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The Enterprise follows a distress call to the planet Scalos. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and a redshirt named Compton beam down. They find a high-tech city, abandoned, and no signs of any kind of life, except for the recurring whine of an insect. They apparently expected to find the people who sent the distress call waiting - for some reason it takes them a really long time to realize the distress call was a recording. Compton suddenly disappears right before McCoy's eyes.
They return to the ship, and suddenly the ship is plagued with malfunctions. They also keep hearing the whine of the insect from Scalos; Kirk deduces that they beamed something back from Scalos with them. This is confirmed when the find an alien mechanism attached to the life support systems. It is protected by a forcefield and they cannot disconnect it. When Kirk and Spock pull phasers on it, something invisible forcibly pushes them away.
Kirk and Spock return to the bridge. Kirk drinks some coffee (which we had just seen someone invisible pour something into), and everyone around him on the bridge seems to slow down to a stop. Suddenly he can see a woman - a Scalosian named Deela, who is queen of the remaining Scalosians. She says that she and the other four remaining Scalosians live in an accelerated time frame - they move so quickly that the normal human eye cannot see them. She put a substance in his coffee to change him into the accelerated time frame. Kirk storms off the bridge.
He heads to life-support, where he encounters Compton, who has been brainwashed into serving the Scalosians. Compton's job is to protect the alien machine. Kirk gets by him only to encounter another Scalosian, Rael. When Kirk tries to jump Rael and Rael fights back, Compton then decides to defend his captain. Unfortunately, Rael accidentally scratches Compton; this "cellular damage" is fatal to Compton, as he ages rapidly and dies. Deela has joined them, and Rael explains that Kirk cannot disconnect the machine, but Kirk tries to grab it anyway.
In the meantime, Spock has started to figure out what has happened to Kirk. He has determined that Kirk's coffee has the same substance in it as the Scalosian water. He and McCoy begin analyzing it, and they eventually come up with what they think is a "cure", but obviously it is not tested.
While Spock and McCoy are in the lab, Kirk comes in and records a message to them; Deela joins him. It's definitely quite weird to watch them moving around normally while the "normal" characters are motionless like furniture. Kirk explains the Scalosians' situation and what they are doing on the ship. Long ago, volcanic eruptions released a lot of radiation, which killed many Scalosians. Of the ones that lived, the men were sterile, and most of the women were as well. In order to perpetuate their race, they have been abducting men from passing spaceships and accelerating them to their time frame in order to mate with the remaining fertile women. Apparently once a "normal" person has been in the accelerated time frame for awhile, they "adjust" and become extremely compliant. Deela confirms Kirk's speculation that the Scalosians are altering life support to turn the ship into a huge "deep freeze" to store the crewmen until needed.
While Deela communicates with Rael, Kirk slips the message tape in front of Spock and McCoy and sneaks off to sabotage the transporter. Deela chases him down quickly, but he denies any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the Scalosians must delay turning on the "freezer" because they cannot yet leave the ship. While Rael works on the transporter, Kirk and Deela go to Kirk's quarters. Kirk decides a seduction approach may work for him, but fails to swipe Deela's weapon. They apparently while away the time with a little sex.
When Rael finishes his repairs, he gets upset that he cannot contact Deela. We had already learned that he is not happy with Deela having to mate with other men, and now his jealousy gets the better of him and he races to Kirk's quarters. (How did he know that's where they were?) When he sees Kirk and Deela somewhat mussed, he attacks Kirk. Deela forces him to stop and orders him to leave. Kirk uses this opportunity to pretend that he's "adjusted" to the accelerated time frame, putting on a dopey, glazed expression.
Meanwhile, McCoy has found Kirk's message tape - it sounds like buzzing insects. Spock finally figures out the accelerated time frame and slows down Kirk's message to be able to understand it. Spock decides to drink the Scalosian water and join Kirk.
Rael beams himself and the other Scalosians down to the planet. Deela and Kirk go to the transporter room, where Kirk is successful in swiping Deela's weapon. He heads off to destroy the alien mechanism in life support, where he is joined by Spock. I love the fact that neither Kirk nor Spock stops to explain to the other what is going on - Kirk gives Spock a little nod, and they both understand that each of them has figured out the situation. They destroy the Scalosian mechanism.
