Captain's Blog pt. 74: The Apple

October 13, 1967.
Allow me to bitch about this one more time. See the color of the planet? See the episode title? Here's the re-mastered screencap:

I know what you're thinking. But Bryan, couldn't it have been a Golden Apple? Or a green one? Sure. Or maybe you're thinking Well, they added red, golden, and green hues to the planet; isn't that good enough? Maybe. But why second-guess the original designers' decisions? Should we add a USS Braeburns to the script, as well?

I doubt it was intentional, but this "our way's better" approach to the original design is an interesting reflection of the thematic concerns of this episode, is it not?

Title: (2.25) I guess it depends on how you answer the question What exactly is the Apple here? Which is a natural enough segue to:

Script / Theme: (7 / 7.5) This story originally came to life in "Machines are Better," a premise written by A.E. Van Vogt, a considerable voice of 20th century sci-fi. The premise was either sold to or expanded by Max Ehrlich, with further revisions from the Genes.

Like "This Side of Paradise," "Archons," Private Little War," or a few others, this is a story that on the surface of it seems to tell us Starfleet is up to some business at odds with the Federation's principles. As per usual, though, it's a mistake to stop there. Zack Handlen writes in his overview of the episode "Kirk's biggest crime is trying to free a society without worrying what happens once they're free, which is a way too excellent metaphor for American foreign policy for me to be comfortable with." I'm not sure if he means the episode is advocating a policy too close to American foreign policy (which is both true and false, it seems to me) or if it just raises to the fore too many unpleasant associations and he's scared off it.

Either way is bully for him, of course, but must we assume this is the case? i.e. Kirk's speeches propaganda for a worldview that Star Trek has been hijacked to deliver? Handlen's not alone in going with the latter. Of the five re-watches I read, the idea that this could be the sort of macro/micro invitation to question 1960s-American-society's fundamental assumptions re: "the other," (i.e., you know, Star Trek's mission statement) is not even considered, even if only to dismiss it. This really surprises me.

Then again, it's such blind spots that motivated me to do this series. So to that end, they're very motivational.
It's one thing to suggest such a thing is done badly, but is is it even controversial to suggest this exact sort of thing just might have been on people's minds in 1967?

(ahem) Gulf of Tonkin (ahem)
I am very much of the opinion that it's a disservice to the source material to treat it like the redheaded stepchild of oh-we've-come-so-far 21st century theory and criticism. I've banged on about this a lot in previous posts so I'll leave it there. Moving on.

Show of hands - anyone out there ever read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? If not, here are the cliffs notes. I liked it back in the day, haven't read it this century, though. It was made into a terrible movie with Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding, Jr. called Instinct. The only material to survive the transition from book to screen is in the brief scene in Anthony Hopkins' cell where he mumbles incomprehensibly about "Takers."

The book suggests that the fundamental conflict of civilization has been between Taker Culture (represented by those who practice "totalitarian agriculture") and Leaver Culture (represented by foraging tribalists, those who don't lock up their food/ wage holy war on any who challenge this approach.) This came to mind during this last re-watch of "The Apple," as a central plank of Quinn's argument is that the Garden of Eden story is actually a record of the Leaver's interpretation of being wiped out by the Takers. The story only makes sense, he argues, as an appropriated lament from an exterminated culture.

"Abel's extinction metaphorically represents the nomadic Semites' defeat in their conflict with agriculturalists. The Semites became isolated from other herding cultures and illustrated their plight through oral history, which was later adopted into the Hebrew book of Genesis." (from here)

That's a crude summary of a much more interesting and footnoted examination that Quinn expands upon in at least two other books (The Story of B and My Ishmael.) Obviously, all of these books came out decades after "The Apple," and I don't suggest any of them are the secret decoder ring for this story. (Nor am I advocating anything - I came here to BS, not lecture.) But I do suggest that when we hear exchanges like the following -

SPOCK: Doctor, you insist on applying human standards to non-human cultures. I remind you that humans are only a tiny minority in this galaxy.
BONES: There are certain absolutes, Mister Spock, and one of them is the right of humanoids to a free and unchained environment, the right to have conditions which permit growth.
SPOCK: Another is their right to choose a system which seems to work for them.
BONES: (agitated) There's been no progress here in at least ten thousand years! This isn't life. It's stagnation.
KIRK: (later, to the bewigged dummies who keep feeding Vaal) You'll learn something about men and women, the way they're supposed to be.

