Listen, I meant what I said however many months ago: I will finish TOS this year. It might not happen until the very last week of 2022—October, undoubtedly, will be swallowed whole by horror movies—but it WILL happen.
So. Let’s dive back in, shall we?
“Elaan of Troyius”
Oh, boy. Okay. The Enterprise is on an escort mission. They’re transporting Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, to the planet Troyius, where she is to marry their ruler and create peace between their two worlds. Only one problem: Elaan doesn’t want to get married and live on Troyius. She certainly doesn’t want the Troyian ambassador, Petri, to teach her their customs; in fact, when he enters her quarters without permission, she stabs him. (She’s hilariously nonchalant about it, too.) Since Elaan responds (somewhat) better to Kirk, he ends up trying to teach her courtesy and table manners. The lessons go, uh. Well, we’ll come back to that. What’s important here is that Elaan cries on him, which isn’t great because her tears are a biochemical love potion. Meanwhile, Klingons are trying to blow up the Enterprise. Again, not great, as the ship has been sabotaged and needs dilithium crystals to escape. Thankfully, Elaan is wearing dilithium crystals: her necklace is made out of them. Turns out, these crystals are common stones around here, which is why the Klingons are so invested in gaining control of this territory. The Enterprise neutralizes the Klingon threat, Elaan ultimately goes to Troyius, and Kirk conquers his love for Elaan with his love for the Enterprise, or some shit.
“Elaan of Troyius” is basically The Taming of the Shrew in space, and since I hate the ending of that play almost as much as I hate the ending of The Merchant of Venice . . . yeah, this wasn’t my favorite episode. There are some good things, like, the costumes are hysterical. Elaan has kind of a Cleopatra meets Leeloo thing going on, and her guards, well. Just look at these silly ass costumes. And I actually do like Elaan (France Nuyen from The Joy Luck Club). Yes, she’s literally a royal pain in the ass, but she’s also doing her best to get out of an extremely shitty situation where she has to leave not only her home but her entire home world behind to marry her enemy and live in a culture that’s completely antithetical to her own. If this story had a happier ending, Elaan would take off with the Klingons, where she’d obviously thrive; instead, she abruptly makes peace with her situation for no clear reason that I can see and goes off to live a presumably miserable existence with her new husband. I don’t necessarily mind that she does this, like, it’s her duty, it’s for the good of her people, etc. But the story doesn’t bother to present any real turning point in her arc. Elaan just changes her mind because, well. Cause the episode is about to end.
And Jesus, the casual misogyny and ethnocentric bullshit in this one. Like, Kirk supposedly explaining Troian customs to Elaan by yelling at her about (white, Western) human table manners: using silverware, eating food off the plate, not drinking straight from the bottle, etc. He calls her both an “uncivilized savage” and a “vicious child in a woman’s body.” He threatens to spank her and actually does slap her—which, sure, she slapped him first, but you kind of hope that a Starfleet captain could manage to display authority without resorting to physical violence. Kirk also has these wise words to offer Spock: “The women on your planet are logical. That’s the only planet in this galaxy that can make that claim.”
For real. Fuck this guy.
Chief Asshat: Kirk, no doubt.
MVP: France Nuyen, without question. I really do enjoy her performance here.
Grade: Rocky Road
Line of the Episode: “So, Ambassador Petri is going to recover. That is too bad.”
“Whom Gods Destroy”
Kirk and Spock beam down to an asylum for the criminally and incurably insane on Elba II, a planet with an atmosphere that’s poisonous to humans. They’re bringing medicines that might be able to cure insanity once and for all; unfortunately, one patient, Captain Garth (AKA, Lord Garth), a former Starfleet captain and one of Kirk’s many heroes, has taken over the place, imprisoning the warden (Keye Luke) and quickly capturing Kirk and Spock. Garth almost escapes a few times because he has, er, learned how to shapeshift? Thankfully, though, Scotty isn’t allowed to beam anyone up unless they give the proper chess-themed countersign. (It’s a decent idea, honestly, but it’d make a lot more sense if one, Kirk had actual reason to suspect shapeshifters here, and two, if anyone on this ship had ever thought to use a secret password before—or, presumably, ever again.) Roughly 45 minutes of shenanigans later, Kirk and Garth-Kirk battle it out, Spock finally realizes which is which, and Garth gets the new medicine and seems to regain some lucidity. Uh. Folks? Did Trek just . . . cure all mental illness wholesale?
