Tuesday, May 28, 2019


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

If it weren't for the "first interracial kiss on TV" business, no one would remember "Plato's Stepchildren" for much of anything. It's not even close to be among the series' best episodes, nor does it have anything that would drop it into the category of the worst. It's one of many episodes where the Enterprise answers a distress call and gets stuck sorting out the problems of a planet's corrupt hierarchy.

The basic concept owes something to "Who Mourns for Adonais?," as is evident from the first person the Trekkers meet on the planet: the dwarf Alexander, when he's asked about the planet's denizens:

Oh, Platonians. I'm sure you've never heard of us. Our native star is Sahndara. Millennia ago, just before it went nova, we managed to escape. Our leader liked Plato's ideas Plato, Platonius. See? In fact, our present philosopher-king, Parmen, sometimes calls us Plato's children, although we sometimes think of ourselves more as Plato's stepchildren. Excuse me. Someone's waiting for you. 

Since all of the Platonians except Alexander have fantastic telekinetic powers that make them virtual gods, it's not entirely logical why anyone save Alexander would choose the potentially derogatory term "stepchildren" for themselves. It would make sense for Alexander, the slave of the privileged if very small (38 people worldwide) coterie, would make such a remark, though. Later in the story Mister Spock disputes Parmen's claim to be a follower of the Greek philosopher. A tighter script might have made clear just what aspects of Plato the aliens were getting wrong, but the script as produced makes it sound like the whole idea of "philosopher-kings" is at fault for not being more democratic, for devolving into simple tyranny. Further, it strains the credulity even of a SF-fan to imagine some aliens journeying to Earth, getting some exposure to Greek philosopher, and then zooming back into the cosmos to construct a new culture on a separate planet. The basic setup also implies that all 37 of the inhabitants, except for Alexander, enjoy lives of leisure, with the implication that Alexander does all of their work. I'm sure this setup made things simpler for the writers, but the scenario doesn't track in a practical sense, and thus it undermines any real critique of Platonic elitism, given that the Platonians have only one slave to kick around, rather than a whole class. Similarly, it makes no sense that these Platonians have existed on their planet for centuries-- apparently without propagation-- but that none of them have any slaves to take care of their medical needs. This inspires them to decide that they want to induct Doctor McCoy as their resident physician, even though one presumes that he'll expire in about fifty more years, which would leave them with the same problem.

The simplicity, though, is necessary on another level. In order for Kirk and Co. to challenge the formidable powers of the Platonians, the heroes have to be able to figure out how those powers work and how to assimilate them. Before that happens, the aliens put the crewmen through an assortment of tortures, one of which involves forcing Spock and Kirk to make love, respectively, to Nurse Chapel and Lieutenant Uhura. Given that Kirk and Uhura don't have any established feelings for one another, this is potentially less dramatic than the encounter of Nurse Chapel, whose teary devotion to Spock has been well documented. Yet the Kirk-Uhura moments work better, because it's all about an officer and his subordinate being forced to emulate lovemaking for an audience, an erasure of professional rather than racial boundaries. For the last torture, the Platonians threaten to make the two men whip their paramours, but this goes no further than titillation as Kirk manifests powers equal to Parmen's and kicks the leader's psychic butt.

Parenthetically, I assume that Parmen's name is derived from the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides, though it doesn't seem to connote much of anything. There's much more pertinence in the writers' naming the dwarf character after the famed Greek empire-builder, for though the character Alexander builds no empires, he is the only one of his people who escapes his stultified society for the outside world.

"Wink of an Eye," by comparison, is a highly entertaining minor episode. Kirk and Co investigate another distress call from Scalos, one of the many planets of which the Federation is vaguely aware without knowing anything about it. It seems that Scalos is a lot like the ODYSSEY-monster Scylla, lying in wait for unwary sailors. Long ago the Scalosians suffered a major physical mutation-- strangely, not as the result of nuclear or biological warfare, but from volcanic eruption. (Maybe some writer got tired of always having to blame mutation on human hubris.) Because of the mutation, the Scalosians now exist in a hyper-advanced state that makes them invisible to ordinary mortals, and in addition, they're no longer able to breed with one another. However, they can breed to some extent with other humanoids, and some critics have had problems with this concept, though it can be explained by the previously established seeding of human-like beings throughout the TREK-cosmos by the Kindred of Sargon. 

The real problem of the setup is more that if the Scalosians had been doing this for centuries, one would think that the Federation would've picked up on the planet as a "here there be monsters" site, and so Kirk and his crew would've stayed away. Further, the success-rate of these liaisons must not be too great, since it's stated that there only about five Scalosians on the planet. Kirk gets selected to be the mate of the Scalosian queen Deela (a winsomely cheery Kathie Browne), and so gets "accelerated" to the same speed-rate as the Scalosians. Deela is an atypical TREK villainess, in that she's entirely committed to her people's survival despite being able to appreciate the unfairness of what she has to do to accomplish this, and she's never less than self-possessed, unlike a lot of the show's more frenetic female evildoers. Once Kirk knows what's going on, he does use his customary charm on Deela, with "Wink" scoring points as the only episode to strongly imply that Kirk actually may have sex with an alien beauty before vanquishing her forces. Curiously, only one other Enterprise crewman gets hyper-accelerated, and though he's quickly brainwashed by the process, he loses his life defending his captain. As for other mates, the Scalosians don't seem to be in any great hurry-- thus, we don't get to see which female crewpersons get selected. The aliens seem content to put the rest of the crew into cold storage until they need them. There's no explicit plan as to how the Scalosians will make the ship's destruction look like an accident, but it becomes academic once Kirk and Spock manage to outmaneuver the Scalosian speed demons.

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