Warp Speed to Nonsense

Warp Speed to Nonsense

Monday, December 9, 2013

Season 1, Episode 20 "The Alternative Factor"

"The Alternative Factor"
Production Number: 20
Air Order: 23
Stardate: 3087.6
Original Air Date: March 30, 1967

Sorry, Trek fans. I thought I could reasonably keep on top of my blog post schedule AND make an last-minute emergency wedding cake for someone. Turns out that wasn't the case this time.

When we open, the Enterprise is orbiting an orange planet, collecting data like a good little science vessel, when the ship is suddenly rocked and a picture of a star field with solar system flashes over the footage of the bridge crew falling out of their chairs.
"The magnetic fields of this solar system just blinked," says Spock. "For a few seconds, the planet didn't exist. Twice."

Then Spock's equipment tells him that there's a person on the planet that showed up exactly when the planet winked back into existence. Kirk orders Uhura to forward any calls from Starfleet to him, and asks for armed Red Shirts to beam down with him. Screw Tiberius. Kirk's middle name is clearly Danger.

Kirk's Log 3087.6 "The planet winked out of existence! And there's a dude down there now. Recognizing the peril of blindly going to investigate, I boldly went (with the second in command of my ship) and took four disposable Red Shirts with me."


The away team walks around the desert for a bit before Kirk spots the most stereotypical mid-century- science-fiction space ship ever. It even has a glass dome, like George Jetson's car.

Suddenly, the mysterious human calls to them from the rocks. This dude seems pretty young, like Kirk's age, but he's got the facial hair of an old wise Asian guy who teaches the upstart teenager how to respect himself and others through martial arts. This white guy has sensei facial hair.
He's stoked to see them, but he suddenly passes out and tumbles down the mountainside.


Back on the Enterprise, Kirk is told by Blue Tunic Lieutenant Masters that The Wink drained their dilithium crystals. They have 10 hours before their orbit decays. This is how Star Trek adds tension - they break something on the ship and only have hours to fix it before the ship explodes, or the orbit decays, or they run out of atmosphere or something. Overheard in a writer's meeting: "Not enough drama. Let's break the ship." I bet Jimmy Doohan loved that - it meant he was more likely to get screen time.
Starfleet tells Uhura to let Kirk know that it's an invasion (an Invasion of One) and Kirk sends everyone to battle stations. Um, against whom? You found one dude, and he's lying in your sick bay. Some commodore hops on the viewscreen to tell Kirk that The Wink occurred everywhere, but was localized on that planet. he thinks it's an invasion. Kirk agrees. Starfleet has pulled everyone else out of the area and is leaving the Enterprise as bait. 
"Good luck," says the commodore.

Kirk has Spock check out the surface, and goes to sick bay to talk to the sensei dude, who Bones says is fine. This guy appears to be hopped up on something. He says some kind of humanoid demon destroyed his entire civilization while he was away, and now he is chasing the thing. He blames The Wink on the demon-dude. They beam down and Kirk tells Spock about the evil guy, but Spock says there is no one else on the planet. He suggests that Sensei Beard is lying.
Suddenly, the Beard has a seizure or something and he starts yelling at... someone while the flashing overlay of the solar system happens again. He runs away. Kirk calls "Lazarus!" which must be his name.


Lazarus stumbles over rocks while lights flash. The whole thing is filmed in Girl-O-Vision, but with dramatic music rather than stripper music. You know that effect that they used all the time on the Batman TV show, where the screen spins away from you into the distance, then when it spins back, it's a new scene? They used it here, and the new scene is a blue and white negative. Between the flashing solar system overlay, the Girl-O-Vision, the spinning screen, and the negative shots, it's a bit like when someone buys photo-editing software and immediately fills your FB feed with random pictures tweeked with an assortment of filters.


In the negative, two figures wrestle while the screen spins. One wins and there are more flashes and overlays and Batman screen spins before we return to normal. Lazarus is bloody, or at least covered in red paint splatters. He says the thing attacked him, and he chants, "Kill! Kill! Kill!"

Kirk's Log 3088.3 "I can't tell if this dude is lying or not."
Spock and Kirk briefly discuss the situation, and Spock can only can only confirm that the times when Lazarus supposedly runs into this thing coincides with The Winkings.
Bones calls Kirk into sick bay to tell him that he bandaged the cut on Lazarus' forehead, and returned a few minutes later to find the cut and bandage gone, no trace of it. Then, apparently, he discharged Lazarus from sick bay.


