Captain's Blog pt. 55: Whom Gods Destroy

The title (1.75 out of 3 pts) is another of Trek's classical allusions: 

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad."

Nice reference and all, but only if you assume "Lunatic Isle of the Space-Damned!" was already taken.

Internal Logistics: .5 out of 3 pts. Let's get this one out of the way up-front. 

The whole premise rests on the idea that Elba II houses this handful of "incorrigibly insane" people left in the galaxy. Presumably, a distinction has been drawn between those with mental illness (as seen numerous times throughout TOS) and the criminally insane. But it still stretches credibility pretty thin. 

It's the 1960s and all, so I don't expect Hellbound or Shutter Island, but as with Dagger of the Mind, the premises are much more 20th century than 23rd.

At least this one has the decidedly science-fantasy element of Garth's "cellular manipulation technique," which allows him to shape-shift.

I'm not sure how one learns how to shape-shift through study (as it's mentioned here.) But he's Garth "of Izar," so maybe his alien chemistry is more adaptable. (Izar was later decided to be a human colony, which obliterates this reasoning, but contemporaneously, it works.) It's worth asking, though, how he (or Odo or many other examples) can turn organic matter into working machines like phasers, etc. During one of his transformations, a phaser materializes at his side that wasn't there. Was it part of the clothes? 

If (as we've seen on Trek elsewhere) shape-shifters can also convert inorganic matter, can they transform into warp cores? Where exactly does it end?

I'm not saying it's a dealbreaker. Just one of those Trek things that when you really start thinking about raises a lot of interesting questions. 

Characterwise, Nimoy found Spock so poorly written in this episode that he again went over Fred Freiberger's head and complained to Doug Cramer, Paramount's VP of Production. His objection was primarily to a scene where Spock is knocked unconscious by Garth (Lord Garth!) but also re: the scene where Spock can't deduce which of the two Kirks he sees is the real one.

Both objections are (of course) quite logical. As a result, they dropped the former and came up with a rather lame excuse for the latter. (Spock lets himself be hit on the head and just waits until the Captain and Garth knock each other around for awhile.)

Kirk tells Spock that he doesn't think King Solomon would approve of his method. They should have asked him when they met him a couple episodes later. ("Requiem for Methuselah.")

There's more but why belabor the point? 

Kirk and the Gang: Of course, if it's Shatnerian hi-jinks you're looking for, look no further. Few episodes showcase them better than here. (15 out of 10 pts, and 13 of those are just for the following:)

It really is remarkable how long this sequence lasts.

Whenever people tell me they hate this episode, I always ask if they left the room or something during this part. I mean, look at this, for eff's sake. A perfect example of how a few moments of Shatner's madness can transform lead into hammy sweet glorious gold. 

And it's preceded by another must-have moment, which alas doesn't screencap well.

When Garth/Kirk is first thwarted in his scheme to board the Enterprise, he ends his conversation with Scotty with a stilted "Just testing... be in touch with you later." It is wonderfully awkward, and I crack up every time. That's an insane batting average, considering how many times I've seen this. Keep an ear out for it.

 Shatner wasn't done yet, though.

Nimoy's objections sustained, he still delivers a fun performance and has many great lines and reactions throughout. (His "As you wish" to Garth's insistence that he be addressed as "Lord Garth" is one of my go-to Spock moments.) I almost wish Nimoy shrugged his way through more episodes, as it's fun to watch him bring such "whatever"ness to Spock.

As for everyone else:

this about sums it up

Script and Story and Such: (6 / 3 of 10/10) On the one hand, the script is actually pretty good. Lots of great lines - I'm partial to the "the Federation would have us grub away like some ants on some... somewhat larger than usual anthill!" line, as well as the many references to Garth (Lord Garth!)'s being Master of the Universe.

The dinner scene has some fun bits:

How the insane throw a party.

Sure it resembles "Dagger of the Mind" a bit too much in spots,

but the story hums along well enough, and everyone has fairly interesting things to say throughout. It could have used a polish or two and have been better integrated into the Trekverse, but on the whole it's still entirely watchable almost 50 years later.

I'm more ambivalent on the theme. In addition to biting off more than it can chew with the whole "handful of insane left in the galaxy" business, it doesn't fully exploit its own potential. If it had, this could really have been Verhoeven-level meta-commentary on American society and values, perceptions of insanity, methods of dealing with the insane, Dianetics, etc. (And given the history of Kirkbride institutions - the name is just a fun coincidence - and changing attitudes towards them in the 1960s, such an approach would have been especially timely.) Ah well. A missed opportunity.

