Star Trek “Spock's Brain” (part 1 of 4)
|SUMMARY: A beautiful woman appears aboard the Enterprise and renders the crew unconscious. When they awake, they discover Spock’s brain has been surgically removed from his body. Captain Kirk utilizes his Babe-Dar and follows a trail to the Sigma Draconis star system, where he finds Spock’s brain being utilized to control the workings of a society of airheaded go-go girls. Kirk once again wipes his ass with the Prime Directive as he destroys yet another machine-run civilization, “freeing” the women. Meanwhile, there’s a super-advanced teaching tool that helps Dr. McCoy restore Spock’s brain, but unfortunately, it isn’t powered by long-lasting Energizer batteries.|
For this, the second installment of The Worst of Trek, I decided to take on “Spock’s Brain”. And I’ll be straight with you, the only reason I picked this episode is because of how little most Trek fans think of it. I would guess that there’s two big reasons why this episode is looked upon with such contempt.
1) This episode is goofy. Like, really goofy. Watching it, you will find yourself filled with inescapable despair once you realize this is the same cast that performed mini-epics like “The City on the Edge of Forever” or nail-biting thrillers like “Journey to Babylon”. However, as a B-movie fanatic, I can pretend this isn’t really Star Trek, but rather a futuristic take on the “lost tribe of women” genre of movies (a genre that includes The Wild Women of Wongo, Mesa of Lost Women, Prehistoric Women and Thor and the Amazon Women) and enjoy it on that same campy level. Heck, all you’ve really got to do is put the estrogenic culture found in this episode in buckskin bikinis and you’ve got yourself One Million Years B.C. In Space. (Of course, had this truly been a B-movie, the title of this episode surely would have been They Saved Spock’s Brain!)
2) This episode is incredibly sexist. Even for the chauvinist atmosphere of late 60’s TV, some could say this episode crossed the line. For only in the darkest, most patriarchal corners of Trekdom could an idea such as this one germinate and spread like a fungus to living rooms across the country. See, the message promoted here goes like this: When women are separated from men for any length of time, they will become mentally retarded. Feeble. Too stupid to breathe. And their only hope for survival lies in their ability to cravenly steal the brain of an Alpha Male in order to ensure their lifestyles of shopping, baking cookies, and picking the kids up from school in the station wagon.
Which is not to say that I disagree with either of these points. Clearly, this episode is deeply flawed, and should have never been made in the first place. But unlike the wheezing, gasping invalid struggling to reach its conclusion that was “And the Children Shall Lead”, “Spock’s Brain” is a brisk fifty minutes that never bogs down or makes you stare at the clock praying and hoping for it to end. (Your life, that is, not the episode.)
In my recap of “And the Children Shall Lead”, I already discussed in great detail how production duties changed hands from Gene Rodenberry to Fred Freiberger for the third season of Star Trek, resulting in a year of television best known in the hearts and minds of Trekkies as the “Turd Season”. “Spock’s Brain”, as it so happens, was the Turd Season season premiere. So this was no frivolous episode expected from the get-go to be a one-off or a throwaway, or one piece of filler among twenty-four. No, this was meant to be a stand-up-and-salute, whiz-bang, set the tone for the whole damn year event. So you can’t excuse it by saying the people who made the thing meant for anybody to just write it off.
Unlike a lot of the movies I cover on this site, the fatal flaw in “Spock’s Brain” is not in the execution, but the original idea. The substance, if you will, and not the style. The steak, and not the sizzle. The episode was scripted by Gene L. Coon, who wrote some of Trek’s strongest episodes, like “Arena” (The One With The Gorn) or “A Taste of Armageddon” (The One Where Computers Decide Who Dies In War). Word has it Gene wrote “Spock’s Brain” as either a practical joke, or as a bitter act of protest against the direction the show was taking. Considering that, for the first time, Coon wrote a Trek episode under a pseudonym (“Lee Cronin”), that would seem to bear this legend out. But the joke was really on him, because Freiberger decided to film it anyway.
The episode begins with a needle-like space craft jerking its way across the screen, followed by an unbelievably blurry image of the Enterprise (again, the first shot of the Enterprise in the whole damn season). My personal theory is that this shot of the Enterprise looks so crappy because the original elements were lost, and the shot just got progressively blurrier as they spliced it in over and over again.
The two ships appear to be coming right at each other, head-to-head on a collision course. In the red corner, Enterprise! In the blue trunks, Clunky Ship Made By A Retarded Tholian! On the bridge of the Enterprise, flashing lights indicate that there’s an imminent risk of terrorist attack. The bridge crew silently study their instruments with worried, intense looks on their faces. Including Scotty. Scotty? Why’s he on the bridge? Shouldn’t the Chief Engineer be, oh I don’t know, down in Engineering?
