“Who wants to counteract paradise, Jim boy?”
In March 1967, the ‘summer of love’ was just around the corner. I don’t just sit around watching tv you know, I’ve been reading the newspapers too: the hippie movement, psychedelic music, psychedelic drugs, student rebellion, prescription drugs going missing from pharmacies… So this is Star Trek getting caught up in all that, and judging from this episode I don’t think Star Trek approves.
So the Enterprise arrives in the vicinity of a very attractive bright green planet. I won’t bore you with the name, it’s unimportant. It doesn’t have a bright green atmosphere though, in fact it’s very Earth-like as we see when some of the crew beam down. The away team are there to investigate the fate of some colonists who have been presumed dead. Spock assures the captain that there is absolutely no way any of them could have survived because the planet is regularly bombarded by some kind of radiation. The crew can tolerate limited exposure but it’s dangerous for an extended stay on the planet. But guess what? The colonists are not only alive and well, but as McCoy discovers, better than well: their bodies have been restored to perfect health.
The colonists have set up this farm, and they and their leader Elias make the Enterprise team very welcome. A little too welcome perhaps as it seems they’re not keen on seeing them leave, or following them to Kirk’s ship as per Starfleet orders. Especially reluctant is a woman called Leila who apparently has some past history with Spock, if you know what I mean. To reinforce this, she gets the special hair lighting, soft focus, and the ‘woman music’. Spock is clearly a dark horse.
Talking of horses though, Sulu notices there are none, dark or otherwise, on this farm. No animals at all in fact. Nor it turns out does there appear to be enough crops to sustain these colonists. Yet it’s a perfect world, their leader insists, anything can grow here.
But there is plant-life, and that’s what drives this story. An alien flower which spits pollen spores in the faces of anyone standing too close. Leila makes her feelings towards Spock clear and the Vulcan delivers the wonderful line “Emotions are alien to me. I’m a scientist.” (the implication being that scientists have no capacity for love?! That’s hilarious!) Shortly afterwards he gets led by the doting Leila to one of these flowers and receives a face full of spores himself, and soon the stoney faced Vulcan breaks into a smile. That’s really an odd thing to see. I don’t think it had occurred to me that he never smiles until I saw him actually do it. We then get an actual human/Vulcan snog! Wow.
Spock seems to really relish his new emotional range, and ignores Kirk’s order to report to him.
It’s not long before everybody else gets a dose of what they are likening to “happiness pills”. Within minutes everybody is smiling and it’s all gone hippy trippy for the Enterprise crew. Flowers are beamed aboard the ship and Kirk soon has a mutiny on his hands as everyone deserts for a life of peace and love on the green planet. McCoy is particularly entertaining under the influence, now addressing his captain as “Jim boy.”
So if I’ve got this right there is a symbiotic relationship between the hippie flowers and the people, whereby the plants need the human hosts to survive and so placate them in order to keep them nearby. Everyone is kept happy and tranquil so no one wants to leave. So in a way this is more ‘parasite’ than ‘paradise’?
It’s very eerie seeing Kirk alone aboard the deserted Enterprise. We get to actually see him dictate his log rather than the usual voiceover. The captain of an empty ship.
What strikes me is that there is no real enemy as such in this episode. The plants are just doing what they do to survive, so it’s just nature taking its course. The only enemy is apathy and inactivity.
Kirk gets too close to one of the flowers and gets a dose of the happy spores. He’s instantly beaming and packs a suitcase to join the others on the planet. But of course, being the captain he’s stronger than that and fights the urge. He realises strong negative emotions counteract the drugged state, and comes up with a plan to get everyone back on board. Which is basically, to piss everyone off.
So he tricks Spock into beaming up and we get that “half breed” insult again (see previous episode a while ago where he called him that). To be precise: “All right, you mutinous, disloyal, computerised, half-breed, we’ll see about you deserting my ship.” Spock’s response is very funny: a raised eyebrow and some pedantry about the term “computerised”! They end up in a good old fashioned sixties fight and eventually Spock comes to his senses. Spock seems slightly disappointed that the spores have worn off. He also seems to understand that he’s going to break Leila’s heart, which suggests a level of empathy and guilt. The spores seem to have had a lasting effect on him.
It surprises me in a way that there are so many female Star Trek fans because generally women are so badly served in this series. As usual the woman’s role is to fall in love, and that’s Leila’s only purpose in this episode. It’s hard to imagine what she saw in Spock in the first place mind you, what with him being emotionally unavailable!
“You never told me if you had another name Mr Spock.”, she says at one point. Staggering to think that the girl has been romantically involved with a man she refers to only as “Mister” all this time! His response? “You couldn’t pronounce it.” Insulting.
So Spock and Kirk do a thing which transmits something and has an effect, and suddenly everyone on the planet becomes super touchy and they all start overreacting and fighting about the slightest things.
And so back to our youth/drug culture allegory. Elias sobers up like everybody else and reflects on how they’ve all been a bunch of hippy layabouts: “We’ve done nothing here. No accomplishments, no progress. Three years wasted. We wanted to make this planet a garden.” There. The idealist hippy dream shattered. Star Trek prefers hard work and ambition.
Appropriately enough it ends with poetry. Some Shatner poetry (alas no psychedelic Beatles backing track, imagine your own). Bones makes a quip about it being the second time that Man has been thrown out of paradise. Kirk replies: “No, no, Bones. This time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can’t stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.” Yeah man.
And finally, Spock leaves us with the jaw-dropping revelation that this episode marked the first time in his entire life that he was happy. That’s absolutely tragic when you consider. As they didn’t used to say in 1967, the man clearly has ‘issues’…
Don’t do drugs.