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Star Trek Continues! “The Fairest of Them All”

June 27th, 2014
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After the dismal Star Trek Into Darkness (click here for my review), with the rumor that Bob Orci (who is perhaps a 9/11 Truther) will be directing the next Trek film, and with no prospects of a new Trek TV show anywhere on the horizon, this feels like a bleak time for Trek fans.  But some Trek fans aren’t taking things lying down.  As readers of this site are well aware, I am a huge fan of two parallel groups of Trek fans who have taken it upon themselves to create the never-made fourth season of the Original Series, crafting full-episode-length Star Trek episodes featuring the further adventures of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

The folks at Star Trek Continues have just released their third episode, “The Fairest of Them All,” and like their initial two efforts (“Pilgrim of Eternity” and “Lolani”), it is a magnificent achievement and a very fun watch.  Here is the full episode:

Star Trek Continues E03 “Fairest of Them All” from Star Trek Continues on Vimeo.

This episode is a direct sequel to the Original Series episode “Mirror, Mirror” in which Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and Scotty found themselves in a twisted alternate universe following a transporter accident.  The opening moments of the episode recreate the closing scene of “Mirror, Mirror,” in which Kirk exhorts Mirror Spock to take steps to change or defeat the cruel Terran empire which he serves.  The entire rest of the episode takes place in the Mirror Universe; we never see the “real” characters again.  Instead, we get to see what happens after Kirk & co. beamed back to their universe and the Mirror versions of Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and Scotty beam back aboard the I.S.S. Enterprise.

I’m pleased that they chose to set the whole show in the Mirror Universe (as did Enterprise’s Mirror Universe prequel two-parter “In a Mirror, Darkly”) rather than trying to find some way to involve the regular versions of the characters.  It’s fun that they leaned into this exploration of the repercussions of Kirk & co.’s visit to the Mirror Universe, to try to answer the intriguing question of “what happened next.”

As has been the case since the very first Star Trek Continues vignette, the extraordinary production quality of these entirely fan-made efforts is jaw-dropping. These talented men and women have painstakingly recreated all of the familiar Enterprise sets.  The bridge looks perfect.  Kirk’s quarters look perfect.  Sickbay looks perfect.  The Enterprise corridors look perfect.  The costumes, the lighting, everything has been recreated extraordinarily faithfully.  I couldn’t spot one off-note.  Even more impressive for this episode, the production team has exactingly recreated the look of the Mirror Universe sets and costumes.  Those classic midriff-baring uniforms are there.  The different crests and sigils on the uniforms have been recreated in precise detail.  The sword-through-a-globe logo of the Terran Empire is seen on the turbo lift doors, just as in the original episode.  Even Mirror Kirk’s slightly different command chair has been recreated.  It’s really quite extraordinary.

The outer-space visual effects shots are gorgeous, taking advantage of today’s modern special effects technology to show us the Enterprise in all her glory.  The Halkan planet which the I.S.S. Enterprise is seen orbiting is particularly beautiful.  The one false step with the visuals in this episode is the production’s choice to be, in my opinion, overly faithful in recreating certain familiar but not-great stock effects shots from the Original Series.  There’s a reliance in this episode on a one-two shot of the Enterprise orbiting the planet but then seeming to fly straight off the screen as if she were breaking orbit, but then in the next shot (from a different angle) she is clearly still in orbit.  It’s a gorgeous CGI recreation of a classic piece of stock visual effects footage from the Original Series, but I’m not thrilled at such a perfect recreation of an effects shot that always looked wrong to me.  I get the nostalgia factor of imitating those famous shots, but why not tweak them to give some curve to the Enterprise’s orbit so it looks more correct?  Similarly, there’s one brief shot of three Andorian vessels attacking the Enterprise that looks just awful, with the Andorian ships only seen from a great distance and brightly colored.  Here again, that’s exactly what that type of effects shot would have looked like in the Original Series, so kudos for their fidelity.  But I would’ve loved to have seen a more convincing shot of those Andorian ships.  That would have more effectively heightened the tension of that scene.

In their very first vignette, the Star Trek Continues team recreated the final moments of “Turnabout Intruder,” the final episode of the Original Series.  That was fun, and it’s equally fun to see the recreation at the start of this episode of the end of “Mirror Mirror.”  The only downside is that I think all the actors look better in these roles when not trying to directly recapture a scene we’ve already seen.  It’s hard not to fall short in that scenario when being so directly compared to William Shatner & Leonard Nimoy.  Other than that, the performances are all strong in this episode.  There are a few moments that sound a little “fannish” to my ears, but I don’t fault the company one bit for that.  Todd Haberkorn gets a real showcase as Mr. Spock in this episode, and he’s great.  He’s a little stiff in that opening scene in the transporter room, but after that I think he turns in a stellar performance.

