8.17.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 56: This Side of Paradise

This episode originally aired on March 2, 1967, sandwiched between Daniel Boone and Dragnet.  Engelbert Humperdinck was riding high in the charts with "Release Me;" Operation Junction City raged on in South Vietnam.


The Enterprise is dispatched to Omicron Ceti III, and its crew are surprised to discover colonists they believed to be destroyed by recently discovered Berthold rays alive and well. 


Better than alive and well. McCoy's medical exams reveal them all to not just be in perfect health but in possession of appendices previously removed and other discrepancies. 

Among the colonists is Leila, a lady from Spock's past who had urges he could not reciprocate.

"Emotions are alien to me."

She leads him to some flora that she claims are the reason for the colony's health.

 
Once spored-out, they waste little time.
He ditches his uniform for the colony jumpsuit.
After a pleasant lollygag, Spock and Leila set about turning on the rest of the crew.
Kirk is the lone buzzcrush hold-out.
He returns to the ship and broods. Until the spores  - noticeably absent from in front of the navigation console in this wide shot - get him, as well.

Higher than an Elaysian sky lantern, Kirk prepares to join the Amish rave planetside. He is unable to rid himself of a nagging anger at himself for even considering the possibility and finally discovers that violent emotion negates the spores' influence.

"Ang-rrrrr...."


He tricks Spock to come aboard whereupon he delivers the craziest harangue in television history.

The ensuing confrontation takes advantage of several objects never seen in the transporter room before or since.
Once free of the spores, Spock joins the Captain in flooding the colony below with bad vibes.
Everyone goes back to normal. The colony leader immediately agrees that the colony is a total mega failure.
Captain Kirk delivers perhaps the 2nd craziest speech in television history.
Spock has little to say. Except that for the first time in his life, he was happy.

Story/ script: 10/10 (of 10/10) pts. A script that supports multiple reads simultaneously is a rare gem. I call it "holding up under questioning." This episode can be read in so many different ways, perhaps even more than "Archons," and no one read seems any less correct than any other.  Marxist critique of American values/ western culture? Check. Capitalist critique of collectivization? Check. Critique of hippies/ defiant and chemically-distracted youth? Check. Even the Kirk and Spock slash fanfic? Check.

"Aroused, his great strength could kill..."

Kirk's ending speech would be classic over-compensation/ rationalization / self-hypnosis along any of these lines. And many more.

And of course it works on its own terms perfectly well. The colonists are protected from the otherwise-destructive Berthold rays by the spores, but they prevent the colonists from making independent decisions. Then again, the spores are (presumably) the indigenous species of the planet, and they're doing the human invaders a favor by keeping them alive/ sharing the planet. What's the real tradeoff? A little lack of ambition? A little hive-minding? Unlike the people-eating mushrooms in the X-Files episode "Field Trip" they don't seem to have any nefarious ulterior motives.

This flexibility (besides the performances and character moments and flow of the story) is the episode's greatest strength. What exactly is the message, here? That man is meant for paradise only if he sacrifices free will? Is the dog-eat-dog status quo Kirk quotes truly a better way? Is the sacrifice of Spock's happiness justified? Are "self-made purgatories" and "violent emotions" all we have to look forward to?

"It's like a jigsaw puzzle all one color."

Bottom line: TOS went to the "expulsion from Paradise" well more than once but nowhere as masterfully and ambiguously as it does here.

Before we leave this category, I always think of Bertolt Brecht when I hear "Berthold Rays." Consider Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt: (commonly mistranslated as "theater of alienation.")

"Brecht thought that the experience of a climactic catharsis of emotion left an audience complacent. Instead, he wanted his audiences to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognize social injustice and exploitation and to be moved to go forth from the theater and effect change in the world outside. For this purpose, Brecht employed the use of techniques that remind the spectator that the play is a representation of reality and not reality itself. By highlighting the constructed nature of the theatrical event, Brecht hoped to communicate that the audience's reality was equally constructed and, as such, was changeable."

DC Fontana (whose script fix of this episode so alienated its original writer, Jerry Sohl, that  he asked they substitute his name with "Nathan Butler," his pseudonym) presumably would have mentioned it between 1967 and now had she had Brecht in mind. (The rays were more likely named after Berthold Technologies, a German company that pioneered sensor equipment for radiation and X-rays.) Nevertheless, it's an intriguing lens through which to view everything we see in "Paradise."

Title: Like the Fitzgerald novel, it's is taken from the closing lines of "Tiare Tahiti," a poem by Rupert Brooke. Fits like a glove. 3 of 3 pts.

Visual Design: 2.5 of 3 pts.

   
In this shot, Kirk reaches offscreen to turn on his own spotlight. I love that.
 
The bridge shot from this episode was what was used for the green screen projection in TNG's "Relics."
Kirk and Spock stunt doubles.

