Season 2 of Star Trek has been my favorite. Not only are all the characters well-established, but the stories are better (in my humble opinion, anyway). Keep in mind we’re still skipping the irredeemably weird episodes and enjoying only the good stuff. And I’ve named them in order from favorite-to-least-favorite again! Yay!
1. The Ultimate Computer
Kirk and a sub-skeleton crew are ordered to test out an advanced artificially intelligent control system that could potentially render them all redundant.
WOW. This was a powerful story. On the one hand you have this potentially mad scientist who believes his supercomputer will save lives by eliminating human error in space travel. On the other hand you have Kirk asking himself if he opposes this supercomputer because he truly believes it’s dangerous, or because it renders his position unnecessary. And all this takes place amid scheduled “war games” in which the Enterprise is to “attack” its fellow starships while being run solely by a computer.
Not only does this episode sound a clear warning on the dangers of artificial intelligence (see also: The Avengers: Age of Ultron), but I never thought I’d hear on Star Trek an appeal to “the laws of man and of God,” or support for the death penalty as punishment for murder! And of course Captain Amazingness himself made the appeal and even my mom sang his praises. Ehehehe.
2. The Doomsday Machine
The USS Enterprise encounters the wrecked USS Constellation and its distraught captain who’s determined to stop the giant planet-destroying robot ship that killed his crew.
This episode is another great one for Kirk: he’s problem-solving, he’s calm under pressure, and he’s willing to risk getting himself killed in order to save the galaxy. But Spock is the one who really shines. For the majority of the episode he’s either in command of the Enterprise in Kirk’s absence (three cheers for Acting Captain Spock!), or trying to regain command of it from the possibly insane Commodore Decker as respectfully as possible. His ever-so-subtle displays of anger and worry are…well…”fascinating.”
“The Doomsday Machine” is similar to that Horatio Hornblower episode where an unhinged Captain Bracegirdle tries to avenge his own lost ship and crew. Except Captain Bracegirdle never tried to wrest command from Horatio or Mr. Bush. He had better manners. Ahem.
3. The Trouble With Tribbles
To protect a space station with a vital grain shipment, Kirk must deal with Federation bureaucrats, a Klingon battle cruiser and a peddler who sells furry, purring, hungry little creatures as pets.
Definitely the funniest, most family-friendly episode in the series. Uhura adopts a fluffy, lovable little creature known as a Tribble and brings it aboard the Enterprise. The next morning, the Tribble has had babies. No big deal, right? Wrong. The Tribbles take the admonition to “be fruitful and multiply” very seriously. By the time they’ve nearly filled the Enterprise, Jim is 100% done. Especially after a Tribble squeaks at him. (In the Tribble’s defense, he almost sat on it.)
In the midst of this amusing problem there’s also a subplot involving the antagonistic Klingons, bent on causing trouble for the Federation and provoking the Enterprise‘s Tribble-loving crew. An impressive (and very funny) bar-room fight ensues only when the Klingons make a grave mistake: you can badmouth Scotty’s captain all you like, but insult the great lady Enterprise and you’ll have an incensed Scotsman on your hands!
4. Journey to Babel
The Enterprise hosts a number of quarrelling diplomats, including Spock’s father, but someone on board has murder in mind.
Political intrigue, a mysterious assassination, medical emergencies, Southern sass from McCoy, Kirk once again calling his enemy’s bluff (in spite of having just been stabbed–oh the horror)…and Vulcan family drama. Oh yes…there are many reasons to love this one.
Amanda Grayson, Spock’s human mother, is such an admirable character–and a total sweetheart. She fell head-over-heels in love with a Vulcan, accepted and adopted his culture (for the most part) and the role of a politician’s wife for his sake, and then raised their half-human, half-Vulcan child (and obviously did a good job of it). And on top of all that she has a mischievous streak. I no longer wonder where Spock got his sense of humor.
5. By Any Other Name
Galactic alien scouts known as Kelvans capture the Enterprise for a return voyage and a prelude to invasion. Kirk’s one advantage – they’re not used to their adopted human form.
This episode is exceptionally well-executed, with a good balance between high stakes and humor. And not to brag, but I nailed the Kelvans right away. I’ve watched enough Loki to know a shapeshifter when I see one.
It was interesting to watch the different ways the crew threw each of the Kelvans off-balance. The alien commander, for example, has a sensitive ego, so Spock manipulated him into feeling jealousy. The female, Kelinda, succumbs (no shock here) to Kirk’s charm and good looks. Scotty drinks the dull-witted guard under the table (hence the picture I chose for this particular mini-review, haha). And McCoy successfully worries another guy into hypochondria. But everything turns out so well, you couldn’t help being glad the Kelvans got their happy ending.
