded of the necessity for continuing to make them in that manner.
  
Some aspects of the plot don't work for me, but in terms of the psychological content, this is a heck of an episode.  Plenty more could be said about it, but I've said all my says for now.  Let's move along to the behind-the-scenes component of the post, and see what nuggets we can glean from the normal sources.


 

Not a whole heck of a lot to report on from the chapter devoted to this episode.  It seems as if "Balance of Terror" was a relatively placid production, all the way through the process.

A great deal of Cushman's text is devoted to an exploration of the back-and-forth regarding the story/script development.  The project originated with writer Paul Schneider, an experienced television writer who was an inexperienced science-fiction writer.  Consequently, his outline for "Balance of Terror" contained a great many evocations of the 1957 submarine thriller The Enemy Below.  Schneider was quite engaged by the process, and submitted an outline than ran 31 pages (much longer than the average outline of its type).

After much back and forth, as well as the now-standard rewrites by Roddenberry, who declined to seek credit.  Schneider retained sole credit, but Cushman quotes him as saying, "About the only thing I recognize is my name."

Elsewhere, Cushman gives some insight into the experiences of guest star Paul Comi, who played Stiles with a dark charisma; head of casting Joe D'Agosta, whose wife, Barbara Baldavin, played Angela Martine; director Vincent McEveety; and guest stars Lawrence Montaigne and Mark Lenard, the latter of whom reveals that he believes the Romulan Commander to be one of the best roles he ever had on television.

  



We haven't touched base with The Fifty-Year Mission in quite a while, but I have continued to read it.  It's totally out of sync with most of the rest of my reading, and indeed the chapter I read tonight covers the years in which the series was in syndicated reruns and the conventions were beginning to really heat up.  So no "Balance of Terror" content whatsoever.

I wanted to bring it up, though, just as a plug for the book, which is terrific.  I find myself disagreeing with it quite a bit, but typically in an entertaining and useful way.  For example, consider this assessment from David Gerrold:

In retrospect, I would have to say that Star Trek was overrated; that its survival, the phenomenon, is based more on what we imagine than what's really there.  This is true about all television.  Television is imitation movies, so what we do in television is hint at and suggest what we really can;t show, because people don't want it in their living room.  So you go back and look at the original Star Trek, and there's about a dozen episodes that are quite good as either television or science fiction.  Not much more than that.

If true, I'm not sure I'd put any of Gerrold's episodes on the list (he said, bitchily).  But no, I don't think what Gerrold says is true at all.  Not for my tastes, certainly; perhaps for his, but not for mine at all.  Having done a count just now, I'd say there are three times that number . . . and that's if I'm being rather conservative in my assessments; a more liberal stance (there's THAT divide again! [sort of]) might add another dozen at minimum.

I'll say this for Gerrold, though: he isn't averse to being critical, which is more than you can say about some Trekkies.

There's a lot of great stuff in this chapter, some of it relevant to the next book we're looking at:




Several of the people whose thoughts fill Gross and Altman's book have fond memories of The Making of Star Trek, which is said to be the first behind-the-scenes book about a television show ever to be published:

  • Rod Roddenberry: "The Making of Star Trek was actually a great book, and that's where I learned a great deal about how my father and the other people on the production staff would contact JPL and Caltech."
  • Brannon Braga (cocreator of Star Trek: Enterprise, among other credits): "That may be the most groundbreaking behind-the-scenes book ever written."
  • David A. Goodman (executive producer, Family Guy):  "I became a TV writer because of that book.  Before that book, I didn't even know the job existed."
  • Manny Coto (executive producer, Star Trek: Enterprise):  "It led me to the decision that this was what I wanted to do, because I realized that people could actually do this for a living."
  • Peter Gould (cocreator, Better Call Saul): "It was the first behind-the-scenes book that I ever read, and I just consumed it.  I didn't just want to watch Star Trek, I wanted to be involved in the production of Star Trek."  CBS, you should pay attention to that!
  • Andre Bormanis (with the possible exception of Discovery, the science consultant on every Trek series from TNG on): "It was like my bible, you know?"

Today, I think the book is a bit of a time capsule.  That's not a bad thing, necessarily; time capsules are valuable and should be treasured.  But the modern reader turning to The Making of Star Trek for the same sort of lightning-bolt impact it had on Braga, Gould, etc. is likely to be disappointed unless they are able to put their historian's cap on.

And, on occasion, maybe even if they are.

Consider, for example, this nugget of information from the section about Sulu and George Takei:

George was born in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles and lived there until World War II, when his family moved to Arkansas.

Ouch.  So that we're clear on why I just made that noise, let the record show that the Takei family "moved" to Arkansas at the invitation of the United States Government, who gave them an all-expenses-paid residency inside an internment camp for Americans of Japanese ancestry.

To be fair, it's possible Whitfield -- and even Roddenberry -- were unaware of the fact at the time of this book's writing.  I think it unlikely, but it is certainly possible.

I really stumbled over the sentence when reading the chapter, though.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.




