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Operation: Annihilate!

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 9, 2005 - 8:09 PM GMT

See Also: 'Operation: Annihilate!' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: On the way to the planet Deneva, the Enterprise crew watches in horror as a pilot flies his ship into the sun, shouting that he is free. Kirk, whose brother's family lives on Deneva, is alarmed to hear from Spock that madness has swept planets in a direct line through the galaxy leading to Deneva. Upon beaming down, Kirk finds his brother dead, his sister-in-law raving and his nephew unconscious. When Spock is attacked by a flying creature that resembles a brain cell, McCoy finds that the Vulcan's nervous system - as well as that of everyone on Deneva - is infested with tentacles from the creatures, which generate extreme pain to force their victims to help them move from planet to planet. Kirk wonders whether the creatures might be sensitive to brilliant light, a theory which is borne out when McCoy exposes Spock to very bright light, curing him but leaving him blind. Then the doctor discovers that the invisible part of the spectrum affects the creatures most strongly, so Kirk deploys satellites around Deneva to bombard the planet with ultraviolet rays. McCoy is very upset that he blinded Spock unnecessarily, but Spock recovers, having forgotten momentarily that Vulcans have an inner eyelid to protect them from their planet's intense sunlight.

Analysis: Some episodes of the original series hold up just as well or better on DVD as they did when originally aired. Some, unfortunately, fall victim to the sharp detail of the enhanced visuals, particularly episodes that focus heavily on special effects. "The Devil in the Dark" survives having an absurd-looking creature as its titular character because the performances are so strong and the storyline is compelling; "Operation: Annihilate!" does not hold up quite so well, because the "flying barf creatures" (as my children called them) and the over-acted madness of the Denevan colonists distract quite a bit from the premise of a world controlled by giant brain cells.

Which is not to say that "Operation: Annihilate!" does not remain an interesting episode. It's the only glimpse we get of Kirk interacting with family members, and his determination to save his nephew causes tension between himself and both Uhura and McCoy. It's also a rare glimpse of Spock with his control eroded almost to the breaking point as he fights the pain with which the alien creatures are bombarding him, trying to force him to do their will. In terms of characterization and the performances of the series regulars; this is a very strong installment. It's too bad viewers must sit through Aurelan Kirk's over-the-top death scene, the Attack of the Flying Barf Monster and the inanity of the eighteen medical labs on the ship not having tried UV rays when they tested the creatures for sensitivity to radiation.

The episode is helped greatly by the pacing, which starts with a bang with a Denevan flying himself into the sun, and the on-location shoot, which features a lot of staircases to run down and courtyards filled with strange-looking artwork to creep across. We learn almost immediately from Spock that galactic mass insanity may be affecting Deneva and from McCoy that Kirk has family there. It's a tragedy of the episode that we never really meet Kirk's brother - he is dead on the floor by the time Kirk's away team bursts inside - and our only glimpse of his sister-in-law is as one of Star Trek's all too frequent damsels in distress wailing that she needs help. In this case, Aurelan actually seems to be one of the stronger Denevans, for the men we see are crazed with violence even while they're warning Kirk and his team away.

It's also a shame that we never see even a token scene between Kirk and his nephew, who remains unconscious throughout the crisis; even a single moment of melancholy farewell would have been nice, and an improvement over the forced humor of the tag, when no matter how relieved Kirk may be to have Spock back at his position, he still must be hurting a great deal over his brother's death. Sam is more of an idea of a character than someone real, a personal connection to give added weight to the crisis before it affects Spock; we don't hear a single memory from Kirk about their childhoods, their relationship, whether Kirk attended his wedding, what sort of relationship he has with this nephew given that we learn there has been no contact with Deneva in over a year.

The loveliest scenes are Spock's - when he is first infected by the aliens and trying not to scream as Kirk helps him stand, when he goes mad and tries to take over the ship, and then as he learns to control his pain, needing enough fight to snap out of his sickbay restraints to try to return to the planet's surface without giving in to the impulse to obey the aliens. Kirk is more visibly temperamental than Spock is - it is the captain who may have to make the decision to kill all the colonists to stop the spread of the madness, as well as his nephew and first officer - but there is a quiet moment where Spock, ending a conversation with Kirk and McCoy, allows himself to sag and grimace for a moment that from a Vulcan speaks of utter agony. It is rather entertaining to watch him fight Scotty in his efforts to leave the ship, though Scotty has a very fine moment pulling a phaser on him and taking control of the situation. The scenes in which the aliens are discussed tend to be embarrassing; even in pain, Spock babbling that the aliens may come from a realm where physical laws do not apply just sounds silly, though perhaps it is necessary for Kirk to be the scientific genius who suggests trying intense light to affect the creatures when McCoy's radiation tests have failed.

The real pathos of Spock's blinding is that Kirk and McCoy seem far more devastated by it than Spock himself. He is so relieved to be out of pain that not even the news that his blinding was unnecessary rattles him, though Kirk can barely look at his first officer and friend, ordering McCoy to take care of him and racing out of sickbay. When he later tries to comfort McCoy he does so at a distance, over the ship's communicators. Spock plays his return to duty for maximum shock value, announcing almost as an afterthought that he had forgotten about his inner eyelid - perhaps he knows that Kirk will predictably ask him whether regaining his vision was an emotional experience, allowing Spock to joke about the hideousness of beholding Dr. McCoy's face as the first thing he could see. It's nice to know that McCoy thinks Spock is the best first officer in the fleet, but, again, the ending feels rather forced after the tragedy that Kirk has just undergone.

"Operation: Annihilate!" has quite a bit in common with the horror movie body-snatcher staple plot; it would have been nice to catch a glimpse of a few more Denevans, larger crowds of extras closing in on the crew as in "Return of the Archons" or some hint of people fleeing to build the ships we hear the aliens are forcing them to construct so they can spread their madness. I suppose for budgetary reasons it was necessary to explain that the mad Denevans were all hiding indoors, but it gives the episode a bit of a hollow feeling instead of the gut-twisting feeling from actually seeing a civilization gone mad. All in all, a keeper for the crew's performances, but the first season finale seems to have dated in a way that many other classic episodes have not.

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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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