In an effort to change thing up, I decided today to write a review on a Halloween themed episode of a television series. Catspaw, the first produced episode of season two of the original Star Trek series stuck out to me, considering that unlike most Halloween-themed episodes of ongoing series, this was meant to be taken seriously and also, this is the only thing coming close to a holiday special that the Star Trek franchise ever produced, airing on October 27, 1967. And that's the spooooookiest part of all.
I watched the remastered version of this episode, so at least the EFFECTS won't be too cheesey. Captain Kirk is on board the Enterprise as it orbits a seemingly dead world, waiting for contact from a landing party that inexplicably consists of the Chief Engineer Scotty, Helmsman Sulu and Some Other Guy. Aforementioned Guy teleports in, dead on arrival. Also, give that Stuntman a damn medal, because he REALLY sold that collapse off of the teleporter pad. That seriously looks like it hurt. His corpse echoes out some warning yelled through a cardboard tube, something about a demand to leave and that the ship is cursed. Not willing to leave a solid chunk of the reoccurring cast's cultural diversity behind, Kirk beams down with his power trio and they start poking around.
The planet seems to be lifeless, though there is also an awful lot of fog around for a place with no life or water. The spooks start to flash up as the wails of the damned echo off of the rocks and three spectral crones in turtlenecks show up to throw down a rhyming warning and then evaporate. Spock can only offer the commentary: “Bad Poetry”
If this episode is just going to review itself, I can leave.
To be honest, the beginning of this episode shows a bit of promise as Spock, Kirk and Bones are buffeted by strong winds and run across a big spooky Gothic castle. They sneak inside and are surprised by a hissing black cat. Kirk finally comments on the oddly thematic perils that they are enduring, saying that this would feel like an elaborate Trick or Treat if it weren't for his missing or dead crewmates. Then he casually makes fun of Spock's appearance, then the floor gives way underneath them all.
Meanwhile back on the Enterprise, Kirk has left some Randy in charge of the bridge, who's job it is to pace around and complain. He turns to another helmsman, and fun fact; this was actually Walter Koenig's first appearance on the show as main crewmember Pavel Chekov. The planet below isn't giving off life readings, but there must be some static electricity in the air doing SOMETHING to Chekov's hair. Good lord, that wig is atrocious. The B storyline up on The Enterprise mostly deals with the fact that nobody above the Lieutenant rank is on board, and she's busy trying to get a signal from the planet below. Acting Captain Randy just sort of checks for updates every once in a while and asks Chekov to try something he already did. There is next to no point to all of this.
Kirk, Spock and Bones wake up in a dungeon, starting to clue into what the hell is going on. Gothic castles, black cats and beatnik witches are all terrestrial concepts, so either they are currently wandering around the trappings of a civilization that is synchronous with human development, or something is shaping itself to their memories and concepts. Spock considers that something is trying to scare them, noting that everything around them could have stemmed from the collective unconsciousness of humanity. They are surrounded by “What man fears most”. Because everybody on earth is just HORRIFIED of black cats and turtlenecks. I'm gonna go ahead and say that a Haunted House attraction isn't all that genuinely scary. Where Silence has Lease is scary. The Borg are scary. Hell, Trelane in The Squire of Gothos is scary. This definitely fits into the Halloween "Spooky fun" subtype, but if you are trying to delve into the nature of human fear, this is not the way to do it.
Scotty and Sulu show up, stumbling around like zombies and clearly under the control of some other power. They are led at phaser point to a ridiculously tacky throne room, where some Baldy with the cat from earlier finally greets them. Ming the Fashionless over here comes off as a kind of powerful wizard, casually mentioning that his kind are not native to the planet and summoning up a banquet and inviting the still cognizant crew members to sit down, provided that they do not question anything. It's around here that the episode loses a lot of it's Halloween-y flavouring and descends into standard Star Trek fair of wacky, super-powerful aliens and ham handed messages of why humans are so cool.
