Thu
Feb 3 2011 11:50am

Star Trek Re-watch: “The Lights of Zetar”

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarThe Lights of Zetar
Written by Jeremy Tarcher
and Shari Lewis
Directed by Herb Kenwith

Season 3, Episode 18
Production episode 3x18
Original air date: Jan. 31, 1969
Stardate 5725.3

Recap: Dayton Ward

The Enterprise is on its way to Memory Alpha, which, as everyone knows, began life as a website in the early 21st century before its storehouse of information became so great that they had to punt the whole thing to a planetoid in deep space. Now, it’s the repository of all historical, cultural, and scientific information for all member worlds of the United Federation of Planets.

Along for the ride is Lieutenant Mira Romaine, who’s been given the job of supervising the installation of new equipment at Memory Alpha. It’s a long journey, which gives Scotty plenty of time to wander around the ship following Romaine like a lovesick puppy. It’s distracting enough that Kirk even mentions it in his blog captain’s log just how badly Scotty’s fallen into that insidious trap called love.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarSensors detect the approach of an odd energy storm bearing down on Memory Alpha. When they change course to intercept, the storm washes over the Enterprise, subjecting the entire crew to the coolest light show never to include Pink Floyd music. The storm has a pronounced effect on Romaine, who collapses into a sort of catatonic state for several moments, during which she speaks in tongues. After McCoy takes her to sickbay, it’s learned that the storm affected different areas of the brains and nervous centers of individual crew members, and Kirk likens the incident to an attack of some kind.

Hmm….

In sickbay, Romaine proves to be a tough patient. McCoy is curious as to why she was the only one affected as she was, but Romaine is unwilling or unable to explain to the doctor what she experienced during the storm. Scotty arrives in the nick of time to show us all just how badly the love bug has nibbled on him, and it’s at this point that I start to wish I’d signed on for something like the Galactica 1980 Rewatch.

On the bridge, sensors show the storm has arrived at Memory Alpha, which has no protective shielding of any kind. Whoops. The storm beats the Enterprise to the planetoid, and when the ship arrives in orbit, sensors detect no life-form readings. Kirk beams down to the installation with Spock, McCoy, and Scotty to investigate. They discover the facility’s main power systems are out, most of the people working there are dead, and the data storage core may be damaged beyond repair.

Apparently, nobody in the future makes backups of anything, either.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarMcCoy finds a single survivor, a woman, who looks to be in the same strange “trance” that Romaine suffered earlier. Her body seems to be emitting an odd energy signature, and she dies in short order, after which McCoy determines that she died as a result of a brain hemorrhage. The landing party is joined by Romaine, who realizes that the ghastly scene before her is something she’s already “seen” in a precognitive vision.

Sulu calls down from the ship, warning Kirk and company that the storm is coming back to Memory Alpha, and that it’s way past time for them to boogey on outa there. They get back to the ship and are about to—whoa! Hey! Romaine didn’t transport with them. What’s up with that? Scotty takes the controls and does that voodoo he does so well, and beams up Romaine. Nobody seems to wonder or care about why that bit of weirdness happened in the first place. I mean, it’s not like it’ll have any bearing on what might happen next, right? Nah….

The storm closes on the ship, at which point Spock determines that it can’t be a storm, as there’s no way a natural phenomenon can move at warp speed. He also reports all sorts of interference and other shenanigans taking place around the ship, just as what happened at Memory Alpha. Uh-oh.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarElsewhere, rather than seeing to it that the Enterprise is ready to repel any odd attack the storm might bring, Scotty instead fawns once more over Romaine, still trying to pass off the weird feelings she’s been having since the storm first hit as “just being new to space,” but that doesn’t account for her being able to see into the future and know what she would find when she beamed down to Memory Alpha. Nah, the storm and her being the only one to have that bizarre reaction couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it. At all. Scotty, I’m taking away everything nice I said about you last week.

As the storm gets closer to the Enterprise, Kirk orders evasive action, and the storm changes its course to match the ship. However, it’s keeping a respectful distance. When Kirk asks Spock for his latest report on what the thing might be, Spock replies, “The question is not, ‘What is it,’ Captain, but, ‘What are they?’ ”

Bwuh-hah?

