Star Trek

Star Trek

Monday, November 2, 2015

ST:TAS Season Two, Episode Five "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth"

"How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth"
Air Order: 21
Star Date: 6063.4
Original Air Date: October 5, 1974


So CBS dropped the news that they're premiering a new Trek series in 2017.
It's being made by the guys who made the reboot films, and it's only available on CBS' paid subscription streaming channel.
Yeah, no.


*******




Kirk's Log 6063.4: "So this probe came into Earth's system, scanned our shit, beamed some info into space, then self-destructed. We're following its footprints back to see where it came from, but no luck so far."

We're on the bridge, and Kirk orders the helm to slow down, as Spock thinks there might be something ahead. Who responds to that order? Not Sulu. Sulu is gone. That's Ensign Dawson Walking Bear, a Comanche.
Okay Star Trek, we've talked about this: it's cool to include people from all races on board the Enterprise, but if you go in the same racist direction as "The Paradise Syndrome", I'm going to be hella fucking pissed. Do not fuck this up.

They realize that thing up ahead is some kind of ship, and not knowing what to expect from this mystery vessel, Kirk orders the E at yellow alert and asks Uhura to open hailing frequencies. I don't believe it, y'all. Kirk is being level-headed about this. The other ship seems to fire on them, and Kirk wants to know why they haven't moved out of the way. Scotty reports that the engines are running full-thrust, but they're not going anywhere.
Spock says the other ship encased them in some kind of giant snowglobe.


The ship probes them trough the globe-thing, and Kirk tries to fire back at it, but the phasers just bounce off the inside of the globe. The other ship comes closer, and some kind of holographic projection goes up around it.
"The fuck?" asks Kirk, which is repeated by the others on the bridge.
But guess what? Our new boy, never seen before, never seen since, knows what this ship looks like: Kukulkan, the winged serpent god of Mesoamerica, also sometimes known as Quetzalcoatl.
Careful, Walking Bear. You're treading awfully close to Mary Sue-ism here.


"Cool," says the other ship over the PA. "I thought everyone on earth had forgotten about me, but this dude at the helm knows who I am, so I won't kill you guys."
"Hey," says Kirk to Walking Bear, "how do you know this guy?"
"Cuz I'm Comanche," says Walking Bear. "And I studied folklore from a bunch of different ancient Earth civilizations, especially my own."
OKAY, STOP.
Firstly, Comanche does not have a winged serpent god. The Aztecs, Mayans, Chinese and Egyptians all have forms of winged serpent gods. The Comanches do not, as far as I can tell. And while some Comanches spoke a dialect of Ute-Aztec, we're talking about a 2000 mile distance between these people. Not a whole lot of overlap.

Red is Comanche territory. Green is Aztec and Mayan.

"But Lady Archon, could he not just be a fan of other ancient cultures?"
Yes, absolutely. I, a super-white chick, also have an odd obsession with ancient Mesoamerica, and was excited when I realized we might be dipping into that this episode.
But Walking Bear specifically said he was interested in his own culture, meaning First Nations peoples of the plains. If we're going with the Texas-Oklahoma-Kansas area, why not have this weird alien be a Comanche god? Or if you really wanted the Mesoamerican god, why not make the helmsman Aztec or Mayan? Those people still exist, you know. The Spanish didn't wipe them completely out.


Nope, instead the connection between Kukulkan and Walking Bear is a vague "indigenous" one. 
"I'm an indigenous person, you come from an area where indigenous people lived, we're the same." No, you're really not. That's on par with allowing someone to set you up on a blind date because "you guys have lots in common!" and when you meet this other person, it turns out the thing you have in common is that you're both single.
Nice try, Star Trek, but let's just admit that anyone on board could have known about Kukulkan. You didn't need to add Walking Bear to the mix. In fact, you could have given a bunch of his line to Spock, and I would not have batted an eyelash, because Spock goes out of his way to be knowledgeable.
In fact, Spock corroborates Walking Bear's assertion that the ship-thing is Kukulkan.
Kirk muses that maybe Kukulkan is actually some alien traveler that visited Earth a long time ago.

