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Star Trek The Animated Series: The Jihad

Mikey Heinrich and Billie Doux discuss "The Jihad."

Mikey: I think we can all agree that they probably would have gone with a different title these days.

Well, that wraps things up for the first season of Star Trek: The Animated Series. And it's... well, it's a lot.

Kirk and Spock have been hand selected for a mysterious mission by a member of the oldest space faring race, The Vedala, who are in no way recycled character templates from the Kzinte back in "The Slaver Weapon," no sir.

The Vedala commander explains that she has handpicked six team members, each of which bring a special skill that the team will need in order to retrieve a stolen religious artifact before its loss is discovered, thus probably triggering the titular Jihad. And then she promptly ditches them before the mission begins and beams the hell out of there. So, we're not a million miles away from The Magnificent Seven, but if Yul Brynner had explained the situation and then immediately giving the team a hearty, "So, you guys have fun with that," and riding away as fast as he possibly could toward Canada.

To be a little more accurate, it's kind of a zesty blend of The Magnificent Seven, Ocean's Eleven, Lord of the Rings, and that Doctor Who episode "Time Heist" that apparently only I like. Oh, and just a soup├žon of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

So, our Magnificent Six (honestly, why didn't they just call it that?):

— Spock and Kirk, for logical skills and flexible leadership, respectively. Also, it's their show so they kind of have to be there.

— A Skorr named Tchar, who is not in any way a complete lift of the character design for the griffin/bird people back in "Yesteryear." It's his people's religious artifact that's been stolen.

— What is clearly a sleestak from Land of the Lost, but with a dinosaur tail, who's actually quite pleasant. I would totally go have a beer with him.

— A cowardly green slug thing that apparently is a master lock pick named Em/3/Green, which... let's just acknowledge how awesome that name is.

— And last, Lara. She's Tarzan as played by Mae West and is supposedly there for her directional sense, although as they spend the whole episode being guided by the one member of the team who not only can sense the presence of the artifact, but also can fly, and therefore see where they're going. She spends an awful lot of the story trying to convince Kirk to have tenuously consensual sex.

And so, team assembled, they're dropped on the "mad planet" where the statue has been taken (which is a fantastic excuse for not being too bothered by animation inconsistencies, it must be admitted) where they Fellowship-of-the-Ring their way to the circus tent looking building in which gravity is apparently optional.

Of course, here we discover that the griffin/bird guy has been behind the theft the whole time which answers the hitherto burning question of "Y'all can fly and it's your own frickin' artifact. This feels like a 'you' problem. Why is literally anyone else but you involved?'" Another similarity to Lord of the Rings, there. They have their own "eagle problem," but with a readily obvious answer.

Turns out Tchar has inherited a serious case of "We want to go back to being badass warriors now," a plotline that will go on to serve the Klingons fairly well from The Next Generation on, as I recall. He hopes that the loss of their statue will trigger that Jihad we mentioned and hooray, we get to be warriors again.

And finally, Kirk hooks the statue with his foot, allowing it to be beamed out. Problem solved, and did we mention that we can now make time have un-happened so that you never were away from your ship, Narnia Wardrobe style, and everyone will just forget that any of this ever happened, because we can totally do that, byyyyyyyyye...

This has come up for me a lot in discussing the Animated Series episodes, but this one yet again wins me over by feeling much more like "playing Star Trek" than "watching Star Trek," if you know what I mean. This is clearly the experience of a kid taking all of their unrelated toys and action figures and mashing them up together into one big group that has an adventure that gets made up as we go along. It's Han Solo and Big Bird trapped in Castle Grey Skull, with only hugs-a-lot bear and a sock puppet monkey as their hope for rescue. And it's hard for me to be negative about getting a little hit of that feeling.

I don't know, am I being too generous here? What do you all think?

Billie: Mikey, I think you're being too kind. This episode is awful. It felt like an entire backstory was missing. (For what it's worth, it was written by Stephen Kandel, who wrote the Mudd episodes.) And the "Soul of Alar"? Did they really mean it to sound like Allah? Like "Jihad" wasn't bad enough.

It's a shame, because I think there were the seeds of a good episode here. Kirk and Spock and their animal friends questing their way across a "mad planet" to retrieve a critically important artifact could have been cool if it had been done well and there had been any possible way to invest in the story.

A couple of other things. Spock seemed bound and determined to sacrifice himself; maybe that was just a foreshadowing of the movies. The animation continued to worsen as Kirk's brand new red hair migrated down to his no-longer-gold tunic. I could swear Spock was wearing a white belt and then in the next scene, he wasn't. Lara the tracker constantly hitting on Kirk was outright cringe-worthy – this is a Saturday morning cartoon here, folks.

And the vehicle they gave the Magnificent Six looked like a 1973 Volkswagen Thing. Could that be early product placement?

Mikey: 1973 Volkswagen Thing! That made me laugh out loud, and now I want it to be canon that that's what they were driving.

Okay, re-reading my earlier thoughts and yours, clearly they caught me in a particularly indulgent mood. Also, I can't believe I missed the Alar/Allah connection. You're 100% right, with the title "Jihad," that could NOT be a coincidence. That's cringe on the same level of the one where they talk about Sulu being inscrutable. Maybe we should have kept a tally of the most notable cringe moments of the series. Or maybe we're emotionally healthier not doing that.

I also meant to mention – so this Alar guy saved your civilization from tearing itself apart and in thanks, your people... checks notes... imprisoned his actual, literal soul inside a hideous statue to suffer for all time. FFS, Griffin people, not cool.

It's probably notable that at this point I no longer even register how low quality the animation is. And in the cold light of day, describing something as people playing Star Trek instead of someone telling a proper Star Trek story isn't exactly high praise, is it? Looking at it in hindsight, it's more of an exceptionally kind way to say "lazy."

I have a lot of fond memories of playing with toys like that. I think they just caught me in a forgiving and nostalgic mood. I do still maintain that Em/3/Green is a freaking awesome name.

Billie: Memory Alpha says that Em/3/Green was voiced by writer David Gerrold of "The Trouble with Tribbles" fame, mostly because he worked on the show and they couldn't afford to hire another actor. I find this so sad.

But hey. We finished season one! Wouldn't have done that if not for you, Mikey. Bravo!

Mikey: We couldn't have done it without you either. :) And you're right, that casting anecdote is sad on every level.

Billie: One and a half out of four Volkswagen Things? What do you think?

Mikey: I think I'll go with two out of ten sudden but inevitable betrayals. Just because I'm kind of fond of it doesn't mean it isn't pretty terrible.

Billie: On to the remarkably brief season two!

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