Star Trek is one of the more culturally influential TV shows ever produced. Even today, nearly fifty years on, its messages and sermons are interesting and thought provoking, even if the sixties-era TV production and sensibilities can be a struggle for viewers. I had seen a lot of the original series as a small child in syndication, but can’t say I have real memories of many of the episodes. So, here goes a “rewatch” of the entire series in order. What follows is a very brief look at the first few episodes with a summary, major struggles for this viewer, and thoughts on each:
Episode 1 “The Man Trap”
Struggle: At the beginning of the episode the creature appears to alter others’ perceptions of it, but later it comes off more like shape-shifting.
Like any show, Trek starts out a little slow. This episode is functional and fun, but not too terribly deep. There is the interesting aspect of perception. How does a man come to love a physically repulsive and fear inducing salt vampire? When it can present him with the living memory of his wife. The same nostalgia is tapped into again and again to trick people into dropping their guard. However, how is the creature benefited by not consuming the scientist for all those many years? Is it in need of companionship, or does it see a better chance of maintaining a steady salt supply through his connections?
Episode 2 “Charlie X”
Struggle: The singing.
The acting in this episode is pretty hard to watch with today’s tastes. Then again, teens in any age are a hard act to watch. Some may think this is a story about how humanity can’t handle too much power, but that will come in the next episode. Here we see a story about immaturity and how learning our limitations is a part of growing up. Not just our physical limitations, but the way the rights and needs of others in society must be a limitation for us. There is a good message here about respecting other people as people (especially women) and a need for parents and other authority figures to help guide young people in learning respect for others. It was lacking then and things are even worse today.
Episode 3 “Where No Man Has Gone Before”
Struggle: The “barrier” at the edge of the galaxy.
Here is the story about the corrupting influence of power. Some complain that these sorts of stories are predictable and unnecessarily so. They would like to see an exploration of human evolution where additional power was managed in a good way. The truth is, however, that human nature is already corrupted. We do the worst we can with the power we already have. Either that or we understand our limitations and are “good” because we have to be. Power doesn’t so much corrupt, as it simply allows for corruption to better be observed.
Episode 4 “The Naked Time”
Struggle: The time travel nonsense at the end.
Society has changed since the days of Star Trek. Today, a lot people really do follow the axiom: “If it feels right, do it.” Emotions are a terrible governing force. The highs induce irrational risk and the lows illogical surrender. Unfortunately too many people are slaves to their emotions. This is a fan favorite, in spite of the fact that there is no external threat to the crew, really. Or perhaps that is precisely why.
Episode 5 “The Enemy Within”
Struggle: That dogicorn. And, the one clear distinction between our good and evil halves? (Outside of the behavior, obviously.) The eyeliner.
This episode is fun to watch with some good acting and production values. It is far too simplistic in its ethical and moral ponderings. The fact that the “good” side of Kirk is also his “weak” side, for example. But for me it is a perfect chance to present one of my major problems with the Trek universe.
I may not fully understand the concept, but it seems like a terrible idea to me, as well as a huge philosophical quandary. Essentially, transporting seems to break an individual or object down to its quantum components and then “beam” those to another location where they are reassembled. How does someone go through that process and come out the same person? (There are stories in Trek that imply that the whole process is more akin to copying or cloning. That really causes pause.) On a spiritual level, or even a cognitive one, I don’t think I could go through the process myself.
Episode 6 “Mudd’s Women”
Struggle: The sexism. Even as it is trying to tell a story against sexism, Star Trek is a product of its time. One major problem with TOS is the way women characters are handled.
After almost an entire episode of having men rendered speechless and irrational at the sight of beautiful women, the show tries to turn a sharp corner and claim that it is a woman’s confident demeanor that is truly attractive. That is true, but it would help if the actresses you hired for the job weren’t all paragons of the day’s aesthetic. The topic of human trafficking has become an important one, and this episode isn’t really about that. If it were, or it were made today, the way the topic is handled here is far from adequate. This is really an episode about beauty, ideals, and the sexism involved.
Episode 7 “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”
Struggle: That rock Kirk grabs at the end.
At the time this episode was a bit shocking in its sexual campiness. (It still is a bit today even.) All of that hides a provoking look at identity, consciousness, and the questions surrounding what makes up the human mind—and spirit. Science fiction has long entertained the idea of immortality through technology. Interestingly, Star Trek—both then and more recently—tends to side with the more traditional position that we lose our essence if we lose our biology. It is an interesting topic that the episode merely manages to raise without answering too much.