Direct Beam Comms #39
Star Trek – “The Man Trap” – Grade: A-
I had originally intended to write this review as if I were doing it from 1966 as a person who’d never seen Star Trek before and this first episode was my introduction to the series as it was to everyone back then. But it quickly became apparent that this is all but impossible today with 50 years of Star Trek AND sci-fi AND other TV series and movies that have “borrowed” from the series that all exist now beside the original so there’d be no real way to judge that first episode without comparing it to what’s come since.
“The Man Trap” was the first episode of Star Trek that aired back in 1966. However, when NBC originally aired the series they did so out of order so technically though “The Man Trap” was first it’s really the sixth episode of the show.
Here, the starship Enterprise under the command of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) arrives at planet “M–113” to give checkups to a group of scientists living there, one of which is an old flame of Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley). But when they arrive on this sun-scotched planet one of the crew-members is killed and the weird murders that leave red splotches all over the victims faces moves from the planet to the Enterprise. The crew quickly surmise that whatever’s doing the killings can shape-shift into looking like anything, meaning that ANYONE abroad the Enterprise might be the murderer.
I was surprised just how good “The Man Trap” was. My association with Star Trek the original series has always been a brief one. Over the years I’d try and watch it but for whatever reason could never get into the show and would bail after an episode or so. It didn’t help matters that when I was really into all things Star Trek in the 1990s the original series was airing exclusively on The Sci-Fi Channel which we didn’t get in my area so I never had a chance to watch the show then. And when episodes of Star Trek began re-airing on TV with new special effects* where I lived episodes aired at 11:30 at night which pre-DVR was a bit too late for me.
It doesn’t help matters that when I think of Star Trek for whatever reason I think of the later years ones of wild west gunfights and toga wearing Starfleet officers. So to say I was surprised at how good “The Man Trap” was is not an understatement.
Even 50 years later the story, abet for a few holes, stands up pretty well. The acting is top notch and the characters here are already well defined. Even if everyone has a tendency of spelling out things about each other out loud, which I suppose was handy for those who’d never seen the series before, but to me who knows just about everything about the show and its characters seemed a little wooden. But I really can’t hold things like that against the show.
I was surprised just how much “The Man Trap” played out like horror/sci-fi than just sci-fi like I was expecting. When the M–113 creature attacks it’s pretty disturbing. And the body count at the end of the show is like four crew members, all with those weird suction cup marks on their faces.
The cast too is much more diverse than I was expecting. Even by today’s standards with Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei) and a multitude of background cast members of color Star Trek back in 1966 must have been really diverse.
I was also surprised just how deep the story goes — the creature of M–113 is described as the last of its kind, so there is an attempt at trying to save it even though it’s killed a lot of people. And we even get a bit of backstory of the character of Doctor McCoy showing that everyone, even those living in the 23rd century, have lives outside of Starfleet.
Looking back at the show, the depth of “The Man Trap” today is very surprising considering some of the series it was up against at the time including shows like My Three Sons, Bewitched, The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space to name a few. I’m not sure how shows like My Three Sons or The Time Tunnel have aged the last half century, but I’m guessing not as well as Star Trek has over those years.
*One thing of note — the episode I watched was one with many of the special effects like the Enterprise in orbit and planet M–113 from above that were redone about 10 years ago. I don’t feel like these new special effects changed the nature of the show but I kind’a wish there was still an option to watch the show originally as how it aired back in 1966. But I guess you can’t have everything.
The Night Of – Grade: B+
What’s been billed as the series finale of the eight episode HBO limited-series The Night Of aired last Sunday and I was mostly happy with it. While the series might not be one of the great HBO shows ever, it was pretty good none-the-less.
The Night Of follows Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan (Riz Ahmed), a college student who’s arrested and charged with homicide after he awoke in a woman’s home to find her brutally murdered in the bedroom upstairs. Naz honestly can’t remember what happened that night and it’s up to his lawyers Jack Stone (John Turturro) and Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan) to, not so much prove his innocence as to find flaws in the prosecution’s case and keep him out of prison for life. The prosecution, led by DA Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) along with Detective Box (Bill Camp) follow all the leads they uncover with all point squarely at Naz as the killer.
