Sunday, January 12, 2014

Star Trek: The Animated Series Episode 16--"The Jihad"

With the hindsight of four decades, you could choose to see "The Jihad," the final original episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series' first season, as a precursor of things to come in television drama.  It almost seems to a prototype of the season ending events that have become the norm over the ensuing years.  The episode does, if only in retrospect, seem to be reaching for the type grand epic spectacle that characterizes many modern series' season finales.  The stakes are much higher than in a typical episode and there are "guest stars" aplenty.  For the most part, however, the new characters are voiced by the series' regular cast, most notably James Doohan, who has no lines as his regular character Scotty but takes on two "guest star" roles, although occasional Trek writer David Gerrold lends his voice to one character.  Of course, if this were a season ender of a more recent Trek series, it would be a two parter with the viewers forced to wait until September for the predictable conclusion.
Kirk and Spock are summoned by a member of the Vedala, the oldest known space faring race in the galaxy, to a council of representatives of several alien races.  There is the reptilian Sord, worm-like multi-armed Em/3/Green  (the character voiced by Gerrold) and Lara, who looks mostly human except for her funky eyebrows.  Rounding out the group is Tchar, prince of the Skorr.  The Skorr are a race of bird people, one of whom was previously seen hanging out in front of the Guardian of Forever back in "Yesteryear."  
Tchar explains that a sacred relic of his people, the Soul of Alar, has been stolen.  The Soul is a glowing piece of Op-Art sculpture into which was transferred centuries past the brainwaves of the deceased prophet Alar, the religious leader who transformed the Skorr from a savage warrior race into the civilized people they are today.  While the theft of the artifact is, for the moment, being kept a secret, should it become known, Tchar reveals, the Skorr would launch a bloody jihad, a holy war, against the entire galaxy.  Thus the mission of this motley assemblage, should they choose to accept it, is  to journey to the "Mad Planet," a world of unstable geological and weather shifts, where the Soul is known to be stashed, and recover the relic.
Instantly transported by the Vedala to the "Mad Planet," our heroes immediatedly encounter all sorts of obstacles, including equipment failure and an erupting volcano, before finally reaching the citadel which houses the stolen sculpture.
The final obstacle they encounter is Tchar himself, who has been working against them fromt the beginning.  It is, in fact, Tchar who stole the Soul of Alar for the express purpose of starting a galaxy wide jihad, by which means he intended to restore his people to what he envisioned as their former warrior glory.   Needless to say, Tchar is defeated, the Soul of Alar returned to the Skorr, and holy war is averted.  Furthermore, the Vedala time travel Kirk and Spock back to the Enterprise a mere two minutes after they left as if none of this ever happened.
While "The Jihad" is atypical for a Star Trek episode, its story is hardly original.  It is, in fact, fairly representative of a typical "quest" story or even a more contemporary "caper"film.  A collection of archetypes; in this case the cowardly thief (Em/3/Green), the hunter/tracker (Lara) and the warrior prince (Tchar); are gathered together and sent off in pursuit of some McGuffin, with dire consequences portended to be in the offing should they fail.  That pretty much describes the plot of Lord of the Rings, doesn't it? To be honest, its been over three decades since I read the books, and I fell asleep while watching the first film and haven't even attempted to watch the others.
Even Tchar's reasons for his crime are heavily cliched and would show up later in Star Trek: The Next Generation as motivation for quite a few rogue Klingons.
If this  weren't a Saturday morning cartoon, its quite probable that the cowardly theif Em wouldn't have survived the adventure. What is surprising, given the time slot, is Lara's aggressive coming on to Kirk, offering the promise of making a few "green memories."  ("Wink Wink Nudge Nudge KnowwhatImean? KnowwhatImean?") Its an interesting reversal of the usual situation of Kirk seducing the alien space babe.  The good captain refuses on the basis that they need to concentrate  on their mission.  However, you've got to wonder if he might feel a little uncomfortable being pursued  so aggressively rather than being the pursuer.  The whole Lara/Kirk dynamic is really the only noteworthy aspect of an otherwise routine and by the numbers episode.  
As I noted above, "The Jihad" was the final original episode of the animated Trek's first season.  Six more originals were produced for the show's second season, and I do intend to review them.  However, I'm going to be sticking to my conceit of posting the reviews forty years to the day after their original airdate, so this is the last Star Trek: The Animated Series review for a about nine months.  NBC's 1974 Fall Saturday morning schedule, including the animated Star Trek's second season opener "The Pirates of Orion," debuted on September 7, 1974.

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