The Great Star Trek Rewatch: Obsession

When two crewman are killed by an energy creature that Kirk is certain he encountered as a young lieutenant, he becomes obsessed with hunting it down and finally putting an end to it. The creature is powerful and deadly to humans, but every hour that Kirk spends on this quest is one in which the beleaguered planet of Theta VII must wait for vital – and perishable – vaccines.

The other day I called The Doomsday Machine the Captain Ahab episode, having forgotten that this one was just round the corner. Here we have a very typical revenge episode, in which Kirk is out to get something that killed 200 crewmen on his very first deep space mission, a tragedy that he believes was preventable if only he had not hesitated to fire on it in the first instance. He pushes the prerogatives of command to their limit, and even rides a young crewman hard for making the same hesitation mistake – even though it turns out that neither of them would have been able to destroy the creature with a phaser anyway. Unfortunately, this episode falls a little short of just being a standard, solid , because whilst the main framing is decent enough, it relies a bit too much in Kirk have magical narrative powers. He intuits that the creature is not merely a random phenomenon, but has a definite will, then senses that its goal is to return home to spawn, without any evidence other than some vague telepathic connection with it. What is that connection? Why is it there, other than to make sure everything all gets wrapped up in a nice, little package?

As noted in my log

  • I thought we were getting bloodthirsty in Friday’s Child when a red shirt was killed before the opening credits, but we have a new record here – two red shirts killed and one mortally wounded before the opening credits. We acknowledge your brave work in dying so that the main characters don’t have to.
  • The time jeopardy in this episode is driven by a need to rendezvous with the USS Yorktown to pick up some highly perishable vaccines which must be taken to a colony in dire need. If these vaccines are so perishable, why add all the extra palaver of transferring them between starships at all? Just have the Yorktown take them straight to Theta VII. If the Yorktown has somewhere else it desperately needs to be next, then have the Enterprise go there in it place. I guess it might be that the vaccines are needed on multiple planets, and the Yorktown is splitting its supply with the Enterprise so that both ships can supply a planet each in the limited time frame before the medicines perish.
  • At least the fact that the creature can travel through space gives Kirk a bit of a pass on not just beaming everyone up from the planet straight away, delivering the vaccines, and then returning to deal with the creature. Also there’s some last minute jeopardy on that front as Kirk and Spock conclude that the creature is going to spawn and increase the threat its kind poses a thousandfold.
  • Ensign Garrovick has a special switch for the ventilation on the wall of his quarters, just for the purposes of this episode. I don’t think anyone else ever has this – it’s like that time Kirk had pecial “red alert, yellow alert, jettison pod” buttons next to his chair.
  • Kirk was already a lieutenant on his first deep space mission “straight out of the Academy” so either he spent a couple of extra years there as an instructor and got promoted that way, or he did so exceptionally at the academy as to be promoted through ensign directly to lieutenant when he left.

Summary – Obsession: Space is full of white whales.

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