The Tholian Web
Written by Judy Burns and Chet Richards
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
Season 3, Episode 9
Rating: (out of five)
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Other than the web itself, there was very little that I remembered about "The Tholian Web." Noting that it was part of the third season, I figured it had a pretty good chance of sucking. On a scale of Season 3 bad ("Spock's Brain," "The Way to Eden") to Season 3 good ("The Enterprise Incident"), "The Tholian Web" falls squarely in the middle.
The plot: The Enterprise finds another Federation starship, which cost-effectively looks a lot like the Enterprise, in some sort of "interphase" between normal space and ... somewhere else. In an attempt to kill all the senior officers at once, Kirk sends himself, Spock, McCoy, and Chekov over to a ship, the Defiant, that their sensors can't detect (according to Spock) but, dammit, they can see it on their viewscreen, so it must be safe to transport to. The spatial problems affect the transporter and prevent Kirk from beaming back from the "fading" ship with the other three; after an attempt to wait around for the next "interphase," a plan hindered by one, then two Tholian ships, Spock declares Kirk lost. Hilarity ensues as Bones and Spock engage in a pissing match over Spock's leadership decisions until, after listening to Kirk's recorded "last orders," they realize that Spock isn't an unfeeling idiot and Bones is a major jackhole, same as always. Oh, did I mention the Tholians? While all this is going on, two Tholian ships are constructing a "web" of energy around the Enterprise, which had been damaged in a weapons battle with the first Tholian ship. The Tholians, whose interest in "interstellar amity" last all of under two hours, are perturbed that the Enterprise would intrude into "their" space. Oh, and did I mention that this unstable region of space turns everyone into a homicidal maniac? The Defiant crew died killing each other, and the same thing starts happening on the Enterprise until McCoy comes up with an alcohol-and-nerve-gas-fueled home remedy that, by all accounts, mixes well with both Scotch and Scotsmen--and teetotaling Vulcans as well, apparently. A quick lurch through the spatial anomaly gets the Enterprise out of the web. Through some transporter tomfoolery, the Enterprise manages to pull the Kirk "phantom," which no one believed was there when only Uhura could see it, back into normal space. The episode ends with Kirk being told by Spock and McCoy that they never heard his "last orders" and that everything was fine. Meanwhile, the Tholians are left with a web with a big hole in it and curse pernicious humanity.
Analysis: Talk about a kitchen-sink episode! Disappearing ships, murderous crew members, a phaser battle with the Tholians (who don't appear until about halfway through--I had to check to make sure I was watching the right episode), a weird, slow-forming trap, a "head vs. heart" battle between McCoy and Spock, the race for a cure, and a phantom Kirk emoting. This baby should be a mess, but it actually holds together as long as you don't think about it. And I mean, at all.
By now, of course, we're used to senior officers foolishly risking their lives, but, for heaven's sake, this other ship doesn't even look right, and your sensors say it isn't even there. Sulu couldn't have improved upon this plan to make him captain except by including Scotty in the landing party. Hell, for that matter, why didn't they bring Scotty? If anything, they're going to have to get this derelict-seeming ship up and running again, unless the Feds can afford to abandon intact cruisers.
The Tholian element is undoubtedly the best thing going for this episode. The web is visually interesting, and their presence keeps the plot moving along by first disturbing the weak point in space, thereby making Kirk's retrieval seemingly impossible, then by setting a timer on how long the Enterprise can stay in one place, owing to the closing of the web. But ... but ... none of this makes much sense. The Tholians, understandably enough, I guess, are upset that a ship is intruding into their space and have a hard time accepting Spock's assertion that they're there simply to recover a ship that, well, isn't there. After Spock buys some time with his seeming nonsense, the Tholians decide to hold off on the blasty-blasty until the "rescue" mission is complete. When the Enterprise passes its self-imposed time limit for rescue, the Tholians start shooting. Fair enough. But then there's this web. It couldn't possibly catch/trap anything that was moving at all. Setting that aside, it's unclear what the Tholians plan to do with the Enterprise once it's trapped. Maybe leave it permanently marooned? Spock suggests so by saying they won't see their homes again, but the Tholians offer no reasoning. The episode also offers contradictory suggestions about the Federation's (and the Vulcans') knowledge of the Tholians. Spock has apparently never seen the Tholian web before, but he knows that the Tholians are sticklers for punctuality (or so he says). Still, as much as the Tholians are here to serve a plot purpose, they present an interesting if improbable challenge.
