Tuesday, June 11, 2013

“I cannot-Yet I must! How do you calculate that?”: The Galileo Seven

Little known fact about Taurus II: It is actually the Bigfoot homeworld.

The key thing to note, I feel, about the second third of the Original Series' first season is that it can in many ways be read as a systematic attempt to reconceptualise the show by redefining the kind and broadening the scope of stories the show can do. Gene Roddenberry had a fairly straightforward pitch for the show: Gulliver's Travels with the Space Air Force. Gene Coon, by contrast has from the beginning set about making overtures to change this, and this will eventually culminate in his two most memorable and defining episodes at the back end of the year. For the time being we still have the setting we inherited from Roddenberry, but Coon is starting to tweak and refine it a little and “The Galileo Seven” takes some of the most clear and obvious steps forward we've seen yet.

Following up on the implications of the teaser and opening act of “Miri”, we have the Enterprise going out of its way to investigate a quasar phenomenon for purely scientific reasons, Kirk claiming he has standing orders to do so whenever he has the opportunity to. This seems like an unusual thing for Earth Command to take an interest in, as it certainly falls outside the jurisdiction of interplanetary patrol and law enforcement. Indeed, this is actually literalized in the narrative, at least from the bridge crew's point of view, as the Enterprise is torn between first investigating the quasar, then rescuing the crashed shuttlecraft, and getting the supply of vaccinations to Makus III on time. Although this plot point obviously exists primarily to give the episode dramatic tension, it is also a clear move away from the sorts of things the show was doing less than a month ago.

While “The Galileo Seven” doesn't take the exploration theme any further, the main thrust of the plot, the marooned science crew and Spock's attempts to command from a purely logical perspective, is new territory for the show in its own way. This episode marks the first real time Star Trek has attempted a story where proper character development is the primary driving force. Under Roddenberry we frequently had episodes dealing with main character's emotions and relationships, but the very structure of the show forced them to be extremely superficial and disposable: Kirk's friendship with Gary Mitchell in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” is there purely for drama and is never followed up on. The same is also true of McCoy's history with Nancy Crater in “The Man Trap”, and while that episode did play with soap opera tropes, with the exception of Rand and Sulu all of those moments were between random extras, most of whom get death-suckered by Salt Vampire not long after they showed up. Plus, Rand's gone now so in hindsight the effectiveness of that scene is dampened.

In this episode, however, the interpersonal conflicts and connections between characters are central to how the whole story works: The entire plot hinges on the fact Spock is determined to handle the situation with disaffected logic as he feels it is the self-evidently correct way to run a command, and the specific situation he's in forces him to see the limitations of his philosophy because not everything in the universe operates according to logical principles. This puts him at immediate odds with McCoy and Boma and is directly responsible for the deaths of Gaetano and Laitmer as well as the attack from the Tauren natives (and incidentally imagine for a moment how horrific these scenes would have been had this been Number One instead of Spock). While it's true this is yet another iteration of the logic versus emotions theme, this episode handles it with more complexity and nuance than we've seen in the past: There's a genuine debate going on here-While Spock's choices do cause measurable harm to the team, he's also very clearly the best person suited to being in command and it's his leadership that eventually helps pull them through. Furthermore, the episode is explicitly *about* this debate: There's no moral to be told and no lawbreaker to be perpetrated, “The Galileo Seven” is entirely about how Spock deals with a crisis situation and how his friends and co-workers respond to that.

It's the addition of the word “friends” to the end of that last paragraph that's another way this episode expands Star Trek: There's a sense of friendship and camaraderie here for the first time. We got hints of this in things as early as “The Man Trap”, but “The Galileo Seven” is really the first time we've seen the show embrace it as an important part of what it is. Kirk comes right out and states that he refuses to abandon the search even when things look hopeless not only because he doesn't want to feel responsible for seven deaths, but because the people in the survey team are his friends. Similarly, even when Spock pushes McCoy to the point of explosion, he remains more exasperated and frustrated than offended. DeForest Kelley's inimitable believability and humanness sells this perfectly, and we really do get the sense from him that McCoy understands Spock and can read him like a book. In the past, the main characters, especially Kirk, Spock and McCoy, were mostly there to articulate sides in a debate, hence the popular interpretation of them as standing in for the id, ego and superego, but here they seem more like actual characters for the first time. This is very much to the show's benefit and it's all Coon, as it comes naturally right out of Kirk's compassion for Miri and Spock's and McCoy's concern for Kirk in “The Conscience of the King”.

