Friday, March 25, 2016

"Court Martial" -- My Favorite "Star Trek" Episode


I'd been a fan of Star Trek for several years before I finally saw this episode.  I knew a lot about it, because my brother and I spent hours poring over books like The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic Trekkers by Phil Farrand and The Star Trek Encyclopedia by Michael and Denise Okuda.  From what I read in those books, I knew I was going to love this episode when I finally saw it.  I just didn't know how much.

I've always been drawn to stories of someone proving themselves.  Whether it's proving they're good at something when someone else says they're worthless, or proving they're innocent when everyone assumes they're guilty, those stories have pulled me in for as long as I can remember.  I especially love stories of people wrongly accused of committing a crime and needing to clear their name.


At the beginning of the season one episode "Court Martial," the Enterprise is orbiting Starbase 11, seeking repairs after sustaining severe damage during an ion storm.  During the storm, they lost one crew member, Lt. Cmdr. Ben Finney (Richard Webb).  Captain Kirk says he jettisoned the pod Finney was in after the storm became so severe he had no choice.  However, the computer log shows him jettisoning the pod before he needed to.  Commodore Stone (Percy Rodriguez) discusses this with Kirk, soothing him, trying to chalk the mistake up to pressure.  We all know Kirk is the youngest Starship Captain ever, and Stone clearly things he's just too young and inexperienced to do the job correctly.

Commodore Stone, who always seems to be sneering a bit.

Captain Kirk insists he's been under worse pressure, that he did not make a mistake, and that the ship's record must be wrong.  Stone reminds him that computers don't lie.  Man versus machine becomes a major theme for this episode -- can you trust a computer more than a person?  Are computers only tools, or are they becoming revered as much as people, possibly even more?  In 1967, when this first aired, such considerations probably struck the audience as silly.  How could a computer be smarter than a person?  Those foolish 23rd-century Starfleet types, trusting computers so implicitly.  Here in 2016, however, we live in a world where computers are considered more trustworthy than people for performing particular tasks, because... they don't lie.  They don't cheat.  They don't fall asleep at the wheel or get distracted by a rowdy toddler in the back seat.  Technology has changed amazingly much in the twenty years since I first saw this episode, which makes "Court Martial" feel more timely every time I watch it.

But I digress.  Captain Kirk insists he did not make a mistake, that the computer must be in error.  Commodore Stone tries to convince him to take a desk job somewhere, stay with Starfleet but give up his captaincy.  Kirk sees this for what it really is:  trying to bury a problem.  Commodore Stone says that no Starship captain has ever been put on trial before.  Surely Kirk doesn't want to be the first, does he?  No no, better to go quietly and not make a fuss.  For the good of the service, Jim.  Come on, be a good boy.

Doesn't exactly look cooperative, does he.

Um, yeah.  Stone clearly doesn't know James T. Kirk.  Defeat, retreat -- those words are not in Kirk's personal dictionary.  Which gives me one of my favorite exchanges in the whole episode.

Kirk:  "So that's the way we do it now -- sweep it under the rug, and me along with it.  Not on your life.  I intend to fight."
Stone:  "Then you draw a general court."
Kirk:  "Draw it?  I demand it!  And right now, Commodore Stone.  Right now!" 

Complicating this whole scenario are two women:  Jame Finney (Alice Rawlings) and Lt. Areel Shaw (Joan Marshall).  Jame is the daughter of Ben Finney -- we learn that Finney and Kirk were best buddies for many years, dating back to when Kirk was a cadet at Starfleet Academy, and Finney was an instructor.  In fact, Jame is named after James Kirk.

I always wanted a shiny blue skirt like Jame's.

Jame is here on Starbase 11, and her presence ensures that Kirk constantly feels horrible about Finney's death, whether it was Kirk's fault or not.  She cries and fusses and tries to punch him, and generally behaves as a distraught teen daughter is expected to, at least at first.

Areel Shaw is a lawyer in the judge advocate's office, and an old flame of Kirk's.  She knows down to the hour how long it's been since they saw each other last, so I get the feeling that for her, at least, their relationship was quite serious.

I've also always wanted earrings like Areel's.

They seem to have parted on good terms, though, because she greets him warmly.

I'm not sure if her dress is supposed to say "free spirit" or "color blind."

Not only that, but she gives him some free legal counsel and recommends a defense attorney.  He asks if she'd represent him instead, but she says she's busy.  She tells him several strategies that the prosecution will use against him, and when he finally asks how she knows all this, she admits that it's "because, Jim Kirk, my dear old love, I am the prosecution."

You know, I'm starting to think there's an actual method to Kirk's tomcat ways.  How helpful to have someone from the judge advocate's office who is so fond of you she'll sabotage her own case, possibly her career, to help you out.