Spock reports that he’s detected “ten distinct life units” within the phenomenon. He has no idea what they are or where they’re from, or if there’s any defense against their attacks. Kirk hails the “community” to assure them the Enterprise means them no harm. He tries to explain that physical contact with them is dangerous and even fatal to humanoids, and the lights react by taking up an aggressive posture in front of the ship before accelerating forward on an intercept course. Way to make friends, Jimbo.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarAs the storm draws closer, Romaine reacts to the renewed contact with the life forms it contains, upsetting her greatly. On the bridge, Kirk tries a new tactic, and orders phasers fired across its course. The storm gives the Enterprise the finger after that little display, so Kirk orders the phasers targeted directly on the community. The instant the weapons are fired and make contact with the lights, Romaine collapses. Kirk is about to unleash another salvo when Scotty calls up from engineering, finally having made the connection that Romaine and the lights are somehow connected. Well, duh, dude. Kirk cancels the phaser strike, as he and Spock try to figure out a means of combating the community without placing Romaine in any further danger.

In the briefing room, we’re treated to Kirk and Spock’s interminable interrogation of Romaine about her connection to the community. McCoy reveals that Romaine’s brain wave patterns have been altered from those recorded in her medical file. Spock points out that Romaine’s EEG patterns are now an exact match for something called an “impulse tracking” of the storm’s life units obtained by the ship’s sensors. According to him, the thoughts of the community are becoming one with Romaine’s. Scotty finally steps up and reports the incidents of Romaine seeing future events, after which she reports that she’s had another vision which has not yet come to pass: she’s seen Scotty, dying.

Duh dih duh DIIIIIIHHHHH!

With the community once more closing on the ship, Kirk hatches one of his patented Daring Plans®. He wants Romaine to let the lights begin to merge with her, to let them function through her. He thinks that once such a joining takes place, the lights will be vulnerable. Why he thinks that, no one knows.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarAs the storm hits and the light show tours the corridors, Kirk and the gang rush Romaine to sickbay with the intention of placing her inside a pressure chamber. The lights show up and merge/meld/join with Romaine, after which they begin speaking through her.

The lights are energy beings from Zetar, a planet where all corporeal life was destroyed centuries ago. However, the life force of the final hundred Zetarians lived on in a disembodied state, too powerful to be wiped out. Wow, talk about an overinflated sense of self-worth, eh? Anyway, they’re not ready to die, and for more than a thousand years they’ve been searching for the perfect host—one through whom they can see, speak, and live out their lives. They’ve found what they seek in Mira Romaine, and they’re perfectly happy inhabiting her body from here on out. Kirk, of course, rightly points out that Romaine has her own thing going, but the Zetarians are pretty much “Meh” about that.

Well, we all know how Kirk reacts to stuff like that right? Yeah. This ain’t gonna be a good day to be a Zetarian, that’s for sure.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarScotty hustles Romaine into the sickbay’s pressure chamber, the plan being to use several atmospheres of pressure to kill the Zetarians, who’ve long ago become accustomed to traveling in the vacuum of space. (Hey, don’t look at me. I think it’s a stupid idea, myself.) The pressure against Romaine’s body increases by the second, to the point where the risk of permanent damage is looming, but the Zetarians flee her body and die.

With the crisis past, it appears as if Romaine will make a full recovery from her experience. While most of the credit for her ability to deal with the Zetarians goes to Romaine herself, Kirk has to wonder if Scotty’s unwavering devotion—and, yes, even his love for her—played any role. Spock thinks Kirk’s smoking wacky-weed, but McCoy thinks it was a factor, and that it will also play a role in her recovery, as well.

With no need to take Romaine to a starbase for further medical treatment, Kirk orders the Enterprise back to Memory Alpha so that the lieutenant can carry out her original assignment. He makes the observation that this is the first time Spock, McCoy, and Scotty are in complete agreement on anything. How can Kirk possibly handle that? Yuk, yuk, yuk, as we… FADE OUT.


Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarWhat the heck was that?

“The Lights of Zetar” is a smorgasbord of untapped ideas and potential. Memory Alpha is one of my favorite Star Trek concepts, but we see virtually nothing of this vast, invaluable repository of knowledge collected from across the Federation. The Zetarians, their history, and the catastrophe they suffered before journeying out into the void of space in search of a corporeal host all are first-rate science-fiction concepts worthy of further exploration, but here they’re simply the latest MacGuffins used to justify lots of close-ups of Mira Romaine. Everything about the Zetarians is given short shrift save for a few moments of strained exposition in the episode’s final act. By the time we learn what the Zetarians are up to, we’re too bored to care.

As for Romaine, she’s nice enough as a guest character, and we actually learn more about her background than we have about those of the folks who’ve been on the show for three years at this point. However, her role as the supervisor overseeing Memory Alpha’s upgrades is pretty much forgotten by the time of the Zetarians’ first attack, and she spends the rest of the episode being talked down to by pretty much everyone with a Y chromosome.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarWhich brings me to Scotty. Jiminy Frickin’ Cricket on a Ritz cracker, will somebody slap that guy and remind him he’s supposed to be an officer? Nearly every scene he shares with Romaine is embarrassing—nay, painful—to watch, and even Kirk has to finally put a boot to his butt to get him back in gear at one point.

