Monday, June 8, 2009

Star Trek--"Journey to Babel"

“Journey to Babel” marks the halfway point of my TOS reviews. Good twist of fate there. The episode is an iconic fan favorite, not only because it introduces spock’s family dynamic, but also establishes establishes the interstellar nature of the Federation. The episode introduces founding members of the Federation the Andorians and the Tellarites. Up until this point, the Federation appeared to be a humans only club with the Vulcans along for the ride.

But that is not the biggest deal about “Journey to Babel.” That would, of course, be the debut of Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda. Sarek is Mark Lenard’s second role in TOS--he played the Romulan commander in “The Balance of Terror”--but Sarek is the role he is most famous for. While leonard Nimoy’s volume of fan mail had long outstripped William Shatner’s, within a week of “Journey to Babel”’s airing, Lenard’s fan mail had dwarfed the two of them.

It is the strained, decidedly un-Vulcan relationship between the two that attracts fan attention. There was never a true resolution of their underlying issues since whatever reconciliation they managed in this episode was destroyed by a dispute over the peace treaty with the Cardassians in the 24th century. Tell me that is not a manufactured excuse to get away from your father. It was aterribly sad moment in TNG when Sarek died and the only succor Spock has left is a mind meld with Picard to share his father’s memories.

But Spock’s relationship with his father is only half of it. He has a palpable contempt for his mother. Not really for her personally, although he does find humans annoying in general, but because of his own sense of self-loathing because of his human half. His refusal to give up the bridge after Kirk is incapacitated was a childish way of asserting his Vulcan half. It was an emotional tantrum, so Spock, while trying to deny his human half in favor of his Vulcan, actually really suppressed the Vulcan entirely. He knew that, too. It was the underlying reason he agreed to the transfusion. He just could not fight himself.

The family drama and Spock’s inner turmoil was quite intense for a TOS episode. This was easily the best realistic dramatic story since “The City on the Edge of Forever.” At the risk of incurring the fiery wrath of Harlan Ellison, I note that D. C. Fontana wrote this episode and did an unaccredited rewrite on “The City of the Edge of Forever.” I cannot say for certain it was her touch that made the former great, but the common element is in both scripts.

I can even gloss over the inconsistency of Sarek and Amanda not being in attendance during the…uh… "festivities” of "Amok Time.”

Does it strike you that Tellarites and Andorians do not seem to be Federation material? I find their behavior versus the human's to be an obnoxious notion that every alien has something to learn from how humans do things, but never the other way around. Even Spock is not considered to be in the right until he gives into his human mother and saves Sarek. "Journey to Babel" is one of the more blatant examples of humanity superiority trouncing all over alien thought.

I am going to give the episode five stars even though I think it added too many side stories to it. Sarek’s heart attack and Spock’s initial refusal to help save his life would have been enough for a memorable episode. Instead, we meet new aliens, learn about federation politics, there is an assasination, a muder mystery which points to Sarek for all of three minutes, Kirk nearly dies, and the ship is attacked while all this is going on. It did not ruin the episode by any means, but some of the fluff could have been taken out for a more focused story.

Rating: ***** (out of5)

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