March 30, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Weekend Trek “The Alternative Factor”

Kirk faces a problem when a crazy guy named Lazurus insists there's an invasion coming from somewhere unknown.

It had to happen eventually.  There had to be an episode of Star Trek that I outright didn’t like.  Heck, I’ll even admit to liking parts of “Spock’s Brain,” the go-to example most people use for the series’ worst episode.  We’ll see how I feel about it when I eventually get to that one.  But up until now, the worst things I could say about any episode of Star Trek was the episode was forgettable.  I actually do remember seeing “The Alternative Factor” before.  I didn’t much like it then, but I remember it.

But, here we with “The Alternative Factor,” and I am going to do my absolute best writing this one up as I have every other episode so far.  With that in mind, let’s begin.

Now, normally, even for the forgettable episodes, I can find a moment or an idea that is pure Star Trek.  There may be a moment of Kirk or someone thinking on his feet in a way that saves the day.  Or there’s some philosophical angle to consider.  There might even be just a moment of light comedy to provoke a chuckle, or the idea the villain isn’t just the epitome of pure evil.  But there’s not much like that to “The Alternative Factor.”  Even episodes that haven’t aged well don’t fall into this category.  Yeah, Kirk might ask, “But what of Lazurus?” at the end of the episode a couple times, but my response would be “Why should I care about Lazurus?”

Let’s talk Lazurus then.  While on a routine patrol, something hits the Enterprise and the entire sector of space the ship is currently in.  A life form has appeared suddenly on the planet below the ship.  It’s human, a man named Lazurus.  Lazurus is, to put it mildly, not right in the head.  He baffles Kirk and McCoy in equal measures.  Kirk doesn’t understand what Lazurus is up to or what he wants.  McCoy just wants to know why Lazurus has injuries that appear and disappear rather suddenly.

Now, I suppose Lazurus’ story, and his story doesn’t seem to match his Biblical namesake all that well, could have been done better.  For one thing, the actor in the role was a last second replacement.  The actor originally cast just opted to not show up on the day shooting began.  Would the original actor have done a better job?  I don’t know.  I do know the replacement often doesn’t, hamming it up in ways that are beyond even what Star Trek often does.  His look is fairly ridiculous too.  He’s wearing a fake beard, but it’s a wispy thing that goes down to his chest.  His clothes make him look like some kind of denim-based pirate, but the cloth seems to shine a bit.  And every so often he stops and convulses as flashes of…something overlays him.

And somehow, a guy that distinctive looking, can disappear into the bowels of the Enterprise without anyone being able to find him?  I know it’s supposed to be a big ship, but how do you lose a guy like that?  You’d think his weird behavior alone would attract the attention of the crew.

And for someone who sounds like a raving madman, Kirk sure is inclined to listen to him.  I get why McCoy would.  The man needs medical attention.  Kirk’s attention is just baffling.  I get that Starfleet ordered Kirk to look into things, and it does turn out there is a universe-threatening problem involving Lazurus, but Kirk gives this guy too much of a lead on his leash.

So, here’s what happened.  Lazurus, who is something of a time-traveler, somehow blundered into the anti-matter universe and saw himself.  Kirk also goes there and meets the anti-matter Lazurus, a much calmer man who doesn’t have a cut on his forehead.  Both versions of Lazurus are causing problems on the Enterprise involving dilithium crystals, but the anti-matter one is sane enough to know if the two meet in either universe and come into contact, that will lead to the destruction of both universes.  The only thing to do is have Crazy Lazurus meet Sane Lazurus in a corridor between universes where the two will fight it out for all eternity.  Kirk just has to destroy the time ship on his side, trapping both in the corridor.

By the by, that time ship looks like George Jetson’s car.

But here’s where the episode gets me:  it took way too long to get to that point.  I don’t care what happens to Lazurus.  Either of them, truthfully.  Kirk can opine how tragic the whole situation is, but it just doesn’t work.  For a situation where the entire universe could die, no one seems to be in much of a rush to stop it.  It’s not that they’re being methodical.  It’s more like no one really cares enough about the situation.  You know, aside from the crazy guy having weird fits no one seems to notice.

About the only thing I can think of positive to say is the episode features another black woman as an officer that isn’t Uhura.  Uhura is hanging around in the background, and this other woman is down doing things in Engineering.  She even has some lines sprinkled throughout the episode.

Actually, there is one other good thing about this episode.  The next one is “The City on the Edge of Forever,” considered perhaps the best episode of the original series.  How much better will that one look compared to this one?

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