|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season Two: Ep. 2.7 “Catspaw” – (Original air date: Friday, October 27, 1967)

Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “Catspaw.”

  • On this date in history: Lulu’s “To Sir With Love” is still burning up the charts in the US, while the Bee Gees’ “Massachusetts” reigns in the UK.
  • The Bee Gees wouldn’t have a #1 hit in the US until “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” in 1971. But, thanks in part to the rise in popularity of disco music, the brothers Gibb would go on to have nine US #1 songs. A respectable number, but just shy of the Top-10.
  • Scott Weiland was born on this date. He would grow up to be the lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots and for the supergroup Velvet Revolver. He died a little over three years ago in December 2015, most likely of an accidental overdose.
  • To give equal time, country music star Keith Urban was born the day before, on October 26, 1967, in New Zealand. As far as I know, he’s still alive.
  • But, on the same day Urban was born, John McCain III was shot down over North Vietnam and taken prisoner. He would be a prisoner-of-war for more than five years, and would later be elected a U.S. Senator for Arizona, and would run, unsuccessfully, for President in 2008. He has since passed away as well.
  • And, on that gloomy note, let’s talk about this episode.
  • This one was written by Robert Bloch. I know I’m supposed to like Bloch, since he was responsible for Psycho. But, his brand of atmospheric horror doesn’t translate well to the Trek universe. Not for me.
  • Bloch’s previous foray into Trek was the episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” This episode featured Ted Cassidy as Ruk, and a scene in which Kirk is able to sway an android woman to his side by kissing her. I generously gave that Season 1 episode 3-out-of-5 stars.
  • Let’s get this over with, shall we?
  • In the teaser, Crewman Jackson answers the USS Enterprise‘s repeated hails with a troubling “one to beam up.” Sulu and Scott were also members of the landing party. When Jackson beams up, he falls down dead, but a voice issues from his dead mouth telling Kirk that his ship is cursed. They must leave or everyone will die.
  • A succinct teaser, and we’re already talking about curses. I have no use for magic in my science fiction.
  • As Act One begins, of course Kirk isn’t going anywhere. Sulu and Scotty are still down on the supposedly uninhabited planet Pyris VII. Kirk does what comes naturally, and leads another landing party himself, consisting of the holy Trek Trinity: Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Kirk himself.
  • They find themselves on the surface of a foggy planet, which seems unlikely since there are no cloud formations or bodies of water on the planet.
  • There are, however, readings of nearby lifeforms, which weren’t detected from the ship. As the landing party heads for the readings, they encounter three witches lifted straight from Macbeth. They again warn Kirk to back off.
  • And he, again, ignores the warnings. Even though with fogs and winds the planet itself seems to be trying to drive the landing party away, they eventually arrive at the source of the lifeform readings, a creepy old castle.
  • Upon entering the castle, they encounter a black cat.
  • At least the show is being meta enough to have our Starfleet heroes identify these decidedly wornout horror story tropes as wornout horror story tropes. It doesn’t make the story any better, though.
  • Back on the bridge of the Enterprise, Chekov reports to DeSalle that the landing party’s lifeform readings are the only ones he is detecting.
  • From a series production standpoint, this was Chekov’s actual first appearance on the show, although we’ve already seen him in earlier broadcasted Season 2 episodes (and Ricardo Montalban, in Wrath of Khan, claims to have met him in Season 1’s “Space Seed,” which he certainly did not). Chekov is wearing the ridiculous moptop wig in this episode as his own hair was growing out to the desired length.
  • This was also DeSalle’s final appearance in the series. This is great news, because he was awful. I won’t even bother to get into the whole question of why he is left in charge of the ship. I guess we’ve sent every senior officer down to the Roger Corman B-movie planet.  Well . . . except Uhura.
  • At any rate, DeSalle makes the command decision to have Chekov recalibrate the scanners. Stupid, useless scene.
  • Back down on Pyris VII, the landing party falls through the floor into a dungeon chamber. Having identified wornout horror story tropes, they should have seen this wornout horror story act break coming. End of Act One.
  • Act Two begins, and, once again, we’re in a Wizard of Id comic strip. A dungeon with all the E.A. Poe trappings. There’s a torture rack, a skeleton in a cage, and—oh yeah—Kirk, McCoy and Spock chained to the wall. Another skeleton is chained to the wall with them.
  • Kirk says, “Dungeons, curses, skeletons and iron maidens. They’re all Earth manifestations. Why?”
  • Spock theorizes that someone is using things that terrify humans on an instinctive level.  The two brainiacs never stop thinking.
  • Scotty and Sulu enter the dungeon like a couple of mind-controlled zombies. McCoy’s diagnosis is that the men appear drugged. I mean, look at their eyes. Hardly blink at all.