Long story short: There’s really nothing to distinguish “The Lights of Zetar,” not simply as a third-season episode but even when compared to the rest of the series. It’s not good, but it’s not really that bad, either. It’s pretty much just there.

Dayton’s Rating: Warp 2.5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

 

Star Trek episode The Lights of Zetar

Analysis: David Mack

If ever one wonders whether any progress has been made toward gender equality in western civilization over the past forty years, one has only to listen to Chekov and Sulu in this episode’s teaser, as they comment on Scotty’s doting behavior toward Lieutenant Mira Romaine:

CHEKOV: I didn’t think Mister Scott would go for the brainy type.
SULU: I don’t think he’s even noticed she has a brain.

Wow, sexist much? But at least they seem to regard Romaine as an officer and are making fun of Scott for acting like a schoolboy, which is more than we can say for their so-called superiors.

This episode is replete with many shining moments of blatant sexism. One such gem occurs when Kirk converses via intercom with Scotty and McCoy and asks for a report on Mira Romaine:

KIRK: Doctor, how’s the girl?

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarThe girl? Shouldn’t he have said “the lieutenant”? Or, “Lieutenant Romaine”? That line wasn’t just sexist, it was a grave breach of military protocol. He does it again later, when plotting the energy beings’ demise with Spock, and a third time, when asking McCoy to bring Romaine to the briefing room. Later, in the medical lab scene, McCoy starts calling her “the girl,” as well. Finally, in the denouement, even Spock refers to Romaine as “the girl.” Proof that male chauvinism is contagious across species lines, I guess.

But there’s more to this episode than rampant sexism. There’s also baffling illogic.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarThe rationale for Memory Alpha having no shielding is absurd. I can understand why it would make its data freely available to anyone without so much as a password or a credit card, but why would the Federation leave its central repository of scientific and cultural knowledge vulnerable to any of its enemies who might want to destroy it? What about asteroid impacts? Bursts of cosmic radiation? There are plenty of good reasons to put shields on your storehouse of all Federation knowledge. Leaving it utterly vulnerable just for the PR value is, to be perfectly blunt, stupid.

Was Kirk absent the day they taught evasive maneuvers at the Academy? His orders to Sulu during the flight from the Zetarians could be paraphrased as such:

KIRK: Turn right! Now turn left!
SULU: It’s still with us!
KIRK: Damn, this thing’s good.

Why did Mira Romaine listen to Scotty when he diagnosed her precognitive visions as “space madness”? Under the circumstances, I’d think any rational person would say, “Thanks, Scotty, but I think I’m going to get a second opinion. From a doctor this time.”

Speaking of useless opinions: When Kirk asks Spock to formulate a defense against the Zetarians, Spock says he doesn’t have sufficient information to do so. Really? He was able to tell us that there were ten distinct entities, and he rattled off a grocery list of useless trivia about them, and he had sensor data up the yin-yang later at the briefing. All of which was apparently more than enough for Kirk to pull a solution out of his own aft end, so what was Spock’s problem?

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarAs long as we’re on the subject: Where did Kirk’s plan for stopping the Zetarians come from? Why would atmospheric pressure have any effect on noncorporeal energy beings? Spock remarks that “a weightless state has become their natural condition.” Fine, sure. But pressure and weight are not the same thing. Using Spock’s logic, the proper tactic would have been to increase not the air pressure inside the chamber but the gravity. (Nitpick: If there’s no gravity inside the chamber, why does Romaine’s hair hang down from her head?) Regardless, once the Zetarians exit Romaine’s body, why couldn’t they simply have fled? They can pass through walls, for Pete’s sake. Nothing about this solution makes the least sense.

Another thing I wonder about: If the Zetarians had made such a profound connection with Mira during the encounter at the start of the episode, why did they withdraw? What was their motivation for attacking Memory Alpha if they’d already connected with Romaine? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to hang around the Enterprise until they’d finished rewriting Romaine’s brain waves, since it was going so well?

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarMcCoy had some bizarre moments in this episode. When the landing party beams down to Memory Alpha, he complains about beaming into “darkness.” However, the set is fully lit. The doctor apparently has strange ideas about what constitutes “the dark.” Maybe he should get his eyes checked. Just a few minutes later, he describes the dead Memory Alpha technician’s injuries—“severe brain hemorrhaging due to distortion of all neural systems, dissolution of autonomic nervous system”—as “basic personality factors.” What? The autonomic nervous system is not “a personality factor.” Was anyone paying attention when they wrote McCoy’s technobabble for this episode? Did they even try to root their jargon in real medical science?

