Amok Time (S02E01) Original air date: September 15, 1967 Written by Theodore Sturgeon Directed by Joseph Pevney
By the end of Star Trek Season One, the audience had come to a realization: Spock was fucking cool. Another person also realized this, Leonard Nimoy. The actor realized his role as Spock held just as much importance in each episode as William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and demanded a pay increase. He got it. Desilu Studios, who produced Star Trek, did hire a backup actor just in case Nimoy walked. Amok Time features that actor Lawrence Montaigne as Stonn. This is also the season two premiere and the first & only episode of the original series to bring the crew to Vulcan. We dig deep into their culture as Spock experiences a critical time in every Vulcan’s life: Pon farr.
Balance of Terror (S1E14) Original air date: December 15, 1966 Written by Paul Schneider Directed by Vincent McEveety
Balance of Terror marks the first appearance of the Romulans and surprised me in many ways. This is not one of my favorites, but it is a solid standard Star Trek episode with exciting twists. The first is that no Federation member has ever seen a Romulan. I’m not big on detailed Star Trek lore, so this was my first time learning about the brutal nuclear conflict between these powers, which happened without either side ever seeing someone from the other. This is even more surprising because the Romulans look nearly identical to the Vulcans. I had been under the impression the Vulcan-Romulan connection was something known for centuries, but it’s within the context of Star Trek that it is even discovered.
There is absolutely no need for me to introduce Star Trek to you. Instead, I will share my connection with the series. I have never been anywhere close to a Trekkie, but I grew up appreciating many nerdy things as a nerdy guy. I regularly watched reruns of the original series that aired on our local Fox affiliate in Tennessee in the late 1980s/early 1990s. They were part of that late afternoon/early evening block of old shows. I loved the movies featuring the original crew, with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock being my favorite for some reason that eludes me. I’ve rewatched it in the last few years, and it does not hold up. In late 2019, Ariana and I watched the thirty highest-rated episodes on IMDb of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was a lot of fun and her first time ever watching any of the series. In the same way, this was her first time watching the original Star Trek, and part of my enjoyment was seeing her reactions to things I knew were coming. So starting this Sunday and continuing through every Sunday in March, I will share my reviews of the episodes we watched.
The Way of the Warrior (original airdate: October 2, 1995) Written by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe Directed by James L. Conway
The original plan for season 3’s finale and season 4’s premiere was to do a two-parter about Changelings infiltrating Earth. Paramount execs didn’t want a cliffhanger, so that story got pushed to later into season 4. Ratings had been falling for Deep Space Nine in season 3, so something needed to be done to shake up the status quo and inject some new story seeds into the show. The first idea was to have the Vulcans leave the Federation over ideological conflicts, but then it shifted to the Klingons. Ira Steven Behr came up with a Klingon arc for multiple seasons that would bring the adversarial species into the conflict between the Federation and the Dominion.
Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access) Season 1, Episode 10 – “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” Written by Michael Chabon & Akiva Goldsman Directed by Akiva Goldsman
I really loved the idea of Star Trek: Picard. Bringing back the aged captain and seeing what he’s like now, how he relates to the galaxy around him. Of course, we knew going in that Picard would be surrounded by new faces, and I was a little apprehensive but still open to new characters. From looking at Discovery, it was clear that this new show would push the boundaries in terms of violence, language, and sex. That’s acceptable and could make the show more “realistic” in terms of human behaviors. Ultimately though, Picard never becomes the thing so many expected it to be. There are real moments of brilliance, but for the most part, it plays out predictably with characters taking actions and saying things you would expect them to, not much better than mediocre fan fiction.
Past Tense Part 1 (original airdate: January 8, 1995) Past Tense Part 2 (original airdate: January 15, 1995) Written by Ira Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, and René Echevarria Directed by Reza Badiyi and Jonathan Frakes
Star Trek has always lightly touched upon economics, but it never really got serious about it. In The Next Generation, Picard greets Samuel Clemens, who has been transported through time and explains how in the 24th century, there is no longer currency, and people work for the pleasure of exploring their interests. All the basic needs of food and housing have been met. It’s an idyllic future and not one that is impossible if humanity would just get their act together. It’s also something explored in this very relevant two-parter from season three of Deep Space Nine.
Necessary Evil (original airdate: November 15, 1993) Written by Pete Allan Fields Directed by James L. Conway
In the early seasons of Deep Space Nine, writers got a lot out of the Bajoran/Cardassian conflict, and this episode is no exception. Tonally, Necessary Evil presents itself as a noir centered around Odo as the gumshoe. A woman whose husband used to run a business on Deep Space Nine pays Quark to retrieve a lockbox hidden inside the walls. A stranger shoots Quark during his job and leaves the Ferengi comatose. Odo is on the scene and starts interviewing people who were on the station back during the Cardassian occupation to discover what was in the box and how it ties into his own past under Cardassian rule.
Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access) Season One, Episode Nine – “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” Written by Michael Chabon & Ayelet Waldman & Akiva Goldsman Directed by Akiva Goldsman
So many things about this penultimate episode of Picard feel pleasantly familiar while others seem so out of place in a Star Trek story. But that is to be expected with Akiva Goldsman, who delivered one of the most un-Star Trek-like series in recent history (Discovery). He loves things that are conceptually cool and full of visual spectacle. There’s the sense that the final episode of the season will involve a big shooty space battle, which is simply not what Star Trek really is. Star Wars? Most certainly. But I am not looking forward to this conclusion. Star Trek, when it does space battles, is more about one-on-one and the strategy of battle.
Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access) Season One, Episode Eight – “Broken Pieces” Written by Michael Chabon Directed by Maja Vrvilo
We went from an episode that really hit on the themes that make people love Star Trek to an episode that is unrecognizable as a piece of the franchise. “Broken Pieces” is attempting to be an entry so full of plot twists that it has no arc, no structure, just a serialized chapter. There are genuinely some low points for Picard in this one, particularly a plot development with Rios that comes entirely out of nowhere and doesn’t read as an organic progression for the character or the story.
Emissary (original airdate: January 3rd, 1993) Written by Rick Berman and Michael Piller Directed by David Carson
Where did Deep Space Nine come from? The concept started with Brandon Tartikoff, the Chairman of Paramount in the early 1990s who wanted a new addition to the franchise that was a Western. This would be about a lawman (Starfleet officer) coming with his son to a station on the edge of the frontier trying to restore order. Elements of American westerns were woven throughout with the bartender, the sheriff, the native people, the kindly doctor, etc. Showrunner Michael Piller liked the idea of a stationary Star Trek series because he saw it as an opportunity to make the effects of episodes long-lasting. Instead of a procedural, this could be a serialized program with ripples across seasons from storylines. Characters would not be part of a crew on an assignment but a community of disparate people forced to live together and learn how to survive.