|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season Two: Ep. 2.18 “The Immunity Syndrome” – (Original air date: Friday, January 19, 1968)

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 “The Immunity Syndrome.”

  • On this date in history, a one-megaton atomic bomb is exploded underground in Nye County, Nevada, as part of Operation Crosstie, to see if a nuclear explosion could trigger an earthquake. The resulting tremors—estimated by UC Berkeley to be 6.0 on the Richter Scale—broke windows 87 miles away and caused buildings to sway as far away as Salt Lake City and San Francisco.
  • Why does this seem like one of Lex Luthor’s nefarious plans?
  • Also on this Friday, the actual USS Enterprise, the nuclear powered American aircraft carrier, docked in Japan about fifty miles from Nagasaki. There were a few protestors. Something about America dropping a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki just twenty-three years before.
  • There were non-nuclear things going on this same week. On Sunday, January 14, 1968, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II. Monday, January 15, 1968, the final episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. aired. Thursday, January 18, the first Red Lobster restaurant opened in Lakeland, Florida.
  • The day after this episode aired, Saturday, January 20, Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski were married in London. The marriage would conclude tragically a year later.
  • The #1 song in the US was “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses),” by John Fred & His Playboys. It’s a good, poppy tune.
  • In the UK, it was still “Hello, Goodbye,” by a little-known band called The Beatles.
  • The top film at US box offices was Valley of the Dolls. I remember seeing a paperback copy of the book on my parents’ nightstand around this time.
  • The Captain’s log in the teaser is short and to-the-point.
  • Captain’s log, stardate 4307.1. Approaching Starbase Six for a much-needed period of rest and recreation. The crew has performed excellently, but is exhausted. And I, too, am looking forward to a nice period of rest on some lovely . . . planet.”
  • Was the pause between lovely and planet meant to be a sexual innuendo? You decide. Kirk is well-known to be a bit of a ‘hound as he travels the galaxy spreading his space seed. We know of at least one illegitimate child out there, the future Dr. David Marcus. Odds are that there are more.
  • Our space operator Lieutenant Uhura gets a message from Starbase Six that she has trouble deciphering because of subspace static. She picks up the word “Intrepid,” and a sector coordinate.
  • For the sake of exposition, “Bones” McCoy asks Kirk if the Intrepid is that ship manned by Vulcans. To which Kirk responds: “Yes, that’s right.”
  • Spock suddenly feels a disturbance in the Force as he tells Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy that the Intrepid “just died.” As did the four hundred Vulcans on board.
  • Kirk orders a reluctant Spock to report to the Sickbay. McCoy escorts the Vulcan first officer.
  • Uhura finally patches Kirk through to Starbase Six. The USS Enterprise is ordered to immediately divert to Sector 39J.
  • Kirk, who is really looking forward to slipping into some lovely . . . planet, tries to convince Starbase Six that his crew’s R&R is more important. Surely, there must be another starship in that sector.
  • The response? “Negative. This is a rescue priority. We’ve lost all contact with solar system Gamma Seven-A, which the Intrepid was investigating. And we’ve just lost contact with the Intrepid.”
  • Kirk acknowledges the order and tells Mister Kyle to head for their new destination at Warp 5.
  • Pavel Chekov, meanwhile, has completed a deep scan of the Gamma 7A system. He tells Kirk that it is “dead.”
  • The Intrepid is “dead.” Four hundred Vulcans are “dead.” Now, according to Chekov, an entire solar system is “dead.” We are leaning very heavily on the word “dead” in this teaser.
  • “Dead?” says Kirk. “It’s a fourth magnitude sun. There are billions of inhabitants there.”
  • Chekov: “It is dead.” End of teaser.
  • As Act I begins, we know that this episode is not going to be about shore leave on Starbase Six. Captain James T. Kirk and crew suddenly have a mystery to solve.
  • Occasionally, the original series reminds me that what I’m watching is “soft” science-fiction at best. Or, as I prefer to think of it, science-fantasy.
  • I’m okay with that. That’s what Star Wars is as well. Even we veteran nerds shouldn’t try to kid ourselves. As much as we resort to pretzel logic to accept certain aspects of these shows as “science”—warp drive technology, matter teleportation, tractor beams, force shielding and gravity deck plates—when you get into the realm of telekinesis, precognition and ESP, which Star Trek likes to do at times, you’re skirting dangerously close to magic. You remember that dismal Jack the Ripper episode with the séance?
  • Again, I’m okay with that. Some of my favorite science-fiction authors—Philip K. Dick and Robert Silverberg, to name just two—often resort to the extrasensory in their stories. But, let’s call it what it is, why don’t we? Science-fantasy sort of covers the entire spectrum.