Internal Logistics: 3 out of 3 pts. About as air-and-water-tight as TOS gets. Although this does crack me up:

Apparently, Samsonite still exists in the 23rd century. Or Kirk's just one of those guys who collects antique suitcases.
I suppose I could deduct half a point for McCoy's somewhat inconsistent Georgia drawl, but he stays pretty loaded once going over to the spores. So, there's covering fire.


Kirk and the Gang: 45 pts. Spock deservedly gets the attention, but everyone does great work anytime they're on screen.

 

I alluded to this a little last time, but no top-tier TOS episodes is without something like this:

"No...
"I...
"can't...
"LEAVE!"

He does a great job in this episode all around. It can't be said enough: the Shatner you see in season one of TOS is different than any Shatner elsewhere. I'll probably get into this more as we go along. He definitely feels a little freer to warp out to quadrants unknown at little provocation in seasons two and three. (And bless him for it.)

I love the bit in his quarters when he looks at his space medals and feels a pang of unease, then irritatedly snaps the case closed.

Guest: 4 of 3 pts.

Sandoval looks a little like Jay McInerney here, doesn't he?
dooooo doo de dooo doo de dooo...
Apparently, Charles Bronson (Ireland's husband) was present during most of her scenes and glared at Nimoy the whole time.

Memorability: To me personally? 20 out of 5. To that portion of the world that lives in the matrix of American pop culture? 3 out of 5. Which averages out and rounds up to 12 of 5 pts. But let's just make that 12,000.

Total Points Awarded: A whole lot. (But probably around 89.5)

Here's the last of the Trek-related Boat Chips, gone from the charts but not from our hearts, "Spock's on the Crapper:" please enjoy responsibly. It's more of a filler-tune between other tracks on the album rather than a full-blown song. But hey. Good times.

15 comments:

  1. A fantastic episode all the way around. My only complaint is how easily Kirk is able to cure himself; I can live with that, but it somewhat weakens all the other crewmembers, because, like, why didn't THEY just want it as bad as Kirk? Makes them seem like chumps, sorta.

    The idea of Charles Bronson being on set mean-mugging Leonard Nimoy cracks me up. Mainly because I imagine Nimoy responding merely with a nonchalant eyebrow-raise. Meanwhile, Shatner is jealous of Brosnon being jealous of Nimoy, because he feels slighted.

    I don't know if you listened to the Mission Log episode about "This Side of Paradise," but it is well worth hearing. I have yet to figure out which side of that argument I land on.

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  2. I had to punt on the Mission Log podcasts. I don't really dig on their approach. I've spoken elsewhere on the missionary vs. the anthropology approach and I definitely find them more on the missionary side of things. That and they spend way too much time recapping the episodes. I don't really fault them for it; it's just not my cup of tea.

    I realize I recapped THIS one in this here blog, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

    At any rate, I did listen to their take on this one, and I feel they kind of missed the boat. "Paradise" is brilliant because it leaves the viewer free to interpret the right or wrong (and, in my opinion, strongly nudges you to consider the "wrong") of removing the colonists. I felt the ML guys argued from ground they insisted was firm when it was designed to be tenuous. It was a good enough discussion, just (frankly) I prefer my own approach, I guess.

    Just my opinion, of course. More power to them and all.

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    1. p.s. It does bugger credibility that Kirk alone is unable to shirk his duties, but we're told (and shown) over and over again throughout TOS that no one aboard takes the Enterprise's responsibilities as strictly as Kirk. (Maybe Scotty - conveniently, he's not in this one, so we don't have to worry!) I'm not saying it makes any more sense elsewhere, just that there's a certain consistency. No one else needs to be a chump; it's just that our Captain is so so very loyal even the spores are powerless to tempt him for too long.

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    2. I can come at from either approach, so their insistence on doing what they do doesn't bother me at all. There's always been an element of self-congratulation to the way Trek has sold itself -- especially from the Roddenberry side of things. And it hasn't always been deserved. It's especially poorly deserved in the current era, given how far behind the times the franchise is in terms of putting a gay dude somewhere into the mix. That probably should have happened a good two decades ago.

      The fact that people speak about it like it's an obligation, though, illustrates why that aspect of the series is both a pro AND a con.

      Now, back to "This Side of Paradise": my take on the events of the episode is that Kirk was 100% correct to do what he did. It's not like they couldn't give everyone the option to re-upping on the spores, if they chose to do so. But until somebody in a position of knowledge spends some time studying the long-term effects, getting everyone out from under that influence seems like the way to go.

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    3. That's a good call on Kirk's obsessiveness, actually; it's certainly supported by "The Naked Time," if nothing else.

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    4. I hear you. I find their approach ultimately rather uninteresting, but I certainly defend (and applaud) their doing so. I just found myself tuning out after ten or eleven iterations. (I'm sure the feeling would be mutual were they to tune in here. Plenty of room in the galaxy for both, and many more, of course.)

      That's an interesting rationale for Kirk/ Starfleet's decision. Couldn't they study the influence / effects from orbit, tho, while not disrupting the colony? I ask not because I'm convinced Kirk/ Starfleet is in the wrong - I'm not convinced either way, and my ambivalence is a big part of what I dig, here.