When Kirk doesn't seem eager to cooperate, the wizard (Who's name is Korob) tries to appease them with jewels instead. Kirk brushes it off, this is the future after all and material wealth is inconsequential to a society of people who can just fabricate whatever they need. When they refuse to take the treasure as bribery to leave, Korob sort of shakily congratulates them, stating that they passed his various tests. He claims that the spooky castle, warnings and temptations were all part of a way to judge their character, but I get the vibe that all of this just him scrambling to look in control of the situation in an “A-Ha! I totally MEANT for you to do that!” sort of way. Then he lets his cat run into another room, and then she turns into a cat lady! You can see Kirk visibly perk up when she struts back into the room, just as Bones sort of rolls his eyes, already seeing where this is going.
The cat lady, Sylvia, claims that her kind use a form of magic to focus their thoughts into reality, like they thought their castle into existence, or killed Guy on the teleporter pad. To show what they are capable of, Sylvia toys with a small model of the Enterprise over a lit candle, the actual ship heating up in response. Then she encases it in Lucite, keeping that little collectible in mint condition and imprisoning the ship inside of a forcefield. This show of power is all in order to coerce Kirk into sharing his knowledge of his home planet and the federation, but he isn't too keen to give info on Earth and it's interests to such a hostile race. They are taken back to the dungeons while McCoy is kept with Sylvia and hypnotized into servitude.
While Spock and Kirk discuss the technology it would take to physically manifest thoughts into reality, be they from the alien's will or human subconscious, Korob and Sylvia are in pitched argument upstairs. It seems Korob wants to extract the info they need and report back to their superiors, while Sylvia quite enjoys her human form, wanting to linger amongst them and experiment. Their species are one without sensation of any kind, a universe away, and she is appreciating the ability to touch and feel both the physical and immaterial. Korob stalks off as Kirk is brought to her, but still sticks around to spy in on them like a creeper.
Things go exactly the way you'd expect between a girdled , dashing starship captain and this alien magical woman who is new to her form and eager to know more about these human things called...tongues. They mack on eachother for a bit, and then Sylvia starts to change forms to find one to please Kirk, going from a quick blonde makeover and a revealing outfit, to everybody's favourite: A mix between your drunk, 60 year old aunt and a geisha, all while someone off screen strums on a xylophone.
Kirk gets back in there, but it doesn't take long for Sylvia to realize that he is using her for information on their technology and motives. She sends him away, swearing that all he knows will be reduced to dust.
This re-reimprisonment doesn't last too long, as Korob releases Kirk and Spock, telling them to get off the planet while they can. He fears that Sylvia is growing more and more unstable and while he possesses the real power between them, she is much more eager to use it.
They escape upstairs, only to find...Sylvia prowling the halls as a gigantic black cat. Spock mentions that it makes some semblance of sense. After all, cats are “The most rutheless, terrifying animals of all, stretching back to the Saber Toothed Tiger”
Uh huh. While escaping from the death kitty, Kirk and Spock barricade themselves into a room, just as the door caves in and crushes Korob. Kirk quickly loots his body, nabbing the wand and heading up through the hole that they originally fell into. There is a brief confrontation upstairs between the duo of escapees and the hypnotized crewman, but the phasers they were holding turn out to have been drained the whole time and they manage to karate their way out of it. Kirk confronts Sylvia with the wand and Cat Lady magics them both back to the throne room, admitting that while her pendant is the source of her power, the wand is the true focusing agent of thought into reality. She draws the only working phaser on Kirk, demanding that he hand it over. Kirk responds by smashing the crystal.
The entire castle and it's contents are instantly undone, leaving Kirk and a group of confused crewmembers standing around on a rocky landscape. They finally notice the true forms of Korob and Sylvia: That of some weird Cthulu bird marionettes that wither and die in a world not meant for them. Kirk thinks its just about time to beam out of this mess and The Enterprise leaves, off to pick a fight with a space pirate and his harem of androids or something.
Catspaw is an episode with a lot of aborted plot threads. There is the initial spooky, haunted planet atmosphere that is sort of kicked to the side when the crew of the Enterprise just starts yelling at a wizard, there is the plight of the acting bridge crew up in orbit as they try to establish contact with Kirk and deal with the machinations of the witchcraft down below that doesn't get anything done, and there is also the discussion of the correlation between magic and technology, that sort of gets forgotten when Kirk and Spock start running away from a gigantic house cat. This episode just comes off as a weaker story in the whole series and not worth too much time. If you are a fan of Star Trek, you've already seen it. If not, this review has told you all you need.