Monday, 19 August 2013

TOS - 2.10 - Journey to Babel

Star Trek - Journey to Babel
Tellarite ambassador: Ambassador Sarek, can you
tell me where can I buy those funny pointed ears?
Sarek: Only if you tell me where can I get that ugly
pig nose first!
Captain Kirk: Now, now, gentlemen! Or whatever
you're. There're enough pig noses, pig ears,
Andorian antennas for everyone in the Star Trek
Convention! Starfleet credits will be accepted.
Up until now, there was only one previous episode that dwelt into Spock's Vulcan culture. It happens to be the 1st episode of TOS Season 2 (2.1 "Amok Time") where various Vulcan cultural elements were invented and entered into the Trek lore.

One such invention was the Vulcan salute, which Dr. McCoy has problem doing it. I'm surprise at him as he's supposed to be a skill surgeon, who should be quite dexterous, and has little problem in performing it. Shame on him!

(OK, it took me a little while to master what I call the Vulcan 'V' sign. It also took me a little while to type on the keyboard using more than 2 fingers. I'm no surgeon).

Another surprise I have is that Captain Kirk has no clue that Ambassador Sarek is Spock's father, considering that he considers Spock his best officer and close friend. And Sarek isn't a nobody. Shame on him, too!

OK, let's blame that 2 little oversights on the Trek writers.

In Season 2, aliens are no longer looked on as something mysterious. In this episode, there's a galaxy of different alien races on board the Enterprise. This is reminiscent of the famous bar scene in Star War Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), where you got all these weird looking aliens in one place (mess hall or reception area in this episode  instead of a bar). I keep telling my readers, Star Trek TOS pioneers all sci-fi ideas.  I wish I have a dime every time I say that. I should be a millionaire by now. This scene predated Star War bar scene by almost a decade where we have the pig-faced Tellarite, pig-eared Vulcan, antennas sporting, green Andorian, and a few lesser known alien races munching on colourful plastics (see photo).

For the hardcore Star Trek fan, Mark Lenard, who plays a Romulan that we met for the first time in episode 1.14 "Balance of Terror". In this episode, he plays Sarek, the father of Spock. The TOS casting director must have thought that nobody wears the pointed ears quite like Mark Lenard.

Apparently, stubbornness isn't monopolised by earthlings. As illogically as it is, it's very much a Vulcan trait too. And not only it's a Vulcan trait, it's a genetic trait that passing down from Sarek to Spock.

This episode sees the debut of another Vulcan gesture, the two fingers touching. This is gesture to show affection between 2 individuals, in this case, that of a married couple.

While there's previous mentioning that Vulcan has green corpuscles coursing through their blood, this episode is the first time we see this green blood coursing through the tubes of the blood transfusion machine. It reminds me of peppermint tea.

The Vulcan blood cells are  green because it's copper based, instead of iron based like human blood. From an archaeologist point of view, Vulcan race should be - and indeed is - older than the human race because the Bronze Age is evolved into the Iron Age. Ok, just a little archaeologist joke. No, this is not a very old joke that I dug up from some where else with a team of student volunteers. You hear it here for the 1st time!

While there's only one previous episode that dwelt into Spock's culture, there's another, even earlier episode (1.16 "Galileo Seven") that shows Spock's dichotomy of his upbringing. In that episode, while Spock is shown of that dichotomy, but its human side is only revealed in a subtly way. Mostly the episode shows his Vulcan - meaning logical - way of doing things.

In this episode, Spock's depth of his dichotomy is being further plumbed by having his mother - Amanda Sarek - revealing his childhood to the crew (and to us). Thus with the presence of his visiting earthling mother, his human side is being brought forth like never before. His Vulcan father and human mother serve to amplify that dichotomy.

Quite naturally, in this episode, Spock is placed into a situation where his Vulcan and human sides are put into conflict. His Vulcan logical side says he should place the ship's duty ahead of saving his father's life (it's only logical, and his father would agree). On the other hand, his emotional human side says that he has a duty to save his father's life, and that should trump his duty to the ship (it's only a 'right' thing to do, and his mother would insist).

Of course, being Spock, the Vulcan way wins out. This episode reveals that Spock is tormented by that decision with a brief and subtle (yet unmistakable) body language that reflects the conscious concealment of his human side. With his human mommy around, such fleeting show of emotional softness is not only understandable, but is encouraged. He would never show such human 'weakness' - no matter how subtle it is - when his father is around. That's to be expected. They're like Captain von Trapp and Maria in The Sound of Music (1959), there's no question of their loves for Spock, just expressing it in their own unique ways. Remember, this delightful, and ever more popular musical was only made a couple of years before this episode. Who's to say the writer wasn't influenced by it at all, consciously or otherwise?

Spock's mother says to him that he's neither here nor there, neither quite Vulcan nor human, and always have difficulty fitting in. Well, that was just the very thing that I pointed out in my review of episode 1.16 "Galileo Seven". He represents anyone who has personal issues fitting into one's environment, may the issue be social, cultural, sexual orientation, political and whatnot.

At the end, it shows that even when Amanda Sarek (nee Grayson) is infuriated by the Vulcan logic from time to time, she still loves Sarek, and concludes that's just being human. Both Spock and Sarek laughs at her irrationality. But then if Vulcan is so logical, why would he marry such illogical creature as the human female? Well, the Trek writers are always suspicious of the so-called logical Vulcan mind.

Perhaps because of time constraint, otherwise it would be also interesting to show how nurse Christine Chapel (appearing in this episode), who's like Amanda Sarek, falls in love with a Vulcan. For nurse Chapel, unfortunately her love had never been reciprocated by Spock. Poor nurse Chapel. In real life, Nurse Chapel is played by Majel Barrett who's Gene Roddenberry's 1st wife.

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