Things I learned about "Balance of Terror" from Allan Asherman:

  • The story was based not merely on The Enemy Below but also on Run Silent, Run Deep (another submarine-warfare movie).  I've seen neither.  I did see The Hunt For Red October and Crimson Tide, though.  And U-571, too.
  • "The Romulan warship was designed and constructed by Wah Chang, who never received screen credit" for his work on Star Trek. Shameful, but not exactly uncommon in Hollywood.
  
 

 
 
This book continues to be a wonderfully entertaining read.  Nothing much here that touches on "Balance of Terror," but a few things seem worth sharing.  Let's begin with this anecdote about Nichelle Nichols' first morning on the job:
 
She arrives at the studio, gets made up and into wardrobe, then takes a quick walk around the set, where she's immediately approached by a large man in jodhpurs and a leather cap.  The man says nothing as he saunters up to Nichelle; he then reaches out with his large left hand, gives her face several quick squeezes and says, "Oh . . . look at that beautiful skin, look at those beautiful eyes.  I think I am going to do some great things with you!"
 
This, as it turns out, was cinematographer Jerry Finnerman.
 
There are at least two ways to look at this.  On the one hand, maybe it's just an innocuous anecdote from days of yore.  On the other hand, maybe it's a troubling sign of how strange the olden days were.
 
My take?  It's both.  If you can reconcile that, then you know what it's like to be me in 2017.  If you can't, I hear ya.
 
 
 
 
The following passage drove home for me how miraculous the show is:
 
I mean, when you're shooting an hourlong science fiction film in the ridiculously inadequate timespan of six days, every moment on the set is precious.  There is no time to experiment, no time to try out new ideas, no time to waste.  In fact, it was only through extremely efficient shooting practices and miserly alocation of time that our episodes ever got finished at all.
     For those reasons, through the shooting of every Star Trek episode, it was made absolutely clear that time was a very precious commodity.  In fact, in order for us to stay on schedule, we had to shoot anywhere from ten to an unheard-of thirteen pages of script per day.  There was no room for error, and as a result our directors were often forced to cover the action of each scene in a minimum number of shots.  With that in mind, our first take of any given scene was generally a "master" shot, wide enough to cover everyone and every action in the scene.  Once we'd knocked that off, we'd move in for close-ups, and depending on the number of actors in the particular scene, this could become a really time-consuming piece of business.  However, this was also an aspect of production where thorough directorial preparation could pay off rather handsomely.
     As the close-ups were nearing completion, our director would invariably look at his watch.  Most often he would grimace, grumble and order us on to the next scene, but should a smile appear, it was obvious that we were running ahead of schedule and could now spend a few additional moments shooting alternate takes of the scene we'd just covered.  This time, however, our director would be after some more artistic, more creative filmmaking.  As a result, if you're watching Star Trek and you notice an especially fancy camera move, zoom or even an unusually dramatic lighting effect, you can be sure that the director of that particular episode had done his homework well and was able to find time for creativity.
 
I know all that sort of stuff in the back of my mind, but when a guy with Shatner's credibility emphasizes it, it really drives it home for me in a fresh and urgent sense.  Filmmaking is an insane endeavor, and filmmaking on a tight schedule/budget is even more insane, especially if you're doing something ambitious, which Star Trek assuredly was. 
 
This is part of what makes filmmaking so fascinating as a behind-the-scenes narrative.  You hear some of this stuff and have a hard time believing that ANY good movie or tv show ever gets made.  So for something like Star Trek to exist...?  There's magic at work there.
 
More from Shatner:
 
Working most closely with our directors was face-squeezer/cinematographer extraordinaire Jerry Finnerman.  Now the first question that's probably popped into your head is, "What exactly is a cinematographer?"  The answer, in an extremely insufficient nutshell, is that a cinematographer creates the look, feel and depth of any scene through the subtle use of lighting and camera techniques.  Got a spare couple of years?  I'll tell you exactly how he did it.  If not, it will have to suffice to say that Jerry used lights, lenses, angles and filters the way a painter would use color, texture, light and shade, manipulating them masterfully in creating mood, ambiance, character and depth.
     As cinematographer, Finnerman worked closely with a guy named George Merhoff, the chief gaffer, who was in command of our lighting technicians, making sure that their work was done efficiently, safely and above all else quickly.  He was amazing, and a bit unusual.  In fact, this guy actually commanded his troops with a set of whistles.  I mean, way up on the catwalks, high above our sets, there would always be this handful of lighting technicians hanging and focusing lights.  Forty feet below them, way down on stage, you'd find George, and he'd stand there, hands in pockets, just whistling.  Actually, I shouldn't say "just whistling," because he was really quite precise in his blowing, ordering his overhead guys around by utilizing a well-defined and extremely effective series of toots.  Two low toots and a high tweet meant "Focus the key light a little to the left," and three tweets and a toot meant meant "Tilt up the backlights."  He worked his technicians in exactly the same manner that those New Zealand sheepherders work their border collies.
 
This stuff fascinates me.  I relate it to my own job, where I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all it takes is for one person to have a bad day to damage the operation.  There are, on a busy day, maybe two dozen people working at my job at any one point.  So imagine a movie set, where there are many more than that, doing work that is much more difficult and ambitious.  Plus, the end result may be judged by millions of people for decades to come.
 
