Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Star Trek: S1E18 Arena review

On top of the breadbox in the kitchen, there's a curious sort of thing. Located right next to a wooden hammer on a clothespin called the Cape Breton Quarter Pounder (there's a quarter, it hits it, it's funny) is a flat, circular bit of ceramic on a cork base. It is the most useful tool in the universe, for want of which, as my grandmother explains it, so many tasks cannot be accomplished. I don't have one handy myself, but when it comes to watching more Star Trek I can finally say that I have at last gotten a Round Tuit.

Seriously, the thing is labeled "A Round Tuit" and explains how helpful it is for getting to things you weren't doing. It makes me grin. Anyway, preamble done, let's episode.

I'm going to get this out of the way now because I'm trying to be fair: man in cheap rubber suit. Cheap cheap cheap rubber suit. Let's assume that my imagination covers the whole rubber suit issue because come on man in cheap rubber suit okay I'm cool, I'm cool, it's out of my system now.

Oh look, a super-powerful reality-transforming alien. Where have I seen that one before, let me think? No, shut up me. We are being fair here. Alright, alright.

This is actually an excellent episode. I had a lot of fun with the sudden threat of an unknown foe - very like the Romulans, only the Enterprise was at least clearly aware of the Romulans, whereas this Gorn was new to them. I loved the idea that the Enterprise was in the wrong, or at least that Future Awesome Earth might have stepped out of line under the assumption that everything was puppies and awesome out there in space. What's more, these people, these wonderful people, were willing to come to that conclusion and legitimately consider it.

I'm seeing Mr. Spock developed more and more as a pacifist. He's got this power to stun people nonviolently, like when he took down Evil Kirk, and he doesn't understand the human desire for revenge. Here he tries to argue (and I think he's wrong given the assumptions driving the pursuit) that the chase alone should be enough of a deterrent. It's still fascinating to see his interacting with Bones too: "You're a sensalist, Doctor." "Damn right I am :D "

Of course, while the opening's good, it's when things shift into mano a lizardo combat that the episode is at once at its best and does some sort of cartoonish things. The deserted landscape is rocky, bleak in a relatable way without being gray and ashen, and makes an excellent sort of battleground for ambushes and the like. It even looks like a real outdoor location, when most of their shooting so far has looked like plastic rocks. I loved that the Gorn could eavesdrop on, and later talk to and directly menace, Captain Kirk. It added another dimension to get to hear the opponent instead of just one-sided conjecture, and of course what plays out is the idea that whatever I might think about the Gorn (or anyone else for that matter) as a professional-grade violent rectum, it's not really in the wrong. We can argue the ups and downs of violence as first response instead of diplomacy but I don't have a context for the Gorn people and their history, who they've faced, and of course they are actually aliens and entitled to have a different psychology.

So I'm just going to gloss over the whole Kirk Jury-Rigged Munitions Co. Ltd. thing since it was pretty awesome and they did say the stuff was there with the clear intent that one of them try exactly that. I still think that plant tube thing would have gone kablooie, but what do I know? Maybe it does work. Show's like 50 years old, someone must have tried it by now. Comments on that, please. A video link would be even more fun if it exists :D

Ultimately, Mr. Spock's way prevails, and turns out to be the right one, impressing the weird toga elf fellow with the reality-altering powers enough that he finds us only half savage. Woohoo! I'm only half savage! :D

The morality in this one isn't clear, but it's done in a rather good way and we can still side with our boys in blue and gold even though they're acting on the wrong info and wrong ideas, because they're not completely wrong either. I can't imagine we'll see the Gorn more often, since unlike the Romulans you can't slap ears, wigs and carpeting on them and call it a day, but I wouldn't mind a couple more stories involving them if they're done well and I'm looking forward to seeing how Earth deals with a warlike and territorial but actually rather reasonable race that's ultimately pretty straightforward about being violent for reasons, even if those reasons aren't ones we would consider justified per se. It helps that they're apparently on the same technology level as Earth, making them credible as a space threat too (and maybe that will help with the cost of those ridiculous costumes).

This is a major Kirk episode, of course, with some of Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy, which means Uhura, Sulu and Scott get sidelined to doing their jobs. Hope to get more of them eventually. On a related note, absolutely zero Janice in this episode. I'm starting to feel like either she's only in the episodes that don't get recommended or, more likely, she's not on the show anymore.

Anyway, it's good to be back in the Trek saddle. This won't stop The Hobbit read, or movies. Just getting back into form. New meds are... weird. I'll go with weird. Leg still kind of burns, but in general the pain's working out a lot better.

On a side note,

16 comments:

  1. http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/gorn-cannon-angle-4.htm

    Apologies for the long ad at the beginning.

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    1. So did you like having your suspicions confirmed by reality, Jeremy?

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  2. interesting fact: the explosions in the opening battle scene were in fact hard enough to give both Shatner and Nimoy titannus (or however you spell the one that's ear damage)

    as for the location, that's a real Californian national park, with that particular angled-slope formation being known as "Kirk Rocks", lot of sci fi shows and low budget movies shot there

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    1. Bill & Ted 2 shot there too

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    2. Hehehe, really? They named it after the show filming there? That's kind of awesome. :D

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    3. Vasquez Rocks is it's name. I haven't ever heard it called 'Kirk Rocks' before.

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  3. This reminded me: you absolutely have to add the move "Paul" (2011) to your to-watch list, but only after "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".

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  4. I mean, yeah, 1966. Rubber suits were kind of the state of the art.

    Sadly, the reality-warping energy being is a Star Trek favorite.

    I wish the Gorn would have shown up more often, their only other televised appearance wasn't for another 37 years. But they're playable in the Star Trek MMO, so that's something, I guess.

    Someone has tried it, and it did indeed go kablooie. Those men who tried it are called the Mythbusters. I think you would like them. They're funny dudes.

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    1. Kari Byron would like to have a word with you.

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  5. -. I can't imagine we'll see the Gorn more often, since unlike the Romulans you can't slap ears, wigs and carpeting on them and call it a day, but I wouldn't mind a couple more stories involving them-

    You and me both. The later era shows never really pick up on their deal.

    There is a wargame (played with book, mapsheet, and counters), Star Fleet Battles, where they're one of the major sides, which is neat.

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    1. Ooh that would be cool, a space wargame. Never really got into the wargames, had a couple of friends who did though.

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  6. One of the classics IMO! Good morale, memorable action.

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  7. This was the episode that really sold me on Star Trek. You may ask why? Rubber suited aliens? Really? Well, you see, there is a classic sf story called "Arena" by Frederic Brown that I had read a few years before, and this story was taken from that one -- it's very recognizable. And I was in sheer glee that a for-really-true SF story had been on tv, even if they did have to use Captain Kirk instead of the guy from the story. And the opening is stone cold cool, too.

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    1. The alien Frederic Brown came up with is a bit cooler, though, if you ask me.

      Though I think this one has the better ending.

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  8. This episode contains what is possibly the worst fighting I have ever seen on film.

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