It’s time…for Star Trek Saturdays #29!
This week’s episode is “Operation–Annihilate!” It wraps up the first season with a story that’s almost like a blueprint for a TNG episode with its weighty implications underneath the threat of an alien menace but sort of loses it by virtue of not giving the characters any real emotional arcs to go through.
We open with the Enterprise approaching the colony planet Deneva. Kirk is concerned because Uhura is not receiving any transmissions from the planet and Spock’s research has shown that a pattern of planets erupting into mass insanity has cropped up in this part of the galaxy and Deneva is next. This especially worries Kirk because his brother Sam and his family live on the colony, where Sam is a research biologist.
Sulu picks up on sensors a ship flying from the planet and heading straight for the system’s sun. Kirk orders the Enterprise to intercept them at Warp 8, but they’re too late: after they pick up a message with the pilot screaming, “I did it! It’s finally gone! I’m free!” the ship burns up.
Kirk beams down with Spock, McCoy, Scotty and two redshirts onto the planet’s surface in the main city of the colony. To their surprise, despite this being a city of 100,000 people, no one’s outside; rather, they’re all in the buildings. That is, until a group of four men run at the landing party brandishing clubs and telling them to leave because they don’t want to hurt them. Luckily, the crew stuns them with their phasers. McCoy examines them and is surprised to find that although they’re unconscious, their nervous systems are still wildly active.
They proceed to the nearby lab where Sam Kirk works when they hear a violent scream. Inside, they find his wife, Aurelan (Joan Swift), hysterical, their child, Peter, unconscious and Sam dead on the floor.
Although there are no non-native beings on the planet, the Enterprise‘s sensors attest, the disarray of the lab and Aurelan’s hysteria points to something being amiss.
In sickbay, Aurelan, wracked with pain, manages to tell Kirk that things came to Deneva eight months ago on a ship from the nearby Ingreham B. As she keeps talking, she screams more and more as the pain intensifies; eventually, McCoy is forced to sedate her. The creatures, it turns out, use the Denevan’s nervous systems as hosts and are forcing them to build ships. Aurelan begs Kirk to not let them go any further and, exhausted from the effort, she dies. Peter, meanwhile, is unconscious.
Kirk beams back down to the landing party. Hearing a mysterious buzzing emanating from a building, they go to investigate. The buzzing, it turns out, is coming from the creatures, who look like a cross between gag vomit and raw meat.
Suddenly, the things begin swooping down and attacking the crew, who fire with phasers set to kill. It barely does anything and, as the crew flees, one of them flies onto Spock’s back and attacks him, causing him to cry out in pain.
Back onboard, McCoy and Nurse Chapel operate on Spock to try and save him, but McCoy only removes a small section, telling Chapel to close the wound. It turns out these creatures are parasites who sting their victims with a piece of tissue that injects tentacles around their nervous system and spinal cord, using pain to force them to do their bidding. McCoy tells Kirk that the thing is so intertwined with Spock that conventional surgery won’t remove it.
A sedated Spock then wakes up and tries to bring the ship down to Deneva. With great effort, he is subdued. How will the Enterprise free Spock, Kirk’s nephew and the rest of Deneva from these monsters?
Even with the caveat that this is a drama with stand-alone episodes, as an ending to the first season, this is just lackluster. Herschel Daugherty’s direction isn’t the problem. Despite some odd editing choices, overall, he does make this a gripping tale, even with the small scenes like McCoy telling Chapel that if she doesn’t do what he tells her to, he’ll find another nurse who will. That’s fine.
The cast, for the most part, isn’t the problem either. Leonard Nimoy is the MVP of course, given how much Spock goes through; DeForest Kelley gets some great moments too and sells them.
No, I think the problem here is Steven Carabatso’s script. As a rule, The Original Series is more plot-focused than the character drama of its successors; that’s fine. But when you have a pivotal plot point be the death of Kirk’s brother and you don’t give it anywhere near the sufficient dramatic space needed to explore that, you’ve failed.
No, really: after a couple of scenes with Kirk being angry, it just goes into business as usual. Hell, Peter’s ultimate fate isn’t even mentioned.
It’s a baffling choice and you can tell in the way two performances play out: Shatner’s and Swift’s. Shatner never gets to show Kirk’s grief or sorrow and you can tell he’s holding back. And poor Swift turns in a hammy performance for a hammy role, playing up the melodramatics like nobody’s business.
Given how great “City On the Edge of Forever” was, I was expecting something more. Alas, we get half a good episode and half a mediocre one.
So thus ends the first season of Star Trek Saturdays. Thanks for putting up with it despite my frequent lateness and hiatuses if you’ve been following from the beginning. I can’t thank you enough and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
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.