Star Trek: Spock's Brain


"Brain and brain! What is brain?"

(As far as opening quotes go, choosing this one was a no-brainer.)

"Spock's Brain" is pretty much the pinnacle of bad Star Trek episodes. It isn't even unintentionally hilarious like "The Apple," or racist and offensive like "The Omega Glory" -- it's just bad. So very, very bad.

A story about a disembodied brain might have been cool if it had been done well. As I said a couple of episodes ago, it might have been an interesting way to go in, say, "The Ultimate Computer." And it might even have worked here if the brain hadn't been Spock's. And if the culture that stole the brain had been even marginally less ridiculous. The whole Eymorg/Morg thing was idiotic. How could a culture actually forget what the opposite sex was, especially when they were still reproducing?

Where this episode seriously goes off a cliff, though, is Spock's "hip bone connected to the thigh bone" instructions to McCoy on how to reconnect his brain. Come on. Jack on Lost couldn't direct Juliet through the removal of his appendix. How could Spock think well enough to direct McCoy if his brain wasn't fully attached to his body? If the Vulcans were that advanced in brain surgery that a non-physician like Spock knew how to do it, how come they hadn't shared their knowledge with the rest of the Federation? How could the brain in the box speak with Spock's voice when his vocal chords were clearly still in his body? And how did Spock manage to retain his perfectly coiffed Spockdo?

The "teacher" was an interesting device, and it made writing sense. If the Sigma Draconians had been more intelligent, they could have just sacrificed one of their own when they needed a Controller. And I get why McCoy volunteered, although unfortunately, he did not retain any advanced surgical techniques. But why didn't Kirk or Scott try the "teacher" in order to finish the operation? Oh, well.

The best part of the episode was probably the misogynistic sasquatches on the planet surface thinking the landing party members were all female, I'm assuming because of their size and their colorful uniforms. And speaking of costumes, loved the sasquatch identical outfits of blue and red fake fur topped by orange tunics, bad wigs and full beards. The womens' minidresses and thigh-high plastic boots left them in the shade. There are advantages to being on the Controller's staff, I guess.

Season three has never been a favorite, and it's not a good sign that it began this way. Although if there had been no historical letter campaign and no third season, there would have been no syndication in the 1970s, which is when Star Trek actually took off. There would have been no movies, no spinoffs, no massive franchise, nada. And there are several season three episodes I love, including the next one. Season three is not a total loss, by any means.

Ben says...

"Brain and brain, what is brain?"

I know Billie already said that, but let's face it, it bears repeating.

This episode had it all. The dialogue, "What have you done with Spock's brain?" The look on the Morg's face as he speaks of the givers of pain and delight. Perhaps the best scene is when the crew is brought before the Eymorg council of the Bubbleheads, the least intelligent governing body since the current U.S. Congress. Luckily, they escape using their remote controlled Spock. Let me repeat -- Remote-Controlled Spock. How cool is that? Then there's Kirk just cutting the bubbleheads loose to live with the cavemen (Prime directive, Schmime directive, you'll learn to love the smell of wet fur). And here's one I bet you missed. When Kara puts on the thinking hat and learns how to use a phaser, where exactly has she been keeping that phaser? That's right, it was under her mini-skirt. There's a terrible joke here about phaser settings, but I am too much of a gentleman to write it.

Okay, let me just get it out there clearly: I love this episode. I know, I know, everybody says worst episode ever, but that's okay. The real crime is not being truly horrendously terrible. It's being mediocre and bad. This episode is not a mediocrity in any way.

That said, I suspect my enjoyment here comes from my own evolution as a Star Trek fan. When I was young, I loved all the episodes, I was a Trekkie. I gave my brothers Vulcan neck pinches and threw the "live long and prosper" hand sign. As a teenager and young adult, I was a Trekker. Arrogant and confident in my Talmudic knowledge of all things Trek, oh my disdain for the unwashed masses was great (I hear there are still some of this type out there *cough* Star Trek One *cough*). Now as a grownup, I have come to appreciate even the schlockiest episode through the same combination of soft-focus nostalgia and unashamed laughter that are otherwise reserved for memories of being stuffed in a locker in 8th grade.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

-- Star date 5431.4. Or was it 4351.5? The Sigma Draconis system, with three M class planets, which is a lot. The Morg/I-Morg culture was on the sixth planet. No, wait, it was the seventh. (Clearly, the people in charge had stopped paying attention.)

