Star Trek

Star Trek

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Season 2, Episode 53 "The Ultimate Computer"

"The Ultimate Computer"
Production Number: 53
Air Order: 53
Stardate: 4729.4
Original Air Date: March 8, 1968

The title of this episode makes me groan, you guys. Typically, Star Trek will choose esoteric or philosophical titles for their episodes, but here we have what sounds like an advertisement gimmick for some product from the fifties. Or it should be the title of the aforementioned late-sixties sci-fi novel with the title in a slime green futuristic font.
Humor me, here: say "The Ultimate Computer" out loud, but don't use the voice of Rod Roddy, the announcer from "The Price Is Right." You can't do it, can you? Because when you say it in that voice, it conjures images of girls in swanky dresses, making a sweeping gestures with their palms up and opening panels on the front of said ultimate computer to show the contestant what could be theirs, if the price is right. But it won't be theirs, because the ultimate computer probably comes packaged with a dining room set, and who wants that when you know there's a trip to Germany and a ski boat or some shit in the next showcase, so they'll pass to the other contestant and no one will win because no one knows how much an ultimate computer and a dining room set costs.

I really wish I didn't suck at Photoshop, you guys. I would love to illustrate this thought with a Barker Beauty gesturing in front of like, Landru.


*******



We start out this week with Kirk in a snit. The E glides up on a space station, and he talks to Commodore Enright.
"Commodore, WTF?" he demands. "You guys paged me here and you won't tell me why."
"Shut your pie-hole," Enright answers. "A dude is beaming onto your ship."
"Bullshit," says Kirk, and he stomps off to the transporter room with Spock in tow.
When they get there, a gold shirt is beamed aboard, and Kirk knows him. He's Commodore Bob Wesley. Kirk tells the red who beamed Wesley aboard to GTFO, then demands to know why he was called to the space station, and why his crew has to leave the ship.
"It's war games time, bitches!" says Wesley. "We're gonna alter your woman with this new computer, the M-5, then we're gonna run it through some tests and do war games. A bunch of ships headed up by me, versus the E and you and the M-5. Your people need to leave because we won't need them. The M-5 runs the ship without people."
"Sweet!" says Spock. "The M-5 is the computer invented by Dr Richard Daystrom, on whom I have a raging nerd-crush."


"So Daystrom will come on board with the M-5, and you get to keep 20 crew members, and your job is easy, because you just have to sit in the captain's chair and look pretty," adds Wesley.
Kirk looks pretty pissed off about this, considering the fact that this is mostly what he does all day anyway. Maybe he's mad because Starfleet found out.

Kirk's Log 2749.4: "Exposition. Shit you forgot over the last commercial break."

Kirk gets into the lift with Spock and Bones. Bones complains that you can't let one computer run a whole starship. The Spock and Bones Odd Couple dialogue here is awesome, so I'm just gonna copy it down verbatim:
Spock: "The most unfortunate lack in current computer programming is that there is nothing available to immediately replace the starship's surgeon."
Bones: "Very funny. If it could, they wouldn't have to replace me; I'd resign because everything else would be nothing but circuits and memory banks. You know the type, Spock."


The trio enters engineering and meets Dr Daystrom, who is played by a giant black man. This is awesome. Dr Daystrom's character is written loosely enough that they could have picked damn near anyone - any white guy you wanted - and they picked a black dude instead to play the smart-as-hell scientist. Probably to piss of the censors in the deep South market. Anyway, this dude is not just black - he's huge. Standing next to Kirk puts one in mind of Cary Elwes standing next to Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride. Let's say you had written a screenplay about John Henry, the railroad guy. This is the dude you would get to play him. Big with a deep voice.
Daystrom is important. He designed all of the computers that are being used on the Enterprise, and the Daystrom Institute, mentioned in future Star trek spin-offs, was named for this guy.



Spock once again fangirls over Daystrom and the M-5, while Bones complains and Kirk sulks. Daystrom admits to the trio that the computer is called the M-5 because M's one through four fell flat on their collective faces. He then suggests that Kirk doesn't like the idea of a computer-run ship because Kirk is fond of the power and prestige that comes with being the captain. Dude, I agree. Kirk likes to whip out his rank as much as he likes whipping other things out.
He and Bones leave, and Bones has another great line here:
"Did you see the love-light in Spock's eyes? The right computer finally came along."
Kirk is troubled. He instinctively feels that the situation is off, but can't give a solid reason as to why. He wonders aloud about Daystrom's suggestion that he loves the power and prestige of being captain.
"Am I that petty?" he asks Bones.
Bones kind of brushes the question off, so I'll give you a definitive answer, Kirk: YES. Yes, you are.