  • Oh, yeah. I’m going to talk more about this later. The topic is threatening to take over this post about a TOS episode, so I’m tabling this discussion for now.
  • Just to demonstrate how easily I can be distracted: I challenged my own spelling of “tabling,” meaning “to table,” and I still think it looks weird. That petty piece of nonsense was enough to take me away from actively writing for about four minutes.
  • My original point is that Spock’s suddenly revealed ability to sense the deaths of a few hundred Vulcans across the vastness of space—but not, apparently, the deaths of billions of souls in Gamma-Seven-A—suggests a kind of racial magic power. Or else, Spock is also a Jedi Master.
  • Spock assures Dr. McCoy that he’s okay, that the pain was only momentary. The ever-skeptical McCoy doesn’t accept that Spock could have detected the deaths of the Vulcans on the Intrepid. It’s just not good science.
  • But, the ship’s sensors confirm that something is out there up ahead, in their path. It is an amorphous black blob that even the starlight cannot penetrate. Kirk says it looks like a “hole in space.”
  • Albert Einstein predicted the existence of black holes way back in 1916, but the term “black hole” was coined by astronomer John Wheeler in 1967. This episode aired in January 1968. Screenwriter Robert Sabaroff probably wasn’t familiar with the concept when he penned this episode, because you would think that future space travelers would know what a black hole was.
  • Mr. Kyle slows the ship so that they can get a closer look at this black blob. Capt. Kirk tells Mr. Chekov to prepare to launch a telemetry probe into the blob’s zone, with a direct feed to Spock’s computers.
  • The probe is launched, and absolutely no data is returned from it. In spite of his own unscientific mental powers, Spock is a scientist and refuses to speculate about this previously unheard-of “hole in space” phenomenon because of insufficient data.
  • There is a high-pitched feedback-like sound coming from the blob, however. According to a report from sickbay, McCoy says that half the people on the ship just fainted. Uhura almost faints on the bridge. Because, you know, she’s a girl—
  • Dr. McCoy and Nurse Chapel are treating those crewmembers affected by getting them all hopped up on bennies.
  • Kirk is irritated with Spock for not having any data. He says that the science officer is supposed to have sufficient data all the time. Because that’s how science works, right?
  • Spock does say that the black blob doesn’t appear to be a liquid, gas or solid. It’s also not a galactic nebula. Since it activated the ship’s sensors, it appears to be an energy of some sort, but not one recognized by their computers.
  • Kirk makes the command decision to travel into this unknown energy zone. He has Uhura transmit his intentions to Starfleet. Then, on impulse engines only, the Enterprise goes into what Kirk called a hole in space.
  • Since the ship isn’t instantly ripped apart by gravitational forces, we can safely assume that this episode’s big Mystery Box isn’t a black hole, either. As the stars all disappear, you have to wonder why anyone would ever accuse Kirk of being reckless.
  • The ship begins to lose power, and crewmembers all seem to be growing sicker and weaker. As Act I comes to a close, McCoy tells Kirk that according to the life monitors in sickbay, all of them are dying.
  • Again, hitting that “dead” and “dying” note a little ham-handedly. But, you have to admit that these classic intros to an act break are still effective.
  • As Act II begins, we get a Captain’s Log update telling us that Kirk has called a full stop to all engines while they try to figure out how to get them out of the predicament that he, Kirk himself, got them into.
  • Even with the engines switched off—leaving them “dead in the water,” so to speak—the Enterprise, Spock determines, is being pulled toward the center of the “zone of darkness” by some unknown force. In fact, they are accelerating.
  • When Scotty attempts to apply reverse power, the ship lurches forward. Spock suggests using forward thrust instead, which seems counterintuitive at best, illogical at worst. But, it seems to slow their acceleration. Again, for unknown reasons.
  • McCoy, our resident doom crow, tells everyone that the closer they get to the center, the weaker all of their life functions become. The stimulants he keeps injecting people with can do only so much.
  • Spock and Kirk, riffing together as only two genius intellects can, decide that the energy drain is coming from something inside of the negative energy zone. The blob itself is like some sort of shield, protecting what’s inside of it.
  • Following some sort of logic that those of us without genius intellects can’t possibly understand, Kirk decides to use all available ship’s power in one mighty forward thrust, thinking that this may save them from his last command decision.
  • Like all second-act decisions, this one leads to a magnified failure. Even the inertial dampeners (more fictional science for you) temporarily go offline as crewmembers are tossed hilariously around.
