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Kirk leads a landing party to a remote planet after receiving a distress call. They encounter a small group of beings that appear humanoid and say they are from the Kelvan Empire in the Andromeda Galaxy. They are very matter of fact about their intention to take over the Enterprise and adapt it for a trip back to Andromeda, where they can report that our galaxy is ready for conquest.
Of course, Kirk isn't going to cooperate with that, but the Kelvans have little boxes that can do almost anything, including paralyzing humans by blocking their nerves somehow. (Of course, Kirk's eyes keep flicking around, which is good for a laugh.) While the Starfleet crew is paralyzed, the Kelvans disarm them.
The Starfleet crew is "unfrozen", and the Kelvans inform them that they have already taken over the Enterprise. We saw this happen with strategic beam-ins of Kelvans to the bridge, engineering, and life support. The landing party is locked up in a cave with bars.
Kirk and the landing party members know they need to do something to try to stop the Kelvans. Spock uses a remote mind-touch to try to distract their guard, Kalinda, and get her to open the door. (This is some explicit continuity, referencing "A Taste of Armageddon" in season 1.) Kalinda's mind violently rejects Spock's, but she does enter the cell so Kirk can knock her out and grab her control box.
They don't get far before the Kelvan leader, Rojan, freezes them and takes the box back. He decides that Kirk needs an example of their control, and he realizes that Kirk will be more affected by punishment inflicted on his crew rather than his own person. Rojan orders Hanar to neutralize the two redshirts; this involves zapping them down into softball-sized blocks. Rojan says the blocks contain the entirety of what made each person, and in fact the blocks can be reconstituted into a person with no harm done, unless the block is damaged. Rojan shreds one of the blocks, killing the female yeoman, and then reconstitutes the male guard.
This is an effective scene, because we do see how powerless Kirk feels. The male and female redshirts also had a few lines previously and at least a bit of personality, which made us feel more for them, too. I wonder how easily Rojan would have killed the woman if it actually involved a physical assault. We are left wondering just what Kirk can do to stop the Kelvans.
Kirk and the rest of the landing party are returned to their cell in the cave. Spock reveals that his mind-touch showed that the Kelvans are actually large beings with a hundred tentacles and huge mental abilities. But, they have very little in the way of conventional senses, such as taste and touch, nor do they have conventional emotions. They have adapted themselves in some unknown way to human bodies because that's what the Enterprise can support. It's not clear yet how the Starfleet crew can use this to their advantage, but "know thy enemy" is always valid.
Spock puts himself into a trance in order to feign illness, and Kirk convinces the Kelvans to allow McCoy to beam up with Spock so he can be treated in Sickbay. Chapel is unbelievably thick-headed about Spock and McCoy's ruse, but they manage to pull it off. When Spock is "recovered", he and Scotty begin sneaking around to study how the Kelvans are altering the Enterprise and to see if they can find a weakness.
By the time Kirk is brought back to the Enterprise, Spock and Scotty have concluded the Kelvans' equipment is impregnable. But they have rigged a way to self-destruct the Enterprise, to be implemented on Kirk's order. Kirk can't conceive of self-destruction, even in these circumstances - it's a nice way of showing his outlook on life, which is that there are always possibilities.
Rojan directs Kirk to take the Enterprise out of the galaxy. In some nice continuity with season 1's "Where No Man Has Gone Before", they first have to make it through the energy barrier around our galaxy. The idea of such a barrier is laughable with our astronomical knowledge today, but I do appreciate the continuity. What's odd is that the Kelvans were not prepared for such a barrier when they entered our galaxy, so their ship was destroyed. The Andromeda Galaxy is extremely similar to the Milky Way - why doesn't it have its own energy barrier?
The comment that's even more ridiculous is that no one can send a signal to communicate with through the barrier. What? All kinds of light gets in and out of our galaxy, the proof of which is all the galaxies we observe at all wavelengths of light, including Andromeda. Perhaps they meant subspace communications cannot travel through the barrier, which may be more plausible, since we really don't know how subspace works.
