Star Trek “The Alternative Factor” (part 2 of 6)

Kirk and Company rush to the fallen man, who’s still alive (with that name, I would hope he’d be a little hard to put down for too long). Observe closely the man’s beard, as it will change drastically throughout the episode. It’s clearly meant to be related to the twist the plot takes, but to be honest, things get so confusing I’m not willing to concede any ground here.

Sadly, this will prove to be the only really entertaining thing in the entire episode. Yep, we are stuck with facial hair as our sole source of entertainment. I should really check my life insurance policy before starting these things.

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Back on the bridge, Kirk gets a report from Lt. Masters, an attractive young black woman who initially was to have had a larger role in the episode. There was supposed to have been some sort of romantic subplot between her and Lazarus, but given the time in which the episode aired, TV stations in the South would probably not have been thrilled with the notion.

Caption contributed by Ed

“What was with you calling out Uhura’s name last night? There something you want to tell me?”

She reports that the temporary non-existence drained their dilithium crystals. The ship runs on them, and they’re frequently brought up by Scotty during times of crisis, generally followed by “She canna take much more o’ this, captain! I’m givin’ it all she’s got!”

Spock reports nothing unusual going on, and is still at a loss as to why all this is happening, whatever “this” is. All he can say is that the event was at its strongest on the planet. Uhura reports a message from Starfleet, noting that it’s the code used for reporting a possible invasion (though nothing nearly that exciting will happen here), and Kirk puts the ship on battle stations alert.

McCoy calls in to say Lazarus will be fine, and we next get a chat between Kirk and some random commodore who reports (in as halting and bored a manner as possible) that the phenomenon has been experienced everywhere. Kirk guesses it’s a prelude to an invasion because…Well, I guess because he needs to say something, no matter how out of the blue it is!

Caption contributed by Ed

“Enterprise, this is Starfleet. Uh… you got any idea what the hell this episode is about? No, huh? Okay, forget I asked. Carry on.”

Kirk is assigned to investigate, and naturally, the Enterprise is the only ship Starfleet is willing to throw into the shit. I often wonder, and by often, I mean I’ve never actually had this particular thought before, but anyway… I wonder how the other ship captains feel about this sort of thing. Is there a support group?

Given how things are by the time TNG happens, I’d imagine they’re back into the sort of trippy psychotherapy stuff you saw in the ‘70s, when most stuff could simply be solved by not spending half your income on bullshit remedies for simple problems.

After the commodore is gone, Kirk and Spock reiterate the situation (thanks, guy, but as boring as the episode is, it’s not that boring… yet), and Spock suggests they go back down to the planet. Kirk agrees, and heads off to try and get some answers from Lazarus.

I’m guessing “Why did you untangle a scouring sponge and glue it to your face?” won’t be one of the questions.

We cut to Lazarus as he emotes about a being he’s been pursuing that he refers to as “the devil’s spawn”: a hideous, murdering monster in human form which he swears to defeat. Kirk listens with boredom—uh, I mean, concern—and asks how Lazarus escaped. It’s here that we’re clumsily informed that he’s the last surviving member of his planet. Lazarus gives a rather arch, vague answer about inspecting some sort of equipment, before asking Kirk if he believes him.

Caption contributed by Ed

“I’m in search of my enemy. He’s dangerous, crafty and evil… And if you could spare a down on his luck man some change for bus fare…”

Kirk asks about the whole non-existence thing, and Lazarus gets a little upset before immediately calming down and assuming Kirk will join him when Kirk merely says, “We have very little facts.” Kirk replies he’s more concerned with the safety of his crew, which is stock answer #371, I believe.

Just a little bit of trivia: Numbers 247 through 344 involve giving a speech composed of only twenty or so words and eighty pauses.

Kirk tells Lazarus they’ll beam down together, and we cut to the planet, where Spock and a team are inspecting the ship. Kirk and Lazarus show up, and it turns out the news of Lazarus’ nemesis has already been reported by Uhura.

As Spock gives his report, we see Lazarus, and it would seem his beard has gotten a little fuller. Its less “homeless guy who just doesn’t give a shit” and more “homeless guy who still has some dignity and self-respect”.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Captain, I find the premise of this episode to be… highly illogical. Plus, we need to get the homeless guy a shower. He’s starting to reek like you after too much Romulan food.”

Spock reports that there are no other lifeforms, and suggests that Lazarus is lying. The music, in a desperate attempt to convince us that this is dramatic, comes up as Lazarus protests.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Now was Kennedy the president the last time I bathed or Eisenhower? Damn, why can’t I remember that?”

As Kirk asks him for the truth, he suddenly lurches in pain as another bout of non-existence occurs. A blurry image of Lazarus runs up and rants before running off. Kirk and Spock try to figure out what’s going on, and we go back to Lazarus, and I guess this episode’s idea of an alternate dimension or state of existence is to tell the focus puller to come in drunk off his ass and work his usual shift.

I hear that’s Method focus pulling. You can only learn it by flunking out of film school. Very complex technique.

Caption contributed by Ed

Wow, rubbing Vaseline on the lens does make a person look somewhat younger!

Either way, Lazarus runs around in Blur-O-Vision, ranting and hamming it up and throwing himself around the scenery, as flashes of light and that damned spatial anomaly are seen.

You know, on the one hand, I want to know what’s going on so I can give an accurate summation of what I am seeing. On the other hand, this is about as compelling as a beige room, so a good portion of me is thinking about what to have for dinner.

Suddenly, the picture does that whirling newspaper effect that went out of style about the time WWII ended, and spins away, returning with a very blue lens filter, over which is superimposed a really crappy looking image of Lazarus, also blue.

He stumbles up to the middle of the frame and does some crappy mime work (I know, I know, a redundancy if there ever was one) before being attacked by an identical copy of himself.

Caption contributed by Ed

Note to self: Never watch this episode while taking NyQuil. Visions of Satan and Jim Morrison are not conducive to cold relief.

They slowly grapple as the frame spins slowly, and right now I think I can safely say that this episode was made under the influence of some rather poor quality weed*. Yep, this alone is enough to convince me that somebody on set was letting everyone take a shot at his girlfriend Mary Jane.

[*For the record, good weed yields stuff like most of the Sgt. Pepper album, the films of David Lynch, all the good ideas Dan Aykroyd has ever had, and the entire run of the Mr. T cartoon.]

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Star Trek "The Alternative Factor"

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