Lazarus is in the break room when he overhears two crew members discussing dilithium crystals. he follows them into the corridor but has another Winking episode with the two figures in negative. When he comes to, his forehead is bandaged. of course this is when Kirk and Bones get off the lift.


"Dafuq?" says Bones, seeing the bandage.
"Getting real sick of your shit, Bones, " says Kirk. Spock pages Kirk back to the bridge. He takes Lazarus, leaving Bones to question his sanity. When Kirk and Lazarus reach the bridge, Spock says that the working dilithium crystals have uncovered a spot of radiation on the planet, but according to the sensors, it doesn't exist.

"Awesome!" says Laz. "Give me your dilithium crystals."
"Um, no," responds Kirk. "That shit runs our ship."
"I'll have my revenge!" declares Lazarus, who quickly exits in the lift.
"That guy is nuttier than squirrel poo," says Kirk.
Down in engineering, unbandaged Lazarus hypos a dude in order to get to the crystals. Between him and the crystals is Lieutenant Masters, a black woman. Now, it'll be another 26 years before Star Trek will feature a black captain in a starring role (Cisco) and 28 before they make a main woman character a captain (Janeway), but here we have a black woman doing science on a space vessel, with a white male assistant. In 1967. I'll take it. Ha, in your face, old white male network execs!


Sadly, Lazarus hypos her too, though not before she calls the bridge for help.
Kirk's Log 3088.7: Two crew members have been attacked, and now two dilithium crystals are missing.
Kirk interrogates Bandaged Laz, who says the crystals were taken by his enemy. He claims the humanoid also wants the crystals to power his ship. Kirk decides they'll go check out that radiation spot. He, Lazarus, Spock and some armed Red Shirts beam to the surface. The crystals are not found in the Jetson car. And Spock cannot locate the now-missing radiation.

The groups split up to search for weirdness, and of course The Winking Out occurs again. Lazarus ends up on a rocky bluff. A large rock gets dislodged, and Lazarus calls out to Kirk in time to keep him from being squished. But then he falls and is knocked unconscious.
In sick bay, Kirk thanks Lazarus for saving his life, but says that he knows that Lazarus is lying. Laz admits that the planet that the Enterprise is orbiting is his planet, and that his ship is a time machine. Satisfied, Kirk and Bones leave Lazarus by himself. Of course The Winking starts to occur again, but he appears to fight it off this time.


Kirk and Spock have a long conversation about their seemingly bi-polar guest. The subject of Alternate Universes is posited, as well as the idea of Alternate Lazaruses. They decide that one one universe and it's corresponding Lazarus are like matter, and the other set anti-matter. Which means that if they meet, everything will be destroyed.
Meanwhile, Bandaged Lazarus sabotages a panel outside of engineering, so that a fire starts in that department. Masters and her assistant, who are both have super-crappy days, are forced to evacuate and call for help while Lazarus sneaks in and steals two crystals. He then head-butts the transporter guy and beams himself to the surface, where he installs one crystal in his Jetson-brand Time Machine.
Meanwhile, the crystals are discovered missing. Kirk asks Spock to round up some Red Shirts, then naturally beams down alone to confront Lazarus. Unfortunately, when he leans into the Time Machine to grab the madman, Kirk goes negative and disappears.
Flashing overlay! Spinny screen! Dramatic music! Kirk stumbles for a bit in negative space, then wakes up in the same place, only at twilight. (No, not that Twilight. Although now I'd like to see a fight between Edward and Kirk. Though he drives me nuts, Team Ripped-Shirt Kirk all the way.)
Unbandaged Lazarus greets Kirk warmly, and confirms the AU theory. It seems that when their people discovered the AU, Bandaged Lazarus kind of lost his shit over the thought that another Lazarus existed, and set out to kill him, even though it meant ending all of existence as we know it. Un-Laz explains that The Winking occurs when a corridor is opened between the two universes, and one of them enters. Un-Laz wants Kirk to go back through the corridor, then send Bandaged Lazarus in. Then, Kirk is supposed to destroy the Jetson-brand Time Machine. This will, in turn, destroy the AU time machine, and both Lazaruses will be trapped in the corridor forever. If neither can get out, both universes will be safe.
"But that means that you're boned for eternity," points out Kirk.
"Yeah, kinda sucks to be me," says Un-Laz. "But you gotta do what you gotta do."

