Friday, November 12, 2010

William Shatner Gives An Extraordinary Performance In The Final, Terrible Episode of Star Trek!

The Good: ACTING!
The Bad: Plot, Characters, Terrible sexism, Contrary to much of the prior established universe
The Basics: When a crazy woman swaps bodies with Captain Kirk, the good captain begins acting like an irrational woman in the terrible series finale to Star Trek.

The various incarnations of Star Trek have usually known when they are ending and tried to make a phenomenon of the event. On Star Trek The Next Generation, Q returns to bookend the series with "All Good Things," on Star Trek Deep Space Nine, there is mass carnage and the resolution to most of the plots and characters, on Star Trek Voyager, the crew actually remembers that they're trying to get home, and on Star Trek Enterprise, the producers try to lift the ratings by tying the show to the more successful Star Trek The Next Generation. The original Star Trek series, however, ended without fanfare with an episode entitled "Turnabout Intruder."

The U.S.S. Enterprise arrives at the distant planet Camus II, which is the site of an archaeological expedition. One of the scientists studying the ruins is Dr. Janice Lester. While other members of the landing party are looking for the source of the radiation that is killing Lester, Lester imprisons Captain Kirk and uses an alien device to swap bodies with him. Lester, in Kirk's body, then returns to the Enterprise and the ship heads off with Kirk, in Lester's body, to cure her illness. Along the way, the apparent Captain Kirk begins to act erratically and soon Spock figures out something in wrong and most of the senior officers end up in the brig facing the death penalty.

Yeah, it starts with a real sketchy idea, then it just evolves into something absolutely terrible. "Turnabout Intruder" has potential on the page; someone swaps bodies with the leader of the ship. The execution of it, however, becomes a terrible gender-issue analysis that is as medieval as it is pointless. Dr. Janice Lester has memorized all of the workings of the starship in order to pull off acting like Captain Kirk, but she's not able to hold it all together because she's a woman. Lester essentially goes crazy in Kirk's body and the only real reason we're given is that she's emotionally unstable. The source of her emotional instability? Jealousy over StarFleet's sexist policy that prevents women from being starship captains.

That very idea is antithetical to the vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, yet he signed off on this episode. When Star Trek was created, Roddenberry was attentive to creating a crew that involved ethnic minorities and women in all levels of the Star Trek universe. There are Commodores - who outrank Captain Kirk - who are black, the ship is driven by the Asian Mr. Sulu and the only way they get their calls in most episodes; through Uhura at the communication's station. So, why are we to assume that everyone is welcome in the world except women as starship captains?! This is just beyond suspension of disbelief and it mortgages much of the capital Star Trek bought for creating a progressive vision of the future.

There's nothing like going out on a low note and Star Trek does that with "Turnabout Intruder." At a time when mental illness is mostly cured, Star Trek clings to outdated notions of sexual discrimination to make Lester crazy. And the audience is simply supposed to watch, shrug and say "women!" We don't.

There are two things that are noteworthy about "Turnabout Intruder." First, this is one of the only episodes of Star Trek where a prior episode is referenced. When trying to prove his identity, Captain Kirk (in Lester's body) he references events from earlier third season episodes "The Tholian Web" and "The Empath." That's cool. What's even better is Spock's response, which is to simply say that Lester could have gotten that information out of the computer (good realism!).

The only reason to watch "Turnabout Intruder" is for the acting of William Shatner. For all of the problems with the original Star Trek in terms of hammy overacting and erratic delivery, Shatner gives an amazing performance as the "possessed" Captain Kirk. He alters his body language entirely to attempt to make it (his interpretation of) more feminine and it's a clever, subtle performance that works. Of course, he does the over-the-top crazy woman thing while Lester degenerates and he does that well, too.

But it's still a poor outing and a tragic end to a classic science fiction series. Star Trek deserved better than to end on such a downbeat. But it does.

[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 be sure to check out my index page (updated daily!) for the listings of all I have reviewed!

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