Sunday, October 31, 2010

Star Trek Succeeds With A Political Thriller With "The Enterprise Incident!"

The Good: Decent Plot, Good Acting, Excellent Character Development
The Bad: Minutiae
The Basics: In a tense, clever political episode of Star Trek, Kirk and Spock take on the Romulans to prevent the balance of power in the Quadrant from being radically shifted.

The third season of Star Trek is notoriously rocky, filled with some pretty terrible episodes like "Spock's Brain" and the dismal series finale "Turnabout Intruder," not to mention the space hippie episode "The Way To Eden." The third season is so rocky that often the best episodes of the season are neglected. Arguably the best neglected episode of Star Trek is "The Enterprise Incident."

Captain Kirk, according to Dr. McCoy, has been acting erratically for some time when the Captain orders the U.S.S. Enterprise into the Romulan Neutral Zone. Such a move is an act of war and Kirk barks out the order with uncharacteristic fury, so the Enterprise goes in, where it is promptly surrounded by Klingon battlecruisers. Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise surrender to the Romulans staffing the ships and Kirk and Spock beam over to the lead ship to discuss terms. Aboard the ship, Kirk's irrational behavior leads him to attack Spock in front of the Romulans. Spock, instinctively, uses the Vulcan Death Grip, killing Kirk. As the Enterprise crew mourns the loss, Spock allows the Romulan commander to get attracted to him and offer him a position in the empire, which Spock seems willing to take.

Of course, the viewer knows that Captain Kirk cannot be dead; Star Trek is not that kind of show (Star Trek Deep Space Nine, on the other hand . . .). It's a good thing the Romulans aren't all that familiar with the Vulcans, because they completely buy the idea of the Vulcan Death Grip, something anyone who knows anything about the pacifistic, logical Vulcans would have figured out. As it is, this is the only real problem with the episode; the big picture issues of "The Enterprise Incident."

In Star Trek: The Next Generation ("Unification I"), we learn that the Vulcans and Romulans have a common heritage. In the novels it is fleshed out that the Romulans were basically Vulcans who abandoned the planet when the mainstream Vulcan society turned toward logic and reason. Still, there's a significant movement on Romulus that is interested in reunification. So that the best and brightest Romulan commanders would not know some basics about Vulcans like that they abhor killing seems a bit of a stretch.

The rest of the episode works. This is a political thriller, Star Trek explores espionage. And it work, surprisingly, for the big picture reasons. The Klingons and Romulans have begun some form of exchange program (hence the Romulans appearing in Klingon ships) and that is a very real threat to the Federation. So, it seems natural that StarFleet (the exploratory/military wing of the Federation) would do whatever it could to neutralize the advantage the Klingon-Romulan alliance might have. The plan that is executed in "The Enterprise Incident" is clever and worthwhile.

What sells the episode is the acting. Joanne Linville is wonderful as the Romulan Commander as she tries to seduce Spock. Linville offers a very real foil for Leonard Nimoy's Spock and a nice contrast to the somewhat passionless women Spock has associated with in the past. She and Nimoy have very real on-screen chemistry.

DeForest Kelley does a great job as McCoy and he is used to sell a lot of the plot. Kelley is appropriately emotive, angry and cunning. Kelley is such a professional that the viewer is able to "buy" the alterations his character pulls off, embodying the professionalism of a doctor that makes us believe that there is no surgery beyond his ability.

Similarly, Leonard Nimoy gives one of his better portrayals of Spock in this episode. This is one of those portrayals where Spock is cool, efficient and logical. He is the rumored Vulcan that everyone remembers him as, as opposed to the exception he is about every third episode.

But much of the episode hinges on William Shatner's performance as Captain Kirk. Shatner plays Kirk as crazed and weird and it's a pleasure to see his range in this episode. "The Enterprise Incident" explores his range as it brings him from completely on-the-edge to dead to methodical and commanding and Shatner makes the viewer believe completely in his character.

In the end, this is an especially clever story of political espionage and it works as well today as it did when it first aired. It is entertaining for anyone who likes political dramas, science fiction or Star Trek. Very accessible to all audiences!

[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 check out my index page!

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

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