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The Enterprise comes upon an unusual planet. The planet's oddities would certainly be odd if this were a real object: the planet appears only a few thousand years old, but it has a full atmosphere and plant life as evolved on its surface. It only has the size of Earth's Moon, but about the same mass as the Earth. (This obviously means it's really dense, which I guess isn't so obvious since Kirk doesn't realize it until well into the episode.) Kirk decides to investigate with a landing party consisting of him, McCoy, Sulu, and Lt. D'Amato, a geologist. Why isn't Spock included when McCoy is? Who knows; I assume it was convenient for the plot.
When the landing party is in the process of dematerializing, they see a strange woman appear in the transporter room and touch the crewman operating the transporter, killing him. When the landing party reaches the surface, and Kirk tries to contact the ship, he is unable to. Sulu's tricorder shows that the Enterprise is no longer orbiting the planet. Kirk refuses to speculate about what has happened to the ship, but orders a reconnaissance of the area since now they are interested in not only the mysteries of the planet but possible sources of food and water. Unfortunately, none is found.
On the ship, just after the landing party left, the ship was displaced almost 1000 light-years away from the planet near-instantaneously. I thought that the discovery of the displacement took way too long - after a ship-wide disturbance, I would think that one of the standard things to do would be to check the ship's position. Of course, no one on the ship knows what has happened to the landing party; Spock orders a return to the planet at maximum warp. The autopsy of the transporter crewman shows that all of his cells were disrupted from within.
During the trip, Scotty thinks the ship "feels" wrong, an opinion that Spock doesn't put much stock into. Nevertheless, Scotty is agitated and has his subordinates checking everything. When one of them is sent to check a specific panel, the woman appears again, calls the crewman by name, and seems to read his thoughts concerning the functions of the panel. Then she touches him and kills him, but not before he shouts a warning; she disappears. When Scotty reports the incident to Spock, and Spock orders a ship-wide search, which is unsuccessful. The cause of death for the engineer is the same as the transporter crewman.
On the planet, the landing party is not having much luck finding anything of value, although they have been getting some strange power and magnetic field readings. When they split up, Lt. D'Amato meets the same woman that we saw on the Enterprise; in fact, he recognizes her from the transporter room. She calls him by name and says that she is for him. When she touches him, he dies, and she disappears. When the others rush to him, McCoy determines the cause of his death was cellular disruption. The rest of the landing party buries D'Amato in a stone cairn.
The landing party settles down for the night. Sulu takes the first watch, employing his tricorder as some kind of beacon. For some unknown and illogical reason, he stands his watch out of sight from where Kirk and McCoy are sleeping. The woman appears and says she is for Sulu. Sulu has some common sense and draws his phaser on her; when she doesn't back off, he fires at her with no effect. He backs up and trips, giving her the chance to touch him for an instant. He screams in pain and calls for Kirk and McCoy. They charge in and put themselves between Sulu and the woman. She's not interested in them, and when she touches Kirk, it has no effect.
Finally, she gives up and disappears. McCoy aids Sulu, who will survive. They speculate on the woman's motivations and actions, which seemed somewhat programmed. Kirk's phaser begins to overload, apparently an attempt by the woman to kill them, but Kirk throws it away in time.
Later the woman appears again, and the landing party has learned to ask who she's there for. It's Kirk, so McCoy and Sulu get in her way. From a distance, Kirk questions her: who is she? why is she there? why does she want to kill? The woman's name is Losira, and she clearly doesn't want to kill anyone but feels compelled to do so. Her attempts are frustrated again, so she disappears. Shortly thereafter, power readings from the tricorder lead the landing party to a cave whose door opens automatically on their arrival. Even though it would seem to be a trap, they go in.
On the Enterprise, an emergency has developed. The ship begins accelerating uncontrollably, and Scotty discovers that Losira sabotaged the control panel that regulates the matter-antimatter flow to the engines. Scotty estimates that the ship will blow up in about 15 minutes. Spock coolly devises a plan for someone to access the flow through a small crawlway and cut it off with a magnetic probe. Scotty knows he is the best man for the job, even though the task is extremely dangerous.