Zod-dammit. Are we doing this again, Star Trek? Why does every ancient Earth god and serial killer have to be an alien visitor in disguise?



Down in sick bay, Bones says the most astonishingly dickish thing to a patient ever: "You don't deserve it, yeoman, but you're getting a few days' bed rest."
WTF? What did that little Red ever do to him? Why the hell is this yeoman so unworthy of healing that Bones would tell him straight to his face that he doesn't deserve it? Crappily enough, we never find out. He's just a jackass to this kid, then he disappears. Why couldn't he have said, "You've sprained something, and you need to take it easy for a few days"? Nope. He's a dick, then he disappears.
Scotty and Walking Bear disappear as well.
Then Kirk himself disappears, because it's just not Star Trek until Kirk gets kidnapped.


Spock's Log 6063.5: "Rehash of shit that you missed while pouring yourself more sugary breakfast cereal."

Our four kidnapped boys meet up on Kukulkan's ship. No one has comms or phasers, but Bones has his medi-kit. Kirk asks what happened to the Kukulkan in the stories, and Walking Bear replies that the winged serpent left, and promised to return one day.
"Oh, maybe that was why his probe came back to our system and he scanned us," says Kirk.
Why is Kirk so willing to believe that this might be the truth? 
Because this is the exact same plot as "Who Mourns for Adonais?"
Kukulkan's ship, with its globe-thing and holoprojections, is much cooler than Apollo's dumb hand in space thing, but essentially, yes, this is the same plot. Some random obstacle stops them dead in space, and an authoritative, disembodied voice says that it is pleased to see that it's "children" have traveled so far out to see it, and then they are forcibly transported to a space of the god's choosing. Three of the same people were even taken both times: Kirk, Bones and Scotty.
I'm waiting for Scotty to declare, "Captain, I think we've gone back in time to season two!"

Kukulkan's voice comes back again, and he announces that the Powerpoint presentation is about to begin, so they'd better turn their fucking cell phones off. Then the plain-jane plane on which they were standing morphs into an alien jungle, then an ancient city with a pyramid in the center.


So Bones is part of what I guess we could call the "away team," which means he's not there to hassle Spock about how he isn't looking for Kirk. Apparently, that's necessary, so the task falls to Uhura who, frankly, strikes me as too professional to do such a thing. Spock tells her firmly to mind her own station, because they have a duty to free the Enterprise first. I'd like to make a suggestion that no one bitches about finding Kirk. Just have Spock say something to the effect of, "We need to get the ship free so we can figure out how to rescue our crew members." Seriously, I think the audience gets it by now that the ship comes first.


Kirk and Co explore the city. They find Egyptian-style pillars painted with winged serpents, and a gateway that appears to be Chinese.


Kirk asks Walking Bear for more info, and our boy WB says that Kukulkan gave the Mayans a calendar and told them to build their city according to it. He would return when they were done. But when they finished the city, he did not reappear.
"Maybe he did the same for several civilizations, and no one built the city exactly right," suggests Kirk. "So he never returned."
Gotta address something here: The Shat did not record his lines at the same time as everyone else, so there's a discrepancy in how he says the name of the winged serpent. Everyone else is saying "Koo-kul-khan." The Shat is saying "Koo-klee-khan." Sounds like he's saying Kubla Khan. And it appears that no one directed him to pronounce it otherwise. Also, I would like to point out that this is not the first time he's done this during the animated series.

So, getting back to it - Kirk wonders if the city contains some kind of communications device, and decides that the four pillars at the corners of the pyramid might just be what he's thinking of.