Honestly, I did have a pretty fun time watching this one. If you enjoy William Shatner’s particular brand of overacting, Garth-Kirk’s temper tantrum alone is well worth the price of admission. But a lot of the dialogue is genuinely funny, too. I enjoy Steve Ihnat as Garth, and I like his girlfriend Marta (Yvonne Craig, AKA, Batgirl), an Orion patient who boldly and hilariously takes credit for Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18.” Marta also attempts to seduce Kirk before quickly trying to stab him, which is frankly something I wish more of Kirk’s ladies would do on this show. (I wonder if Marta and Elaan might get along.) And yes, there’s a sexy dance because of course there’s a sexy dance, but I’m mildly amused that Spock, predictably unmoved, is reminded of a Vulcan children’s dance while watching it. (He does specify the children themselves are not usually so “coordinated.”) There are, I’m sure, a lot of creepy, terrible jokes that can be made here, but I’m genuinely interested in exploring things that are considered obviously sexy by (many) humans, but aren’t considered even remotely sexy by non-humans.
Still, this episode is something of a hot mess. Lots of silly or lazy writing, like the aforementioned password, Garth’s very random shapeshifting abilities, and especially Spock’s inability to tell which Kirk is the real Kirk. Cause one, bullshit, sir. Spock could obviously come up with questions that only Kirk would be able to answer. And two, Spock doesn’t even need to ask questions. He could just stun both dudes, and the problem would immediately be solved. There’s also the subject matter itself, which, admittedly, isn’t nearly as offensive as I’d feared. Garth’s delusional megalomania is played for laughs, but it somehow doesn’t feel as gross as I’d expected, and Kirk does tell Garth that his mental illness isn’t his fault, which is surprisingly progressive. That being said, uh, we’re keeping these people in tiny cells on a planet thats atmosphere is poison; clearly, we’re not that progressive. And while it isn’t Garth’s fault that he’s sick, Kirk also says Garth’s not truly responsible for the terrible things he’s done, and . . . no, that’s not quite how responsibility works. Like, Garth murders Marta here; he is, ultimately, responsible for that. I also feel like Garth’s mental illness would be more compelling if we got a deeper glimpse of past trauma or something that made his disease feel more character-oriented, rather than simply a plot obstacle. (Also? Garth can’t watch He-Man anymore because he says “Master of the Universe” way too often.) And seriously, DID TREK CURE INSANITY? Like, I have so many follow-up questions.
Chief Asshat: I mean. Garth did blow Marta up. (And not just with any bomb, mind you, but the most powerful explosive in the universe. Seriously, some silly ass writing in this episode.)
MVP: Marta, poor Marta. I will miss your stolen poetry and attempts at homicide.
Line of the Episode: Oh, this is difficult. There really are several good quotes here. Kirk has a few nicely delivered lines, like when Garth proposes that Kirk serve as a human sacrifice, and he’s like, “No, I wouldn’t enjoy that at all.” Also, Spock being questioned about whether he and Kirk are brothers or not: “Kirk speaks somewhat figuratively and with undue emotion. However, what he says is logical, and I do, in fact, agree with it.” And of course, Garth telling Kirk, “You continue to resist. That was stupid of you.”
Still, I think I’m going to have to give this one to Marta, notorious poet thief:
“You wrote that?!”
“Yesterday, as a matter of fact.”
“It was written by an Earth man named Shakespeare a long time ago!”
“Which does not alter the fact that I wrote it again yesterday!”
“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”
Oh, no. We’ve hit this episode: TOS takes on racism.