If there's one criticism to be had of this episode, it's that the version of Spock the story seems written for occasionally comes across as a different one than the version of Spock Leonard Nimoy actually seems to want to be playing. The central conflict relies in some sense on Spock operating like an unfeeling logic machine and this alienating his shipmates to the point of open hostility. But ever since at least “The Naked Time”, it's been clear that Spock isn't a purely logical automaton, but someone defined by his internal turmoil brought upon by his mixed Vulcan and human ancestry. Whether or not Spock's climactic choice to jettison the Galileo's fuel supply is to be seen as an “act of desperation” as McCoy and Kirk read it or a logical option to take when all others have been exhausted (I personally think a compelling case could be made for either), every other move Spock makes is one of discreet logic, down to his “overflow error” brought upon by realising his logical decisions have resulted in the deaths of two people and the ire of the Taurens.

But Nimoy's not exactly playing the character that way: He infuses Spock's orders with a fundamental tension and stress, most noticeable when he snaps at Boma and Gaetano about their desire to hunt down the Taurens and his smug statement to them later on that “Fortunately, I am in command”. It's clear McCoy is right and that Spock is eager to use this mission as an opportunity to prove perhaps not his own natural superiority in making command decisions, but that of logic as a guiding principle, and that he's getting progressively more irritated when it doesn't work out for him. Certainly there's some of this to be found in the script as well; the denouement can't really be seen as anything less than the show flatly telling us Spock was wrong and this episode was rewritten by Shimon Wincelberg, who has already shown himself to be good at injecting Star Trek with some much-needed complexity, but I still get the sense that the original idea here was a straight logic versus intuition conflict. However, with some fine-tuning from people like Coon, Wincelberg and especially Kelley and Nimoy, it becomes a character study about Spock, and the first such story proper in all of Star Trek.

Elsewhere “The Galileo Seven” demonstrates further growth in other areas. Kirk's linking narration in this episode is some of the most pensive, dramatic and poetic dialogue he's been given yet, and William Shatner sinks his teeth right into it:

"Captain's Log, stardate 2821.7. The electromagnetic phenomenon known as Murasaki 312 whirls like some angry blight in space. A depressive reminder that seven of our shipmates still have not been heard from. Equally bad, the effect has rendered our normal searching systems useless. Without them we are blind, and almost helpless." '

"Captain's Log, stardate 2822.3. We continue to search. But I find it more difficult each moment to ward off a sense of utter futility, and... great loss."

Shatner's portrayal of Kirk here is one of my favourites in the series so far, building off of the Shakespearean gravitas established in “The Conscience of the King” and depicting his overstated, unwavering resolve to find the crew of the Galileo any way he can. The scene on the bridge at the end is also something really special: After McCoy catches him up on what happened on Taurus, Kirk actually teases Spock about making an impulsive, emotional move, after which Spock agrees he's stubborn and everyone laughs the show to fadeout. It's a charming scene, and something that absolutely could not have been done before now. Pike would never do something like that, and his crew didn't feel at all close enough to joke around in this way. The laughter itself is consciously overstated and overacted, almost to the point of feeling insincere, but it fits with the show's newfound theatrical bombast perfectly.

Also stellar in this episode is, actually, Nichelle Nichols, who gets more to do as Uhura here then she's ever had before. It's wonderful that without Spock, McCoy or Scott around Kirk turns to her as his trusted second in command, as Uhura is seen doing double duty as both her regular post as communications officer and filling in the science station in Spock's absence. The scenes where Kirk asks her for updates on the sensor and transporter issues are lovely, as Nichols plays Uhura deeply empathetic with Kirk's pain and his frustration at being unable to take any real action, and it's clear her presence is a comfort to him. There's more friendship, loyalty and support between Kirk and Uhura in these brief vignettes than there were in eleven episodes between Kirk and Rand under Roddenberry. This is Coon's Star Trek taking an unmistakeable stand, as is the character of Boma, who, despite, becoming one of the biggest sources of the episode's conflict, is portrayed as being unchangeably honourable, competent and loyal. Under Roddenberry we had women and nonwhite characters as background extras; under Coon they've become lead roles.

