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The Trek Nation - Obsession

Obsession

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 17, 2006 - 7:46 PM GMT

See Also: 'Obsession' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: On Argus X en route to a rendezvous with the USS Yorktown to pick up medical supplies, Captain Kirk loses half his landing party to an attack by a cloud-like entity that takes all the hemoglobin out of their bodies. Convinced that this is the same creature that attacked the USS Farragut eleven years ago - when Kirk was a young officer who lost his captain, Garrovick, and 200 crewmembers - the captain insists on pursuing the entity, though both Spock and McCoy warn him that the supplies on the Yorktown are needed to stop a plague. Assembling a second landing party which includes Engisn Garrovick - the son of Kirk's former captain - Kirk beams down, and is furious when Garrovick hesitates before firing, the same mistake Kirk himself made eleven years before. When the creature leaves the planet surface, it enters Garrovick's quarters via a vent he broke during a tantrum, but Spock (whose hemoglobin is based on copper rather than iron) is able to divert it. The creature heads toward the world where it attacked the USS Farragut with Kirk in pursuit, fearing that it plans to reproduce. He and Garrovick beam down with an antimatter bomb and lure the creature toward it, barely escaping when the creature is killed in the explosion.


Analysis: Like so many second season episodes, "Obsession" plays far better than it reads. There are some sticky plot holes and a few coincidences that are really hard to believe: what are the odds that young Ensign Garrovick was never told how his father died, nor that Kirk would have failed to notice that the son of his beloved late captain had been assigned to the Enterprise? And then what are the odds that Spock would be in Garrovick's quarters at the critical moment to save his life, and that Garrovick would be on the bridge to see, just as Kirk does, that no amount of perfectly-timed phaser fire could destroy the cloud creature? I'm sure Spock would note that the odds are astronomical, but neither those issues nor the science-stretching existence of the creature itself, which we are told can control whether it takes the form of matter or energy and can travel at warp, diminish the fantastic character interaction of this storyline.

In some ways Kirk's dilemma is like that of "The Conscience of the King" - he is one of very few survivors of a catastrophe, and thus uniquely able to bring the perpetrator to justice, but in order to do so, he must put his crew at risk and cause his senior officers to worry that he's too personally involved for the necessary objectivity of a starship captain. In this case, he has guilt to cope with on top of bitterness. For 11 years he has blamed himself for Captain Garrovick's death, since he failed to fire his phaser the instant he saw the creature, and now he brings all that blame down on the head of the son of the man who died for the same mistake.

It's an interesting triangle, watching Kirk displace his own guilt onto the younger Garrovick who reminds him of his father. The captain's disturbance is such that the entire crew notices, with Kirk accusing the bridge officers of conspiring against him when they remind him of the urgency of their mission and Chapel telling a despondent Garrovick that others are wondering if the captain has lost his sense of balance. It's surprising that McCoy and Spock don't point out to Kirk that this may be a bigger risk to his command than shirking Starfleet orders concerning critical medical supplies.

Spock and McCoy clearly have sympathy for the captain, but they are also loath to let his private demons jeopardize the ship, and it's interesting how thoroughly McCoy dismisses Kirk's intuition to side with Spock's logic here, arguing even after Spock has conceded that the entity must be intelligent that they still have medical supplies to deliver. They approach Kirk at first with sympathy, playing the psychology card, but when it's clear to them that he plans to continue his single-minded pursuit of the entity, McCoy pulls out medical diagnosis as a means to rein Kirk in and recruits Spock. What follows is one of the most perfectly played scenes among the Big Three, with Kirk discarding his previous defensiveness to listen to their concerns, then explain calmly and systematically why, despite his own emotional involvement, he feels it makes sense to follow his intuition, to determine what the creature is and what it will do next. "Intuition, however illogical, Mr. Spock, is recognized as a command prerogative," he grins, and just then the creature conveniently makes a move, justifying his decision.

Even after Kirk has proven that the entity is sentient and represents a grave threat to humanoids, he continues to behave with a single-mindedness that's disturbing. He insists that he is in communication with the creature and can tell by intuition that it is going to reproduce, guessing that its home planet is the one where it attacked the Farragut. He's either very smart or very lucky in guessing its destination, but then he takes the absurd risk of beaming down with Garrovick to bait the antimatter trap, even though Spock has already proven (and points out again) that he can safely withstand even a direct attack by the creature. Garrovick tries some stupid heroics to make Kirk beam back to the ship and face the creature himself, and once Kirk is done slugging him to regain control, he lets the younger man stay rather than sending him back at once, thus risking two lives instead of one.

Yet all of this episode's excesses are redeemed in the final minutes, when Kirk's plan to kill the creature works, Scott has trouble beaming the landing party back in the midst of the explosion and Spock's cross-circuiting saves Kirk and Garrovick. "Thank heavens," Scotty says upon seeing them on the transporter platform, to which Spock replies indignantly, "There was no deity involved. It was my cross-circuiting to B that recovered them," to which McCoy retorts, "Well, then, thank pitchforks and pointed ears!" It's a nice follow-up to the earlier scene in which Spock, worried about Kirk, tells McCoy that he needs advice and McCoy replies, "Then I need a drink" and it reemphasizes how the strong personal bonds on this crew are its greatest asset - far more than Kirk's intuition, Spock's logic, McCoy's sensitivity and Scotty's technical skills in isolation.

This has long been one of my favorite episodes, and it's certainly not because of the gripping drama of the cloud creature as it picks off red-shirted ensigns. It's for moments like Spock saying, "If you had fired on time and on target eleven years ago, it would have made no more difference than it did an hour ago. Captain Garrovick would still be dead. The fault was not yours, Jim. In fact...there was no fault."


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.