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By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 3, 2006 - 10:28 PM GMT

See Also: 'Catspaw' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When crewman Jackson returns from an away team mission dead while Scotty and Sulu go missing, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to the planet, where they find a haunted castle right out of a Halloween theme park. They meet two beings, Korob and Sylvia, who appear to be human - well, Sylvia sometimes appears to be a cat - but they have remarkable powers, from the ability to turn Enterprise crewmember into obedient zombies to the ability to use sympathetic magic to make the ship overheat and trap it in a force field. Korob explains that they are from another galaxy and are supposed to be on a mission of investigation, but Sylvia enjoys the physical sensations available to her in the form of a human woman and tries to seduce Kirk to further explore her sensuality. When she figures out that Kirk has no feelings for her, she threatens to kill his entire crew. Korob helps Kirk escape, explaining that their power comes from a transmuter, which Kirk figures out must be the wand that Korob carries. He smashes the transmuter, forcing Sylvia and Korob back into their natural form as delicate blue insects that die in the harsh atmosphere of the planet and causing the zombified away team members retrieve their willpower.

Analysis: This is one of the very silliest storylines ever produced on the original series, yet it's entertainingly played and visually unique. Spock hypothesizes that the particular haunted house into which the crew stumbles was created from their subconscious minds, guessing that Sylvia and Korob believed that they were accessing actual human places and memories rather than nightmares and fantasy, but one has to wonder which members of the starship's crew are so terrified of the classic cliches of Western horror. As Kirk notes repeatedly, it's a lot like Trick or Treat, which to most children is about the fun of exploring intimidating things like ghosts, skeletons and witches, not the terrors that made those things fearsome in the first place like superstitions about the Black Death and the hazards of childbirth in an era before modern medicine. Either this crew has a very limited imagination when it comes to horror or Spock's theory is just plain off.

Yet the episode begins on a somber, eerie note with a dead crewman and ends on a similarly dark tone, with the aliens expiring and Kirk expressing his unhappiness about Jackson's senseless loss. It's as if the writer and director couldn't decide whether to go with the potential humor or try to stick to serious science fiction, resulting in a bit of a mess thematically. (The comic elements are amplified helplessly on DVD; the skeleton and dungeon accoutrements look extremely cheesy with the newly clear transfer, and it's impossible to miss the puppet strings that animate the insectlike Sylvia and Korob at the end.)

DeForest Kelley plays McCoy through much of the early episode as if he just can't quite take any of this seriously, not even the death - maybe that's why he has to be zombified. Meanwhile Shatner plays gamely along for Kirk's attempted seduction of Sylvia, disinterested in her cruelty perhaps but certainly not disinterested in her power. There is real chemistry, perhaps because Sylvia is one of the strongest women with whom we have seen Kirk, and it's hard to tell for awhile whether the captain remembers that this woman has killed a crewmember.

It's hard to tell exactly what to make of the relationship between Korob and Sylvia. On some level he's evidently jealous, though whether this is over her fearlessness, her ability to relish sensation or her bonding with another man, it's hard to say. He has plenty of opportunities to rescue the Enterprise crew and get Kirk out of his hair before he decides that he must intervene in Sylvia's plans, even though he's already told her that she's violating the very reasons they have come to study this galaxy.

If only we had some backstory! How many other planets have these aliens visited? Are Korob and Sylvia long-term partners or is this a relatively recent development? If the transmuter can convince Scotty that he wants to obey Sylvia, how come it can't convince Kirk that he loves her? Why kill a crewmember just to send a message in the mouth of a dead man - Sylvia hadn't yet killed, so she hadn't yet acquired a taste for killing - when there are so many ways they could have scared the crew without resorting to murder, which they must have been able to tell even from subconscious thoughts would arouse the crew's interest and suspicion? Did Sylvia specifically want to attract more people down to the surface?

Visually the gimmicks are cheap but fun; my kids were amused by the black cat who sounds at all times like she needs to be fed, and the crew makes entertaining faces provided first with what looks like the start-of-term feast from Harry Potter that magically appears on the tables, then the plates of gemstones that replace it. There are fun pervy images for adult pervy fans - the dungeon, the iron maiden - and conversation about all the things that make Fundamentalists go berserk, like animal familiars sent by Satan to aid warlocks and witches who use their ability to take on sexual personae to lead good men astray. "I could squash you and that would be an interesting sensation," announces Sylvia gleefully. Then, when she realizes that Kirk's kisses are all for show, "There is no fire in your mind! You will be swept away...you, your men, your ship, your worlds!"

The giant stalking cat may be the oddest bad guy from whom the crew must flee, and it's hard not to be sad about the smoking corpse of the bug-thing she later turns out to be, even if she is a heartless murderess. There really is not a lot of substance here to comment upon, but I'm sorry we don't get to know Sylvia better. Traces of her show up on the later series - she and The Next Generation's Ardra are soul sisters - yet there's not quite the same gleeful, shameless sensuality, accompanied by a certainty that she can and will have her way.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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