“The Galileo Seven” isn't perfect, but it's easy to see why it became an early fan favourite. We've had more noticeable steps toward improving the show and making it work on a regular basis in the past two episodes then we have in the entirety of the previous eleven. There's no way even a few weeks ago we could have predicted Star Trek was going to be able to do Shakespearean drama or an egalitarian character study. That said, while Gene Coon and his staff have made great leaps in improving Star Trek's progressiveness already, some worrying aspects do still remain, mostly in regards to the show's inherent militarism and fixation on the chain of command. While the show may be a far friendlier place to women and nonwhite people now, this is going to be the biggest challenge it's going to have to overcome. It seems Coon knew this, however, because his next few episodes tackle these issues head on.


  1. I wish I had anything interesting to say here, but I just wanted to comment that I came here from the TARDIS Eruditorum, and I'm really loving your blog. I love TOS, just as I love DS9 and to a lesser extent Next Generation, and so I'm excited to read about the evolution of the themes in Star Trek, something I've mostly missed watching it out of order on reruns. I only read two blogs total, yours and that one, so I just wanted to let you know you've made another fan!

    One question I guess: The Temporal Incursion post really threw me off when I was first reading through. Can I ask why you did those stories that way? Were those posts mostly leftovers from an earlier blog? Were you just really interested in production order versus broadcast order? And, to help out poor individuals like me who are new to the blog, could you put a note somewhere around that post that explains where the Naked Time/Man Trap/No Man has Gone Before posts are, so I don't waste 45 minutes clicking randomly through your archive before I realise that they're at the other end of what I assumed was just a short story you had written and linked to?

    Anyways, thanks so much for the posts, and I just wish more people commented so I could get some more thoughts on these episodes.

    1. Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad I can be of help introducing anyone to the history of Star Trek.

      I know the Temporal Incursion post has wrongfooted a few people, and I'm sorry that's happened. The key thing to know about it is that it's essentially a choose-your-own-adventure story with two branching paths, each with three unique entries. The basic idea was in fact the production order/airdate order discrepancy, but it's a bit more ambitious than just that: It also introduces a major reoccurring thematic thread and framing device I don't want to explain too much of right now, but it's something I'm going to be working a lot with throughout the entire course of the blog. Some of this will hopefully start to become more clear in the next two weeks or so. The Temporal Incursion post was not a one-off, I will say that ;-)

      You're very welcome, and thank *you* for stopping by!

    2. I would just say that though you're trying to weave the temporal incursion idea into the blog (and I quite liked it once I figured out what was going on) it might be helpful to introduce it. Like in the entry, just have something that says "we're going to do something different for the next couple entries, click here to read on." Or just have something in the previous entry that highlights that next weeks is going to be a bit off, that's all. Anyways, excited to see where that thread goes!

  2. After posting far too much on your Court Martial, I thought I’d drift back slightly; not quite a Temporal Incursion, though I admit they were a bit off-putting for me, too (and much more difficult to comment on, though in my case that may not be a bad thing). This was one of about three episodes I knew best as a boy, because Hazel Grove Library had photonovels of them. So I remember it fondly, and as having hilarious ‘monsters’, but find it more difficult to watch now…

    Though as you say there are interesting attempts to broaden the show – science missions, and a different attitude to logic – my problem with it as a character drama is that so many of the characters aren’t characters but walking plot functions. And that McCoy is a far bigger drain on morale than anything Spock does (as is Ferris, who like Spock is often logically right but an efficiency-sapping morale-breaker). Even the end scene is, for me, coloured by all the other ‘let’s pick on Spock for being Vulcan’ scenes, which comes across less friendly than… Well, there are plenty of words for it. Bizarre that while in casting they’re making stands with non-white characters, the scripts veer more towards ‘the uppity alien just has to put up with the racist banter and he literally has no sense of humour about it’. Which is an utterly weird juxtaposition. I’m with you on how great Kirk’s / Shatner’s narration is, though.

    Spock’s given almost exactly the same decision to make as “Kodos the Executioner”, isn’t he? I suppose Kirk is too traumatised to mention it.

    1. I agree the later characterization of Spock is a seriously problematic one: Far, far too many scenes are made from McCoy being flatly speciesist to Spock, which is intolerably read as "friendly ribbing" by far too many Star Trek fans. For a franchise ostensibly about liberal ideals, this is almost enough to scuttle the show in the here and now.

      I guess the reason I didn't pick up on it as much here is because this is one of the first times in the show stuff like this starts to become noticeable, and it still feels a bit like an extension of the earlier logic vs. emotions debates at this point. But you're right: This is not an excuse for how Spock and McCoy's relationship evolves at all.