Thursday, April 24, 2014

Trek Thursday: The Paradise Syndrome and Backassing

#70. The Paradise Syndrome

Star Trek TOS: The Paradise Syndrome. Fueled by backassery.

 In case you forgot: Kirk loses his memory and ends up, through hijinks, securing worship and a wife from a stereotypical American Indian tribe the Enterprise was tasked with saving from an asteroid. Kirk's luck runs out, his wife and unborn child die, but Spock saves the day by figuring out how to work alien technology.

The show's set outside, for once, which is a refreshing change of pace, but then it throws that all in the toilet with some Noble Savage fetishization and one of the most ridiculous plot contrivances of all time. It might be even worse than the one in The Omega Glory, in terms of random chance. Which is more unlikely: that somewhere out in the universe a parallel Earth would exist with an identical history right up until a Cold War won by the Communists, or that the phrase "Kirk to Enterprise" would correspond exactly to some alien language's "open sesame"? Think on that a while, statisticians. What's behind both of those, however, is a favorite tool of TOS writers: backassing.

A good Star Trek episode builds logically (or well, mostly logically) from scene to scene. It starts at point A (a beginning) and ends up, through situations 1, 2, and 3, at point B (an end). The worst Star Trek episodes, on the other hand, start out with the situations and then add points A and B around them willy-nilly. My own term for this is "backassing" (as the story is being written backasswards) but I'm sure there's a technical term for it. Anyway.

 We've seen this backassing already in The Omega Glory: "I want to write a Cold War allegory where the Communists win. How can I do that?" We see it in The Paradise Syndrome, too: "We want Kirk to get stranded on Planet Noble Savage for a while. How can we do that?" The answer: send the Enterprise on a time-critical mission but for some reason send the Power Trio planetside, give him convenient amnesia, and then bring the Enterprise back at the best possible time.

Even without the backassing, this episode would still be weak.  First of all, Kirk (or sorry, "Kirok") handles the whole "hailed as a god" situation like a tool—the people welcome him with open arms after he emerges from the obelisk but his godhood isn't cemented until he saves a kid from drowning by using some basic first aid (which somehow didn't get wiped in his amnesia). Rather than teach everyone else the technique so they can save themselves, Kirok is happy to sit on that information and be christened their White Savior instead. And this is supposed to be our hero? Never mind the cheesefest that is Shatner's take on some kind naive, newborn love.

Things aren't much better back on the Enterprise, either. Bones (my favorite, straight up) is often given the dumber lines out of the Power Trio—Kirk is our hero and Spock is, well, Spock, so the job of Joe Everyman often falls to the good doctor. This episode is not one of his stellar (hahaha "stellar" get it Star Trek stellar IT'S A STAR WORD) moments and he spends a lot of time being almost willfully stupid. Nimoy carries his scenes with his typical gravitas, and his concern for Jim's well-being is maybe the only good point in this episode, but that doesn't change the fact that the script's had him juggling with a few Idiot Balls.

For all its faults, though—at least it isn't The Omega Glory.

No comments:

Post a Comment