FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*
This is another well-paced "thriller" episode. It's only the Enterprise's second encounter, following "The Man Trap," with a monster whose intelligence is only implicit, and it features a much better "obsessed officer" performance by William Shatner than was seen in "Conscience of the King." Perhaps the model of Captain Ahab simply fit Kirk better than that of Hamlet.
A landing-party descends to an uncharted planet in search of resources. Some of the members are attacked by a gaseous cloud that drains them of their blood and kills all but one, who later perishes in sickbay. Kirk is more than a little consumed with finding this mysterious predator, puzzling his subordinates Spock and McCoy. Eventually they learn that eleven years ago a similar-- or perhaps identical-- creature attacked a Federation ship, the Farragut, slaying 200 crewmen and the ship's captain. One of the survivors was Ensign Kirk, who had idolized Captain Garrovick. By sheer chance, the son of the slain captain, Ensign David Garrovick, happens to be on the ship, and Kirk meets him for the first time during his hunt for the monster. Kirk is sure that it's not only the same creature, but that it's intelligent, and he hounds his men to find the elusive beast. On top of all that, in order to call Kirk's judgment into question, there's a ticking clock in the form of perishable medical supplies aboard ship, very reminiscent of the conflict in "The Galileo Seven."
The troila of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are the main stars here, and the guest-star character of the ensign gets short shrift, possibly because his desire to avenge his dead father duplicates Kirk's similar vengeance-quest. Upon Garrovick's first planetary encounter with the creature, he freezes and fails to fire his phaser at it, unintentionally duplicating Ensign Kirk's failure to fire upon the gas-monster eleven years ago. Rather than being sympathetic to the young man's self-torment, Kirk rather problematically adds fuel to the guilt-fire. In the Enterprise's climactic battle with the beast, Kirk learns that it's invulnerable to phaser-fire, thus exonerating both Garrovick and Kirk from responsibility for the creature's killings. The sole debit of Art Wallace's skillful script is that it doesn't really question the military mind's tendency to penalize soldiers for a momentary failure of nerve-- though at least Spock puts things in perspective, attributing such hesitations to biological factors rather than to flaws in one's character.