He sends Kirk back through the corridor, and Bandaged Lazarus and the captain do a little Greco-Roman wrestling before Kirk chucks him into the ship. Lazarus flashes and disappears, to reappear in the corridor and fight Un-Laz.
"Let's GTFO," says Kirk to Spock and those unneeded Red Shirts.
Upstairs, Kirk orders the crew to fire on the Time Machine, thus locking both versions of Lazarus in the corridor for all of eternity, to struggle in epic battle.
"So that sucks," says Kirk.
"It does indeed suck," agrees Spock.


This episode feels weird to me. Instead of being a Star Trek story, it's almost as though an interesting idea for a science fiction short story were adapted not only for the screen, but to include the crew of the Enterprise. The story of Lazarus and his compliment is a  narration all on it's own, and would be best explored without Star Trek. Indeed, the crew is not actually needed anywhere. Sure, the ship provides both Lazaruses with more dilitium crystals, and Kirk forces Bandaged Lazarus into the corridor, and blows up his ship to close the door, but really those things could have been resolved without Enterprise interference. If given a short story about the two time travelers, either written in first-person narrative by one or the other Lazarus, or even third person narrative bouncing back and forth, the story could probably be pretty good. But the inclusion of Star Trek makes the story feel clunky. 
Also, the special effects felt strange. What would probably be best described in that same short story as a series of physical experiences had to be translated into visual experiences only. They tried. I'll give them credit there. But I feel like it didn't work. It seems like they said "we have these effects that we can use", and they went with all of them to try to describe a feeling of disorientation and utter confusion.
This is also one of those episodes where the idea behind the story is actually more fascinating than the episode that was filmed and offered for viewing. The notion of a story where the resolution is that the main character or even villain spends all of eternity trapped somewhere doing the same thing is classical mythology. But more interesting to me is that this offers another viewpoint to the discussion of The Other. Episode 5 of Season 1, "The Enemy Within", explores what happens when a transporter malfunction splices the captain in two, and one half screams that he doesn't want to be rejoined with his pair, that he wants to continue living on his own. It leaves one with the question of "what about The Other? How are they affected?" In this episode, The Other (Un-Laz) actually makes the decision for both of them. Bandaged Lazarus lost it when he discovered that he had a doppelganger, and attempted to destroy him. Rather than allow that to happen The Other took control and ended it (sort of) for both of them. The Other kept his head, and saved both universes by sacrificing himself and Lazarus. While the rest of this episode feels like a bad ship cobbled together "just because", the outcome of the AU story was satisfying... provided one can get past the shittiness of martyrdom.

This week's tea is Foxtrot, the last from the Juicy Slices sampler pack from Adagio ( http://www.adagio.com/teabags/juicy_slices.html ). The package says that it's "chamomile, peppermint, rooibos and natural flavor". But what do those things taste like together? You know those little mints that you sometimes get at restaurants where they're not wrapped, and kind of chalky, but a little bit chewy, and they're all pastel colors like pink and green and yellow, even though it's all the same flavor? Butter mints. That's what this tea tastes like. If you kind of like butter mints, you should give it a shot. If you don't, steer clear.

Kirk and Spock were adopted by my friend Dubs, who promptly
bought them Command Gold and Science Blue collars.

1 comment:

  1. My guess is that Rodenberry was keen on any story that involved parallel universes and the peril of contact between them. The list of problems with this episode is huge. One example: why was Looney Lazarus given free and unsupervised access to the E?

    I'm really glad Lady Archon did a study of this episode because I FINALLY paid enough attention when watching it again to (sort of) understand it.

    When ST TOS first aired, my dad let me stay up to watch it, even though I didn't understand what Spock was saying (I was four when the series started). I remember Lazaruz' ship, which I thought was cool and important , because Trek.

    Naturally, my siblings used Trek terms for everything. Saying "Landru! Landru!" was shorthand for "I am blindly obedient"; "You will be absorbed" = "brainwashed"; and "I hope you relish it as much as I" after any mention of relish. Ah, Star Trek!