Captain's Blog pt. 90: The Changeling

September 29, 1967
I more or less had an out of body experience while revisiting this one and time-traveled to my parents house in Darmstadt/ Dieburg in the 1980s. For a few astral moments, anyway, I was seeing the show through the eyes of my childhood with virtually no refraction. (Except for my computer screen.) It was the Nomad Cam that did it, I think, but it's unsuccessfully conveyed via screencaps.

Not this one, which is fantastic, but the ones where Nomad moves through security personnel and a series of doors. ("I must re-evaluate.")
This led to the kind of full-circle/ breakthrough understanding I'd hoped would happen internally from doing this project. Do not approach the constellations in your private galaxies sans caution, friends and neighbors. Survival must cancel out programming.  

Wait, wrong episode. Anyway. Enough epiphany talk. Let's roll.
Title (1.5) It's a very odd reference for Kirk to make at the point in the story when he does. And doesn't really fit. The story of "the other" as Spock describes it has no real parallel with the "ancient Earth fairy tale" of the changeling.

Definitely one of Kirk's "But what of Lazarus..." or "Couldn't we have gathered a few laurel leaves" asides. It probably kills the human half of Spock to not say "Why do you insist on such imprecise literary allusions, Captain?" during such moments. This is that rarity in TOS titles: one better associated with a superior work, the 1980 movie of the same time.

Okay, okay, arguably superior. It does have Kor in it, though:

Great movie. Underrated.
This is another one where I'll let the script and imagery of the episode drive the bus. I'll give you most of the scores up front and then do a wrap-up at the end. All most other text from the script itself. (With considerable help from Iron Maiden.)

Cue up your favorite Trektober thunder and ambiance
and away we go.
Script (6)
Visual Design (2)
Kirk and the Gang (30)
Memorability (3)

No-mad! Some may say that you've killed a hundred men! Others say that you've died and live again!
"It wandered without purpose. And then it met The Other."
"Non sequitur. Your facts are uncoordinated." Now that we've witnessed the social media age, I think we can all sympathize with Nomad's position, here.
"Wasn't there a probe called Nomad launched in the early 2000s?"
Jackson Roykirk. (Mark Daniels) The "brilliant but erratic" Creator.
"It would seem that Nomad is seeking out perfect life forms, perfection being measured by its own relentless logic."
"It's... space-happy."
No-mad! Undercover of the veil of your disguise! The men who fear you are the ones that you despise!
Beyond the stars... beyond Antares... where my hea-ar-t i-i-is...
Scotty has a predilection for charging at things that hurl lightning bolts, doesn't he? Keep away from her, ya mechanical beastie!
Good stunt double work, here.
"I am... Tan Ru..."
Yet another intriguing episode-that-never-was for Enterprise involved Captain Archer and the gang meeting Tan Ru him/itself. They did revisit the Malurians in "Civilization," though.
"Sterilize... sterilize..."
Kirk's bellowing here ("NOMAD! You're in CONTACT with the unit SPOCK. Stop. STOP!") is probably top 5 Kirk bellowing in all of TOS. (Outdone a tad by "There's no serum!" and the whole "I'll have you all executed! I can get that for youuuuu" ranting in "Mirror Mirror." Not to mention "The Enemy Within," of course, the Kirk Bellowing heavyweight champ.)
No-mad! No man's ever understood your gen-i-ii-us...!    

"It took from the Other a new directive to replace its own."
"Execute your prime function!" (also known as "Fulfill the Prime Directive!" or "How will you pay for your acts of murder?" or The Liar's Paradox.)
On one hand, it's totally hilarious that Kirk stops things, here, to get in one last dig at Nomad before beaming him into "deep space." But on the other, it makes sense - got to make sure he's irreversibly on the path to self-sterilization. (Through embarrassment.) Kirk's laughing at the superior intellect, again. DAMN YOU!
"A dazzling display of logic."
"Didn't think I had it in me, did you, Spock?"
"No, sir." Nimoy's delivery of this is perfect. Bemused, genuinely admiring, matter-of-fact, innocent.
"Didn't this whole story take place against the backdrop of four billion dead Malurians?"
"Don't spoil our end-of-the-episode-joking-around, Dr. Buzzcrush."
Annnnd scene.

