The crew goes trick or treating in this oddball episode.
I never saw “Catspaw” as a kid, so I can only speak to it as an adult.
It’s… well… you can do a lot worse in Star Trek: The Original Series, but this is not an especially memorable episode.
On survey of Pyris VII, the initial away team fails to report in, save for one, Crewman Jackson (played by Jay D. Jones, who as a guest character has died three times in the series, last I counted), who is beamed up dead, his corpse muttering ominous warnings to Captain Kirk. Naturally, our flippant Captain disregards this, beaming down with Spock and McCoy to figure out what happened to the other crew members.
The Big Three are immediately beset by Halloween cliches: apparitions of witches (who, as Spock puts hilariously puts it, use bad poetry), fog, an ominous castle, and skeletons tied up in manacles in a medieval dungeon. Kirk and McCoy recognize these sorts of things as Halloween gags, and it doesn’t take long for them to figure out that someone is playing on the old, subconscious, cliched fears of humanity.
Although it’s kind of neat to play on the idea of a species having residual, latent subconscious fears inside even if they’ve moved past them, the execution of this in “Catspaw” feels like a retread of “The Squire of Gothos,” down to the antagonist being mistaken and out of touch with the advancements of humanity. The castle and illusions are found to be run by Korob, who looks like a wizard and uses a wand to transmute matter, and Sylvia, a black cat who ends up taking the form of a human woman when Kirk comes around (conveniently for him).
Sylvia, in angry cat form
Similarly to Trelane, Korob tries to entice the crew with sensual pursuits, such as food, drink, and precious gems, only to find his entreaties soundly rejected by Captain Kirk. Kirk will not stop until Scott and Sulu–whose brains are controlled by Korob–are released. This escalates further when Korob and Sylvia entrap the Enterprise in a cube of force, which leads us to yet another B-plot of the ship being in danger in orbit while Kirk sorts things out on the planet. The scenes on board the Enterprise–with Assistant Engineer DeSalle in command–feel like tired retreads of “Who Mourns for Adonais,” and “The Apple.” It was nice to see Michael Barrere again as DeSalle, but as quickly as he randomly returns to the show, as far I know he is never seen again. I guess Scotty doesn’t get to have an assistant chief for long.
“Catspaw” falls into another Trek cliche, one where Kirk uses his masculine wiles to distract Sylvia, long enough to get the upper hand. This tactic of Kirk using a woman to save his crew (to be fair, at least in this instance he is also being used) is right up there with “Kirk Outsmarts the Computer.” I do think the transmuting wand is neat, considering that it may only appear to be a wand, and I liked Spock’s reference to familiars, but by and large the conflict as it plays out feels pretty humdrum. There are some unintentionally hilarious scenes of the black cat attacking Korob (once he sides with Kirk out of guilt), where a normal house cat is made to appear huge with some sadly unconvincing editing.
Naturally, everything gets resolved nice and neatly (all except Jackson being dead) once Kirk figures out all he has to do is smash the wand. The one part I really like in the episode is when all of the matter on the planet is transmuted back to normal, revealing Korob and Sylvia to be wholly alien, rather like two blue, alien avian creatures. Unfortunately they die when exposed to the planet’s real atmosphere in their natural form. I at least appreciate that their real alien forms were actually alien, and not yet another humanoid with a minor variation. I also like the idea that their home is unknown, possibly outside the Milky Way, but we sadly learn little about them.
“Catspaw” is a watchable but really forgettable episode that falls back on the series’ own cliches too much to be worth a recommendation. The exception to this is if you need something a little different to play in the background of a Halloween party, perhaps.
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