We took a short break from TOS while binging Season 3 of Dark (among juggling some other television shows), but soon it was time to return, and so we did, to “Metamorphosis.” Accordingly, I prepared myself for potential insects and Kafka references.
Insects would have been a fucking delight compared to the bullshit on display here.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
Kirk, Spock, and Bones are transporting Assistant Federation Commissioner Hedford back to the Enterprise after she’s come down with a rare and potentially fatal disease, and she is pissed about it, as she can’t continue her work negotiating peace on Epsilon Canaris III. Before they can rendezvous with the ship, however, their shuttle is enveloped by this Glow Cloud and brought down to some planetoid.
Here they find Zefram Cochrane, the dude who invented the warp drive and should’ve died about 150 years ago. Cochrane explains that he’d planned to die in space, but was rescued, de-aged, imprisoned, and made immortal by the Glow Cloud, henceforth known as the Companion. Cochran, hoping to be set free, insisted that he’d die of loneliness if he had to stay here, so the Companion decided to kidnap some friends for him. Kirk’s not real thrilled about this, especially since Hedford is going to die soon without medical treatment. Our heroes use the universal translator to communicate with the Companion, and discover that she’s female. This (somehow) allows Spock and Kirk to realize that the Companion doesn’t see Cochran as a prisoner or pet. She sees him as a lover.
Cochran is initially disgusted by this and storms off like a big baby, which upsets Hedford, who’s never been in love and has come to regret her wasted life spent only on work. Kirk tells the Companion that humans need obstacles in order to thrive, obstacles which she’s taken away. He argues, too, that the Companion and Cochran are incompatible as lovers, as they’re simply too different. So the Companion decides to become human, and possesses/merges with a dying Hedford, which leaves them powerless but also makes them healthy again. Cochran quickly realizes that he loves the Companion, after all, and decides to grow old with them on the planetoid, as they’ll cease to exist if they leave. Meanwhile, our heroes peace out, unconcerned about that whole war they left behind because, hey, Kirk’s sure they’ll find some other woman to play negotiator.
The first half of this episode is basically fine. And then, well . . .
Let’s begin with the universal translator, which is one of those handy SF devices that’s potentially more believable in some circumstances than in others. This is one of those less credible times.
Kirk explains the UT to Cochran like so: “certain universal ideas and concepts are common to all intelligent life,” so the UT compares brain wave patterns to find those recognizable concepts and then provides the “necessary grammar.” Which is a potentially interesting idea, but the problem with universal truths is that they arguably don’t exist, or, at the very least, are incredibly more complicated than they might first appear on paper. For example, according to Kirk, binary gender is one such truth; specifically, he says “the idea of male and female are universal constants.”
Which is such a hot garbage take on this planet, let alone the rest of the galaxy. But in this episode, this so-called truth is why the UT translates the Companion’s thoughts in a feminine voice; it reads her brainwaves and, based on the recognizable concepts it finds there, or whatever, decides that she must be female, which, like . . .
And this, my friends, is all it takes for Spock and Kirk to realize that the Companion is in love with “the Man” (AKA Cochrane). Seriously. Once they realize they’re dealing with a woman, romantic love (or her approximation of it) is the only motivation she can possibly have. A male alien might see Cochrane as a specimen to study or even treat him affectionately, like a good dog, but a female? Nope. It’s obvious she loves him. It is the only possible explanation.
Then we have to discuss Hedford, who, as a career-oriented woman, is portrayed from the jump as bitchy and unreasonable. Once she starts dying in earnest, though, she begins to regret that she’s never been In Love. And look, dying regrets? Totally a thing. And never falling in love is likely one that plenty of people have, but when Hedford asks, “What kind of life is that?” Yeah, no, I’m tired of this.
Lots of people live happy, valuable lives without romantic love; my life has had value, even without a longterm romantic partner. Besides, I hate how Hedford shrugs off that she’s good at her job, like that’s some inconsequential thing, because A) it’s not, no matter what your job is, and B), FFS, she’s an assistant commissioner to a massive interstellar organization who, and I can’t stress this enough, negotiates peace talks for a living. What the actual fuck? Her work is a huge goddamn deal.