Deela is distraught at the impending doom of her people. She knows that even though Kirk is letting her return to Scalos, the Federation will put the planet off-limits. Kirk blandly agrees. Once she is gone, Kirk takes the antidote and returns to the normal time frame. Spock effects repairs on the ship while accelerated, thereby completing them in a much shorter time, then he, too, takes the antidote. The ship then goes on to its next mission.
This episode has some interesting ideas, but it's ultimately unsatisfying. The idea of a race that lives at an accelerated rate is clever. Just how fast do the Scalosians have to be moving in order to not be perceptible? Or when we are in the Scalosian time frame, how fast are they moving in order for the Enterprise crewmen to seem motionless for 5 - 10 minutes? That's fast!
Unfortunately, the ramifications of the accelerated living just do not stand up under scrutiny. If a Scalosian stays in one place for awhile - even just to have a protracted conversation - he should become visible, albeit briefly, to a normal person. We didn't see any indication that this could happen. Kirk fires his phaser at Deela and she steps out of the way because the beam is moving so slowly. This is patently ridiculous; phaser beams travel at the speed of light, and no object with mass can travel faster than that. From a practical perspective, how do the ship's doors know to open for the Scalosians, when the ship's sensors cannot detect them? How can the Scalosians flip and slide switches (like the transporter controls), that are not designed to move so quickly, without breaking them?
From a biological perspective, a human being living at this much of an accelerated rate is impossible. From the way Deela described it, the Scalosians' metabolism and biology changed so that they really are doing everything faster. (This is in contrast to some kind of science fictional "out of phase" technobabble, where time is accelerated and the people are normal.) That would mean that a Scalosian person's heart would be beating thousands of times faster and all cellular functions would have to happen more quickly. The muscles in the Scalosian's body would have to be capable of moving his limbs much more quickly, which would mean bigger muscles. All of this would require much more energy via food. The increase in energy required to function would be much greater than the increase in the ability to eat food - I do not think the Scalosians could eat fast enough to power themselves.
A real life comparison would be to the hummingbird. According to Wikipedia, a hummingbird's heart can beat as fast as 1260 times per minute. The hummingbird has the highest metabolism of all animals because of the need to flap their wings so rapidly. Consequently, they eat more than their own weight every day. From what was shown in the episode, we have to think that the Scalosians are moving at an even faster rate. And since they are much, much bigger than hummingbirds, their energy needs will be much, much higher. Can you imagine a person being required to eat more than his or her own weight every day? It just wouldn't work.
Finally, the acceleration of the Scalosians would also mean that even if their lifespans were normal in the accelerated time frame, they would be extremely short from the normal time frame. The Scalosians were dependent on ships passing by for men for breeding; unless ships stop by very frequently (unlikely since no one considers it dangerous to pass by), they should have died off waiting for a ship.
Putting aside the scientific problems posed by the existence of the Scalosians, the moral problem posed is more interesting. What do a race of people have the right to do in order to survive? Deela and the others know it's wrong to abduct people for breeding, but feel that they don't have any choice if they are to survive. If that's correct, do they have the right to do that? I would say no, but it's a tough decision.
The episode really drops the ball in resolving this moral issue. When Kirk is accelerated, he does try to convince Deela to surrender and promises that Federation scientists will try to help them. Deela brushes this off way too easily. I suppose she is resigned to their fates, and since there are only five Scalosians left, does not want to try anything risky. However, once Kirk takes over, he does not repeat his offer.
Kirk and Spock are successfully "cured" and returned to their normal time frame. There is no mention of trying to administer the cure to the Scalosians. Sure, the cure would not solve their sterility problem, but once they are back to the normal time frame, surely conventional methods could help their reproduction, or they might even get volunteers to breed with them. But Kirk and Spock don't discuss this - apparently the Scalosians are left to die.
From the events of this episode, Starfleet now has the means to accelerate people and then return them to normal with seemingly few risks. This could be a huge military and civilian asset. Spies could zip in and out of secure areas unnoticed. As Spock demonstrated, repairs could be done at accelerated rates. Of course, we never hear about this again in the series.
The other aspects of the episode were OK. The Scalosian characters were pretty average and predictable. There weren't too many significant character moments, beyond a couple I've mentioned above. The direction during the transitions from the normal time frame to the accelerated time frame was nice, with the slow motion of the surroundings.