How, under circumstances like that, do great pieces of work end up being made?  How is everything not sheer pablum at best, and dreck at worst?  A big deal was made recently of the directors of the upcoming Han Solo Star Wars movie being fired before filming was complete; and it WAS a big deal, because such things rarely happen.  What I wonder is, HOW do they rarely happen?
 
At the end of the day, it seems likely that it's because most films and television shows are staffed by highly competent professionals like George Merhoff, who know what they are doing and keep the pedal to the metal.  Without people like him, it is likely that Star Trek as we know it would not exist.
 
Worth remembering.
 
So, of course, are the contributions of the more celebrated participants, such as Roddenberry himself, who Shatner describes as having "an unshakably perfectionist nature."
 
Often he would sit in his office rewriting entire scenes that were scheduled for filming the very next morning.  Midnight would pass, then two, then four, and still Gene would be tweaking.  When he finally deemed his nocturnal efforts complete, he'd sleepily hand his pages over to the mimeo crew and crash on his office couch.  Amazingly, he'd be back at work within a few short hours.
 
Shatner then quotes Bob Justman, who gives us additional insight about how noticeable the effects of Roddenberry's sleep deprivation were.  The first first act rewrite would be "terrific, just brilliant."  The second act "would be very good, too," albeit "a notch less brilliant than act one."  The third act "would tend to be passable, and his fourth act would always be an abortion," which was only okay because they "wouldn't have to shoot the fourth act until later in the week, by which time Gene could get some sleep, come back in and fix the end of the show."
 
Time and time again, you hear tales of how much Roddenberry's propensity for rewriting angered some of the rewritten writers; and from their perspective, I suppose it makes sense to feel aggrieved.  But let's face it: Roddenberry is still associated with these episodes over five decades later.  The man was building something that has managed to be permanent, and I strongly suspect that that permanence -- which runs somewhat counter to the of-the-moment nature of most television of that (and arguably every) era -- exists in large part due to Roddenberry's efforts.  Yeah, sure, he rewrote Harlan Ellison against Ellison's wishes.  Ellison can tell me some time about how The Starlost turned out.
 
Television needs a Roddenberry.  That's all there is to it, and without him Star Trek is nothing.
 
Not that he's the only person about whom you could say that.  You could say it about Shatner himself, as well, and about this next fellow, too:
 
 
 
 
The chapter of I Am Not Spock that I read for this episode is itself titled "I Am Not Spock," so you won't be surprised to learn that the primary focus is Nimoy's existential bemusement over the relationship between he and the fictional Spock.  "The question is," he wonders, "without Spock, who am I?  Do I, or would I, exist at all without him?  And without me, who is he?  I suspect he might do better without me than I without him.  That bothers me.  Or more accurately, it concerns me."
 
Nimoy relates the experience of appearing in the title role of Caligula on stage.  One of his lines was, "We are resolved to be logical," and, as you might imagine, this prompted a "communal laugh of recognition" from the audiences.  "He's here," that laugh indicated; "Spock is here."
 
I can imagine how a thing like that be concerning indeed to an actor.  To anyone, really, but certainly to an actor, whose job involves disappearing into another identity and then having to find ways to successfully navigate back and forth from the "real" person to the character.  This is not a job for crazy people.
 
This is not to say that Nimoy is dismissive of the experience, or bitter about it.  This book earned him that reputation thanks to people making uneducated assumptions based on the title.  Their loss; the text itself makes his stance quite clear.
 
I am not Spock.
     But given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.  If someone said, "You can have the choice of being any other TV character ever played," I would choose Spock.  I like him.  I admire him.  I respect him.
     If someone could wave a magic wand and make him go away, disappear forever, I wouldn't let them do it.  I would choose to keep him alive.  I don't really have that choice.  He'll be around anyway.  But if I had that choice I would keep him alive.  He stands for something that makes me feel good.  Dignity and honesty and a lot more.  And whatever of that rubs off on me makes me feel good.
     But, I am not Spock.
 
 
Good, thoughtful stuff.  For my part, I think Nimoy brings a lot to Spock, and I strongly suspect that those qualities were going to be there no matter if Spock came into existence or didn't.  Spock was the means by which those aspects of Nimoy were focused and brought into the world for mass audiences to appreciate; but in large part, I think they were already there.  And without them, I feel as if Spock would be only a shadow of what he otherwise is.
 
 
 
 
Time now to check in with Grace Lee Whitney, whose Janice Rand may not have had a huge amount to do in this episode, but I think she was still fairly integral.
 
The chapter of this book that I read this week covers Whitney's all-too-brief time filming the series.  there are some great anecdotes and observations, but I think what we'll do is only cover the episodes this blog has already covered, deferring the others until we reach them.
 
On the subject of "The Corbomite Maneuver":
 
I remember being a little baffled by my role in that episode.  After having had many conversations with Gene Roddenberry about my character's function in the chemistry of the show, I was disappointed that this episode contained comparatively little hint of the "Matt-and-Miss-Kitty" dimension he had envisioned.  The script presented me as a space-waitress.  I brought the captain his lunch and his coffee -- and the captain even stiffed me on the tip!
 