So, when Kirk smirks at the end of the episode and blows off the very real consequences this could all have on the war? When he suggests that Hedford is completely replaceable?
Finally, let’s discuss the merging of Hedford and the Companion.
Normally, I’m fascinated by stories which have two (or more) characters sharing the same body. However, here, I mostly just feel bad for Hedford. Like, I get it: she was about to die, and now she gets to have this great love she’s always wanted, I guess. Except . . . Cochran doesn’t love her; he barely even knows her. He’s in love with the Companion (at least, now that the Companion has a pleasing human form), and frankly, it’s a little unclear if the Companion and Hedford are still separate, distinct personalities inhabiting the same body, or if they’ve fully merged into a new persona. Companionford, if you will.
Either way, we don’t really get any sense of Hedford after it happens. Sure, Companionford speaks in the plural, says “we are one” and the like, but the things they say, their memories and desires and epiphanies, those are clearly just all the Companion’s thoughts. TBH, it mostly feels like Hedford died, and the Companion possessed her corpse. It’s also worth noting (though no one does) that the Companion is absolutely responsible for Hedford’s worsened condition, that maybe our Assistant Federation Commissioner would have eventually found the work/love balance she was looking for if only she’d been able to get to the Enterprise in the first place. But now she has to share her body with the entity that kinda doomed her? Yay?
You want this episode in a nutshell? Here you go:
But to touch the hand of the Man, nothing is as important.
The Enterprise Doesn’t Stick The Landing: see above.
First Time We’ve Encountered: well, the universal translator, for one. But also Zefram Cochran. He only gives his surname at first, but Cochran is singular enough that Mek and I looked at each other, all, “Wait, Cochrane? Like First Contact, James Cromwell Cochrane?” And indeed it was! This was actually pretty cool.
As to ZC, himself, well. I was mostly fine with him until he threw a huge temper tantrum after discovering that his Glow Cloud Companion had romantic Feels for him. I mean, he’s, like, offended by it, calls her disgusting, a monster, something that used him and fed on him, etc. I’m guessing this is supposed to be a 150-year-old prejudice against interspecies relations? Which is decent material to explore, actually, but it just comes on so suddenly here that I was completely thrown by it. Gratifyingly, Kirk, Spock, and Bones are just as baffled; in fact, Spock says, “Your relationship with the Companion has for 150 years been emotionally satisfying, eminently practical, and totally harmless,” and people, this is the future liberals want, or at least this particular liberal. But Cochrane is revolted by that future, asks if men no longer have any “notion of decency or morality.” And sadly, I regret to inform you that nobody punches this asshole even once in the whole episode. It’s incredibly disappointing.
I should probably point out that Spock does give evidence for the Companion’s romantic feelings, other than gender, sorta; namely that whenever she communicates with Cochran, she appears “soft and gentle,” her voice “melodic and pleasing”. To which I say A) ugh, and B) that the Companion might have appeared gentle and pleasing before our heroes, too, had they tried using the universal translator before trying to electrocute her ass.
Oh, yeah. Desperate to get off the planetoid, Kirk makes exactly one half-assed attempt to communicate with Cochran before ordering an attack on the Companion, which very well could kill her. Of course, this attack fantastically fails, which is mostly hilarious because not five minutes before, Spock had assured Kirk that his plan couldn’t possibly fail. I desperately hope that, somewhere, there is a deleted scene where Bones ribs the shit out of Spock for this.
Spock gets a little electrocuted himself this episode. He refers to the experience as “quaint,” bless him.
Sulu Watch: Sulu is only in this episode to prove me wrong. (We played our drinking game again, sans the drinking part. Our predictions, alas, continue to go poorly.) He reads some stuff off the monitor as the Enterprise searches for the missing shuttle, and that’s about it.
What’s Up, Uhura: Uhura, meanwhile, is mostly in this episode to be skeptical about Scotty’s search and rescue strategies. It amuses me.
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“Apparently, the Companion imparted to me a rather quaint, old-fashioned electrical shock. Of respectable voltage.”