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Star Trek The Animated Series: Bem

Mikey Heinrich and Billie Doux discuss the Animated Series episode, "Bem."

Mikey: Well, at least Spock gave that nice shout out to the virtues of being a librarian. That was nice.

There's something odd about this episode. I've watched it five times now, and still struggle to remember much about it. It's like it's been memory proofed like those creepy Doctor Who aliens. Maybe it's just that so much of it is composed of recycled Star Trek stuff. At least this time the godlike alien was a sexy female disco cloud. I think that's a first, isn't it?

Speaking of firsts, I'd been under the impression for years that Kirk's middle name of "Tiberius" was revealed in Star Trek VI, and then they just threw it out here, way back in 1973. My whole life has been a lie.

One thing I do recall is the way that the titular Bem has more than a hint of racist Asian stereotype in both the way he speaks, and the dragon-inspired look of his face. That was a little cringey, but is hardly unique to this episode. Sci-fi is littered with aliens as thinly veiled Asian stereotypes. (*COUGH Phantom Menace COUGH*.)

To try to focus on the positives while I can remember them, the concept of a "colony creature" is neat. I've seen examples of it in more recent stuff, but I can't think of any earlier than 1973. Anybody know of one? A nearly positive – They're SO close to going somewhere with the comparison of Bem testing the Enterprise crew vs. The Enterprise crew testing the lizard natives and who has the right to run covert tests on others. But then they just drop it without doing anything with the idea.

Oh, and the script mentioned Brownian motion, and I couldn't remember what that was so I went and looked it up. I'm hoping that at least a couple of kids back in '73 had the same response and maybe went on to be inspired to pursue a career in science. I could feel good about this episode believing that.

What did you think?

Billie: An oddly boring episode. Definitely Star Trek salad, with a mysterious planet, a god-like being protecting aborigines, complete disregard of the Prime Suggestion, a guest on the Enterprise who misbehaves, terrible dialogue, and lines stolen from original series episodes ("Not with my ship, you don't"). They tried to inject some humor, like Kirk and Spock bantering about how come we always get captured, except nothing about this episode was actually funny. According to IMDb, this is the second lowest rated episode of the series. Only "The Magicks of Megas-Tu" was rated lower.

Bem himself was the only new element. I think they were trying for an interesting and amusing alien who Learns A Valuable Lesson, but I wasn't even sure what that lesson was. As you said, Mikey, there were some cringey Asian-ish elements with his dragon-like appearance and names in reverse order. The most interesting thing about Bem is that some assembly was required – him being a "colony creature," as you said. At one point, I was thinking that the reptilian aborigines wouldn't have to chop him up in order to make stew of him. And it's just inexplicable that a creature who breaks apart into pieces naturally would punish himself by... breaking apart into pieces.

Why call him Bem at all? BEM is an abbreviation for Bug-Eyed Monster, isn't it? Bem wasn't bug-eyed at all. Maybe they had planned for his eyes to detach, like the neurosurgeon in Angel, and just didn't get around to it.

I did like that (I think) Uhura was left in command, although she mostly stood next to the captain's chair and talked into the com instead of actually sitting in it. I liked that it was a god-like female intelligence. I almost laughed at them materializing above a body of water.

And how about that shout-out to librarians? Can't complain about that one.

Mikey: "Magicks of Megas-Tu" is SO Much more fun than this one. I'll take completely ridiculous over dull repartition any day.

Billie: Yes, "The Magicks of Megas-Tu" actually did make me laugh. "Bem" did not make me laugh.

I like to read the Memory Alpha write-up after I've formed my initial opinions, and the "Background Information" at the bottom was enlightening. Although it doesn't say so outright, it's clear that this particular script was so bad that they kept taking shot after shot changing it to try to make it work. I was particularly amused at David Gerrold's obvious exasperation about Gene Roddenberry's insistence that every script have a god-like alien in it.

Mikey: You're right, that is much funnier than the episode. :)

Billie: Rating? One out of four floating body parts for me.

Mikey: Two out of ten crotch hands doing Lord knows what when the body is reassembled.

Billie: Crotch hands. Lol. And maybe one out of three mentions of the middle name Tiberius that have nothing to do with the plot.

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