This was my first official episode of Star Trek! And, you know what, I enormously enjoyed it.
The weirdest thing about this show, by far, is that all the people look like people. They're old enough to be in the jobs they have. They have big noses and wrinkles and bad posture and, although none of them is fat, they are not skin stretched over bones, either. They all move differently, from the bizarre, unnatural movements that Shatner seems to favor to the calm, controlled, and almost unnoticeably right ones that Nimoy prefers. They all have different face shapes, instead of variations on that one weird shape you only see on actors. (Los Angeles tip: if you want to see celebrities, look for people with giant heads and weird-shaped faces. Those are the movie stars!)
And they're not pretty. The only conventionally attractive person on the regular cast, to me, is Nichelle Nichols, who is super hot. (I understand that Shatner is supposed to be conventionally attractive, too, and for some people, he might be, but to me he just looks kind of weird, like his body doesn't exactly fit him. There is no comparison for me between Shatner and Chris Pine: Chris Pine mostly looks real and human as Kirk, and Shatner, um, often does not. If it had been me, I'd've hired him to play the alien.)
And they can all act. (Although Shatner's acting choices, I'm going to be honest, totally mystify me a lot of the time.) I remember my father saying to me, many years ago, that the weird thing about British productions was that everyone could act. Actors in minor roles, actors in starring roles: they might not be pretty, but they sold every line. Same thing here. Actors in minor roles in this show are acting. Their bodies look right. Their voices sound right. It is possible to believe, without making the usual superhuman effort, that these people have long-standing working relationships and histories and lives. It is so weird.
It's doubly weird, actually, because they're doing all this realistic acting in front of sets and using props and wearing costumes that are so incredibly awful I am often completely distracted and have to rewind so that I can look at the people instead of marveling at the bizarre objects around them.
And, speaking of bizarre objects: holy fucking shit what is with that ship they work on? The Enterprise is GREY and RED and totally claustrophobic and artificial, like in the future they've decided that people work best when they are clinically depressed all the time. When they vary the grey and red, they use things like color gradients, which I have never seen used as background outside comic books. And they didn't just build the entire set of cardboard; they found a way to let its essential cardboardness shine right through. It's incredibly, laughably, indescribably bad. I have the aesthetic sense and craft skills of garden slug, and I could make a better set than that in my living room.
The camera work is weird, too: lots of close in shots, lots of still shots, and like four camera angles used in the whole episode. And all the scenes seem to go on a little longer than they should.
My sense, from this first episode, is that in fifty years we've come a million miles in terms of the technical work and stuff on TV and lost about the same amount of ground in the fields of acting and casting.
But, okay, enough about the show. Let's talk about the episode.
We start off with McCoy being worried and a massive dick to Chapel and Kirk being not worried at all and, despite his reputation, not much of a dick.
Spock, you see, is Acting Weird. He's not eating! He's kind of cranky! It's just not right!
Then McCoy confronts Spock, and Spock says, "You will cease to pry into my personal matters, doctor, or I shall certainly break your neck." Perhaps he has noticed that McCoy is being a dick, or maybe he's just wanting to show off his ability to use will and shall correctly.
Spock wants to go home and he does not want to talk about it, thank you.
And then it's time for some truly terrible credits with theme music that makes me check the dog to be sure his ears aren't bleeding. It's space, the final frontier, and now I understand why the ending of the Reboot made people all teary. But during the credits, we had this conversation:
Me: Every time a name comes up, it makes a swooshing noise. I don't understand why.
BB: ...You know it's because there's a ship, right?
Me, blankly: There's a ship?
BB: Before the name comes up, a ship goes past?
BB: *rewinds and pauses appropriately, to demonstrate that there is indeed a ship in the credits*
Me: I thought that was supposed to be an asteroid or a potato or something.
So we started off on a very good note for me in terms of visual comprehension. Usually I can at least get the objects right, but not this time.
Back at the ship, Kirk is apparently totally unconcerned that Spock attacked Chapel - apparently, in the future, that's what nurses are for - but really upset that Spock wants to go home. Their conversation, paraphrased for speedy reading:
Kirk: Why won't you talk to me?
Spock: I don't ask for much, god damn it, can't I just have this one thing without you having to analyze every fucking word that comes out of my mouth?
Kirk: Baby, I just want to understand. Please?
Spock: It's taking everything in my power not to stab you with a pen right now, I just want you to know that.
Kirk: Okay, sweetie, don't get so mad. We'll go to Vulcan if you want to.
They change course for Vulcan, but then get ordered back to Altair. Kirk is anguished.
