by Jeff Bond
Trek nears the bottom of the barrel with this nonsensical mix of romance and science fiction written by Shari Lewis, better known as the puppeteer behind Lambchop. Based on this script, it’s clear that puppeteering is her true talent—“Lights of Zetar” is a classic “Mary Sue” storyline profiling a female Enterprise officer who’s the latest woman since Lt. Caroline Palamas to drive Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott to irrational acts of incompetence.
The “Mary Jane” stories, staples of Trek fan fiction, usually involve a heroic female character who spends the tale being loved—or at least admired—by Trek’s male characters. It’s a bit of romantic wish fulfillment that’s particularly sad given the show’s tentative depictions of female equality—you’d think a female fan writing for this particular show could do better than to create a female character whose only function is as a romantic object.
Jan Shutan plays Lt. Mira Romaine, a records officer (librarian?) who has Scotty dizzy over her from the show’s opening scenes. The romance is notable enough that Kirk devotes an entire log entry to it, and most of the bridge crew spends the opening moments of the episode commenting on “the girl” (as Romaine is continually referred to throughout the episode, even by Spock). Sample dialogue: Chekov: “I didn’t think Mr. Scott would go for the brainy type.” Sulu: “I don’t think he’s even noticed she has a brain.” Ah, Star Trek—always ahead if its time…
In a virtual replay of the kickoff scene from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (so much so that Alexander Courage’s score from that pilot is used throughout the episode), a swarm of alien lights invade the ship, finally lodging inside Romaine; shortly thereafter this “storm” attacks Memory Alpha. The lights of Zetar make people talk in slowed down croaks while processed color effects wash across their faces. Apparently they’re a lost race looking for a physical home to settle down in, and they’ve decided that a fetching brunette with great legs would be the best possible environment in which to live.
It’s sad enough to see Scotty, who’s shown to be not only a brilliant engineer but also a coolly competent starship commander in so many other episodes, reduced to the whimpering romantic puppy dog he becomes here. But just as in “Is There In Truth No Beauty,” Kirk, Spock and McCoy are also made into a Mira Romaine cheerleading society, lavishing more praise on the woman than poor, long-suffering Uhura, Sulu or Chekov will ever get. But unlike Dr. Miranda Jones, Mira Romaine isn’t a particularly impressive character—her chief accomplishment seems to be not whimpering in fear like some of the other female guest stars on the series. Shutan seems capable of playing a strong, intelligent woman, but the script undercuts her few contributions, instead opting for shots of her beaming winsomely at Scotty or otherwise surrendering her fate to the newly met command crew of the Enterprise who she “trusts implicitly.” Her experience as a records officer doesn’t play into resolving the plot’s dilemma and by the end of the story she’s merely an inert object floating in sickbay’s decompression chamber as Kirk, Spock and McCoy work to rescue her.
Meanwhile, Scotty’s behavior in this episode is despicable, if not insubordinate. He directly disobeys Kirk’s order to stay at his post on the bridge rather than follow the injured Romaine to sickbay, and he fails to report symptoms and behavior on the part of Romaine that have a critical bearing on both her survival and the safety of the ship and crew. His few acts of outright idiocy in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” are almost excusable in the heat of the moment, but you’d think a court martial would be in order after “Lights of Zetar.”
The episode’s one interesting idea is the Memory Alpha archive, although as shown in the story, placing a star-spanning civilization’s entire compilation of knowledge on one vulnerable planetoid turns out not to be such a great idea. The loss of these priceless records doesn’t get the impact it deserves as the episode wraps up tidily once the Zetars are exorcised from Romaine’s body. Presumably Lt. Romaine will spend the rest of her life trying to put Memory Alpha together again.
With its blinking lights, color-shifted faces and interstellar storms, “Lights of Zetar” was an effects-based episode, and as with “Day of the Dove,” the challenge for CBS-D is to retain many of the episode’s original optical effects as they are overlaid on live action scenes while taking advantage of the outside-the-ship scenes to broaden the palette of action and detail. The Zetar “storm” was simply but interestingly rendered on the original series as a kind of floating piece of interstellar gelatin with flashing interior lights, and the new effects expand marvelously on the original look, combining a bubbling, transparent red cloud with a series of coruscating, pulsating interior lights. The object is combined with the Enterprise in a number of very effective shots that take advantage of the possibilities for interactive lighting and seamless compositing. The only downside is the overlaying of these effects on top of the original optical effects of glimmering lights inside Romaine’s eye pupils and a rather effective dolly shot of the lights invading the corridors of the Enterprise late in the game. The combination of the new light effects on top of the originals just winds up being overly busy, while either effect on its own is quite striking and effective—given that the Zetar lights are operating in entirely different environments (something that becomes an important plot point at the episode climax) the original effects of the lights inside Romaine and the Enterprise could probably have been safely left alone.
Another ambitious addition is the revamping of Memory Alpha from the familiar colored globe of the original episode to a new, Mars-like planetoid that shows a huge, visible structure of linked domes—far more visually interesting and something that actually measures up to the momentous concept of Memory Alpha. With all these touches, and the dynamic look of even simple shots of the Zetar cloud pursuing the Enterprise visible on its viewscreen, this comes off as one of the more spectacular efforts by CBS-D. It’s almost enough to make “Lights of Zetar” worth sitting through again. Almost.
by Matt Wright
Remastered vs. Original
Seasons One and Two at Amazon
The Season Two box set is now available at Amazon for pre-order, discounted to $63.99 (Amazon has a low price guarantee that if they drop the price before ship date of August 5th you will get that lower price). The Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is available for $129.95 (retail is $194.99).