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The Trek Nation - The Lights of Zetar

The Lights of Zetar

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 22, 2006 - 9:35 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Lights of Zetar' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While the Enterprise is shuttling a lieutenant named Mira Romaine to Federation library Memory Alpha to oversee an upgrade, she and Scotty begin to fall in love. But a strange energy storm kills everyone at the library, wipes out system data and infests Romaine, who begins to see visions, including an attack on the Enterprise. When the storm reaches the ship, the energy beings that caused it enter Romaine's body and communicate through her, revealing that they are the last survivors of the planet Zetar and are in need of a host. Kirk orders Romaine to be placed in a pressure chamber in the hope of killing off the beings before the pressure kills Romaine herself. Because the Zetarians are used to living in a vacuum, they die and Romaine is freed.


Analysis: When the best thing you can say about a Star Trek episode is, "Well, it isn't the single worst episode ever made," you know you're late in the third season when anything that doesn't make you want to tear your eyeballs out must be considered tolerable. "The Lights of Zetar" has the dual advantages of not being quite as pointless as its predecessor "That Which Survives" and not being as badly written as its successor "The Cloud Minders," so by contrast, it doesn't look too bad. And while Romaine may be a damsel in distress, she's still a heck of a lot more interesting than vacant Losira or bimbo Droxine.

That's the only good news, however. If a character we had cared about had been possessed by "The Lights of Zetar," it might have redeemed the episode, because there would have been some emotional investment in whether and how the person was cured. Given the number of passive, helpless, weak and idiotic female characters in the latter part of this season, leading up to the infamous Janice Lester in "Turnabout Intruder," it would really have been nice if it was one of the men. But anyone who was a familiar face would have been an improvement, since, other than cheering a rare opportunity for a love interest for Scotty, the audience has nothing invested in whether Romaine lives or dies. We're pretty sure the trinity will find some way to rescue her, but think how much more engaging it would have been if a member of the trinity had been possessed by the Zetarians.

What's the biggest bummer is that Memory Alpha is one of my favorite ideas ever - a massive Library of Alexandria but covering all known worlds! And the teasing look we get at it involves dead librarians and destroyed data! The Zetarians offer nothing in exchange for this damage; you'd think that ancient beings from a long-dead world would come bragging about specific things they could offer the Federation, especially if they want to take over the body of one of its citizens, but their approach is both hostile and mysterious and then once they have a host it's largely belligerent. Two minutes of background on the people of Zetar who evolved into these beings would have been appreciated.

As for Romaine...we're told simultaneously that she's an interesting woman and that she doesn't matter, for all Kirk can think to go on about is how obsessed his engineer has become. No one expected Scotty to fall for the brainy type, apparently, but no one thinks he's noticed that Romaine has a brain, either - the same idea is stated several times in the episode. Romaine is nearly always called a girl, referred to by her first name quite often, and the reason the aliens have chosen her is "an extremely flexible and pliant response to new learning situations" - in other words, she could be pushed around. She's a bit snappish with McCoy but the guys are all too happy to assume at first that her symbiosis with the lights has to do with her not having her space legs, and they condescend when they should be worrying.

In an earlier season, this episode would have focused on a major crewmember who would have learned something from the encounter with the alien beings, and the aliens would have learned something in turn from their encounter with humanity; Kirk would have made a speech about sharing knowledge or Spock would have talked about the illogic of using force, and things would have ended without exterminating a race of beings. But we're in the dregs here: the era when Star Trek's idealism was eroding along with its writing, and the regulars seemed disengaged if not embarrassed by some of their dialogue. "The Lights of Zetar" is nearly entirely forgettable...not terrible enough to be comical, and offering no moment of transcendence.


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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.