Star Trek Re-Watch: Season 3 Wrap-Up

The third season over, we present our summarized ratings and reflect on that which was:

Title Eugene’s
1. 3×06 Spock’s Brain
Aired: September 20, 1968
¼ Impulse
2. 3×04 The Enterprise Incident
Aired: September 27, 1968
5 5
3. 3×03 The Paradise Syndrome
Aired: October 4, 1968
3 1
4. 3×05 And The Children Shall Lead
Aired: October 11, 1968
1 2
5. 3×07 Is There In Truth No Beauty?
Aired: October 8, 1968
4 5
6. 3×01 Spectre of the Gun
Aired: October 25, 1968
4 3
7. 3×11 Day of the Dove
Aired: November 1, 1968
2 2
8. 3×10 For the World is Hollow
and I Have Touched the Sky

Aired: November 8, 1968
5 4
9. 3×09 The Tholian Web
Aired: November 15, 1968
6 3
10. 3×12 Plato’s Stepchildren
Aired: November 13, 1968
11. 3×13 Wink of an Eye
Aired: November 29, 1968
3 3
12. 3×08 The Empath
Aired: December 6, 1968
2 2
13. 3×02 Elaan of Troyius
Aired: December 20, 1968
4 3
14. 3×16 Whom Gods Destroy
Aired: January 3, 1969
3 2
15. 3×15 Let That Be Your Last Battlefield
Aired: January 10, 1969
2 4
16. 3×17 The Mark of Gideon
Aired: January 17, 1969
2 Impulse
17. 3×14 That Which Survives
Aired: January 24, 1969
3 2
18. 3×18 The Lights of Zetar
Aired: January 31, 1969
2 3
19. 3×21 Requiem for Methuselah
Aired: February 14, 1969
20. 3×20 The Way to Eden
Aired: February 21, 1969
Warp Core
Warp Core
21. 3×19 The Cloud Minders
Aired: February 28, 1969
3 3
22. 3×22 The Savage Curtain
Aired: March 7, 1969
2 1
23. 3×23 All Our Yesterdays
Aired: March 14, 1969
4 5
24. 3×24 Turnabout Intruder
Aired: June 3, 1969

Are there any ratings you would change?

Eugene: To start off on a positive note, I’ll bump “Requiem for Methuselah” up to a Warp 1, slightly narrowing the yawning gap between my rating and Torie’s. I agree that I was far too harsh on it, and it certainly rates much better than the other episodes I rated at a “Full Stop.” And though I re-watched “All Our Yesterdays” not too long ago, the discussion that ensued and Torie’s observations have convinced me to promote it to Warp 5. Finally, I almost gave “The Enterprise Incident” a Warp 6, and I think I’m gonna do it… Yeah, I’m changing it to Warp 6. In retrospect, it was really very good, and I’m now convinced it’s one of the best in the series. There’s no question that it’s the best of the season, and as other pointed out, it kind of marks the downward trajectory of the writing and progressiveness of the show when you compare it to “Turnabout Intruder.”

My memories of “Plato’s Stepchildren” have plagued me since I re-watched it, compelling me to drop it to a “Warp Core Breach.” Really, it was the very definition of terrible. What’s worse then a warp core breach? Because it might deserve that.

Torie: “Plato’s Stepchildren” is getting marked down from “Full Stop” to “Warp Core Breach.” With the perspective of the rest of the season, it is by far the worst episode in Star Trek, period. Likewise, “The Way to Eden” is revised upward from “Warp Core Breach” to “Full Stop.” It’s kind of fun in a silly way, but more importantly it doesn’t approach the devastating new low set by “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

Best episode? Favorite episode?

Eugene: I only rated two episodes a Warp 6, which makes this easy: “The Enterprise Incident” is the best, but my favorite is “The Tholian Web.” If I can mention a runner up for my favorite, it would have to be “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” which had big ideas and touching, believable characterization. And one of the best episode titles in the entire franchise.

Torie: Best is a tough one, even if this is a season without a single Warp 6. I think it’s a dead tie between “The Enterprise Incident” and “All Our Yesterdays.” However, I think my favorite was “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” It’s just such an intriguing idea, beautifully brought to life by Diana Muldaur.

Most disappointing episode?

Eugene: That has to be “Requiem for Methuselah.” Somehow I had fond memories of it, but I can’t imagine how I ever could have liked it, even if it has a nifty title. As you may remember, this one actually made me angry, and I found it ludicrous in every way.

Torie: Can you be disappointed with no expectations? I guess “The Tholian Web,” which had been talked up a great deal and utterly failed to capture my imagination.

Eugene’s final thoughts on Season 3: As hard as it might be to believe, I was pleasantly surprised by season 3. Of course, I was prepared to re-watch a lot of rotten episodes, and many were much, much worse than I feared, but it also had better offerings than I remembered. In my final tally, I gave two Warp 6 ratings, which is two more than I would have thought possible. The season is every bit deserving of its reputation, given that most of the episodes hovered in the 1-3 range–but you can’t completely write it off. Were those handful of solid episodes worth the twenty awful ones? I don’t know. Out of seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, there are about seven hours of television that I’m really glad I saw. So this at least has a better ratio of good to bad, and surely the world is a better place with “The Enterprise Incident” than without.

