Star Trek: The City on the Edge of Forever

Edith: "I think that one day they're going to take all the money that they spend now on war and death..."
Kirk: "And make them spend it on life."

"City" is widely acknowledged to be the best episode of original Star Trek. Written (mostly, anyway, and there's controversy) by well-known science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, it's time travel tragedy at its most moving.

If we didn't care about Edith Keeler, this story wouldn't work. But we do. It's her optimism, her practical altruism and her prescient visions of the future that make her such a good character, worthy of Kirk's love and our respect. She was a woman of the future born in the wrong time, a world leader who should have been, but never was. She represented the things that are wrong with this world that we're never quite able to make right. Joan Collins did a good job with the part, too. You'd never know that she later became famous playing Edith Keeler's exact opposite.

I have to give gold acting stars to William Shatner, too. Usually it's Spock who is constantly alienated from his surroundings, but here, Kirk was, too. His love for Edith, his frustration with the circumstances, and that final scene in the street were all done very well. I always thought that the most tragic thing was not that Kirk had to let Edith die, but that he actually had to physically stop McCoy from saving her life, too.

What is the Guardian? Who created it? It said that it was its own beginning and its own ending – but then it said it was "made to offer the past in this manner." It doesn't matter. The Guardian is a fascinating plot device that doesn't need an explanation. Although I liked that they actually addressed the impossibility of Kirk and Spock arriving in 1930 in the same part of the world as McCoy. It even made sense.

I never cared much for the way DeForest Kelley interpreted all of the yelling of "Killers! Assassins," although, granted, there wasn't a lot more he could have done with it. But the scene in the alley was quite possibly Kelley's best in the entire series. The emotional pain he showed when he talked about primitive hospitals and how people used to be "cut and sewn like garments" told us everything we ever needed to know about McCoy, the depth of his compassion for others, and why he became a doctor.

This episode still gets to me. I still remember how I felt when I first saw it, and what a profound effect it had on me. It's a classic, and well deserving of all of the accolades it has received.

Ben says...

There is nothing more romantically romantic than the time travel romance, especially the tragic separation by the cruel hands of father time. Think about Christopher Reeve and that damn penny or dreamy Eric Bana in that terrible movie (no, not the Hulk, the other one). Have you no mercy, you clock-watching bastard!

Oh, well. Kirk got over it.

An unambiguously great episode, it is interesting as a stand-alone piece of fiction and as a meditation on the nature of peace and violence which is still entirely relevant today. We all would love Edith Keeler to be right, but all fear that she is not. It is interesting that Star Trek almost always came down on the side of the establishment belief system in most matters (bad hippies, war is necessary, etc). This was even true in the show's attitudes about race and gender which, although progressive, were really right in the mainstream of American thought by the late sixties (I mean Superman was fighting the KKK in the late 1940's when, sadly, that was not necessarily the consensus in the country at all). This is probably also part of its enduring popularity. Shows which really take people places they hadn't already been heading to often make a splash, but rarely endure the way Star Trek has.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— No stardate was given, and we never learn the name of the Guardian's planet. Which is appropriate.

— I guess we can assume that the bum who killed himself with the phaser wasn't as important to history as Edith Keeler was.

— I used to be into old movies, and it always bothered me that the key phrase was "Clark Gable movie." He wasn't famous in 1930.

— Can we assume Spock didn't see the date on the obituary? It would be unlike him to miss something that crucial.

— I noticed that Edith Keeler was wearing a locket around her neck in nearly every scene. Or was it a watch? A watch would have been a nice bit, considering it's a time travel episode.

— Uhura, like other female crew members in other episodes, had to say, "I'm frightened." I think Nichelle Nichols gave the line a better reading, though. Hey, I'd be frightened, too.

— Is this the first time it is intimated that Spock is a vegetarian?

— Some of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home echoes "The City on the Edge of Forever." Star Trek went to the time travel well quite often. Fortunately, they usually did a good job.

Quotes:

Guardian: "A question. Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question." Wow. Long time.

Kirk: "My friend is obviously Chinese. I see you've noticed the ears. They're actually easy to explain."
Spock: "Perhaps the unfortunate accident I had as a child..."
Kirk: "... the unfortunate accident he had as a child. He caught his head in a mechanical... rice picker."

Kirk: "We have a flop."
Spock: "We have a what, Captain?"
Kirk: "A place to sleep."
Spock: "One might have said so in the first place."

Spock: "I am endeavoring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins."

Kirk: "Let me help. A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over I love you."

McCoy: "I'm a surgeon, not a psychiatrist."

Four out of four stone knives and bearskins, of course,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

3 comments:

tinkapuss said...

Beautiful, funny, and heart-breaking. I could watch this one over and over (and I have). I love the compassion that Spock has for Kirk's predicament (especially in the final scene when he tells McCoy, "He knows"); I also love the fact that, without his Starfleet uniform, Kirk finally has the time and freedom to fall in love. Tragically, it is not meant to be.

Baby M said...

Fun fact: the backlot where they shot some of the street scenes was also used for The Andy Griffith Show. At one point, Captain Kirk and Edith Keeler walk past Floyd's Barber Shop.

Billie Doux said...

I just rewatched this episode and damn, it still makes me cry.

Amazon Prime has something called 'Star Trek The Original Series -- Fan Favorites.' It's ten of the best episodes, and 'City' is number one.