The Retro-Future Is Ours, Captain!: I Rewatch “Star Trek: The Original Series”

We got a VCR fairly early, and my sister taped all the reruns of the original and at that time only Star Trek, until we had a whole cabinet full of Kirk. I rewatched these tapes constantly. Kirk and Uhura were between the two of them my first crushes. (Also that one kid Esteban from The Mysterious Cities of Gold.) This summer my Netflix queue, which circles the earth like the Midgard Serpent, finally wound its way to the first season of ST:TOS, so I’ve been revisiting my old love. Does it hold up?

You guys. It is even better than I remembered. Some notes on the first few discs of Season One–and yes, I suspect there will be more of these posts, so brace yourselves.

* Star Trek is gorgeous. The colors shimmer and melt. I especially noticed all the use of lilac; if you were doing a ST:TOS drinking game and picked “Do a shot whenever something’s colored lilac,” you’d be wrecked by the end of the first disc. Lilac, gold, violet, scarlet.

* It’s slower-paced than I remembered. The delightful Galaxy Quest made fun of how the communications officer’s only job was to repeat what the computer said, but actually in S1 all of these characters repeat the computer a lot. There’s a lot of time spent on the fake technical details of space. Fun in its way and very retro, but definitely a modernist tech-worship aesthetic that slowed down the plot.

* Uhura has relatively little to do in these first discs. She does sing twice!–I’d forgotten that she sings in “Conscience of the King” as well as, of course, her teasing love song to Spock in “Charlie X.” But overall this is the Kirk and Spock show, with McCoy and, surprisingly, Sulu as the second-tier characters. Sulu does a ton here and George Takei makes it all ridiculously fun.

* Kirk has this reputation for punching his way through space, but he really does use his words in most of these episodes. (He just also punches stuff.) Kirk is a negotiator and a canny psychologist, and someone who strongly prefers to reconcile with enemies rather than just blow them up.

Also I will never not love William Shatner in this role so take that everybody who makes fun of him. He’s perfect and y’all need to respect.

* I’d never noticed just how many of these episodes deal with the clash of generations. You get “Charlie X” and “Miri” right off the bat, and later we’ll get the space hippies in “Return to Eden,” and isn’t “Squire of Gothos” also a child? I guess listing it like that there aren’t that many, but the consistent message of “You need a responsible adult” is fairly noticeable. I think “negotiation > combat” and “children need rules” are the only themes to receive more than one episode’s worth of attention in these first few discs. …There are also a lot of episodes about madness, and about living in illusion, now that I think about it.

* Speaking of themes… “The Cage” is the only episode in which Gene Roddenberry’s technoatheism really parades itself. I wasn’t surprised to see that he wrote it. It’s a bluntly gnostic rejection of the physical body and its attendant suffering. You’ll notice, too, that in order to make his anti-suffering point Roddenberry has to make humans much less intelligent and creative than we really are: How can Capt. Pike blink for “yes” and “no” but not spell out words with his eyes like that guy in The Count of Monte Cristo, or the man who wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly? OTOH I think this is the episode with the spaceships going past the window, just stunning, all cocktail-colored like a hallucination of ’80s LA.

* Man the music is great. All of the music is great.


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