I started this Pick with a simple idea: recommend a single episode of the original Star Trek series for someone who has never seen the show. Out of those 79 episodes, surely there’s one that’s a perfect encapsulation of what makes the show so popular almost 50 years later and launched one of the biggest fandoms…well…ever.
Going in, I thought my biggest problem would be convincing people to give a show that’s almost half a century old (Wow, that sounds like a long time when stated that way.) a chance in the first place. The first objection I usually get is that the special effects look incredibly bad. I have a counter to that now, thanks to Star Trek Remastered. A few years ago, every episode of the original series was remastered for high definition televisions, and, at the same time, they were updated with new effects. The show looks as good as it ever has.
As for the other objections, such as the…let’s call it “stylized” acting and semi-ridiculous soft lighting of the female characters, I just have to say that the show was a product of another time. Styles of storytelling and acting may change over the years. That doesn’t mean that it’s no longer worth watching.
But what episode to watch? “Best of” lists invariably put “The City on the Edge of Forever” at the top of the heap. I can’t disagree. The episode, in which Captain Kirk faces an impossible choice while attempting to save the universe he knows, is wonderful. But, thanks to a bit of time travel, it’s also set primarily in the 1930s and doesn’t involve the Starship Enterprise or the rest of the crew, other than Mr. Spock, much at all.
Other episodes on these lists, such as “The Naked Time” and “Mirror, Mirror,” are also fantastic, but they depend on viewers understanding the characters and the setting of the show. “Mirror, Mirror,” which involves a parallel universe, would be near-meaningless to someone unfamiliar with Star Trek.
I’ve gone a long way around to say that my pick this week is “Balance of Terror.” This episode from Star Trek’s first season involves a cat-and-mouse game between the Enterprise and an alien ship that can turn invisible and has been attacking various stations and outposts. As the crew struggles to outwit and deal with some revelations about the nature of their foe, we also have several scenes set aboard the rival (in this case, the Romulan) ship showing that these aliens are not blood-thirsty monsters, but instead intelligent beings coming at the situation from a different perspective. This coming to understand “the other” type of plot is a regular part of Star Trek. Additionally, “Balance of Terror” features solid performances from series leads William Shatner, as Captain Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy, as Mr. Spock.
And if you like that, I can recommend a bunch more! But at the very least, watch Season 2’s “The Trouble with Tribbles.” It’s a lot of fun. I promise.
- Alan Decker
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