TOS Rewind #34: "Catspaw"
Happy Halloween! We happened to hit this episode, one that's actually Halloween-themed, this week. Funny...OK, so we're a little late. Boo!
So we have Catspaw (10/27/1967), the one original series holiday special, so to speak.
Eric and Rob joined me on the podcast, which can be downloaded/listened to here.
So here we have the single holiday-themed episode in Trek history (I think). Sure, it's no Star Wars Holiday Special, but it's pretty weak for a second season episode.
I think the big issue here is that the writers couldn't seem to figure out whether this was going to be a silly/campy "Jiffy Trek" or something with serious concepts. There's a bit of both here, really and the mix just doesn't work. There a number of jokey references which, while amusing by themselves, just add to the muddled nature of this episode. The ending, as Rob points out on the podcast, is a bit odd as well. The idea seems to borrow from other Trek material and the idea of aliens assuming human form and not being able to deal with the accompanying "sensations," (ahem!) gets used again in future episodes. Another problem is that we don't really get what the aliens actually want from Kirk and co.
The acting here ranges from just okay to quite mediocre. I didn't think the actor playing Korob was too bad, but the woman playing Sylvia was often laugh-inducing. Part of it was her lines and costumes. Speaking of costumes, who thought the fuzzy wig on Chekov was a good idea? It looks really bad. They had the good sense to ditch it later, thankfully. The worst performance/character had to be DeSalle, the guy who's left in command when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down (Scotty and Sulu were already missing). He comes off as this stuck-up, annoying throw-back to bad WW2 combat movies: "Maybe we can't break it, but I'll bet you credits to navy beans we can put a dent in it!" Uh, yeah. That'll show 'em! Another great quote: "I can squash you! And that would be an interesting sensation, yes." Tee hee. The scene where Sylvia is trying to get it on with Kirk made Stacie laugh a lot. Of course, right after that when she finds out he's just messing with her is pretty fun. There's also a sequence where Sylvia, in the form of a black cat, grows to giant size to threaten Kirk and the landing party. It looks so incredibly silly that I was instantly reminded of the scene in Team America: World Police where the puppets are attacked by a black house cat.
Growing up, I would watch this one and say the 1970s equivalent of "Meh." Now, it doesn't hold up so well. It happens. I watched the BD/remastered version and aside from a re-done view of the outside of the castle, there wasn't a whole lot to see.
Now let's see what Eric made of this one:
It recently occurred to me that my written reviews of late have been nothing more than recaps of our podcasts, so starting with this review, I'm going to attempt a literary analysis (or something bearing a vague resemblance to a literary analysis) of our chosen episode. And I'll ask your forgiveness in advance--it's been a loooong time since I've written anything like this.
To begin, I'm certain there are many who would argue strenuously that there is nothing literary about Star Trek worthy of analysis. I, of course, disagree. As I've mentioned before, almost all of the original Star Trek episodes had underlying themes that were interesting and sometimes even profound. They not uncommonly suffered from poor presentation and/or inadequate development, but they are still there. And with a little coaxing, they can be brought out and examined. So, here goes...
"Catspaw" is about the use and abuse of power and the attendant consequences. Throughout the episode, the experiences and fates of Korob, Sylvia, and Captain Kirk show that a person must have the courage to use power and the wisdom and strength not to abuse it.
Consider Korob. He is the alien who has control of the transmuter, and thereby wields extraordinary power, but he doesn't use it to stop Sylvia until it is almost too late. When he is talking to Captain Kirk, he alludes that Sylvia's instability is the reason their introduction to our galaxy wasn't peaceful. So early on, Korob knew, or at least suspected, that there was a problem and didn't have the courage to act preemptively to head off the impending disaster. Of course, it can be argued that such suspicions aren't adequate to warrant neutralizing one's partner, but Korob also harangues Sylvia for abandoning her duty to their superiors, which should've been sufficient reason for him to act. Again, he lacks to courage to do what must be done, so it isn't until Sylvia has killed, enslaved, and goes on a murderous rampage, threatening to wipe out all human life, that he finally takes action. This gives Kirk the opportunity to defeat Sylvia, but in the process, Korob is killed.
Conversely, Sylvia has no problem whatsoever with using power. In all fairness, her situation is much like that of a drug addict. In taking human form, she is suddenly exposed to a host of intoxicating sensations that overwhelm her. This is understandable, if tragic. She uses her power not so much for the sake of power itself, as is true of so many villains, but rather to get her "fix" of sensations. In any case, regardless of her motivations, Sylvia grossly abuses her power--she commits heinous crimes (murder and slavery) and threatens genocide (credibly, one must assume) against the human race. Her fate, much like Korob, is defeat and death. And along the way, she is manipulated by Kirk, just as she used members of the Enterprise crew.
So now we come to Kirk's role. He is also unafraid to use power, which he has shown numerous times. It could be said that he is irresponsible because he takes sexual advantage of Sylvia, who doesn't understand sexuality or sexual politics. But at this point the question becomes: Do Kirk's actions demonstrate a lack of responsibility and morality, or do they show the strength and courage Korob lacked? The answer lies in Kirk's motivation in manipulating Sylvia, which is to gain the information and influence necessary to save the Enterprise and its crew, and (somewhat melodramatically) all of humanity. As a Starfleet captain, he swore an oath to protect not only his crew but also the entire Federation, so his motivation is rooted in sworn duty, and, in a larger sense, the moral obligation any decent human being would feel when faced with a threat to the human race. Also, perhaps even more tellingly, Kirk does not manipulate Sylvia out of malice or for his own benefit or pleasure. He does what he must do. He has the strength to use his power (masculine wiles?), and although he may be ruthless, he uses that power responsibly. As a result, he survives and is successful.
So "Catspaw" shows us that it is wrong not only to abuse power, but also to allow fear to prevent one from using power when it is called for. The ideal is to be strong enough to use power when needed and to temper that usage with wisdom so that it does not become abuse.
Next time: "I Mudd"