The intended centerpiece of the episode is, however, not the Tholians and not even the Kirk rescue. It's the running argument between Spock and McCoy, once Kirk is "gone," about Spock's command ability. And this is truly, truly incomprehensible. Sure, we know the stereotypes by now--Spock is brain/superego (Brain, Brain!), McCoy is heart/id--but their argument, specifically McCoy's, makes absolutely no sense. By turns, McCoy accuses Spock of being an idiot for hanging around waiting for an admittedly slim chance to rescue Kirk, thereby putting the ship in danger, and then accuses him of lusting after Kirk's command, a notion belied both by Spock's well-established-by-now Vulcan nature and, if nothing else, his decision to try to rescue Kirk against nigh-impossible odds. Perhaps sensing that this is all self-contradiction, the writers have McCoy say, late in the episode, that he's experiencing the same sort of mental stress that everyone (except the immune Vulcan!) is undergoing due to the spatial instability. It seems clear that the writers had "Kirk dies! Spock's in command! OMG! What happens?!" on the brain and tried to retrofit an episode around it. The problem, though, is not only the ham-fisted execution but that we've already been down this road before in the far-superior "The Galileo Seven" from Season 1. The dead weight of Kirk's recorded speech--"Spock--show some humanity! Bones--don't be so complainy!"--only serves to highlight the stiltedness of the episode.
The minor characters have some groan-worthy moments as well. "Mad scenes" are thrown like candy around the story, all preceded by the ominous "spasm of pain" followed by homicidal rage and McCoy sending them to sickbay. (And those sickbay restraints? Are amazingly good considering how they're just a strap and how McCoy just flicks them off from a latch on the side at one point). Uhura, being a woman, (naturally) starts screaming when she sees the phantom Kirk, isn't believed when she tells McCoy (naturally) she saw him, and (naturally) faints after such trauma. Despite the fact that she isn't acting at all like the other crazies on ths ship, McCoy uses a valuable bed/restraining device to keep a rather simpery Uhura confined. Only when some menfolk can validate her finding by seeing Kirk "appear" too is Uhura allowed to return to duty.
Worst moment, though, has to go to Scotty, who's nothing more than a caricature by the end of the episode. McCoy's aforementioned "cure" for the "space" looks a helluva lot like Tang but apparently tastes a lot like heaven. Oh, and--a clear virtue in a time of crisis--it "merely deadens certain nerve impulses to the brain." "One good slug of this," McCoy intones, "and you could hit a man with phaser 'stun' and he'd never feel it or even know it." Apparently, with twenty minutes until the next interphase and the web closing, this thought of voluntary sensory deprivation appeals to Scotty:
Scott: "Does it make a good mix with Scotch?"
McCoy: "It should."
Scott: (taking the decanter and walking out) "I'll let you know."
Spock, apparently unbothered by the alcohol content and the fact that Scott and the rest of the crew are getting a snootful, takes his hit too. Maybe McCoy was right after all about Spock's unfitness for command.
Kirk rescued, the Tholians foiled, the episode ends with the usual chipper reinforcement of the theme. Bones and McCoy, now BFFs, have in fact decided to lie to Kirk about playing back his recorded "last orders," which leaves Kirk stammering more than usual in an effort to comprehend how his senior staff doesn't give a damn about his last wishes. Methinks the good captain needs a little Tang.
Ultimately, "The Tholian Web" has some moements worth appreciating, but it's also a sign of the decay the show was experiencing by this point.
"that's a smith and wesson, and you've had your six"
Hey I have something fitting for this...
You and the Cap'n make it hap'n
Chapel, c'mon. Reposting stale ChitChat bits in an effort to scrape up a couple extra thumbs is really beneath you.