Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wolf In The Fold

One week after Obsession asked the audience to consider the question “will Kirk sacrifice everything for vengeance?” To which the only answer can be no. Wolf In The Fold asks the audience, “has Scotty suddenly become a murderer?”

How much does this matter? The audience goes into Obsession knowing Kirk's desire for revenge at all costs will take place within strictly defined boundaries. He's not going to strap himself to the anti-matter as bait and shriek, “from hell's heart I stab at thee,” before detonating. The episode succeeds or fails not on the strength of the ending, but on the way the story is told, and Obsession works because it is packed with incident. When the Enterprise crew discover the cloud vampire can travel through space it opens up the story. Kirk is no longer trying to track down a single monster skulking on a planet. Suddenly there's a high speed pursuit. Then the creature turns to attack and invades the ship becoming only the second foe to directly breach the sanctity of the Enterprise under its own power; Trelane was the first; others like Nomad are brought on board.

By contrast Dagger Of The Mind asks the audience, “is there something rotten in the Tantalus penal colony?” The episode fails because the script fills the next three acts with Kirk investigating, and finding that everything in the colony is good, before the reveal at the end of act three that there is something nasty going on after all. The episode doesn't attempt to make the investigation itself interesting or different (the one exception being the introduction of the Vulcan mind meld). There's no acknowledgement that setting up a place as nice, and then revealing it to have a dark secret, is an antique piece of storytelling. The script plods on as if the viewer has never encountered this type of story before and expects us to be amazed at the twist that Doctor Adams, the only other major character in the story, is actually the villain.

So is Wolf In The Fold like Obsession or Dagger Of The Mind? At the start it does look like Wolf In The Fold expects the audience to sit through 48 minutes of seeing Scotty accused of murder, before the surprise reveal of his innocence in the last act. In the teaser, even before the first murder is committed, the script heaps on unconvincing psychobabble to try and make the viewer believe something is wrong with Scotty.

MCCOY: ... Don't forget, the explosion that threw Scotty against a bulkhead was caused by a woman.
KIRK: Physically he's all right. Am I right in assuming that?
MCCOY: Oh, yes, yes. As a matter of fact, considerable psychological damage could have been caused. For example, his total resentment toward women.

But having set up the plot Robert Bloch's script seems to realise it's a narrative dead end to wring drama out of Scotty's predicament. Instead the story takes a turn towards farce, trapping Scotty in more unlikely and implausible situations. There are three murders, and each one makes Scotty look increasingly guilty. One of the problems for a writer is that the audience is often ahead of you in terms of plot development. The script does seem to acknowledge it knows the watching audience are waiting for Kirk and Spock to pull some technological rabbit out of a hat and clear Mr. Scott's name. At least, the watching adult audience knows Scotty can't be the killer. It's important to make the distinction between the way children and adults watch television. I can remember being a much more innocent viewer and essentially taking it on trust that what was shown was really happening.* If I saw Wolf In The Fold when I was younger I would have been horrified at what Scotty was doing.

There is certainly plenty of incident along the way. Aside from the murders we have a planet of prostitutes. “A completely hedonistic society,” as McCoy tells Scotty. Obviously the script can't come flat out and say it, but there are enough hints for dirty minded people like myself. Lines of dialogue trail off into meaningful ellipsis. Looking around the club Scotty asks, “you mean to tell me all these women, that all this is..?” Shortly afterwards Kirk tells McCoy, “I know a little place across town where the women...” Jealousy is disapproved of on Argelius II and men there should not get upset when they see the woman they love flirting with other men. In act two there's a séance, and in act three a courtroom scene. Two weeks after a similar one in The Deadly Years. The courtroom scene here is shorter, and has a better mix of characters. It does spend some time rehashing the plot from acts one and two, but generally it does a better job of moving the story on than the competency hearing in The Deadly Years.

