Star Trek: The Enemy Within

Kirk: "I'll kill you."
Kirk: "Can half a man live?"

And it's the sci-fi/fantasy show staple: the evil double.

When I first started reviewing this episode, I couldn't stop writing about its flaws. The use of the transporter to either screw things up — or fix things — was overdone in Star Trek, and made no scientific sense whatsoever. (I remember a Mad magazine parody showing Kirk materializing with his foot sticking out of his head.) The dog had a horn that kept moving around, and where did the dog come from? The planet where the temperature goes down a couple of hundred degrees below zero every night? And (here's the big one) how much sense did it make that a huge starship with a large crew wouldn't have a backup to the transporter, like the shuttlecrafts that show up later in the series?

But Star Trek is not a documentary. It's a science fiction show created in the 1960s with an extremely low budget, and when television special effects were in their infancy. I've always thought that "The Enemy Within" was an exceptional episode, for one specific reason: how the division of self was handled.

Kirk wasn't just divided into "good" and "evil"; Kirk-positive was gentle, compassionate and courageous, but also indecisive, forgetful and apathetic, a pale reflection of his usual dynamic self. Kirk-negative was passionate, violent, willful, childish, a liar and a potential rapist — but when he walked onto the bridge, he took command without hesitation. (I'm tempted to say that overacting is a negative characteristic, too.)

I'm not a fan of William Shatner's, but I have to give him credit for this performance because he just went for it. Kirk-positive and Kirk-negative were as different as he could possibly make them with his voice, expression, and body language (with the assistance of eyeliner, perspiration, and camera angles). I've always particularly liked the way the Kirk-positive held Kirk-negative in his arms, literally and symbolically embracing and acknowledging the worst in himself.

Spock, a divided being himself, was so fascinated with the changes going on in Kirk that he was actually rude — gleefully analyzing what went into making Kirk an exceptional leader, and what each half was lacking. Kirk-positive didn't seem offended, and leaned pretty hard on Spock. Actually, he should have turned command over to Spock as soon as they knew what had happened. But that would have taken the drama out of the double Kirk confrontation on the bridge, and we couldn't have that.

Ben says...

First thought, BEST ALIEN DOG EVER! Seriously, that daggit on Battlestar classic is so lame in comparison, and don't get me started on Archer's beagle. Smallville’s Krypto the Superdog would obviously be a frontrunner, but renaming him Shelby? Really? Shelby?!? Sorry, I have to get back to Star Trek.


Second thought, this episode is like Nietzsche with Orange Dogs (okay, I got to get over that dog, how about: Freud with Transporter Accidents). This may be one of the single most influential episodes of the whole series. Seriously, this is a moral lesson of the first order about the violence inherent in us and the importance of harnessing it. While this is certainly a common theme in a lot of modernist thought, I suspect that a whole generation of us took more away from this one hour of TV than from all of our college reading in philosophy, psychology and history combined. In fact, it's so common a theme that I think that it colors all our views of politicians. If a politician can lead and make things happen they are probably evil, but if they give half a damn about people they are dishwater weak incompetents. Could we maybe run Dennis Kucinich and Dick Cheney through the transporter together, Denick Kuciney for President!

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 1672.1. Specimen-gathering on Alpha 177.

— Couldn't they have beamed down a shelter of sorts? Environmental suits? Lots and lots of blankets? Something to burn and several packs of matches? And seriously, what about hot coffee? Yes, heaters came down duplicated and broken, but wouldn't hot coffee still be drinkable, plus there'd be twice as much of it?


— There were some nice bits suggesting mirroring. When Kirk-positive first materialized, he turned the wrong way when he tried to leave the transporter room. Kirk-negative materialized facing backward, which also nicely symbolized what he was.

— Kirk-negative went to Sick Bay to pick up a bottle of Saurian brandy before attacking Janice Rand in her quarters. Why Sick Bay? Does Bones like a nip now and then? Is it medicinal? The bottle certainly had an unusual shape, too. Somewhat phallic, wouldn't you say?

— It's only the fifth episode, and Janice Rand was assaulted a second time. I think I'd take the hint, transfer out, and take my basket weave hair with me. I also thought Spock telling Janice that the "imposter" had some interesting characteristics was sort of mean, like, don't you wish he'd actually raped you?

— This was the second time in a row that the restraints in Sick Bay were used. They were probably still warm from Sulu.

— The suede phaser gunbelts were cool-looking. It's a shame they stopped wearing them.

— Geological technician Fisher's job title was such a mouthful that he couldn't get it out quickly enough while trying to summon help.

— This episode was written by sci-fi master Richard Matheson.

