Wednesday, May 29, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

"Elaan of Troyius" is an episode made up of many strong parts that somehow don't cohere into a whole greater than the parts.

The primary plot-action resembles that of "Is There in Truth No Beauty?," in that both episodes deal with a female character who is committed to be permanently bonded to an "alien" of sorts. In "Truth," Miranda chooses to become bonded, in what I consider a priestess-like function, to a non-human alien. The title character of "Elaan," however, belongs to a humanoid race, the Elasians, and she has been ordered to marry the king of another humanoid species, the Troyians, with whom the Elasians have warred for untold years. The title, in addition to punning on the name "Helen of Troy," is more prescriptive than descriptive: Elaan is not of Troyius when the episode starts out, any more than Helen is of Troy, but it's important to the narrative that Elaan must become "of Troyius." (Writer-director John Meredith Lucas shows off his Troy-knowledge by patterning the names of the two planets after both Troy and its alternate name, Ilion, which in ancient days were derived from the city's founders Tros and Ilus.)

Putting aside questions of godly manipulation, Helen deserts her people (and her husband) willingly.  Elaan, however, has been ordered to marry the Troyian king to avert the mutual destruction of their peoples, and though she has some ambiguous royal status, she's far from willing to be a pawn in the government's policies. The Enterprise is assigned to ferry Elaan and her entourage of guardians to Troyias in order to promote peace in the relevant solar system, but both Elaan and her guards make clear that they consider the Troyians an inferior, over-civilized species (though one presumes that the two groups can inter-breed, since otherwise a political marriage wouldn't have much staying-power). Elaan and her people are prime examples of "Roddenberry barbarians:" rude, outspoken, undiplomatic, and governed purely by their own culture's rigid hierarchies. Troyian ambassador Petri is assigned to acquaint Elaan with the customs she must learn, and she responds by stabbing him.

Captain Kirk, ordered to expedite the political marriage, reluctantly attempts to educate the Elasian woman in the courtesies of civilized people, at which point the narrative drops any pretense of emulating the events of the Trojan War, becoming instead a conglomeration of "The Taming of the Shrew" and "Tristan and Isolde." Kirk actually doesn't do much "taming" beyond threatening to spank the imperious Elasian. Just at the point when he's ready to give up on her, Elaan does a turnabout and suddenly wants Kirk to teach her how to "make people like me." This badly unmotivated about-face is necessary to bring the "love-potion" elements of "Tristan and Isolde" into play. Though the episode doesn't explicitly say that Elas is a matriarchy, there are numerous references to Elasian women being able to control their men with their teats-- not psychologically, but with a biochemical "love potion" in those excretions. The broad implication is that the barbarian woman recognizes Kirk's strength and hopes to use it against her enemies, and for this reason she traps Kirk into loving her.

Naturally, even a besotted Kirk can't be tempted (as Elaan suggests) to rain down death on Troyius and solve Elaan's marital problems. Thus, throughout the episode the Klingons tail the Enterprise, waiting for the chance to sabotage the marriage contract through both internal duplicity and direct assault. Kirk overcomes both the Klingons and the love-spell, and Elaan is obligated to carry out the dictates of her people in the name of peace. Thus, in this version of "Tristan and Isolde," Tristan is separated from his love not so much by her marriage to another man as by his own dedication to a higher cause.

No comments:

Post a Comment