Episode Review of Star Trek - The Original Series Season 3: "The Lights of Zetar"

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Episode Information

Title: "The Lights of Zetar"
Writer: Jeremy Tarcher, Shari Lewis
Director: Herb Kenwith
Rating (out of 4 stars): **
Reviewed on: December 8, 2008

Synopsis from Wikipedia


Non-corporeal beings attack the Enterprise and take over the body of a young lieutenant.

The Enterprise is heading for Memory Alpha, a planetoid containing a huge database with all information gathered by all Federation planets. The planetoid functions as a library and research center, with its information freely available to everyone. I have to say that I really like this idea; it demonstrates one of the huge benefits of being a member of the Federation, namely access to this kind of information. With all that information in one place, imagine the discoveries that could be made just by synthesizing and studying data gathered by so many worlds.

A young lieutenant, Mira Romaine, is being taken there for her first deep-space assignment. Mira is beautiful and charming, and Scotty has fallen in love with her. The way he dotes on her and is always smiling at her is pretty amusing, considering his normal behavior. The crew is bemused by his courting of her.

As they near Memory Alpha, a strange phenomenon approaches them. Kirk and Spock originally believe it to be a storm, but when it demonstrates warp speed, they know it has to be something else. The "storm" consists of flashing speckles of light, and it penetrates the shields and invades the ship. Somehow it attacks parts of the brain of each crewman: Uhura can't move her hands, Chekov can't move his eyes, Sulu can't speak.

It affects Mira even more strongly, and when the storm finally moves off, she collapses. Of course, Scotty rushes to her aid, and we see that her mouth is moving and we hear strange sounds coming out. It almost sounds like recorded speech that has been slowed down a lot. McCoy gives Mira some concoction, and she comes to and claims to be fine. Nonetheless, McCoy insists on examining her in Sickbay, where she is unusually uncooperative and sassy for a greenhorn lieutenant. Scotty claims her fainting spell was just some space-sickness.

The storm heads for Memory Alpha, and the Enterprise cannot intercept it - not that the ship could do anything to stop it, anyway. The storm moves off before the ship arrives. Mira has a vision of people on Memory Alpha, dead. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty beam to Memory Alpha to investigate. They find everyone dead except one woman, who makes the same strange noises Mira did, has strange colors flash across her face, and then dies. McCoy says everyone on the planetoid was killed by having a different part of their brains destroyed. Spock learns that the memory banks of the planetoid have been erased, an incalculable loss.

Kirk has Mira beam down, since she is presumably an expert on Memory Alpha. She recognizes some of the dead people from her vision. Then she suddenly knows that the "storm" is returning to Memory Alpha. Sure enough, Sulu calls with a warning, and they beam back to the ship. Kirk orders them to run, and they manage to stay out of reach of the storm.

Kirk demands some kind of explanation from Spock about what the "storm" could be, but Spock is stymied since the storm is blocking the sensors. He finally gets some indication that the "storm" is alive, and is in fact the amalgamation of 10 individual life forms. Kirk tries to communicate with it, asking it to keep its distance since it can harm them. In return, the storm moves into the ship's path to block it. This is the first real indication of intelligence on the "storm's" part.

The captain orders Sulu to fire the phasers in a warning shot. When that has no effect, he orders Sulu to fire at the storm. This is a nice little scene, because clearly Kirk is reluctant to give this order. He also knows that Spock is strongly against violence and killing, especially of a newly-discovered lifeform. However, none of this needed to be voiced: Kirk sets his posture and gives Spock a glance; Spock in return gives a look acknowledging that Kirk knows his opinion on the matter.

The attack does not appear to harm the storm, but in engineering, Mira is suddenly struck down. Scotty calls the bridge and tells them that another phaser attack will kill Mira. Kirk calls off the attack and orders Sulu to continue to evade and keep their distance from the storm.

Once Mira has been treated in Sickbay, Kirk calls for a conference of him, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Mira in order to get to the bottom of the link between her and the storm. I should say that initially it seems like he's calling a conference, but once the scene commences it seems to be something more formal, and he calls it an "investigation". The tone of it is rather judgmental, as if they will be assessing what Mira has done wrong. Even though she may not have used the best judgment, she has not purposely disobeyed orders, and her lack of communication was even encouraged by Scotty, who thought she was just a bit delusional from space-sickness. Now she asserts that she will cooperate as much as possible.