Later, Kirk is lying on the World's Least Comfortable Bed, which appears to be upholstered in sequins. (In the future, everything will be shiny for fifteen minutes.) Behind him are arrayed the items that Kirk has selected to keep with him through all of space and time: something that looks like an orrery, some books, what appears to be a large accordion file folder, and a big shiny red ball. The big red ball has pride of place. It's a damn important ball, people.
Kirk is doing breathing exercises, and then he leaps up and calls the bridge and the accordion file folder is an INTERCOM, oh my fucking god. Kirk is trying to find a way to get them to Vulcan. He just wants Spock to be happy. But Spock has countered his orders OMG!
On the bridge, there is ominous music, and Kirk has his hands on his hips. Someone's getting a spanking, apparently.
And then we're in the elevator. The controls appear to be a dustbuster, and apparently you have to hold them all the time to keep the thing moving, meaning that if you faint in there, you're going to die between floors. Good thinking, future designers!
Things are getting worse. Spock is now having memory problems. And speech problems. He asks for bondage, but Kirk sends him to sick bay. I find myself really liking Kirk for being so gentle with Spock and trying so damned hard.
Spock is disoriented by the grey corridors, as who would not be, but he manages to find sickbay, where McCoy examines him. Bad news: Spock is going to die if they don't go to Vulcan.
Over in Spock's room (I think - all the rooms in here look like somewhere you would illegally keep political prisoners to get them to crack. And they would. Well, I would.), Spock is staring at the photo of a young girl on a very tiny, very bulky computer, and I am deeply uncomfortable.
Spock's room contains the hideous computer, some kind of black box, a swoopy chess set designed by someone in Sweden, and a bunch of Styrofoam balls glued together. And I can see why he keeps them around: several of them are neither grey nor red, meaning Spock is part of the Color Resistance. Also, chain link fencing makes a fetching interior design note. Apparently.
Kirk and Spock have another chat. Kirk begs, pleads, and negotiates.
Spock says he has cultural reasons to be quiet. In the background, a hideous crudely-carved bipedal wolf thing looks on approvingly.
Kirk resorts to ORDERS.
Spock won't follow them; some things transcend orders. In the background, a small rug with fetching gold lame details is very sad.
Kirk swears he'll never tell a soul. "It'll just be between you and me, baby, I swear."
Spock, caving, struggles to explain, but he can only get out the word biology.
Kirk, not making his comprehension roll at all, says, "You mean, Vulcan biology? The kind with Vulcans? That they have in their biologies?" Or something like that. But then the DM gives him a second chance and he rolls a 20 and realizes they're talking about biology as in reproduction.
In an AU, this moment leads to a lengthy MPreg story. In this one, Spock explains the mating rituals of Vulcans to Kirk, and Kirk looks oddly compelled. In the background, a hanging stick is fascinated, Captain.
Spock compares himself to giant eel-birds. And salmon. Kirk looks riveted and a little turned on. Maybe it's all the talk of eel-birds.
At the end, Spock is super-distressed. Kirk curls protectively over Spock in the most slashily protective body language I believe I have ever seen on TV and says he hasn't heard a word. He promises they'll get to Vulcan.
Alone in his room, surrounded by bright red curtains bought at auction after a theater closed down, Spock cuddles up with a really bizarre looking stringed instrument. Or sex toy. It could be either, with that giant flange sticking out.
His musical instrument/sex toy time is interrupted! In a fit of rage, Spock demonstrates that in the future they make computers of papier-mâché. Brilliant! Ecological! Maybe explains the bulkiness a little!
The Admiral does not approve of Kirk's actions, and Kirk has to choose between Spock and Starfleet OH NO. Spock wins, hands down.
Kirk makes some very dramatic statements, and I am simultaneously touched by them and nauseous from the camera work. Whoever decided to let him pace while they kept the camera close up on him made a very bad choice.
There's a whole scene with Chapel and Spock that I'm not going to go into because it totally confused me, although I do know one thing: in modern fandom, this would be the scene that launched a thousand Chapel Sues.
Aaaaand they're at Vulcan. Spock says he's going to get all crazy. Kirk says "you've been patient with my kinds of madness." Everyone in the room goes AWWWW.
Spock invites Kirk down to the surface for the festival o' madness. McCoy has that distinctly uncomfortable look you get when you suspect a couple of your friends are about to start making out right next to you and you're stuck in an elevator with them, and then Spock remembers he's there and invites him, too.
Chapel brings McCoy a black purse, which she's absolutely right in thinking goes fetchingly with his outfit. Do you think maybe that purse will be important later?
