Star Trek Re-Watch: “Wink of an Eye”

Wink of an Eye
Written by Arthur Heinemann (story by Lee Cronin)
Directed by Jud Taylor

Season 3, Episode 11
Production episode: 3×13
Original air date: November 29, 1968
Star date: 5710.5

Mission summary

Enterprise visits scenic Scalos in response to a distress call. While Mr. Scott keeps the captain’s seat warm, Kirk takes a landing party to investigate the source of the transmission, a seemingly abandoned Scalosian city. Ship’s sensors seem a little buggy, and although Uhura can see the Scalosians on the viewscreen, she can’t see the Enterprise team standing at the same coordinates. Meanwhile, the landing party doesn’t see anyone either, and Dr. McCoy’s scanner doesn’t register life–not even the insect Kirk hears buzzing around his head. Spock’s eyes and years of training tell him there was an advanced, humanoid civilization here, and he must have better apps on his tricorder than McCoy:

Instrument readings indicate life-forms, but of a highly unusual and intermittent nature. They have no discernible form or location. A most puzzling phenomenon, Captain. I shall have to study it further.

Then McCoy sees Compton, a red shirt who has been playing in the water fountain, buzz off into thin air. Spooked, the crew returns to the ship. Dr. McCoy examines the remaining members of the landing party in Sickbay while Kirk plays back the Scalosian message Uhura saved on his DVR.

To any and all space travelers passing within range of the planet Scalos, I send you an urgent appeal for help. My comrades and I are the last surviving members of what was once a thriving civilization. Those of us who are left have taken shelter in this area. We have no explanation for what has been happening to us. Our number is now five. We were once a nation of nine hundred thousand.

Spock states the obvious: this was probably a pre-recorded message. But that doesn’t explain where the Scalosians went. He surmises that “some force or agent only partially discernible to our instruments may have been responsible.” But they have other troubles now–since they beamed up from the planet, gremlins seem to have infected the ship: multiple systems are freezing up, faster than the repair crews can respond. McCoy has some news too, but he can only tell Kirk in person. He’s lonely.

No wonder he wanted to keep this information off an open channel: Nurse Chapel reports that someone has been opening supply cabinets and looking at things. It’s probably poltergeists or a junkie crewman looking for his drug fix, and Kirk is more concerned by the persistent buzzing sound in his ears and something touching him. McCoy gives him a clean bill of health and assures him he isn’t hallucinating, which means there are intruders aboard. Spock calls, just as shipwide communications cut out, to tell him that “alien substances” are being introduced to the life support systems. Kirk orders communicators and phasers for everyone (now it’s a party!), and rushes to join the Vulcan at Environmental Engineering.

An odd force field in the corridor prevents two red shirts from approaching Life Support, but Kirk and Spock are allowed to pass. Inside, they find an alien machine plugged into the console that shocks them when they touch it. Since they can’t study the device or turn it off, they decide to destroy it–but something snatches their phasers from their hands and shoves them backward. They can look but not touch, which will hardly satisfy the captain.

KIRK: A show of strength.
SPOCK: Yes. Evidently they are convinced that we can do nothing to stop them, and they wish to impress upon us what they can do to us.

They ask the computer for advice, but it’s just as confused as they are–unsurprising since it knows only as much as they do. It tells them they’re pretty well hosed and recommends they negotiate for terms. Kirk hates that idea: “My recommendation? Make them take the next step.”

Maybe coffee will help clear their heads! Distracted by that buzzing sound, Kirk fails to notice an “alien substance” being introduced to his cup just before he sips it. He makes a face after swallowing the concoction, and shortly afterward he gets a nasty caffeine buzz and notices his crew moving really sloooowwwlllyyyy and then seem to freeze in place.

The camera angle also slants and the Scalosian woman from the distress call appears by the turbolift. Kirk demands an explanation but she cuts him off with a kiss, already fluent in his favorite language. But he doesn’t go for anonymous hookups, so he asks her name.

DEELA: Deela. The enemy.
KIRK: You’re the enemy?
DEELA: Yes. You beamed me aboard yourself when you came up. A ridiculously long process, but I’ve taken care of it.
KIRK: What have you done with my men?
DEELA: Nothing.
KIRK: Nothing? Mr. Spock? Scotty. This is nothing?
DEELA: There’s really nothing wrong with them. They are just as they have always been. It’s you who are different.
KIRK: Lieutenant Sulu. This is nothing?
DEELA: They cannot hear you, Captain. To their ears, you sound like an insect. That’s your description, Captain. Accurate, if unflattering. Really, there is nothing wrong with them.
KIRK: What have you done?
DEELA: Changed you. So you are like me now. Your crew cannot see you or any of us because of the acceleration. We move in the wink of an eye. Oh, there is a scientific explanation for it, but all that really matters is that you can see me and talk to me, and we can go on from there.