Kirk has McCoy and Spock compare Mira's past medical and personal histories with the information known about the storm in order to look for any kind of connection. It is noted that from psychological tests, Mira is unusually pliable in her mental responses. McCoy also says that her brain wave patterns have changed since her initial Starfleet physical, which is supposed to be impossible since brain waves are as unique as fingerprints. Spock realizes that her brain wave pattern matches patterns he detected from the storm. Knowing that the storm can affect human brains, the officers deduce that somehow the lifeforms in the storm are altering Mira's brain to become like their own. In other words, they are taking over her mind.

Through all of this Mira is present physically, but mentally seems completely absent. This seems to give credence to the bizarre hypothesis of the aliens trying to take over her mind. She says that she has had a vision of Scotty dying. Kirk tells her to allow the aliens "in" the next time, and then maybe they can control them through her. They don't have long to wait, as the storm advances. Kirk orders them all to engineering, where he intends to create an environment in which they can control the aliens.

The light speckles converge on Mira, and the aliens begin talking through her. They are from the planet Zetar, which was destroyed by some kind of cataclysm long ago. The souls (for want of a better word) of some of the Zetarians refused to die, and they have been traveling the galaxy, looking for someone compatible in order to take over their body and finish living their lives. Mira seems to be the perfect candidate, and they refuse to listen to Kirk's pleas that Mira's life should not be sacrificed for them.

Kirk decides to go through with his operation to destroy the Zetarians. Scotty puts Mira into an antigravity chamber; the Zetarians somehow blast Scotty with some kind of shock, but he does not die, contrary to Mira's vision. The chamber is sealed, and Spock begins increasing the atmospheric pressure inside the chamber while McCoy monitors Mira's vital signs. Apparently they believe that high pressure may kill the Zetarians. Where did they get this idea from? We have absolutely no indication - it appears to come out of nowhere.

The atmospheric pressure gets dangerously high, but finally the Zetarians are killed. Fortunately, McCoy remembers the problem with the bends and orders a very slow return to normal atmospheric pressure. I was amused by him talking to Mira via the intercom while she was still under high pressure: his voice would sound unintelligible through all that thick air, something like trying to listen to someone speaking underwater. Mira makes a full recovery, and Kirk allows her to take her posting at Memory Alpha.

This episode was a very mixed bag. One of the high points was getting to see the gentler side of Scotty, although I have to say that he was still in the "rose colored glasses" stage of their relationship, since Mira could do no wrong in his eyes. It was a nice bit of writing to have Kirk say in his log that Scotty's heart used to only beat with the throb of the ship's engines, but now there was someone new. The other characters' bemusement at Scotty's crush was fun to watch, again playing on the chemistry and friendship among the characters. I will say that Kirk was incredibly tolerant of Scotty neglecting his duties a bit to watch over Mira. At one point when Kirk finally finds Scotty in Sickbay instead of engineering, he gripes, "And is Dr. McCoy there, or will I find him in engineering?" This is a great and natural throw-away line.

The central plot with the Zetarians is so-so. For most of the episode, the motivations of the unknown aliens are a mystery, and the effects on Mira are pretty interesting. However, this plot suffers from the "solving" of the mystery, because the Zetarians goal is very simplistic and there is absolutely no debate and what course of action to take. Spock had said there were 10 individual Zetarians - are they all planning on using Mira? Kirk doesn't even think twice about condemning the Zetarians to death; even Spock doesn't tell us about any potential benefits to be had in knowing the Zetarians, even though their prior civilization is known. The actual killing of the Zetarians is far too easy. Aside from zapping Scotty, they don't even put up a fight. Why don't they leave Mira's body and attack the other crewmembers?

The other major detraction in the episode is the treatment of Mira in general, which seems to be because she's female. Initially, she is called a "woman", and we can see her relationship with Scotty as involving some old-fashioned chivalry. But as the crisis develops, we see more and more how Mira is isolated from the other officers. Unfortunately this starts to look a lot like men vs. women. There are no other female officers involved with the main plot, so Mira is continually put on one side of the issue while all the men are on the other side of the issue. I might have written this off as simply part of the plot, except for some of the details. As the situation worsens, all of the male officers begin referring to Mira as a "girl", which automatically belittles her age and experience. Also, the way some of the scenes were setup, the male/female conflict is emphasized. For example, in the investigation scene in the briefing room, Mira is seated at one end of the table, while all the men gather at the other end. The sexist aspects of the episode are very annoying to me.

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