The Ultimate Computer - Recap
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The Enterprise is ordered to rendezvous at a space station and beam aboard a special envoy: Commodore Bob Wesley. Kirk meets with him and is informed that most of the crew are being moved to a holding facility at the station. The Enterprise has been chosen as the test vessel for the M-5 computer, created by Dr. Richard Daystrom. The M-5 will handle all ship’s functions with only a skeleton crew of 20 while the computer handles war game, navigational, and exploration scenarios.
Spock and McCoy end up arguing about the virtues of computerized control, while Kirk admits he’s unsure of how to react. Daystrom is in Engineering hooking up the M-5 to the warp drives. Daystrom admits that the previous models 1 through 4 were not completely successful, but M-5 represents a breakthrough in computer programming. He’s less then impressed with Kirk’s insistence that humans need to be in charge and wonders if the captain might be worried about losing his position and the prestige that goes with it. Kirk is forced to consider the accusation but McCoy notes that if he’s man enough to consider the possibility, he has nothing to worry about.
M-5 takes the Enterprise out and puts it through basic navigational exercises. They then approach Alpha Carinae and they test the M-5’s exploration capability. Kirk first chooses a landing party, including himself, McCoy, Spock, and two specialists. The M-5 makes its own recommendation, choosing two different specialists and eliminating Kirk and McCoy as non-essential personnel. It then starts acting on its own initiative, shutting down unmanned sections of the ship. Daystrom confirms M-5 is acting properly based on his new approach.
Leaving Alpha Carinae, the Enterprise detects two approaching ships, the Excalibur and Lexington. Wesley in command informs them it’s an unscheduled war game. The M-5 runs the Enterprise through the entire engagement, with phasers at 1/100th power, and “defeats” both ships. Wesley sends his congratulations, particularly to “Captain Dunsel.” Kirk stalks off the bridge and Spock informs a puzzled McCoy that a “dunsel” is a midshipman’s terms for a useless piece of equipment. McCoy brings drinks to Kirk’s quarters where the captain laments the possibility of feeling useless.
The Enterprise picks up an automated ship on sensors and the M-5 goes after it, then destroys it with phasers at full capacity. The crew are unable to stop it and Kirk insists Daystrom shut it down. He refuses and when they try to cut off its power, M-5 disintegrates a crewman with an energy beam and starts drawing moiré power from the warp drive, while surrounding itself with a force field.
McCoy talks to Daystrom, who is obsessed with his “child” and insists that M-5 is simply learning and deserves the same right to live as any other being. McCoy goes over Daystrom’s record and figures that he’s trying to recapture his past success as a boy genius, and the M-5 may be his last chance to accomplish something big. Meanwhile Spock and Scotty try to reroute the navigational circuits only to discover that M-5 has been sending a false signal to keep them occupied. When Spock wonders why the computer isn’t functioning “logically,” Kirk gets Daystrom to admit that his revolutionary breakthrough is impressing human engrams on computer programming.
Four Constellation-class starships approach the Enterprise for another war game maneuver, but M-5 has cut off all communications. Daystrom insists that M-5 knows the war game is just that… until it starts opening fire at full strength. The Excalibur is junked and the other ships take heavy losses. Daystrom, guilty and aghast at the carnage, admits there’s no way to stop the M-5 and that he programmed it all too well. Spock asks Daystrom whose engrams he used for M-5’s programming, and Daystrom admits he used his own. They suggest he talk to M-5 directly, then overhear a transmission from Wesley getting permission from Starfleet to destroy the Enterprise believing Kirk has gone insane.
Daystrom tries to get through to the M-5 computer, insisting that it’s wrong to kill and he created it so that man wouldn’t die in space. M-5 insists on doing whatever is necessary for its own survival so that it can keep men from dying. Unsuccessful, Daystrom starts boasting of his triumph and Spock knocks him out.
As the three remaining starships close in for the kill, Kirk addresses the M-5 and confirms that it doesn’t believe it has murdered anyone. The captain has it scan the Excalibur and face up to the fact it murdered an entire crew. Confronted with its sin of murder, the M-5 reacts the same way as Daystrom: with guilt. It shut itself down so it can be executed for its crime of murder. Scotty and Spock move to disconnect the computer while Kirk refuses to order any action. Wesley, noticing the shutdown, suspects something is wrong and orders a party over to determine the situation rather than open fire.
Daystrom ends up under heavy sedation from shock, with M-5 in similar shape. Kirk notes that he gambled on Wesley’s compassion and human emotion, and McCoy can’t resist boasting about the triumph of emotion over computer logic. Spock is left to note that he can only imagine the chaos that would result if McCoy’s engrams were ever impressed on a computer.