May 13, 2020
Star Trek "Catspaw"
October is here again, and for many, that means the start of Halloween season. So why not look at the only episode in Star Trek franchise history that was an actual Halloween episode? This is the reason “Catspaw”, actually the first episode of season 2 filmed, was the seventh to be aired in order to coincide with the Eve of All Saints. An added bonus was that this installment was written by Robert Bloch, who was already famous as the author of Psycho. He had previously written the first season episode “What are Little Girls Made Of?” and would later in the season write “Wolf in the Fold.”
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The episode begins with Kirk on the Enterprise awaiting word from Scotty and Sulu, who were sent down to study the planet they’re orbiting. Kirk is concerned because they should’ve checked in by now, but Spock states that there may be no need, as they can’t detect any other life on the planet. The ship is hailed by a crewman named Jackson, who was apparently with Scotty and Sulu. He tells Kirk that he’s ready to beam up, but Kirk wants to know about Scotty and Sulu. But Jackson is beamed aboard and literally drops dead (with the stuntman taking it face down, I should add). When Kirk asks WTF, Bones gives (more or less) his usual “He’s dead, Jim” before they hear a eerie voice saying that the Enterprise is now cursed and they should haul ass away from the planet or die.
After the title sequence, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to look for Scotty and Sulu. They’re quickly surrounded by fog, although Spock states that the weather of their location should make fog unlikely. He soon adds that he’s picking up lifeforms, but when Kirk calls the ship to confirm this, Chekov informs acting captain Lt. DeSalle (Michael Barrier, who previously appeared in the first season episodes “The Squire of Gothos” and “This Side of Paradise”) that the only life on the planet are the three regulars. Uhura attempts to tell Kirk this, but their communication is cut off.
On the planet, the trio continues their search and comes across three floating disembodied heads which I guess are supposed to be witches. They chant Kirk’s name and basically say to leave the planet. When he asks for Spock’s input, the latter replies, “Very bad poetry, Captain.”
Of course, these kinds of smartass remarks are one reason we love Spock. He also says that he’s still detecting life forms nearby, but that’s when a huge gust of wind tosses our heroes around. Afterward, they find what appears to be a huge, black castle, which Spock says is the source of the lifesigns he’s picking up. Still unable to contact the ship, they walk inside and see a hissing black cat, which quickly scampers away. Kirk and McCoy note that the cat, castle, and the witches are all elements of trick-or-treating. When Spock asks what that is, Kirk snidely says that he’d be perfect for it, and that he’ll get into the details later.
On the ship, Chekov informs DeSalle that Kirk and the others are no longer registering on their instruments. DeSalle tells him to check the instruments, and orders Uhura to keep trying to hail them.
Back down at the castle, the trio heads in (with the door shutting ominously behind them, of course). With the cat ahead of them, Kirk and the others are soon knocked out after falling through a portion of the floor. The cat briefly looks at them, and we then see our heroes chained to a wall in some kind of dungeon. As they come to, Kirk asks Spock and McCoy how they both are, and amusingly, the captain stops short of calling McCoy his silly nickname when he sees a skeleton chained up next to the doctor.
They ponder whether all these ancient scare tactics are part of what Bones calls an “Earth-parallel development”, which is an appropriate question considering how many times, even at this point in the series, the crew had come across Earth-like settings.
Scotty and Sulu suddenly walk in. Kirk, Spock, and Bones note that they don’t seem to have much of a reaction, and the weirdness of this is reinforced by the fact that Scotty has a phaser pinned on the trio. Spock notes that the late crewman Jackson had a similar zombie-esque look to him before he dropped.
Sulu slowly unlocks their chains, and he and Scotty force them up a staircase until the trio begins to fight them. But all five suddenly find themselves in what appears to be a ballroom. At the head of a long dinner table is a guy named Korob (Theo Marcuse), dressed as a warlock, with the same black cat from earlier. He’s flabbergasted that Kirk is questioning everything around him, but the captain rightly replies that this is because one of his crew is dead and two others are apparently mind-wiped. Korob, revealing that he knows our heroes’ names, says that Scotty and Sulu are merely being controlled.
Spock states that previous expeditions reported no life on this planet, which we finally learn is named Pyris VII. Korob admits that he and the cat don’t come from this planet, and the cat somehow tells him to give their guest food. Korob does so with his magic wand and we see a delicious looking feast. As our heroes sit down, Kirk still demands an explanation. Korob attempts to placate him by making the food vanish, and replacing it with precious gems (they can’t eat those, idiot!), apparently as an attempt to bribe them into going away. Kirk says that such things mean nothing to them; maybe Korob should invite some Ferengi over to this planet, then.