On the subject of "The Enemy Within":
 
 
The script placed the ability to command and make decisions in the evil Kirk -- and I believe that's wrong.  All of Kirk's higher functions -- his ability to reason, to logically think hsi way to a decision -- belong to the human side of Kirk, not the animal side.  His ability to lead and command should have been within his good side, not his dark side.
     I do not believe we need our evil side.  It is the source of our weakness and cowardice, our selfishness and lust, our hate and intolerance, our self-will-run-riot.  Kirk ended up embracing his dark half and receiving it back into himself.  In reality, we must continually purge that darkness by filling ourselves with light and truth.
 
 
I think Whitney here hits upon a big part of my problem with that episode.  Like her, I'm not sure I buy into the notion that Kirk's base self would be the side that makes him an effective commander.  And to be fair, I'm not sure the episode actually wants us to believe that that is the case; after all, Emo-Kirk is ultimately capable of making effective command decisions, whereas Aggro-Kirk is not. 
 
But that itself points toward one of the episode's flaws: the concept is simultaneously trying to be simple and complex.  The idea is to make it easy for the average viewer to understand that Kirk has been split into a Good and an Evil Kirk, but also to layer that notion with psychological depth and complexity.  I remain unconvinced that it actually worked; but I also remain unconvinced that it didn't work.  How's that for committing to an opinion?  A running theme of this post, no doubt about it.
 
Whitney also talks about the scene in which Rand is "interrogated" by Kirk and Spock.  Her performance was in part achieved by way of Shatner unexpectedly slapping her between takes.  "It stung and shocked me," she says, "and tears welled into my eyes, causing my mascara to run.  Instantly, the pain and confusion began to pour out of me."  This sort of shit doesn't play in 2017; can you imagine Twitter losing its mind over this happening today?
 
You'll get no such high-minded vitriol from Whitney.  "Bill just knew that a surprise slap across the face would put me right back in that frame of mind," she says, "that painful sense of having just been violated by the captain.  He knew that it would provide just the right emotional impact to motivate me to do the scene.  As a result, I gave a terrific performance in a single take." 
 
No argument from me on that last sentiment; she really is quite good in those moments.  The argument could be made, however, that this sort of thing ceases to be acting and begins to be ... something else.  I think Leonard Nimoy would have perhaps agreed with that, although he might also have objected and clarified that instead, I misunderstood what "acting" is.
 
Speaking of Nimoy, she has an earful to give Spock on the subject of his needling Rand at episode's end.  She says,
 
I can't imagine any more cruel and insensitive comment a man (or Vulcan) could make to a woman who has just been through a sexual assault!  But then, some men really do think that women want to be raped.  So the writer of the script (ostensibly Richard Matheson -- although the line could have been added by Gene Roddenberry or an assistant scribe) gives us a leering Mr. Spock who suggests that Yeoman Rand enjoyed being raped and found the evil Kirk attractive!
     This scene is doubly ironic in view of how wonderfully caring and compassionate the real Leonard Nimoy was a few weeks later after the real Grace Lee Whitney was sexually assaulted and violated by The Executive.
 
 
More on that when we cover "Miri."  Fair warning: it's fucked up.
 
On the subject of "The Naked Time," and the moment toward the end when Kirk reaches out to Rand and murmurs, "No beach to walk on":
  
 
I remember that as we played that scene, Bill Shatner seemed so lost and lonely, so full of pain, that I just wanted to reach out and hold him.  It was a powerful, emotional moment.
 
 
This suggests that in a very real way, actors -- actors like Whitney, at least -- are living these moments.  Can you imagine how very different a perspective this must give them on Star Trek than the ones you and I have?  I remember seeing Kirk reaching for Rand; Whitney, during her life, would have remembered Kirk reaching for her.
 
Fascinating!
 
Another example of the same, this time from the scene in "Charlie X" in which the titular character disappears out of our dimension:
 
I try to go to him, but Dr. McCoy, with his hand on my arm, pulls me back.  I remember that as Charlie pleaded with me for help, I was absolutely overcome with pity and hurt for this poor boy who was about to be ripped away from his own kind and taken back to a world without people, without companionship.  He was about to descend back into the hell in which he had been rasied, without another living soul to touch and love -- or to love him back.  And the tears just welled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks.
 

Note the pronouns Whitney uses there.  Not "she" or "her": "me" and"my."  Nimoy might not be Spock; but Whitney is not making a similar assertion about herself and the yeoman.
 
On the subject of "Balance of Terror":
 
 
All in all, this episode is a strong statement on the futility of war.
 
 
Fair enough, I guess.
 
We'll check back in with Whitney a couple of posts down the road; she "had the next week off" for the episode following this one.
 
 
 
 
Chapter One begins with a story so compelling that I'm tempted to believe it is pure fiction.  During the Prohibition years, Nichols' father was visited at their home by Al Capone and a squad of goons.  Nichols was the mayor of Robbins, Illinois, and a Capone-operated gin mill had recently been smashed.  Capone was aggravated due to the fact that he'd been making regular payoffs to the chief of police, half of which was intended to go to Nichols.  However, Nichols had received none of the money, because the police chief knew he'd refuse it and make a gigantic stink.
 