  • Sulu produces an oversized key ring and unfastens their shackles. It appears that Scotty and Sulu intend to herd the Trinity out of the dungeon at phaser-point. A brief scuffle ensues, but then, suddenly—
  • All of the Starfleet officers are transported to Korob‘s throne room.
  • The throne room is rather regally appointed, even though the color scheme is pure Trek, with a lot of pinks, purples and fuchsias. Korob himself is bald and bearded, wearing a wizardly robe, and the black cat that led our second landing party to the trapdoor is sitting at his side.
  • Korob seems to be communicating with his cat even while he introduces himself to Kirk and the gang. He tries without success to get them to partake of food and wine he makes magically appear, then tries to bribe them with a fortune in gemstones, all to make them go away. Kirk says the gemstones are valueless. They could manufacture such stones by the ton on their starship.  Surprisingly, Korob doesn’t seem to know everything about them.
  • Korob then announces that they have passed his tests. These Starfleet men are loyal, brave and cannot be bribed.
  • The cat meows at this, and Korob tells the cat that it can go at once.
  • Which it does, and a few moments later a dark-haired woman in a loose black dress enters the room. She’s wearing a pendant that looks like the cat’s collar. You don’t suppose?
  • Korob introduces the cat—er, woman—as Sylvia. His colleague.
  • Sylvia is very condescending towards the Enterprise men. She says they are easy to control. Simple, flawed creatures, really.
  • Kirk throws gemstones at Scotty’s face to get his phaser. Kirk thinks he has the upper hand now, but Sylvia dismisses his actions. She admits that she killed Jackson with her thoughts.
  • Kirk says that’s impossible.
  • Not so, says Sylvia. She holds up a model of the Enterprise on a chain, demonstrating what she says the mythology of Kirk’s race called sympathetic magic. She moves the model over a candle flame and tells Kirk to use his communicator to contact his ship.
  • During this exchange, Korob says, “Don’t. Sylvia, don’t.” But, clearly, Korob, despite the throne, the robe and the regal trappings, is not in charge here.
  • DeSalle confirms that “we’re cooking up here” when Kirk speaks to him. The heat dissipation units aren’t helping the problem.
  • Dramatic musical sting. End of Act Two.
  • As Act Three begins, Kirk admits defeat, taking the model starship from Sylvia, out of the flame. Suddenly, and anticlimactically, the ship is out of danger.
  • When Kirk suggests more search parties will come to the planet, Korob encases the ship model in a clear plastic block, something that would look good as a desk ornament. On the bridge, Chekov announces that the ship is surrounded by some sort of force field, only “It’s not coming from anywhere. It’s simply all around us.”
  • Back on Pyris VII, Sylvia advises Kirk to cooperate. She could force the information she needs from them, but it is extremely painful and has a certain draining effect.
  • Kirk refuses to cooperate, naturally. Korob orders zombie Scotty to take them back to their cell. Sylvia says that McCoy will stay behind, and it will be the captain’s turn next.
  • Meanwhile, back on the ship, DeSalle and Chekov continue to have a pointless conversation about breaking free of the unusual force field. DeSalle orders engineering to prepare impulse engines for generation of maximum heat directed as ordered. DeSalle gives a rather poor line-reading of the following: “Maybe we can’t break it, but I’ll bet you credits to navy beans we can put a dent in it.”
  • I think this line of dialogue would have sounded bad even if Lawrence Olivier uttered it. And DeSalle is no Olivier.
  • It raises the question of money in the Trek universe, however. I was under the impression that there were no standard monetary units in the Federation, that there was no longer any need for accumulation of wealth, or somesuch utopian fantasy. What are these “credits” DeSalle speaks of?
  • Kirk and Spock are back in the dungeon, chained to the wall. Again.
  • The two have a scholarly discussion about the racial subconscious, universal myths and symbols. Spock suggests that the images they have been seeing—ghosts, witches, dungeons, castles and black cats—belong to the twilight world of consciousness. This suggests that Korob—or more likely, Sylvia—attempted to tap into their conscious minds but could only reach the level of the subconscious.
  • The two friends agree that, in reality, Korob and Sylvia must be something totally alien in all respects, unlikely to be any life form they’ve encountered in the galaxy. But, seemingly hostile in their intentions, which, Kirk asserts, means they are going to have to stop them, cold.
  • McCoy returns with Scotty and Sulu. He’s now a brain-dead zombie as well. It’s now Kirk’s turn to face Sylvia.
  • Before Kirk arrives, Sylvia and Korob are having a heated discussion. Sylvia likes being in human form. In their natural state, apparently the two don’t experience sensations anything like what Sylvia’s feeling now, and she doesn’t want to give them up.
  • Korob reminds her that they have a duty to the Old Ones. Sylvia calls him a weak fool and a puppet. Korob says that she is cruel to their specimens. You know, that same old argument.
