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The Trek Nation - The Immunity Syndrome

The Immunity Syndrome

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at April 27, 2006 - 11:30 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Immunity Syndrome' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Just after Spock senses telepathically the deaths of the Vulcan crew of the U.S.S. Intrepid, Kirk is ordered to investigate the disruption in communications from a nearby solar system, whose billions of inhabitants have all been killed. The Enterprise discovers a dark region of space that apparently drained the energy from the Intrepid crew and the solar system and begins to work immediately on the Enterprise crew, causing half the people on the ship to grow faint. While Scotty reports that the engines are being drained, McCoy notes that the crew's energy is similarly being sapped and they will all die if they don't escape the dark zone. But the ship is trapped by the enormous single-celled entity at the center of the zone. When Spock takes a shuttlecraft to examine the creature, he discovers that it is readying itself to reproduce. Kirk sets course for the nucleus, which he destroys with an antimatter bomb that destroys the creature and throws both the Enterprise and the shuttlecraft free.


Analysis: Yet another episode where hokey science is rendered irrelevant by great dialogue, good directing, strong performances and well-timed transitions, "The Immunity Syndrome" manages to make a giant space blob a credible threat and provide an opportunity for some of the series' best Spock-McCoy interaction. I remember learning in eighth grade that a giant single-celled monster was impossible because of something to do with the surface area to volume ratio, but this is, after all, a giant one-celled beastie that can generate a dark field to suck the energy out of entire solar systems, even though McCoy says an amoeba is relatively sophisticated compared to it. Besides, by the time we see it, we've already been encouraged to take it seriously; it has killed a starship full of Vulcans, obliterated a solar system full of people and made Captain Kirk swoon on the bridge.

In other words, the fun contained by this episode far exceeds the surface of the plot summary in just the same way that the plasma volume should exceed the cell membrane of the creature, and it oozes out the sides. Uhura practically collapses into Kirk's arms! McCoy practically gropes Chapel while being flung around sickbay during turbulence! And Spock and McCoy get in several pointed jabs at one another as they compete for the privilege of dying in "the greatest living laboratory" either has ever seen. Their enthusiasm both for research and for protecting their colleagues is infectious; neither scientist worries about the one-way nature of the mission, nor the fact that whatever discoveries he makes will likely be lost along with his life. They're both just plain thrilled to have this opportunity to examine how cells work up close.

Kirk has a fairly grim outing, as he did in "The Trouble With Tribbles", in sharp contrast to the fun he had chomping scenery in "A Piece of the Action"; he even bites Spock's head off when Spock can give him no answers about what they're facing. His excuses are having his energy sapped by the dark zone and the fact that the entire crew was supposed to be on leave before the starbase diverted them to figure out what had happened to the Intrepid; you'd think he'd be more sensitive to whatever Spock might be feeling or repressing, though. Neither he nor McCoy seem to consider the possibility that Spock may be far more affected than he lets on; his desire to take a shuttle into the belly of the beast that killed the Intrepid would look like a death wish if it was, say, Commodore Decker demanding the right to do it. To think that Spock accuses McCoy of having a martyr complex!

Spock and McCoy have an interesting discussion about Vulcan telepathy and Vulcan sensibilities in which Spock explains that even a half-Vulcan "could hear the death scream of 400 Vulcan minds crying out over the distance between us", though he believes the Intrepid crew felt astonishment rather than pain. Spock also wonders why humans tend to suffer more over the death of the one than the deaths of the many -- I'd never noticed it before, but there are definite antecedents to Spock's Star Trek II Vulcan philosophy here -- and adds, "You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours." McCoy is atypically gentle with him, asking Spock whether he would wish humans to suffer the deaths of their neighbors the way Vulcans apparently do, to which Spock retorts, "It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody."

All this heaviness is balanced by the character intimacy and sharp communication - Kirk holding up a hand to warn Spock not to try to help him when he sways in exhaustion on the bridge, McCoy snapping that he recommends survival and getting the hell out of the zone of darkness after Spock says he has no suggestions. There's also something perversely funny about learning that the crew is probably alive because, after wiping out the life of an entire solar system, the space amoeba isn't very hungry. McCoy is the one who first proposes taking a shuttle to examine the creature's vulnerable spots, and Spock essentially says, "The Vulcans saw it first!" as if this should give him the right to go. For Kirk the decision of which of his friends to send to die is agonizing, but it's much more practical than the similar decision he will have to make in "The Empath" because the entire crew is going to die anyway if he doesn't get the information he needs. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, so Spock goes, and McCoy can't bring himself to wish him luck until the Vulcan is out of earshot.

Since we know it's a good bet that neither Spock nor the ship is going to be destroyed, the rest of the episode is less suspenseful than an interesting study in how Kirk thinks. He realizes that the entity is like an invading virus which a body would fight off with antibodies, so what they need is antimatter, a charge it won't be able to absorb. (And he puts all this together without Spock, whose message is garbled just before he is presumed lost.) Kirk and Spock both have time to log what they believe are their last messages, praising one another and calling the Enterprise the finest starship in the fleet, but of course the Enterprise finds the shuttle just at the moment of escape and Kirk risks the entire ship to try to tractor it aboard. When Spock objects, McCoy says, "Shut up, Spock! We're rescuing you!" to which Spock replies, "Thank you, Captain McCoy."

As I said, it isn't deep or believable; "The Immunity Syndrome" has more in common plot-wise with B-horror serials than intellectual science fiction, and it's a bit overly reminiscent of both "The Doomsday Machine" and "Obsession." (Not that that would stop Voyager from ripping it off in "The Cloud", though in that case the issue wasn't escape but saving the poor wounded creature.) But with all that great Kirk-Spock-McCoy interaction and a side of Scotty fretting over his engines, what's not to love, anyway?


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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.