But where The Night Of differs from procedural series like Law and Order is that I never got the sense that Weiss or Box were that personally involved in the case. They simply follow the evidence that seems to have collected around Naz. The problem in their approach, which I’d guess is a problem with real-life prosecutors like Weiss, is that she bends some of the evidence to point more towards Naz that it probably really does and in one case coaches a witness beforehand in the direction of his testimony without actually coaching him.
Which brings up a point — a lot of what we take as “evidence” is really subjective facts that can be bent in many different ways.
In jail awaiting trial Naz meets Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams) a con who sees something in Naz and takes him under his wing. Unfortunately, under Freddy’s wing brings Naz to being an accomplice to a prison murder and smuggler of drugs. If Naz was clean on the outside, he’s dirty on the inside.
Which all builds the question — if the evidence that Weiss and Box are finding is strong but not absolute that Naz is guilty, but Naz turns out to be a guy who can watch someone else bleed to death in the prison showers, could be also be the guy who did commit the murder he’s accused of?
Think of The Night Of as equal parts Oz, The Wire and the network procedural lawyer show by way of The Wire. The series shows all parts of the criminal justice system where coming into contact with it can be something that ruin’s a life. Guilty or not, Naz pre-jail at the start of the series and where he ends up at the end finds him as a very different person.
And, much like in The Wire there’s a story thread that runs through The Night Of that goes something like those cops and lawyers who do the best and excel at their jobs are the ones who don’t care and are just going through the motions. And those who really care, like Stone or Kapoor, are left as wrecks by the end of the series.
I think if The Night Of had one problem is that while the story is told over the course of several months — the murder happens in November and Naz’s trial in February — it never felt like that much time was passing. Naz goes from college kid to hardened prisoner very quickly, a bit too quickly to be believable. Then again conditions at Riker’s Island where Naz is held are pretty deplorable, so I guess anything’s possible.
If this season of The Night Of is really it I think that would be a shame. I liked all the characters in it a lot and would like to see where everyone, especially the wonderful Bill Camp as Detective Box, ends up after the trial.
In the Heart of the Sea – Grade: A-
I’m not sure what I was expecting from the movie In the Heart of the Sea, but what the movie actually was wasn’t what I thought it would be.
In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the doomed crew of the 19th century whaling ship the Essex, them being attacked by a colossal whale which sank their ship and the surviving crewmen being set adrift in small whaling boats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The trailers for In the Heart of the Sea made the movie out to be the story of Moby Dick, of which the story of the Essex was an inspiration of. However, the actual parts leading up to the whale attack compromise just about half the movie. The other half of In the Heart of the Sea is about the men’s survival in the great “desert” of the Pacific where they slowly run out of food and water all the while being cooked alive by the relentless Sun.
Directed by Ron Howard who knows a thing or two about survival movies where a group of people are stranded and far from home without any prospects of rescue with the brilliant Apollo 13. In the Heart of the Sea plays out much like that earlier film but since it’s set in the late 1800s it means that when things go wrong the men of the Essex are on their own and can only count on their wits to get them back to Massachusetts.
I do wonder if the trailers for the movie had concentrated on this part of the story rather than the whale attack, which is only really minutes of screen time, if more people would’ve gone to see In the Heart of the Sea than they did since the film’s quite good?
My only quibble with it is of the casting of Chris Hemsworth as the lead of Owen Chase here. Hemsworth is fine in the movie but he usually plays heroic figures who you know will make the right decision and will still be around at the end of the movie. And I’m not sure that the character of Chase really needs to be played by one of today’s best action stars. It’s why Tom Hanks is so great in Apollo 13, he’s the last guy you’d suspect playing that role.
I would’ve much rather seen someone like Cillian Murphy, who co-stars in the movie, in the role of Chase and Hemsworth in Murphy’s role. I think that bit of casting against type would’ve made the good In the Heart of the Sea even better and more believable.
The Reading & Watch List
This week in pop-culture history
- 1907: Fay Wray of King Kong and The Most Dangerous Game is born
- 1966: Star Trek (The Original Series) premiers
- 1966: The Time Tunnel debuts
- 1973: The TV series Star Trek (The Animated Series) premiers
- 1975: The animated series Return to the Planet of the Apes debuts
- 1993: The TV series The X-Files premiers