We meet T'Pring via bluescreen! She's pretty, but she looks like she has a toothache. Spock also seems like he has a toothache, but that may be because he's doing the Vulcan equivalent of begging for hot sexin' on the bridge, which has got to be uncomfortable for all concerned.
Everyone, including Kirk and the theramin or whatever that horrible instrument is screeching and wailing on the soundtrack - seriously, who decided that the future would sound like knives in your ears? - is really shocked to hear that Spock's married. Well, you know, he doesn't talk about himself much.
And then we're on Vulcan, which is made of equal parts sand and glitter.
Apparently Kirk and Spock have been, uh, discussing Vulcan mating rituals off screen, because Kirk is explaining the details to McCoy, now. McCoy looks gripped. Kirk looks hot.
Spock explains melding to Kirk in a way that sounds like he's never seen it before. Best Beloved pauses to point this out, and say, "That's really odd, because I was under the impression he just whipped out those fingers every four minutes." We reflect on how that statement might sound out of context, and then dive back into the fray.
Spock whacks his gong a couple times, and then the Vulcan entry in the Eurovision Song Contest arrives with bells and tinfoil and crocheted scarves and "weapons." I cross my fingers that they won't get null points this time; last year, even Finland beat them, and they had to pretend they weren't sad. It was awful.
There is palaver about Kirk and McCoy being there, but I'm mostly just trying to figure out which of those weird, cardboard-y weapons is the guitar.
T'Pring has decided: RUMBLE ON VULCAN!
Spock has a private moment that I can't watch too closely, but fortunately we cut away to the Vulcan version of an executioner. His outfit is ... interesting. I guess Vulcans like to see nipples at the time of death.
And, ew, T'Pring will be the property of the victor. That's really icky.
T'Pring picks Kirk as her champion, surprising the pants off of everyone, including her lover. Well, T'Pau doesn't look surprised, but she probably had her surprise surgically removed several thousand years ago.
Spock comes out of his blood fever to defend Kirk. "I will do what I must, T'Pau, but not with him. His blood does not burn. He is my friend." I tell you what: I am no longer at all surprised that this show gave birth to slash as a genre.
We watch Spock beg T'Pau for Kirk's life, with some references to how deeply horny he is, and have this conversation:
BB: It's been a long time since I've seen this episode. I missed a lot of the subtle nuances before.
Me: Not so subtle.
BB: Not really, no.
Kirk decides he'd rather die than risk Spock dying, and at this point I'm just kind of inured to the slashiness. If they fucked right there on the screen, I would be only mildly surprised.
The Eurovision bellringers are giving it their all, supported by the soundtrack and the world's most nauseating camera work. There is a puff of smoke. I bet they come in at least fourth this year.
And then it's on. Kirk v. Spock, Vulcan caged death match, T'Pau presiding. The fearsome weapons come together with an almighty clonk, as though they are made out of balsa.
Spock apparently is anxious to see Kirk's nipples, because his first cut exposes them. (Maybe he's worried he will die?) They fight for a bit, and then it's a break before round two.
McCoy protests. Kirk looks like he's in bad shape and breathes like he's practicing for labor. McCoy brings out the hypospray. Boy, it's a good thing McCoy brought his manpurse o' drugs!
Next, they fight with jump ropes, and it turns out they are going to fuck right there on the screen. I lied before: I am not even mildly surprised.
And then, in a moment apparently designed by Theodore Sturgeon solely to incite women everywhere to take to their - I don't know, typewriters, notepads, whatever they had back then - and write write write, Kirk "dies" and Spock comes out of his blood fever and stumbles around looking like he just got pithed.
T'Pring explains her reasons for doing all this, and I know this probably puts me in the minority in fandom, but I totally like her. She didn't want to be Mrs. Spock, she wanted to be T'Pring, and she did her best to make that happen. Vulcan law is the problem here, not her.
Spock says goodbye to T'Pau, but he is not about to live long or prosper. He has killed his captain and his friend. His world is dark and cold and greyer than the Enterprise, even.
Back on the ship, McCoy and Chapel are playing some kind of game with colored squares. This is no time for playing, people! Spock is sad!
Spock sees Kirk and smiles. For real and true smiles.
And then, in a moment apparently designed to be sure things don't end on a good note, McCoy sends Chapel away so that they can dish on T'Pring, and, okay, I liked him for the quick thinking with the manpurse back there, but I really want to punch him in the face. Obviously this was not the right episode to start with for liking McCoy.
But even so, all is well. Kirk shall have his Spock again and naught shall go ill.