Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How Many Times Can They Ask Us To Endure The Same Plot?! "The Omega Glory"

The Good: Morgan Woodward's acting, Good (if overdone) message
The Bad: Plot has been done to death! No genuine character development, Mediocre (at best) acting.
The Basics: In a generally terrible redux of three prior episodes, Kirk ends up among barbarians as allegorical freedom-lovers in a fight against the allegorical Commies!

I have the sneaking suspicion that either the executive producers of Star Trek thought no one was tuning in, their audience was complete morons or that they could simply dupe their audience by reusing the same plot over and over again without them noticing or objecting. That seems much more likely than my initial "The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing" theory, considering two of the four offending episodes were written or co-written by Gene Roddenberry and two by Gene L. Coon. The final of four almost identically plotted episodes is "The Omega Glory," written by Gene Roddenberry and rewatching the episode in the context of the second season of Star Trek honestly made me respect the season less than I originally did.

In "Bread And Circuses," the perfect "A Piece Of The Action" and it's reset follow-up "Patterns Of Force" as well as "The Omega Glory," the following things happen with only minor variations: the U.S.S. Enterprise is searching for a person or starship, it arrives at a planet in the vicinity of where the person or ship was last thought to be, Kirk and Spock beam down to discover the planet has a culture modeled after an old Earth culture and they are captured, they make a daring escape, they meet another faction on the planet (optional Kirk sex interest) and then discover the source of the cultural contamination, usually the person they were looking for initially. The traitorous person who contaminated the culture realizes the error of their ways right before being killed in a fashion that aids Kirk's escape and the Enterprise leaves with the feeling that the planet is headed in the right direction once again.

Yeah, it's not a bad idea at all. The problem is, in a twenty-six episode season, doing that same plot four times (three of them in the last seven episodes of the season!) makes it seem like the writers are just not imaginative enough to come up with more than that. It's a shame, but the perception holds and "The Omega Glory" may just be the worst of the bunch in and out of context.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is searching for the U.S.S. Exeter, one of its sister ships, which it finds in orbit around Omega IV. Its crew is dead from a virus and knowing they cannot return to the Enterprise, the contaminated Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet to try to find a cure for themselves. There they find Captain Ronald Tracey, the Exeter's c.o. who unwittingly contaminated his crew with the virus that made them turn into lumps of crystals. He has learned that the atmosphere of Omega IV keeps the virus in check, so they are safe on the planet. Tracey is living among the Kohms, a race at war with the Yangs. The war involved biological weapons, yet both sides have been knocked back to a rather primitive state. Tracey backs the losing side in the civil war, which leads to a confrontation that - among other things - involves the appearance of the American flag and . . .

. . . Sigh.

You see where this is going, yes? Gene Roddenberry, clever as he was, was making an allegory. The Kohms, who are near-immortal people who appear to be of Asian decent, are fighting the Yangs, a group of barbarian white folks. The Yangs are fighting for freedom, while the powerful Kohms are fighting for control. This being the '60s when this was produced, I'm sure most of the audience figured out (well before the episode made it pretty much explicit) that the Yangs were Yankees (not the baseball team, freedom loving capitalists!) and the Kohms were the Communist (in this case the poor metaphor for the Chinese).

How many times am I allowed to sigh in a review and still be considered useful? The episode seems dated by today's standards, at best. At worst, this is campy '60s throwback science fiction and it doesn't take any serious analysis of the Star Trek franchise to suggest that Roddenberry is letting the mandates of the time alter his message in the most foolish possible way. "The Omega Glory" could have worked for virtually any other science fiction series, but not "Star Trek." Why?

Star Trek, despite two episodes that mildly contradict the other seventy-seven, features a crew that works as a military-organized collective in space. Kirk, Spock, and everyone else on the Enterprise, do not get paid, they are not motivated by greed. All they need (food, clothing, shelter, stimulation) is provided freely to them and in exchange, they give an honest day's work in the pursuit of furthering the knowledge of the Federation. They might not be Communist, but they're easily Socialist and a far cry from capitalist. So the idea that Kirk and his crew would empathize more with the barbaric Yangs as opposed to the Kohms is purely a construct of the time and a weird form of redbaiting.

Fortunately, Kirk's official position is to try to stay neutral and simply avoid being repeatedly captured. Unfortunately for him, he's trapped in an episode that offers him no room for growth and he is overshadowed at every turn by the kind of crazy Captain Tracey.

Tracey is played by Morgan Woodward, who played Dr. Simon Van Gelder back in the first season's "Dagger Of The Mind" (click here for that review!). It's nice to see Woodward back in Star Trek, though one wonders if it's in his contract that he is obligated to look sweaty and bug out his eyes once per performance. Seriously, though, he is a delightful actor and in this role he is able to present himself (initially) as an articulate character that gives us the sense that he could actually have been a starship captain before going over to the dark side. He is able to keep his performance tight as a man keeping a secret and there are moments in the episode where he masterfully insinuates - with just his eyes - that his character is thinking and scheming. He's great.

The other guest actors are just disappointing. Truth be told, actors like Roy Jenson and Irene Kelley, who play Cloud William and Sirah, respectively, are just given roles that are terrible on the page so they don't have much they can do to improve it with their execution. The result is a just plain painful to watch series of grunts and barbarian faces from them.

The main cast, especially William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, trundle through the episode with a somewhat relaxed posture, barely hiding their indifference to the work. They seem bored by it, as if they had put together that they were doing the same thing over yet again! DeForest Kelley gives a mildly more energetic performance, though he is (as is frequent) utilized less as Dr. McCoy in this episode.

I suppose the episode might hold up for those who have never seen an . . . no, this episode does not hold up even for non-fans of Star Trek. Drama fans are likely to be caught off by the genre trappings and science fiction fans will find this an untenable waste of time. Were it not for Woodward's performance, I'd say this was a straight out "avoid it!"

[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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