On the bridge, the M-5 has completed the task of taking the E to a set of coordinates, and Kirk switches it off from his chair.
"That was dumb," he says. "We're here, but Sulu and Chekov could have done that just as easily."
"But they didn't have to," says Daystrom."The computer did the work of both."
"Blow me," Kirk replies.
Spock steps down to the dais to talk to Kirk. "You're being a dick."
Kirk shrugs it off.
Chekov turns to tell Kirk that they're approaching the planet that they were headed for. He seems thrilled. You know how, in "Galaxy Quest", Sigorney Weaver's character's job description was pretty much "repeat everything said by the computer"? This is Chekov's job now. I'd be pissed, too.



"Hey, time to turn on the M-5," says Daystrom. "This task will be approaching the planet, setting up a standard orbit, and making landing party recommendations."
"Screw you," says Kirk. "I make the landing party recommendations." But he turns on the M-5 anyway.
Kirk asks Spock to give him info on the planet while the M-5 makes it's recommendations. 
"So I say we should have a landing party of five that avoids the life-forms," says Kirk. "Me, Bones, Spock, an astrophysicist, and a geologist."
They put in the info tape that M-5 spit out. It recommends the same as Kirk, but picks a different geologist, and eliminates Kirk and Bones. Kirk is confused as to why it picked an ensign geologist rather than the head, and when they ask why the M-5 selected personnel the way it did, the M-5 replies that the ensign has had previous experience with similar planets. It then tells them that Kirk and Bones were "unnecessary." How about that. Maybe M-5 writes a Star Trek review blog as well. Or maybe the M-5 possesses some fucking common sense. When the M-5 says that Kirk and Bones were not necessary additions to the landing party, Daystrom gives Kirk this awesome sad trombone look.


Scotty turns and announces that the M-5 is turning off systems all over the ship. We get a camera sweep up to Scotty, with dramatic music and a commercial break, but it's all for nothing, because when we return, Daystrom explains that the M-5 realized that there was no one on decks 4-6, so it shut off power to those decks to conserve energy.
Uhura reports that there are two ships in the vicinity, and Kirk returns to his chair to check it out. Bones is on the bridge because the M-5 cut power to sick bay from lack of patients. Chekov grudgingly reports that the M-5 has determined that these are Federation ships Lexington and Excalibur.
"Too soon for war games," say Spock. "Maybe an unscheduled drill for the M-5?"
It's an unnecessary line, as the commodore calls to say as much.
Out of habit, Kirk starts to order prep stuff for his skeleton bridge crew, but there's no need, as the M-5 has already done it. Now both Chekov and Sulu are playing Repeat the Computer. The M-5 fires phasers at the other ships while Sulu and Chekov narrate. Chekov keeps making these hand gestures like he's over this shit, and I don't blame him: I was once replaced as an art teacher by a fucking Cricut machine.
The other ships move off, and Kirk asks Spock for a damage report so he can enter it into a log. We get a tender Spirk moment here, complete with soft music. Spock tells his captain that he is fine using computers as tools, but wouldn't want to serve under one. (No, really, can you imagine bottoming to a computer? Probably hurts like hell.)
Commodore Wesley calls to say that enough simulated damage was done to the Excalibur and Lexington to award the battle to the M-5. He congratulates the M-5 unit and "captain dunsel."


Everyone on the bridge looks uncomfortable at this comment, and Kirk, who had been smiling after his Spirk moment, now does a Charlie Brown walk back to his quarters.
"Who the hell is Captain Dunsel?" asks Bones.
Spock explains that "dunsel" is a slang term used by midshipmen at the Academy, and it refers to a part that serves no useful purpose. Kirk is not my favorite guy, but that was a super-bitchy thing for Wesley to say.

Like a good friend, Bones goes to Kirk's quarters with cocktails. Kirk admits to feeling useless, but Bones and his drink manage to make him feel better. He waxes rhapsodic a bit about actually piloting a ship through water and navigating by stars, but he's interrupted by Uhura calling him back to the bridge.


It turns out to be an unmanned, old-school ore freighter. The crew shrugs it off, but the M-5 raises shields and charges at it, firing a pair of photon torpedoes and blowing it out of the sky. The frantic crew, who tried to turn of the M-5 and override it's actions, stares at the screen.
"WTF?" Kirk and Bones yell at Daystrom.
"Um, looks like a malfunction or something," says Daystrom. "Good thing the freighter was unmanned."
"Like I give a shit," says Kirk. "And your dumb computer wouldn't have, either. We're shutting that shit down."
He, Daystrom and Spock go down to engineering to shut off the M-5, but Kirk is electrocuted by a force field.