Capone checked the story out, and verified it.  Admiring Nichols' honesty and integrity, he decides to let everyone live.  As he's leaving, he tells Nichelle's mother that she doesn't have to worry; her husband will be okay.  She hisses that it's a good thing, and produces the gun she's been hiding.  Capone is even more impressed by this, and leaves laughing, complimentary toward all involved.
 
"And where was I all of this time?" writes Nichols.  "Under the pillow, next to the gun, inside my mother, waiting to be born."
 
I don't know if it's fiction or not, but it's a fine story, and it makes Nichols herself seem even cooler than she already seemed.
 
As the chapter continues, Nichols covers her family's interracial heritage, and she offers some illuminating discussion of the sorts of prejudices that can exist where white folks might never think to find them.
 

As I've lived and traveled the world, I've learned that every racial or ethnic group has its own peculiar list of desirable physical qualities, and Blacks are no exception.  Interestingly, my father -- who stood to benefit from this twisted "colorism" -- most adamantly rejected it.  Earlier in this century, among some higher-class and educated "Negroes" there existed what were called "blue-vein clubs," closed, secret societies of Blacks with skin light enough to reveal the blueness of their veins.  While attending Howard University, my father was offered membership in one, which he angrily rejected.
     One of the most insidiously cruel aspects of racism is how it poisons not only those who practice it, but its victims as well.  It seems to make no sense, until you realize that many Blacks were simply reflecting what they knew firsthand: The lighter you were, the straighter your hair, the easier your way through the world.
  
 
God damn, this world is fucked.  Just fucked to hell and back, I'm telling you.  I mean, I kind of knew that this sort of thing existed, but it means something more to hear somebody like Nichols discuss it.  I'm happy to sit at her feet and learn, but ... shit, man.  How do any of us avoid being homicidal maniacs?  It's a sad mystery.
 
I'm enjoying the hell out of this book so far, though, I'll tell you that. 
 
And speaking of enjoying the hell out of things, it's time now for Blishful Thinking.  Yay!
 
 
 
 
Blish's take on "Balance of Terror" is not without its problematic aspects, but on the whole, I think it's pretty frickin' terrific.  His prose is on point, and he makes the decision -- which presumably does NOT come from the draft of the screenplay he worked from -- to forego spending any time whatsoever aboard the Romulan vessel.  We do not meet the Commander and his crew, except via the brief peek into their bridge Uhura is able to wrangle.  Yes, Uhura; not Spock, but the communications officer herself, who is presented here as being highly capable indeed.  (Not that Spock suffers much for it; his own high-performing competence is put to use figuring out that a cloaking device is being used by the Romulans.)
 
What the decision to exclude the Romulan POV buys us is an even more tense story.  We have no insight into the Romulan character here, no clue as to what their motivations or aims might be.  This makes them much more intimidating and effective, at least as it pertains to wringing tension from the story.  You could argue that it sacrifices the final episode's thematic concern about the futility of war; you'd probably be correct.  I'd argue that that aspect makes the episode stronger, but I'd also argue that jettisoning it makes this a stronger piece of prose; and I've love to see a version of the episode that was edited to be similar to Blish's story.
 
Other notable aspects of the prose version:
 
  • There is some peculiar anti-Spock sentiment from Kirk that does not jibe with the produced series in any way.  However, on its own, it is kind of compelling, and again, I think this makes for a stronger short story, provided you ignore all the rest of Trek.  So Blish once again provides a highly valuable insight into what an alternative version of this might have looked and felt like.
  • The whole nobody-knows-what-a-Romulan-looks-like thing is excluded.  Humans and Romulans still haven't had any substantive contact, but via the retrieval of bodies floating in space after battles, it is known that Romulans are a "Vulcanite" race, presumably an offshoot.  This deprives the story of the jolt gained from the reveal of the Romulans' appearance.  I don't much miss it, because the notion of nobody knowing what a Romulan looks like is deeply silly unless (again) you ignore pretty much all of Star Trek.  I'm not sure that plot device worked even when confined to these first eight episodes; it absolutely does not work in any way if you look at it from a whole-series standpoint.
  • Blish's version of the scene involves the Romulan glimpsed by the viewscreen looking like a dead ringer for Spock himself.
  • Stiles (who, here, is the Second Officer) remains a bit of a racist, but he's more sympathetic here, and dies in the end.
  • Tomlinson and Martine actually get married!  The ceremony is interrupted in the beginning, but McCoy talks Kirk into performing it during a lull in the conflict.  This is effective.  More effective than the filmed version?  Maybe; and, at least, equally effective.
 
Great stuff.  And I say that knowing full well that Blish's version is even more militaristic than the final filmed version; by a considerable margin, too.  I was griping about that earlier, and yet, here I am now, championing it.  But lest I seem entirely hypocritical, let me defend myself, and clarify: what I'm responding to here is Blish's viewpoint and the singularity of his vision that results from it (even if only for these 21 pages).  The militarism and violence of the series still bothers me on a philosophical level.  I can let that go while I'm watching it, though, just as I am able to let it go while immersed in Blish's version of this story.  I'm less able to let it go when confronting the real-world attitudes that revolve around it.
 
I don't know.  Maybe I seem entirely confused and/or hypocritical on these subjects.  For now, I'm content to hear that objection and shrug.
    