6. Friday’s Child
The Federation clashes with the Klingon Empire over mining rights to Capella IV. A sudden coup between its warrior-minded inhabitants forces Kirk’s party to flee with the now-dead leader’s pregnant wife.
I liked the world-building in this one: warring tribal leaders, strict rules of etiquette between men and women, distinct physical characteristics (the Capellans are very tall), and a nomadic culture. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are especially chivalrous, too, as they set out to protect Queen Eleen and her unborn baby from the usurper who wants to kill them both.
“Friday’s Child,” though, is McCoy’s moment to shine, something that doesn’t happen often. Out of the three humans, he’s the only one Eleen trusts and respects. The way he gains that respect is, shall we say, highly irregular! But it makes a good impression on her, and in the end she rewards her rescuers by naming her baby “Leonard James.” And Spock isn’t jealous. No, not at all! Why would you ever think such a thing? 😉
7. The Changeling
A powerful artificially intelligent Earth probe, with a murderously twisted imperative, comes aboard the Enterprise and confuses Capt. Kirk as his creator.
This one was similar to “The Ultimate Computer,” but more immediately eery. You didn’t start “The Ultimate Computer” thinking that the M5 was necessarily evil. Nomad, however, is scary right from the start, determined to obliterate any hint of imperfection it can find–whether on the Enterprise or elsewhere in the universe.
There’s one scene that will make your skin crawl: when Spock performs a mind-meld on Nomad. I don’t dare spoil it–I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else!–wait, who am I kidding, this was done fifty years ago, it’s probably like trying to avoid spoiling The Hobbit. Anyway, it was brilliant. And three cheers for Leonard Nimoy because he scared the living daylights out of me and Emmy with that scene.
8. Patterns of Force
Looking for a missing Federation cultural observer, Kirk and Spock find themselves on a planet whose culture now models the German Nazi Party of old Earth in the 1930’s.
I’m a World War II buff so of course I liked this one, even if the parallels with Nazi Germany were a bit heavy-handed. The Ekosians persecute their neighbors, the Zion–no wait, I mean, the Zeons–and the Zeons all have names like “Isaac” and “Abrom.” The Ekosians have adopted Nazi symbols, salutes, uniforms, etc., too. It looks like Jim and Spock landed on a Hogan’s Heroes set, haha.
Still, it’s a good episode, with LOTS of banter between Jim and Spock (“I don’t care if you hit the broad side of a barn, Mr. Spock!” “Captain, why would I aim at such a structure?”) and several unexpected twists and turns.
Quickie Noteworthy Notes On A Few Other Episodes I Saw But Didn’t Necessarily Love…
“The Gamesters of Triskelion” is the only time I’ve ever been MAD at Jim Kirk. He’s a great favorite with the fairer sex, no doubt about it–but in most of the episodes and movies I’ve seen where there’s been a romance, the ladies in question are villainous and/or trying to distract him. Jim definitely plays along–“playing them like a fiddle” might be a better way to describe it–and usually it gets him to where he can help his friends or get out of a sticky wicket himself (see: “By Any Other Name” or “The Conscience of the King” in Season 1).
This situation was different because this girl wasn’t bad; she’d been cloistered from the real world all her life by the true villains and she was just doing her job: training Kirk for a Star Trek-style Hunger Games. I’m sorry to say that Jim manipulated her into falling in love with him so he could escape, and you felt terrible for her when she figured it out. The longer I thought about it the more I wanted to wring his neck. Of course I didn’t stay mad long once I got to another episode…(*mutters*) I probably couldn’t stay mad at him if I tried…but I did not approve of his conduct in this one.
“Amok Time” is that, uh, (in)famous episode wherein Spock undergoes pon farr (basically a, umm, Vulcan hormonal surge *cough*) and has to return to his home planet to marry his betrothed. (Stop snickering, Mom.) It had me going “Whaaaaaaaat am I watching” half the time–regardless of the fact that I did enjoy all the world- and culture-building for Vulcan. The end was great, though. Spock’s reaction to seeing Jim alive after thinking he had killed him was worth a few…bizarre scenes.
And lastly, “Assignment: Earth” is the only one I’ve ever found boring–which is saying a lot, since I’ve officially watched 26 episodes so far. The stakes didn’t seem high and I was confused and what was with the ditzy blonde again? I will say this, though: I think Gary Seven was a Time Lord. Between tthat supersonic screwdriver thingy and a female companion…it seems highly suspicious 😉