Wednesday, May 13, 2015

830. I was right but I wasn't right about these Star Trek episodes...

I've been committed to writing what I should probably start referring to as recommendations rather than outright reviews of every Star Trek episode for a few years now.  I happen to be a fan of the whole franchise, so I consider myself to be in a unique position to be fair to every series.  Part of the reason I've undertaken this task is because far too often Star Trek fans wear their biases on their sleeves.  If they hate a series, or particularly loved one, they can't even pretend to be objective.  And that's what I try to be.

I'm calling them recommendations rather than reviews because really, I can't be bothered to do the whole review thing.  This is too big a task to do such a tedious thing for every episode.  I don't want to analyze the whole story, scene for scene, but rather talk about what did or didn't work in it.  And because I'm approaching this as a guide to the whole franchise, I like to be inclusive of the whole franchise, with references to various series as points for comparison, as well as discussing the relative merits of an episode for the series in which it airs.

All that being said, recommendation over review provides me with an additional opportunity, because it's just as likely that anyone who watches any TV-related thing these days will binge.  This is not a new phenomenon, but it's an increasingly popular one.  So anyone watching any Star Trek at all will probably not cherry-pick but rather view en masse, episode after episode, seasons and indeed series at a time.  And they won't be consulting whatever I think along the way.  The point, then, is to give them perspective.  A recommendation helps put the episode in context, a review thinks the whole thing is a matter of life and death.

And really, it isn't.  Two episodes I've covered I actually had the chance to watch with fresh eyes recently, and the results were something different from what I recorded in my recommendations.  This is worth talking about for a number of reasons.  Opinions change.  That's something I think we all forget.  But when we put something down in words, we begin to think they take on permanence.  How silly of us.  The version of you that hated something yesterday might very well give way to a version of who that will love it tomorrow, not because the thing itself changed but because you began to think differently of it.  When I first heard U2's "Beautiful Day," it was accompanied by the music video, and Bono was trying especially hard to be a rock god in it.  I hated it.  I thought Bono was beyond obnoxious, and it created a giant rift between me and the Irish band.  I thought I'd stick by that opinion forever.  But soon enough, I came around, and actually, U2 became once and for all one of my favorite rock bands ever.  And I even love "Beautiful Day."  (No, I haven't revisited the music video.)

Two episodes from the original Star Trek series' second season, "Catspaw" and "I, Mudd," are what I'm really here to talk about.  "Catspaw" has the distinction of being one of the rare episodes I offered no basis at all for recommendation, while "I, Mudd" I wrote mostly about Harry Mudd and not much about the rest of the episode around him.  Here are some additional thoughts on both of them, although I won't be changing my previously established thoughts, which can be found here and here respectively.

"Catspaw," I originally argued, was a bad Halloween episode, specifically created for that holiday and as such easy to completely disregard.  The thing is, it's another in a long line of episodes throughout the franchise involving beings with unusual abilities messing around with Starfleet officers, and in some ways a unique one in that there are two such beings who can be played against each other.  Besides a Q episode or two, this never happens.  These were beings that uniformly had to be bested at the very end of the episode, and certainly never outsmarted.  In that sense, "Catspaw" has a good reason to watch.  But it's also somewhat completely ludicrous in concept, the very essence of why some fans will always say "Spock's Brain" or "Threshold" should be summarily dismissed (ask a Star Trek fan about those two).

"I, Mudd," meanwhile, does in fact have a lot to say about Harry Mudd, and while I gave it a generous recommendation, it eventually degenerates in full practice into a ludicrous display every bit the equal of if not worse than "Catspaw."  In order to defeat a civilization of artificial beings, Kirk persuades his crew to perform, essentially, experimental theater.  It becomes quite absurd.  In fact, anyone still looking for some reason to explain why the whole series had to fight an uphill battle to become a lasting phenomenon need look no further than "I, Mudd" for an explanation.  It's incredibly hard to take seriously.  And why did I, in that original recommendation?  Because I focused on the best element, which is Harry Mudd, another atypical element for the series that in that sense pushed it to something with a less limited appeal than was typical (i.e. Kirk and friends sit around bemused or in peril for an hour in general sci-fi mayhem), being a guy who stood his ground rather than backed down, being as much hero as villain (sort of, most of all in this appearance, anyway), having a killer mustache.

But on the whole, "Catspaw" is still as easy to dismiss as I originally did, and "I, Mudd" deserves less applause than I originally gave it.  Is there more to say about both than I did, and have?  Of course.  Tomorrow I might have more things to say about both of them, and really, no one will be interested.  People will either have seen what I've had to say and be interested, or they won't.  The point is, I've provided a point of reference.  What other people do with my thoughts is now in their hands, not mine.  And really, those people are just as likely to think something completely different than to agree with me.  That's another reason to write about an episode on the level of a recommendation rather than a review, because a recommendation is more capable of being objective than a review, which by definition is subjective, no matter how hard a critic might try to make it sound otherwise.  I personally tend to hate reviews, because most critics are painfully subjective, and they don't seem to realize or care.

So when I get to say an episode is generally terrible, it's easy to explain why, and when I get to explain how an episode that's generally regarded as terrible isn't, I get to talk about the things I like about it, that reflect well on the series, the franchise, storytelling in general...The thing is, when I say I like Star Trek, I'm recommending it as a storytelling vehicle, because I love good storytelling.  The best way to incur my wrath?  Fail at that.  Because at that point, I no longer see the point of the thing.


Pat Dilloway said...

There were some pretty ludicrous episodes of that show but then it was the late 60s.

Spacerguy said...

Star Treks Sylvia is so advanced she seems almost magic-like. What a wonderful character.


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