  • The mention of the Old Ones evokes the Cthulhu mythos stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Robert Bloch wrote a few stories in that milieu, if I recall. He also mentioned the Old Ones in his only other Trek episode, possibly not referring to the same beings. In any case, it seems to be a Bloch trope.
  • Kirk is brought before Sylvia and she rudely dismisses Korob.
  • She then reveals that she is infatuated with Kirk.
  • But, of course she is. That is Kirk’s superpower. He is irresistible to women of all races and species.
  • Korob is peeping at them from behind a screen as the two are getting cozy and touchy-feely.
  • Sylvia wants Kirk’s willing cooperation. They can share secrets and powers. When Kirk begins kissing her, it seems to loosen her lips, which, as we all know, can sink ships.
  • Sylvia begins to change her image into that of different women, telling Kirk that she can appear anyway he desires. Now fully under the thrall of the Kirk superpower, she reveals that the secret is something called the transmuter. It is the secret to their power to turn thought into substance. Technology, not magic at all.
  • Although Kirk has tried his damnedest, Sylvia ultimately sees through his subterfuge and knows that his professed feelings for her aren’t true. She has McCoy, Scotty and Sulu haul him back to the cell.
  • Back on the bridge of the ship, whatever they did has caused a “dent” in the force field. DeSalle orders Mr. Chekov to “keep it up.” I’m certain that these intercut bridge scenes will have same huge payoff in the final act. Otherwise, all of these scenes would have been pointless.
  • In the very next dungeon scene, Korob enters and reveals he has released the Enterprise from the force field, and then he releases them as well. One could argue that he released the ship because of what DeSalle and Chekov have been doing, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.
  • Which means that all of the DeSalle/Chekov scenes were pointless and stupid.
  • Uhura should have been left in charge anyway. Damn those racist and sexist 1960s.
  • Anyway, Korob wasn’t just perving on Kirk and Sylvia. He considers Sylvia to be dangerously irrational. He can no longer control Sylvia or her pawns. Time is of the essense, however, and he urges the men out of the cell.
  • Where they again encounter the black cat, now grown to giant size. End of Act Three.
  • As Act Four begins, Kirk and Spock attempt to escape through the ceiling. The giant black cat forces the cell door open, crushing Korob. Kirk uses this turn of events to seize Korob’s wand.
  • The wand is the transmuter, of course. Spock and Kirk escape through the hole in the ceiling they originally fell down.
  • Zombie McCoy attacks them with a morningstar. Kirk fights him as Spock fights with Scotty. Kirk knocks out McCoy. Then Sulu arrives. Sulu goes full-on Bruce Lee and uses martial arts instead of weapons. Spock nerve pinches Scotty, while Kirk’s Kung Fu proves to be stronger than Zombie Sulu’s Kung Fu. Sulu is also knocked out.
  • McCoy regains consciousness and gets knocked out again. Severe head trauma cases will be going to sick bay immediately.
  • Or maybe not. Sylvia returns again and transports herself and Kirk to the dining hall again. She tries to convince Kirk to give her the transmuter, but, instead, Kirk smashes it against the table. This powerful piece of possibly extragalactical Old-Ones technology that can stop a Federation starship cold in space with a powerful force field is itself, it turns out, pretty fragile. You would think it would have some sort of built-in safety applications, like an intergalactic gator box, maybe. But, nope—
  • Logic and reality are no defense for fiction. The wand shatters and so does its falsely created “reality.”
  • All the horror story trappings disappear in a flash. All of the Starfleet officers are back to normal, despite massive head traumas. They are standing on the surface of Pyris VII, and it’s a pretty boring place.
  • They do get to see Sylvia and Korob’s true appearances, as tiny utterly alien creatures, with Cthulhu-like faces, that wither and die at their feet. Everything else is back to normal, except for Jackson, who is still dead.
  • No light-bantering bridge outro for this episode. Just Kirk’s somber announcement about Jackson and a “five to beam up.” End of episode.

I must make a confession to you. Going over my notes for this episode again while I wrote this post caused me to drop my original rating of 2.5 stars down to 2-out-of-5 stars. I dislike this episode even more than I did during my rewatch. If I think about it much longer, it could become my first 1-star review.

I looked up the origin of the episode’s title “Catspaw,” which has nothing to do with a black cat being in the episode. A “cat’s-paw” is a person used by another to achieve some end, especially in a duplicitous or cynical manner. Its origin was apparently a 15th century fable. I guess the title makes sense because Korob and Sylvia were being duplicitous. And there was a black cat. With paws.

That this was a Halloween episode doesn’t make it any better in my opinion. It’s definitely Bad Trek.

Let’s agree never to speak of it again.

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