      Of course, the episode is under no obligation to explore every option. By doing it the way they did, they leave us the considerable pleasure of asking the follow-up questions. The best Treks always do!

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    5. Well, they certainly COULD study it from orbit, but I would think getting everyone off the crack pipe first would be the best course of action. Consider: the entire crew of the starship Enterprise (save its sad-bastard of a captain, who primarily loves his ship and its mission above all else) has abandoned their duties more or less at a moment's notice. Now, we have to assume that each and every one of them is aboard the ship in the first place because they have elected to live a life of exploration, duty, and such.

      Based on that assumption, the next logical assumption would be to assume that if the crew has abandoned that series of pursuits -- which they presumably made willingly, and with full knowledge that it would be their life's work -- so quickly, it must mean that their personalities are being acted upon in such a manner as to change their personalities to a degree that they themselves would not willingly have done if presented with the option beforehand.

      Now, if we assume that the Enterprise crew was acted upon in that manner, I think it's also logical to assume that the colonists were, as well. So to me, if I were Kirk, it make sense to detox them all, send word for a Federation science vessel to come conduct an extensive longterm study, and then allow the colonists to do whatever they wish from that point forward. What's crucial is that the colonists be given a choice; if they choose -- as a group or individually -- to live their lives that way, then I'd say they are free to do so. Provided they don't use the spores to infect anyone else against their will, of course.

      And this has been Bryant Is Tiresome, starring Bryant.

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    6. haha - no, not tiresome at all. At least to me. Yeah, I hear you. The crew's defection is a different story than the colonists to me. I mean, the colonists are presumably free to do what they please; so they've made a compromising alliance with the planet natives. Is there any real harm? Their main threat (as articulated by Kirk) is that their pacifists and vegetarians. This seems to be very threatening.

      What are the spores, ultimately, to you? Ideology? A drug metaphor? Just alien parasites? I've been watching this ep for nigh on 40 years and still can't answer that for myself. Depends on the time of day, really.

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    7. They're all of those things, aren't they? As you pointed out, it's the flexibility of the metaphor -- if you even want to call it a metaphor -- that gives the episode its strength. It's both an anti-drug/hippie and a pro-drug/hippie message at the same time (substitute "drug/hippie" for ideology, or philosophy, or any number of other things, as you wish); and at the same time as that, it's not a message at all, it's a quasi-horror adventure story. And at the same time as THAT, it's none of those things; it's a character piece about Kirk and Spock (and, arguably, about Kirk/Spock).

      Etc.

      In other words, I would say that the firm answer is that there IS no firm answer.

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    8. I like the title even more, along these lines.

      I agree all around. Let's break out some of your drinking stuff... and celebrate the Syndicate.

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  3. The plant in front of the nav console that sprays Kirk stands up on its own. That means it sensed a target in proximity and then acted to engage that target. When I was a kid that made me believe the plants were sentient, and, since they were "taking over" our heroes, they were obviously evil. I can buy a variation on the Venus fly trap as far as sensing a target goes, but how does this thing move? None of the other plants seems able to do this.

    This same thing happens in "The Naked Time." I don't know if it was an unfortunate camera angle or what, but the "water" droplet that falls onto Tormolen's hand falls UP. That made me believe this disease was sentient, too. The great thing is, I bought it all as legitimate. Our heroes were in space, on other planets, and it made sense that things like this could exist. I think I gave the show's creators a little too much credit.

    Glad you mentioned the holodeck shot from "Relics." That's always bothered me. Since the holodeck strives for realism, shouldn't Scotty have entered the bridge through the turbolift instead of to the right (looking forward) of the main viewer? Alas, no shots exist of the empty bridge from the turbolift. Oh well.

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    1. When I got to the point with my Trek fandom where I started reading the behind-the-scenes production stuff and learned they chose to splice together different scraps of film or run things backwards rather than spend money/time on re-shoots, it explained a lot of shots or sequences to me. Growing up, tho, I never thought about that stuff, but I definitely appreciated the dreamlike, otherwordly effect such things had. Goes to show, as you say, how mistakes or production-shortcuts can be internalized by the viewer in ways they were never intended.

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  4. Hey, how about this: the Federation could use this as a hospital and rejuvenation planet. Beam people down until their ailments are cured, organs replaced, etc., then beam them back up and piss them off.

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    1. I meant to bring that up! Yeah, hopefully they keep it at the ready like Spock kept Talos IV. Could come in handy.

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    2. I'm also intrigued by a planet inhabited solely by plants. Just the idea fascinates me. One of the Terran Trade Authority books mentioned such a planet, and it always piqued my interest. I'm not even thinking of sentient or ambulatory plants. Just an entire planet, bursting with life, but all of it plants. Silent but for the soughing of the wind through branches and leaves.

      I think I never thought about it in relation to this episode because there is a colony of humans there, and the plot is focused upon them.

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