Friday, August 27, 2010

Spectre of the Gun

From Wikipedia:

"Spectre of the Gun" (originally 'The Last Gunfight') is an episode from the third season of Star Trek: The Original Series
that was first broadcast on October 25, 1968. It was repeated on April 4, 1969. This show was the last episode to air on NBC at 10 P.M. on Fridays. It is episode #61, production #56, and was written by former producer Gene Coon (under the pen name of Lee Cronin) and directed by Vincent McEveety.

Overview: For having trespassed on an alien world, Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to re-enact the shootout at the O.K. Corral.


Third season. NBC had tried to cancel the show after the second season, but a fan write-in campaign saved it--at this point, in 1968, such a thing was unprecedented in television history. Roddenberry pulls back a bit from day-to-day operations, becoming executive producer, and brings in
Fred Freiberger as producer. So with a slashed budget and a slightly different look, Star Trek begins its final year of production.

First, go
watch the episode.

Notes and pics:

* Good tense and tight teaser.

* Good fog scene on planet surface.

* Totally fab alien head.

* Very quotable Kirk line: "We come in peace, but we'll defend ourselves if necessary." I've heard this one misquoted as "We come in peace, but shoot to kill." Same difference. He is, after all, aiming his phaser as he says it. Anyway, the line nicely encapsulates the chronic tension between Star Fleet's ostensible mission of exploration and diplomacy and the fact that the Enterprise is also a war ship.

* Okay, it's a western. Nice. I mean, why not? We've had a Nazi episode, a couple of sword-and-sandal episodes, a gangster episode, a post-apocalypse episode...a western was only a matter of time. But this one's so weird. More like a
spaghetti western, with bizarre characters, intense stoicism, and very strange moments--after all, spaghetti westerns were in their heyday at this point; the genre fits in very nicely with science fiction.

* Speaking of weird, the semi-constructed sets were a manifestation of the aforementioned massive budget cuts, but they work into the overall high strangeness of the episode quite well.

* This is a reworking of the famous
O.K. Corral gunfight, of which I have virtually no knowledge. I've never seen any of the many movies about it. Indeed, all I know about the shootout comes from this episode. Given my lack of knowledge, I wonder if there's any commentary here that I'm missing. I really ought to watch one of these movies someday.

* There is a really cool and weird disconnect between our heroes and the residents of Tombstone, who just go on doing their thing, playing their part in the legendary story, no matter what Kirk and crew say or do. Like when this strange woman just runs up to Chekov and starts making out with him.

* More weird cinematic shit. Kirk and company enter the saloon and we start to hear appropriate piano playing, slightly off-key, jangling with the tin pan alley sound, totally inappropriate for Star Trek. It is, at first notice, totally
diegetic, that is, coming from within the story itself. But then one of the villains, Morgan Earp, is introduced, and the piano makes a spooky trill. Then we see the piano, but nobody is playing it: what at first seemed to be diegetic sound turns out to be non-diegetic, that is, soundtrack music for dramatic purposes, heard by the audience but not the characters. They're fucking with narrative convention for television in this one, which is entirely welcome.

* What is it with all the Chekov makeout scenes?

* Scotty orders "a half a gallon of Scotch," but gets bourbon, instead.

* The bartender is fucking great.

* Are the Earps purposely imitating Clint Eastwood? Whatever, their weird cardboard caricature-as-acting fits the whole spaghetti western motif well.

* McCoy to Kirk, gleefully, on the bourbon Scotty received: "Try some. In small amounts it was considered medicinal." Nice touch reinforcing McCoy's Southern roots.

* Scotty also endorses the bourbon.

* The series of quick scenes when they're gathering the materials for the gas grenade is just plain weird.

* No, seriously, what is it with all the Chekov makeout sessions?

* A couple of fantastic tableau shots leading into the commercial break after Chekov's death.

* Nice reprise of the scene from the first season's "
Galileo Seven" when everybody gangs up on Spock for not having enough compassion for a fallen comrade.

* The sheriff is a total nut case.

* Scotty takes a shot of bourbon "to kill the pain," even though Spock asserts that there will be no pain.

* Mr. Scott breathing in the tranquilizer gas is wonderfully weird.

* Thought provoking discussion on the nature of belief and reality--this is the kind of shit that makes science fiction worthwhile.

* Best Vulcan mind meld ever!

* The futile barrage of bullets is marvelous, and goes on forever.

* Kirk's fight with Wyatt Earp is quick, but very cool. It's also very cool that Kirk, as he did with the Gorn in "
Arena," decides not to kill his opponent, despite the blood frenzy he's worked himself into--this is always a good move if you want to impress a powerful alien species.

* Fabulously disorienting cut to the bridge once it's all over.

* Five stars. Totally great. I really didn't remember this one being so marvelous, but it kind of blew me away when I watched it again last night. Maybe it's because I'm older and wiser, or maybe it's because I watched it with the full force of my Radio-Television-Film degree. I don't know. But this one is weird and sophisticated and holds my attention all the way through. And it proves a maxim about art in which I've long believed: a shitty budget forces creativity and imagination.