Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Quiet Winner For Star Trek Comes With "Friday's Child."

The Good: Excellent acting, Character development, Plot
The Bad: Moments of hokey definition of the Capellans
The Basics: With its strength of character over strength of arms, "Friday's Child" succeeds at being an engaging political thriller for Star Trek.

Star Trek had some real winners as far as television goes and it's unfortunate when some of their better ideas were robbed of perfection by silly technical glitches or ideas. "Friday's Child" is one such episode. Appearing in the second season of Star Trek, this work has much to recommend it, but it is robbed of perfection. Why? The alien race that the Enterprise encounters this week is supposed to be primitive and the way that is expressed is through somewhat broken English. Understanding the Star Trek universe (with its translation devices) makes this just silly and cheap as opposed to actually defining the culture. I mention this at the top because the rest of my review is bound to be glowing and I felt a certain need to explain - up front - why "Friday's Child" is not a perfect episode.

The U.S.S. Enterprise returns to Capella IV, a world Dr. McCoy once visited, to discover that the Klingons have arrived on the planet and are negotiating with the leaders there for rights to the planet. The leader, Akaar, is soon assassinated by the pro-Klingon warlord Maab. Maab and his Klingon lackey Kras chase Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Akaar's pregnant wife Eleen off into the hills, where Kirk must work to protect Eleen and the baby, lest the Federation lose its foothold on Capella. As they work on the surface, the Enterprise, under Scotty's control, is lured away, leaving Kirk and company stranded.

What does "Friday's Child" do well? First off, it establishes a culture that is remarkably distinct for an hour of television. The Capellans are a warrior race, driven by honor, deadly when provoked and clever. They care about family and have a generally strong monarchy (called the High Teer) that flows from father to son, unless the entire line is wiped out (which is what Maab seeks to do by killing Akaar and hunting Eleen). The Capellans are an intriguing race that is both reasonable and barbaric, honorable and filled with subterfuge. In short, it's easy to see why the established races like the Federation and the Klingons (this is only the second episode that Klingons are in) are interested in them.

But more than establishing a culture, "Friday's Child" establishes characters. Eleen is a remarkably sympathetic (if not empathetic character). As the widow of the slain leader, she is hunted by the new ruler and this leads her to hate the baby she is carrying. That's a compelling character twist and it works well on the realism front. After all, losing her husband is bad, but when she becomes the object of a planetwide hunt simply because she is carrying a baby that threatens the new ruler, she naturally loathes it. It's brilliant and it's a character construction we virtually never see on television or in the movies today. It's surprising when a story from 1967 is still cutting edge today.

And while Maab is pretty much a generic villain, Kras continues to evolve the Klingons some. Kras helps to define the Klingons (in Star Trek, NOT Star Trek: The Next Generation and beyond) as untrustworthy, conniving and dishonorable. He is a player, using political subterfuge to advance the goals of the Klingon Empire. And while the make-up is not impressive or interesting (a Starlog comic once referred to Kras as "Uncle Bob"), the character of the Klingon here is intriguing and fun to rewatch.

More than the guest characters, "Friday's Child" gives the viewers the chance to see the star characters growing and stretching out. Sure, Spock is as clever as he usually is, Scotty is gullible and easily drawn away and becomes the cavalry returning in the nick of time and Chekov spouts something about Russia, but Kirk and McCoy actually develop some in this episode.

Captain Kirk shows some real depth in "Friday's Child" by being both diplomat and soldier. Unlike the argument that "Star Trek" is about a group of explorers, "Friday's Child" seems to acknowledge that StarFleet is the Federations military (and exploratory) wing. Kirk is responsible here for a tactical situation that forces him to engage the responsibilities he has as a soldier. While I'm not advocating that, it is a nice episode to cite to those who want to argue that Gene Roddenberry's vision is pacifistic and noble (my argument is that Roddenberry's vision might be pacifistic and noble, but it is not realized until Star Trek The Next Generation). Kirk embodies a sense of balance between peaceful intentions and militaristic necessities. In short, Kirk is the type of hero willing to fight for a cause, not simply die for one or let others be killed for one.

But this is ultimately a strong McCoy episode. The viewer is treated to Dr. McCoy doing what he does best, saving a life. In this case, McCoy is both a cultural reference - having visited Capella before and befriended Akaar - and a useful medical specialist, as he works to keep Eleen and her baby safe and healthy. While McCoy's actions might be questionable, they are certainly in a spirit of feminism. It's actually somewhat a relief (even as the pacifist that I am) to see McCoy, when smacked by the haughty Eleen, smack her back. McCoy puts up with nothing and despite his "convincing" of Eleen through reciprocated violence, he establishes himself as a forthright and caring doctor.

Much of the episode, then, rests on the acting of DeForest Kelley and he delivers. Kelley plays off guest actress Julie Newmar perfectly and she manages to get around her broken English lines with surprising grace. Kelley plays McCoy as alternatively hotheaded and deeply empathic, resonating caring and life-giving. He embodies the best of what a doctor could be in this role, in this episode. Moreover, Kelley has the chance to present information in a Spock-like exposition, without seeming at all derivative or even expository. That's quality acting!

Ultimately, "Friday's Child" is something of a political thriller/chase with two sides battling for reasonable negotiating control over a sovereign world. It's enjoyable, tense and holds up well over many rewatchings. Great for fans of science fiction or political drama.

[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 episode reviews, please check out the organized list on my index page!

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

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment