Thursday, October 11, 2012

Who Mourns For Adonais?

Most obviously Who Mourns For Adonais? is very much of its time. At the top of the episode McCoy has a line about Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas, “one day she'll find the right man and off she'll go, out of the service.” A line which could be taken to mean married women cannot serve in Starfleet, or that once Palamas has found the right man she'll have no interest in a career. In a better episode this line might just provoke a shrug at the different values of 45 years ago but there are other problems with the script.

For starters Lieutenant Palamas doesn't have much in the way of a character. She fills the same role as Lieutenant McGivers in Space Seed; to be seduced by the guest villain until reminded of where her real loyalties lie. However McGivers had a reason to fall for Khan. She's a historian fascinated by strong men from history, she doesn't seem to fit in on board the Enterprise and her skills are under appreciated by Kirk. Palamas on the other hand doesn't have any comparable motive for falling for Apollo. At the start of the episode she's in a relationship with Scotty, then she beams down with the landing party and when Apollo starts putting his 5000 year old moves on her she's his. Passed from one member of the cast to another without any say in the matter like a football.

One minute Palamas is arguing with Apollo. “But why? What you've said so far makes no sense at all!” Then when Apollo invites her to frolic like the Greeks of old, “you will know what it is to be a goddess,” and Scotty objects and is zapped while drawing his phaser she doesn't really react. She might at least be expected to run over to Scotty and see if he's injured but Kirk does that. Next Apollo magics her into a new dress and takes her for a walk. “Come,” says Apollo and when Scotty intervenes he is thrown backwards across a table, in a well set up stunt, and knocked unconscious. Palamas isn't really that bothered, she doesn't attempt to leave Apollo's side, and goes off with him into the forest. She doesn't even ask if Scotty's all right. She saw the man she's been dating struck under the chin by a massively powerful being who claims to be the Greek god Apollo. She saw him thrown backwards with a crash of thunder to lie still on the ground. McCoy's diagnosis of Scotty as stunned doesn't occur until after Palamas has gone off with Apollo. Scotty could be dead for all Palamas knows. Now try watching her next scene which starts with Palamas' line, “oh it's lovely,” and ends with Apollo kissing her, and try to make sense of it from her perspective. This is not a complaint about 45 year old sexism. It's simply bad writing.

To be fair to Leslie Parrish, the actress who plays Palamas, she seems to be aware of this problem. She makes Palamas look afraid when all this is going on, but the end result is a character who appears to be frightened by the violence itself rather than showing any concern for Scotty. As if Apollo and Scotty were fighting over Palamas in a nightclub. That said Palamas does get to play an essential role in distracting Apollo at the end of the story, and she gets one of the script's best lines when she has to pretend to be studying Apollo to see how he copies human behaviour.

APOLLO: I am Apollo. I've chosen you.
CAROLYN: I'm sure that's very flattering, but I must get on with my work now.

Much more difficult is the scene towards the end where Apollo calls down a storm after he is angered by Palamas rejection. This can be read as a rape scene. Palamas is alone, and afraid. As the winds blow around her she clutches her dress and holds it down as if to protect herself. Apollo, semi-transparent, appears superimposed over storm clouds as if he is either riding the wind, or actually the storm itself. Then Lieutenant Palamas falls to the ground and shouts, “no,” before we see an extreme close-up of Apollo's face still superimposed over the storm, and then the image cuts to a slow zoom towards Palamas as if the audience is seeing her from Apollo's point of view. Obviously the storm could just be Apollo's anger but there is a precedent within Greek mythology, and even specific myths relating to Apollo himself, to suggest this scene could have a much darker symbolic meaning. Technically it's impressive work. Well edited and well scored, in fact the music throughout this episode is consistently excellent. It also works dramatically within the context of the story, but it's steering the programme into waters it is not really equipped to navigate. If it is intended to suggest Apollo raping Lieutenant Palamas, then it gives the ending of the episode, where the audience are invited to feel sympathy for Apollo, a completely inappropriate tone.

