|“I’m so sorry.”|
Really, it’s a bit unrealistic to expect Star Trek to come up with something to top “The City on the Edge of Forever” for its first season finale. Even if you, like me, grant that last episode was ultimately a morally bankrupt nightmare on every possible level, the sheer gravity it exerts upon the series, and the larger franchise, is undeniable. For those enraptured and left starry-eyed by the events of last week, it’s tough to see how anything, let alone a story about flying parasitic space pancakes, could possibly live up to their expectations, and for those with the perhaps more applicable response of being deeply disturbed and unsettled by the fallout from “The City on the Edge of Forever” (and maybe the last few months on the whole) it’s tough to get excited or optimistic about anything Star Trek does at this point.
But this is being a bit unfair to “Operation — Annihilate!”. The concept of the season finale as we know it was not one that was as entrenched in pop consciousness as an indelible part of television literacy the way it is today. That didn’t begin to happen until approximately the 1980s (and no, it was not the result of the episode you’re thinking of either: As talented as Michael Piller was, he didn’t invent the season finale-At the very least let’s not forget Dallas and “Who Shot J.R.?”). “Operation — Annihilate!” plays out more or less like an average episode of the series as of 1967, which is not entirely terrible. It’s certainly not as great as the best episodes of the year but, mercifully, it’s also leagues better than the worst (and there have been a lot of worsts).
The first thing this episode unequivocally has in its favour is the acting. Anyone who thinks William Shatner is a poor actor really ought to watch this one (and probably “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, “Balance of Terror” and “Miri” as well) because once again this is a stellar showcase for his talents. Kirk has a lot of emotional investment in this story, as first his brother, his family and then Spock all succumb to the neural parasites. Shatner plays it as any good old-school thespian would: With gratuitous, overstated theatrical flourish that very clearly marks every single thought and emotion that crosses Kirk’s mind. We watch Kirk grow increasingly more desperate and determined, and every single iota of his pain and and resolve is highlighted for our benefit.
What it comes down to is that Shatner isn’t a method actor: His approach is not, as a general rule, about trying to get his mental state to emulate Kirk’s. Instead, what he does is take great care to meticulously outline the sorts of emotions his character would most likely be feeling in a given situation and draws our attention to them by conveying them ever-so-slightly caricatured. So, for example, in the teaser, Shatner plays Kirk very visibly anxious and preoccupied when recording his log entry on the Deneva colony.…