Ah, women. Women, women, women, women, women. They’re so bizarre, amiright guys? They just don’t make sense. Not the way men do! All their lady feelings and childbirthing and there’s that whole thing with cramps and periods. They’re not rational. They’re impulsive and violent and loud and they care about sports way too—damn, wrong stereotype here, let me back up. Not rational. Definitely not rational. And so scary! I mean, a woman has all these thoughts going on in her head, and I just don’t know what any of them are. How can I deal with that? I suppose I could accept that, basic differences of biology aside, people are people. That’s hard work, though. Then I’d have to actually get to know a “woman.” Like, listening and everything. So, pffft. They’re totally insane!
I was worried that “Women be different from men” would be the main point of “Elaan of Troyius,” because while the title character is literally from an alien civilization, and, as such, bound to have a different approach to life, there was a whole lot of “Gosh, those ladies, eh?” dialog flying around. Once Elaan arrives on the Enterprise, dressed in her predictably revealing warrior-princes outfit and shouting like she owns the place, the danger of shrew-taming is hard to ignore. At one point, Kirk even threatens to spank her, which couldn’t possibly end in a galactic war. But then she shows a moment of vulnerability, she cries, her tears make Kirk love her (literally), and—well, things got a little more interesting. I was expecting to really, really dislike “Troyius,” but it handled itself well in the second half. I guess sometimes, the awkwardness of season 3 can actually be a good thing.
“Troyius” is two episodes, then, and you can draw the line between them quite neatly. Part one has the Enterprise ferrying Elaan, the “Dohlman” of the planet Elas, to the planet Troyius for her wedding to a member of the Troyian royal family. The two cultures aren’t what you’d call friendly, but they’ve arrived at a point in their technological development where they are capable of that most romantic of phrases, “mutually assured destruction.” The marriage is supposed to creating a lasting peace, and to that end, the Troyians have sent Petri, their ambassador to the Elasians, to instruct Elaan on Troyian custom and etiquette and facilitate a smooth transition.
Petri is a ninny, though. He’s lousy at his job, and has no idea how to handle Elaan’s tyrannical demands and basic unwillingness to play nice. This is played for laughs. It should be about a culture clash—it’s a very broad clash, and it would’ve been nice to get a clearer sense of the Troyians (if Petri is the best they have to offer, I don’t really buy them as a threat), but farce doesn’t have to be deep to be funny. “Troyius,” however, is less interested in how aliens make friends and more interested in gags about the incomprehensibility of the female mind. Elaan isn’t just a proud warrior and ruler required to learn new ways from her lifelong enemy—she’s also got those troublesome ladyparts, and the irrationality that, apparently, comes with them.
We all know where this is going, right? Elaan, played by France Nuyen, is pretty and wears revealing clothes, and Kirk is the only one with the guts to stand up to her. So it isn’t too long before you start waiting for certain beats—and, for a while anyway, the episode obliges. We got the increased tension, the shouting, Kirk’s refusal to back down, threats of spanking, and then, a moment of vulnerability from Elaan, and the relationship begins to blossom. Oh, and there are magical tears, too! Totally forgot those. If an Elasian man touches the tears of an Elasian woman, that man will fall completely and hopelessly in love with the crying woman, which is presumably some kind of evolutionary development for ensuring that sad people have someone to drive to the store and get them ice cream. Elaan cries, Kirk, not realizing the danger, wipes those tears away—and, well, there you go.
It’s at this point that “Troyius” starts its transition. If you’d asked me to predict the rest of the episode after Elaan and Kirk hooked up, I would’ve guessed it would have something to do with Kirk interfering with the wedding, or being tempted to interfere, and there would probably be scenes of him teaching her manners while they did that whole “staring is sexy” eye contact game. (Petri is taken out of the action when Elaan stabs him. He doesn’t die, but he refuses to make any more attempts at instruction.) Instead, we get a nifty space battle against the Klingons, a traitor in the Elasians, an unexpected source of dilithium crystals, and a curiously muted performance from Shatner that does a good job at conveying his internal struggle between feeling and duty without overselling it.
We all know Kirk’s first love will always be the Enterprise. But what’s smart here has less to do with an unexpected resolution, and more about the subtle way the romance between Kirk and Elaan plays out. Once he’s been affected by the tears, Kirk doesn’t spout love poetry, he doesn’t hesitate in doing his job, and there’s a definite lack of visible angst. Elaan is clearly disappointed—and to her credit, she’s respectful of his wishes—so instead of melodrama, we get, for this series, a relatively restrained minor tragedy. McCoy finds an actual cure for the tears’ biological effects at the episode’s end, but it’s irrelevant at that point. Elaan has left, impressed by Kirk’s behavior enough to willingly enter the next phase of her life for the sake of her people, and Kirk has made the same decision he always makes. Apart from a short conversation between McCoy and Spock, the point isn’t lectured or shoved in our faces. And while it’s information we’ve had for a while now, and the episode as a whole isn’t terrific, it at least lets the characters exit with more dignity than they had coming in. Elaan doesn’t have to be humiliated or treated like a child, which is a relief. And, thank god, no spanking.
