Mark Watches ‘Star Trek’: S02E18 – The Immunity Syndrome

In the eighteenth episode of the second season of Star Trek, this is messed up. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

I think there’s something similar in “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Corbomite Maneuver” within this episode, and so it’s unsurprising to me that I liked “The Immunity Syndrome” as much as I did. I love it when Star Trek tackles something that feels like existential minimalism, when it’s just the crew and their intellect and creativity set against the uncaring vastness and brutality of space. This is not the first time that the Enterprise has encountered something previously unknown to mankind, nor is it the first episode about the Enterprise trying to escape some horrible creature. I’d even say that this episode follows a recognizable pattern in terms of how the story unfolds. And yet, it’s still an effective thriller, one that MESSED ME UP.

I think part of that comes from the fact that this episode brilliantly explores the competitive dynamic between Spock and Bones. It’s seeded into “The Immunity Syndrome” right from the beginning. His conversation with Bones about the value of life is remarkably poignant and biting, and it’s a sign of what’s to come. How do Vulcans and humans differ? Is there something beyond the physical differences between the two species? How do both of these men view their own lives, their own sense of duty, their contributions to the Enterprise or to the Federation?

All of this is written within a viciously simple premise, one that gives the writers to explore such issues. One of my favorite things that Star Trek does is to create a version of the universe where evolution is responsible for creatures that are both incredibly alien to us while still possessing something familiar. Initially, the “blob” that the Enterprise comes upon is solidly in the former category. And hell, it infuriates Captain Kirk that this being is so impossible to categorize. Granted, like the other members on the ship, he’s affected by the constant drain of energy from his body, but I don’t think you can use that as the sole reason for his irritation. Spock has always been the one with the best possible answers and explanations, but there’s no logic that he can rely on. This thing – whatever it is – defies any such explanations.

So we’ve got a complex set of variables in a simple story. The crew is physically and emotionally exhausted throughout “The Immunity Syndrome,” and each new development makes matters worse. It’s not lost on me that the crew enters a literal pocket of darkness just as the episode begins to examine darker urges and a more grim story. It’s a metaphor and an actuality, and I love that about this story. Until the end of this episode, there’s not a whole lot of hope. The stars are gone, the energy drain is frighteningly consistent, the crew are slowly dying, and they are inexorably pulled toward something within this pocket of nothingness.


God, y’all, I just love it when this show goes to such weird places with little explanation. There’s a theory proposed by McCoy that this is a version of the single-celled organisms that first appeared on Earth and fueled life on our planet, and this particular in space is just another version of that. But by the end of this episode, that’s still largely a theory. Sure, there’s plenty of evidence to support this, but I’m a big fan of how these people have to deal with this massive being using only theories. There’s no information that can help them beyond conjecture, so Spock suggests the next logical conclusion: they need to know more about this creature in order to destroy it.

What happens next is the most compelling part of “The Immunity Syndrome.” Captain Kirk watches as both Spock and Bones compete to be the person sent out in the shuttlecraft to collect data about the creature, each aware that this will probably lead to his death. It’s a stunning scene because this story suddenly becomes one about the fight between logic and emotion. Emotionally, Kirk doesn’t want to send either man, but if he does nothing, it’s entirely possible that everyone dies. That’s the sort of decision that Kirk has to make, and it’s awful. He eventually concedes that while Bones has the scientific knowledge necessary for the data collection, Spock is the one who is better suited to such a hellish trip. Oh god, y’all, he announces his decision by APOLOGIZING TO SPOCK. No, nope, I am D O N E.

And shit, y’all, it’s at this point that this episode becomes unbearable. As I’ve said before, I don’t expect Star Trek to kill off its main characters, but I was still completely taken in by this story, and that is what made this such a thrilling episode. How was Spock going to survive this journey? When we got that parallel scene where both Spock and Kirk were recording what they thought were their final messages, I WAS SO UPSET. Was this really happening? How the fuck were they ever going to escape this?

The whole anti-matter solution did feel like it came a bit out of nowhere, but ultimately, it didn’t bother me all that much. I liked that this episode came down to the wire in the end and we were left guessing about how Kirk would pull it all off. How were they going to escape the anti-matter and rescue Spock, too? WITH STYLE, OF COURSE. And it’s in that rescue that we see just how precious Spock is to Kirk and Bones. He clearly means a lot to both of them, as they were unwilling to leave him behind, even if that meant putting themselves at risk of not escaping. It’s a nice touch to an episode that I found intense and bleak at times, but hasn’t Star Trek always been about finding hope in dark places? That may be literal in this case, but it still works here. These people were put in an impossible situation, and through their own dedication to one another, they were able to find a way out of it.

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

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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