Kirk refuses to use the self-destruct. Once they are through the barrier, Rojan orders his people to neutralize all of the unnecessary crew. This is extremely practical on his part; as he says, his handful of people can't guard over 400 crewmembers. It's very disturbing, however, that the Kelvans just leave the people-blocks laying wherever they were neutralized. The only crewmembers Rojan considers essential are Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty.
These four meet for lunch and try to plan. Tomar wanders in and asks why humans bother eating food (rather than nutrient pills), so McCoy materializes some lunch for him. He likes it. They come up with the idea of stimulating the Kelvans' new-found senses. They don't waste any time; Scotty takes Tomar to his quarters to stimulate him with some alcoholic beverages. He eventually drinks Tomar into unconsciousness after a bottle of Saurian brandy, an unidentified bottle, a bottle of something green, and then a bottle of Scotch. (Can anyone actually drink that much in just a few hours?)
McCoy "discovers" that Hanar is suffering from deficiencies in specific nutrients and prescribes a series of injections. Instead of nutrients, McCoy is injecting him with a drug that makes him incredibly irritable. Eventually, Hanar mouths off to Rojan, and Rojan confines him to quarters.
Kirk, of course, goes to work on stimulating Kalinda's senses with his usual charm. While he does have to improvise a bit, his overall approach is very calculated as he introduces Kalinda to kissing, but then excuses himself with a guilty air when Rojan arrives. Rojan discusses the encounter with Spock over a game of chess, and Spock expertly stokes the embers of Rojan's jealousy.
Rojan forbids Kalinda to see Kirk, but she defies him. She and Kirk begin necking in recreation room, when Rojan comes in. Kirk sees Rojan's jealous reaction, and sets him off with a smart slap; they begin a fist fight, although Rojan doesn't really know what to do. He's just mad enough to want to do something physical to Kirk. I enjoyed Kirk's line as Spock and McCoy throw him back into the fight: "I'm stimulating him."
Kirk gradually winds down the fight by pointing out to Rojan how his emotional reaction is un-Kelvan. He reasons that if the Kelvans have to be in human bodies for the 300 year trip, they won't actually be Kelvans anymore when they get home. And wouldn't they like to stay in human bodies and enjoy themselves anyway? Rojan agrees and returns control of the Enterprise to Kirk. Kirk promises that they can send a probe to Andromeda and propose an agreement where the Kelvans can come to our galaxy and occupy uninhabited planets.
Some of the ideas in this episode have appeared before in TOS. We have had several examples of aliens coming from other galaxies, such as "Catspaw" and "The Doomsday Machine". The idea of aliens adopting human form and then being overwhelmed by their senses was also used in "Catspaw".
This episode more effectively explored the idea of how one's physical form influences one's personality, beliefs, and attitudes. The Kelvans didn't know how to handle the input from their senses, and became exceptionally emotional as a result. Does this really make them "human" and not "Kelvan"? Who knows. It does perhaps make them identify more with the concerns and experiences of humans, since they can have similar experiences. I wonder: Spock said the Kelvans gave up their senses and emotions in order to develop mentally - does that mean the Kelvans that have become "human" are no longer as mentally capable?
I have to wonder how the Kelvan Empire will react to the probe from the Kelvan expedition and the Federation. Given the self-professed conquering nature of the Kelvan Empire, I have to think the leaders of the Empire will assume their expedition was coerced to send the probe and will not take the proposal seriously. Can our galaxy expect an invasion in other 600 years (round trip time for probe and invasion force)?
How cooperative will the Kelvan expedition be with the Federation? Will the Federation get the chance to study their technology? The Kelvans obviously have some very advanced technology. My first thought regarding the neutralization blocks was that it would be a very effective way of "storing" people for long-term space travel. In fact, I wonder if the original Kelvan expedition had more members that were stored in this way and who were lost during the destruction of their ship.
I don't have many more comments on this episode. It wasn't great, but it was enjoyable and satisfying.