When Kirk returns to his room, he finds it filled with stack after stack of books.  Perched amid the books is an odd little man, one Samuel T. Cogley (Elisha Cook Jr.), who gives Captain Kirk a delicious lecture on the importance of books.

This will be my brother in 40 years.

This little speech is actually my favorite part of the entire episode, and I quote it frequently.  I know my book-loving friends will enjoy it, so here it is, in its entirety:

STC:  "What's the matter?  Don't you like books?"
JTK:  "Oh, I like them fine.  But a computer takes less space."
STC:  "Huh.  A computer.  I've got one of these at my office.  Contains all the precedents, a synthesis of all the great legal decisions written throughout time.  I never use it."
JTK:  "Why not?"
STC:  "I've got my own system.  Books, young man, books.  Thousands of 'em.  If time wasn't so important, I'd show you something:  my library.  Thousands of books."
JTK:  "What would be the point?"
STC:  "This is where the law is.  Not in that homogenized, pasteurized synthesizer.   Do you want to know the law?  The ancient concepts in their own language?  Learn the intent of the men who wrote them?  From Moses to the Tribunal of Alpha Three?  Books!"
JTK:  "You have to be either an obsessive crackpot who's escaped from his keeper or Samuel T. Cogley, attorney at law."
STC:  "Right on both counts.  Need a lawyer?"
JTK:  "I'm afraid so."

This is the first thing I ever saw Elisha Cook Jr. in, and I'm always delighted when he pops up in an old movie or TV show.  I have such a fondness for him, whether he's playing  dastardly gunsels in classic film noirs like The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946) or sweethearts in things like Shane (1953).

Wouldn't you love to just sit down and chat with him?  What stories he must have!

The rest of the episode concerns the trial itself.  I'm quite fascinated by trials, to be honest.  Although I've never wanted to become a lawyer (I left that in my brother's capable hands), I love watching TV shows and movies about court cases, reading books about them -- they're so interesting to me.  I actually got to be on a jury once, eleven years ago, which I really dug.  However, I know that not everyone is as fascinated by courtroom scenes as I am, so I won't go into details here.  Everything hinges on the fact that computers can't lie, can't make mistakes, and are therefore considered more trustworthy than people.  Samuel T. Cogley insists this is morally wrong, and with Spock's help, proves that it is also false in this case.

Starfleet Courtrooms are very austere, huh?

As Areel Shaw said earlier in the episode, "You're not an ordinary human, you're a starship captain, and you've stepped into scandal."  Kirk isn't allowed to make mistakes, to have a lapse of judgement, to forget what order to do things in.  He has to be perfect in every official action he does.  No errors.  No off days.  Not only do all the lives of his crew depend on him, but often, the lives of countless others that they encounter.  And wherever he goes, he represents Starfleet -- his every action reflects on them.  It's a terrible burden, even for Kirk's broad shoulders.  But he once again proves that, young as he is, he is perfectly capable of handling it.

There it is, that theme of proving yourself.  Kirk proves he's innocent, but also proves he's able to do what others think he might not be.  No wonder I love this episode so much.

Annnnnd I might also love it because Jim Kirk has never looked yummier.  I must admit I spent more time screencapping drool-worthy shots of him than I did anything else in the episode.  I can't resist sharing some with you now.








This has been my contribution to this year's Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon.  Visit the official list of blogathon entries at A Shroud of Thoughts, where you'll find so many wonderful posts about classic shows.

25 comments:

  1. The drama of the courtroom, the striving to prove oneself, and Shatner/Kirk at his dreamiest. When you throw in Mr. Cook Jr., it is almost too much!

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    1. Caftan Woman, you're right -- it's almost too delicious for our own good! Almost :-9

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  2. Ah! I like the way you reviewed this cuz now I get why you like it so much! Makes total sense!

    So interesting to compare our two fave ST episodes, isn't it? This one for you, with it's theme of proving yourself, Bread & Circuses for me, with it's themes of honor and moral integrity. And so much more about each work for us beyond just that. It's fascinating to see how can be learned about us from stuff like this!

    Nice screencaps, too!

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    1. DKoren, because I knew you didn't like this one much, I deliberately spent time contemplating why I do. Didn't take long to realize why :-) And yes, our faves really do reflect us, don't they?

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  3. I love the old Star Trek series, this was great coverage of a fab episode.

    And the skirt and earrings look easy to make anytime you want to have a ladies of Star Trek themed crafting party I am so there, I would like to master Janice Rand's basket bouffant.