It's worth taking stock of the plot at the end of act two when all three murders have been committed, and trying to work out how the viewer at home might expect the story to develop. Heroes falsely accused of murder are not a new development. Richard Kimble was on the run in The Fugitive from 1963 to August 1967. Obviously Scotty will be proved innocent, and if the murderer isn't a regular it has to be one of the guest cast.

Tark: 10-1. He's the father to Kara the first victim and appears to have no connection or motive for the second and third deaths. He's also not present for the killing of Lieutenant Tracy.

Morla: 5-1. Kara's fiancé. He has a motive for killing Kara, jealousy. Maybe killing her gave him a taste for murder? Like Tark he's not present when Lieutenant Tracy is murdered, but this is a science fiction show so he could have some unlikely gimmick which allows him to be the killer.

Mr. Hengist: evens. He's a petty bureaucrat more concerned about procedure and stopping Kirk muscling in on the investigation than finding out the truth. Like the first two suspects he's not present for the death of Lieutenant Tracy but before leaving he does see her beam down. He also seems too keen to railroad Scotty for the murder. However, in television drama the more suspicious a character the more likely they are to be innocent. He's the person you might expect to apologise to Kirk at the end of the episode by saying something like, “I may not agree with your methods but you get results.”

Prefect Jaris: 2-1 (favourite). Highest official on the planet Argelius II. Two murders take place in his house. His wife Sybo is the third victim. Jaris is also the last person to have the knife before it disappears prior to the murder of Lieutenant Tracy. He suggests Lieutenant Tracy use the “small chamber below this room” where she is killed. Could he have staged the first two murders to divert suspicion when he kills his wife? Jaris chides Kirk with the line, “you're behaving very much like a man who is desperately trying anything to save his friend. Would you be as desperate to save Argelius as a space port for your Starfleet?” Is there a political motive there? Later he mentions “I have already heard talk of closing Argelius to space vehicles.” Blaming three brutal murders on an off-worlder could allow him to consolidate power, and dispose of a troublesome wife at the same time. He is on screen with Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and his wife at the time of the second murder (a solid alibi) but this is a science fiction show so we could be dealing with clones, or evil duplicates.

Find someone who hasn't seen Wolf In The Fold. Sit them down in front of the DVD and pause at the end of act two. Ask them who they think is the murderer. I'm quietly confident Jaris will be the main suspect.

Of course, none of the above suspects are guilty of murder. The revelation Robert Bloch has up his sleeve is unique. It is simultaneously brilliant and utterly stupid, like a scriptwriting version of Schrödinger’s cat. The murders were actually committed by Jack the Ripper. An immortal, non-corporeal killer, who feeds on the fear of his victims, is capable of possessing people, and is currently animating Mr. Hengist. Probably no one saw that coming. The reveal of the true murderer is mad but actually quite clever. Two clues have been hiding in plain sight for quite some time. First is the location of the story on Argelius II, the planet of the prostitutes. Where else might you expect Jack the Ripper to strike? Secondly there is Sybo's use of the name Redjac. Corrupting Jack's nickname of Red Jack like this is doubly clever. It conceals the identity of the killer from any viewer familiar with Ripper history, and it also makes sense for an empath on another world to be unsure about the precise pronunciation of an unfamiliar name.

From this point on the plot takes a turn towards the endearingly bonkers as Jack possesses the Enterprise computer and threatens everyone with a horrible death. He is finally driven back into Hengist's body and beamed into deep space. To stop Jack's threats making the crew scared, and allowing Jack to feed on their fear, Kirk orders the crew to be tranquillized. Frankly the crew don't look tranquillized, they all look stoned so who knows what McCoy is pumping into them. Certainly Mr. Sulu is in no condition to steer the ship, and the scenes of the happy crew look a lot like those with the orb from the Woody Allen film Sleeper.

