If the first season of Star Trek had ended on “The City on the Edge of Forever,” we can safely assume the show ended its first year on a very strong note. Instead, there is one episode left with the faintly ridiculous title “Operation–Annihilate!” It’s by no means a bad episode. Much of it works well. But after the drama of the previous episode, “Operation–Annihilate!” feels like a step backwards. To be fair, “City on the Edge of Forever” may be the best episode the original series ever produced. Anything would feel like a step backwards.
But here we are, with an episode that even has some ridiculous punctuation in the title.
I feel like part of the problem with this episode is it’s a bit disorganized. After a chase where the Enterprise fails to stop a smaller ship from flying into a sun, the Enterprise heads off to a nearby colony world to look into things. Something was destroying various civilizations along the path, and this colony was next in line. And to add to the drama, Kirk’s brother Sam and his family lived there.
Here’s where we get the first of the episode’s problems. Sam Kirk is dead by the time the Enterprise arrives, and rather than score some easy pathos, we instead see William Shatner playing Sam’s corpse. He’s basically just Shatner wearing a fake mustache. Sam’s wife is in bad shape with something making her crazy. His nephew Peter spends the entire episode lying around unconscious. Now, you’d think Kirk would be incredibly worried about his family. Instead, shortly after finding Sam dead, Kirk slowly starts to forget about them. The other colonists are acting weird anyway. When Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and two nameless officers beam down, a crowd attacks them while warning them away. These folks are no match for phasers set to stun, but it doesn’t make much sense. When the crew finds the giant amoeba things stuck to walls, then it starts to make sense.
That these things are highly resistant to phaser fire is concerning, but you have to wonder what to make of the lone female crewman on the away team when she says the creatures don’t even look real. Did they have meta-commentary on 1960s network TV?
But why would Kirk care less and less for his family? Simple, really. One of the amoebas attaches itself to Spock, infecting the Vulcan First Officer. From a dramatic standpoint, infecting a character the audience knows is almost certainly more effective than some character we won’t see again. But ultimately, Kirk’s nephew just disappears from the episode. A scene where Peter Kirk actually gets to speak and chooses a new guardian is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we end with a little light comedy where McCoy mutters something under his breath that Spock overheard. The ending is fine, but even the script sometimes has to remind both Kirk and the audience that millions of colonists are in danger.
Additionally, once Spock regains control of his own body, we learn the amoeba things are actually giant nerve cells. Spock theorizes that these things are part of a much larger organism, one intent on infecting as many sentient beings as it can. That is a rather fascinating concept. Granted, this is episodic television. The show will never go much beyond Spock’s theory. But we will see when Next Generation comes around the menace of the Borg. And then there were those worm things from that show’s first season, the ones that Picard and Riker ultimately stopped by making some poor guy’s head explode.
Yeah, I still can’t believe I saw that on syndicated television.
The point is, Star Trek has done a lot of impressive work with these hive mind aliens over the years. These things seem to be the original such creature, but it sure is a shame the show never went back to this well. True, they do have a rather easy-to-exploit weakness, but where did they come from? What, if anything, sent them? How does that thing regard human life? Does it even see the lives of the smaller things it infects with itself? Maybe there are tie-in novels that explore those ideas. All I know is, none of the TV series I have seen have gone back to this particular well with this particular species.
In the end, what the episode leaves us with is a race against the clock to save Spock, a young boy Kirk ostensibly cares about, and a colony full of innocent victims. The creatures are vulnerable to ultraviolet light, and even though McCoy didn’t initially know that, it did appear the first treatment left Spock blind. Only weird Vulcan evolutionary quirks allowed Spock to not only see again but also to help find his own cure. The other colonists, including Kirk’s nephew, are fine. Sure, it would have been nice to deal a bit more with the colonists, but Spock is the character the audience grew to care about. It only makes sense to follow his plight.
But how much of a plight is it if he seems to be mostly fine? He’s able to shut out the pain and even uses his infected status as a means to go down to the colony and collect a sample creature to experiment on back on the Enterprise. The biggest threat to Spock was the cure, not the disease.
And as much as I may be bagging on this episode, it still holds up pretty well. This is good Star Trek. It may not be great, but it works. We see the crew cares about each other and will work for a solution to any problem. And really, isn’t that why people love this show? It shows people working together for the greater good week in and week out. It’s about as far as you can get from TV’s current penchant for anti-heroes. When the worst character trait a member of the crew shows is McCoy simply not wanting Spock to know he called Spock the finest First Officer in the fleet, and that plan backfires, well, these people are friends and colleagues. Why not explore the galaxy with them?