I have said more than once that sometimes I don’t know what to make of a given episode of Star Trek (and a lot of other shows, too). That may be one of the truest things I could say about “Assignment: Earth”. Why? Well, it’s a backdoor pilot for a spin-off series Gene Roddenberry was hoping to get off that ground. Said show, also titled Assignment: Earth, never got off the ground from here.
You know, I’m more or less fine with that.
I mean, the story structure for this episode is just weird. Plus, someone decided to end Season Two with this one. Granted, the premier for Season Three may be a little weirder, but this one is really, really weird.
For one, there is arguably no antagonist for this episode. Kirk spends most of it trying to figure out if the mysterious Gary Seven is telling the truth. That’s about all he does. Actor Robert Lansing plays Gary, and he got his name listed in the opening just after the episode’s title. Star Trek never did that for other guest stars that I can recall.
Regardless, Gary claims he’s human, raised by an advanced alien race that can beam people across the galaxy. Scotty calls that impossible. He better not tell J.J. Abrams that. Gary also has a gadget that can knock someone into a state of barely conscious bliss and can shrug off Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch. It’s probably a good thing he isn’t evil. He certainly isn’t the antagonist. He’s the one with goals. That makes him the protagonist.
I guess if anyone is the antagonist, it’s Kirk. He and the Enterprise crew spend most of the episode trying to, if not stop Gary Seven, then at least catch up to him. As it is, Gary is so good at what he does that he mostly makes Kirk look like a chump.
Gary’s mission is to both sabotage a nuclear missile and stop it before a World War III breaks out. That seems…counterproductive. Apparently, his actions lead to an important truce. I can go along with that, I suppose.
Additionally, the only reason the Enterprise is in 1968 in the first place is because of a mission. Starfleet ordered them to do some historical research, and this time, they’re smart enough to stay out of range of anything that might spot them. You know, except whoever sent Gary to Earth.
Gary also has a well-trained cat named Isis. Isis assumes a human form at one point. She’s an attractive woman as a human for the handful of seconds she appears on screen. Fun fact: that actress worked uncredited. Someone finally figured out who she was in 2019. That would be this past January. Make of that what you will.
But, anyway, here we have no-nonsense Gary Seven. He seems to have everything well in hand. His only real mistake is to treat the secretary in his office as someone in the know. Two of his kind had gone in ahead of him, and Gary assumed young Roberta Lincoln (a very young Teri Garr) was one of his agents.
She wasn’t. If there’s anything great to this episode, it’s how utterly delightful Teri Garr is. Yes, the episode may play her as little better than a ditsy blonde, but it does show, if nothing else, why she was so well-cast in her reoccurring role on Friends. There is a very strong Phoebe vibe from Roberta.
Granted, she goes from thinking Gary is a dangerous lunatic to the only hope to stop the missile inside of a minute because, well, I guess the script said she had to.
And, well, that’s really all I have to say about this one. Why should I spend a lot of time thinking about an episode where the main characters of the show don’t even do much. Sure, Kirk does the standard spin-off line about all the future adventures Gary and Roberta will have, but this is all we’ll ever see.
By the way, why didn’t Kirk check the historical records for Gary Seven before then? He might have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had.
But there was one thing I learned that I didn’t know when I looked over the Wikipedia entry after I watched the episode. Even though Lansing and Garr never reprised their roles, Gary and Roberta did appear in a few non-canon novels. And, apparently, they were the ones who defeated one Khan Noonien Singh.