Internal Logistics (1.5) Just a couple little things:

- Phil Farrand moment: During Nomad's initial attack, Scotty diverts warp power to the shields. Something that everyone seemed really impressed by, a century later, when Lt. Enhanced Broccoli did it in TNG's "The Nth Degree."   

- The ship gets hit with the equivalent of 90 photon torpedoes but the shields only go down 20% ? I can buy it, but it's problematic for a lot of other episodes. Then again, hey, armaments improve, shields fluctuate, yadda yadda.

- I realize that people dying and coming back to life, going in and out of comas, getting amnesia, and getting crippled and then un-crippled are time-honored television traditions, but Uhura's mind-wipe and subsequent recovery is a bit fast-paced, isn't it? From basic English to college level and warp-speed in, what, a matter of hours? Chalk it up to McCoy's magic spray bottles, I bet.

Or the Nurse Chapel School of Hooked On Phonics
So so much awkward.
Memorability (3) I saw The Motion Picture (also known in some circles as Where Nomad Has Gone Before) before I ever saw this episode, so it really had an effect on me to see the progenitor of the whole thing. (Ditto for "Space Seed.") Parallel to my discovering the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four tales of the 1960s when they were reprinted alongside the 1980s incarnations I was reading. 

(Or my first glimpse of the old X-Men uniforms in Captain America #264, which confused but fascinated me until I started piecing together Marvel history. I digress, but hey, that's what I'm here for.)

Guest (3)

Vic Perrin again. Mr. The Outer Limits. Speaking of, the last episode of that show was "The Probe." Worth looking up. That show casts an awfully long shadow.

Theme (8) Last Saturday we looked at "Wolf in the Fold," a story where Spock describes women as more urgently terrified than men and thus more of a feast for a creature that consumes terror for sustenance. Some small debate arose in the comments over whether that episode was misogynist for having this line (among the story's other sexist attributes.) 

I bring it up here as Spock gets another line in this one after Uhura's mind-wipe that is imbued with similarly sexist ideas of men and women. (And my answer for whether or not that makes this story misogynist is the same.) But let's take a different route here and consider the idea that Nomad represents a sort of masculine confusion altogether.

"That unit is defective. Its thinking is chaotic. Absorbing it unsettled me."
"That unit is a woman." (says Spock.)
"A mass of conflicting impulses."
Nomad's comment is probably just a reflection of the sexist assumptions of the era in which the Genes and contemporaneous audiences operated. Likewise, Spock's probably isn't correcting Nomad on his perception of Uhura as a "unit" by asserting her identity as a woman (i.e. a human, sentient being;) he's saying "Of course it's chaotic in there, Nomad; those are lady brains." But depending on how you interpret The Other (i.e. Tan Ru) and the Freudian underpinnings of Nomad's mission, it offers a completely different read on the whole episode. (This route, too, makes better sense of the title.)

Interestingly, Jezebel, the poster-site for neo-feminism, recently had a review of something that was linked to in my news feed, and I thought of this episode, as almost the same wording was used to describe the female mind, this time celebrated as misunderstood counterpart to "rigid masculine thinking." Can the case not be made that the entire concept of Nomad is some kind of comment along these lines? A phallic (i.e. rigid, masculine, single-minded) object floating through space, gobsmacked by "merging with The Other," and now on a mission to sterilize all? Contact with Spock's mind didn't do anything - to Nomad, anyway - but contact with Uhura's is unsettling and results in blanking her mind. (Could also be seen as giving Uhura a violation she must then totally repress.)

And what is Nomad's reaction to hearing the feminine trill of Uhura's singing?

The script would have us believe it's extending an antenna to better "hear" Uhura. (A reason that makes little sense; Nomad would not be using an antenna like this to pick up sound.) But the Genes were not exactly shy about (nor even in full control of) double entendre, either, God bless 'em. 
It reminds me a little of the giallo set-up, where the protagonist is driven to violent impulses due to earlier confused encounters with women. (Unlike your standard giallo, though, there's no nude scenes with Edwige Fenech, Suzy Kendall, or Barbara Bouchet.)