-- The opening credit titles went from golden yellow to pale blue. Actually, that should have happened last season, and the final season should have been red. Those redshirts. No respect.

-- The big controller belts that the I-Morg put on the landing party featured big green cylinders on the front and black ones on the back. They appeared to cause great pain as well as overacting.

-- The viewscreen part of the bridge set looked a lot more extensive. It was heavily featured during the opening scenes when the bridge crew was discussing the Sigma Draconis system in detail.

-- Kara came that close to saying, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

-- In the opener, two red shirts arrived on the bridge, and the entire ship passed out. Two red shirts got left behind on the planet surface with Chekov, too. At least they didn't die.

-- Scott stood in for Spock on the landing party. Kirk even called Scott "Spock." Because they're so much alike and have the same specialty. I'm being sarcastic.

-- Kirk talked about how cold the surface was. This would have been the perfect opportunity to introduce Star Fleet windbreakers. Every fan on Earth would have bought one. It could have singlehandedly made Paramount a fortune.

-- Zombie Spock, who clicked when he walked for some unknown reason, was out of uniform. Why? Because he wasn't a member of Star Fleet without his brain?

-- In this season's hair report, Shatner sported a slightly darker and shorter toupee. And Uhura finally got a new pair of earrings. About time.

Quotes:

Kirk: "It was taken out. It can be put back in."
Because that works so well for eggs.

Kirk: "Who are 'the others'?"
Sasquatch guy: "Givers of pain and delight."
Yep. Eymorg. Can't remember what they're called.

Kirk: "Pain and delight, he said up above."
McCoy: "I'm sure you noticed the 'delight' aspect."
Kirk: "Yes, I certainly did notice those delightful aspects."

Spock: "What am I?"
Kirk: "You're a disembodied brain."
Spock: "Fascinating."

Spock: "While I might trust the doctor to remove a splinter or lance a boil, I do not believe he has the knowledge to restore a brain."

McCoy: "It's like trying to thread a needle with a sledgehammer."

McCoy: "I'll never live this down. This Vulcan is telling me how to operate."

McCoy: "I should have never reconnected his mouth."
Kirk: "Well, we took the risk, Doctor."

One out of four givers of pain and delight,

Billie

2 comments:

Juliette said...

I have to confess, I've not yet seen this one, though I have heard of it... And I have a terrible fondness for the ridiculous hilarity of the episode that sometimes beats it in the 'Worst Episode Ever' stakes, Voyager's 'Threshold'. Like you said, it's mediocrity that's bad - utter awfulness is its own kind of entertainment!

Jerry Modene said...

The remarkable thing about this episode isn't that it's so bad, it's the realization that it was written by none other than Gene L. Coon, one of the five individuals (Roddenberry, Fontana, Justman, and Gerrold being the other four) who were the most knowledgable about Star Trek.

The sad thing about this episode is that's it's often held up as a "typical" episode - which is why, perhaps, the "Wonder Years" producers had Fred Savage and his friends imagine themselves inside this particular episode.

The *really* sad thing about this episode is that NBC chose it to open the third season, when in fact it was only about the fourth or fifth (I'd have to look it up to be sure) episode produced during that season; I'm pretty sure that "Spectre of the Gun", "Elaan of Troyius" and "Enterprise Incident" were filmed before "Spock's Brain".

Of course, it could have been worse - Roddenberry had proposed, earlier in 1968, holding "Omega Glory" from its late-second-season airing to have *it* open the third season.

For all its flaws - and there are plenty - this episode, for me, falls under the category of "so bad you can't help but watch it" - as opposed to some of the others which are just bad all the way around.

We tend to forget, in the mists of antiquity (antiquity, in this case, going back 40+ years), how bad some of the Star Trek episodes could be. I've read estimates that as many as a third of all the original episodes could be considered "bad", and that may be about right.

But that shouldn't detract from the overall worth of the series. To put it another way, Star Trek was such a worthy creation that it could *stand* clunky episodes without seriously detracting from its greatness.