Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reconsidered: "Spock's Brain"

For more about "Reconsidered," see this.

"Spock's Brain," the first episode of Star Trek: The Original Series third and final season, is universally recognized as the worst episode of the show ever produced. Is it? Let's reconsider...

We open as the Enterprise encounters an unusual looking ship being powered by an ion drive. Before contact can be established, a mysterious woman beams aboard the Enterprise, presses a button on her wristband, and renders all 400+ crewmen aboard the ship unconscious. When they start to wake up, Kirk realizes Spock isn't on the bridge, and the captain is called to sickbay by McCoy. Spock is on a on bed in sickbay, and the good doctor tells Kirk:

Hammy acting that would embarrass day players in a telenovela ensues, and Kirk decides to high tail it around the universe looking for Spock's brain. McCoy helpfully explains that due to Vulcan physiology, Spock can survive without his brain (!) for 24 hours. The crew follows ion trails around for 16 hours, before coming to a system with three class M planets. Kirk holds an informal staff meeting.
First Officer's Brain is Missing Agenda:
  1. Review agenda items
  2. Give overcooked voiceover about time remaining before Spock's body can no longer function without its brain.
  3. Discuss implications of ion trailing and excessive voiceovering only leaving crew with time to visit one planet.
  4. Give Uhura something to do (which helpfully, is a suggestion that the least developed planet is emanating strange energy pulses).
  5. Play hunch on which planet to visit.
  6. Review meeting notes (which includes "develop Starfleet procedures for stolen brains" and "how to not look embarrassed in front of the camera when discussing stolen brains")
  7. Adjourn.
Kirk and a landing party beam down, and get attacked by some primitive local inhabitants. Kirk questions one, and because he's Kirk, instantly starts asking where the chicks are. The local doesn't seem to understand the concept of a "mate," (much to the chagrin of the bulge in Kirk's pants) and runs off. Chekov finds a cave, which leads to a buried city. Kirk calls McCoy, who beams down, with Spock, wearing a headset, which allows McCoy to, no shit, move him around by remote control like a Vulcan Roomba.

In the city, they encounter "the others," a bunch of hot chicks in miniskirts and thigh high boots, who have the mentality of small children. Spock's disembodied brain reaches Kirk and company via communicator, but the gal who originally beamed on the Enterprise shows up and renders everyone unconscious (again). When the gang wakes up, they are fitted with silver belts that cause pain when those wearing them don't do what they're told. Kirk asks the hot chick in charge about Spock's brain, and she responds:
"Brain and brain, what is brain?"
It turns out, Spock's brain has been put into a "controller," which is used to regulate the planet's systems, since the race of dimwits here has forgotten how to take care of themselves. And just how did these morons remove a brain? Glad you asked. There's a spiky helmet called "the teacher," which grants the wearer enough temporary brilliance to quickly remove a brain, without leaving a scar or disturbing the haircut. Our heroes make their way to the control room where Spock's brain is being kept, but are stopped by the hot chick in charge, who activates their pain belts. The crew melodramatically rolls around some, but Kirk activates the Vulcan Roomba, and Vegetable Spock grabs the chick's control bracelet, presses a button, and the belts fall off. Hot chick explains the brain removal process, and dons the spiky hat to prove it. Suddenly, she doesn't sound a functionally retarded cast member of "The Real Housewives of Sigma Draconis VI," and points a phaser, (set to kill!) at Kirk. Kirk tries to reason with her, but she's having none of it. Then Scotty pretends to faint -- faint! -- and evidently, the spiky hat only grants so much intelligence, because she falls for it, and Kirk grabs the phaser. She won't restore Spock's brain to the Vulcan Roomba, so McCoy dons the spiky hat and will do the surgery himself. Oddly, someone who was a trained Starfleet doctor before the knowledge transfer can't do the transplant as quickly as a miniskirted rutabaga, and McCoy starts to panic. Fortunately, Spock's vocal cords are connected, so he walks McCoy through the final steps of the procedure, and sits up, instantly healed. Spock then gives a lecture on the history of the planet, and how their genders separated. Kirk tells the hot chick they'll have to tough it out without a brain in the controller, and suggests they go to the surface of the planet to get laid (and take turns using the spiky hat so they're not all morons). Then, he tries to turn Spock "off" using the remote control, and everyone laughs. End.

So, does "Spock's Brain" deserve its reputation? Oh, lord yes it does. Not only is it by far the worst episode of Trek, it may be one of the worst episodes of television I've ever seen. The problem's with Trek's third season were legion. The budget, already tight to begin with, was cut even further. The show was moved to the Friday night "death slot." Because of the late renewal, scripts weren't prepared in advance. (Though to be fair, there were still some outstanding eps produced in this season, even as it was hit and miss overall, and "Spock's Brain" was first out of the gate, leaving little time for developing a quality script). Gene Roddenberry knew that this would be the last season of the show, and basically checked out entirely, leaving things to a new producer. Cast divisions were growing, and some of the series longstanding writers departed for greener pastures. Still, given all that, there's no way something this awful should have even been filmed.

There are some interesting sci-fi concepts here, superficially. A society so run down and used to not thinking for itself that it becomes populated with brain atrophied imbeciles. Gender division that causes a breakdown in planetary growth. A Starfleet officer kidnapped and used for his expertise and mental prowess to save a diminished civilization. But the merging of the three ideas is so haphazard and stupefyingly pasted together that it's an incoherent mess, baked with terrible dialogue and frosted with unnecessarily (even for Trek) overwrought performances. And the resolution? Yes, they get Spock's brain neatly back into his head, and he hops up seconds later with no ill effects. They share a laugh, and basically tell the planet that they are fucked and leave. (Not that brain kidnappers truly deserve any special Starfleet considerations, but still, tonally, it's terrible).

Other than pure camp value, and to see just how bad a legendary and groundbreaking show can be at its rock bottom worst, there is absolutely nothing to recommend here.

"Spock's Brain" Reconsidered: F


  1. The best part of this review: "So, Does 'Spock's Brain' deserve its reputation? Oh, lord yes it does." I think I actually cackled.

  2. Was it a "my friend just had his brain removed, kidnapped, then reinserted, all without mussing his bowl cut?" kind of cackle? 'Cause that would be appropriate.

    I enjoyed revisiting "Beer Bad," but "Spock's Brain" was just painful. I don't think any mockery on my part could do more damage than the 40 minutes or so that the episode does itself.

    At least it produced a chuckle!