Star Trek: Metamorphosis

McCoy: "You're not a pet. You're not a specimen kept in a cage. You're a lover."

As an alien/human love story, this episode is actually rather lovely. It even has a happy ending. And it introduces an important character in the Star Trek universe who shows up later in one of my favorite Star Trek movies. I just wish the story weren't so full of inconsistencies.

'Metamorphosis' is the Greek word for "change of form," used in biology when a living being changes into something else. That is what happened to the Companion. But Commissioner Hedford also underwent a metamorphosis; she was transformed from a whining, castrating career woman into a happy, obedient wife. What remained didn't feel like a blend of the two, but the Companion in the Commissioner's body. Yes, Hedford consented; when she was delirious with fever, she sobbed about dying without ever knowing love. Because we all know that whining, castrating career women don't get to have love.

For that matter, the Companion gave up immortality and her own natural form for Cochrane. He didn't seem quite worth it to me. Yes, he had bright blue eyes, but didn't he seem rather passive and dull for such a brilliant man? And intolerant. Cochrane was revolted by the idea of the Companion loving him until he discovered she was female. Geez, we wouldn't want to commune with a gaseous alien if it was gay, would we?

Actually, the scene I've always liked best was Hedford/Companion looking at Cochrane through her scarf, so she could see him the way she knew him best. It was our Most Obvious Symbolism; she was seeing him through the clouded, sparkling eyes of love.



The biggest inconsistency in this story was that the Companion was able to reverse the aging process in Cochrane, but she couldn't cure Hedford's disease. That is, until she took Hedford's body, and boom, disease gone. I've always wondered about the atmosphere and climate, too. I had gotten the impression that the Companion provided it. Good thing it didn't go away.

This episode finally introduced the universal translator, and that's a good thing. But if they needed to hold this big blinking metal thing in their hands to communicate with aliens, how were they able to communicate with every other alien in every other episode up until now? It would have made more sense if the existence of the universal translator was mentioned as a given and the hand-held version was needed because the Companion was gaseous and unable to make sounds like a humanoid entity. In fact, that's how I always explained this inconsistency in my head.

Despite the familiar Star Trek themes (the God-Like Alien with the power of life and death, Spock wanting to learn about it while Kirk tried to electrocute it), there's an odd feel to this episode. Maybe it's that almost none of it is on the Enterprise. Why didn't the Enterprise pick up such an important ambassador?

And how is Kirk going to explain what happened to Hedford? He said he was sure they could find another woman to fix that war, but aren't people that talented few and far between?

Ben says...

Here was an episode that really was worth the re-watching, in large part, because seeing it as a boy and younger man I didn’t really get the point or the classic allusions in it.

First, let me say I will spare you another feminist rant, although this certainly could be the subject of one (for god's sake the Commissioner actually serves the guys their coffee on the shuttlecraft... no, no, not going there). Instead, I think this is a counterpoint to the Enterprise crew's own quest through the universe. If Jim Kirk is Odysseus as he begins his voyage, then Cochrane is the same character as he finishes it. It's a recognition of a shared humanity in coming to end of life's journey. When I first started thinking about what to write about this, I kept recalling the end of Battlestar Galactica (specifically Adama and Rosslyn, but the whole close of that series). Although some (including Billie) did not find a lot of emotional satisfaction in that ending, to me it was the right one. As I see it, our lives as commanders or famous inventors or whatever are illusory in many ways. In the end we are all humans who are essentially alone but for those we love. That is what this episode is about.

Oh yeah, and also the obtuseness of men. I mean, really, only a guy could fail to notice that the girl has been in love with him for 150 years (even when the girl is a sparkly alien energy cloud). And getting all emo because she's been touching my brain, really dude, pull it together.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 3219.8. Commissioner Hedford was supposed to stop a war on Epsilon Canaris 3.

— Kirk mentioned that "we" were on a thousand planets.

— Zephram Cochrane was supposed to be from Alpha Centauri. That seems inconsistent with the man who discovered warp drive, because wouldn't warp drive come before humans lived on Alpha Centauri? Maybe he retired there, though. Maybe Alpha Centauri is the Florida of the Milky Way galaxy.

— There were a couple of religious notes. The Companion refers to the maker of all things, even though she herself had the power of life and death as well as transmutation. Cochrane mentioned planting a fig tree, too, which I assume was a Biblical reference.