For you trivia buffs, this episode marked the last appearance of a Tellarite and an Andorian in the original series. The music was mostly repurposed from Alexander Courage’s score for the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and I thought it felt very out of place here. During the Zetarans’ initial attack on the Enterprise, the cues reminded me of some from the soundtrack of the classic farce Airplane!

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarI enjoyed the interesting use of low angles in many of this episode’s close-ups, and the high angles on some of the wider shots of the bridge. The fascinating high-angle zoom shot of the bridge, however, was an outtake from season one’s classic hour, “The Galileo Seven.” (Note the different color saturation of the satin velour uniforms, which in season three were replaced by nylon uniforms.) Also, there are many visually interesting bits of blocking throughout this episode, which was a pleasure for me as a recovering film-school geek, and the Star Trek geek in me loved the opening beauty shot of the Enterprise. One last critical note: I wasn’t fond of the quasi-psychedelic use of extreme close-ups on Mira’s eye to convey her psychic connection to the energy beings.

Star Trek episode The Lights of ZetarMy favorite moment: After Scotty sweet-talks Romaine into cooperating with McCoy’s medical exam, Nurse Chapel, using a playful imitation of Scotty’s accent, teases him, “With a bedside manner like that, Scotty, you’re in the wrong business.” It was sweet, charming, and funny, all at once. Ah, Majel Barrett, you are missed.

Just as with last week’s episode, the story for “The Lights of Zetar” flounders for three acts before climaxing in a massive expositional info-dump about an extinct alien race. The pacing is slow, the solution is nonsensical, and the whole thing feels like a rehash of the previous week’s story crossed with season two’s “Return to Tomorrow.”

As McCoy starts Romaine’s decompression sequence (taking her from forty atmospheres of pressure to one in just twenty minutes—damn, that’s some advanced science), Scotty remarks, “Now we have all the time in the world.” Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t know he has only another two minutes before Romaine transfers to Memory Alpha and neither he nor we ever see her on screen again. Fortunately for me, that’s where this episode ends, permitting me to pour myself a drink and begin my own decompression.

David’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1 to 6)


Next episode: Season 3, Episode 19 — “Requiem for Methuselah.” U.S. residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.


Dayton Ward was asked by little Early-Pearly in his little curly-wurly if he needed a ride, but he was blinded by the Lights.

David Mack tried it with “The Lights of Zetar” on, only to find he prefers the dark.

12 comments
David McIntee
1. Lonemagpie
Of course, it goes without saying that dropping from 40 atmospheres to one in 20 minutes would also have killed Romaine stone dead from massive bends...
David Mack
2. davidmack
^ That was the implication behind my statement, "damn that's some advanced science."
ChristopherLBennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
"and it’s at this point that I start to wish I’d signed on for something like the Galactica 1980 Rewatch."

Take it from someone who just finished a Galactica 1980 rewatch (the last post just went up on my blog) -- you're better off with the Zetarians. Well, slightly.

I'm not unduly bothered by the premise that the Zetarians could be susceptible to high pressure. "Energy being" is a vague and essentially meaningless term; any kind of energy would need some sort of matter substrate to contain or focus it, even if it were just some form of plasma. Even if some form of life could exist as a pure standing wave in the universe's electromagnetic fields or something, the way it manifests could still be affected by the presence of atmosphere vs. vacuum (for instance, an atmosphere is more conductive and might dissipate an energy being's charge or something). In any case, aside from the sloppy writing of Spock's exposition, the idea that the Zetarians could be unable to survive in high pressure is no sillier than the idea that a corporeal being's consciousness could evolve into such a form to begin with.

But yeah, plenty of other stuff to criticize here. What must Kirk's superiors have thought when they reviewed his log entry and heard him gossiping about his chief engineer's love life? Boundaries, Jimmy! And yes, hearing "the girl" did get awfully tiresome.

As for McCoy's comment about beaming into the dark, I cut them some slack due to the technical limits on '60s TV. Shooting in really dark environments was hard to do back then due to the available film stocks, the clarity of TV broadcasts in the era, and so on. "Night" scenes had a way of being fairly bright, and outdoor night scenes were usually shot day-for-night, through a filter that dimmed things but didn't really hide the shadows cast by sunlight. I take it as part of the stagey tradition of early TV; McCoy's line was a cue to the audience that they should pretend the scene was darker than it actually was.
ChristopherLBennett
4. Trebor
Over the years I've seen every episode of TOS, either through syndication in the 70's and 80's, or on DVD, and I don't recall this episode AT ALL! Either I somehow missed this one or, more likely, it just wasn't memorable enough to stick in my mind in the slightest.

