“Assignment: Earth” is both the TOS Season 2 finale and a pilot for a spinoff series starring secret agent Gary Seven (Robert Lansing), his “erratic” secretary (Teri Garr), and Isis, the ninja cat.
I gotta say, though the spinoff didn’t take off, I would’ve watched the heck out of it.
The Enterprise is pretty unnecessary to the plot, which apparently annoyed some fans at the time. The ship has apparently travelled to 1968 where they are conducting historical observation, attempting to discover how humanity saved itself from the brink of nuclear annihilation due to the Arms Race. Kirk’s major task is to try to figure out whether or not to trust Gary Seven, who claims he is the descendant of ancient humans, abducted and brought up to protect humanity. He also claims he is the one responsible for averting catastrophe.
But we do get some fun Star Trek-y scenes, mostly involving the cat. Like this one, where the cat attacks a redshirt:
And of course this iconic scene, where Spock says he is “strangely drawn” to the cat:
And we also get Spock hiding his ears in some great hats:
and even snazzier:
There’s also a part where McCoy studies Gary Seven and reports he has “not a single physical flaw. Totally perfect body.”
I am assuming that’s only because Oscar Isaac was not yet born.
But let’s move on to look at the characters that would’ve made up the new series. First, there’s Gary Seven. He’s kind of like a cross between Doctor Who and James Bond. He’s got a sonic screwdriver:
And an office with sliding fake walls, including one that holds nothing but martini glasses:
But he’s extremely focused on his mission and seems to prefer the quickest route to success, rather than spend time persuading others (like Roberta or the Enterprise crew) until he absolutely has to.
He has been engineered and trained to “prevent Earth’s civilization from destroying itself before it can mature into a peaceful society,” a situation which has occurred because “Earth technology and science have progressed faster than political and social knowledge.” So it’s clear this is a Roddenberry show with a social conscience, not just Doctor Bond Trek.
Teri Garr is adorable and charming as Roberta Lincoln, even though she is said to have had a miserable experience on the show, at least partly due to Gene Roddenberry’s interference with her costume, personally adjusting it so her skirt would be as short as absolutely possible [source].
She’s introduced to comic music and it’s clear that her levity is a good counter to Lansing’s brusqueness.
Gary Seven’s talking computer is used a lot in this episode to give plot and character background. In one instance, Gary gets it to tell him about Roberta, in front of Roberta:
Computer: Roberta Lincoln. Human. Profession, secretary. Employed by three four seven and two oh one. Description. Age twenty, five feet seven inches, one hundred twenty pounds, hair presently tinted honey blonde. Although behaviour appears erratic, possesses high IQ. Birthmarks –
It’s not surprising, given the time and Roddenberry’s treatment of Garr behind the scenes, that there’d be an explicit focus on Roberta’s youth and conventional good looks.
She is also repeatedly shown to be physically at the mercy of the male characters, though it’s consistently painted as funny rather than even a little terrifying. Gary Seven locks her in the office, then Kirk and Spock grab her to stop her calling the police. Later, Gary uses his sonic screwdriver thing to cut off the phone when she’s again trying to call police.
Almost everything helpful she does is shown to be by accident, such as opening Gary Seven’s secret wall doors by sitting on the hidden switch, then fiddling with the knobs on the door until he accidentally transports back from the Enterprise. We don’t get to see much evidence of her “high IQ” in this episode at least.
But we do get to see her heart, and commitment to her country. She whacks Gary Seven on the head with a book and steals his sonic screwdriver (just going to keep calling it that) when she realizes he is bent on sabotaging a US rocket launch, but has still not explained why.
She finally connects his mission to what she’s seeing around her in society:
Roberta: Mister Seven, I want to believe you. I do. I know this world needs help. That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know. We wonder if we’re going to be alive when we’re thirty.
And she’s able to persuade Kirk and Spock to let Gary intervene to stop the rocket crashing back to Earth. Overall, I liked Roberta and would’ve been happy to see more of her. She is also the only one to see Isis in her other form (played by 1968 Playboy Playmate of the year, Victoria Vetri):
But when she asks Gary who that is, the woman turns back, and he insists it’s just his cat.
Just from what we’re given on screen we don’t know for sure what’s going on. Is Isis a woman who’s disguised as a cat? If so, it adds another layer to the previous scenes where she was being carried around and petted by Spock and Gary Seven. What is her relationship to Gary? Does he know she’s not just a cat? What are her motivations? How powerful is she? These are all questions we never really get to find out, although in Roddenberry’s original script she was set to be one of two “evil, shapeshifting Omegan agents.”
“Assignment: Earth” had a lot of potential to be a fun, exciting show with interesting female characters, though they may still have suffered from the way Roddenberry and others behind the scenes viewed women.
Bechdel Test: Fail