Visual Design: (2 of 3 pts.) The set is serviceable enough.

The costume design and make-up are given the most attention.

It's kind of a mix-and-match from all previous episodes.
(Lord!) Garth does his little turn on the catwalk. Yeah, on the catwalk. (If these words mean nothing to you, congratulations, you are probably no more than 25 years old. Enjoy it.)

Which brings us to the Guest category. (4.5 of 3 pts.)

His line delivery is impeccable. Steve Ihnat (who died of a freak heart attack at age 37 at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972) really goes for the jugular in a lot of scenes. Whether screaming "REMOOOOOOOOVE THIS ANIMAL-L-L!" at Spock or exasperatedly telling Kirk that he's blind, "truly BLIND!" or alternating between amusement and fury at Marta:


he sells the crazy well. And it's contrasted nicely by the end, where he's dazed and somewhat bashful.

Marta is played by Yvonne Craig
R.I.P. 2015. Very sad news.

She trained as a dancer, so the natural thing to do was to slather green make-up all over her and write in a big dance number.

She had previously been considered for Vina in "The Cage," so I guess things came full circle.

In addition to this, though, she has a lot of fun with the part. When challenged on passing off a poem of Shakespeare's as her own work, her response ("(that) does not alter the fact that I wrote it again yesterday!") is great. All of her back and forth with Garth (Lord Garth!) is great, actually. As is her seduction/ attempted stabbing of Kirk.

(Incidentally, if you enlarge that pic on the right, you can see some of Marta's bodypaint rubbed on Kirk's knuckles.)

And Keye Luke plays Dr. Cory.

"You do with mogwai what your society has done with all of nature's gifts. You do not understand."

Memorability: 3 of 5 pts. I'm considering jettisoning this category altogether, but until I do, I'll keep pretending I apply rigorous scientific standards to determine how many points to award.

Total Points Awarded: 35.75


  1. This is a decent episode. Not great but very watchable. Like you, I love Spock's reaction to Garth's insistence that he be addressed as "Lord". That made an impression on me when I first saw this episode and I think it was that moment that defined Vulcans for me. "Lord. Sure. Whatever." Great!

    Garth would have to be insane to blow up Yvonne Craig. Even in green make-up she was HOT!

    I think Key Luke did a lot of voiceover work in the 70s. I'm too lazy to go to imdb but his voice always seemed to pop up on Saturday morning cartoons. And he was the voice of Zoltar on "Battle of the Planets."

    Now do a blog about "The Doomsday Machine"!

    1. I get a kick out of your persistence, but I'm still not planning to cover "The Doomsday Machine," as it's not one of my 50 desert-island Treks. 50-ish, I should say. Which is not to say I dislike it or don't think it's a very well-done episode. I'm also not planning to cover "Trouble with Tribbles" or "Where No Man Has Gone Before," for example - both fine episodes and important to the Trek mythos. But there are 50-ish I'd grab over them, too.

      I laid out my approach and reasoning in CB pt. 46 or somewhere thereabouts. I don't want to blog all 79 eps. (Unless someone sees this and says "Not only can he crank these things out 4 times a week, he's got an exceptional eye for detail and fine facility with subtext; let's hire him.") But ending with 50-ish as it's nice way to round out the Captain's Blog series.

  2. I know Keye Luke from countless late-Friday-night creature feature TV shows, where his turn as Charlie Chan's "Number One Son" is, for me, his definitive role. And, of course, in Kung Fu he was the blind Shao-Lin master who referred to Cain as "Grasshopper" as he dared him to snatch a pebble from his hand.

    This episode I found to be lackluster. I usually find fictional TV and movie portrayals of insanity to be rather silly and mundane. There are exceptions, of course, such as Val Lewton's Bedlam. Here, though, the "insane party" reminds me more of the debauchery of Who Mourns for Adonais? than actual psychosis.

    The episode has its moments, but not enough of them, and those aren't memorable enough to overturn my lack of interest in much of the rest of the episode.

    1. I'd get a real thrill out of watching you get mad in my desert island scenario about what eps I chose to bring along. Those 15-20 seconds of Shatner's flipping out make this entire episode one I could never leave behind. That's the going rate of exchange.

    2. I'd just bring my top 29 episodes you didn't cover.

    3. Then we'd have all bases covered. One happy desert island. (It'd be like one of those Far Side cartoons.)

  3. Remember when everyone thought Benedict Cumberbatch might be playing Garth of Izar for a hot minute or two? I still think that would've been sorta cool.