- we're not receiving instruction on the proper way to act, but eavesdropping on how "Taker Culture," for lack of a better term, justifies its actions. We have absolutely no need to accept or agree (or reject or disdain) with any of it, merely to reflect on the totality of events, both above and below the surface.

It's not entirely successful in this regard. I like the script for the most part, (the bit where Spock and Chekov pretend to yell at each other never fails to crack me up) but I'd have liked to see them focus a bit more.

Other problems:

- Certain logistical aspects of the Feeders of Vaal make little sense when you really start asking questions. (Probably should save this for Interior Logistics, but I don't feel like making a list of them all. Suffice it to say, like the Baku or other Trek examples, we're asked to accept that they're a metaphor and not ask any questions. It's not the end of the world. For us, anyway.)

-Some of the dialogue is a bit out of place ("What did somebody say? That... paradise must've looked like this...?" Another Oh God, Bones, smack this guy moment. )

You know: why is it always Bones Kirk says these things to? Have you noticed that?
- The strokes are broad enough and/or inverted so haphazardly that it's tough to reconcile all of the contradictory messages. Just one example: the Genesis allusions. (Gen-e-sis?!) Here, it is the snake which must be overthrown, and Kirk et al. who are the light-bringers/ liberators) or this Kirk-on-the-mount summation before departure:

Staging intentional.
- While I'm here, why "Robo-Snake Space God" hasn't been made into a dozen knock-offs by some Asylym Studios outfit is beyond me.

- Kirk's lines to Spock about machines (his pronouncement of the Feeders of Vaal as stagnant as they exist in service to a machine, etc.) seem left over from the original Vogt treatment. Then again, perhaps they're there because of the Trojan Horse approach: covering fire so that they could explore more controversial subtext elsewhere

- Ditto for the bit about "Does anyone on board look like the devil?" Probably just an appeal to viewers who were at least perceived to need the story to be grounded in the Bible. ("Apple" is certainly not alone here.) But it undermines the important questions being asked elsewhere.

So, getting back to my original question. What exactly is the Apple? Who's offering it? Who's taken a bite? Is it what Starfleet is offering? Or is this an inverted p.o.v. of the Keepers of Vaal and what happened to them once absorbed into the more "enlightened" world of the Federation? In the words of Torie Atkinson from her re-watch at Tor: "Are men always trapped by forces greater than themselves, whether man-made or divine? Or is it simply a reminder that choices have consequences, and that the desire to wander in paradise inevitably leads to tragic consequences?"

Considering where our culture has wandered (and continues to wander) maybe we should be asking more questions like this.

Maybe now more than ever.
Visual Design: (2) That was a lot of words. Here are some pictures.


The feeders of Vaal bring to mind certain aspects of South Pacific societies before European contact. Though as with the serpent in the garden of Eden business, somewhat inverted: it is the noble savages whose sexuality is loosened by contact with the outworlders, not the other way around.


That's David Soul up there, by the way, aka

 Ben Mears from Salem's Lot.
Interior Logistics: (1.25) If you're looking for a story that comprehensively explores alien societies and the inviobaility of the Prime Directive, look elsewhere. Compared to something like "A Taste of Armageddon," the conceit ultimately crushes the narrative under its weight.

We also get a different take on the Super Spock Syndrome.

Instead of expanding his mind-meld powers to accommodate the script, here we have him surviving poisonous plants, lightning bolts, and exploding rocks with nary a scratch. Speaking of explosions:
I'm unsure why snapping the rock in half is harmless, but tossing it to the ground causes it to explode.