Kirk's Log 4731.3: "The M-5 has taken control of my woman, and Dr Daystrom says he didn't put that force field on it, which means it now won't let anyone shut it down."

"The fuck?" Kirk yells at Daystrom.
"It's a glitch," says Daystrom. "You have to expect some of those during a test."
"Glitch, my ass," says Kirk. "We're shutting this shit down at the source."
Scotty's unnamed Red assistant pulls out a tool and attempts to disconnect the M-5 from its power source and it fries him. Like, the dude becomes startstuff again.
"You killed whats-his-name! You bastard!" Kirk rages.
"That's unfortunate," says Daystrom. "He got in the way."
"That thing tapped into the warp engines," says Scotty. "It has unlimited power!"

While Daystrom babysits his computer in engineering, our boys have a meeting. The M-5 has taken over all systems on the ship, including communications, so Uhura cannot warn the other ships, who are getting ready for the war games. Spock suggests that the computer can be shut off through engineering on deck three, and Scotty agrees that he and Spock can get 'er done within an hour. Spock then notes that the M-5 is not acting logically, as a computer should.
"Don't say it's fascinating!" grouches Bones.
"Okay. It's... interesting," Spock offers.
And Bones rolls his eyes so hard that I'm surprised he didn't injure himself.


We cut to Scotty and Spock in a Jeffries tube, making some modifications to shut down the M-5. I love these shots so much. I know that they had to go to the trouble to build tiny tube sets and put the camera at the top in order to get these shots, but I feel like the trouble was totally worth it. Also, check out the way that Scotty's arms form a hexagon that perfectly frame Spock, whose head intersects with piping that points to him. The ratio of organic and inorganic elements here is nice, too. Mmmmm, composition.


Down in engineering, Bones asks Daystrom if he's figured out how to shut off the M-5. Daystrom starts talking about child development, and about how the M-5 is learning. 
Yeah... I used to teach preschool. Children do not learn by murdering helpless Reds, mmkay?
He then goes on to talk about how men die in space, and he's trying to prevent that by creating starships that run themselves so that the computers and technology can do the dangerous jobs and less lives will be lost.
"You don't understand," he finishes. "We want to save life, not to destroy it."
Who's this "we", Daystrom?

By request, Bones brings an autobiography info tape about Daystrom to Kirk. They briefly discuss the pressures of genius, and how Daystrom hit it big early in his career and is still trying to be brilliant. Bones notes that Daystrom talks about the M-5 as though it were a child. Kirk responds by noting that Daystrom won't let Spock near the computer. Scotty calls to report that they are done with the modifications.

Everyone meets up at the Jeffries tube, and Kirk tells Daystrom that they're shutting the whole thing down. Daystrom yells, "No, you can't!" and tries to lunge into the tube to stop Spock and Scotty, but Kirk, who is a good head shorter than him, easily subdues Daystrom, because... oh, screw it. You know why.


They think they have control of the ship, but nope. That would be too easy. There are still 15 minutes left in the show. Spock suggests that when the M-5 discovered that they were tampering with the system, it rerouted everything and made that particular Jeffries tube a decoy, making it look active.
"Okay, 'fess up," Kirk tells Daystrom. "Your computer is screwy, and you know why."
"Sooo, people kept saying that computers don't act like men because they don't think like men, right?" asks Daystrom. "So I programmed it with human engrams, so now it thinks like a human. Good, huh?"
(I didn't know what the hell "engrams" were, so I've taken the liberty of Googling that shit for you: it's brain stuff, like the thing that records or stores memories or consciousness.)
Uhura pages Kirk and Spock to the bridge. The four Federation ships are assembling for the war games, not knowing that the M-5 isn't actually "playing."


This shot makes me want to pinch Star Trek's cheek and say "Awww, look at you, with your low-budget special effects! You're so cuuuute!" I'm pretty sure they filmed the same model once, then cut-and-pasted it four times onto the same background. It's cheesy, but it gets the job done. I'm still kind of snickering, though. So goofy, Star Trek.

Up on the bridge, Uhura is desperately trying to hail the Lexington, to no avail, as the M-5 has everything on lock, including distress signals. At one point, the Lexington calls the E to announce that they are here for the M-5 drills, and the M-5 responds back.
"It's cool," says Daystrom in that deep, soothing voice of his. "The M-5 knows this is a drill. That thing with the ore freighter was a fluke."
"You're full of shit," says Kirk, as the M-5 raises it's shields and prepares to fire heavy artillery at ships that do not have shields up.
The M-5 sends a full round of phasers at both the Lexington and Excalibur, leaving them limping in space.
"The fuck?" demands Wesley.
It's a tense moment, so Chekov bites his knuckles while reading from the screen.