A briefing from First Officer Spock informs Captain Kirk that the approaching ship has “ion propulsion”, which he suggests is a highly advanced technology. Scotty remarks that she’s “a beauty”, and its designers “could teach us a thing or two!” Klunk. That, in case you were wondering, is the sound of heavy foreshadowing when it lands.
Spock scans the ship and finds one occupant, breathing “conventional nitrogen-oxygen” atmosphere. He then takes at least four extremely verbose sentences to explain that the occupant is beaming onto the bridge of the Enterprise. Kirk calls for security, but he’s too late—A woman has begun to materialize on the bridge. Thanks, Spock. Perhaps if you had just said “She’s beaming onboard,” Kirk might have had some time to react.
Instead, the intruder suddenly appears, and I do mean “suddenly”, because when we cut away from Kirk, the woman is already there. That is, a very poorly drawn, green-tinted cartoon version of a woman is there. The greenish tint fades, and romantic music swoops in to herald the arrival of a brunette ingénue in a barely-there shimmering purple top accessorized with matching hip boots. She bats her eyelashes at the Vulcan science officer.
Everyone just stands there, completely transfixed by her beauty. Including Uhura. Uhura? Is there something you want to share, girlfriend? Two security guards rush in, prompting the intruder to touch a button on her futuristic wrist splint. This causes everyone on the bridge to instantly collapse, and in addition, it also causes all the lights to dim [?]. All the better for them to get a lovely, restful night of sleep, I guess. What a considerate intruder!
The woman smiles. Another button on the Wrist Splint causes lights to flicker somewhere, and random crewmembers fall to the floor in a random part of the ship. She presses yet another button that makes everyone in Sickbay collapse, including Dr. McCoy and Nurse Chapel. Now, as you might know, I caught some heat for referring to Nurse Chapel as “Man Face” in my “And the Children Shall Lead” recap, but you can rest assured, you’ll hear none of that talk in this recap.
Anyway, the vision of stunning beauty that goes by the name Majel Barett-Rodenberry drops her tray and tumbles to the floor, displaying splendor and elegance in every motion. Let me tell you, the way her head charmingly bounces on the carpet is truly a breathtaking sight to behold. All in all, she falls unconscious with the poise of a ballerina performing Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.
Meanwhile, Purple Hip Boots strolls across the bridge, pausing to admire an unconscious Kirk sprawled across his chair. And yes, his ass is pointed directly at the camera. Nevertheless, the woman passes him over. Kirk’s magnetism and available buttocks are apparently not enough to sway this woman, because she instead puts a hand on the head of her intended target, Mr. Spock. Uh-oh.
Space, the final frontier. These are the unbearably tedious and sexist voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s interminable mission: to seek out dopey, unbelievable new plots, requiring strong rationalization. To boldly go where men go when they should have been cancelled three months ago!
When we return, a shot of the bridge reveals everyone still passed out. Everyone, that is, except for Spock, who’s nowhere to be seen. The lights return and everyone wakes up from the raging alcoholic bender they must have all had last night. Kirk discovers his anus is sore and smeared with KY Jelly, but thanks to Sulu and Uhura, he quickly gets a handle on the situation. Suddenly, a frantic Dr. McCoy calls up, insisting that Kirk come down to Sickbay immediately.
Our next shot is in Sickbay, where comically, Mr. Spock is lying unconscious on an examination table wearing a gold lame fez [!].Oh my God, they’ve turned him into a really tacky Shriner! His arms and torso are sheltered by the 23rd Century version of an iron lung, and McCoy and Chapel switch the machine on just as Kirk and Scott rush in.
Kirk sees that Spock’s on life support and asks if he was dead. “He was worse than dead!” McCoy blathers. “His brain is gone!” Here’s our first of many goofy “acting” moments, as Shatner puts all the effort he can muster into looking really, really confused as he actually mouths the words “his brain is gone”. McCoy then explains that Spock’s brain was surgically removed in the “greatest technical job” he’s ever seen.
Kirk assumes Spock must be dying, but according to McCoy, “That incredible Vulcan physique hung on until the life-support cycle took over!” Incredible Vulcan physique? Does Spock have some killer pecs? A washboard stomach? Rock-hard glutes? Bones, is there something you want to share?
McCoy says that Spock’s autonomic functions will continue without his brain for a while. Sure, I’ll buy that. Kirk makes a daring deductive leap and concludes that the alien woman (“that girl”) took Spock’s brain. I dunno, Captain, I mean, she is a girl… McCoy says he doesn’t know how long Spock can survive like this, because his “body is much more dependent on that tremendous brain for life support!” Than… who? Not to dispute McCoy’s expert medical opinion here, but I would think everybody’s body is pretty damn dependent on their brains, “tremendous” or not.