The Enterprise rescues Lokai, a shuttle thief whose skin is black on the left side and white on the right. Then Bele (Frank Gorshin, AKA The Riddler), an alien cop whose skin is white on the left side and black on the right, pops up and demands that Kirk hand over Lokai and fly them back to their home planet. Lokai, himself, demands political asylum, and we quickly discover that Bele’s people once enslaved Lokai’s people, and even now Lokai’s people are still widely oppressed. Bele has apparently been hunting Lokai down for 50,000 years, so he’s pretty obsessed about it; when Kirk won’t do what he wants, Bele psychically takes over the ship and—eventually—gets them back to his world, only to discover that everyone there is dead, having annihilated one another. Despite this, Lokai and Bele are unable to let go of their hatred, so when Lokai escapes to the planet, Bele gives (hilariously pathetic) chase, and the Enterprise leaves them there, presumably to kill each other and/or die of exhaustion.
So. This is not a subtle episode. Subtlety wants absolutely nothing to do with this clunky ass episode. That being said, I like some of it. I enjoy the bridge crew’s quiet reactions when Kirk orders the self-destruct sequence. Frank Gorshin’s performance, for the most part, is really solid throughout—except that chase scene, which I think is supposed to indicate a man on the verge of emotional and physical collapse, but which is really just the silliest and saddest running I’ve ever seen in my life. I like how Spock and Kirk are completely baffled when they discover the cause of this entire racial divide, and Bele is just as baffled (not to mention indignant) to realize that they don’t see any meaningful difference between him and Lokai. And—with serious caveats—the downbeat ending works for me, as I assumed this would be the episode where Star Trek handily solves racism in 50 minutes. I think this works better.
That being said. Some of my problems are plot related, like, why is Bele able to psychically steer the ship but can’t disrupt the self-destruct sequence? That seems silly. Also, 50,000 years? No. That’s ridiculous. That is too much. How long do these guys even live? How often did they think, ‘Hey, it’s been 40,000 years. Maybe I should check in and make sure everyone back home is still alive.’ Also bizarre: our heroes are weirdly startled by Lokai’s two-toned skin, to the point that they decide he must be a genetic mutant; Bones even refers to Lokai as “anyone or anything,” like this guy is the most unfathomable being they’ve ever come across, like this isn’t the crew who met Mother Fucking Horta. Acting like Lokai is some inexplicable creature feels like an off-putting way to begin an episode where all our heroes have long since defeated racism. (Which is hard to swallow, too, like, I genuinely enjoy that Star Trek is an aspirational show. Still, exchanges like this one—There was persecution on Earth once. I remember reading about it in my history class/Yes, but it happened way back in the twentieth century. There’s no such primitive thinking today—are always going to be hard to take seriously, partially because that’s not even true in canon—we’ve definitely had racist crew members—and partially because racism is a thing of the past is how many white people talk right now.)
But maybe my biggest problem with this episode is that it’s framed as a “both sides” racism story. Like I said, the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle here: Bele’s people are white people and Lokai’s people are Black. Bele’s people are in the wrong—because when it comes to slavery and brutal systematic oppression—white people are in the wrong. Like, pretty unequivocally. But TOS doesn’t explore that; what it does, instead, is present Lokai and Bele as equally irrational people consumed by hatred. Consider the scene where Lokai is explaining his behavior and the current living situation of his people. You’d think this would be a moving speech, emotional; instead, the scene has a weirdly sinister edge. We barely see Lokai as he speaks; mostly, he’s depicted as a shadowy presence. The scene is primarily from Spock’s POV, actually, as he eavesdrops outside. We even get, like, danger, Will Robinson, danger music, as if Lokai is a serious threat who might brainwash the crew and/or incite them into mutiny and rebellion. (Also, and this is neither here nor there, but why does Lokai know that racist persecution apparently ended on Earth in the 20th century. Honest to God.) It’s also insinuated that Lokai lets people die for him, rather than face danger himself—a theory of which we’ve seen literally zero evidence for. And the whole ending where Kirk urges Lokai and Bele to give up their hate, as if their hate is equal, as if they both have genuine cause to despise one other and will only be free once they let go of their rage . . . like, this is a totally solid ending for some other episode about prejudice, but for one that’s so clearly about white and Black people in 1960’s America? Yeah, I’m not so convinced on that.
Chief Asshat: Bele, obviously
MVP: Frank Gorshin, continuing the winning streak of Batman alums.
Line of the Episode:
“All that matters to them is their hate.”
“Do you suppose that’s all they ever had, sir?”
“No . . . but that’s all they have left.”