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The Paradise Syndrome

One of the unfortunate byproducts of the changes in the creative team is a sense of condescension toward the viewer not present up to this point. This episode is marred by scenes which appear to bear this pedigree and were clearly not the work of the very accomplished Armen.

So let's start by admitting that this is one of the most powerful stories the series ever told, with one of the saddest endings, and with genuine repercussions for our main character. Let's also acknowledge that the writing is -- for the most part -- utterly superb. The story is well-paced, making the Kirk/Miramanee relationship seem quite real, and tension is maintained effectively by two things: the deposed medicine man/jilted lover, and the viewer's knowledge that Kirk will not be able to do what is expected of him as a god. This is rock-solid plotting around a character-driven story.

Credit must also be given to Shatner, whose performance is excellent but for a couple of very small missteps (one of which, when he breathes in and smiles, echoes a similar error in "Return to Tomorrow"). Amnesia stories are dicey because they require the character to forget just enough to suit the story, yet not so much that he is reduced to a babbling invalid. Shatner walks this line well, with the aid of the strong script. The voiceover is another unnecessary element, but he handles it well.

By contrast, the scenes with Spock and McCoy have a harshness quite in contrast with the gentility of the planet scenes. Spock's rock illustration at the beginning is so patronizing that I wouldn't have blamed McCoy for just up and slugging him. Of course, this little exchange was probably put in because someone on the creative team thought the audience might not understand the problem. This miscalculation is played out again and again as Spock et. al. use multiple ways of explaining the jeopardy. Maybe this was necessary in the pre-Armageddon world, but I think not. Sci-fi fans have long known what asteroids are and why they can be a problem. (Oh, let's not forget that the onboard ship scenes leave poor Scotty virtually whimpering over his abused engines throughout the episode. It's in character, but really unnecessary.)

The characterization of the natives is also disappointing, primarily because they are played as a bit too simple, and by non-Native American actors. But Scharf is so charming, and Hale so believable, that it's almost forgivable. The edge is also taken off this problem by the sheer beauty of the location and cinematography. The wind effects are especially well-done, resisting the urge to go over the top.

Despite the problems, the episode is almost completely saved by its musical score, which features acoustic guitar and very sweet violin at key moments (though it inexplicably uses Spock's theme in his quarters but not during the mind meld). This is one of the touches that often inhabits the best of Trek, and it saves this episode from a rating much closer to the bottom.

Rating: Middle Upper (3)