More to come, as always, visa unused screencaps married to Blish's prose:
 
 
"When the Romulan outbreak began, Capt. James Kirk was in the chapel of the starship Enterprise, waiting to perform a wedding.

He could, of course, have declined to do any such thing.

Not only was he the only man aboard the starship empowered to perform such a ceremony -- and many others even less likely to occur to a civilian -- but both the participants were part of the ship's complement: Specialist (phaser) Robert Tomlinson and Spec. 2nd Cl. (phaser) Angela Martine.

Nevertheless, the thought of refusing hadn't occurred to him.  Traveling between the stars, even at "relativistic" or near-light speeds, was a long-drawn-out process at best.  One couldn't forbid or even ignore normal human relationships over such prolonged hauls, unless one was either a martinet or a fool, and Kirk did not propose to be either."

"Nobody had ever seen a live Romulan.  It was very certain that 'Romulan' was not their name for themselves, for such fragmentary evidence as had been pieced together from wrecks, after they had erupted from the Romulus-Remus system so bloodily a good seventy-five years ago, suggested that they'd not even been native to the planet, let a lone a race that could have shared Earthly conventions of nomenclature.

A very few bloated bodies recovered from space during that var had proved to be humanoid, but of the hawklike Vulcanite type rather than the Earthly anthropoid.  The experts had guessed that the Romulans might once have settled on their adopted planet as a splinter group from some mass migration, thrown off, rejected by their less militaristic fellows as they passed to some more peaceful settling, to some less demanding kind of new world.

Neither Romulus nor Remus, twin planets whirling around in a Trojan relationship to a white-dwarf sun, could have proved attractive to any race that did not love hardships for their own sakes.  But almost all this was guesswork, unsupported either by history or by interrogation.

The Vulcanite races who were part of the Federation claimed to know nothing of the Romulans; and the Romulans themselves had never allowed any prisoners to be taken -- suicide, apparently, was a part of their military tradition -- nor had they ever taken any.  All that was known for sure was that the Romulans had come boiling out of their crazy little planetary system on no apparent provocation, in primitive, clumsy cylindrical ships that should have been clay pigeons for the Federation's navy and yet in fact took twenty-five years to drive back to their home world -- twenty-five years of increasingly merciless slaughter on both sides."

" 'Full magnification, Lieutenant Uhura.'

The stranger seemed to rush closer.  Scott pointed mutely, and Kirk nodded.  At this magnification, the stripes along the underside were unmistakable: broad shadows suggesting a bird of prey with half-spread wings.  Romulan, all right."

"The alien vessel had launched a torpedolike bolt of blinding light from its underbelly.

Moving with curious deliberateness, as though it were traveling at the speed of light in some other space but was loafing sinfully in this one, the dazzling bolt swelled in S-4023's camera lens, as if it were bound to engulf the Enterprise as well."

"The viewscreen of the Enterprise spat doomsday light throughout the control room.  The speaker squawked desperately and went dead."


 

"Kirk's attention was focused at once on the commander.

His uniform was white, and oddly less decorated than those of his officers.

Even more importantly, however, he wore no helmet.

And in his build, his stance, his coloring, even the cant and shape of his ears, he was a dead ringer for Spock.

Without taking his eyes from the screen, Kirk could sense heads turning toward the half-Vulcanite.


 


There was a long silence, except for the hum of the engines and the background gabble of the Romulan's conversation.  Then Stiles said, apparently to himself: 'So now we know.  They got our ship design from spies.  They can pass for us . . . or for some of us.' "


" 'Your apology doesn't satisfy me for an instant.' "


  


"The meeting in the briefing room was still going on when Spock was called out to the lab section.  Once he was gone, the atmosphere promptly became more informal; neither Scott nor McCoy liked the Vulcanite, and even Kirk, much though he valued his First Officer, was not entirely comfortable in his presence."

"The bony Vulcanite face had no expression and could show none, but there was something in his very posture that telegraphed tension."



" 'I told you I went to school with Hansen; and I've got kids on board here who were about to get married when the alarm went off.  Glory doesn't interest me, either, or the public record.  I want to block this war.  That's the charge that's laid upon me now.  The only question is, How?' "
 
" 'This Romulan irruption is clearly a test of strength.  They have two weapons.  They came out of the neutral zone and challenged a star ship with them -- with enough slaughter and destruction to make sure we couldn't ignore the challenge.  It's also a test of our determination.  They want to know if we've gone soft since we beat them back the last time.  Are we going to allow our friends and property to be destroyed just because the odds seem to be against us?  How much peace will the Romulans let us enjoy if we play it safe now -- especially if we let them duck back into a neutral zone they've violated themselves?  By and large, I don't think there's much future in that, for us, for the Earth, for the Federation -- or even for the Romulans.  The time to pound that lesson home is now.' "

" 'It's possible that their sensors can't pick us up either through that screen,' Spock said.  'That, or he's trying to draw us into some kind of trap,' Kirk said.  'Either way, we can't meet him in a head-on battle.  We need an edge . . . a diversion.  Find me one, Mr. Spock.' "

"The Enterprise roared like a charging lion.  An instant later, the lights flashed back to full brightness, and the noise stopped.  The phasers had cut out."