    Summer
    serendipitousanachronisms.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks, Summer! You're right, there's no reason at all that I haven't made a skirt like that (except that now, it would look pretty ridiculous on a 35-year-old, I think). The earrings... I'm still on the lookout for them :-)

      Janice Rand's hair is a masterpiece.

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  4. I need to finally break down and have a Star Trek marathon. I bought the entire series over a year ago, but I've only watched a ½ dozen or so of the show since I got it. And this wasn't one of them... Good review

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    1. Quiggy, thanks! I'm trying to rewatch the whole series over the course of this year to celebrate this being it's 50th anniversary, but I've only watched I think the first 2 discs, so that's probably 8 eps? Though I jumped ahead to rewatch this one to write this post :-) You have it to look forward to!

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  5. Oh I loved this!! I'm such a huge fan of the original Star Trek. This is really a great episode and you captured so many of the great moments, and quotes. And Kirk does look super handsome in this episode, hehe. :D

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    1. Faith, I'm glad you liked it! For many years, this was my absolute favorite show, and it's still in my top ten. This ep is just delicious, isn't it?

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  6. Cool post, Hamlette! I've never really thought much about the particular story themes that I tend to like best--types of characters, yes; but types of themes, no. I should probably spend some time figuring that out :-)

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    1. Thanks, Jessica! Yes, definitely spend some time figuring out what themes you're drawn to. It'll help you deepen your own writing, because you'll write best about what you're most passionate about. Three of my six novels have "proving yourself" as a major theme. One of the two I'm planning does as well. The struggle, then, is to find fresh, new ways to explore things that I'm drawn to writing about over and over.

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    2. I think one of the themes I really love (at least, so far) is unexpected or unconventional romance--you know, relationships between characters whom people DON'T expect to get together. I also seem to be really drawn to themes of grief and how people work through it . . . which is odd, but there you are. And I LOVE writing about shy, silent characters who surprise people with their inner strength. (Gee, I wonder where I got THAT idea. Heh, heh.)

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    3. Jessica, I have a deep fondness for May-December romances (Jo March & Prof. Bhaer, Jane Eyre & Mr. Rochester, Maxim de Winter & Mrs. de Winter, and on and on). I also love groups of people who you would not expect to get along with each other, but who are thrown together by circumstances and have to work as a team. Big ensembles casts = <3

      And Byronic heroes. I can't resist me a good Byronic hero.

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    4. I don't reeeeaaallly like Byronic heroes in the fullest sense of the term (ie, the dramatic or angst-y kind), but I have a deep and inexplicable fondness for the strong, silent type of hero with a hidden sorrow . . . like Colonel Brandon. Okay, that sounded REALLY sappy. Sorry ;-)

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    5. More dramatic, angsty, damaged men for meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

      (What's the use of being young if you can't be sappy once in a while?)

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  7. Great post! I always thought "Court Martial" demonstrated just how flexible the format of the original Star Trek was. I mean, here one has a legal drama on a sci-fi show! And it had such a great cast. Like you I think it was the first time I ever saw Elisha Cook, Jr. For that matter, I think it might have been the first time I saw Percy Rodriguez and Joan Marshall as well. One of the things I love about "Court Martial" is that it is even more character driven than most Star Trek episodes (which was a very character driven show as it was). Anyway, thanks for participating in the blogathon!

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    1. Thanks, Terence! Yes, Star Trek really played around in a lot of genres, didn't it? And did well with many of them! And yes, I think most of my favorite eps are the very, very character-driven ones where the adventure of the week is subsidiary to exploring these fascinating, real people.

      Thanks for hosting it again!

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  8. I always get a kick of out of it when I read people's posts about Star Trek and see all kinds of familiar actors from old movies and Westerns and such appearing...in outer space. And I love that conversation you quoted with Elisha Cook Jr.'s character.

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    1. Elisabeth, one of the things I love about watching lots and lots of '50s and '60s TV shows is how you see the same faces crop up everywhere.

      Whenever I get mad at one of our computers, I call it "that homogenized, pasteurized synthesizer." It's such a satisfying insult!

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    2. Elisabeth, one of the things I love about watching lots and lots of '50s and '60s TV shows is how you see the same faces crop up everywhere.

      Whenever I get mad at one of our computers, I call it "that homogenized, pasteurized synthesizer." It's such a satisfying insult!

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  9. A really great post about an episode that usually falls between the cracks, somehow. Maybe because it's more Perry Mason than Buck Rogers? But it's a really good one as you point out here, and yes, everybody has that brand spanking new first season glow about them!

    Such a fun read!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa! I'm glad you enjoyed it. And yes, this does tend to get overshadowed by some of the more famous eps -- maybe also because there's not a lot of action to it? Just one tussle at the end.

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  10. Love the book conversation. :)

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