Mythology and sci-fi–especially on television–go together like PB + J: Battlestar Galactica. Stargate. That one episode of SeaQuest DSV where our heroes stumble across Poseidon. I’m not at all surprised that Kirk and co. managed to run afoul of a Greek god in space; the only real shocker is that it’s not Zeus or Always Evil Hades; instead, it’s Apollo, the Sun God, who has gotten ahold of the Enterprise.
Er. Literally. He takes hold of the ship literally.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
While orbiting Pollux IV, the Enterprise is grabbed and held in place by a giant green hand that mysteriously emerges from the planet.
The entity (appearing as an equally giant floating head in space) first welcomes them to stay, name dropping Greek mythological heroes like whoa, and then–when Kirk’s all, hard pass–demands they come down to the surface, or he’ll kill everyone on the ship. So Kirk beams down, along with Bones, Scotty, Chekov, and Carolyn Palamas, our pretty blonde ancient civilizations expert.
The entity introduces himself as Apollo. It’s quickly established that Apollo is from a race of all-powerful aliens who visited Earth thousands of years ago and were worshipped as gods. The rest of the pantheon have long since faded into the cosmos, but Apollo has stubbornly hung around. He refuses to let the Enterprise go, insisting he will provide the crew with paradise, so long as they worship him–worship which he requires to survive. Apollo’s also taken quite the fancy to Palamas, which angers the equally infatuated Scotty.
Apollo’s power isn’t actually infinite; he occasionally needs to chill out and recharge. Kirk’s Plan A is to piss the quasi-god off so much that he runs out of juice, so to speak, but Palamas doesn’t get the memo and manages to talk Apollo down from smiting her friends. Kirk’s Plan B is for Palamas to reject Apollo’s advances, but she’s very reluctant because–sigh–she’s in love with him too, I guess, and he’s so lonely and all. Eventually, she agrees to break his heart, telling the dude that she never loved him, that she just wanted to study him, etc. While Apollo gets hella pissed, the Enterprise manages to regain control of their weapons, and they destroy his temple, which is also the source of his power.
Tearfully, Apollo tells the humans he would’ve loved them as his own children. He tells Palamas that he loved her, too, before basically yelling, “Sweet Oblivion, open your arms!” and fading away like the rest of his people. Kirk and Bones lament the necessity of their actions, recognizing how much of their civilization comes from the ancient Greeks and thus these alien beings. “Would it have hurt us . . .” Kirk wonders, as the episode ends, “just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?”
I really wanna enjoy the inherent goofiness of this episode. The silly costumes, the terrible special effects . . . I mean, the giant green space hand? That is nothing short of delightful. They even use it as an establishing shot. Drink every time you see the giant green space hand, and you will get so fucked up.
Unfortunately, our old enemy, Blatant 60’s Sexism, has once again come to ruin everything. We begin right away with this shit, as Bones tells Kirk that Palamas is a woman–all woman, he amends, as Kirk hums appreciatively–and will inevitably leave the service when she meets the right man. Like all women want to get married anyway. Like you can’t work in Starfleet and be married simultaneously. Like two officers didn’t get married on this goddamn ship last season. (Although, to be fair, the groom did die pretty much immediately after the ceremony, so possibly serving on the Enterprise isn’t exactly a good luck charm for marital bliss. Still.)
Then we fall into the Marla McGivers Plot again.
You’ll remember McGivers from “Space Seed”–she was the ship’s historian who instantly and inexplicably fell in love with the evil dictator from centuries past, not unlike Palamas, the mythology expert who instantly and inexplicably falls in love with the sorta-Greek-god. Sure, Palamas ultimately chooses her duty, while McGivers chooses Khan–then betrays Khan when she can’t stomach murder, then chooses to go into exile with Khan by the end–but it’s the still the same shitty, sexist, bullshit story. And of course McGivers wasn’t so very different from Dr. Elizabeth Denner, the psychiatrist in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” who instantly and inexplicably fell in love with the newly-psychic asshole Gary Mitchell, then betrayed him when she couldn’t stomach murder, then died with Mitchell as part of her last-minute redemption. Honestly, I’m a little surprised that psychiatrist Dr. Helen Noel in “Dagger of the Mind” didn’t fall for evil “brainwashing is the best psychiatry” Dr. Adams–but then, that’s probably only because she’s inexplicably in love with Kirk himself.
I’m saying, I come to Star Trek for tacky costumes, idealism, and ridiculous space shenanigans; it would be nice if I could enjoy all that without constantly groaning through a bunch of sexist nonsense, too. This plot would be a billion times improved if Palamas actually was just playing along to get information. And the scene where she accidentally foils Kirk’s plan by calming Apollo–there are genuinely interesting things which could be explored here, stuff about how men and women are often taught different methods of survival, you know, direct action versus appeasement. Aggression versus flattery. Instead, TOS once again demonstrates a serious failure of imagination in regards to its female characters: career women can handle their own on this show, right up until the point they meet a compelling and physically attractive man.