"Fighting with an unknown enemy was bad enough, but when the enemy could become invisible at will--  And if that ship got back to the home planet with all its data, there might well be nothing further heard from the Romulans until they came swarming out of the neutral zone by the millions, ready for the kill.  That ship had to be stopped."
 






 






 


"On board the Enterprise, there were three dead: Tomlinson, his aide, and Stiles.  Angela had escaped; she hadn't been on the deck when the coolant had come boiling out.  Escaped -- a wife of half a day, a widow for all the rest of her days.  Stolidly, Kirk entered it all in the log.  The Second Romulan War was over.  And never mind the dead; officially, it had never even begun."





 
 
One last set of screencaps, but these will not be Blish-flavored.  These are a few examples of the effects from the Remastered version of the episode.
  
  







  
  
Of the episodes I've seen thus far, I think "Balance of Terror" has had the most success in Remastered form.  Enough to get me to supplant the original version?  No.  But not bad at all.
  
Well, that's it for this time.  See you again soon(ish), when we will discuss "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

8 comments:

  1. (1) One important thing to remember - and Roddenberry is the main one I blame for this, as he more or less cultivated this false read on his own show in the 70s and 80s to such an extent that it became canonical belief - is Trek was never meant to be this worldbuilding genre all of one with consistent philosophies and backstory and what not. (obviously, I speak to the world here, not specifically to you.) But yeah many of the "contradictions" are just the natural result of creating something new within the context of 60s TV that was way ahead of its time but still cloaked in the TV accoutrements of its era. This is less of an excuse for later series like Voyager or Enterprise, only that the TV marketplace of ideas was still defined by basic set-ups for drama and commercial cues at the time. I think you're spot on with looking at "Balance of Terror" as a meditation on this sort of thing specifically, like here we are in the enlightened future but THIS crap, ah well, someone's got to do it, let's do it. (Incidentally, the hallmark attitude of the WW2 generation, which the Genes of course very much were.) Somewhere along this way, this sort of idealism vs. real-world-conflict had to fit into a larger idea of the Trekverse and inconsistencies began to accumulate. I wonder, really, if Discovery is going to be more of a HBO-show, exploring the Trekverse in a non-conflict-oriented way, or if it'll just end up being the Xindi all over again, followed by the Nazi 2-parter. Is this still the TV marketplace reality in 2017? Absolutley not, I'd say, but I worry the Trek Powers That Be might think it is. (Illogically.) But yeah, this sort of Horatio Hornblower in Space vs. 2001 dichotomy formed the heart of the show at one point (and even into TNG), then it kinda just became the way they did business.

    (1.5) You picked a good episode to have this discussion.

    (2) Tomlinson gets over it pretty quickly by "Shore Leave." That always cracks me up.

    (3) The Kirk/Rand analysis is really good. I hadn't considered how pivotal it is to have Rand at the altar at the beginning for that last little sad interaction near the turbolift. Even with that beautiful cross-fade, I've missed that all these years. Ridiculous! But thank you.

    (4) The submarine thing is remarkably stupid. Even as a kid I was like wtf. It's different than explosion sound f/x or something - equally bad science/ stupid, of course, but who cares, it's just convention, etc. And Trek was at least not incognizant of this; my favorite explosions in TOS are the ones accompanied only by the soundtrack going kablooey and only a flash of light - as this was woved into the damn plot.

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    1. (1) That's a really good point about the WW2-era mindset being present here. That's one of those things any discussion of TOS needs to ALWAYS encompass. Regarding "Discovery," I have no idea what to expect. It doesn't look like Trek to me, but then, Trek changes what it looks like every so often, so why not again? I'll definitely be watching.

      (2) It's a prequel, I guess! Either that, or he had a twin brother. Or a clone. Or a mirror-universe version. Or an android duplicate. One of those for sure.

      (3) I was amazed by that crossfade. I'm sure I noticed it before now, but I don't think I ever gave it any actual thought.

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  2. (5) Gerrold says too damn much. But, I agree - sometimes his dissenting opinion to certain aspects of Trek is a breath of fresh air. As for the number of "good" TOS episodes... I mean, what is "good?" Also, don't MOST Trekkers get to a point with TOS where "good" doesn't even matter? I kind of divide Trek fans in my head this way - like there will always be the "The Motion Picture? More like the most boring film ever made amirite?" people. This opinion is unswervable from a certain demographic of Trek fans. They are not only wrong they are SO wrong that I discount their entire opinion about Trek and life. Whatever it is they think they're responding to, they're incapable or unwilling of challenging an obviously incorrect opinion/ approach to the material. Ditto with TOS. Like when I say I love "Spock's Brain" and someone says (not impolitely) "I don't know... I watched it again recently and it's just a really bad episode" I have this sort of divide. Like, I don't care who you are, if that's going to be the sum total of your "Spock's Brain" appreciation, you just don't get TOS or what make a "good" episode "good." It's a whole different discussion. Anyway - this is all to say: define "good," Mr. Gerrold, and I'll give you an accurate number. By my reckoning, I need at least 50 TOS episodes to make me happy, and the rest still make me happy, because there's Shatner in them hills.

    (6) I probably say it everytime it comes out, but I absolutely love Shatner's TV Memories.

