Mark Watches ‘Star Trek’: S03E17 – That Which Survives

In the seventeenth episode of the third season of Star Trek, the Enterprise faces a harrowing nightmare when they’re split up by a being who is destined to kill everyone. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Okay, I was TOTALLY INTO THIS EPISODE. Like I said at the end of the video, Star Trek has a good track record with what I like to call the “minimalist thriller.” We get a simple premise, but one that’s deliberate mysterious. Here, the Enterprise is cast nearly a thousand light years away from a “new” planet, where Bones, Sulu, Kirk, and D’Amato are stranded with no hope of water or food. This is certainly not the first episode this season where the main cast is separated from the Enterprise, so I admittedly expected all the scenes on the Enterprise to be kind of meaningless. However, the script expertly ties together this story through Losira, who acts as the main mystery within “That Which Survives.”

This is not a happy story at all. From D’Amato’s death on, this felt unusually grim for Star Trek. There are frequently deaths on this show that aren’t afforded much grandeur or meaning, but I totally believed that D’Amato was safe. Even if I never questioned the fate of Sulu, Kirk, or Bones, I was still transfixed by what was happening. Straight up: I didn’t understand it. And that’s something that can be fascinating in terms of pacing or suspense, particularly if a story can arouse enough interest that you want to know how the mystery is solved. Sometimes, that mystery can become frustrating when it’s dragged out for too long. I personally felt there was a perfect balance between all these elements within this episode, and it results in a rather exciting (and sad!) tale.

Let’s talk about some of the dynamics present here. I usually enjoy getting the chance to see Spock at the helm of the Enterprise, and this is no exception. More so than ever before, the writers explore his captaining style (is “captaining” a word???? NOW IT IS), and OH LORD. There are SO MANY moments where Spock misinterprets colloquialism or figures of speech or talks about logic or decries emotions and I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW ENDLESSLY ENTERTAINING IT IS. It’s not like we didn’t know this about him or that this is a new avenue for the show. But holy shit, there are so many eye rolls and pursed lips and I will never get bored watching this.

However, this is not the sole point of the scenes aboard the Enterprise. This episode takes Scotty to a very uncomfortable place, and while I never truly believed that he’d die, I was still rattled by his words towards the end of “That Which Survives.” I’d say this story is one about survival, particularly what various people do to stay alive and how that doesn’t always pan out how they want. Numerous crewmembers perish on the Enterprise: Ensign Wyatt, Watkins, and D’Amato all don’t survive, killed by Losira. But Scotty willingly offers himself up as a sacrifice of sorts, certain that the only way to save the Enterprise is to jettison the fuel pod WITH HIMSELF INSIDE OF IT. I’d like to imagine that the reason Spock hesitates in ordering Rahda to sacrifice Scotty is because he quietly had faith that Scotty could fix the matter-antimatter fuel flow. Even if Scotty was emotional, that didn’t mean he was incapable of doing what was necessary.

Still, I’m not gonna forgive this show for Scotty’s line about “dying anyway,” because holy shit, that was not fair.

Meanwhile, the plot onboard the mysterious “planet” was INCREDIBLE. There’s a senselessness to what happens between the surviving crewmembers and Losira, and it was unreal to watch the absurdity unfold. That’s what I mean by using a mystery to build tension. We watched Losira kill D’Amato, but she did so while saying… nonsense. Her words didn’t make sense. How did she know his name and who he was? Why did she say she was made for him? Initially, I bought into the notion that she was her own person, that she was seeking out these people to truly warn them, but after she appeared on the Enterprise a second time, killing Watkins and sabotaging the ship, that didn’t fit the pattern.

And then, she attacked Sulu, and I WAS SO LOST. But this is important: being lost in a story is not the same as being lost by a story. I didn’t feel like this was pointless. I didn’t feel like a carrot was being dangled in front of me just for the sake of it. There had to be a reason for her behavior. Hell, I thought I had it figured out! Losira’s robotic nature began to dissolve, so I was convinced that she was being controlled, that some group of beings who lived within this “station” were forcing her to attack the Enterprise.

But holy shit, the truth? It was so much worse than this. There’s no happy ending here for Losira because LOSIRA WAS ALWAYS DEAD. I loved the conclusion to this episode, because despite that it was incredibly sad, it perfectly explained everything I’d seen. It’s a horrible outcome because there’s no way to save the Kalandan’s; they had long since expired after succumbing to the virus they had accidentally created. All they had left behind was a defense system – which appeared in the likeness of the original Losira – that had been programmed to defend the planet against all non-Kalandan species. EXCEPT NO KALANDANS WERE EVER GOING TO SHOW UP BECAUSE THEY WERE ALL DEAD ANYWAY.

The show makes great use of the cellular-destruction-through-touch gimmick, though I kept wanting to burst into laughter after every time Losira said I WANT TO TOUCH YOU or I MUST TOUCH YOU. Still, it was creepy, especially when the defense system adapted in real time to the ways in which Sulu, Kirk, and Bones avoided death. In that case, the humans outlasted a machine. They’re what survived here.

And because I can’t figure out where to stick this in the review, props to this episode for featuring two black characters (omg Dr. M’Benga came back!!!) and a character with a bindi prominently displayed throughout. I know I’m rather brutal sometimes when it comes to matters of representation, but I think about how these appearances probably made a bunch of racists super mad, and I’m tickled by the thought of it.

The video for “That Which Survives” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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