Mark Watches ‘Star Trek’: S02E13 – Obsession

In the thirteenth episode of the second season of Star Trek, Captain Kirk’s history haunts him and causes him to act irrationally. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Whether this was intended or not, “Obsession” felt like a companion episode to “The Deadly Years,” as if we were meant to see these back-to-back. They both cover a similarly uncomfortable ground: what does the crew do when they believe that their captain might not be fit for duty? But this episode is not about a strange sickness or disease or rapid aging, but rather the intense obsession that Captain Kirk has for solving a mystery that tormented him eleven years prior.

At times, I felt the placement of “Obsession” was both brilliant and a bit repetitive, so I admit that if this had aired later this season, I probably wouldn’t have much to criticize here. It’s still a fantastic episode regardless, and I love that this story brought out such intensity in Kirk and Bones, as well as a number of surreal and uncomfortable sequences between Kirk and the rest of the crew. ALSO: SPARKLE CLOUD. I am not ashamed of all the Twilight references I made in the video for this episode.

So! While “Obsession” sticks closely to a number of familiar patterns for this show, it eventually becomes a suspenseful study of Captain Kirk’s character. The crew goes down to a new planet, redshirts die, a bunch of characters state how impossible or improbable this is, and then we find out just how possible this nightmare is. (That’s probably the only thing that’s slightly irritating about this episode. Y’all have seen some ridiculous shit over the past few years, WHY DO YOU KEEP SAYING IT’S IMPOSSIBLE FOR X TO HAPPEN. Their standards of disbelief are so strange.) Captain Kirk is triggered by the smell of the Sparkle Cloud immediately upon the planet right before two of his crewman die, just as over two hundred of his crew died before. Understandably, Kirk is disturbed by this, but how far is he allowed to go in pursuing a method of destroying this creature?

That’s at the heart of this episode, which tracks the disturbing way Kirk engages with this thing and his own crew. One of the more shocking acts here is early in the episode, too, and it sets the tone for the whole story. When Kirk is reminded that he’s got to rendezvous with another starship to help deliver much-needed medical supplies to another planet, he prioritizes the hunt for the Sparkle Cloud. (Look, I don’t know what that creature is called, I’M NOT TRYING TO MAKE THIS SOUND SILLY. But “Sparkle Cloud” works so well! Forgive me my trespasses.) This is one of the biggest inconsistencies with Kirk’s prior characterization, since we know that he cares deeply about doing good in the universe. So once that happened, I WAS KIND OF DISTRAUGHT. What are you doing, Kirk???

But that’s the point. Kirk doesn’t act like this, so we know that this is some real shit. Of course, was it enough to just have Kirk behave irrationally? Oh, no, let’s also introduce the son of the captain who died on the USS Farragut eleven years prior because Captain Kirk hesitated to shoot the Sparkle Cloud. And then let’s have that same son – Ensign Garrovick – face off with the creature and also hesitate to shoot and it’s a cycle of awful and WOW, THIS EPISODE GOT INCREDIBLY UPSETTING IN A MATTER OF MINUTES. This is an emotionally complicated episode because of this. Kirk projects his own imagined failure onto Ensign Garrovick and treating him harshly because of it, and it’s so uncomfortable to watch. Of course, until we find out exactly what happened to Kirk on his first deep space voyage, we don’t understand why he’d behave this way, so we have to assume that his obsession has gotten the best of him.

Like I said earlier, as soon as his crew started questioning his motives and his ability to command the Enterprise, I thought it was a little too close to the events in “The Deadly Years,” but I also admit that it still works well in this specific episode. “The Deadly Years” does not have the aspect of guilt that this one does, and without that, I’d say they would be too similar. But Kirk’s guilt over his belief that he was responsible for the deaths of the crew on the Farragut is what causes him to become obsessed. It’s like he’s trying to do penance for his actions. However, Spock (BEST FRIEND EVER, I AM SO OVERWHELMED) is the one to finally provide Kirk with the context to help him get over his own sense of self pity. Personally, I didn’t think it was fair of Kirk to judge himself (or Ensign Garrovick) so harshly, but guilt is a hell of a thing.

I’m happy, then, that Spock is able to point out to Kirk that even if he hadn’t hesitated to fire his phaser eleven years prior, he wouldn’t have been able to save Captain Garrovick or the rest of the crew. This is the same information that Kirk passes on to Ensign Garrovick, and IT’S THE SWEETEST SCENE. It allows both Kirk and Ensign Garrovick to forgive themselves, and that helps them decide to risk their own lives to stop the Sparkle Cloud. That whole sequence on the Tycho system planet is so great because we see how this obsession with the creature has led these two to become courageous instead of consumed by their own sense of guilt. And I love that this isn’t about self-sacrifice either! Captain Kirk quickly tells Garrovick that he has no interest in dying; he fully intends on surviving and killing the Sparkle Cloud.

All things said, this was a thrilling episode that had a lot of great interactions between the crew and Kirk, and getting more of Kirk’s backstory is always welcome. May the Sparkle Cloud never be forgotten, though. What was that thing, anyway? What if it just wanted a friend and kept accidentally killing people? What if that was how it gave people hugs? I’ve over-thought this, probably. I’m gonna stop.

The video for “Obsession” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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