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This episode opens with one of the series's most blatant sex-pot sequences, which is saying a lot for TOS. A lovely woman, Kara, performs an extended bellydance, while Kirk, McCoy, and Scott look on. Kirk has set up Scotty with the woman; once they leave, we find out that Scotty has just recovered from a serious accident in engineering that was caused by a woman. McCoy is concerned that Scotty might harbor resentment toward women as a result, so Kirk's quick solution is to get Scotty laid. (Of course, according to the sensibilities of the episode, we are to believe Scotty and Kara are just going on a walk.) This whole idea rubs me the wrong way.
Soon after, Kara screams, and Kirk and McCoy rush to her rescue. They find her dead from multiple stab wounds, while Scotty stands near by in shock, holding the knife. When he recovers enough to talk, he claims he doesn't remember anything at the time of the murder The local authorities take charge of the case, although even I have to admit it seems pretty open-and-shut.
The planet they are on, Argellius, is completely devoted to pleasures. The natives are completely peaceful and non-violent. Their dispositions are not conducive to administration, so their major administrators are hired from off-world. The Chief Administrator is Hengist, and he takes charge of the case. Of course, he believes Scotty is responsible for the murder, but he goes about questioning Scotty and potential witnesses, as well as having the murder weapon studied.
The forensic analysis is laughable according to today's standards. This is before fingerprint analysis, not to mention DNA analysis. Thus, there is no mention of any possibility of determining forensically if another person had handled the knife, or had left other personal evidence at the scene of the crime.
The Prefect of Argellius, Jaris, arrives to involve himself in the investigation, much to Hengist's annoyance. Jaris claims that his wife, Sybo, has empathic abilities that could potentially determine Scotty's guilt. Kirk is uncomfortable with trusting Scotty's fate to "mumbo-jumbo", but he's desperate to clear Scotty. A conversation between Kirk and Spock informs us for the first time that when Starfleet members are on a planet, they are subject to the laws of that planet. This is a very interesting development, with repercussions throughout all of the Star Trek series.
Another interesting point here is that Spock acknowledges that there is some validity to Argellians' empathic talents. However, he doesn't think Sybo should decide on Scott's guilt. This is another example of how Starfleet members are required to tolerate natives' beliefs, even if they don't credit them. We can see that Kirk believes in this idea in principle, but will he let Scotty's fate be decided by it?
While Sybo prepares for her seance, Kirk convinces Jaris to allow an Enterprise technician to beam down and run a psycho-tricorder scan on Scotty. Allegedly this scan will reveal everything Scotty did in the recent past, even if Scotty can't remember it. As it turns out, the technician is a woman. The succeeding events are telegraphed when we see Hengist nod approvingly at her arrival, and then conveniently leave the room, ostensibly to locate other persons of interest. In short order, the technician is stabbed to death, and Scotty was the only other person in the room. He doesn't remember what happened.
At this point, even Kirk has a hard time believing that Scotty is innocent, although he puts up a good front. He and McCoy keep pushing the idea that Scotty's prior head injury may be causing him to act completely out of character. Kirk's loyalty to his crewmen is commendable, and we will see it push him to quite the flights of speculation later on.
Hengist returns with Kara's fiance and her father, who had both been in or near the cafe at the time of Kara's murder. Hengist is informed of the second murder; when I watched carefully, I only found one slip-up where Hengist seems to know too much, given that he wasn't there when the murder happens. He says something to the effect of Scotty being found over the body with no one else around, even though he wasn't told the specifics of the crime scene.
Sybo initiates her seance; Kirk insists that the room be sealed during the ritual. Everyone sits around a small fire and holds hands. Sybo begins making pronouncements. She says there is a terrible, evil hunger that never dies, and that it feeds on terror. Then the fire goes out, and she screams. By the time Jaris gets the artificial lights on, Sybo is dead in Scotty's arms, with the knife still in her back.
Again, Scotty claims he's innocent, but it's almost beyond belief that anyone believes him. Even so, Kirk keeps pushing. He convinces Jaris to bring everyone involved to the Enterprise, where its computer can be used to analyze the statements of all person involved as well as the murder weapon. Surprisingly, Jaris agrees, over Hengist's objections.
The computer verifies Scotty's statement that he doesn't remember what happened during the first two murders. It also verifies Scotty's description of what happened during Sybo's murder: he heard her scream and tried to approach, but something was in the way. Not a physical person, but some kind of presence.
We have seen the computer act as a lie detector before on TOS (in "Mudd's Women" in season 1, for example), although its function wasn't as clearly described. Here we see that it's based on physiological responses of the testee, which is similar to polygraph tests today. According to Wikipedia, the concept of using physiological reactions as a polygraph has been around since the early 1900s, so this is clearly an extension of that idea.
After Scotty mentions this mysterious presence, Kirk and Spock start on a huge speculative sequence. Through a somewhat dubious chain of logic, they conclude that there must be some incorporeal being, made of energy, that feeds off of terror and has committed the murders in order to cause terror. This being is the same mass murderer as Jack the Ripper and various others on other worlds, the most recent being the planet of origin of Chief Administrator Hengist. The most incredible part of this scene is when Spock instructs the computer to analyze the recent conversation and hypothesize about the existence and make-up of this being. What a computer that is! The artificial intelligence needed to complete these instructions takes my breath away.
Once the being's existence has been uncovered in the body of Hengist, it flees into the ship's computer and begins taking control of the ship in order to terrorize the crew. Kirk orders McCoy to give everyone a heavy-duty tranquilizer, which makes everyone extremely mellow and unable to be scared. Meanwhile, Spock orders the computer to compute all of the digits of pi, thereby tying up the computer's processing power. Since everyone except Kirk and Spock is tranquilized, the being is forced to flee back into Hengist's body (which was dead when the being left it earlier). Why doesn't the being take over Kirk or Spock? We have no idea.
Hengist's body is tranquilized, which renders him virtually harmless. It also leads to one of the creepiest and simultaneously absurd scene, where Hengist is chanting, "Die! Kill you all!" in a happily drugged-up tone. Kirk and Spock disperse Hengist's body into space, using the transporter. End of story, with a good laugh about how everyone's going to be doped up for hours.
This episode showcases Kirk's loyalty to his crewmen, as well as Kirk and Spock's synergy while engaging in completely random speculation. It's also nice that it focuses on Scotty, although in some senses it's not the "real" Scotty, since he could have been acting atypically because of his injury, and he was influenced or controlled by the incorporeal being. However, Scotty's pain at the accusations and the though that he might have committed the murders was palpable.
However, despite three murders, the episode dragged on a bit. The interrogation scene on the Enterprise was particularly long.
During this viewing, I was also struck by how much women were objectified by this episode. Kara was a sex object initially, then a victim. The technician was set up just to be a victim. Sybo's husband spoke for her almost entirely until the seance began, and then she was a victim. There were no other women in the episode in any kind of position of influence or power. And finally, Spock states that obviously women are more easily terrorized. This all added up to an major annoyance.
One last point: I was thinking about how it's such a cliche to have the revelation that Jack the Ripper was an alien being. Of course, at the time this episode aired, I'm not sure this idea had been done before on TV. I suppose in some senses it's nice to think that a human couldn't have done such horrible things.