Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The City on the Edge of Forever

From Wikipedia:

"The City on the Edge of Forever" is the penultimate episode of the first season of Star Trek. It is episode #28, production #28, first broadcast on April 6, 1967. It was repeated on August 31, 1967 and marked the last time that NBC telecast an episode of the series on Thursday nights. It was one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the series and was awarded the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The only other episode with such an honor is the two-part episode "The Menagerie". The teleplay is credited to Harlan Ellison, but was also largely rewritten by several authors before filming. The filming was directed by Joseph Pevney. Its only guest star was Joan Collins as "Edith Keeler".

This episode involves crew of the starship USS Enterprise discovering a portal through space and time, which leads to Dr. McCoy's accidentally altering history.


Lots and lots of people assert that this is the best one. And it is pretty damned good. Excellent, even. But before I rave about how f'ing great "The City on the Edge of Forever" is, it's probably a good idea to point out a couple of things that don't work for me.

For starters, Dr. McCoy's insanity is laughable, at least for the first third or so. I mean okay, unintentional comedy is something that one must embrace if one wants to enjoy Star Trek, so Bones' weird "Killers! Assassins!" ranting, often delivered straight to the camera, is very much in keeping with the Trek aesthetic. On the other hand, I think his performance would have been way better if he had toned it down a bit. In contrast, the almost always hyper-pumped William Shatner needed to tone it up. Way up. Throughout, the former Shakespearean phones in his lines, and we realize that his odd habit of irrationally pausing between words, best understood by watching John Belushi's classic parody of Kirk on Saturday Night Live back in the late 70s, works well only when delivered intensely. My speculation, as an MFA actor, is that Shatner decided that he was going to play "star crossed lover," and adopted a sort of detached poetic attitude in lieu of playing actions and pursuing objectives. Problem is, attitude makes for inauthentic acting, and because he was so low key, intensity had no chance to make up for his non-believable performance. In short, Kirk's pretty boring in this one.

I mean, don't get me wrong. Kirk has his moments, especially the scene when he tries to explain Spock's ears to a 1930s New York cop. And McCoy gets it figured out by the time he's transported to the twentieth century. His "needles and sutures" speech is just about the best thing I've ever seen him do. Spock is great all the way through, with some especially nice reaction shots, complete with his trademark raised Vulcan eyebrow. Joan Collins' performance of Edith Keeler makes the episode worth watching even if it sucked, which it doesn't.

But what really makes this episode tick is the story, and the efficiency with which it is told.

Never mind that it was written by a hideous dwarf with an ego so massive that he went ballistic when Roddenberry insisted on a rewrite to remove Star Fleet officers engaged in drug dealing, a big no-no for the franchise's vision of the future. This one's so tight that it would make Alfred Hitchcock envious. And the ideas here are just wonderful: a ruined ancient civilization which had mastered time travel, drug induced space insanity, a 1930s peace movement that keeps the US out of WWII allowing the Nazis to develop nuclear weapons before the Allies can, star crossed love, and on and on. This one has it all, and it comes at you like a runaway train.

Indeed, in many ways, it doesn't really matter how subdued and unbelievable Shatner is here: the story makes you cry for Kirk's lost love, even if his acting doesn't.

Yeah, this might be the best. I just wanted you to know that it's not perfect. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch. By all means, check it out.

"A question."