If “Troyius” starts weak but gains its footing, “Whom Gods Destroy” has an opposite trajectory, opening with a cool setting and colorful villain before falling into tedium. The elements are all there for a fun, thrilling hour, and I have a hard time pinpointing exactly where the failure begins, but I was definitely checking my watch by the end. (Or, more accurately, hitting the select button on my Playstation3 controller to see how much time was left.)
“Gods” has a similar set-up to the first season episode, “Dagger of the Mind”: we’ve got an asylum for dangerous crazy people, a difficult to access location, a machine that induces over-acting in its subjects, and a potential cure for the crazies. Only in this case, the villain isn’t the head of the facility, but the nuttiest loon in the building, and the cure isn’t a false mental treatment that destroys minds, but a magical medicine that can induce sanity. Plus, it’s an Kirk-and-Spock mission, so there are no annoying female doctors around to confuse the issue. But both episodes share that sense of isolation, and both acknowledge that even in the perfect future of Starfleet, not everybody has all their screws as tight as they need to be.
Actually, “Gods” cheats on that last one. While the optimist in my appreciates the attraction of finding some magical cure-all that can make madness go away, it stretches credibility. I’m willing to accept a certain level of magic in science fiction, but there needs to be a basic connection to reality to make that work. The conception of mental illness here is off-the-mark, which isn’t surprising, but the naivety of believing a drug can resolve years of instability and inner turmoil puts this firmly into Saturday morning cartoon reality levels. Happy endings are great, but if they come too easily, we feel cheated. (I am so terribly sorry for the potential pun in the previous sentence.) At least I do. There has to be a cost, or else the victory becomes meaningless.
Speaking of cartoons, I got a serious Batman vibe from the set-up: an asylum for the most dangerous lunatics in the galaxy, and the maddest hatter (or the joker in the deck, if you follow) of all gets free and takes the place over, letting all the other lunatics out to play. Kirk and Spock fall for the trap, and have to endure Garth (Captain Crazypants), his fevered monologues, his delusional plans for the future, and his dinner parties. Basically, it’s Arkham Asylum, only the green chick isn’t big on plants. And that’s totally cool, right?
It should’ve been, anyway. Garth is a decent villain, Marta, the green-skinned chick, is appropriately hot/crazy, and… well, I dunno. It just didn’t play out as well as I hoped. Maybe because, once you get past the premise, there’s not a lot going on here. Garth has something of a past, Kirk used to respect him, but the tension between them isn’t strong. Garth also has the ability to shape change, which, again, is stretching credibility. They justify it with some junk about “cellular regeneration,” but since Garth’s clothes also change every time he changes form, I’m not sure I buy that. (Although maybe he’s just naked all the time, and the clothes are part of his skin? Which is ew, frankly.) Like the magical cure-all medicine that Spock and Kirk carry, Garth’s powers are lazy writing. It cheapens everything else because it’s harder to get overly invested in a story when there’s a chance (no matter how remote) that somebody could say, “A wizard did it,” and everyone listening would nod and move on. The god-like beings are obviously problematic in this regard, but least then there’s some moderate justification for their abilities, no matter how conveniently remote. Here, Garth is a regular guy who happens to be able to completely change his physical form with the same amount of energy it takes the average person to sneeze.
“Gods” has its moments. The opening is effective, and it’s creepy trying to imagine what the nutters are going to come up with next. (Apparently, it’s dancing and exploding, always a strong choice.) I like that Kirk is smart enough to leave a counter sign with Scott, although I don’t like how we’re given no real reason for him to do so on this mission—y’know, the one where’s it crucially important for reasons Kirk could not have anticipated. We’ve never had evidence of a code any of the other times Kirk has beamed down someplace, and it would’ve been nice if either Scotty or McCoy had some throwaway exposition to cover the discrepancy. Something like, “Oh, so that’s standard operating procedure when visiting the Planet of the Incredibly Dangerous Sociopaths, then?”
The obvious reason why the counter sign is here is because without it, Garth could’ve faked his way back onto the Enterprise, and then we’d have a very different episode on our hands. I’m not sure if it would’ve been a better one—we’ve already had dueling Kirks—but at least it would’ve had more risk. It’s not just that we know Kirk isn’t going to die, or that he and Spock will survive whatever torture they’re put through. It’s that without any real danger, there’s nothing else to keep us watching. It’s a goofy, by-the-numbers piece of work, and it goes on longer than it needs to. I suppose there’s some pathos to having Garth cured at the end, but it’s hollow. I mean, he blew up a green chick. You don’t take a pill to make that feel better.
“Elaan of Troyius”: B
“Whom Gods Destroy”: C+
- Elaan’s “I don’t know how to make people like me,” confession is an odd moment. She makes it clear later on that she chose Kirk, so the crying may have been a way to get him to drop his guard. But it sounded honest, in a way that made me like the character a little more.
- Kirk and Elaan’s final exchange was nice as well: “Remember me.” “I have no choice.” “Nor have I.”
- “The antidote to a woman of Elas is a starship. The Enterprise infected Kirk long before the Dohlman did.”
- Spock, on Marta’s “sexy” dance: “It is somewhat reminiscent of the dances children do in Vulcan nursery school.” Eat that, Simon Cowell.
- Next week, it’s “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” and “The Mark Of Gideon”