Of course, if the above is the case and Nomad is a metaphor of blundering male confusion and the violently malfunctioning logic of patriarchy, the ending kind of undermines the message. Uhura may be back to college level and poised to resume her duties, (with Spock similarly recovered from his own "merging") but Kirk uses the machine's own logic against it rather than a new, more feminine kind of logic/ consciousness, which is what said subtext would require to wrap the idea up in a nice little bow. As it plays, it would be like saying "Patriarchy is fine, just you have to do it the right way. Nomad destroyed; status quo resumed."

But since it's probably not what's going on, hey, who cares.

In my opinion, the most likely scenario is that this is a story of an ancient probe that's gone-native out there in the wilds of space, necessitating Captain Kirk to talk it to death, and the women-be-crazy stuff, as interesting-as-it-may-be to read along the lines of the above, is probably, unfortunately, just par for the 1967 prime time course.

Nomad is dead; long live Nomad.

Total Points Awarded: 55


  1. Speaking of "The Changeling," I'd never seen it until a few years ago around Halloween. This is the George C. Scott one, ya ken. I thought it was pretty good. I'd like to watch it again at some point in the not too distant future.

    As for the Trek version...

    It has been temporarily washed out of my mind by virtue of that Iron Maiden song. I'm not very knowledgeable on the Maiden, amazingly. I say "amazingly" because I was a big metal fan in the late '80s/early '90s, so you'd think I'd be a Maiden fan by default. But for whatever reason, they were one of those bands I just never listened to. I'd never heard even "Number of the Beast" -- which might be one of the best songs of the entire decade -- until 2008 or so! (As for "Nomad," it mainly makes me think of "This Is Spinal Tap.")

    Alright, now that I'm done with that sidebar...

    Has there been a spinoff novel or comic about Jackson Roykirk? Memory Alpha indicates that he is mentioned in one novel, but that's about it. Seems a shame. It also seems like an excellent name for a beloved pet dog.

    This really IS one of the very smuggest of all the smug-Kirk episodes. But he spends much of the episode more or less being called God by a robot, so can you really blame him? Nah; of course you can't.

    I had no idea that "Enterprise" episode took place on the planet mentioned here as the victim of some Nomad-rific genocide. That's an excellent use of "Enterprise," right there.

    I find the gender politics difficult to reconcile as anything but an example of poor thinking on the part of the show's main creative shepherds. Does that mean Roddenberry and/or Coon? Does it mean the network? The studio? A combination of all of the above?

    I don't know. But it's there; it's in the show, on occasion, and it's a shame. But it's an accurate depiction of the times, I guess. I don't find it to be particularly defensible. But, at the same time, I don't find it to be so uncharacteristic that I can't still get enjoyment out of the episode. And I like this episode a lot. Probably that's because of the thematic similarities with "The Motion Picture," but if so, I'm okay with that.

  2. Maiden is one of those things that I wager one has to be exposed to during a certain, brief window of childhood or adolescence. Hard (if not impossible) to catch Maiden Fever once that window closes.

    As for me, they were my favorite band for much of the 80s. When the album that contains "Nomad" came out (which is not about The Changeling, by the by; that was just a late-innings-over-caffeinated improvisation on my part and I enjoyed getting carried away with it) in 2000, my co-workers took me to the concert as a birthday present. Even though I'd begun to appreciate metal more ironically than sincerely by that point, it was one of the top 3 concerts of my lifetime. (It was also fun to tell people afterwards, "Wow, they played The Clansman and blew up a giant cross on stage" and watch their eyes bug out. "Hey, whoah! Don't get the wrong idea, now...")

    But yeah, Number of the Beast: a classic.

    The attitudes of eras in the past are rarely defensible, I agree. The same will be said of our own era and media and the ones to come.

    How I wish Alan Moore would write a better version of some of these "what if" takes on these things. If he could harness the gender complexities of my alternate-readings of "Metamorphosis," "Man Trap," "Changeling" and some others, we'd undoubtedly get a slice of Trek fiction that explodes the sexism into the proverbial bonfire of human vanities.