Korob is taken aback, but still praises Kirk and the others for knowingly heading into danger to retrieve their comrades. The cat then darts off, because it needs a litter box, I guess.
Mere seconds later, a woman dressed in black emerges, whom Korob introduces as Sylvia (Antoinette Bower), whom Kirk notes is wearing the same necklace as the cat. As she gloats over how she’s better than them, Kirk grabs the phaser from Scotty and demands the rest of their equipment. But Sylvia brings out a small model of the Enterprise (which resembles the ornaments Hallmark would put out in later years). She explains that Jackson died when she created a duplicate of him, which she subsequently destroyed. To that end, she whips out Kirk’s communicator and holds her Enterprise ornament over a burning candle, to Korob’s dismay.
Kirk contacts the ship and Chekov reports that they’re burning up. I’m sure the pigeon’s nest of a wig he’s wearing isn’t helping.
Kirk tells the crew he’ll handle it, and just like that, he yanks the ornament away from the flame, conceding to Sylvia. Korob changes the subject by asking Kirk about his knowledge of science. When Kirk subtly turns the inquiry around, Korob begins to give details before Sylvia shuts him up. Kirk says that, as he’s talked with the ship, a search party will come. But Korob prevents this by encasing the Enterprise ornament in what seems to be a transparent block of soap. He states that the ship itself is now surrounded by a force field, although it remains in orbit. Sylvia demands that Kirk give her answers, but he and Spock are sent back to the dungeon, with McCoy being ordered to stay.
On the ship, DeSalle and Chekov try to find a way to punch through the field. In the dungeon, Spock speculates that Korob and Sylvia must be truly unlike humans, considering that the environment they’ve created is not an actual Earth environment, but elements that many associate with terror and darkness.
Scotty, Sulu, and McCoy enter the cell, with McCoy now in the same trance and giving those bugged-out eyes he does so well. They lead a dismayed Kirk to Sylvia. At the same time, she and Korob are bitching to each other about how she’s going her own way instead of heeding the orders of those they were sent by, whom Korob calls the “Old Ones” (referred to previously in “What are Little Girls Made Of?”).
Sylvia simply tells Korob off as Kirk is brought in. She informs Kirk that she wants to experience the same kind of things he and other humans in general experience. Not surprisingly, this leads to Kirk putting on a little romance for her, with Korob watching close by. Sylvia, in turn, entices him by changing her appearance (well, her clothing, anyway) to show she can be any form he chooses.
This bit of foreplay makes Sylvia reveal that she and Korob get their power through something called a “transmuter”. But she suddenly realizes that Kirk is using her and angrily puts him back in the dungeon.
As DeSalle, Chekov, and Uhura begin making progress in breaking the forcefield, Korob enters the dungeon and releases Kirk and Spock, informing them that he’s gotten rid of the force field altogether. Kirk still wants to retrieve Scotty, Sulu, and McCoy, but Korob states that Sylvia has them under her control now, and he’s powerless to stop her.
They suddenly hear Sylvia in her cat form, but now she’s large enough to fill the castle hallways. She breaks down the dungeon door, killing Korob. Kirk takes his wand as he and Spock make their way out via the hole they fell into earlier. Once on the upper floor, they subdue the three brainwashed crewmen. Hearing Sylvia again, Kirk holds out the wand, surmising that this is the transmuter.
Sylvia returns to her womanly form and sends herself and Kirk back into the dining room. She desperately tells Kirk that the wand is not the transmuter, but merely a tool. She pulls a phaser on Kirk, ordering him to give it up. In response, Kirk smashes it onto the table, which causes the whole castle to vanish.
He’s seen on a rock and quickly joined by Spock, as well as Scotty, Sulu, and McCoy, all three of whom are back to their normal selves. Kirk points out that all that’s left are two tiny blue/yellow puppet-looking creatures, which are Sylvia and Korob’s true appearances. Spock wonders if they could study them further, but the creatures quickly die.
The group ponders how all they experienced was an illusion, except, as Kirk notes, Jackson’s death. Then again, he wasn’t a regular, so it won’t occupy them long. Then again again, he was wearing a gold shirt rather than the usual red, so maybe his death is noteworthy after all.
This episode is, on the whole, more hokey than scary, complete with such cliches are Kirk getting his groove on and a crewman who’s just there to die. But it is fun to watch our heroes in what many view now as a holiday setting.
As this episode involves a black cat, I feel it appropriate to dedicate this review to my own black cat, whom I named after Boris Karloff and who passed away recently. I love you, pal, and I’m glad we got to watch this one together a few times.