Thursday, November 29, 2012


Given its pedigree Metamorphosis is a disappointment. Ralph Senensky, who filmed some beautiful footage for This Side Of Paradise, directing a Gene L. Coon script should be a dream combination but the end result is flabby and disappointing. Occasionally Metamorphosis feels like an episode where some crucial external context is missing. Read the story as a metaphor for interracial love rather than just a mismatched couple (he's an out of time space pioneer, she's an energy cloud) and it's easy to see how it might have felt more significant in 1967.

Imagine replacing the characters with the most obvious stereotypes possible. Cochrane is literally part of an older generation (the Companion has kept him alive and young for 150 years) so make him an elderly southern gentleman with a lone black housekeeper (the Companion) in an isolated house. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy visit, maybe their car breaks down, and they see the relationship between Cochrane and the Companion. The pair have fallen in love without realising it, but when Kirk articulates the relationship Cochrane reacts with the disgust you would expect from someone with his upbringing. “Do you know what you're saying?... It's disgusting.... Is this what the future holds? Men who have no notion of decency or morality?”

Was this racial parable what Gene L. Coon had in mind? Metamorphosis appears to be trying for some sort of allegory. Cochrane has an odd line at the end of the story, “I might try to plant a fig tree. A man's entitled to that, isn't he?” The fig tree suggests a biblical reference to Adam and Eve, but maybe this is investing the line with more significance than it deserves. It's perfectly possible to just want an episode written by Gene L. Coon (who wrote Arena and The Devil In The Dark) to be better and this scrabbling for meaning is a way of lessening the inevitable disappointment. Sometimes a fig tree is just a fig tree, and sometimes even good writers have an off day.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are on a shuttle carrying Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford from Epsilon Canaris III, where Hedford is working to prevent a war, to the Enterprise so Hedford can be treated for Sakuro's disease before her condition becomes terminal. The shuttle is pulled off course and crashes. They meet a man who turns out to be Zefram Cochrane discoverer of the space warp, who is technically 237 but looks in his mid 30s. And there's a mysterious being called the Companion.

etamorphosis is packed with ideas but in an undisciplined way. Half a dozen plots are competing for space at the end of act one. The race against time for the dying Hedford and her work to prevent a war. The mystery of why the shuttle doesn't work when nothing is wrong. What is the Companion? The Rip Van Winkle/man out of time story of Zefram Cochrane. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy meeting an important historical figure who should be dead. The relationship between Cochrane and the Companion.

Over the next 35 minutes all those stories are whittled away until only the love story between Cochrane and the Companion remains. A good shape for a story is like a pyramid. Multiple plots at the beginning making a wide base which converge to the same point at the climax. When Edith Keeler steps onto the road in The City On The Edge Of Forever, it resolves several stories at the same time; Kirk and Spock's trip back to 1930; the search for McCoy; Kirk's love affair with Edith; the question of whether Kirk will sacrifice history for his love of Edith; restoring history to the right path. In Metamorphosis plot lines are simply discarded. Cochrane being the inventor of the space warp adds nothing to the story. It's just forgotten along with the idea that he is 237. For all the impact both plot threads have on the story Cochrane could have been no one special and crashed five years ago. The potential war on Epsilon Canaris III is dismissed by Kirk in a single line, “Well, I'm sure the Federation can find another woman somewhere who'll stop that war.” In the end Hedford effectively just dies, and she dies off screen. In The World Of Star Trek David Gerrold defines good drama as being about a character making a decision. Here we don't get to see Hedford decide whether she wants to die, or live but as a merged, and different, personality. Unfortunately the only person we do get to see make a choice is Cochrane who goes from disgust at the idea of loving the Companion to choosing a relationship, but only once the Companion is safely inside a human body. If Metamorphosis is a parable about interracial relationships then it undercuts its own message of tolerance. The deliberately stereotypical version outlined above would end with crusty old Colonel Cochrane only accepting the reality of his love once his black housemaid's brain was transplanted into the body of a southern belle.

Ralph Senensky proves his fantastic direction on This Side Of Paradise was no fluke. He works hard to inject visual interest into the story. Often he includes characters in scenes even if they have no lines. Senensky has Hedford stand in the back of a two shot of Kirk and McCoy as they discuss the mystery of Cochrane. Then later, at Cochrane's house, Kirk and Spock talk in the background as Cochrane sits right at the front of a shot. Most memorable is a much praised shot where Hedford/Companion lifts up a multi-coloured scarf and looks through it at Cochrane, seeing him as the audience saw him earlier when the cloud-like form of the Companion surrounded him.

As on
This Side Of Paradise, Senensky's eye for a good shot encourages the Star Trek technical crew to some of their best work. The unnamed planet of the Companion is the best studio interior world so far, it even has clouds in the sky; little puffs of smoke which go a long way towards making this look like a living world. It's brilliant work by art directors Rolland Brooks and Matt Jefferies. Director of photography Jerry Finnerman also does a tremendous job, using light and deep focus photography to add depth to planet surface shots. He also makes good use of lenses to make the sound stage seem huge. In the shot of Cochrane waving at the shuttle Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Hedford look like tiny dolls. Film editor James D. Ballas can't really do anything to inject pace into the story but he handles little moments like the first reveal of the Companion in an unusual way. After McCoy and Kirk join Spock at the door of Cochrane's house we get a well composed shot of the trio looking out of the doorway. This is followed by a reaction shot of Spock, which then pans to Kirk and then to McCoy. Only then do we briefly see the Companion.

Metamorphosis shares one concept with The Devil In The Dark which makes the pair almost unique among Star Trek episodes. There is no outright villain. In both stories the real problem is an inability to communicate and see things from the other persons point of view. Metamorphosis may have been a miss for Gene L. Coon but he always had a very clear philosophical vision for the series.

Enterprise crew deaths: None, although it's unclear how Kirk accounts for the loss of Hedford. “She died en route to the Enterprise so we shoved her corpse out of an airlock,” seems most likely. Let's hope her family never asked any awkward questions.
Running total: 35

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