Season 2, Episode 7 (Production 31), Story 36
Written by Robert Bloch; Directed by Joseph Pevney
PLOT: Tonight, on a very special episode of STAR TREK, it’s a visit to the Halloween Planet.
SUBPLOT: Who decides which semi-regulars get to play which parts each week? Cause they suck at their job.
KIRKISM: “You can’t think a man to death.”
HEADER QUOTE SPOKEN BY: Korob
CATSPAW is one of those, “Kirk and Co. beam down to a planet and have a strange adventure with a powerful being” episodes, with the twist this time that it’s a Halloweenish, gothic fantasy planet, complete with three spooky witches, a creepy black cat, and a big, scary castle. It’s an almost fantastic episode that turns too formulaic around its mid-point, eventually rendering it nothing more than an average, if unique episode.
The first half of CATSPAW is one of my favorite beginnings in all of TOS. As the episode opens, Sulu, Scotty, and Faceless Crewman #1 are on a planet and out of contact. The crewman nobody cares about contacts the Enterprise and gets beamed aboard, where he immediately falls over dead, and then appears to issue a warning to Kirk to stay away from the planet or else everyone will die.
Kirk, of course, cares nothing for your talk of curses and immediately heads down to the planet with his two most trusted senior officers: Spock and McCoy. If we wanted to step outside of the show for a moment, it’s a completely ridiculous strategy to take the three most senior officers aboard the ship down to investigate the disappearance of two other senior officers in Scotty and Sulu, thus leaving some random guy who only has a back story because they cast the same actor two or three times in charge of the ship.
Well, it was going to come up sooner or later, so let me get to it here – I hate how they cast this show in regards to the semi-featured players: Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and now Chekov. The repeated misuse of these characters makes me question the sanity of anyone who calls Gene Roddenberry a genius because he’s got these fantastic characters that are almost never used effectively. Uhura almost never has anything of value to do, and yet last episode there’s a crapload for the communications officer to do and Uhura was nowhere to be seen, replaced, it needs to be added for everyone who yaps about Roddenberry’s colorblind future, by a temporary, white actress.
The same can be dropped at the feet of CATSPAW. With Kirk taking Spock with him, creating a vacuum in the command chair that could easily be filled by Sulu, the show makes the unbelievably dumb decision to have Sulu be one of the two missing crewmen. That would be cool and all if Sulu had something to do on the planet once they find him (or even, in a perverse way, if he was just never seen in the episode so NBC didn’t have to pay George Takei to show up this week), but they do the absolute worst thing with him – they have him stand there and say nothing for the entire show. Sulu and Scotty are being mind-controlled by the powerful aliens and so the two of them stand around, looking straight ahead with blank faces, only occasionally getting to nod or point a phaser.
It’s stupid and disrespectful to the actors who are around every week. Compare this to Doctor Who, where the writers almost always seem to give the UNIT action to Yates and Benton, thus rewarding the actors who are semi-permanent and building a stronger connection between the characters and the audience. It’s exactly what STAR TREK should do and exactly what it rarely does, which results in them wasting Uhura last episode and wasting Sulu and Scotty this episode.
Instead, we get white, action-hero looking Lieutenant DeSalle in the captain’s chair, making his third and final appearance in the series. So dumb. So, so dumb. DeSalle isn’t bad at what he does, but why give such a prime position in the episode to someone random? Either use him more (which I’d be in favor of), or use others better (which I’d be in favor of). The way TREK handles it is just bad storytelling.
Of course, even when STAR TREK tries to do the right thing in terms of building the relationship between audience and character it messes it up, such as having Chekov’s debut episode appear after he’s already been floating around for 5 or 6 episodes. This is likely more NBC’s fault than anyone in the Trek office, but it does make it odd how we see Chekov working comfortably alongside the crew a few times and then here DeSalle is talking down to him like he’s the dumbest rookie to ever step foot on the bridge of the Enterprise.
Deep breath. I feel better now. Back to CATSPAW …
When Kirk, Bones, and Spock get to the surface, they encounter warning witches, heavy fog, a big castle, a black cat, but no Scotty or Sulu. Writer Robert Bloch really makes this episode work with both the uniqueness of the premise (as hokey as it is to visit Planet Halloween, at least it’s something new) and the interaction between the three stars. The episode is at its best when the three stars are being the three stars, such as when Kirk and Spock have this exchange:
Kirk: “If we weren’t missing two officers and a third one dead, I’d say someone was playing an elaborate trick or treat on us.”
Spock: “Trick or treat, Captain?”
Kirk: “Yes, Mr Spock. You’d be a natural.”
After they encounter the three floating, ghostly witches who warn Kirk and Co. to stay away using threat poetry, Kirk asks Spock for a comment to what they just saw.
“Very bad poetry, Captain.”
To which Kirk drolly requests, “A more useful comment, Mister Spock.”
Shatner and Nimoy have reached the point where they really know how to sell these moments. Kirk keeps his words professional, but the look of slight annoyance and almost amusement on his face is what makes the scene work.
Unfortunately, all of the goodness that this episode creates in the opening twenty minutes is sunk by the latter half of the episode, where it turns into just another one of these routine “defeat the powerful alien” episodes. It almost doesn’t matter what the specifics of the alien threat entail because it almost never matters – they’re just powerful people who think humans are bugs and the Enterprise crew needs to stop them. Kirk attempts to seduce their way out of their predicament but Sylvia sees through it, turns into a giant cat, and … it gets better … then turns into a tiny alien creature made by somebody’s five-year old kid for summer camp.
It’s a shame that the formula of STAR TREK drowns the opening premise in sameness, and a shame that the production practices don’t know how to properly utilize their cast beyond the show’s three main stars.