There’s some handwaving if I ever heard it. Well, there’s no scientific explanation, so let’s just forget it. It’s all perfectly plausible, and she doesn’t exactly like the captain for his mind. She reveals she’s been kissing him invisibly all along and demonstrates her technique again for him, but nothing ruins the mood for Kirk more than a threat to his ship. He pulls a phaser on her, but she easily sidesteps the beam and shows him hers–a weapon that can be set for stun, destroy, and “send the opponent’s weapon flying out of his hand.” Deela identifies herself as the Scalosian Queen. She intends to make him her King and will never let the Enterprise go, promising that eventually he’ll come around and won’t care about his crew anymore.

Kirk runs off the Bridge, and the camera angle returns to normal–the Bridge crew has just noticed Kirk’s abrupt disappearance after drinking his coffee. Meanwhile, Kirk returns to Environmental Engineering and discovers Compton, also accelerated since he vanished on the planet. Apparently he’s been drinking the Scalosian Kool-Aid, having shown them how to take over the ship. Kirk struggles with him and bursts into the Life Support room, where he is promptly stunned by a Scalosian weapon. Compton tries to protect him and is knocked down and out for his trouble.

As Spock takes Kirk’s coffee to the medical lab for study, Deela arrives at Life Support. Kirk wakes up and asks about the device they’ve attached to the console. It’s a work in progress, and the Scalosian engineer Rael cautions Kirk not to touch it–but of course the captain does, hesitantly at first, then clamping his hands on it though its defense mechanism causes him intense, numbing pain. Then he notices Compton on the floor, in a state of accelerated age–the side effect of “cellular damage” on the Scalosian level. Rael convinces Kirk that he’s the one who injured the poor red shirt, and Kirk runs off to try to contact Spock in the lab. Rael plays the jealousy card on Deela and forces a kiss on her, and she instructs him, “Go back to work.”

She finds Kirk recording a message, with a frozen Spock, McCoy, and Chapel studying his coffee nearby. The captain seems to be trying to slow his words down so they can hear him, speaking…in…halting…sentences:

Hyperacceleration is the key. I have counted only five of them aboard, but they have taken over the ship, and we are under their control due to this acceleration. They are able to speed others up to their level, as they did Compton and me. Presumably, this is enslavement? Those so treated exist at this accelerated level, becoming docile eventually.

Deela feeds him more details as he warns Spock that they’ve hooked up an alien air conditioner to Life Support to keep the crew in suspended animation, so they can use them for breeding stock as needed. A series of natural disasters polluted the Scalosians’ water and released radiation that sped them up and rendered the men sterile. They’ve been transmitting distress signals to lure mates to their sexy doom.

DEELA: Captain, we have the right to survive.
KIRK: Not by killing others.
DEELA: You were doing exactly the same thing. You came charging into that life-support room the minute you knew there was trouble. You would have killed every one my people if you could have.
KIRK: You invaded my ship. You threaten my crew.
DEELA: There is no difference.
KIRK: There is a difference! Your trouble is in _you_.
DEELA: We did not ask for it. We are not to blame. We are handling it the only way we know how. The way our parents and their parents before them.

Then he offers to help her find another way, but she refuses. Rael calls her to tell her the air conditioner is ready and she should beam down to Scalos with Kirk. The captain slips his message tape into Spock’s console and zips down to the transporter room to sabotage it while Deela’s looking the other way. With Rael’s plan thwarted for the moment, the only thing Kirk and Deela can do is go to his quarters to get to know each other better.

In normal time, McCoy detects a substance in the captain’s coffee cup that is also found in Scalosian water, and sets the computer to developing a cure. Spock makes a breakthrough of his own–he plays the recording of the Scalosian distress call at a high enough speed to make their speech sound just like the buzzing they’ve all heard. Just in time–McCoy discovers Kirk’s tape in the machine, and now Spock knows to slow it down to play it, which, uh, gets him up to speed on the invaders’ plan. Scotty suggests they play on the Scalosians’ level, and the Vulcan agrees. He orders the engineer to “stand by in the transporter room.”

Which Scotty takes literally–frozen in the doorway from an accelerated perspective–as Rael and his assistant try to repair the transporter. Rael tries to call Deela with an update, but she isn’t taking his calls. She and Kirk have been a little preoccupied with each other, judging from the fact that he’s sitting on his bed and pulling his boots on. Rael turns up and flies into a jealous rage. He attacks Kirk, but the captain fends him off with an office chair until Deela zaps Rael and lectures him.