After that? Well, apparently a lady only has four options: treachery, death, tearfully and regretfully protecting themselves and their crew from eternal imprisonment, or leaving their careers behind for supposed marital bliss.
Let’s hear it for girl power.
Uhura, of course, is the obvious exception here. And she’s great in this episode, particularly when she gets her inner mechanic on and fixes the comms. Spock wants her to go faster, but she calmly explains why that’s not possible–to which Spock replies that he can’t think of anyone better than her to fix the problem. (Which is either a nice moment of professionalism between colleagues, or another example of Prime Spock/Prime Uhura ship. You decide.) It’s always awesome to watch Uhura show off her multi-faceted skill set, but I do find myself wondering if TOS would inevitably strip away her competency if she were to become a genuine love interest–something she’s not allowed to be because of racist bullshit. (Obviously, Kirk and Uhura have their groundbreaking interracial kiss coming at some point, but as I’ve never seen the episode, I have zero context for that scene. To be clear, I definitely don’t want to devalue the importance of that moment; I’m just hoping it doesn’t come at the cost of Uhura’s intelligence or agency.)
And okay, I hear you: “Yeah, yeah, sexism is bad, but what do you think about the rest of the episode?” To which I say, meh? Worshipping aliens as gods feels pretty old hat, like, even in the 60’s, this wasn’t new, right? But I will say this much: the only reason I think this ending works at all is because Michael Forest acts his ass off as Apollo. Like, sure, I still laughed at him occasionally because good Lord, that golden toga. But dude also brings some serious pathos to his very last scene, so much so that, despite myself, I actually did feel a tiny bit sorry for him. That takes work.
Especially considering Apollo tells Palamas, “You seem wise for a woman.” This, almost immediately after namedropping Athena, the goddess of fucking wisdom. No. No. Uh-uh, NO.
Look, it just needs to be said: this is the saddest faux-Greek setting I’ve ever seen in my life.
FASHION REPORT: well, Apollo’s toga, obviously. But also, he transforms Palamas’s uniform–without her permission, natch–into a pink gown. (She’s weirdly thrilled about it, not unlike Yeoman Barrows and her medieval princess dress in “Shore Leave.”)
The dress is supposedly Grecian, and admittedly, fashion history isn’t my expertise, but considering it’s bright pink, sparkly, and exposes half her midriff, it mostly just reminds me of something you might find on I Dream of Jeannie. Just before doing this, Apollo tells Palamas, “Yes, you are a beauty, but like Artemis, the bow arm should be bare.” Which A) that’s your twin sister, you weirdo, and B) I’m pretty sure Artemis, virgin goddess of the hunt, didn’t wear any tacky bullshit like that.
First Time We’ve Encountered: the giant green space hand! Not that we’ll encounter it again, of course, but Scotty does reference it in Star Trek Beyond. Imagine my delight when I realized this was that episode!
Unfortunately, this Scotty–previously one of the most competent officers on the Enterprise–repeatedly tries to attack Apollo for making moves on his woman. (Point of interest: Palamas is definitely not his woman. One, cause we aren’t property, but also, the only thing she’s agreed to is platonic coffee at this point.) As a result, Scotty spends half the episode getting thrown around like a rag doll, which is frankly no more than he deserves. Kirk yells at him, he agrees to cool it, and seven minutes later, he’s back at it again, the worthless bastard. Scotty, I am very disappointed in you.
OTOH, Chekov is not only useful this episode (providing some encyclopedic knowledge, noticing their enemy’s exhaustion, etc.), he’s also absolutely hilarious. When Apollo dramatically introduces himself as, well, Apollo, Chekov immediately responds by saying, “And I am the tsar of all the Russias!’ HA! And when Kirk chides him, he’s all, “Sorry, Captain, I’ve never met a god before.” Man, I sincerely hope that Chekov continues to be a cheeky little shit.
Sulu Watch: Sulu’s best moment–one of his only moments, sadly–is when he can’t pinpoint the source of some radiation. Spock tells him to use the process of elimination, and Sulu, surprised, is all, “You want me to scan the whole planet?” Spock, being Spock, just gives him a Look, and Sulu smiles kinda adorably before saying . . .
Oh, I do like you, Mr. Sulu. Please don’t betray me the way Scotty has done.
At some point in this episode, we get a close-up on the Enterprise controls, and they look weirdly like crystals. Did . . . did they always look like that?
Finally–oh! I almost forgot this episode’s other most terrible part: Kirk, who insists that humanity has outgrown their need for Apollo and his ilk, also tells him, “Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate.”
Oh, hell no, this is some bullshit, ethnocentric, Christianity-first nonsense. I am absolutely not here for this shit. To hell with you, Kirk, you’ve disappointed me today, too.
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“Spock’s contaminating this boy, Jim.”