Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series: “Obsession”

Written by Art Wallace
Directed by Ralph Senensky
Season 2, Episode 18
Production episode 60347
Original air date: December 15, 1967
Stardate: 3619.2

Captain’s log. Kirk, Spock, and Rizzo, Leslie, and a third person from security have confirmed that Argus X has a vein of tritanium. Spock phasers off a specimen. A cloud starts to creep out of a rock, but then retreats. However, Kirk recognizes a sickly sweet honey-like odor. Rather than beam back, he orders Rizzo to take his team and investigate, searching for dikironium, and to shoot any cloud formation they see with their phasers set on disruptor B.

Rizzo had detected dikironium, then lost it. A cloud forms behind the security detail and then envelopes Leslie and the other one. Rizzo tries to report it, but then it attacks him. By the time Kirk and Spock arrive, Leslie and the third one are pale—Kirk says that every red corpuscle will have been removed from their bodies. Rizzo is still alive, though, and they beam back.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Kirk has encountered this cloud before: same odor, same method of killing. It was eleven years earlier, when he was a lieutenant on the U.S.S. Farragut. Rizzo is still alive, but he has lost a lot of a blood. Kirk also orders Spock to stay in orbit—but the Enterprise is due to rendezvous with the U.S.S. Yorktown to accept delivery of highly perishable vaccines that are urgently needed on Theta VII. Kirk however insists that they remain, even if people are endangered on Theta VII.

McCoy has Chapel restore Rizzo to consciousness briefly, and Kirk questions him. Rizzo confirms the honey-like smell.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Kirk goes to the bridge, blowing off Uhura’s message from Starfleet and asking the security duty officer to report to the bridge. Spock finds no life, and no sign of dikironium, either. Kirk sends him to join McCoy in looking up the records of the Farragut from eleven years ago.

The duty officer reports to the bridge, and it turns out to be Ensign Garrovick, whose father was the captain of the Farragut under whom Kirk served eleven years ago. Uhura reports that Rizzo has died, and Kirk orders Garrovick to beam down with him and four security guards armed with phasers.’

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

They do a scan, and they detect dikironium, but whatever they’re detecting can change its molecular structure. Kirk sends Garrovick with two guards in one direction while he takes Ensign Bardoli and another guard in a different direction. Garrovick’s team find the cloud creature, but though Garrovick fires on it (after hesitating), it still kills one of the guards with him and badly wounds another.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy debrief Garrovick, who says it was a gaseous cloud that came out of nowhere and attacked the other two. Garrovick hesitated to fire on it, as he was startled, but then it moved away and he missed his shot. Kirk relieves him of duty and confines him to quarters. Spock and McCoy try to talk to him, but he blows them off, saying he’ll read their reports. He goes to the bridge, snaps at Scotty, Uhura, and Chekov, and then storms off.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Spock goes to McCoy for advice on obsession. He believes that Kirk—one of the few survivors of the Farragut, as half the crew was killed, including Captain Garrovick, by a cloud-like thing—is obsessed with this creature.

McCoy goes to Kirk’s quarters and talks about how young officers on their first deep-space assignment might sometimes have trouble adjusting. Kirk thinks he’s talking about Garrovick, but McCoy’s actually talking about Lieutenant James T. Kirk, who hesitated to fire on the creature back on the Farragut. Kirk continues to blame himself for the deaths of two hundred people, even though the Farragut first officer did no such thing, calling Kirk a fine officer who showed uncommon bravery. Kirk insists that the creature has to be destroyed, and McCoy points out that he’s showing obsessive behavior, and he intends to file a medical report on the condition of the captain.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Then he brings Spock in as a command-rank witness. They both formally question the captain’s decision, per regulations, and Kirk slaps down their formality. He’s convinced that the creature has intelligence, that he sensed it as he lost consciousness. McCoy points out that in that state he could very easily have been imagining things, and the medicine they’re supposed to pick up from the Yorktown is perishable and desperately needed by Theta VII.

