Before I started watching Star Trek I envisioned a show that would deal with aliens and new, exotic worlds on a weekly basis. So far, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, the show has mostly dealt with existential conundrums within its sci-fi trappings. Of course, the grounded concepts are probably the result of the show’s limited budget – this is a network TV show in the 60s, after all. The results have been mostly great so far, but it’s tempered my expectations going forward.
It’s been amusing to see how each entry so far has had two episodes that deal with similar ideas, and this week is no exception. This time around, it’s the idea of released inhibitions. In The Naked Time, a visit to a planet causes one member of the crew to act irrationally, and even the slightest contact with another person spreads the madness. This leads to some great comedic moments, and gives the cast ample opportunities to be more than their usual stoic selves. Sulu’s reverting to a sword-wielding weirdo provided a nice reminder of George Takei’s current-day comic persona.
In The Enemy Within, the split personalities are limited specifically to Captain Kirk, who literally gets split into two people after a transporter malfunction. Shatner fully dives into both persona, as the “Evil Kirk” is assertive and demanding, while the “Good Kirk” becomes weak and indecisive. It’s been a joy to see his committed performance in what are admittedly silly circumstances so far. One of the highlights of the series so far is the scene where “Good Kirk” tracks down and fights his alternate personality, and episode director Leo Penn smartly stages the encounter with the limited effects available to him at the time. And the episode has more on its mind than killing the Evil Kirk, admitting that Kirk, and everyone else, has good and bad within us to make us human.
I also greatly appreciate the show’s unwillingness to lean into any romantic interests, with Kirk and Yeoman Janice Rand initially indicating some unexpressed feelings for each other. I imagine the network executives likely pushed for that kind of subplot so more general audiences could become invested, but I’ve enjoyed how the show hasn’t leaned on easy narrative decisions. I haven’t noticed any over-arching narratives yet that will be tied in by the end of the season. Maybe future seasons will have this feature, but it feels like Star Trek knew it wanted to tell episodic stories from the beginning and didn’t want to concern itself with a serialized narrative.
Both episodes also utilize a ticking clock at the beginning to create an immense amount of tension. In The Naked Time it’s the planet getting smaller by the minute and the Enterprise unable to leave its orbit. In The Enemy Within it’s in the ship unable to beam Sulu and a handful of crew members up after the transporter malfunctions, lest they create more duplicates. As Sulu stays longer off the ship, the planet becomes colder and colder overnight, putting him and others at risk of freezing to death. (Not a complaint, but the idea of anyone surviving -120 degree temperatures with little more than a thin blanket got funnier every time the show could cut to him.)
With each episode so far, I’ve been impressed with how the show would solve the problem it poses – high praise considering I’ve got over half a century of television tropes that have done what Star Trek originated. The solution in The Enemy Within feels a little rushed, but it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise fun episode. Neither episode deals with flashy or contains any major set pieces like most shows today would, but they proved that the show had more on its mind than fantastical aliens.
The Naked Time Grade: B+
The Enemy Within Grade: B+