DEELA: Don’t you dare do anything like that again. It’s contemptible.
RAEL: Then don’t torment me. You know how I feel.
DEELA: I don’t care what your feelings are. I don’t want to know that aspect of it. What I do is necessary, and you have no right to question it. Allow me the dignity of liking the man I select. Is the transporter repaired?
RAEL: No. I have more work to do.
DEELA: Don’t you think you’d better do it?

Rael takes off and Kirk pretends that he’s adjusted into the docile companion she wanted. In normal time, McCoy comes up with a counteragent to the Scalosian water. Spock intentionally drinks the water to speed himself up so he can deliver the cure to the captain, who has stolen Deela’s weapon as well as her heart. Kirk meets up with Spock in the corridor to Life Support, and they use Deela’s weapon to zap Rael and destroy the air conditioner.

Deela arrives and takes her defeat well enough. Kirk asks her what they should do with her people and she says if they send them back to their planet, they’ll die off, since the Federation will warn other ships of their tricks. Seems as good a solution as anyway. In the transporter room, where Scotty is still standing by, Deela tries to convince the captain to join her one more time, but Kirk refuses: “I can think of nothing I’d rather do than stay with you. Except staying alive.” They beam the Scalosians down to their inevitable deaths and Spock gives Kirk the cure. At first it doesn’t seem to work, but then he starts to slow down from Spock’s vantage point, while Scotty speeds up from Kirk’s own perspective.

Kirk returns to the Bridge, while Spock makes repairs to the ship at super speed before popping back into normal time next to the captain’s chair:

KIRK: Mr. Spock, my compliments to your repair work and yourself.
SPOCK: Thank you, Captain. I found it an “accelerating” experience.
KIRK: Yes.

It would hardly do to fire his first officer after he saved the day, so Kirk just ignores the terrible pun. Uhura accidentally replays the Scalosian message one more time, and Kirk says a sad good-bye to Deela.

Analysis

So there’s obviously some shoddy science going on here–the script even tries to distract us from it. I originally misheard Deela’s line about Kirk trying to record a message for Spock, “His species is capable of much affection,” as “His species is capable of much fiction,” and that’s pretty much what Star Trek is here, more fiction than science. I usually don’t have a problem with that, but this premise just doesn’t hold up under even the most casual scrutiny. The speed at which the Scalosians move versus everyone else on Enterprise isn’t remotely consistent. I’m sure someone has calculated the correct differential, but that’s beyond me. Surely months or years have passed for Kirk and the Scalosians in the time it takes Scotty to walk into the transporter room. And how does the water accelerate Kirk’s clothes?

Even so, I delighted in the way the hyperacceleration was demonstrated, with the buzzing sounds (which I imagined to be crying “Heeeelp meee…” in the best imitation of the Fly) and the slowing of everyone’s motions as Kirk sped up. I could have done without the crazy camera angles as a shorthand for Scalosian time, but I admire the effort; perhaps they could should have gone with a different color filter, or some softer lighting. I also loved Spock’s accelerated, invisible repairs of the ship. In general, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are at their best here: clever, resourceful, and competent as they defeat the Scalosians, a welcome change from some of their recent blunders. Some things do happen a bit too easily for them, but they approach this very unscientific situation rationally and logically. Since I immediately remembered that this was the episode where everyone moves fast (especially Deela! Wooooo!) , I wonder how the revelation of the source of the buzzing and shipboard malfunctions plays out for first-time viewers, though.

What really salvages this one for me is Deela. Like Natira in “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” she is a strong woman leading her people under difficult, even impossible conditions. She takes what she wants from Kirk unapologetically and instills both fear and confidence in her followers. Though tough on Rael, she’s fair, and shows compassion for his feelings though she doesn’t return his love. She’s free with the exposition, of course, but she also reveals wisdom and evokes sympathy, with some of the best lines of the episode. When she defends her actions, their right to survive whatever the cost, she tells Kirk, “We all die, even on Scalos,” foreshadowing their ultimate end, which she accepts gracefully.

DEELA: Don’t make a game of it, Captain. We’ve lost.
KIRK: If I sent you to Scalos, you’d undoubtedly play the same trick on the next spaceship that passed by.
DEELA: There won’t be any others. You’ll warn them. Your federation will quarantine the entire area.
KIRK: Yes, I suppose it would.
DEELA: And we will die and solve your problem that way. And ours.

