What's the best Star Trek episode? The worst? The funniest? The most emotional? We could argue this until the sun bloats into a red giant and eventually envelopes Earth's orbit. (Note to self and/or Geordi LaForge – we've gotta figure out a gameplan for when that happens.) The point is, it's hard to be too declarative about Star Trek. But I can definitely tell you what the weirdest episode of Star Trek is. It's not the one where Abraham Lincoln appears floating (and seated!) in space. It's from the under-discussed animated series, and it is called “The Magicks of Megas-Tu.”
From the writer Larry Brody, who later penned the Voyager episode “Tattoo,” “The Magicks of Megas-Tu” may seem more like a half-remembered dream than programming intended for kids. I've watched it twice recently and, quite frankly, I don't think I could give you a beat-by-beat breakdown of what happens. It might be a case of storytelling incompetence, but I'd like to believe that this episode is working on such a higher plane that its distant nature is some sort of high art. At the very least, it's quite beautiful to look at.
The Enterprise heads toward the center of the galaxy in the hopes of finding a “creation point” that might be creating new matter. I'm not a cosmologist, but I don't think this is quite accurate. Firstly, there's a black hole at the center of our galaxy, and secondly the idea of matter escaping a central point is more of a universal big bang. The expansion of new matter, such as it is, would be at the outer rim in my understanding of the concept. Either way, I'm sure that this focal point would not be a place of curved, primary-colored beams leading to a subsequent “drop” through some sort of pan-dimensional portal. (I mean, I haven't been there, but I'm just saying.) But when the Enterprise crew reaches their destination that's what they find, and on the other end of that portal is an interesting fella.
He is a half-man, half-goat who goes by the name of Lucien. (Everyone pronounces it with a soft “c” except for Spock, who uses “Lew-sheon.” Maybe Leonard Nimoy did his voice work on a different day.) He takes the bridge crew down to his planet, which is an amorphous swirl of non-corporeality. “I'd forgotten how much bodily integrity means to you humans!” Lucien chuckles, and zaps them to a more familiar, Earth-like setting. He then explains how everything they see stems from “magic.” The examples he cites seem more out of vaudeville than a scientific lesson of advanced states of being. He shows a realtor creating a crystal castle out of thin air and a woman who makes herself beautiful to catch the man of her dreams.
Back on the Enterprise, Spock realizes it is logical to accept that in certain places logic does not apply. He uses “magic” to move his chess pieces telekinetically. Not to be outdone, Sulu closes his eyes and blammo – there appears a sexed-up female companion in traditional Asian costuming.
These fireworks come at a price, and soon the crew find themselves back on the planet's surface and in stocks. The imagery recalls the Salem Witch Trial, and Lucien's fellow Megans are putting humanity on trial... against Lucien's will. It seems that, centuries ago, the Megans were on Earth, but were run out of town and deemed evil. Much like Q to Picard, the head Megan Prosecutor condemns Kirk, but he pleads that progress has been made. At first it seems like he's going to win the case through conversation, but the Pilgrim-looking space alien from another dimension starts shooting red power spheres out of his palms.
Spock tells Kirk to fight with magic, and what follows is basically indescribable. You kinda need to see this “fight” to believe it. Lots of colors, though, as this is a Saturday Morning cartoon. For one moment it looks like Kirk is trapped inside a giant wrapper of Fruit Stripe gum.
The Animated Series is by no means Star Trek's brightest moment, but there were many times when it got pretty interesting from a visual perspective. All the stops are pulled with this one. A flashback story about the Megans zooming to and from Earth shows figures in strange uniforms hurling through space. The final battle scene is an exciting explosion of bright, primary colors.
The punchline comes when Lucien reveals his other name: Lucifer. So, the “good guy” in this episode is The Devil? Humanist James T. Kirk brushes this away. “We're not interested in legend. He's a living being!” Then the episode ends. You could NOT get away with something like this today.
If "The Magicks of Megas-Tu” is baffling to an adult, one can only imagine what a kid watching this October of 1973 was thinking. If you have memories of seeing this one in your youth, I'm itching to hear about it in the comments below.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.