He announces that he will climb the pyramid, and encourages the others to encircle it to find out more.
"Hey," says Walking Bear, "there are snake pillars at each corner!"
I... how did you not see that? Like, it's really, really obvious.
Seriously. Scroll back two screencaptures. from where they are standing, they can see at least two pillars, and walking to one or the other would tell them that there's one at each corner.
Kirk finds some stained-glass table thing on top of the pyramid.
Our boys on the ground notice that the heads of the snake pillar rotate. So they turn the snake heads in toward the pyramid, light shines through the stained glass table thing, and Kuklakan's voice sounds.
"Yay, I'm back!"


And he appears in his original form, which is pretty much the same thing as his ship design.


"Come at me, bro!"
"Whut?" asks Kirk.
"You guys hate me. That's why you fired your weapons at me," explains Kukulkan.
"Um, no?" replies Kirk.
Then Ku switches things up without pausing. "I'm your master, and you'll do as I say. You forgot who I am, and why you owe me allegiance."
The scene changes abruptly from a cityscape to some sort of indoor zoo.


Bones gets a pretty good joke here:



"Enjoy my zoo," Kukulkan says graciously.
"This is a crap zoo," replies Scotty. "The cages are way small."
"No, it's awesome," says Ku. "They're all hooked up to the Matrix, eating their version of steak, and canoodling with their own Ladies in Red Dresses."
"Dude," says Scotty. "Was that city outside our Matrix? Like, did you set that up for us?"
"Yeah. Awesome, right?" asks Ku.
"Not awesome," says Kirk. "That wasn't even our natural environment."
"It should have been!" says Ku, now angry. "I set that shit up for your ancestors, and then they turned evil!"
"What the hell?" demands Kirk. "You don't get to come to our planet and influence our people!"
Yeah, Kirk. This guy has totally heard of the Federation idea of the Prime Directive, and absolutely follows it, all on his own and out of the goodness of his heart.
Now pissed off, Kukulkan actually hisses at them. "Dude, I was totally allowed to do that! I'm freaking lonely out here, okay? I got no friends because my race died out a hella long time ago."



"So I see you guys in the universe, and you're destroying yourselves and running around being little hate-filled monsters," he explains. "And I think to myself that I can help you be better people, so I go to you guys and give you instructions. I figured you would call me back. But you little effers friendzoned me, and never called me back. I sent a probe, and you guys are just as dickish as you were before."
"No way," says Walking Bear. "We're peaceful people now."
"Whatever," says Kukulkan. "You see my animals? Those are peaceful creatures."
"Shit, son," says Bones. "You got a Capellan Power-Cat? Those won't live in captivity, cuz you get too close, and they shock you with 2000 volts. How did you capture that?"



"It was a baby, and I could control it," shrugs Ku. "Same as with you guys. You're still bratty little kids in my eyes."
"Yeah," says Kirk. "But if kids become dependent on their caregivers, then they'll never be anything but kids."
"Whatever!" yells Kukulkan again."You guys ruined my dream!"
Oh, I see. Kirk & Co are bratty children, but Kukulkan is an overly-dramatic teenager. Kukulkan is going to his room, and you better not follow, because he hates you!
Dramatic music! Commercial break!



Upstairs, Spock has decided that the best way to break free from the snowglobe-thing is to bounce power off the inside of it in several places at once, then power-warp the hell out of there. So they shoot phasers off the thing in several places, then blast out the front. They're thrown six or so light years away, and turn to head back to Kukulkan's ship.

Meanwhile, Kirk & Co are driving behind the zoo cages while Kukulkan dives at them. I guess he intends to eat them? But then he stops mid-snatch because something has told him that the E broke free. He checks by projecting an image of the freed Enterprise on the wall, and now the away team knows as well.
"What if we pull the tubes on these cages?" Kirk asks Bones. "Like, shut off the Matrix?"
"Probably nothing in most cases," muses Bones. Then he comes up with the crappiest idea ever: pull the plug on the scariest monster of the lot, the Power-cat.
Because Kirk is just like that, he thinks it's a fabulous idea, and they implement it immediately.
Now the Power-cat is awake, and it is. Pissed. Off.