  • The best they can do is maintain their thrust to hold their position. But, Scotty estimates that their power will last only two hours, at best.
  • Of course, you know about Scotty’s estimates. I bet they’re good for three hours.
  • As we end Act II, we get our first look at what’s in the center of the zone of darkness. It is a colorful, 11,000-mile long single-celled amoeba.
  • Mind blown.
  • In Act III, it is quickly determined that this amoeba creature feeds on energy, which explains the drain on the lifeforce of the Enterprise crew and upon the ship itself.
  • For reasons that must have made some sort of sense, Kirk decides the proper course of action is to send a single man in a shuttle to get a closer look at the creature and determine its vulnerable points.
  • Kirk updated his personal log with the following:
  • Captain’s personal log, stardate 4309.2. We have established that the thing which destroyed the USS Intrepid and the Gamma Seven=A system is an incredibly huge but simple cellular being whose energies are totally destructive to all known life. Both Mister Spock and Doctor McCoy have volunteered to go in a specially equipped shuttlecraft to penetrate the cell, find a way to destroy it, and free the ship. Doctor McCoy has the medical-biological knowledge. Mister Spock is better suited physically and emotionally to stand the stress. Both are right, both are capable, and which of my friends do I condemn to death?
  • Long story, short: He chooses Spock as the best qualified.
  • Spock proceeds, of course. He pilots the Galileo and penetrates the exterior wall of the single-celled creature. He sends back his telemetry and the news that the creature’s forty chromosomes are lining up in preparation for cell division. Yes, Spock is inside of a monstrous alien creature about to reproduce.
  • Kirk and McCoy determine that this will naturally lead to more reproduction and the eventual destruction of the entire galaxy.
  • I think I accepted this at face value the first time I watched this episode. Perhaps I’ve grown more skeptical. Is this the first creature of its type ever? How old is it? If it reproduces very slowly, even on a galactic or universal scale, does it really ever represent more than just a localized threat?
  • Spock tells Kirk and the crew how the organism can be destroyed with a “sufficient charge of [garbled word].” Naturally, the key part of his message is rendered inaudible by subspace static.
  • This is how we are led into Act IV. Here’s where things will be made right again.
  • A brief aside: This entire Spock-takes-a-shuttle-into-a-gigantic-alien-creature sequence made me think of similar circumstances (years later) that saw Spock go inside of the entity known as V’ger in Star Trek the Motion Picture.
  • McCoy makes the observation that, in their plan to follow Spock’s path into the big amoeba, they will become like the antibodies of their own galaxy, attacking an invading germ.
  • The word “antibodies” makes Kirk think about using anti-matter to attack the alien chromosomes before the cell can divide.
  • As I’ve said before, you and I can’t possibly understand the underlying processes of the genius mind of James Tiberius Kirk. Sure, to laypeople such as us, his conclusions seem random, arbitrary and more than a little convenient. We do not share his genius-level intellect.
  • I, personally, suck at two-dimensional chess. Imagine how much worse I would be at the three-dimensional variety.
  • The dramatic clock is ticking loudly in this final act, as the power levels are dropping and the shields depleted. Spock, in his shuttle, and Kirk, on the Enterprise, create logs giving recognition to everyone else, and it seems like this mission to destroy the amoeba creature, whether or not it is successful, will be a suicide mission for everyone involved.
  • A probe loaded with an anti-matter charge is implanted in the creature. The explosion ruptures the thing’s outer membrane, hurling both the shuttle and the Enterprise back outside, and killing this interesting new life form they just discovered.
  • Spock, who was only recently thought dead, returns to the ship. Alive. This, too, becomes a franchise trope.
  • Power levels are miraculously restored, and Kirk and his stalwart crew resume the course for their shore leave.
  • Kirk needs his rest on some lovely . . . planet.

The Immunity Syndrome” is not one of my favorite TOS episodes.

It’s also not one of my least-favorite episodes. There are some of those coming up, I assure you.

No, this episode is just average. It’s vanilla. It’s familiar Trek with a familiar set-up and payoff. If it is guilty of any major sin, it’s in the fact that it is not particularly memorable and is easy to confuse with many other similar episodes.

It’s one of those episodes that I wouldn’t mind playing on the living room television while I napped on the couch. It doesn’t require nor benefit from my focused attention. But, it won’t keep me awake either.

This one earns 3-out-of-5 stars.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.