It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #4!
This week’s episode, “The Enemy Within,” is an episode of glorious firsts. It’s the first episode to not open with a shot of the crew aboard the ship, it’s the first time we see George Takei’s Lt. Hikaru Sulu actually have some action and some good lines, the first use of the phrase “He’s dead, Jim” by Doctor McCoy, the first use of the Vulcan nerve pinch, and most importantly, this is the first of the series’ iconic episodes and the first one written by a major writer, Richard Matheson.
If that name sounds familiar to you, then yes, it’s that Richard Matheson.
Matheson has written a variety of things in his long and storied career, but is probably best known for I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man and the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” AKA that one where William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of an airplane and no one believes him, as well as a variety of short stories. He’s an icon of genre fiction and his script here shows why.
The plot begins with the Enterprise in orbit around the planet Alfa 117 and a landing party down on the surface, including Kirk & Sulu, cataloging animals and so forth. When Fisher (Ed Madden), a geological technician, injures himself, he’s beamed back up onto the ship. But his uniform is covered in a strange yellow magnetic ore which messes with the transporter after he is beamed aboard. Kirk beams up a few minutes later, but right after everyone’s left the room, another Kirk materializes, but this one is EVIL.
Strictly speaking, he’s the manifestation of Kirk’s aggressive, decisive side, but for all intents and purposes, he’s evil. The real Kirk, meanwhile, is left a weak shadow of his former self. Evil Kirk takes some brandy from sickbay, gets drunk, then hides in Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney)’s quarters and when she enters, assaults her, nearly raping her before she drives him off. That whole scene, courtesy of both highly charged performances and some bravura directing by Leo Penn, is highly uncomfortable and I suspect that’s the point. It’s a gripping, chilling moment, and I’m confident it won’t be the last Trek throws at me.
Rand accuses the real Kirk of this and it’s then that Spock deduces that there is an imposter aboard. What follows is a race against time as the crew struggles to contain Evil Kirk, somehow remerge him with Good Kirk, who has lost his confidence and decision-making abilities, repair the transporter and save Sulu and the rest of the landing party, who are trapped as the planet’s temperature drops to 120 degrees below zero.
This is, somehow, more tense than “The Corbomite Maneuver.” But this is far more terrifying because, at heart, it comes down to Kirk vs. himself. Shatner is straight up terrific here and the primitive split-screen technology and use of doubles underscores it really well. He really brings out the best in both Kirks and he brings the key question of Matheson’s script–how does a man reconcile his intelligence against his basest, most natural impulses–to vivid life. Truly a wonderful outing.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.