I'm going to have to dig out my Season 3 DVD's and see what else I might have missed. I'm only up to the start of S2 on my rewatch, but I think skipping ahead a bit is called for now.
ChristopherLBennett
5. Matthew Rigdon
It might be possible that it was never shown where you live. Years ago, when I lived in the DFW area, a friend told me the local UHF station wouldn't show this episode because the local pastors claimed it was about demon possession and would boycott. I've never been able to confirm this in recent years, but I too never saw this episode growing up.
ChristopherLBennett
6. DCT
This episode could have been a LOT worse. FWIW, and I swear I'm not making this up, at the end of the first draft of the script for this episode (dated 10/21/68):

1. The solution to the Zetar problem is found when Kirk and Spock realize that Ensign Megan -- a "heavily-accented Australian" who has been working in the cold-storage chamber in the herbarium -- has been completely unaffected by the Lights. They thus deduce that cold temperatures are the way to deal with the Zetarans. Thus, Kirk, Spock, and Scotty remove the stored plants from the cold storage chamber (over the protests of Megan who is worried that his plants will die when suddenly warmed) and shove Romaine into it. They then lower her body temperature to -100C and quick freeze the Zetarans to absolute zero when they try to take her over. This latter action kills them.
2. After the Zetars are killed, Scotty carefully picks up the frozen Romaine and carries her to sickbay, all the while worrying about breaking her in half because she's pretty solid.
3. Fortunately, Romaine survives at the end of the episode because McCoy quickly throws her under a heat lamp and thaws her.
ChristopherLBennett
7. Nick Minecci
But to be fair, Lt. Romaine did have a beautiful eyes, nice rack and behind. And that's the best part of this episode.
ChristopherLBennett
8. Eric Paddon
Consider the source for this misbegotten episode. It was written by ventriloquist Shari Lewis. I keep thinking Mira Romaine when possessed should be speaking in Lambchop's voice!
ChristopherLBennett
9. RonnieC
Not sure why everyone has their knickers in a twist over referring to the young Lt as "the girl." I'm an older guy and that was the way it was back in the 60's. It wasn't a term of disrespect, and clearly Kirk & co are speaking about her with tenderness and caring. Maybe you'd prefer if it were written today, and Kirk asked "Yo, how's Scotty's bitch?"

(Nitpick: If there’s no gravity inside the chamber, why does Romaine’s hair hang down from her head?) Answer - because it is a TV show. She is laying inside a hole cut in a wall, not inside an actual antigravity chamber.
I love the nitpicky stuff- the styrofoam rocks, the limitations caused by the budget or understanding of physics at the time. It all adds to the charm of the show for me. What I can't stand is bad writing - nonsensically-motivated behavior, "just-so" endings, weird leaps of logic. This episode is full of 'em.
In conclusion, I agree with Nick Minecci.
ChristopherLBennett
10. Rob B.
Not sure why everyone has their knickers in a twist over referring to
the young Lt as "the girl." I'm an older guy and that was the way it
was back in the 60's. It wasn't a term of disrespect, and clearly Kirk
& co are speaking about her with tenderness and caring. Maybe you'd
prefer if it were written today, and Kirk asked "Yo, how's Scotty's
bitch?"
Well, it's like if they were to call Chekov "the boy" all the time, or if they were to call Spock "the Vulcan". I doubt either character would care for it. If I were Mira, I wouldn't consider it tender or caring. I'd be like "Hey! It may have escaped your notice, but I have a name! Christ, would it kill you to say 'Mira' or 'Romaine' or 'Lt. Romaine' instead of just thinking of me as 'the girl' and calling me that?"
ChristopherLBennett
12. Doctor Mabuse
If only Shari Lewis had written her adorable puppet "Lambchop" into the script -- to argue the illogic -- this might have been a classic.

Unfortunately, despite a good premise, the episode as scripted and executed is faintly awful. A major problem is that the actress playing Lt. Mira Romaine is doing her best impression of Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls, and it's not quite up to snuff.
ChristopherLBennett
13. DrCroland
Hey, hey -- way too many people are dumping on this episode. Maybe it was kind of dumb, but horror-wise I give it an A++!!!! I was a kid back when this first aired in the 60s. But the way Lt. Romaine looked and sounded when she was possessed by the aliens -- that was so scary it gave me nightmares! I still find it unsettling to this very day.

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