Two elements of the plot are left unclear. Firstly, was Mr Scott's hand on the dagger? This is understandably underplayed, the production team wouldn't want any hint that Scotty was involved in the killings. Jack's ability to move from person to person would seem to make it easier for him to possess someone close to the victim rather than try to do the deed as Hengist, and then cloud any witnesses' minds. Scotty's memory loss would then be explained by his mind being overwhelmed by Jack's presence rather than any induced amnesia. In the case of the first two killings the script seems to lean towards implicating Jack in Scotty's body. For the murder of Sybo it's not so clear. Scotty talks about standing up to help Sybo and finding something in the way. “Cold, it was, like a stinking draught out of a slaughterhouse, but it wasn't really there.” This sounds like Jack in his true form. Possibly killing Sybo in panic when it hears her shouting out his names.

Secondly, when does Hengist die? Is it when Kirk punches him, or has he been a corpse animated by Jack all along? It looks as if Jack has been using Hengist's body for years, possibly since he came to Argelius from Rigel. Jack/Hengist tries to escape when accused of being the killer so he knows he is guilty, there's no amnesia, which suggests that whatever did the killing is also the driving force in Hengist's body. It might be possible to argue that Jack leaving Hengist's body is what kills him, except that Jack is later driven out of Jaris with no ill effects. Then when Jack repossess Hengist the body leaps back into life as if nothing had happened. The idea of a walking corpse fits well with the way Bloch played with concepts like possession in Catspaw. There's a degree of gruesome appeal to the idea of Jack finding a good place to store Hengist's body, then leaving to possess someone else, then killing, and then returning to reanimate Hengist once more.

One weakness of Wolf In The Fold is its attitude to women. Bloch presents us with a world where all the women are apparently available to any man who wants them, and no man should be jealous about sharing his woman with any number of other men. Kirk and McCoy have brought Scotty to Argelius II so he can learn to like women again by leering at them, and it is implied having sex with them. Spock says that Jack kills women to feed on their fear because, “women are more easily and more deeply terrified, generating more sheer horror than the male of the species,” a statement crying out for a [CITATION NEEDED]. The women of Wolf In The Fold are to be lusted after, killed, or protected.

One last question. Why choose Scotty? For Kirk to be involved story logic dictates it has to be one of the Enterprise crew, but it's unsatisfying to imagine Robert Bloch picking Scotty at random. Like the joke at the end of The Simpsons episode Das Bus where the children are marooned on an island, “...and eventually they were rescued by, oh, let's say... Moe.” If anyone can be the suspect then choose Sulu. The poor guy's been underexposed this year. His character is turning into a chair with a helmsman attached. It's only going to get worse with George Takei's nine week absence for reshoots on the John Wayne film The Green Berets.

Bloch must have put some thought into the decision. Kirk can't be the suspect, otherwise the show becomes Kirk on trial, and Bloch has accidentally rewritten Court Martial. It can't be Spock because he's never going to be a candidate for a brutal, frenzied crime. McCoy could have been the suspect, and it would have paralleled the original Jack the Ripper crimes where the murderer appears to have had some anatomical knowledge. However, going into too much medical detail about the Ripper crimes would probably be too much for NBC. One way or another Scotty has become the go to character for physical and mental trauma. Apollo beats him up in Who Mourns For Adonais and he's put through the emotional wringer by Lieutenant Palamas; he's killed in The Changeling (he gets better); possessed in Catspaw; aged in The Deadly Years; and now this. Truly he's the Timex of Star Trek characters; he takes a licking and keeps on ticking. 

Enterprise crew deaths: 1. Lieutenant Tracy the penultimate victim of Jack the Ripper. 
Running total: 43

*to the extent that I remember watching an animated version of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (quite possibly this Chuck Jones version from 1975) and bursting into tears when it looked as if Rikki-Tikki-Tavi hadn't survived the climactic fight. Months later, I saw a repeat of the same cartoon and burst into tears at the same point, because I was convinced that this time Rikki-Tikki-Tavi must have died. Of course it's possible I was just a very dull child.

No comments:

Post a Comment