This week’s episode really, really wanted to be a ghost story.
It almost manages it - Kirk, rather than saving the day, spends most of the episode floating at low-opacity in the background, waving his arms - but mostly this episode is about getting along.
And also how you never, ever fucking board a ghost ship.
I’m just saying, “let’s go visit” would not be my first impulse.
The Enterprise is in search of yet another missing ship, this time the Defiant (you might recognize the name from a successor’s major appearance on DS9), which is missing and adrift in a section of uncharted territory where space is literally falling apart around it. Into this comes charging the Enterprise, whereupon they immediately become ensnared in the region’s weird physics and harmful side-effects. Specifically: this part of space does a particular kind of brain damage that makes humans go slowly insane.
This is a pretty well-worn plot for TOS, a Man vs. Environment tale where they have to brain their way out of a seemingly impossible situation. What’s unexpected is that after beaming aboard the ghost ship and finding the Defiant’s entire crew not only dead, but murdered by each other, they beam back to the Enterprise and leave Kirk behind… and then he’s lost.
I mean… sort of. Physically.
You read that right: for most of this episode, the crew is not only without the guidance of their captain, but they’re pretty sure he’s dead. They even hold a mini-memorial, is-this-really-the-time memorial service midway through the episode, which mostly serves to highlight the tensions between the surviving senior officers, namely Spock and Bones who, absent the social lubricant usually provided by Kirk, are having what we will call “issues” with their grief, the dangerous situation, and each other.
Fortunately, the triumph of this story is basically what Kirk leaves in his Final Message addressed to Bones and Spock: we need to get along with each other in order to survive.
Also: social drinking solves everything.
As for the titular Tholians? Well, they’re there, for maybe the last 25% of the episode, and they mostly serve to crank up the ticking-clock pressure and build a space-net. I mean, it’s a nice space-net. I guess.
Overall this is a pretty good bottle-episode, even if the Tholians themselves could have been replaced by, like, the ship’s rapidly dwindling power supply. Or a black hole. Or a really big space rock.
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[From The Not So Much The Neutral Zone Podcast]
Orange Tang: the cure for space dementia! This explains so much.
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