I had no recollection of “Obsession” before I sat down to watch it. I do figure there may be one or two Star Trek episodes I somehow missed before, so that isn’t too surprising. So, yeah, here’s one now.
Of course, I also like to say Nurse Chapel doesn’t do much aside from assist McCoy or moon over Spock. So, allow me to point out she does something here. In a short side scene, she uses some psychology to trick a crewman into eating something. It may not be earth-shattering, but she did something. We can now go on and look at the episode in question where she won’t do much else.
Anyway, this is the episode inspired by Moby-Dick. While doing the usual visits to a weird planet, Kirk smells something familiar. Then a gaseous cloud moves in and out of a rock before killing two redshirts and badly wounding a third. The third guy dies later, but the gas seems to suck the red blood cells out of its victims. How or why the cloud does that no one can say, but the thing is Kirk believes he has seen this thing before. During an earlier assignment, the cloud attacked another starship. Half the crew, including a beloved captain, died, and young Lt. Jim Kirk blamed himself for waiting too long to fire a phaser. Now, as captain of his own ship, he may have a chance to right that wrong.
Assuming, of course, that Kirk himself isn’t wrong.
Now, the Enterprise does have places to be. They need to meet up with another ship to swap some vaccines with an expiration date rather soon. And this time, there’s no Commodore Highpockets on the ship to continually remind Kirk he needs to do this. Instead, well, McCoy, Spock, and even Scotty fill that role. But no, Kirk keeps insisting this gas cloud is alive and needs to go the way of the dodo. He even heavily berates a new security officer, the son of the beloved captain Kirk served under, for not firing his phaser fast enough at the cloud to prevent more redshirt deaths.
There are a lot of dead redshirts in this episode.
That also means the young ensign is feeling the same way Kirk does.
Now, this is an interesting development. McCoy and Spock come to what McCoy refers to as a rare agreement that maybe Kirk needs to be removed from his duty. The two do it exactly by the book, and Kirk, to his credit, doesn’t get angry with them. True, this is the second episode in a row where someone questioned Kirk’s mental facilities enough to maybe remove him from the captain’s chair. That doesn’t happen this time. Kirk can explain his actions well enough to hold his two closest friends at bay for the time being. There’s just a lot of general questioning about whether or not this cloud is alive or malicious or just a weird natural phenomena.
And Kirk, to his credit, doesn’t lose his temper with Spock and McCoy.
So, what do we have here? At first glance, Kirk is looking for a gas that can change its molecular structure, making it difficult to find with the ship’s sensors, and he and the ensign seem to be the only ones who believe the thing is alive. Kirk obsessing to the point of really screwing up could make for an interesting character dynamic.
That doesn’t happen.
Around the two-thirds mark, the cloud goes into space, flies off at faster-than-Warp 8, and then stops on a dime. The Enterprise‘s weapons don’t harm it because it can phase in and out of time-space. That let’s Kirk and the ensign off the hook. They couldn’t have killed the thing no matter how hard they tried with a hand-phaser. And then the gas gets onto the ship, killing a few more unseen crewmen and leaving Spock alone because it can’t stomach green blood.
OK, so, the bottom line here is now everyone knows Kirk was right all along. No one else questions his decisions, and he and the ensign even manage to kill the cloud with an anti-matter bomb. It looks like the Enterprise will get those vaccines to the Yorktown and everyone is happy.
But is Kirk right?
We know nothing about the cloud aside from the fact it kills people. But no one even tried to communicate with it. The cloud, in a sense, reminded me of the crystalline entity from a couple episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That alien thing also killed people, but that Enterprise discovered it was intelligent. True, a scientist on the ship, obsessed in her own way, killed the crystalline entity, but the episode presented that as a tragedy. The implication–and I haven’t seen the episode in years so I may be forgetting things–was the entity didn’t know it was killing intelligent creatures. It seemed a bit confused and regretful, and there was a chance at meaningful dialogue with something that wasn’t really evil.
We don’t get anything like that here.
Heck, this very series has done something like this before. Only, when the Horta finally showed why it did what it did, Spock did a mind-meld and everyone learned to play nice. Even the salt vampire’s death provoked some sadness. The cloud thing? Not a bit. It’s just evil. They need to kill it.
That could have all very well been true, but that does not change the fact that no one even tried to talk to it. It was intelligent. We don’t know for certain it was evil.
Basically, on questions like this even for a generally solid episode like “Obsession,” I expect better from Star Trek.