Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “The Lights of Zetar”

“The Lights of Zetar”
Written by Jeremy Tarcher & Shari Lewis
Directed by Herb Kenwith
Season 3, Episode 18
Production episode 60043-73
Original air date: January 31, 1969
Stardate: 5725.3

Captain’s log. The Enterprise arrives at Memory Alpha, a planetoid completely converted to being a storage library for all information regarding members of the Federation. They are providing new storage equipment, which is being supplied by Lieutenant Mira Romaine, with whom Scotty is completely smitten. Memory Alpha is Romaine’s first deep-space assignment.

Sulu detects a swirly thing in their path. Spock reads it as a storm, but it’s moving at greater than warp two, so it can’t be a natural phenomenon. Kirk raises shields and the swirly thing collides with the Enterprise. As it does so, Kirk and Sulu both lose their voice, Chekov loses his sight, Uhura’s hands are paralyzed—and Romaine is practically hypnotized by the thing.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Once it moves away, everyone can function again. Kirk orders the ship moved away from the swirly thing—and Romaine collapses. However, her voice has been replaced by a weird noise emanating from her throat. McCoy treats her, and her voice returns to normal; over her objections, McCoy takes her to sickbay, and she’s irritable and unhelpful as McCoy tries to determine what happened to her.

After McCoy leaves in a huff, Romaine expresses concern to Scotty that this may cause Starfleet to send her back to Earth. Scotty tries to reassure her that it’s just her getting her space legs.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Sulu plots the swirly thing’s course, and it’s heading straight for Memory Alpha. Uhura can’t raise the planetoid to warn them, and the swirly thing hits it and moves on. In its wake, Spock reads no power or life readings from the library complex.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty beam down to find the place dark and inoperative. (Scotty has to be pried from Romaine’s bedside. After he leaves, Romaine sees a bunch of dead bodies in her mind’s eye.) The memory banks are burned out, the information in the archive lost—and they also find a mess of bodies (just what Romaine saw). There is one survivor, but she is making the same weird noises from her throat that Romaine was making—but in addition her face is glowing. Then she dies. According to McCoy, all the people died from different parts of their brains being affected—just like on the Enterprise, only harsher, because the people on Memory Alpha don’t star in their own TV show.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Romaine beams down and is horrified by the bodies, which she’d already seen—she also insists that the swirly thing is coming back, which is confirmed by Sulu a moment later. They beam back—but Romaine is stuck in transit. Scotty has to roll against his engineering skill, and fixes it.

Sulu leaves orbit, and the swirly thing follows. Spock is having trouble getting solid sensor readings, as the swirly thing is jamming sensors. Every attempt at an evasive course fails, though it isn’t getting any closer—but it’s matching every course change point for point.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Eventually, Spock manages to get a reading: it’s at least ten different life-forms. Kirk attempts communicating, but that only causes it to move closer. As it does, Romaine has a fit. Scotty tries to comfort her, while Kirk gets fed up and goes to red alert and arms phasers. He has Sulu fire a warning shot first. It engenders no response from the swirly thing, so Sulu fires right at it—which stops their approach, but also hurts Romaine badly. Scotty reports this correlation to the bridge, and Kirk orders her to sickbay and Sulu to hold off on firing.

Kirk convenes a meeting in the briefing room with Spock, McCoy, Romaine, and Scotty. Romaine is calmer and much more cooperative. Kirk has McCoy and Spock look, respectively, at her medical records and the sensor readings from the swirly thing. The big thing that McCoy notes is that her brainwave patterns have been altered. When McCoy calls it up, Spock reports that Romaine’s new brainwave pattern is a perfect match for the impulse pattern Spock read on the swirly thing. They’re obviously linked in some way.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Scotty reveals that Romaine has been seeing things before they happen, which he had chalked up to space sickness. She reveals another vision she saw: Scotty dying. Now she realizes that she’s not seeing prophetic visions, but the thoughts of the swirly thing.

Sulu is continuing evasive maneuvers, but the swirly thing will catch up to them soon. Kirk orders Romaine not to resist anymore, to let the swirly thing in. Maybe they can communicate through her.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

The swirly thing penetrates the shields and enters the ship. Sulu calls for General Quarters, while Kirk has McCoy put Romaine in the antigrav chamber. But before she can go in the swirly thing enters the medical lab and surrounds Romaine. After a bit, the swirly thing starts to speak through her, and Kirk talks to it. The swirly thing reveals itself to be the noncorporeal life essence of the final one hundred survivors of Zetar, a world on which all life was wiped out. Romaine is the first corporeal life form they’ve found who is compatible with them, through whom they can live. Kirk refuses to let them take over her life, and the Zetars refuse to give her up.

Scotty puts her into the pressure chamber, though the Zetars attack him as he does so. They close the chamber and futz with the pressure until the Zetars leave her body and disappear. Spock and McCoy both agree that Romaine doesn’t need to report to a starbase for further treatment and her best medicine would be to go back to work. Kirk nearly has a heart attack from the shock of the two of them actually agreeing.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Memory Alpha has no shielding, as it’s an academic complex with information available to all. Leaving aside what happens here, why isn’t it shielded against natural phenomena that could harm it, like solar flares or a quasar or something?

Fascinating. Spock does remarkably little in this episode. His one main contribution is to reveal that the swirly thing is, in fact, a collective life form, and he later reveals the connection between Romaine’s brainwave pattern and that of the Zetars, but it’s still a pretty low-impact episode for the science officer.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy’s attempts to treat Romaine are stymied by the patient being a twit, but he continues to help her out and is of major import in figuring out what’s going on. 