The thing is, I can’t quite pinpoint why it failed so spectacularly. Fred Freiberger is the obvious scapegoat, but how did his influence actually manifest? Even with a smaller budget, the show’s effects were not noticeably worse than the previous seasons, except in isolated cases, like the man falling from Stratos in “The Cloud Minders” and the time lapse photography in “The Empath.” The acting was fairly standard, with some amazing performances by regular cast and guest stars alike. The costumes were perhaps more ridiculous than usual, but that was always true, especially when beautiful women were in them. On the other hand, the direction and cinematography were markedly awful, in part because of the departure of Jerry Finnerman, who had shot the show since season 1. But what was Marc Daniels’ excuse for his incompetent direction in “Spock’s Brain”?

We can’t even attribute the poorer quality to Roddenberry’s diminished involvement. It’s easy to imagine that the show would have fared better if its captain had gone down with the ship, but he contributed to some of the worst atrocities of the season, and it  didn’t help matters when he tried to use the show to peddle trinkets. Overall, I think the biggest issue was a lower caliber of writing, for whatever reason, and an inconsistency in both episode plots and the show’s tone and philosophy, which all of these problems likely factored into. This could be due to a rushed schedule, or sloppiness because the show was cancelled, or bad rewrites… or maybe the writers were already burned out and didn’t quite know what to do with what they had. Hey, the latter happened even when later series had both money and network support.

What’s most frustrating is that nearly every third season episode had potential for greatness, and viewers were taunted by the memories of the show that was. If there’s any consolation, it’s that it could have been even more of a disaster, without the actors defending their characters and fighting to keep the show more or less on track. Even Freiberger probably did his best in a thankless job with one hand tied behind his back and no chance of a series renewal.

And let’s not forget, the series couldn’t have gone on to success in syndication without the third season to fill out the number of episodes so it could be “stripped” for daily broadcast on local stations.

Kirk: My God, Bones… what have I done?
McCoy: What you had to do. What you always do: turn death into a fighting chance to live.

Syndication is where Star Trek found its core audience and gained enough popularity to spawn a fan culture and franchise that includes five television shows, ten movies, hundreds of media tie-in books, dozens of games, and a whole kit and caboodle of parodies. So I guess the third season was good for something after all, huh?

Then again, by that argument, season 3 is responsible for the existence of Star Trek: Enterprise. Now it all makes sense…

Torie’s final thoughts on Season 3: I was prepared for this from the beginning. Everyone warned me that the third season was awful, but I kind of brushed it off. I figured there wouldn’t be many warp 6s, but none?!

For better or worse, the show has never sustained itself on mediocrity. Most episodes inspired some kind of reasonably intense intellectual or emotional response: reflection and awe at the great ones, or anger and sadness at the terrible ones. But with few in-betweens, the highs are so much higher and the lows are so much lower. This is new to me–I’m used to a steady flow of mediocrity in my television–and it winds up being all the more disappointing to see garbage like “The Paradise Syndrome” branded with the same franchise label as, say, “Balance of Terror” (or even the slightly more similar “This Side of Paradise”). I don’t think I ever felt so unmotivated and depressed as when we hit the halfway mark of the season. I actually went back to read old episode reviews and remind myself that the show was worth watching at some point. This might be a side effect of how the trade-offs shook out. (How is it that I got “The Paradise Syndrome,” “The Empath,” “The Mark of Gideon,” “The Way to Eden,” “The Savage Curtain,” AND “Turnabout Intruder”??) I began to dread these weekly reviews. How could a show that brought me so much become this soul-sucking experience?1

I didn’t mind the budget cuts or the crummy special effects. What bothered me was the sense that the show had lost its coherent vision of what the future represented. We’d flip back and forth from “Plato’s Stepchildren,” with a lengthy speech about inclusiveness, to something like “Turnabout Intruder,” a propagandist indictment of career women. Kirk will go from intense compassion for others in something like “For the World is Hollow” to a complete refusal to help (easily help!) a troubled and suffering race (“Wink of an Eye”). It feels sloppy. The inspiring, can-do, progressive, and adventuring spirit was chucked between drafts 2 and 10, and all that’s left is a skeletal plot, some hammy performances to pick up the slack, and maybe a silly costume or five.

It feels like a parody of itself. The actors can put on the outfits and go through the motions, but the heart and soul of the show–the steadfast belief that mankind can accomplish great things–is shallow, or worse, cliche. There’s no one to blame here but the writers. This is perhaps best illustrated by the third season’s attempts to rip off its own recent stories, forcing otherwise serviceable episodes (say, “Miri”) into a negative feedback loop of absolute dreck (“And the Children Shall Lead”). It’s like they started with a meaty science fictional idea and then crushed it beneath the bootheels of Fred F. to collect the ground-up byproduct that drained through the sewer grate below. Mash that into a patty and ta-da! “The Empath” is served.

It wouldn’t be half so upsetting if there weren’t diamonds in the rough (“The Enterprise Incident” and “All Our Yesterdays” being the obvious examples). The former gives us a Star Trek first: a bona fide spy mission, complete with a competent  female commander (sadly both nameless and the enemy); and a last, the final appearance of the Romulans. It’s strongly plotted, sharply penned, and exciting to watch. “All Our Yesterdays” is, again, among the best the show has to offer: an elegant, if terrifying solution to a science fictional problem. Both happen to involve Spock love stories, which is probably a coincidence.  But they also both involve well-rounded characters trapped in difficult situations who find a way to succeed and prove their mettle in the process. Some episodes are so close, too. What if “Spectre of the Gun,” or “The Lights of Zetar,” had been just a little bit better?

Watching the third season of Star Trek is kind of like running into your high school’s Most Likely to Succeed at McDonald’s. Behind the counter. I mean, what the hell went wrong that this happened? You were gonna be great.

1 Cue flashbacks to a similar experience watching the downfall of my first favorite show, The X-Files.

About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.