It runs around the zoo room like a kitten on crack, destroying cages and setting the other animals free.
"You little bitches!" yells Ku. "Look what you've done!"
Outside, the E fires on his ship.
"You knocked the main power out!" Kukulkan howls. "I can't control anything now!"
"Jim, do something!" yells Bones.
What? This was your shitty idea, Bones. Are you going to tell me that you came up with a plan to shake Kukulkan, but never bothered to figure out how to resolve it?
Oh, wait... I forgot I'm watching Star Trek.

Kirk ends up tranquilizing the power-cat with a hypo, but it knocks him across the room in the process.
He gets up, and asks Kukulkan if they can chat.
"Dude, we may be violent, but we can think for ourselves, and choose not to be," he says. "We as a people have outgrown you. We don't need your guidance."
"Yeah, I guess that's true," agrees Ku.


Back on the E, our intrepid trio discusses how Kukulkan's knowledge might have come in handy, but they would have had to have been subservient to him in order to get it. They also talk about the Shakespeare quote that inspired the title of this episode: "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!"
And then both ships fly away from Earth.





I want to like this episode more, I really do. I was excited that they picked the ancient Mayans and Aztecs to base this episode on. But... I can't ignore the fact that this is the exact same episode as "Who Mourns for Adonais?" with a different god inserted into the Apollo role. It even finishes with Kirk telling each god that humanity has outgrown them, and they are no longer needed, before the god goes away forever.
Two cool things about this episode: Kukulkan's ship, and the way that he was animated. Both were done well.



IMDB has been failing me lately for behind-the-scenes stuff on the animated series, so I've been checking on Memory Alpha (the Star Trek wiki) for that info. I found some good, and bittersweet, stuff there.
So Russell Bates, one of the co-writers, had been unsuccessfully trying to pitch a script for a parasite story, but DC Fontana really wanted him to write a script about Natives in space. Maybe she was trying to make amends for that super-shitty Paradise Syndrome. I dunno. Anyway, she wanted him to do it because he's Kiowa, and the idea of Natives in space tickled her fancy. He tried to mash up Natives and parasites. She wasn't biting. So he went with "indigenous god in space," and that piqued her interest. he started out with a Native American god, but felt his choices weren't well-known enough, so moved south into Central America. Co-writer david wise thought the Central American god connection was a good one because of the conspiracy theory that mayan and aztec temples were built by aliens. 
Why is this exactly like "Adonais"? It was designed that way. Bates wrote it as an homage to Gene Coon, who wrote "Adonais." Because of the Adonais thing, most fans are dismissive of this episode (yeah, me included). But Russell Bates was really proud of it, and DC Fontana was pleased with it, and it managed to win Star Trek's only Grammy, as well as a whole host of lesser awards.
Honestly, I don't mind the Natives in Space thing, as long as it's done well. Walking Bear could have been a cool addition to any of the other episodes. And i don't mind them mining the Mesoamerica-alien conspiracy thing for storylines. But the fact that this was essentially a rehash of an earlier episode left me kind of cold. It wasn't necessary to redo "Adonais."

Bonus fun fact: When Uhura asks Spock about finding the missing crew members, and he tells her to get back to work, she was supposed to mutter "pointy-eared fool!" but Nichelle read the rest of the line, got to that part and asked, "Am I really supposed to say that?" It was taken out.

*******

So I bit the bullet and bought two bottles of Teas'Tea today. I had been putting it off because both flavors available are unsweetened, and I like my tea sweet. The thought of the hassle of getting out the tiny funnel and sweetening my tea by hand in the bottle sounded like a pain in the ass. but I decided that I had had enough sweets lately, so I drank the Jasmine Green as is, sans sugar. It was good, refreshing. Jasmine Green always reminds me of Chinese restaurants, and if I'm going to have unsweetened tea, it'll probably be there.
Would recommend.











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