Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Amok Time

From Wikipedia:

"Amok Time" is an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. It is episode #30, production #34, and first broadcast on September 15, 1967. It was repeated April 26, 1968. This was the first episode of the second season, and the first to air after the series moved to Friday nights at 8:30pm. It was written by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, scored by Gerald Fried, and directed by Joseph Pevney.

The episode features Mr. Spock returning to his homeworld for a brutal Vulcan marriage ritual. It is the only episode of the original series to have scenes on the planet Vulcan.


I am very happy to report that this episode is as good as it was when I first saw it back in 1972 at the age of four. That is, it continues to be great, at whichever point in my life that I watch it, a tour de force, a total Star Trek triumph. I like it better than "City on the Edge of Forever." Maybe it's my favorite. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the idea.

"Amok Time" is all about Spock, and succeeds across the board. I mean, everything is good in this one, not a wasted moment or line--even the couple of lousy and mediocre guest actors here manage to avoid screwing it up. For the first time, Star Trek viewers get much more than a glimpse into what it means to be a Vulcan. Indeed, the Enterprise goes to Spock's home planet, also known as Vulcan, where much of the action takes place.

What draws Kirk and crew to the hot and arid deserts of Spock's world is Vulcan sexuality. That is, Spock experiences Pon farr, a biological condition akin to an animal going into heat, which, while enduring it, renders intensely problematic any Vulcan's devotion to logic. Thus, we get a very close up view of the delicate balance between reason and passion maintained by the entire Vulcan civilization.

And Leonard Nimoy as Spock is nothing short of brilliant here, alternating, again and again, between wild emotion and cool logic, often coming close to bursting at the seams. The rest of the regular cast is solid, as usual for the second season, with a few fun moments firmly establishing Chekov and Sulu's "Lenny and Carl" relationship, working stiffs who punch the clock everyday, and some well spent time establishing Nurse Chapel's ongoing courtly romance with Mr. Spock. But it's guest star Celia Lovsky, as Vulcan matriarch T'Pau, who makes it all come together. Lovsky, a classically trained Austrian actress, who spent time working with German theater auteur Bertolt Brecht before WWII, gives the Vulcan marriage ceremony a sense of high ritual and dignity, literally orchestrating the proceedings as leader of Spock's clan--her Austrian accent makes Vulcan culture all the more alien and exotic.

Also, I just can't forget to mention the greatest Star Trek fight of all time, Kirk versus Spock, to the death, with the first officer out of his mind, and with the Captain having no idea what's coming. When you see it, you finally realize that this is what you've been waiting for since you first saw the two in "Where No Man Has Gone Before," playing three dimensional chess, verbally ripping on each other. Some of the best Star Trek music of the series plays throughout.

Indeed, the entire score for "Amok Time" is great. It introduces what I like to call "Spock's Theme," a rhythmic morphing-tempo melancholy tune played on the low strings of an electric guitar, reprised a couple of times in this one with an orchestra's string section, and later with a trombone, very effectively, when it appears that Spock has killed his best friend. The theme is used for important Spock moments for the rest of the show's run.

Okay, I think I've gushed enough. Now go watch it.

"I grieve with thee."