    (7) And just think - nowadays we're so enlightened that light-skinned or biracial people are actively and consistently insulted and discriminated against by "pure bloods" our superwoke betters. Who also have a stranglehold on the academy? Woohoo! Future's so bright gotta wear shades. And a yellow star and get permission to use my hands lest I micro-aggress.

    (8) Excellent Blishful Thinking, as always. Looking fwd to next time: my 7th favorite episode!

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    1. (5) If nothing else, he's a good stone on which to sharpen the blade of one's own opinion about things. Or at least, that's how this strikes me; I don't know if that sentiment would apply in a general sense.

      (5.1) "hey are not only wrong they are SO wrong that I discount their entire opinion about Trek and life." -- I might give 'em a chance to be right about non-Trek matters, but yeah, their Trek opinions are automatically discounted for me, too. That's super judgmental of us, but we're living in the right era for super-judgmentality.

      (5.2) It's not going to be anytime soon (sadly), but I'm REALLY looking forward to applying this process of mine to some of the commonly-accepted-as-bad episodes, like "Spock's Brain." None moreso than "The Way to Eden," though.

      (5.3) "By my reckoning, I need at least 50 TOS episodes to make me happy, and the rest still make me happy, because there's Shatner in them hills." -- This receives my maximum endorsement.

      (6) I could get away with every post "discussing" this book by simply saying "This book is wonderful. Read it twice." Because it is GREAT.

      (7) It's all just such a bummer. Which is a trivial and insufficient way to express the feeling, but damn, I'm just not up to the challenge. I read that chapter of Nichols' book and thought, "Well, shit, I guess there's no hope of this stuff ever really getting fixed, is there? Because if THIS can be true, then it probably means there is something in human nature that will ensure it is always an issue in one form or another." But I had the simultaneous thought that that actually brings a sliver of its own sort of optimism. Because if that's true, then it means it's in all of us to one extent or another; and if THAT'S true, then self-awareness ought to be able to lead to the ability to keep oneself in check by constant assessment and self-correction. So it's a "someday, someday" type of mentality that has to prevail. It sucks to admit that; I actually just bummed myself out all over again in typing this comment. But to be alive is to be bummed out, so may as well take some joy in it.

      (8) Urban legend has it that Chapel was not originally in that episode, that Barrett talked Gene into changing the original character to her. I look forward to seeing whether Blish's version has her or whoever it was supposed to be. Should've been Rand, in my opinion. But I'm in the bag for her anyways, so I'm not unbiased.

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    2. (5.1) My thinking is, if they don't get V'ger, they're missing something fundamental about life itself, so I'm okay with extending my dismissal to anything related to carbon units. But, I agree, super-judgmental of me. Perhaps even maniacal. As you say, good time for it!

      (7) I hear you. I was recently talking with a friend of mine, also the parent of biracial kids, in her case Pakistani. Their Dad actually works down in your neck of the woods, sort of, on rockets for Uncle Sam. Good enough for Uncle Sam and our glorious rocket program, good enough for Bryan McMillan. (Sadly Uncle Sam ain't what he used to be but certainly not on account of anything like this. I digress.) Anyway we were talking about how it's relatively easy to keep watch out for traditional racism and just avoid it/ not put yourself in dangerous positions. But we keep getting blindsided by the racism on "our" side, namely this superwoke mentality that is poisoning everything. It leads nowhere good, but there's just such a lack of urgency on it. It thrives on such cover. Everyone only has eyes for The Orange One! It's very troubling and concerns us both. (i.e. my friend I mentioned and me, not me and the Orange One.) But: I agree with you and really, it's the people who don't have bullshit in their hearts, on all sides of the epidermis and cultural rainbow, and support, encourage, and align with them. Trek is there (mostly! I worry about superwoke colonization. And that's what it is: imperialism of the mind! Don't mind me) and I celebrate that. Down with racists and neoracists; up with people.

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    3. (5.1) People can almost certainly be separated into two groups: those who get V'Ger and those who do not. I wouldn't write off EVERYONE who falls into the second group, but I would certainly get my pen out and hover over the paper, waiting.

      (7) Uncle Sam has been force-fed a bottle of booze and is currently trying to convince the cops to let him out of the drunk-tank. He's an alright guy, it's not his fault; he's just a bit of a cad, and somebody finally took advantage of him.

      "It thrives on such cover." -- Yeah, no doubt. I wish I had some advice. It'd be REALLY cool if I'd wake up tomorrow and just, like, suddenly have the answer to all of this in my brain. Oh the millions I could make while also doing tons of good for five years before almost certainly getting shot down and martyred!

      Totally worth it.

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  3. "I probably say it everytime it comes out"

    Comes up, I meant. Sheesh. I've started to type these responses in Notepad and then cut and paste them over, but this practice has led to a lot of typos and uncaught errors... One of these days I'll hit upon the optimum Blogger commenting strategy.

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    1. I caught myself making a TON of typos in work emails recently and was annoyed as hell by it. I pride myself on precise work-related communication!

      Less so as it regards precise blogging and commenting. That's the aim, but I spew out so much bullshit, it's tough to check it all for errors! This is not a point in my favor, but maybe the honesty counts for something.

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