Season 2, Episode 26 (Production 56), Story 55
Written by Gene Roddenberry and Art Wallace
PLOT: The Enterprise goes back to 1968 to help Gene Roddenberry pitch a new series.
SUB-PLOT: Will Teri Garr call the cops?
KIRKISM: “Humans of the twentieth century do not go beaming around the galaxy, Mister Seven.”
HEADER QUOTE SPOKEN BY: Roberta Lincoln
For kicks and smirks, the Federation sends the Enterprise back to 1968 to do some historical research on how in the heck the world survived with all that chaos going on. There’s a transporter mishap and suddenly a suave older dude is aboard the Enterprise. Kirk wants to know who he is and why he’s holding a cat, and the stranger is like, “I’m here to guarantee Gene Roddenberry keeps getting paid when you get cancelled.”
His name is Gary Seven and he quickly figures out that the Enterprise is here from the future. Seven is mysterious and suave and a better character than the clunky script deserves. Look, I like this episode, and the chemistry between Seven and Roberta Lincoln (played by the plucky and beautiful Terri Garr) could make a great basis for an ongoing television show, which is what Roddenberry was using this episode to pitch to the network, but most of the fundamental issues with Roddenberry’s style of storytelling are in evidence here, too. Put in the simplest language, Roddenberry makes really boring television. However good or inspiring his ideas, he crams them into formulaic plots that make his characters adhere to the story rather than allowing his characters to act organically. When I sit down to watch an episode of STAR TREK, I know generally what Kirk and Spock and McCoy are going to do, but I also know that first and foremost they’re going to act in a way that adheres to this episode’s needs, even if that means acting dumber than last week.
Because ASSIGNMENT: EARTH is a tryout for Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln, the Enterprise crew has to act in ways that serve them. So when Seven tells them he’s a human that’s been on a distant planet so advanced and awesome that it won’t even be known in Kirk’s time. Seven tells them if they don’t beam him down to the planet, Kirk will be responsible for changing history. So Kirk puts him in jail to think about it.
Luckily, Gary Seven has seen this episode so he knows how to escape. He can disable guards. He can survive Spock’s Vulcan Nerve Pinch.
But he can’t defeat a phaser, leading to Kirk saying incredibly insightful things like this:
“Captain’s log, supplemental. A man in a 20th century business suit – what is he? Not even Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch could stop him. Without our phasers, he would have overpowered all five of us. I find it difficult to believe the mysterious Mr. Seven can be Human. And yet, suppose he is?”
Yes, Kirk, suppose he is. That could mean … something.
Luckily, Seven is as bored with this as I was, so he and Isis escape. Although maybe Isis just wanted out because Spock was creeping her out.
They go to Earth, where Seven has a secret office that comes complete with a secretary who doesn’t know who he is, but is still willing to say things like, “I know this world needs help. That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know? We wonder if we’re going to be alive when we’re thirty.”
Gary Seven and his cat go interfere with a rocket launch and Roberta starts to think something’s wrong and Kirk and Spock get arrested and have to watch other people star in their show.
All in all, ASSIGNMENT: EARTH isn’t a bad episode but it’s not a great one, either. I can see why no one wanted The Adventures of Gary Seven and His Secretary Show, and if Roddenberry wanted the show to get picked up, he probably shouldn’t have spent all this time with silly bits like Seven proving his identity to his computer, which just feel like a D&D instruction manual.
That said, Season 2 of STAR TREK has a lot of good but even more bad. ASSIGNMENT: EARTH is kinda emblematic of the entire season in that regard – there’s some good ideas here but mostly it just feels completely forgettable, and forced to adhere to a formula that’s not very interesting.