Chekov interrupts the discussion to say that they’re detecting the creature and it’s leaving orbit. Kirk calls red alert and heads to the bridge. Spock reports that it appears to be in a borderline state between matter and energy, with elements of both. The Enterprise gives chase at warp eight, which Scotty points out they can’t maintain for long. Very reluctantly, Kirk throttles back to warp six.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Chapel brings Garrovick some dinner. Garrovick asks what’s happening, and Chapel fills him in, saying it’s good that he’s out of it, given that Kirk has seemingly lost his perspective. Garrovick thinks he caused it by not firing fast enough, and Chapel responds to his self-pity with what she claims is McCoy’s one-word prescription: “eat.” Threatening to haul him to sickbay and forcefeed him intravenously if he doesn’t eat the tray she prepared, Chapel leaves. (The “prescription” was just a random tape she grabbed.) Garrovick, though, just throws one of the dishes at the wall (messing with his ventilation system).

The creature suddenly slows down to warp two. The Enterprise intercepts it and fires on it, to no avail. The creature moves past the ship’s shields and gets in through an impulse engine vent, killing one crew member and badly injuring another. It’s in the ventilation system.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Spock now believes that the creature has at least a rudimentary intelligence, given that it turned to attack. He also points out the phasers were wholly ineffectual, which means Kirk’s hesitation eleven years ago, and Garrovick’s hesitation a few hours ago, were irrelevant. Phasers have no effect on the thing. Spock tries to convince both Kirk and Garrovick of this, to no avail. However, in the midst of talking to Garrovick, the creature gets into his quarters. Spock literally tosses Garrovick out of his own cabin. Garrovick reports in to the bridge, and Kirk has Scotty reverse the pressure in that cabin. Spock survived the attack thanks to his Vulcan blood.

Kirk talks to Garrovick and finishes what Spock started, making it clear that Garrovick’s hesitation didn’t matter. He restores Garrovick to duty.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Scotty uses radioactive waste to flush the creature out of the vents, and it’s heading back to the impulse engine vent. It escapes the ship and proceeds at high warp. Kirk’s intuition is to head to Tycho IV, and he orders Chekov to follow it there, setting the rendezvous with the Yorktown back 48 more hours.

Kirk’s plan is to use antimatter to destroy it, after luring it with a case of hemoplasm, which has the red-blood cells it seems to love to munch on. However, beaming down is a two-person job, and even though it would make a billion times more sense to have Spock, who’s immune to the creature, beam down, Kirk insists on doing it his own manly manly self, aided by Garrovick, as the antimatter container needs two people to carry it.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Unfortunately, the creature shows up and eats all the hemoplasm before they can even set the detonator. So they try plan B: use the two of them to lure it. (Kirk originally planned to lure it himself, with Garrovick beaming back, then Garrovick attempts to knock Kirk out so he can be heroic, and Kirk yells at him for being an idiot.) The creature comes close, then Kirk orders them to energize and detonate. Spock and Scotty struggle to beam the pair back, but eventually succeed. Everyone is relieved, and Kirk offers to tell Garrovick some tall stories about his father.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Spock is able to beam Kirk and Garrovick back by switching from Circuit A to Circuit B. That’s why they pay him the science officer money.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Fascinating. Vulcan blood, we learn, is copper-based, which makes sense given that it goes green when exposed to air. The creature seems to feed only on iron-based blood, so Spock survives its attack where no one else does.

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is legitimately concerned about Kirk’s obsession, though he does admit that Kirk was right that the creature is intelligent.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura just keeps passing messages along, and Kirk keeps ignoring them…

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty keeps reminding Kirk that they have to rendezvous with the Yorktown, and also that they can’t maintain high warp for very long, and Kirk keeps ignoring him…

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

It’s a Russian invention. Chekov handles the scanners while Spock researches the Farragut mission, and Kirk berates him for not finding the creature fast enough.

Channel open. “I need your advice.”

“Then I need a drink.”

Spock and McCoy indulging in the usual banter.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Welcome aboard. Stephen Brooks plays Garrovick and Jerry Ayres plays Rizzo. Ayres last appeared as another doomed crewmember, O’Herlihy, in “Arena.” Plus we’ve got recurring regulars James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, and Walter Koenig.

Trivial matters: This episode establishes that Kirk served on the Farragut as a lieutenant. It’s likely that his first mission to Neural from “A Private Little War” was while he served on that vessel.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

The first encounter with the creature was dramatized in the My Brother’s Keeper novel Constitution by Michael Jan Friedman, and the aftermath was shown in the graphic novel Debt of Honor by Chris Claremont, Adam Hughes, & Karl Story. Other missions of Kirk’s on the Farragut were chronicled in the novels The Ashes of Eden by William Shatner with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Crisis on Centaurus by Brad Ferguson.

