Wait, what’s this? An episode where the only featured members of the Enterprise crew are Spock, Sulu, and Uhura? And based off a short story by sci-fi writer Larry Niven? How did this one sneak into the rotation?
Regardless, this one is a bit of a different kind of treat.
It helps that all three regular characters have a role to play here. True, Uhura’s role is to be stunned and captured two or three times, but it’s still a role, and Uhura does let her general disgust show in the sort of way that a female fictional character of this era can while still being written by a man.
As it is, there are a lot of interesting sci-fi elements at play here. Spock, Sulu, and Uhura are flying a shuttlecraft to Starbase 25 to deliver a statsis box, a container that holds whatever is inside of it in a state of timeless suspended animation. A long ago race, the Slavers, used to use them to store all their important stuff, but they fought a war with another long lost race, and all that’s left are these boxes that come up from time to time. These boxes can be booby trapped, so Spock and the others haven’t so much as peaked inside to see what they’re carrying.
Then the box starts glowing, something it only does in the presence of another box. Two boxes would be an even bigger prize for the Federation, so Spock directs the shuttlecraft to land on a frozen world where the three are soon captured by the cat-like Kzinti race.
Who are these guys? Well, they have some telepaths, but those guys tend to be suicidal given all the bad thoughts they get to see. Mostly, these are a carnivorous race that has warred with the Federation in the past, making meals out of other sentient races when possible. Current treaties prevent the Kzinti from getting better weapons, but if the Slavers left behind a weapon in that stasis box, then the Kzinti will be in business. After all, they used an otherwise empty one to lure the Enteprise crew in for a second look, and a paralysis web keeps the three rooted to the floor.
Here’s where things get a little interesting. Spock lays out a game plan, explaining to Sulu that he’s the only one the Kzinti will talk to or attempt to mind read. Kzinti females are, we’re told, “not intelligent”…and that raises a few red flags depending on what that means, but it also means the Kzinti tend to overlook captured human women like Uhura. As for Spock, as carnivores, the Kzinti don’t respect vegetarians like the Vulcans. Sulu, as an omnivore man, may be a target, so he should think about eating a potato or something if he thinks he’s having his mind read.
That actually works, by the way.
These ground rules give the episode a chance to show Spock, Uhura, and Sulu playing cat-and-mouse games with the Kzinti. The stasis box does have something in it, but it’s a shape-changing device with multiple settings, most of which aren’t very impressive even when they are weapons. It really is hard to see how this thing can give the Kzinti an advantage, something Sulu repeatedly points out to them. A standard hand phaser is generally better than some of the settings on this thing.
Then Spock and Sulu escape with the device while Uhura is captured again. Spock tackles the Kzinti leader, but he lets the guy live. That’s a strategy to get Uhura back. Why would a carnivorous alien that looks down its snout at eaters of roots and leaves (as the Kzinti put it) let anything slide when one of those herbivores smacks one of their own around and lets the guy live? And by then, Sulu found a setting that was incredibly destructive.
Fortunately, the Kzinti are stupid. Even with Spock and Sulu recaptured, they figure the device can be used to do their bidding, particularly when they find the voice command function. And that’s when Spock reasons the Kzinti made their final mistake. He realizes the device was built when the Slavers were at war with another race, so anyone who doesn’t know the proper passwords is probably in for a nasty surprise.
Said surprise comes when the Kzinti order the device to go for its most powerful weapon setting, and it turns out to be a self-destruct code that kills the Kzinti, allowing the Enterprise crewmembers to get away. Sure, they may not have a stasis box for the Federation anymore, but they’re still alive, the Kzinti didn’t get a potentially devastating weapon, and one of the more unusual episodes of the Animated Series comes to a close.
I’m sure the rest of the crew will be back for the next one.