SCORE: (3.58/5 stars)
Season 2 has some of the best episodes of the original series. Gems like The Trouble With Tribbles that combined the light-hearted humor that the show would be fondly remembered for with the ever-popular Klingon menace (as well as giving us our lovable cuddly balls of carpet), or the ever-memorable Amok Time that introduced so much of Vulcan culture, including the salute, the desert planet of Vulcan, and their highly ritualized yet logical society. We also finally got to see Spock’s parents, after hints being dropped about them throughout the series, further establishing Spock as a man divided between two worlds and seeking to balance embracing one while serving the other. Most importantly, we got to visit the Mirror Universe, an episode so ingrained in pop culture that the goatee became shorthand for an evil twin.
That being said, the show is starting to show some cracks at this point. Season 3 is widely considered the weakest of the seasons, often credited with Gene Roddenberry being more hands-off. Roddenberry didn’t even think he would be getting a third season, and the threat of cancellation loomed heavy near the end of filming. A letter-writing campaign by fans of the show saved it for a third season, but Gene had already begun looking for the next project to move onto. He even made the final episode of the season a backdoor pilot for the replacement show he wanted to make in the fall. Slightly understandable, but how insulting would that be to fans if the show ended on that note, with the entire Enterprise crew playing second fiddle to Gary Seven and his cat?
Despite the Prime Directive being clearly established at this point, we see Kirk frequently disregarding it altogether, making contact with all sorts of pre-warp societies, often not even making an effort to blend in. In The Omega Glory, he accuses a fellow Starfleet captain of violating the Prime Directive by giving aid to the Kohms, when he had done the very same thing in A Private Little War by supplying arms to the natives. The writing is often inconsistent like this, episodic to the point of negative continuity. One could attempt to excuse it as being an earlier era of television, but I won’t do that. Script collaboration, show bibles, and continuity editors are pretty standard fare and don’t require any special technology that they lacked in the 60s. Kirk was always dedicated to his principles… he just wasn’t always certain what his principles were on any given episode.
I want to avoid saying the word pandering, but season 2 also brought us the character of Chekov, a young Russian with the Beatles/Monkees style haircut that was so popular with the youth in those days. It certainly was a clever thing to have a bridge officer of a nationality that we considered our sworn enemies at the time, but he became a weird amalgamation of babe magnet and bizarre Russian stereotype. He also lucked out and got a lot of roles that had been written for Sulu, because Takei took a ten-episode absence to shoot a film. From what I understand, the writers had been telling Takei all the cool stuff he’d get to do with his character, and then they gave them all to the new kid. It often comes off as inconsistent: one minute he’s a stickler for rules and regulations, the next he’d rather get his mack on with a honey than continue his planetary survey. Then again, the secondary characters were always just there to do whatever the plot demanded while the writers were enamored with the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic, so perhaps I shouldn’t expect too much from the character. In my mind, Walter Koenig isn’t Chekov anyway, he’s Bester from Babylon 5.
I’d like to say the show gets better, but it doesn’t. We’re coming up on a near-total change in the writing staff and the executive producers essentially abandoning the series. But it’ll be okay. From what I understand, there’s a couple more TV series and some movies that pick up afterward. You may have heard of them, they were a little popular. So stick with me through the bad and we’ll get to the good, I promise.