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Star Trek The Animated Series: How Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth

Mikey Heinrich and Billie Doux discuss the Animated Series episode, "How Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth."

Mikey: Excerpt from "How Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth," sceenplay, draft one:

Ensign Walking Bear: "Sir! There appears to be a giant, candy-colored space lizard with huge wings hovering in the void of space in front of us! This is the weirdest thing we've ever seen!"

Kirk: "You do remember the time we encountered Giant Floating Abraham Lincoln, right?"

Ensign Walkie-B: "No, I've literally never been here before."

Kirk: "Oh. Right. Sooooo, sorry about your immediate, imminent death. Coming in 5... 4..."

Ensign Dubs-B: "What??? Holy crap no... hold on..."

Kirk: "What's the issu... oh shit... You're not a token minority member appearing out of nowhere solely for the sake of providing us with some relevant piece of information about your culture that we're going to need to face the lizard thing, are you?"

EWBear: "Of course not! That would be insulting."

Kirk: "So we're back to imminent death then?"

Bear, Walking Bear: "No no. As a Comanche, I'm here to provide you with relevant information about the Mayans."

Kirk: "I'm sorry, what now?"

Ensign Walking Bear: "I'm a Comanche. So I've studied all about the Mayans."

Kirk: "How is that... I mean... I guess that's sort of less offensive..."

Ensign Walking Bear: "And the Aztecs."

Kirk: "What's even happening right now?"

Kukulkan, the aforementioned space lizard: "Could we get back to the issue at hand, please?"


So, The Animated Series goes all in on a bunch of Gene's favorite old saws.

We get a slathering here of the ancient astronaut "All of the old god legends were alien travelers who came to teach us stuff" hokum that was so popular at the time. Combined with the "god-like aliens keep lesser life firms in zoos through the judicious use of hallucinations" that goes all the way back to the first pilot.

I think my favorite thing about this episode is the hardcore "pissy ex-boyfriend" energy that Kukulkan gives off. The whole episode begins because Kukulkan sent a probe out to check out the Earth, sent a message back to him that the Earth people are still alive and just aren't that into him anymore, and then blow itself up. That's some next level passive aggressive douchebaggery.

Indeed, the whole thrust of the episode is that centuries ago Kukulkan visited Earth, dropped his contact info with a whole bunch of different cultures, all of whom got his number slightly wrong, then flew home to the other side of the freakin universe where he spent the next few centuries texting his friends, "I just don't get why they're not CALLing Meeeeee. I really thought we had a connection, you know? Should I text them? I should text them. No. I'm not going to text them. If they can't bother to call, they don't deserve me."

I do wish that the Capellan Power Cat had appeared in more episodes, because that thing was awesome and I want one.

Also, to be fair, the idea that all the ancient cultures had gotten the city plans partially right, so combining them would make the correct city is kind of a neat idea.

What do y'all think?

Billie: Mikey, I love your review so much. You said everything I wanted to say and more.

As it turns out, Memory Alpha explains a lot about how this particular story came to be. The writer, Russell Bates, is a full-blooded Kiowa, and D.C. Fontana really wanted an episode about a Native American legend. Bates told Starlog (issue #159): "There were three likely candidates: Varicocha of the Peruvian Incas, Quetzalcoatl of the Toltecs and Aztecs, and Kukulkan of the Mayas. We picked the latter because Kukulkan had that hard 'k' ring to it and my tribe, the Kiowas, were discovered to be related to the Mayas." Making it all sound a lot better. It's also true, of course, that there are similarities in the mythologies of many cultures.

I just wish they hadn't done the "Another god-like alien tries to fix the bad humans and awww, it just wants to be worshiped" thing with it taken down by blowing up the god's power source. It's just so, so tired at this point. Bates also said that he was deliberately doing an homage to "Who Mourns for Adonais?" which I would argue is possibly the least likely candidate for an homage. Ben and I went on a terrible snarkfest when we reviewed that episode awhile back.

A couple of other comments. The creature itself really was kind of gorgeous. Points for a Native American on the bridge, even if he did appear out of nowhere for plot purposes. The city planning thing was simplistic and silly but kind of fun. The "force globe" was interesting, and of course, I love any usage of cats.

The best thing was that Shatner kept mispronouncing Kukulkan's name as "Kook-la-kan," and that kept making me think of Fran and Ollie. Not to be outdone, Paramount Plus listed the episode as "How, Shaper Than A Serpent's Tooth." Shaper. Good work, Paramount guys.

Mikey: Perhaps they were trying to do an homage to Shatner's line delivery?

It irritated me to a completely unwarranted degree that Spock describes the forcefield as "globular" and not "spherical." I don't know why, globular is a perfectly legitimate word. It just felt like somebody trying to use unnecessarily fancy terms to sound smart.

The stuff about the Russell Bates does make me feel a lot better about the episode.

Do you think if we start petitioning Strange New Worlds they'll include a Capellan Power Cat in season three? #CPC3!

Oh, and Kirk's hair is back to dark brown again. He needs to schedule time to get his auburn highlights redone.

Billie: Spock did have one terrific line: "Vulcan was visited by alien beings. They left much wiser."

Mikey: That was an objectively good line.

And I really want the back story on what was going on with the crewmember that McCoy said "Didn't deserve" time off but was going to get it. What was that all about?

Billie: That last one slipped right by me.

I meant to mention too that I was impressed with the virtual reality zoo. I always think about how miserable animals in cages are. An homage to "The Cage," perhaps? (And I just realized you already mentioned that.)

Mikey: I took it that way as well.

I do wish they hadn't felt compelled to spell out the Shakespeare reference so clearly.

Billie: Well, it's still a Saturday morning cartoon. :)

I'm not sure what to rate this one. Two out of four Jungian archetypes?

Mikey: I'm going to go with three out of ten well intentioned space snakes.

Billie: And I can't believe it – we only have one episode to go. Mikey, you're awesome.


  1. Russell Bates is my uncle! My mom’s brother. I’m so proud of this episode! He was a life long Treker, as am I. Thank you for mentioning him!!

    1. Anonymous, that is awesome! You're so welcome, and thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. I love stuff like this. :)

  2. Man, I wish I could remember these better to make informed comments on them! I did watch these as a kid, but sporadically, but I don't remember why!


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