The episode’s biggest weakness is that I wish the story had more meat to it.  The episode’s tale is a pretty straightforward one-two-three story of Mirror Spock wresting control of the Enterprise from Mirror Kirk.  Especially in a Mirror Universe tale (with no need to maintain the status quo), I’d have expected far more twists and turns.  At less than 40 minutes, this is the series’ shortest episode so far, and I definitely think an additional ten minutes of story and character work would have benefitted the tale.

Also, it’s hard not to compare this episode’s story with the post-“Mirror, Mirror” stories that have already been told in the last decade or so in Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels. In particular, David Mack’s magnificent novel The Sorrows of Empire (click here for my review of the original novella, and here for my review of the expanded full-length novel) told a story of the complex, centuries-long plan undertaken by Mirror Spock to replace the cruel, malignant Terran Empire with a more peaceful, stable society closer to the Federation of the main Trek timeline.  It’s a brilliant story, and Spock’s plan in that tale is far more interesting than Spock’s more bumbling, straightforward attempts to take control of the Enterprise in this episode.  Spock in this episode seemed incredibly foolish, talking mutiny with crew members without first ensuring that the Tantalus Device in Kirk’s quarters (that gave Mirror Kirk the power to observe anyone on the ship, and to kill with the push of a button) was under his control, and openly defying Kirk before he had any guarantee that the crew was with him.

On this note, I was also disappointed by the soft depictions of Mirror Uhura and Mirror Scotty.  Every other depiction of Mirror Universe characters showed us characters who were incredibly selfish and cruel, but Mirror Uhura and Mirror Scotty in this episode seemed pretty much like their regular selves.  I also wasn’t blown away by the depiction of Marlena Moreau, the “Captain’s woman” from the Mirror Universe.  They cast an actress, Asia DeMarcos, who is a dead ringer for Barbara Luna, who played Marlena in “Mirror, Mirror.”  But unfortunately, the character has almost nothing to do in the story.  This also is a disappointment when compared to David Mack’s The Sorrows of Empire, which fleshed out Marlena into a wonderfully interesting character and a true partner too Mirror Spock.

A few additional notes:

I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Bobby Rice, the actor who plays Peter Kirk on Star Trek: Phase II.  Are we supposed to imagine this unnamed transporter technician is the Mirror Peter Kirk?  That adds greater resonance to his torture at the hands of Mirror Kirk.

The Star Trek Continues gang have scored another coup by landing another great celebrity voice (whose identity I wont spoil) to be the voice of the I.S.S. Enterprise computer!  Well done!

I liked the Mirror Universe version of the opening credits.  Nice.

I loved seeing the shuttlecraft Galileo (which they apparently filmed using the REAL Galileo model!!  Wow!!).

I wish we got deeper into the competing machinations of Kirk and Spock.  I wish we got any sort of understanding of why certain characters followed Mirror Spock while other characters followed Mirror Kirk.  I wish the hints at wider cracks in the Terran Empire beginning to show (which we see when the Andorians attack the Enterprise) were a larger part of the story.  (The Andorian thing seems to be forgotten in the second half of the episode.)  I wish Spock seemed smarter than he does.  (Why did he talk to Scotty in front of that transporter technician, and why did he then leave that poor dude alone in the transporter room to be captured and tortured by Kirk?)  I wish we’d gotten to see more tension between Marlena, who’d been influenced by the “real” Captain Kirk, and the Mirror Kirk.  (I’d thought her trying to walk both sides, supporting Spock while still publicly continuing to be “the Captain’s woman,” would be a source of ticking-clock tension in the episode.  But after one scene in Kirk’s quarters, that didn’t factor into the story at all.)  I wish the external threat — imminent attack by the Andorians — had added more tension to the Kirk-Spock confrontation in the second half of the episode.  (I was disappointed by how easily that problem was solved by Spock’s just sending a message to the Andorians.  Why would they believe him?  Why would they care?)

OK, so the script has some holes.  I wish there had been more to this episode’s story, but I’m intrigued by how open-ended the ending was.  Mirror Kirk remains alive and a potential future threat.  Is the Star Trek Continues gang planning on returning again to the Mirror Universe, a few episodes down the live?  That would be su-er-cool.  And, in the end, the above questions/complaints are relatively minor quibbles in the face of such an enjoyable production.

Overall, I am boggled by the skill on display in these episodes, and the sheer love for Trek that every member of this team clearly feels.  It’s amazing to see Trek done so right.  I have some issues with the script and certain story points, but there’s no question that everyone involved with Star Trek Continues understands the essence of Star Trek.  It’s incredible how effortlessly they have made it look to create terrific new Star Trek episodes.  Why can’t Paramount/CBS manage to do this?  I dunno, but as long as Star Trek Continues keeps on putting out episodes of this quality, who needs Paramount/CBS!

By the way, I also have to praise the Star Trek Continues folks for being able to stick to their announced release dates, and to turn out such a high-quality product on such a frequent basis.  Their last episode, Lolani, was released in February (click here for my review), and only 4 months later we had another finished, polished episode in our hands.  Very impressive.  Keep it up, please, ladies and gents!

I can’t wait for episode number four!

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