Flashback | Recap | Star Trek: The Original Series S1E29: Operation–Annihilate!
Season 1, episode 29 is the rough, anticlimactic finale of the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series, Operation–Annihilate! It was written by Steven W. Carabatsos, aired on April 13, 1967, and stars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and about two dozen slimy pancakes that fly through the air.
In Operation–Annihilate the galaxy is being invaded by a group of slimy flying pancakes! I mean, flying parasites that cause insanity when they attach themselves to people. Kirk’s relatives and millions of other people lie directly in the path of the oncoming invasion, and he must find a way to stop them before they take over everything.
As Kirk and the Enterprise investigate a supposed invasion of madness spreading across the galaxy, they find themselves on Deneva, a colony on which Kirk’s brother, sister-in-law Aurelan (Joan Swift), and nephew Peter live. A landing party beams down and encounter a group of colonists brandishing clubs trying to ward them off, shouting that they don’t want to hurt the newcomers. Then they attack. Curiouser and curiouser…
Upon further investigation, Kirk finds his family all unconscious (except a screaming Aurelan), and then a whole host of slimy jellyfish-like pancake creatures that fly through the air (totally not wobbly as though they’re on strings…). One latches onto Spock, and, in a moment of really poor frantic acting on the part of both Shatner and Nimoy, he’s infected too.
And then, literally five minutes later (if that), the tension is removed, because Spock, as a Vulcan, can just fight the infection. And then, Dr. McCoy discovers that light will kill the parasites, so they throw the equivalent of the light of a sun at Spock in a lab, blinding him, only to find out that they should’ve just used ultraviolet light. Yet again, there’s a great piece of tension that’s wasted immediately. About an hour later, Spock just goes, “Oh yeah, I forgot, Vulcans have an inner eyelid which acts as a shield against high-intensity light. It’s like your appendix.” Eyelid ex machina…
This should be cool! It’s essentially an Invasion of the Body Snatchers rehash, which would probably work really well. However, instead of exploring that mind takeover, it’s just a mindless invasion. Even that itself might have worked if not for the jellyfish pancakes that fly about.
Let’s talk about those flying jellyfish pancakes of doom. I do have to applaud Star Trek in the 1960s for at least trying another non-humanoid alien. Generally, the aliens they encounter are just humans with different colored makeup and bumpy noses or foreheads. Every once in a while there’s a really alien alien in the bunch, like the Horta in “The Devil in the Dark.” These parasites are no Hortas. There’s nothing to them. Again, even a mindless threat like the Borg work incredibly well, but here they’re just flying pancakes.
This is the first time we’ve seen any relatives of one of our main characters. We run into his sister-in-law and nephew who are survivors of the parasites, but his brother is dead. Nothing comes of it. It’s a great idea, but we lose it after the moment of tension is brought up. Sam dies, and Shatner plays the scene with some decent, restrained emotion. And then it’s dropped. We get more feeling after Edith Keeler’s death that we do his own brother, and that’s unfortunate.
It also doesn’t help that Joan Swift overacts beyond all belief here–she’s hired for her screaming ability, not for her acting chops. In short, she’s no Joan Collins. This is a bummer of an episode following “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which is just a stellar entry in the series.
Even though it’s got an exclamation point in the title, it’s a truly anticlimactic end to the season. There’s a lot of glitzy science fiction stuff, with space parasites that glom onto the backs of their victims to control them, but there’s no real substance to it.
Technically, this is the finale of the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series. I know this came in an era before season finales were really major things, but I think they wanted to end on something huge and exciting. To be fair, when I was ten years old, I really did love this episode. Then I grew up. I supposed there’s something to be said for that.
Next, I’ll do a bit of a write-up summarizing the first season, and then we’ll be right back in the game, with a really excellent episode: “Amok Time.”
KIRK: Mister Spock. Regaining eyesight would be an emotional experience for most. You, I presume, felt nothing?
SPOCK: Quite the contrary, Captain. I had a very strong reaction. My first sight was the face of Doctor McCoy bending over me.
MCCOY: ‘Tis a pity your brief blindness did not increase your appreciation for beauty, Mister Spock.
KIRK: If you gentlemen are finished, would you mind laying in a course for Starbase Ten, Mister Spock?
SPOCK: My pleasure, Captain.
MCCOY: Unusual eye arrangement. I might’ve known he’d turn up with something like that.
KIRK: What’s that, Doctor?
MCCOY: I said, please don’t tell Spock I said he was the best first officer in the fleet.
SPOCK: Why, thank you, Doctor McCoy.
KIRK: You’ve been so concerned about his Vulcan eyes, Doctor, you forgot about his Vulcan ears. Ahead warp factor one, Mister Sulu.
– I love this exchange. If this has to be the last conversation of season one, I’m OK with it.