Robert Bloch’s “Wolf in the Fold” is typical both of the horror writer’s contributions to the series (he also wrote “What Are Little Girls Made Of? and “Catspaw”) and of the show’s second season, in that in year two Trek often presented some fairly dark and outlandish plotlines but shook them up with humor. The story centers around Scott, who’s accused of murder while on shore leave on the hedonistic world of Argelius. Scott’s under suspicion because a head injury has apparently created a temporary feeling of paranoia and distrust of women, but as the female bodies start piling up and the investigation continues the culprit is revealed to be the ancient spirit of Jack the Ripper, in actuality a formless alien entity which thrives on fear.
All of Bloch’s Star Trek scripts threw classic horror tropes into the unfamiliar territory of science fiction in clever ways—he references “the Old Ones” a la H.P. Lovecraft in the android dehumanization tale “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and the traditions of ghost stories and Halloween in “Catspaw.” “Wolf in the Fold” adapts Bloch’s own story “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper,” and all three benefit from the creepy frisson of classic horror themes thrust into Trek’s sci fi setting.
If you’re planning on introducing your feminist girlfriend to Star Trek, “Wolf in the Fold” might not be the best starter episode—it’s equivalent to a slasher film in the way women are presented almost exclusively as victims for a marauding monster because, as Spock helpfully points out, “Women are more easily and deeply terrified” than the male of the species. That’s compounded by the episode’s jocular wrap-up in which the Enterprise’s command crew of hound dogs are eager to put the brutal murders of a few female citizens and crewmembers behind them by getting back down to Argelius for more presumed booty calls. It’s offensive in retrospect but “Wolf in the Fold” to my mind makes up for a multitude of sins when it veers off into black comedy territory late in the episode after Argelian official Hengist (John Fiedler) is revealed to be the villain. Again Joe D’Agosta’s great casting provides the episode with a variety of physical types including blunt-nosed Charles Dierkop and the tall Charles McCauley who played Landru in “Return of the Archons” and later Dracula himself alongside William Marshall’s Blackula. The real prize, however, is John Fiedler, the voice of Piglet in Disney’s Winnie the Pooh cartoons and later a riot as the nebbishy Mr. Peterson on the Seventies Bob Newhart Show. Hengist is a superb foil during the initial proceedings, completely unimpressed by the presence of Kirk and his crew and registering enough skepticism over the “fairy tales” suggested by the direction of the murder investigation to keep the final revelation of his guilt a genuine surprise. The offbeat idea of drugging the entire crew to keep the Redjack entity harmless really moves the story in an unexpected direction and conjures up what to my mind has always been the funniest line ever uttered on the original Star Trek: which comes when Kirk asks McCoy what the entity would do if it entered a tranquilized body, to which McCoy replies “Well, it might take up knitting, but nothing more harmful than that.” At least once a year I think of that line and think of a malevolent, murderous being numbly trying to work out its aggression on some yarn with a pair of knitting needles and I always wind up chuckling to myself. And Fiedler provides even more dark laughs as he is finally subdued by the drug and lies giggling in the arms of the Enterprise officers muttering “…die, die, everybody die…”
Star Trek…in COLOR
As a platform for CBS Digital’s effects replacements, “Wolf in the Fold” doesn’t offer much—there are only a couple orbital shots of the Enterprise and little if any visual enhancements elsewhere as all of the episode takes place indoors or in fog-ridden alleyways and the closest thing to a visual representation of Redjack is a computer screen filled with multicolored clouds of ink. CBSD does add at least one innovation by showing (as has been previously mentioned on this board) city lights visible on the night side of the planet, an appropriate touch since the scenes on Argelius’ surface all take place at night. Elsewhere the episode is a showcase for the restoration team demonstrating vibrant colors both in costumes and in the simple but effective and always beautifully lit sets that were Star Trek’s stock-in-trade. Years of watching reruns of the show in mediocre to poor prints has caused most of us to tune out a lot of the beautiful low budget design elements of Trek but these new transfers have caused me to look over every nook and cranny of the show’s shots with a fresh eye and it’s a thrill to watch the eye-blazing color and artistry at work here even if the near-high-def quality transfers now show up every seam and blemish. For me this is a big question about the J.J. Abrams movie—can it reimagine this environment while retaining some of the pulpy feeling about this universe that I love? Star Trek – TMP and Enterprise tried to adjust to contemporary tastes by draining the color out of the Star Trek palette, and that’s legitimate to a point because the intense hues of the original show were done to advertise the capabilities of new color TV sets of the period. But those vibrant colors will always be a part of the original show’s feel and Abrams’ gold and blue teaser poster design reflects that—and makes me hopeful that he’s not going to reinvent the franchise in the mold of some depressing monochrome universe like The Matrix treated us to…