Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Classics: TOS 1:10 - The Corbomite Maneuver

"A very interesting game, this poker."
"It does have advantages over chess."
Overall: 8.0

Dad thinks this episode is great.  I think it's merely good. Still, it is worthy of a zoom-in for the reasons I note below.

Plot Synopsis:

Memory Alpha discusses the details here, but basically, this episode features Kirk impressing an advanced alien with his mad bluffing skills.

The Skinny:

Kirk has this reputation for being a studly jock who spends his series sleeping his way through the galaxy, but I don't think that reputation is deserved. Sure -- he gets the girl a lot. That's why Bones' most famous line in The Undiscovered Country ("What is it with you anyway?") is so funny. And sure -- the old directors sure loved to tear Kirk's shirt during his fight scenes to show off Shatner's supposed beefcake. But despite the show's adherence to these mid-century television conventions, Trek's writers also put a brain in Kirk's head -- and this episode is a textbook illustration, as it features our captain thinking his way out of a predicament instead of battling his way out. Seriously: Corbomite? It takes genuine cleverness - and a pair of ginormous brass cojones - for Kirk to pull that off.

In my opinion, this episode almost nails what TOS was supposed to be about. First of all, unlike the weaker Where No Man Has Gone Before, The Corbomite Maneuver doesn't rely on magic tricks and pyrotechnics to achieve its sense of menace and mystery. Instead, it takes this idea of seeking out "new life" and going "where no man has gone before" and runs with it in a way that is restrained and entirely plausible. If we ever leave our solar system, might we encounter a civilization whose technology is inscrutable and threatening? Personally, I think that's far more likely than the proposition that we will run into an energy barrier and suddenly develop god-like powers. Secondly, this episode is up on the human race without veering off into the utopian tall grasses. We see Kirk and McCoy arguing with each other (which, by the way, serves the two-fold function of ramping up the tension and establishing the status quo for that particular relationship). We see one crew member crack under the pressure thanks to his "inconvenient" adrenaline gland. But we also see this same crew member pull himself together when it really matters. The message? People are flawed, but we should be careful not underestimate humanity's potential.

Overall, I only have one major complaint about this episode, and it's this: Bailey is not a sufficiently developed character. We hear a lot about Bailey from McCoy and Kirk -- about how the kid was fast-tracked into his current rank. But we don't really get to see the story from Bailey's perspective, which makes his decision to stay with Balok in the end seem kind of random. "Oh, we're not going to leave you one of our diplomats. We're just going to give you some guy from our bridge." Okay, true -- Balok didn't seem to mind. I guess he was a little punch drunk on his tranya. But if you're stone cold sober and sitting in my bedroom, that conclusion leaves you a bit confused.

Writing: 8.5

Aside from the aforementioned denouement, this is a strong script.

Acting: 7.5

For the time, the performances are not bad. In the final scene, Clint Howard's mouth and gestures don't always sync up with the dubbed-in Balok voice, but hey -- I'll grant that that is hard to get right.

Message: 8.0

As I noted, the view of humanity in this episode is pleasantly upbeat.

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