Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Miri:" Reminding Us That Children And Animals Are The Worst Variables In Hollywood (Outside Make-up)!

The Good: Decent idea, Generally good acting
The Bad: Weak plot, Light on character, Make-Up effects
The Basics: When the Enterprise journeys to a planet struck with a plague four of the crew contract it and must work with children to find a cure or die!

Long before House, M.D. broke onto the scene with weekly medical mysteries, there was Star Trek, which featured Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock discovering alien diseases or unheard of medical conditions and working to fight them. By the time Star Trek reached its twelfth episode, it had already dealt with a man developing godlike powers, another using mind control, an alien parasite that drained its victims of salt, and one viral outbreak aboard the Enterprise. With "Miri," Dr. McCoy goes to the virus and he, Kirk, Spock and Yeoman Rand are infected and given a prognosis of five days to live!

While out exploring the galaxy, the U.S.S. Enterprise comes across a planet that seems to mirror Earth, save that there appears to be no one around. A landing party consisting of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Yeoman Rand beams down to investigate the planet, which is covered in ruined cities. The quartet soon discovers they are not alone; there are children on the planet and as near as anyone can tell, they have been alone there for quite some time. When the members of the landing party develop terrible blue splotches on their bodies, it becomes clear that they are infected with something. Kirk, who has befriended a girl named Miri - who has a crush on him -, learns that the adult population was wiped out by an experiment. The children who survived are actually hundreds of years old, though they, too die when they hit puberty. Kirk and his team are given five days to find a cure before they will die horribly . . . when Yeoman Rand is kidnaped by one of the kids!

"Miri" is a precursor to many, many, many post-apocalyptic viral outbreak movies and television series. Indeed, as I sat down to write this review I kept trying to think why the plot seemed so familiar - though I had just watched the episode - and I realized it was because I had just seen Jeremiah recently! The basic idea behind "Miri" is the same as Jeremiah with a large dose of House, M.D. thrown in. The result is an episode that belabors the medical, presents well immature children who rule a planet and is forced to fill with a hostage story to meet the time requirements.

Indeed, there is not an episode of the original Star Trek that comes to mind that is so preoccupied with the actual medical attempt to solve the problem of identifying and counteracting the plague. While "The Naked Time" had such a search, it was not illustrated in as painstaking detail as "Miri" does. The problem is that even with this devotion to the details of medical science, this Star Trek episode needed to go somewhere - i.e. the reveal of what the agent is is big, but what do you do after that?

The result is a plot twist that feels somewhat contrived. Yeoman Rand being captured and the efforts to rescue her distract the viewer from the medical aspect of the show and while it makes for more dramatic television, it still feels forced. In a similar fashion, the rescue effort diminishes the menace of the disease; while attempting to rescue Yeoman Rand, none of our heroes are crippled by the effects of the disease. Sure, it may be killing them, but you wouldn't know it from the acting.

This leads us to the infection itself. Wow, is it campy! Yes, Kirk and Company are infected by the giant splotch of purple-blue grease paint! The make-up is absolutely terrible. The splotches appear, they look hokey and fortunately, the show does not focus too much on them because they are essentially dollops of clown-style make-up. Fortunately, as well, I'm not big on rating on the grounds of effects (that's one point out of ten in my pantheon!) so the episode does not suffer too much for being utterly campy with the representation of the infection.

That said, the episode is largely enjoyable, if a bit light on character. "Miri" seeks to establish more of the subtext in the relationship between Kirk and Yeoman Rand (moments before she leaves the series!). As well, the episode is complicated because of Miri's crush on Kirk. Like the virus suddenly having no appreciable effects, the episode introduces the idea of Miri's crush then suddenly sweeps it aside when it could genuinely complicate matters for the Enterprise crew.

And despite my title, the acting in the episode is all right, though some of the kids are . . . well, kids. Actress Kim Darby appears as the title character of the episode and she has a quality that makes the viewer believe that she truly could be quite old and more mature than the child she appears as. Darby has wonderful posture and a very clear ability to speak, lending the perception that she is not as simple as many of the other children.

Grace Lee Whitney gives a decent, if simple, performance as Yeoman Rand. When she's not stuck sitting in a corner, Whitney plays Rand as inquisitive and a vital member of the landing party, which is more than she usually gets to do. In this episode she and William Shatner actually exhibit some decent on-screen chemistry that no doubt led to the mountains of fanfic about the two of them.

"Miri" is only notable on the character front for truly deepening the sparring and love/hate relationship between Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock. In this episode, the two verbally jab one another, but when McCoy is at his most vulnerable, Spock softens and is incredibly compassionate to him. Actors Deforest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy play off one another quite well and this no doubt spawned the many many scenes of them verbally sparring that followed in the series (and hey, if it works, why not stick with it?!).

Overall "Miri" works because while it has many different directions to go in, it comes together fairly well in the end. Jeremiah, for example, if far more realistic, gritty and dark, but "Miri" has a real good sense of mood to the medical mystery half that does keep the viewer actually wondering if some of the principles will not survive (keep in mind, only Shatner and Nimoy are credited cast for the show at this point!). Indeed, there comes a moment when McCoy collapses that still gets me. That takes something, especially for classic Star Trek (I've seen every episode SO many times at this point!).

Anyone who likes a good medical drama is likely to enjoy "Miri," though fans of Star Trek will likely be the ones who appreciate the character aspects more. Fans of science fiction in general may appreciate the episode, though I think it is more likely they will feel it is something they have already seen before. But it is generally intended for a more adult audience and it plays well to that.

Ultimately it's a generally average, but enjoyable episode, one of the ones that one wishes were part of a larger story. It works, it just could have worked better. Indeed, that is probably the episode's epitaph; everything was generally fine, but nothing more.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into "Star Trek - The Complete First Season" on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!


For other "Star Trek" reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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