Kirk says they’ll have to take Spock with them, and McCoy wonders where they’re going. “In search of his brain, Doctor!” Hello, I’m Leonard Nimoy, and we are In Search Of… My Brain!
McCoy points out that even if they do find Spock’s brain, he doesn’t have the medical expertise to put it back in Spock’s head. Kirk says the woman who took it must know how to restore it. Then, out of nowhere, McCoy announces they have 24 hours to find Spock’s brain. And he says this, mind you, little over a minute after saying he didn’t know how long Spock could survive like this.
Later on the bridge, Kirk gets a report from his helmsmen, who are doggedly pursuing the alien ship’s “ion trail” to a star system called “Sigma Draconis”. Kirk walks towards the front of the bridge and we see that, for the first time on Star Trek, the bridge viewscreen is being rear projected.
In previous episodes, the viewscreen was always superimposed after the fact, so shots that included it were generally limited to showing a motionless Sulu and Chekov on either side. But now, the rear projection means the actors can easily pass in front of the screen. Accordingly, the director has the actors walk in front of the viewscreen as much as is physically possible. Seriously, everybody gets a turn. Random redshirts stroll in front of it. Yellowshirts stroll in front of it. Kirk paces around in front of it. I half-expected a high school marching band to come striding through at any second.
Kirk ducks a trombone and orders Sulu to head to the Sigma Draconis system at “maximum speed”. According to Sulu’s acknowledgement of the order, this is “Warp Six”. As you probably guessed, the Enterprise has gone much faster than this in previous episodes. And for extended periods of time, too. Regardless, they follow the ion trail, and Kirk seizes the opportunity to pace around in front of the viewscreen some more.
Stardate 5431.4. We learn from the Captain’s Log that they have “8 hours and 40 minutes” left to find Spock’s brain. I’m wondering, at exactly the 24 hour mark, what happens? Does Spock just instantly drop dead? Is that how it works? I have to assume so, because why else would they track the remaining time down to the minute like this? Abruptly, Sulu reports he’s lost the ion trail, so Kirk orders an “extreme sweep”. Followed by an extreme mop, and a once-over with an extreme feather duster.
As the X-treme sweep is conducted, Kirk elevates “pacing in front of the viewscreen” to an art form. Soon, Uhura reports that the sensors have picked up nothing. However, they know the ship entered this star system, so Kirk has Chekov punch up “a schematic of Sigma Draconis” and put it on the viewscreen. Which he then paces in front of.
Kirk somehow finds the ability to stand still long enough to examine the diagram. In all likelihood, it was lifted from a 1964 elementary school science textbook, but Kirk pretends not to notice. Instead, he says that the female intruder was breathing “our air”, which means she’s from one of the three Class M planets in the system.
Chekov zooms in on those three planets, then walks all the way around the big helm console to go stand by the viewscreen and point stuff out on this diagram that is surely still being studied in California public schools today. He says the first planet rates a “B” on the “Industrial Scale”. Is this anything like the restaurant grades from the health department? Kirk translates to the audience that “B” on the Industrial Scale is roughly the same level of technological development as Earth circa the year 1485.
The next planet gets a “G” from the Health Department, and that’s circa 2030 on Earth. The last planet has no development at all, and is in a glacial age. Kirk remarks that none of these planets are capable of interstellar flight, and “yet one of them accomplished it.” Not to nitpick, but the episode “Space Seed” (The One With Ricardo Montalbán) clearly showed Khan traveling to the stars in a ship launched “sometime in the early 1990s”. Okay, sure, it’s a forgivable error—until you remember that it was Gene L. Coon himself who wrote “Space Seed”. Oops!
Anyway, Uhura picks up a “high energy generation” coming from the planet in the glacial age. Boy, you know Uhura has got to be ecstatic here. I mean, Spock’s brain gets stolen and she finally gets to do something useful. She probably already called the family to let them know and everything.
Kirk points out there are only “primitive humanoids” on the Glacial Age planet. He asks Chekov for an explanation for these energy readings, but Chekov’s at a loss. Well, great, Chekov, your only chance to prove yourself and you screwed it up. Now I know why he’s still an ensign.
Kirk asks his crew for recommendations. Chekov suggests going to the 1485 planet [!]. Welcome to permanent ensign-hood, Pavel. I used to think it was just the goofy accent holding him back, but now I know better. Sulu suggests the 2030 planet, because it’s the most technologically advanced, but Kirk reminds them that “advanced ion propulsion” is beyond even the capabilities of the Federation.
Uhura whimsically changes the subject, wondering why they’d even want Spock’s brain in the first place. After humoring her for a while (and killing some screen time), Kirk gently eases the discussion back on track. He ponders the energy coming from the glaciated planet, and decides to take a landing party down there. He admits it’s just a hunch, and if he’s wrong, “Spock will die!” Which sets us up nicely for a commercial break.