Chapel uses cordrazine to revive Rizzo, the same drug that was used on Sulu and on which McCoy overdosed in “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

Garrovick appears again in the novels Home is the Hunter by Dana Kramer-Rolls and In the Name of Honor by Dayton Ward, as well as the aforementioned Debt of Honor graphic novel.

Eddie Paskey appears as the ubiquitous Leslie in this episode, and is killed by the creature. Despite this, he appears later in the episode and in thirteen more episodes, besides. According to Paskey’s web site, the script had a bit where the security guards who were killed were all revived by a miracle potion, but that scene was never filmed. It’s unclear whether or not Paskey was serious about that…

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

The short story “The Greater Good” by Margaret Wander Bonanno in Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows established that the MU Kirk was regularly humiliated by Captain Garrovick on the Farragut, and young Lieutenant Kirk arranged to have Garrovick killed by the creature.

Producer John Meredyth Lucas directed portions of this episode that needed to be filmed on Friday October 13, 1967, when Ralph Senensky left the set to observe Yom Kippur.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

This is the first of two scripts by Art Wallace, who would late co-write “Assignment: Earth” with Gene Roddenberry. Wallace’s script was based on a concept by Roddenberry that was entitled “Space Moby-Dick.” (Really.) It’s far from the only time Trek would draw on Herman Melville’s famous novel for inspiration (cf. “The Doomsday Machine,” The Wrath of Khan, First Contact).

To boldly go. “Monsters come in many forms.” On the surface, this is a perfectly decent episode. It gives some insight into the captain’s past, a mission that he feels was left unfinished. Guilt is a powerful motivator, after all, and the same Jim Kirk who always takes on all responsibility for what happens on his ship was obviously formed in the lieutenant of eleven years earlier who blamed himself for the failure to stop the creature. The parallels between Kirk’s hesitation and Garrovick’s is nicely played.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

I also like the fact Spock, McCoy, and Scotty all call Kirk on his nonsense, but never to the point of caricature. They follow regulations, and also treat Kirk with respect—to a fault, honestly, considering that we’re talking about people dying on Theta VII.

In addition, there are some really strong individual bits here. It’s nice to see that at least two redshirts are permitted to be something other than cannon fodder. Rizzo is an actual person, and Garrovick even more so. Honestly, the level of involvement Garrovick has in the story is the level that security should have—something later iterations of Trek would understand much more, as the original series is the only Trek series in which the chief of security isn’t an opening-credits regular. Plus the conversation between Chapel and Garrovick is an absolute delight, a callback to the earliest days of the series when it treated the Enterprise like a large community of people instead of three dudes and some other folks who get occasional dialogue.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession

But overall, I just can’t get excited about this episode. Part of it is that I find that Kirk’s obsession to be completely not compelling. As we’re reminded—repeatedly—the Enterprise is supposed to be on a mission of mercy. Kirk’s unwillingness to complete that incredibly time-sensitive mission first before going after the cloud is irresponsible to say the least, and it’s hard to be sympathetic with him. He goes on about how captains are supposed to trust their instincts, but that doesn’t mean going off half-cocked, either. It doesn’t help that the deaths of Rizzo and his team, the two guards under Garrovick, and everyone else who’s killed (most of whom aren’t even allowed to have names, grumble mutter) all died because of Kirk’s obsession. The creature didn’t attack until he specifically sent Rizzo and the others to investigate. Yes, it’s a dangerous creature, but—I dunno, it just feels like everything was a weak-kneed hunch. And part of why I feel that way is because McCoy pointed it out, several times.

Just an underwhelming execution of what is actually a good concept.

Star Trek, season 2, Obsession


Warp factor rating: 5

Next week:The Immunity Syndrome

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of short fiction available right now: “Back in El Paso My Life Will Be Worthless” in The X-Files: Trust No One, “Streets of Fire” in V-Wars: Night Terrors, “Send in the Clones” in The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, “William Did It” on, “Down to the Waterline” on, and in the short fiction collection Without a License: The Fantastic Worlds of Keith R.A. DeCandido.


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