Monday, October 18, 2010

A Giant Amoeba Is Set To Destroy The Galaxy In "The Immunity Syndrome"

The Good: Decent character development, Nice acting, Original plot
The Bad: Absurdity of the plot, predictability, Campy effects
The Basics: Once one understands that the viewer is a giant space amoeba and accepts how brilliant and absurd the idea is, "The Immunity Syndrome" holds itself together with character work.

Star Trek succeeds and makes viewers cringe in some cases for the same reason; it was a true original and as such some of its originality just did not work. Love it as fans might, some of the ideas are just so cool and original and completely absurd as to make the show an overall mixed bag of quality and crap. I write this as a fan, but as an objective viewer as well. "The Immunity Syndrome," one of the first episodes of Star Trek I ever saw is a show with such an original idea it's hard not to be impressed with it, even when it's absurd.

The USS Enterprise is cruising through space when Spock suddenly stands up straight and declares that he has felt an entire ship of Vulcans die in space somewhere nearby. The Enterprise is soon en route to find the USS Intrepid and its dead crew and it finds . . . a mysterious black spot in space. Penetrating the spot, in the interest of scientific endeavor, the Enterprise begins to experience massive power drains. Following the power drain from source (the Enterprise) to destination, the crew finds themselves at the mercy of a giant amoeba.

No, I'm not kidding. At the center of the spatial anomaly is a massive single-celled lifeform that is draining both the ship's energy and the crew's lifeforce. I bet you didn't see that coming! Yes, it's terribly original to have a gigantic amoeba out in space absorbing energy with the deadly countdowns of: 1. the ship only has so much energy before the crew is completely absorbed, and 2. the deadly space amoeba (I'm going to try to write that as many times this review because it makes me crack up each time) is reproducing! Then, there will be two deadly space amoebas in the galaxy absorbing all sorts of energy!

First off, the practical storytelling element, which is the big negative against "The Immunity Syndrome." The U.S.S. Enterprise is constantly exploring strange new worlds and meeting intriguing new villains and creatures. Most of them are very cool, some of them are downright menacing. There are some things from a basic storytelling perspective the viewer pretty much knows as a given. We know that the Enterprise and its crew are not going to be killed in the pilot episode, so any menace there is generally theatrical rather than realistic and material. Similarly, when important characters go, we want it to be for something worthwhile, something impressive. So, as far as "The Immunity Syndrome" goes, we know the Enterprise is not going to be killed by the giant space amoeba. Not going to happen. It's going to be something big, menacing, terrible, but not the Good Idea Of The Week. It's going to be Klingons, Romulans, an advanced alien force, it's never going to be a navigational accident where Sulu accidentally steers the ship into an oncoming asteroid and it's not going to be the giant space amoeba. Please, there's only so much a viewer can be expected to swallow about the giant space amoeba.

The thing is, "The Immunity Syndrome" does a decent job of keeping the suspense high because the average viewer figures out early on that no matter how bad the menace is of the giant space amoeba, the ship and some of its crew is going to manage to survive somehow. The nice thing about this episode is that it keeps the menace to the ship high while making it critical for one character. Either McCoy or Spock is set to pilot a shuttlecraft into the amoeba to drop an antimatter charge at the nucleus to kill the beast, but which one will go and will that person survive?

By limiting it to a character story where two scientists are pitted against one another and focusing on their drive to learn, understand and save the galaxy, the episode retains a brilliant sense of urgency that a number of the episodes do not necessarily possess. Could Spock die at the . . . umm, plasma of the giant space amoeba? It killed other Vulcans. Will Dr. McCoy perish because he's not as strong as Spock? It's about time something took out that grumpy old man and it does offer something heroic for him to die for . . .

My point here is that if anyone were to die in this episode and go out saving the galaxy for a scientific cause, McCoy and Spock are the logical choices and it actually succeeds in keeping the viewer engaged, believing that either of them could realistically bite the dust this episode. Too bad it wasn't Star Trek Deep Space Nine; there was a show that had the courage to kill main characters, maim secondary ones and truly twist the series. Then again, it's serialized. So, we have a pretty good idea how this episode is going to go.

Yeah, it looks like a bad day in the Star Trek neighborhood for giant space amoebas. But, it's going to be a good episode for Our Heroes as they prove their worth.

What works here and keeps the episode worthwhile, outside the uniqueness of the villain, is the character work. Once the Giant Space Amoeba (should that be capitalized?) is identified, the episode largely becomes a character study among the big three on Star Trek. Captain Kirk is put in the unenviable position of having to decide which of his two best officers and best friends he might have to sacrifice to save the universe from the absurd Giant Space Amoeba! Kirk has a tough choice and it is carried out like a difficult choice. He wrestles with the decision, he agonizes, he makes a choice and it involves the real possibility that he could lose one of his most valuable companions.

While Kirk is making his decision, Spock and McCoy are not inert. They are sparring, studying the adversary and doing their thing, preparing for the possibility that Kirk will select them and the end of their life is imminent. It's compelling. Leonard Nimoy does an excellent job as Spock, preparing for the greatest and deadliest test of his career.

What is almost - almost - too much is the counterperformance by DeForest Kelley, as Dr. McCoy. Kelley often plays McCoy as angry and irritable and in "The Immunity Syndrome," he almost takes that over-the-top. Fortunately, it's tempered by moments where Kelley must play McCoy with deep humanity. It's those performances that save the episode from the pure camp of the giant space amoeba.

In the end, this is a solid hour of television for anyone who likes science fiction and a decent character study. And if you're a sucker for camp done well, "The Immunity Syndrome" is a winner, too.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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