Back on the ship Tormolen is decontaminated and cleared by Doctor McCoy, but he seems anxious and very upset over the deaths. As he goes to try and relax, the senior staff discuss their mission. The break up of the planet is causing large shifts in gravity, making it difficult to hold a stable orbit. The crew need to be on top efficiency to complete their studies. Kirk asks if the disaster on the planet could be repeated on the ship, but with no idea of what caused it there is no way to tell.
Tormolen sits in a recreation area, listening to the others relaxing and enjoying themselves. He becomes more and more agitated, until he finally becomes hysterical, jumping to his feet and announcing that humanity has no place exploring space. He brandishes a knife as he talks, then turns it on himself and stabs himself with it. Although the wound does not appear all that serious, the man dies soon afterwards. McCoy cannot understand it, saying that it was as if he just lost the will to live on.
Shortly afterwards Sulu and Riley begin to show signs of unusual behaviour themselves. Sulu abandons his place on the bridge, heading off to get some exercise. Riley becomes insubordinate towards Spock, who sends him to sickbay. Their behaviour continues to worsen, with Sulu stripped to the waist charging around the halls with a sword laughing maniacally. He comes to the bridge and propositions Uhura, before being rendered unconscious by Spock.
Things go from bad to worse. Riley has locked himself in engineering and shut off the helm controls, leaving the ship unable to maintain orbit. He begins singing an Irish song over the intercom system over and over again, much to the displeasure of the crew. Meanwhile the strange behaviour begins to spread wildly amongst the crew. Scotty attempts to burn his way into engineering with a phaser, but this will take a good deal of time. Nurse Chapel approaches Spock and professes her love, which he cannot return. But she infects him during the conversation and he stumbles off, struggling to maintain his composure. He finds a quiet room and slowly begins to break down as his emotions overwhelm him.
Scotty finally burns through into engineering only to find that Riley has shut down the engines completely. They are stone cold and will take a minimum of half an hour to restart. The information dooms the Enterprise, as it will burn up in eight minutes. McCoy finally finds the cause of the infection, which turns out to be an odd form of long chain water molecules that make the infected person behave as if they were heavily drunk. He devises a cure and begins to treat the crew, though it can do little good now.
Kirk finds Spock and manages to get him to focus by literally slapping some sense into him. Although Kirk himself is now suffering from the infection, causing him to lament the grip the Enterprise has on his life, both officers are able to force themselves to concentrate. Spock admits that there is a theoretical equation which could allow matter and antimatter to mix cold, creating a controlled implosion within the engines to restart them, but it is untried and hugely dangerous.
With no time remaining, they try Spock's formula and the ship tears itself away from the planet and roars off into space. An unexpected side effect of engaging the warp engines in the intense and shifting gravity field throws the ship back in time by three days, a trick that Kirk thinks might prove useful at some point.
Where the episode struggles a little is in the sci fi trappings used to evoke these effects. The idea of water becoming a long chain molecule and acting like alcohol in the body is kind of stupid, to be honest. So is the idea of a planet that collapses for no apparent reason; stars might collapse at the end of their life one way or another, but planets don't. It's also a bit of a credibility strain that Scotty finds it so hard to get into the engineering room. Why not risk intraship beaming? And even if not, can it really take that long to phaser a little hole in the wall? It's all just a little bit contrived.
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