The scene with Scotty in the crawlway with the matter-antimatter flow is one of the more effective ones in conveying the feeling of the situation. Scotty describes how there's so much static electricity around that he feels like his hair is standing on end, and the animated "flow" effects go well with this, even if they are pretty crude. There is a confusing part to this situation. Scotty says that the "pod" that he is in can be jettisoned from the ship in the case that he does something wrong and causes an explosion. Does that mean that the entire ship could be saved by jettisoning this section? Or would it just mean that a premature explosion wouldn't happen? It's really not clear. At the very last second, Scotty manages to stop the matter-antimatter flow. Presumably repairs are then conducted, since the next thing we know the ship is back at the planet.
On the planet, the landing party finds a control room with a computer. Losira appears again for Kirk, so the Starfleet men re-arrange for a protective position. Then another Losira arrives for Sulu, and another for McCoy. The Starfleet men scatter and keep moving in order to confuse the Losiras; eventually one of them is going to get caught, though. Luckily, Spock and a redshirt beam into the room, and Kirk orders them to destroy the computer, which they do.
The Losiras disappear, and a recorded message begins projecting onto the wall. The planet was an outpost of a long-dead civilization, and Losira was its commander. The inhabitants of the outpost were dying of a disease, so Losira put the station computer on automatic defense to await others from their civilization. Apparently they never came; McCoy surmises that the disease ended up spreading throughout the civilization and killed them all.
There are a few interesting points in this episode, but it's mostly just there. The first few appearances of Losira presented a nice mystery regarding her intentions and capabilities, but despite the enormous power apparently at her command, she was very ineffective. She only killed one of four members of the landing party - why would the computer conjure up such a silly method of killing someone (having to touch them)? (I also have to think that if every cell in the body was disrupted, then the corpses would be much messier.) Why not make a copy of Losira with a phaser? Losira did sabotage the Enterprise in a way that was almost effective, but again why do it this way? If her projection can manipulate matter (she did alter the circuit in the ship's control panel), why not just materialize a bit of matter inside the antimatter in the ship's engines? Instant boom!
The mystery of Losira would have been much more interesting if we had learned more about her and/or her civilization at the end. But just a short message from a dead civilization gives us an "isn't that too bad" ending that ultimately doesn't tell us anything new. We don't really explore any kind of moral or philosophical issues. The characters don't even wonder if their decision to destroy the computer generating the Losira projections was correct. The ship and the crew are safe, and that's it.
There are at least some interesting bits with the characters. Sulu is extremely helpful when on the landing party, offering all kinds of information at the slightest hint that Kirk might want it. The reference to the Horta on Janus VI in season one's "The Devil in the Dark" was nice and relevant. When Sulu starts spouting Russian history, Kirk's comment that if he wanted to know Russian history, he would've brought Chekov was a great piece of characterization all around. In addition, Sulu's "Russian history" in this case was a description of the Tunguska Event, which occurred in 1908: a piece of stony asteroid traveled through the Earth's atmosphere and exploded in the air above Tunguska in Siberia from the stress of the atmospheric travel. The explosion flattened over 2000 square kilometers of forest and incinerated a smaller area.
Spock is exceptionally literal-minded and "Vulcan" in this episode. Uhura asked "what happened?" and Spock replied concerning his most recent action, which was that he fell and hit his head, when Uhura was obviously concerned with what happened to the ship as a whole. Spock has been among humans for long enough to know not to be so literal, so this was a little odd. He also spent the episode playing with some kind of hand device, which I have to think was meant to be some kind of small computer, but we never really learn what it is or what he was doing with it. Another oddity.
On the other hand, I thought it was very much in character for Spock to dismiss Scotty's feeling about the ship; hopefully he will learn from this experience and think more carefully about the "feelings" of experienced crewmen. He has learned to trust Kirk's intuition, after all, so this is an extension of that.
It also was very true to character for Spock to be extremely cool and methodical during the crisis on the ship. We can see his calm and logic steadying the other crewmembers, even Scotty. Where Kirk would have emotionally urged Scotty to completion of the task, Spock guided him through it by remaining absolutely calm.
One final note: it was nice to see Dr. M'Benga back in Sickbay. We first saw him in season two's "A Private Little War"; it makes the situation more believable when we see that McCoy isn't the only doctor on the entire ship.