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That Which Survives

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 8, 2006 - 10:18 PM GMT

See Also: 'That Which Survives' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: A beautiful woman appears in the transporter room and kills a crewmember just as Kirk, McCoy, Sulu and a geologist are beaming down to explore a planet. A tremendous surge causes quakes on the planet and hurls the Enterprise far across the galaxy. While he and Scotty try to return to their previous location and discover that the beautiful woman has not only killed again, but sabotaged the engines, Kirk and the landing party discover that the woman's touch is always deadly when the geologist is killed. But the woman can only kill the person to whom she is assigned on a given mission, so Kirk, McCoy and Sulu take turns protecting one another while seeking food and water. They are trapped in a chamber with a computer that generates the deadly images of the woman when Spock - who with Scotty's help has restored the Enterprise engines - beams down with another away team and destroys the computer, which plays a final message, revealing that the woman, Losira, was the image of the last survivor of a group of Kalandans who colonized the planet, only to be killed by a deadly virus.

Analysis: Warning: I have failed to come up with any redeeming virtues for this episode. Remember how I was having trouble coming up with something nice to say about "The Mark of Gideon"? "That Which Survives" is even worse.

The sci-fi plot is paper-thin, depending on a bunch of theoretically enlightened 23rd century men who serve on a ship with women in senior positions to go all goop-brained at the sight of an attractive woman in skimpy clothes. The characterization is even worse, as Spock, who has apparently decided that he can be a comedian and a logician at the same time, cracks jokes about illogic at the expense of the genuinely worried crew on the ship he commands in the absence of the captain. Most of the Animated Series episodes aren't this cartoony.

The only thing working in Spock's favor is that if he looks flippant and rude insisting on a degree of Vulcan precision never before witnessed - particularly when Scotty turns out to be correct in his intuition that the ship "doesn't feel right" - then Kirk looks simply incompetent, stumbling around the planet without any survival plan and without discussing a strategy for dealing with the exotic Losira before her return. The most intelligent thing anyone manages to say about her is Sulu's stunned, "Such evil, and she's so beautiful." (Like the men on the Enterprise have never encountered that particular clichť before!) D'Amato dies screaming for the captain because, as he says, he doesn't want to kill a woman.

Ironically, only real woman in the episode with agency is the one who's playing filler - Sulu's replacement on the bridge while he's away - who bears the brunt of some of Spock's uber-Vulcanness, but does a competent job at the helm without any of the hysteria Scotty exhibits when he's afraid the pretty light show from the engines will electrocute him. It's a big mistake to put Kirk and McCoy on an away team together without Spock; the Vulcan needs someone to play straight man to, and Kirk and McCoy seem so much smarter when they have Spock to bounce ideas off of.

For all the hysteria over its cancellation at the end of the third season, "That Which Survives" really conveys the sense that Star Trek was tired...that the writers just had no sense of how to piece together a story at this point in its existence, particularly coming on the heels of several similarly insipid storylines (and soon to be followed by another several clunkers, with a couple of gems mixed in). The landing party paces around a planet of styrofoam rocks and spray-painted plants looking bored and tired, while up on the ship the crew replaces drama and tension with technobabble. Think the Enterprise is really going to blow up? As if.

We get no meaningful background on Losira (who in the end is not a woman but a projection), nor on her culture. How come a species that could create computer replicants capable of traveling great distances to reach starships and on the starships themselves had no way to send a warning home about the plague? Why doesn't McCoy worry that whatever organism decimated the Kelandans might still be on the planet, and contagious? Above all, wouldn't a race that built a computer with such deadly defenses have put some sort of screen around its pretty light cube so that a simple phaser blast couldn't destroy it? Absolutely nothing in this episode bears any thought. It's plodding and pointless, badly characterized and uninterestingly filmed.

Which leaves the only thing remaining to make the episode memorable: Lee Meriwether (aka Catwoman) in a slinky outfit with exotic eye makeup. Her performance is reasonably good given that there is absolutely no character there for her to play, and she looks great in the purple pantsuit. Spock lamely attempts to argue in the end that Losira's intelligence was far more remarkable than her beauty, but we're so sick of his telling everyone they're wrong at this point that it's easier just to go along with Kirk's blathering conclusion, "Beauty...survives" (as only Shatner can deliver such a statement). Watching this episode, imagining that for someone it might have been the first or the only episode of the show ever encountered, it's easy to understand why Star Trek is lampooned in certain quarters.

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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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