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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
As I mentioned previously, the final episodes of most TV shows before the 1980s were just regular episodes with no real sense of closure or finality. That was just the nature of the game. This goes double for animated shows. In fact, most cartoons today don’t have series finales as we have come to know them. This was the case for Star Trek: The Animated Series. Its final produced episode, “The Counter-Clock Incident” is a mostly enjoyable 22 minutes, even if some of it gets pretty goofy and nonsensical at times.
We find the Enterprise transporting Commodore Robert April (the first captain of the Enterprise) and his wife to a retirement ceremony. April has met the mandatory Starfleet retirement age of 75. Along the way, they encounter an alien ship darting towards a supernova. The Enterprise gets hooked into following it, but instead of being destroyed, they are pulled into an alternate universe where everything (including time) is literally backwards. In this “reverse universe”, the crew begins to age backwards.
Meeting with the natives of this universe, the Enterprise crew formulates a plan to force a supernova and recreate the “doorway” between the two universes. As the crew ages back to toddlers, April (now in his 30s) commands the ship and carries out the dangerous maneuver. Back in normal universe, the crew uses the transporter to return to their proper ages, and April learns that due to his actions the retirement age of 75 is being abolished.
Yeah, this episode hinges on the “old people are useful too” trope. It is very Saturday morning cartoonish, but it is not too awkward forced in the episode. If anything, it is not really touched upon until the very end. But that is still the crux of the episode, good or bad.
Speaking of Saturday morning cartoonish, this episode will make it very easy to forget that this show was targeted towards children. I honestly do not know if kids would have really enjoyed the animated Star Trek. For example, there is a very long “standing around talking” scene in the dead center of the episode. Even more, they are talking about theoretical science and what-ifs. Not the most compelling for children. This is especially so since it would have been really easy to keep the “science” in this episode really simple – the universe runs backwards. That’s it!
Yeah, I know. It is sloppy science and doesn’t make much sense at all (why would the “reverse universe” force the ship to fly backwards or force our characters to de-age and lose their memories/knowledge?). It is a neat concept, but it is flimsy at best.
All that said, I do like this episode. I suppose a lot of that had to do with the fact that I really like Robert April. He is one of those fringe elements of the Star Trek mythos that I really found interesting. This is his only true appearance in Trek (though he has appeared in some one-off media tie-ins), but I was always fascinated by the idea that there was a captain of the Enterprise before any of the other ones seen onscreen. What was April’s deal? What was he like? There has been so little of him, it made me want more!
This episode closed out Star Trek: The Animated Series. As I mentioned above, it does not give the show any finality, but I always found the final line of the series to be very interesting:
Our trip into the negative universe gave it a second life. It gave all of us a second life.
Given that the animated series gave Star Trek a new life on TV, was this line unintentionally meta? Maybe not, but what a wild line for this show to go out on.