Star Trek: The Animated Series: Bem   Rewatch 
August 11, 2020 2:01 PM - Season 2, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Ari bn Bem, an erratic observer from the planet Pandro, secretly watches the crew of the USS Enterprise to determine whether the Federation is ready to open diplomatic relations with his advanced species.

As a whole, the Memory Alpha page is pretty dense, so I'll break off some smaller pieces:

Background information
Title, story, and script
  • The title of this episode, "Bem", is an old science fiction term meaning "Bug Eyed Monster." This episode's author, David Gerrold, selected the acronym – during production of Star Trek: The Original Series – for use as both the title of this episode and an alien featured herein, simply because he believed it would be fun to have an actual Bem in Star Trek, though that wish was not fulfilled for the original series and the character of Bem was never intended to be true to his namesake. (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • As well as writing this episode, David Gerrold also wrote TAS: "More Tribbles, More Troubles", TOS: "The Trouble with Tribbles", and the original premise for TOS: "The Cloud Minders". In common with "More Tribbles, More Troubles", "Bem" was originally pitched as a possible episode for the third season of TOS but was discarded for that series. (TAS DVD audio commentary, et al.)
  • Although discarded for the first season, this episode was ultimately picked up by Filmation (along with other Season 1 rejects) for the second season, after Dorothy Fontana left the series. [5] Concluded Gerrold, "They grabbed this one, 'cause it was already paid for. And so that's how it ended up second season." (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • Since Nichelle Nichols had always been eager to perform more than her usual actions as Uhura and because she was very popular with Star Trek fans, David Gerrold (who likewise had a long-held fondness for the actress) felt that she should play the character of the deity in this episode. Gerrold related, "After all these years of doing these Star Trek conventions – we'd done two or three separate conventions – and seeing her in front of the audience and seeing how much the audience loved her and knowing that the audience just wanted to see more of her, I said, 'Look, let's have Nichelle do the voice of the god-creature here' [....] I was very excited to see her do the voice of the alien intelligence." (TAS DVD audio commentary)
  • Bem's vaguely humanoid appearance as realized by Filmation differs completely from his description as suggested in the two story outlines submitted in 1968. In the first outline Gerrold included several pages of sketches to suggest how a Bem costume might look and be constructed. This Bem is distinctly non-humanoid, with comically large hands and feet, no head, perhaps a single eye, a "stalk" featuring a top-knot atop his plump body which is covered by large floppy scales or something feather-like.
  • This was the first episode that revealed Kirk's middle name, Tiberius. During TOS, it was not revealed what his middle initial, "T," stood for, however, the full name of the main character in Gene Roddenberry's 1964 series The Lieutenant was William Tiberius Rice, and the name likely originated there. David Gerrold later claimed to have devised Kirk's middle name, recollecting, "I got the name from a book I'd read about the history of torture." The name's inclusion in this installment was prompted by an incident that occurred at a 1973 Star Trek convention that he and Dorothy Fontana attended. "Somebody asked 'What does the T in James T. Kirk stand for?'" recounted Gerrold. "And without really thinking, I said 'Tiberius.'" At the time, he said the name as a joke, influenced by the fact that I, Claudius had recently aired on PBS. (The veracity of this claim is questionable, however, as the first episode of "I, Claudius" was not broadcast until 20 September 1976.) Decades later, he remarked, "It got a big laugh and it became a running gag." When Gerrold was developing this episode for the animated series' first season, he made the decision to write the name into the episode and Fontana passed it by Gene Roddenberry. Gerrold later remembered how Roddenberry had responded; "He said, 'Sure, let's go ahead.'" The name stuck and was mentioned again not only in Roddenberry's introduction to his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture but in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (thus making it "canon").
Poster's Log:

It's good to hear Nichelle Nichols extending her range - the voice of the planetary entity hit the right balance between anger and soothing, I think. And Uhura's second turn in the captain's chair is just as good as the first, including her dressing down Scotty for wanting to act against orders.

Bem's disassembling is visually very different from that described in the Foster adaptation (_Star Trek: Log Nine_). I recall mentions of 'scuttling' and very little 'floating'.

Multiple times, Kirk refers to this as a "contact mission", but the crew is doing everything they can to avoid contact.

Shades of "The Apple", "Metamorphosis", and TNG's "Justice", for sure.
posted by hanov3r (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have a lot to say about this one, to be honest. It's definitely an episode.

For all that Gerrold is generally a pretty good writer, there's no substance to Commander Bem at all.
posted by hanov3r at 2:03 PM on August 11, 2020

I didn't remember this episode at all until getting a little ways in, when I was reminded that a) Bem could disassemble himself into constituent parts that could float through the air, plus a pelvis and legs with little hands of their own, and b) he was kind of an asshole. I mean, our people have been tested before, by everyone from the First Federation to Q, but Bem's "test" seems pretty arbitrary and not well-thought-out--what if he split himself for safety and the lizard people used him for target practice? The main interest for me is that there's a three-way stand-off regarding the way to handle a nascent civilization: the Federation, Planet Pandro's, and the mysterious energy being's. (The civilization reminded me a lot of one of the villages of the bear-people--can't remember their proper name--in World of Warcraft that are in the draenei starting zones, complete with lashed-together cages/jail cells for captives standing out in the middle of the settlements.) Bem reminds me of a cross between a Cardassian and Grumpy Cat (RIP).
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:54 PM on August 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Alongside the shapeshifter fight in The Dauphin, the first scene here with flyin' Bem parts is definitely one of my favorite ludicrous Trek moments of all time.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:16 AM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Now all I can think of is the "bem-bem-bem-bem" guy from Katamari Damacy.
posted by Servo5678 at 12:42 PM on August 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nichelle here is definitely the main reason to watch, but I'd have preferred this turn in the captain's chair if she'd actually sat in it.

I guess I also enjoyed how exasperated Kirk gets. Not something we see from him often, if I'm remembering my TOS correctly.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 10:51 PM on August 12, 2020

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