Quotes:

Sulu: "Do you think you might be able to find a long rope somewhere and lower us down a pot of hot coffee?"
Kirk-positive: "I'll see what we can do."
Sulu: "Rice wine will do if you're short on coffee."

McCoy: (about the dog) "He's dead, Jim."

Even with its flaws, this is a powerful and popular episode. Four out of four pots of hot coffee,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

6 comments:

Mark Greig said...

‘The Enemy Within’ has always been one of my absolute favorite episodes. Richard Matheson’s script pretty much established the evil double staple as we know it, which is a given since a lot of today’s TV writers all likely grew up watching Star Trek and were influenced by it.

There’s certainly something kinda wonderful about William Shatner’s entire performance throughout. As Nasty-Kirk he takes it all the way up to 11 and beyond into realms few actors have ever gone before, while as Nice-Kirk he’s so perfectly understated to be almost comatose.

The only sour spot was everyone’s rather insensitive reactions to the attempted rape of Rand. As progressive as Star Trek was in some areas it was also uncomfortably typically of it’s time in others.

GreenHornet said...

OMG Billie -- you remember the Mad parody as well!?! I love that you referenced that scene! It sticks in my mind so clearly -- with Kirk's head at his waist, and nooooo torso in-between. Yarrrgh, simultaneously disturbing and hilarious, the perfect admixture of Trek and those guys from MADison Avenue. (It also came to mind when I saw Trek Movie #1, with the transporter accident at the beginning... Mad Magazine did it first!)

You're right on the money I think about this episode's powerful influence. The concept of duality is so key; their leveraging of it here, especially using a HERO (and in the 1960's, that was a pretty darn clear archetype you didn't mess with, at least on tv), made it resonate with real intensity. One of the things that hit my young mind at the time, was that Kirk wasn't good then bad then good, nor was he possessed by bad and then overcame it-- he was BOTH good and bad, and both sides were really him. And, once recombined, he would be good and bad at the same time, together, always. And knew it. Kinda that whole taoism versus aristotelianism (istic-atic-expi-ali-dosis) thing, isn't it. Nothing is just one thing -- every thing is everything, to an extent. Simultaneous multiplicity... and now everyone in me needs a drink. (Well, two are teetotallers, and one is already drunk and giggling.)

Definitely shows up all over the place in our beloved series -- Good and Evil Willow ("we love you both, but in verrry different ways"); Xander and XanderPrime; Buffy and fill-in-the-blank (BuffyBot, Faith, BuffyFaith, et al); Good and Evil Angel; Wes Before and After; everyone in Dollhouse (especially Alpha but esPECIALLY Echo) the whole Battlestar Cylonetics thing... and I could go on. No, really; stop me, this is your only hope.

Wonder though if part of this ep's resonance isn't also due to that poor little dog being dead, Jim, once recombined -- that was seriously heart-breaking for a kiddo. I mean, knock off all the red shirts you want, but don't hurt those space doggies! (Or cats for that matter, later on in the series.)

Michael said...

When it comes to Matheson, one thing I've noticed is that, like Stephen King, he is more interested in putting an "everyman" character into a situation and seeing how they react rather than the scientific plausibility of if and how something could happen. The biggest example is the novel "Bid Time Return" which is better known as "Somewhere in Time." It makes no good sense that a man can travel in time just by willing himself to do so...but it happens in the book and the novel uses it to explore some other things.

Same thing here--oh, magic yellow dust makes the transporter go wonky. Ok, sure let's go with that. As long as we split Kirk in two and can explore that aspect of things it's all good.

And I think part of the lack of shuttlecraft is that it removes the dilemma facing Kirk and since this episode was produced fourth, they may not have decided to use them just yet.

Billie Doux said...

Michael, that's a good observation about Matheson. You're right. I've read a good amount of his stuff, and I always tend to react to his work emotionally, so it's easy to leave logic behind.

tinkapuss said...

I watched this episode over and over as a young girl and teenager and never saw the attempted-rape scene as problematic. At 46 and a mother and educator, I certainly do now! The way Yeoman Rand was treated afterwards was the bigger problem for me; she was forced to sit there with a bunch of men and the very man she accused and basically be called a liar or an hysteric. She was expected to 'get over it' and just deal with the abuse of power and get back to work as if nothing had happened. No one to help her or really even explain it to her. And Mr Spock's final words to her on the bridge were completely out of character and more than vaguely threatening. BUT! I love the episode (apart from all that) and can neatly compartmentalise my misgivings because of the era of production. In fact, I find it all the more fascinating for those reasons.

Outsider65 said...

I find Kirk cradling himself in his arms to be both an nice scene and unintentionally hilarious.