There have been plenty of old flames in this first season of Star Trek. Bones ran into his ex-girlfriend. (She was actually a salt-devouring monster.) Nurse Chapel ran into her ex-fiancee. (He was actually a robot.) Kirk’s had, what, 87 ex-girlfriends pop up out of the blue? (Okay, only three, and none of them were trying to kill anyone–although one did turn out to be a sexy hologram.)
Well, now it’s Spock’s turn. On the plus side, she’s actually who she says.
On the downside, she’s being mind-controlled by a space plant.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
The Enterprise arrives at Omicron Ceti III, where they expect to recover the bodies of several colonists, all of whom should’ve been killed by these deadly berthold rays. So, Kirk and co. are very surprised to see that everyone on OC III is alive and happy. Spock is doubly surprised because Leila, a woman who’d once fallen in love with him, also lives at the colony. And Bones is, uh, quadruple-y surprised because the colonists are so ridiculously healthy that one of them has apparently regrown his own appendix.
Leila tricks Spock into approaching this big plant, which promptly erupts spores everywhere. After a briefly painful transitionary period, Spock becomes downright giddy, realizing that he’s in love (and actually capable of being in love) for the first time ever. Quickly, everyone on the away team, save Kirk, is similarly affected. Shortly after that, everyone on the Enterprise is, too. The crew all decide to effectively mutiny by sabotaging the ship and beaming down to the planet’s surface, where they can live for the rest of their lives in a happy, passive haze.
Alone on the Enterprise, Kirk gets another surprise whiff of the peace plant and begins to succumb, only to realize he can fight the mind control with negative emotion. He tricks Spock back on board and hurls vicious, speciest bullshit at him until Spock attacks. Spock, now himself again, helps Kirk save everyone else with science. The colonists, presumably including Leila, all decide to relocate so they can try to accomplish what they originally set out to do. Meanwhile, Spock realizes that his time on OC III with Leila is the only time he’s ever been truly happy.
The best thing about this episode, hands down, is watching Leonard Nimoy goofing around: openly laughing, hanging from tree branches, blithely ignoring Kirk’s orders, etc. These scenes are a goddamn delight. I was utterly charmed by each and every one of them.
I don’t know, however, that the love story works for me quite as well, for reasons I’m having trouble articulating at present.
There are aspects of it that I find interesting. It seems clear that Spock regards Leila with–if not wuv, true wuv–then at least some sort of genuine affection. And he does seem to regret his inability to love her the way she so clearly wants to be loved. That, I don’t have any problem with. But this episode also seems to suggest that Spock is incapable of romantic love entirely, not to mention flat out states that his brainwashed time on the planet is the first time he’s ever been happy, and that, that I’m not so crazy about.
That Spock loves differently works for me, that his understanding and experience of happiness is not the same as a human’s, like, sure, obviously. His speech about self-made purgatories is moving, not to mention brilliantly acted; even just the simple line of “I am not like you” while struggling against the peace plant’s control is really great. But none of that’s quite the same thing as being flat-out incapable of romantic love. Perhaps it’s because I’m watching Star Trek backwards, in a sense, but that’s never really been my understanding of Spock as a character or Vulcans as a culture. And while I do like the idea that Spock might regret the loss of this newfound euphoria he experienced, I’m considerably troubled by the idea that, according to this episode, Spock has never actually been happy except under the influence of a mind-controlling organism. He’s never been happy when he’s him. That seems wrong to me.
In general, I enjoy Kirk pondering that humans aren’t meant for tranquility. We’re meant to constantly struggle, push, and pursue; we’re meant to continuously evolve. Still, I can’t help but feel that the bittersweet end of this episode is a little too heavy on the bitter, that maybe its concepts of “love” and “happiness” are both a bit too narrow for my tastes.
I don’t know, guys. Maybe it wouldn’t help, but I feel like if I’m beaming down to a planet where my skin’s gonna disintegrate–even if it doesn’t happen, like, immediately–I might still attempt wearing some kind of protective gear.
Of course, it’s not all bad on Omicron Ceti III. Sure, if the death rays don’t get you that just means the mind control is working, but also, there are no insects anywhere on this world, so. Could be worse, right?
Sulu Watch: Praise the Lord, Sulu is actually in this episode! Sadly, not only does he get brainwashed again (that’s two for two now, for both him and Bones), he’s sorta the butt of the joke here. “When it comes to farms,” Sulu says, hopping up on a side rail next to a sizable pink plant, “I wouldn’t know what looked right or wrong if it were two feet from me.” (And in case that line was too subtle, the camera focuses on the plant a second longer than necessary, not to mention the Significant Clue Music that’s playing in the background.) I’m amused by the line, as I, too, know very little about farms, but maybe it should have been delivered by someone whose (admittedly varied) list of hobbies doesn’t include botany?
Speaking of lines that probably should’ve been delivered by someone else: maybe Spock isn’t the best choice for “it’s a true Eden, Jim.” Like, what?
Spock is, by all accounts, the MVP of this episode, but he still gets a moment for some typical 60’s-era sexism: “I never understood the female capacity to avoid a direct answer to any question,” to which I think we’re all like . . .
Spock’s other line that made me roll my eyes pretty hard? “Emotions are alien to me. I’m a scientist.” One, that’s a bullshit response to somebody saying, ‘Hey, try to listen to my POV,’ but also, incorrect, sir: emotions are alien to you because you were raised on Vulcan, not because you believe in empirical data and the scientific method. The whole ‘scientists are emotionless tin men in need of working hearts’ thing is one boring ass trope.
When Kirk reminds the audience that the colonists shouldn’t be alive, Sulu tentatively asks, “Is it possible that they’re not?” Which, frankly, I think is a perfectly reasonable question, considering the kind of shit this crew gets up to on a weekly basis.
Bones is no longer in possession of his tonsils; also, he’s broken two ribs before. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with this information, but I’m filing it away for future reference. More importantly, Bones, under the influence of the peace plant, goes Southern, like, x 1000. It’s . . . it’s a choice.
It saddens me that human architecture has apparently not changed in multiple centuries. We’re across the galaxy on an alien planet, and we’re still using picket fences? This is some bullshit. I want to see farmhouses of the future, damn it.
Kirk says a lot of bullshit when he’s trying to provoke Spock into attacking him, but I find the line about Vulcan as a “planet of traitors” particularly interesting. Is there actually any basis for such an insult? Also, it’s nice to see that there’s a longstanding tradition of Kirk trying to piss off Spock to the point of attempted murder.
This is the extremely rare episode of television where the Hate Plague trope is actually a positive solution, for once, rather than just the crisis. I kind of enjoy that.
FASHION REPORT: Actually the fashion in this episode isn’t very exciting at all, but I did wanna note that Leila is, by TOS standards, dressed very conservatively: overalls and a shirt with three-quarter length sleeves. It’s like I don’t know this show at all.
Spock tells Leila he has another name, but that she’d never be able to pronounce it. Do we ever learn it? I need to knooooow.
Wait. Wait. Stop the fucking presses. Spock has seen a motherfucking dragon? WHERE IS MY FLASHBACK EPISODE? I DEMAND IT IMMEDIATELY!
Man, Line of the Episode is hard today. Initially, I was inclined to go with Bones’s dry observation, “Pure speculation, just an educated guess, I’d say that man is alive.” Still, ultimately I had to go with this exchange, if only for Leonard Nimoy’s delightful delivery.
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“You were told to report to me at once.”
“I didn’t want to, Jim.”
2 thoughts on “World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “This Side of Paradise””
I could watch that gif of Uhura smacking Chekov all day long.
Right? It is the best.