Kirk grabs a flustered-looking Daystrom. "There's got to be a way to get to the M-5!"



"I can't!" says Daystrom. "It's totally protected itself!"
"This shit is scary," confirms Spock. "It thinks like a human, but acts with the swiftness of a computer. Everyone is screwed."
Wesley contacts the E, yelling at Kirk to call off the fight, as there are 65 dead reported between the Lexington and Excalibur ships. But Uhura can't override M-5, so Kirk can't respond.


The Excalibur tries to turn and run, but the M-5 chases it down and incapacitates it before going after the third ship, the Potempkin. Uhura intercepts a message from the Lexington to Starfleet and broadcasts it.
"Kirk is nucking futs. The captain and first officer on the Excalibur are dead. I think the only way to stop him is to kill him. Request permission to blow his ass out of the sky."
"You have to stop this shit!" Kirk yells at Daystrom. "You gave it your engrams, right? And you can interact with the program, yes?"
"Yes. I'll try," says Daystrom. He goes to the M-5 to talk to it. "Hey, M-5," he coos. "How's it going? So, you wanna not blow those ships up?"
"Those are enemy ships," says M-5. "Gotta protect myself."
"They're not," says Daystrom. "We're kind of murdering innocent people here."
"They attacked us. We have to survive," M-5 responds.
"Daystrom is losing his shit," Kirk whispers to Spock.
"He's going in circles," Spock whispers back. "He made the M-5 a mirror-image of himself, so he's basically talking to himself."


Bones says he's having a nervous breakdown, and Kirk takes the opportunity to tell Daystrom that they need to destroy the M-5. This pushes Daystrom just enough over the edge that he comes at Kirk, giving Spock a reason to pinch him. They send the half-conscious Daystrom to sick bay with Bones and two Reds.
The Excalibur appears to be dead, and Uhura is getting in the return message from Starfleet to go ahead and blow Kirk away.
"Fuck," says Kirk. "They'll attack us, but the M-5 will destroy those ships."
Kirk asks the M-5 about the "why" behind it's self-preservation. The M-5 tells him that it must survive so that it can eventually replace man in space, to keep men alive. You know where this is going, just as I did: whenever Kirk stumbles upon an out-of-control sentient computer, he must give it an identity crisis and encourage it to commit suicide.
An interesting aside here, from the smarty-pantses at IMDB: Kirk asks the M-5 what the penalty is for murder, and the M-5 responds that it is death. But in the Federation, the only crime that gets the death penalty is visiting Talos IV.


Once the M-5 is taken out, the shields drop. But apparently, communications are still out, so Kirk can't call Wesley and cancel his own death. Instead, he climbs on the comm, and addresses the other 18 members of the crew, and tells them that they are about to die at the hands of their fellow officers. It's cheerful.
Scotty calls from engineering saying that he and Spock have got the shields up, but everything else will take hours to bring online. Instead, Kirk gambles everything and tells Scotty to cut all power.
Wesley sees that the E looks dead, and wonders out loud if it's a trap before calling off the other ships. Of course it worked. It was Kirk's plan, and Kirk is the biggest Mary Sue of them all.

Down in sick bay, Bones tells Kirk and Spock that Daystrom will have to be committed for a while. Spock asks why Kirk chose to go with the opossum route, as the M-5 might have set that trap for Wesley. Kirk replies that he was gambling on Wesley's compassion to realize that the E being dead in the water was a surrender rather than a trap.
The trio gets into the lift, and Spock and Bones begin another brief argument about humans vs computers, which Spock ends with, "I'd really like to see a computer imprinted with your illogical engrams."
And Kirk laughs and everything is awesome because he got another computer to commit suicide.



Death Toll:
Red deaths this episode: 1
Red deaths this season: 19
Gold deaths this episode: 0
Gold deaths this season: 6
Blue deaths this episode: 0
Blue deaths this season: 1
Total crew deaths this season: 26
Total crew deaths thus far: 43

Plus, a bunch of people on the Excalibur and Lexington ships, but I can't really count those.

*******

This week's tea is the second to come out of that Celestial Seasonings herbal fruit pack: the Raspberry Zinger. Apparently, the "zinger" part refers to the fact that they mixed hibiscus in with the fruit parts, as I've seen another "zinger" tea and the common thing seems to be that flower. The tea isn't terribly floral, though, mostly just fruity, and it's a good raspberry, like actually eating fresh berries rather than some weird fakey fruity taste. I'd actually like to try this tea as a raspberry Arnold Palmer. You can also buy a version of this tea as specifically an iced tea, but it's one of those "zero calorie, sweetened by creepy fake sweetener" things that I don't trust, so you know I won't be trying that anytime soon. Either way, this version is good.












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