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu keeps the bridge running smooth while Kirk is busy prying Scotty off Romaine and figuring out what to do with her.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Hailing frequencies open. Poor Uhura spends the entire episode being stymied in doing her job: she can’t reach Memory Alpha, she can’t get through to the Zetars…

It’s a Russian invention. Chekov does almost nothing of note in the episode, poor bastard. Heck, even the plotting of the swirly thing’s course is left to Sulu when that should totally be the navigator’s job.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty tries and fails to get the lights on in Memory Alpha and gets Romaine out of the transporter when it swallows her. That is the sum total of his work as chief engineer in this episode. As with his last love affair, in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” being in love turns Scotty into a moron who can’t focus on anything but the woman he’s smitten with.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. At one point, Chekov says he didn’t expect Scotty to go for the brainy type, and Sulu replies that he doesn’t think Scotty has noticed her brain yet. Yay 1960s sexism! Sigh.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Channel open. “Perhaps you can explain to her that any career she hopes for in Starfleet requires discipline and cooperation.”

“I’m sure that’s what the lieutenant wants, she just didn’t understand—did you now, lass?”

“With a bedside manner like that, Scotty, you’re in the wrong business.”

McCoy being grouchy, Scotty being conciliatory, and Chapel paying Scotty a compliment (while, by the way, using a comedy Scottish accent that’s about as good as James Doohan’s).

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Welcome aboard. Jan Shutan is overwhelmingly blah as Romaine, while Libby Erwin plays the ill-fated Memory Alpha technician. John Winston makes his one and only third-season appearance as Kyle, while fellow recurring regulars George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett are all present.

Trivial matters: This episode was written by ventriloquist/puppeteer Shari Lewis, famously the creator of Lamb Chop, in collaboration with her husband Jeremy Tarcher. Lewis was a big fan of Trek and pitched this episode to Fred Freiberger. She also auditioned for the role of Romaine, but didn’t get it—more’s the pity, as she could hardly have been worse than Jan Shutan.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

Lewis said she wrote the love affair for Scotty rather than Kirk because Kirk gets all the girls—having apparently forgotten “Who Mourns for Adonais?

Romaine also appears in Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens’s novel Memory Prime, setting up the titular successor to Memory Alpha. The short story “Ancient History” by Robert Mendenhall in Strange New Worlds VI establishes that Romaine married Captain Morgan Bateson (from TNG‘s “Cause and Effect“) some time after this episode. Both Scotty (in TNG‘s “Relics“) and Bateson wind up in the 24th century, and this story has them hashing out their differences involving Romaine. Romaine also appears in the graphic novel Debt of Honor by Chris Claremont, Adam Hughes, & Karl Story.

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

The TNG novel Takedown by John Jackson Miller establishes the Mira Romaine Center for Rehabilitation and Reintegration, a facility that specializes in helping people recover from being mentally controlled.

Memory Alpha has continued to be referenced in the tie-in fiction, and periodically in displays on screen. It’s also the name taken on by the fan-run Star Trek wiki (which is a very valuable reference tool for your humble rewatcher).

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

To boldly go. “Mira will not kill me.” I had absolutely no memory of this episode beyond a few visuals here and there—the swirly thing in Romaine’s eye, Romaine in the pressure chamber, Scotty being smitten with Romaine—but that’s about it. Watching it now, I realize that it’s primarily on the back of Jan Shutan, who has about as much presence as the lettuce with which her character shares a name. As I’ve said many times over my various rewatches, romance-in-an-hour episodes like this are heavily dependent on the acting ability of the guest-star half of the romance, and Shutan is pretty much DOA. Her line readings are flat, her chemistry with James Doohan is nonexistent (which is too bad, as Doohan really is doing his best OMG-I’m-smitten work here), and she just drains all the life out of the episode.

Which is fatal, as this episode doesn’t have all that much life in it in the first place. Like far too many third-season episodes, it’s a decent premise, with another alien life form that feels truly alien and another female character who’s at least written to be strong. But there’s a lot of filler here, as we spend way too much time on evasive maneuvers and speculating about the swirly thing and not getting readings and closeups of Romaine’s eye and Scotty being smitten, and not enough time actually moving things forward. We’ve also got the wholly pointless bit where Romaine is stuck in the transporter, which winds up being totally irrelevant to the plot, and therefore a waste of time and artificial suspense. Meanwhile, we have Memory Alpha, which is this really cool notion, reduced to a Maguffin (and no real sense of the tragedy of loss of both life and information there, beyond a dull mention by Spock that it’s devastating).

Star Trek the original series, season 3, The Lights of Zetar

And then the swirly thing is stopped by being put in a pressure chamber because… Well, we don’t know why it works, but it does. The perfect climax for this mediocre episode: the day is saved by Spock adjusting dials on a console. Exciting stuff!

This episode is notable because the creator of Lamb Chop co-wrote it, and it gave us the concept of Memory Alpha, for all that it utterly failed to do anything with it. But it is in no way interesting or memorable.

 

Warp factor rating: 2

Next week:The Cloud Minders

Keith R.A. DeCandido is one of the two Author Guests of Honor at EerieCon 18 in Grand Island, New York this coming weekend, alongside Victor Gischler. Other guests include authors Erik Buchanan, Sèphera Girón, Derwin Mak, Michael Martineck, John-Allen Price, Darrell Schweitzer, Shirley Meier, and Mason Winfield; scientists David DeGraff and David Stephenson; poet David Clink; game developers Lynn Merrill and Alex Pantaleev; and many more. Keith will be doing a Q&A, various panels and presentations, and a reading. Here’s his full schedule.

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