    The shape-shifting thing really is pretty weird. I pretend he's a Face Dancer who has somehow gotten chucked out of the "Dune" universe into the "Star Trek" universe. (Not really, but I might start...)

    The way I'd explain it in a movie version if I were writing one is to suggest that Garth isn't actually shifting shape, but pulling a Charles Xavier-style bit of mind-control on those around him. So, he's not holding a phaser; he just makes you THINK he's holding a phaser, and you believe it so powerfully that if he "shoots" you with it, you might just disintegrate. Or something like that.

    1. Works for me.

      How about Odo, though?

    2. Well, my memory of DS9 is too imperfect to speak to that series' rules, so let's talk about shapeshifters in general.

      I think I can theoretically accept the idea that a shapeshifter could transform into another person, or into a phaser, or (indeed) into a warp core. The trick would be, whether the shapeshifter possesses sufficient mass and energy to do so, and also whether there is sufficient mass and energy to then actually function as the (e.g.) warp core.

      In other words, if you imagine the shapeshifter in its original form as (let's say) a big puddle of goo, then is there enough of that goo to successfully simulate the desired object at the appropriate size level. Let's say for argument's sake that the puddle of goo weighs 300 pounds and contains roughly the same amount of mass as a 300 pound man. Would it then make sense for the shapeshifter to be able to turn into a cat? Wouldn't the cat have to be the same size as a 300 pound man? Maybe not; maybe the cat could just be cat-sized, but weigh 300 pounds. I could go either way on that, but I think it's GOT to be one or the other.

      Now, let's say that the puddle of goo COULD turn itself into a warp core. I could roll with that. However, it would difficult to persuade me that the shapeshifter could then function as a working warp core. I could buy it, in theory; but you'd have to convince me that the shapeshifter had a way of knowing how to replicate the undoubtedly-intricate atomic structure of that mechanism. I would also require that the hypothetical shapeshifter be extremely limited in terms of how long it could function as a warp core. If it goes too long, it burns itself out and dies, the same way a man would die if he walked too long in the desert without water.

      How much of the applies to Odo and the Changelings, I'm not sure.

    3. I realize we're essentially trying to work out "magic" here, but I like your reasoning. I brought Odo up because in Worf's first episode on DS9, if memory serves, he does indeed shape-shift into a phaser. Whether it's simply the appearance of a phaser or not, I can't recall, but I seem to remember someone firing "him." Which immediately set off the klaxons. If enough covering fire was laid down - as you do here - I could roll with it. But sometimes, the explanation just seems to be "it's magic."

      Which is all well and good. Sci-fi and sci-fantasy have always vied for dominance in the Trekverse. I like both. But: I like to point it out and ask questions. Like Spock wandering through Golden Gate Park, it's my way.

    4. A lot of sci-fi really IS just disguised magic. Most superhero comics fit that bill, for example. "Star Wars" does, for damn sure.

      "Star Trek" veers back and forth, although it mostly seems to hew relatively close to the theoretically-possible. Occasionally, though, they just can't resist doing something just because it seems cool. They figure -- and they're probably right -- that 75% of their viewers don't give a shit about the rationale on such things.

    5. "And the truth is, the magic is real." :-)

  4. When I was a kid, I hated this episode. It didn't "move" very much.

    I still don't like it, although I don't loath it like I used to. Steve Ihnat wasted a great performance in a lousy script. I loved him as Garth. But the constant writhing and contorting Shatner did in this episode was tiresome.

    The fact that 90 percent of it took place in one room made it feel like a play rather than a television show.

    This one ranks pretty low in my ratings.

    1. Unfortunately, the realities of season 3 production necessitated a lot of scripts to have just the one room effect. Little they could do, there, so I'm forgiving. That they still managed to turn out some good eps with such limitations is admirable.

      I am shaking my head at your "constant writhing and contorting from Shatner" comment. I don't even know what to say. Except there should even have been more.

    2. I guess it's a matter of taste.

      While I don't blame Shatner, as many people do, for some of his clownish performances, I always thought that this episode ranked as one of his most clownish.

      I know Shatner can act and actually emote with great ability. I saw it in The Twilight Zone and in Thriller. He didn't need to overact so much to convey emotion. But, as I've said, I blame it more on ham-handed directing and the style of the time.

    3. I'd say less a matter of taste and more a matter of context. It's a little like saying "Evil Dead 2 / Total Recall would have been a great movie if only Bruce Campbell / Schwarzeneggar was less cartoonish." It's just part and parcel to the TOS experience.