Kirk and the Gang: (15)


Guest: (2)

Check out her webpage here.
Apparently, she and Koenig didn't have the warmest chemistry during the filming of this episode, which made their lovey-dovey-ness a chore for both actors. (Three guesses for whom it was probably a more difficult chore.)


And Keith Andes plays Akuta:

Memorability: (4) This episode has achieved some notoriety for its excessive Redshirt deaths.


Its IDW reboot "The Redshirt's Tale" re-tells the story from the point of view of Hendorff (aka "Cupcake" from the 2009 movie) and is pretty entertaining; check it out.

Parting Thought

About a week before this episode aired, Moorea Airport opened on the island of Tahiti, linking the island to round-the-clock contact with airfields far and wide. This was the final step in a process begun neatly two hundred years previous by the first European visitors to the now-not-so-isolated island paradise.

The man most associated with that process (rightly or wrongly) is Captain Cook, whom you'll recall was one of Roddenberry's inspirations for Captain Kirk/ the TOS set-up.

Let's close with this quote from Captain Cook's surgeon, William Anderson, about the introduction of diseases, both bacterial and ideological, to the Polynesian peoples:

The injury these people receiv'd from us by communicating this certain destroyer of mankind is not to be repair'd by any method whatever... The man who has rob'd, murder'd and been guilty of all the Catalogue of human crimes is innocent when compar'd to the one who did such a thing knowingly.


Or from the man himself:

"The natives may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon earth; but in reality they are far happier than we Europeans, being wholly unacquainted not only with the superfluous, but with the necessary conveniences so much sought after in Europe; they are happy in not knowing the use of them." 

Cook wasn't speaking of Tahitians specifically, and neither was Anderson, but it's worth noting in reflection of "The Apple" the conclusions to which these two men came regarding the cultural contamination imposed on them by discharge of duty.

 Total Points Awarded: 41


  1. There is clearly a lot going on beneath the surface of this episode, but at the same time it is perfectly possible to watch it strictly as a piece of entertainment. As such, that sort of makes it vintage Trek, I'd say.

    I don't entirely know how to read the episode, personally. Which is not a mark against it; it's probably a virtue.

    I had no idea that David Soul was one of those wigged freaks. That's awesome!

  2. My beef is only with the half-read approach exemplified by the Tor, AV Club, or Trek Navigator re-watches. They seem to take it as an unassailable given that everything out of Kirk's mouth is the writers/ the Genes telling us how to think. I don't think so at all. I agree that a) there are many different ways of reading it, including that one, and that b) it's fun just as tip of the iceberg watch, as well. (Lots of fun, I say.)

    I've objected often to the missionary vs. anthropologist/ archaeologist p.o.v., and I feel the aforementioned re-watches are too often missionary in nature. They assume they deal with a primitive culture and thus feel justified in knocking it over to prove their more enlightened point and don't mind condescending to the material to do so. (i.e. Zack's point about American foreign policy; what the eff does he THINK is being critiqued? Does he think it's being validated? So arrogant.) I just don't dig that approach at all. That's not to say I've got the inside track by any means; I definitely do not.

    Not sure if that makes sense, but there it is.

    1. Not to spin a broken record, but to my last sentence, above, no, I don't think I did make sense. At least not the kind of sense I meant to make. Let me try again and be much quicker: the re-watches mentioned are all fine, with highs and lows, and I'm characterizing them more harshly than I should. I also could probably stand to read them all more closely before I start summarizing their approach and then calling anyone arrogant. Or calling anyone anything. I mean, if there wasn't plenty of room in the pool, how could I even be here? Shut up and play your guitar, McMolo.

      Ah, but it's Trek. The Ring of Sauron for online hyperbole.

      If Trek were a running man in the night, it would cut four thousand throats.

  3. There's a recent picture of Celeste Yarnall on her imdb.com page. She's gotta be the most attractive 69-year old I've ever seen. Another feather in the cap for the Women of Trek!