Scotty is subject to some very odd characterisation. He's not acting out of character because Scotty has tended to be written according to the needs of each script, and generally it's left to James Doohan to pull the disparate threads together and make Scotty seem like a person. We've seen him be quietly professional in The Naked Time and The Galileo Seven, distracted in Mudd's Women, and gung ho in A Taste Of Armageddon. In Who Mourns For Adonais? Scotty is written as a lovesick teenager. He cannot keep his eyes off Palamas. And when Apollo takes Palamas from him, his instinct is to lash out. Scotty attacks Apollo three times in the course of this episode. Each time to no effect and each time sustaining more and more damage. In Futurama's Star Trek spoof Where No Fan Has Gone Before there is a running joke about Welshy (Scotty's replacement after James Doohan declined to appear) being killed by Melllvar, and his corpse being electrocuted again and again whenever Melllvar becomes angry. Who Mourns For Adonais? could well be the source for that joke.

It's difficult not to feel that writer Gilbert Ralston is just being lazy. Scotty's madly in love with Palamas because it's simply the easiest way to jam a bit of conflict and peril into the second and third act, not because it's a story the writer wants to tell. If Ralston really wanted to write a story about Scotty in love he would have actually put some effort into making it look like Scotty and Palamas were in a relationship. As it is, it's all one way. Scotty can't keep his eyes of Palamas whereas she never really reciprocates. “Oh all right,” is her response to being invited for coffee, and while he calls her Carolyn she calls him Scotty. He fights and risks his life for a woman who never even puts her arm round him. It actually looks less like love and more like obsession; which is worrying considering Wolf In The Fold is coming up.

Ultimately this all affects suspension of disbelief. The triumph of Amok Time is it makes the audience believe Vulcan exists beyond the confines of the television screen. A strong and enjoyable script makes the audience willing to overlook the implausible elements which might otherwise remind them they are watching a story filmed on a soundstage on Gower Street in Hollywood. It's why Joseph Pevney's occasionally clumsy handling of the Gorn in Arena doesn't affect the overall episode; beyond some good natured ribbing about the quality of the costumes. Likewise it's why the obviously fake spore plants in This Side Of Paradise don't matter. If that episode had been filmed on a soundstage planet filled with equally weird looking alien vegetation they could have passed without notice. Filmed on location and contrasted with real plants and trees they might have wrecked the episode. In fact This Side Of Paradise is so confident it makes the plant's appearance the subject of a joke. “What exactly are we looking for anyway, sir?” asks Kelowitz. “Whatever doesn't look right, whatever that is,” replies Sulu (who worked in the botany department in The Man Trap) oblivious to the bizarre plant slightly to his left.

In Who Mourns For Adonais? the absence of believable reactions from Palamas and Scotty means the episode never gels. Michael Forest puts in very good work as Apollo, and makes some very wordy dialogue sound like actual speech. Walter Koenig makes the most of limited scenes as Chekov.

APOLLO: I am Apollo.
[Kirk reacts]
[McCoy reacts]
[MUSIC: dramatic chord!]
CHEKOV: And I am the tsar of all the Russias.

Not the funniest response in the world but it's an interesting way to puncture the mood by introducing a character prepared to give backchat to the antagonist. Star Trek has not really gone in for sending up the baddies before so this is an interesting direction for the series, and the new character.

Matt Jefferies works miracles on a story which requires Apollo to have his own temple. It's fun-sized in comparison to real temples but it's an impressive set element; possibly the biggest the series has used so far.

Also impressive is the shot which ends act one, Apollo tripling in size and towering over the landing party booming, “welcome to Olympus”. It may be Star Trek's most ambitious effects shot so far. The first effects shot, I think, combining two live action elements rather than using overlaid animation, like phasers, or a glass painting. It's made more complicated by being layered so Apollo stands in front of the temple, and then he himself is partially obscured by a marble table in the foreground (a process Wikipedia tells me is a called a travelling matte which means I know what it's called even if I don't really understand how it works). The contrast is a little bit wonky, and the lighting not quite right but it's impressive given the budget and time limitations Star Trek always faced. Another memorable, and bizarre, image is the shot of the hand gripping the Enterprise. In fact judged purely on the visual side, this is a strong episode. The one oddity is the editing decision which means the shot of the hand holding the Enterprise is not used to bookend the opening titles. It begins act one, but it also seems like the ideal shot to end the teaser.

Enterprise crew deaths: None, again. Apollo throws a lot of electricity around but there are no fatalities. Nobody gets Westinghoused. 
Running total: 26

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