Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In The Race To The Bottom Of Star Trek, One Must Find "Elaan Of Troyius!"

The Good: Umm . . . Space battle? Dear word, nothing!
The Bad: Terrible acting, Abysmal plot, Ridiculous character/racial traits
The Basics: When the Enterprise has to ferry a bratty planetary ruler, there's a stabbing, sabotage, love-potion tears, and a space battle, which makes "Elaan Of Troyius" sound better than it is!

Being on the cutting edge of anything means that while you might push forth with wonderful and successful experiments, you are equally likely to fall down hard. With Star Trek, which was one of the pioneers of science fiction on television, it had some ruts and in its third season, it had a few complete dogs. The first truly abysmal episode of the final season had to be the second episode produced, "Elaan Of Troyius!"

The U.S.S. Enterprise is charged with ferrying the Dohlman of Elas to the planet Troyius where she will be married to end a war that has been raging. Captain Kirk and his crew, warned by the Troyian Ambassador, Petri, soon discover that Elaan, the Dohlman, is a spoiled, bratty, rotten woman who seems to have no redeeming qualities. Distraught over having to go to Troyius, Elaan begins to throw a tantrum and cry, which releases her mystical tears and seem to entrap Captain Kirk to do her bidding. While Kirk tries to teach Elaan manners, the ship comes under attack by the Klingons and Kirk begins to suspect that the Dohlman, her entourage and the mission is not quite what is seems.

Wow, this episode is flat-out terrible. Indeed, it is so bad, I'm having trouble figuring out where to start my critique! Let's start with the basic plot. Okay, that might not be the worst thing in the world. The plot is very simple: woman comes aboard, is upset about being married off, causes problems. Star Trek: The Next Generation used almost the same plot when it presented the magnificent "The Perfect Mate." The difference is all the difference. Captain Kirk finds himself dealing with a complete brat with Elaan.

Elaan is characterized by nothing but negative character traits and she lives down to the worst of them. She is spoiled, boorish, snotty and violent. When she stabs Petri, the viewer is reminded about the trouble with diplomatic immunity! The character has nothing to make her appealing and she often seems a parody of the worst impressions of a leader.

The Elasian women are given the interesting character trait of having tears that enslave men. Yes, when Elasian women cry, they are supposed to be able to exert control over the men who touch the tears. Kirk, of course, is Elaan's victim d'jour. But here we run into one of the significant problems with the episode. Kirk seems minorly more malleable after Elaan cries, but not truly incapacitated. When McCoy describes the medical effects of the tears, he makes it sound vital that Kirk not touch them. And yet, he is able to shrug off the effects in a way that is not satisfactorily explained. After all, are we supposed to believe that none of the Elasian men have the will to resist a woman, but James Kirk can?!

"Elaan Of Troyius" suffers from the same type of supernatural influx that brought down the otherwise clever and worthwhile "A Private Little War." Unlike that episode, though, which also involved Klingon involvement outside their sphere of influence, "Elaan Of Troyius" lacks a genuinely interesting and enduring theme. This is a cheap excuse to have Captain Kirk scolding a woman and an opportunity to portray women as simple tools who are petty, ignorant and difficult.

The problem with reviewing "Elaan Of Troyius" is that it is a very simple episode. Bratty woman comes aboard, ensorcels Kirk. Okay, that's fifteen minutes, tops. Well, there's a tacked on Klingon subplot. The problem is, there's no mystery to it. One of Elaan's bodyguards - who is in league with the Klingons - sabotages the Enterprise. And that whole plot comes to a quick end, but inspires the pointless end section where the Enterprise is stuck with damaged engines when it comes under attack by the Klingons and Scotty has to try to defuse a bomb and keep the ship protected. It might sound vaguely interesting, but the execution is awful and the characters unique to this episode are uninspired and poorly realized.

What nails the final nail into this particular coffin is the all-around crummy acting. Regular performers Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley are off their game with Nimoy smirking his way through parts of the episode more than Kelley! James Doohan's performance from engineering is one of his most melodramatic.

France Nuyen is particularly atrocious as Elaan. While her accent is real, her role is such an annoying one that it becomes impossible to divorce the character from the actor. Perhaps Nuyen is a phenomenal actor because she so overwhelmingly convinces the viewer that her character is unredeemably bratty that the viewer ends up loathing every minute she is on screen. Indeed, no good comes from her performance and the character is no more vital than she appears on the script page.

The lack of allure or appeal to Elaan is especially problematic as France Nuyen and William Shatner had appeared in a popular play together prior to this episode. That they have utterly no chemistry on screen guts any sense of truth that might exist in the reality of the Elasian physiology. Even "possessed" by her tears, Shatner seems no more connected to Nuyen than prior.

Shatner's acting in "Elaan Of Troyius" seems particularly lackluster and uninspired, as if he is bored with the prospect of kissing yet-another tin foil-clad woman. His performance as influenced by Elaan's tears is significantly less convincing than the performance he gave when Kirk was overcome by mind-controlling spores back in "This Side Of Paradise." But before he even gets to that point in the story, Shatner appears to be operating at less than full steam.

The simple plot, universally unlikable characters and utterly uninspired performances all contribute to a tragically dull episode of Star Trek that is impossible to recommend to anyone. The story is not remotely appealing to fans of drama, comedy, science fiction or anyone who likes television in general.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

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

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