I’ve got better things to do with my life than recount disappointments, but I promise you good readers that I spent something like a decade making a good faith effort to enjoy Star Trek. From middle school into college, I knew good people who liked and loved this show and its sequel, and I really wanted to like it as well. I just didn’t. I’m certain I watched more than a hundred hours of various Star Treks, which is a lot of freaking work to put into something you’re not enjoying, before giving up and telling people to quit preaching at me. There’s exactly one of those hundred hours that I love: “Spectre of the Gun.” This one is magnificent.
I’m not entirely sure why it works for me. On paper, it’s Trek by the numbers: a super-powerful race of celestial know-it-alls decides to punish Captain Kirk for his arrogance, and decides in the end that perhaps humanity is not as violent and arrogant as they thought. And it’s another trip to the Paramount costume and prop department for something from Earth’s past, and they’d done Nazis and gangsters and Depression-era New York already.
But something clicks with this and they worked magic in the studio. I freaking love the half-finished sets, and the eerie effect of using that red background. I love the clock that hangs in midair. They didn’t rent a western backlot; they created an unreal fever dream in a studio instead. And most of all, I love the actors who play the Earps and Doc Holliday. These aren’t the heroic Earps from classic Westerns. These are unblinking, gaunt zombies, their skin almost sliding off their skulls. That’s Rex Holman, who I singled out in this blog several years ago, before our son showed any interest in Trek, in the middle as Morgan Earp, with Ron Soble and Charles Maxwell as his hideous, demonic brothers.
Everything about this works for me. This is Trek done as experimental theater, a hallucination, a nightmare that could only have been made in 1968. Nothing else on television then looked so confident in its strangeness as this, but it also couldn’t have been made at any other time. It’s excellent and I love it, and while it certainly couldn’t have been like this every week – I once told a Trekkie this was the only one I liked and he said, disbelieving, that it’s “the worst one” – I’m incredibly glad they did it.
Our son was completely amazed by the gunfight at the OK Corral, in which the Earps and Holliday fire at our heroes, whose backs are to the camera, only to have the bullets pass harmlessly through their bodies to blast holes in the fence behind them. He asked to know how they did that, I guess because his school library doesn’t have any books about special effects, because he figured that since he saw the “impact” shots of the bullets in the fence, they must have fired real bullets into it. That’s great that he’s asking how the visual effects departments of the past pulled off the illusions that they did in the days before computers did it all. I hope he’ll always appreciate the work of the technicians who were behind shows like this.