— Cochrane was wearing a rather tight orange jumpsuit with weird little decorations on it. Was that the same jumpsuit they were wearing in "Devil in the Dark"? The wardrobe people got some mileage out of those jumpsuits, didn't they?

— A younger version of Zephram Cochrane was a major character in Star Trek: First Contact, and played by Academy Award nominee and all-round awesome actor, James Cromwell. In a head-to-head acting death match, James Cromwell would tromp Glenn Corbett into dust blindfolded and with one hand tied behind his back.

Quotes:

Cochrane: "I could even offer you a hot bath."
Hedford: "How perceptive of you to notice that I needed one."

Cochrane: "Immortality consists largely of boredom."

Kirk: "The idea of male and female are universal constants."
Really? They're not even consistently defined on our own planet.

Cochrane: "I can't leave her. I love her. Is that surprising?"
Spock: "Not coming from a human being. You are, after all, essentially irrational."

Odd episode. Not bad, but not a favorite. Two out of four sparkling scarves,

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

9 comments:

Eldritch said...

"Geez, we wouldn't want to commune with a gaseous alien if it was gay, would we?"


Actually, I think some of us might. Wouldn't you be uncomfortable being in daily contact with someone who made intimate advances toward you which you didn't want?

tucsonbarbara said...

I agree - James Cromwell is an awesome actor.

However, (and unfortunately) he is not an Academy Award winner.

He was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for "Babe," but didn't win.

Eldritch said...

"...for god's sake the Commissioner actually serves the guys their coffee on the shuttle craft..."

Cut the writers a little slack. This script was written over half a decade before Feminism emerged as a movement.

Billie Doux said...

Tucsonbarbara, thanks for the correction; I'll fix it. I could have sworn that he won for Babe. He certainly should have won for LA Confidential.

Eldritch, the point I was trying to make was that Cochrane was happy "communing" with the Companion until he was told that it loved him, and then he was revolted. And then when he found out the Companion was female, he was okay with it again.

About the feminist movement -- I am aware that this episode was written in 1967. But I am revisiting it and writing reviews in 2010. If I didn't say what I actually thought of the episode as I see it now, there would be no point in writing a review at all. I've noticed your previous negative comments, and I'm sorry you're not enjoying these reviews. If it makes you feel any better, I've been repeatedly attacked and insulted on a big Star Trek list for posting them.

Jai said...

I'm afraid this comment may come across as innocuous but what the hell...

While Metamorphosis doesn't rank in my personal Top 10, there's something pure TOS about it -- the layering of visuals (shot onstage), effects, musical score and the performance of the three leads with two guest stars, I don't know... I can understand Billie's critique, and respect it, but this is one I just like (and that shot through the scarf is lovely).

Juliette said...

Billie, I totally agree with you on the gender problem. It doesn't matter how much I may understand the time the episode is coming from, I want to enjoy it as a piece of television, not an historical artefact, and that means I get pretty irate about women who can supposedly stop wars but go into mad hysterics when their shuttle gets stuck. I really want to like this episode, but the horribly cardboard treatment of women and especially career women really spoilt it for me.

Jessica said...

Yes. That's wl actually what it's like for many women on a daily basis.

differently wired said...

There is something lovely and timeless about this episode; certainly biblical Genesis references abound and, I assume, the two will go on to have children and perhaps, eventually, host other humans on the planet for the line to continue. In the case of these soft and thoughtful episodes, I can forgive many glaring issues.

Outsider65 said...

I always thought part of Cochrane's problem with the Companion was that it was getting intimate with him without him realizing it, and he was happy again when it took female form because "wow, a woman" and he'd been wanting human (and probably female) contact. Plus he'd been living with this thing for so long, hopefully he'd have forgiven it and reconciled even if it hadn't taken a form for him. Although an alien taking you as a pet and essentially molesting you for 150 years isn't exactly a good thing, either. Not that he felt violated until someone put it in those terms. I guess he was consenting without realizing what he was consenting to.

Also the "male and female as universal constants" thing puzzled me. Surely there were species that produced asexually or were hermaphroditic? Most of the aliens they encountered were humanoid though, so naturally they wouldn't meet any, but why,would gaseous clouds also be male and female? Curious. Probably for the sake of a love story. Maybe the cloud chose to act and be female so that it could love him how he wanted to be loved, and before meeting him had no concept or thought to the matter.