Under better circumstances, she might make an ideal match for Captain Kirk–as strong-willed, caring, and ruthless as he is. In turn, she admires his “stubborn and irritating and independent” qualities. She’s as good a queen as he is a captain. Perhaps Kirk feels this connection too, as he demonstrates genuine feelings for her at the end (and presumably during their quickie in his quarters), or maybe he just regrets the sad end to the Scalosian civilization. Interesting that she chooses to die on her planet rather than accept stasis, when the Federation conceivably could find a cure for them one day.

All that taken into consideration, I still think it’s creepy that she was kissing him in super speed and touching him when he wasn’t aware of it…

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: Yay, return of the painted backdrop! Am I the only one who likes those?

Neither the science nor the plot hold up to scrutiny (How did Deela become attracted to Kirk’s brashness if she doesn’t see him move or speak in real time? Wouldn’t hundreds of her years pass in the hour or two that McCoy and Spock look for a cure?), but I’m willing to forgive it because the premise is just so intriguing. The tilted camera was cliche thanks to Batman but it was effective–they literally seem to step out of their reality. The buzzing was clever, too, and watching Spock figure it out in real time gave the same thrill as reading a mystery novel and figuring out the clues just a moment before the detective does.

I also couldn’t hate anything that reminded me so much of one of my favorite Futurama episodes. When Fry drinks his 100th cup of coffee, he goes into a similar acceleration of time.

Overall this felt kind of like a cross between Bewitched and Bedazzled (the one with sexy Satan, not the original). Deela is cute, perky, and kind of charming, even if she is admittedly the enemy. I liked her uncompromising approach. It’s clear that she has accepted the course of action she takes only because none other is available. She makes no apologies for her way of life–they have “the right to survive,” like anyone else–and they’re handling it “the only way we know how.” But she seems genuinely sorry that this is the case, and appears sincere in her apologies to Kirk for forcing this on him. She also clearly likes Kirk for who he is, and I liked her disappointment when his show of contentment quashed exactly what made him so attractive to her. When he gets the better of her, she’s pleased in her own way: “I would’ve been disappointed if you hadn’t tried.”

Another nice touch: Kirk running into Spock in the accelerated time, and the two of them wordlessly acknowledging each other and heading for life support. They don’t even need to speak, they know exactly what they’re both up to.

But as much as I was inclined to like this one, I absolutely cannot forgive it for having the most senselessly cruel ending of any episode in the series. Kirk decides to let their entire race die as the “solution” to both of their problems. Why doesn’t Kirk share the cure with them? They can manufacture it! The Scalosians are obviously miserable in their isolated existence, and it’s clear that their otherwise abhorrent behavior would be rendered entirely unnecessary if they were able to live out their lives normally. There is no reason to deny them the cure to their condition. That’s just horrific and unforgivable.

Also unforgivable: the costumes.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 3

Best Line: DEELA: I’m glad we’re both innocents. I despise devious people, don’t you?

Syndication Edits: None.

Trivia: The origin of this episode may be traced to an episode of The Wild Wild West, “The Night of the Burning Diamond” (written by John Kneubuhl and inspired by the H.G. Wells short story “The New Accelerator“), in which a villain speeds himself up to steal jewels, at the risk of setting himself on fire from the friction of moving at the “wink of an eye.” (A neat scientific conceit that Star Trek threw out the window with the Scalosian bath water.) The episode aired during Gene L. Coon’s tenure as producer on that show, and he has the story credit for “Wink of an Eye” (as Lee Cronin). The Wild Wild West episode also used Star Trek communicator chirps to represent how hyperaccelerated people perceive the sound of those in normal time (“the separate vibrations of the sound wave”).

The show snuck an implied sex scene past the censors by showing Deela brushing her hair while Kirk pulls his boots on at his bed.

This episode made heavy use of recycled footage, including Scotty in the command chair in the teaser (which will be seen in the upcoming “The Empath”); a shot of the viewscreen showing Chekov and Hadley from behind, Chekov’s only appearance in this episode; and a matte painting of Eminiar VII from “A Taste of Armageddon.” The only original set created for “Wink of an Eye” was the Scalosian fountain, designed by Matt Jefferies, who also designed the Scalosian weapons.

Other notes: You can blame director Jud Taylor for the tilted camera angle to show the Scalosian hyperacceleration, borrowed from Batman. Again. And it won’t be the last time, either.

Kathie Browne, who played Deela, married Darren McGavin, a.k.a. Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

This is worth noting in case you missed it like I did. In The Nitpicker’s Guide for Classic Trekkers, Phil Farrand points out that while Kirk lies on the medical bed, a tuft of his hair moves as we hear the buzzing sound: the hyperaccelerated, and thus invisible, Deela kissing him and tousling his hair. A neat and very subtle effect.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 10 – “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 12 – “The Empath.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

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 fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.