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September 8, 2012

TOS Rewind #49: "The Omega Glory"

And now we get to The Omega Glory (3/1/1968).

Eric, Rob, and I recorded a podcast. click here to listen or download

I write this on September 8, 2012; 46 years to the day that Star Trek first aired on television. Fascinating.

Here we have another episode where the Cold War shows its influence on the series, in particular, on Gene Roddenberry who wrote this episode. Roddenberry considered using this script for the show's second pilot (after the network rejected "The Cage"). Of course in hindsight its easy to see that they chose the correct episode. "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is a more balanced, comprehensive representation of Star Trek, or at least of what the show was intended to be. I do have to wonder though how different this episode would have been had it been produced in 1965-66, at the very beginning of the series, and not more than halfway through Season 2.

The basic idea for this episode is actually quite compelling. The Enterprise encounters another Federation starship with its crew dead from a mysterious disease with only the last brief log entry from the ship's dying doctor to provide any clues. So, first of all, the Exeter has been missing for months and yet Kirk and the crew don't seem to be on a mission to find the ship. If the Enterprise is looking for the Exeter, it is not made at all clear from the episode's dialogue. Also, a disease that reduces a human body to a "few pounds of chemicals" seems a bit far-fetched. However, the story works better if the fate of the Exeter crew remains a mystery for at least a while.

Once Kirk and the landing party beam down to locate Captain Tracey, who is the only survivor from the Exeter, they soon discover that they have dropped into the middle of a local conflict between the Kohms and the Yangs with Tracy propping up the Kohms with the power of his phaser. This situation is a classic example of Star Trek's Prime Directive: Tracey has clearly violated the Directive with his self-serving interference in the planet's affairs.

Tracey, as a way of trying to convince Kirk that his actions were justified, explains that the immunity that the planet provides from the disease that killed the Exeter crew, also grants enormously long lifespans to those who live on the planet. Tracey believes that this can be isolated by McCoy and made into some kind of serum that will grant near-immortality to those who take it. Tracey thinks this will be his golden galactic ticket to fame and fortune; he also believes it will justify him killing thousands of people to get it.

Kirk of course doesn't buy into all this which sets up the conflict between the two captains. The episode actually works well until the end where it's revealed that the Yangs and Kohms are close parallels to Earth's America and Communist (China, I assume) rivalries. The story angle regarding Tracey trying to use the long life span of the locals to his own end is well done and the conflicts surrounding the Prime Directive work well. It just goes off the rails for me when Roddenberry uses such an obvious thing as making the two sides direct copies of Earth nations, right down to the USA flag. This reliance on familiar symbols and ideas that are SO similar to Earth is either a sign of laziness or believing, as Eric points out, that the audience needs to be spoon-fed the idea. The audiences in 1968 didn't need that and other Trek episodes managed to work in then-contemporary socio-political ideas without such brute force in the writing.

I believe this episode could have been one of the best in the series, had the script been written differently; the story idea is very good. The production quality and acting is also not a problem. Ron Tracey is a great character and a significant opponent to Kirk. In fact, Captain Tracey beats Kirk more than once. Tracey is also a character who, due to his personal nature or the effect of his entire crew dying while he stayed behind, is coldly determined to get what he wants and survive. Tracey is desperate to win at any cost. There is also great interaction between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy here. All of this makes for an episode that comes tantalizingly close to being a great show but is undone by the writing, in this case another "parallel Earth" story line. I think Trek is best when it stays away from this and doesn't get too literal with its commentary on the times.

The remastered episode I watched looked very good and it was fun to see the lettering on the hull of the Exeter where in the original effects shots (which were not at all bad), we just saw a mirror image of the Enterprise orbiting the planet.

And, Spock's mind meld from across the room was quite silly.

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And here's Eric's review:

As with my previous review, sadly I need to preface my comments with the news that another Star Trek alumnus has passed away. William Windom, the actor who played Commodore Matthew Decker in "The Doomsday Machine," passed away on August 16th. He was 88.

Now on to "The Omega Glory," an episode I fondly remember. And I was pleased to find that, for the most part, it has held up well over the several years since my last viewing. There was, however, a significant flaw that never stood out before: the exact parallels to Earth and the Cold War, were so blatant as to be laughable. It didn't ruin the episode for me, but I do hate being jarred out of an otherwise good story by something so ridiculous. One would think that at least a little subtly, and a little less spoon feeding, would be possible. Also, Spock's long distance mind meld at the end of the episode really doesn't work for me.

But on the other hand, this episode has two of the best guest stars in the original series: Morgan Woodward as Captain Ron Tracey and Roy Jenson as Cloud William. Both characters were interesting and had surprising depth, and both were played quite well. I especially like the way Capt. Tracey comes off as a stone cold bad-ass.

There is also the good action sequences and character interaction I've come to expect from original Trek, but the one aspect of this episode that sets it apart for me is that we get to see another Constitution Class starship, the Exeter. There are just a few episodes from the original series that feature other Starfleet personnel, and even fewer that show other Starfleet ships. Seeing them gives us a broader context for the series and reminds us that the Enterprise, despite being unique and special, is just one part of a very large fleet.


Next time: "The Ultimate Computer"