Star Trek: Is There in Truth No Beauty?

Miranda: "I suppose it has thorns."
Kirk: "I never met a rose that didn't."

Simplistic symbolism, anyone?

What is beauty? We're presented with conventional beauty in the form of Dr. Miranda Jones, and an alien beast in the form of Ambassador Kollos, so hideous that the sight of him drives one mad. But neither are what they appear to be. Clearly, Kollos is the beautiful one. Miranda longs for him. (Or her, or it, but her obsession feels romantic and hetero, so I'll say 'him'.) Kollos willingly saves the Enterprise, and when he possesses Spock in order to do it, he shows joy in everything. (Definitely the best scene in the episode.) When we get glimpses of Kollos, we see blasts of shimmering light. Miranda is probably right that Kollos is too beautiful to be endured, not too ugly.

Miranda Jones, on the other hand, has ugliness in her soul. She has no interest in the love of Larry Marvick, and her disinterest drives him to a desperate act that results in his death. (How dare she prefer her career over a good man, huh?) She is violently jealous of Spock because he was up for her job, even though he turned it down, and because Spock could actually see Kollos, while she could not. When she lets go of her anger and jealousy in a moment of total blindness and vulnerability, she is rewarded – she becomes one with Kollos. A lesson for us all, I suppose.

I've always liked a lot of the peripherals of this episode. Miranda Jones was another big step forward for Star Trek: an interesting, powerful, strong woman who just happened to be blind. I've always loved the sparkly dress that turned out to be sensors enabling her to see, much like a predecessor of Geordi LaForge's visor. I liked her hairdo, too; it looked like she was wearing a tiara, fitting for a woman who acted like a queen. I also liked the idea that Jones was a born telepath who studied mind control on Vulcan.

There were some problems with the story, though. Did they actually leave the galaxy again? They don't quite say, but it sure looked that way, and how could they do that so quickly? Maybe it was because Larry Marvick was one of the designers of the Enterprise, so he was able to make it go warp eleventy-whatever. No, it makes no sense.

And calling the aliens "Medusans"? If I were a Medusan and discovered the classical references behind why the humans referred to us as that, I'd be deeply insulted. You'd think the Federation officials in charge of coming up with names for telepathic aliens would be a bit more tactful.

Ben says...

AHHHHHHHH... gibber, gibber... Don't love the Trek! Don't love her! Don't love her! She'll kill you if you love her! I love you, Star Trek... arrrrrggggghhhhhh!

Seriously, this was another of those maddeningly uneven season three episodes. But the question is, was this episode too ugly to watch, or is there a sublime beauty to it? Actually, I think it's a bit of both. I quote David Frankham (who played Larry Marvick): "You think Shatner can overact? I'll show you overacting!" Wow, that was some over the top nuttiness. Seriously, that's how my 4-year old pretends to go crazy.

So that's the ugly. Let's talk about the beauty. The camera work in this episode is incredibly sophisticated and it is used in a really advanced, expressionistic way. There are long, hovering single camera shots as the crew moves down the hall, and all sorts of fish eye and unusual camera angles throughout. In fact, the only time the camera work is normal is when the Medusan ambassador is linked to Spock. What seems clear is that we are actually seeing the events through the disembodied eyes of the ambassador! They never even hint at it, but I am convinced that this is what either the director or the cinematographer was going for. If you are just remembering this episode, I really recommend going back and watching it for this alone.

Plus, we have a milestone in diversity here. The Vulcan IDIC (hard to beat infinite diversity) appears, and the main guest star is a blind woman operating with perfect ease. This episode aired at a point in America when the disabled were still referred to as cripples, but here's Star Trek not just showing a person overcoming their disability, but actually "more able" than her sighted colleagues to deal with the challenges of the Medusans. That is real vision.

I cannot say I loved this episode, but there is a lot more to it than initially meets the eye.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 5630.7. The Enterprise was transporting the Medusan ambassador.

— When we first see Miranda Jones, she is colored red because Spock sees her through the visor. That was a nice touch. Green (for jealousy) probably would have been too obvious.

— I liked the dinner scene, with Scott in a formal Starfleet kilt for the first time. Miranda held a rose in her hands during the dinner, because symbolism has to be obvious.



— We saw Spock's IDIC for the first time. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

— Leonard Nimoy sounded like he had a cold.

— They took the mind meld a bit further so that it resembled demonic possession. But in a nice way.

— Why isn't the ambassador's quarters locked? And why give him quarters at all? It's not like he was going to lounge around on the bed, use the library computer, or order room service. They could have kept him in a closet near the transporter room, couldn't they?

— In the final scene, Spock put on the visor when Miranda and Kollos transported out. Kirk just stood there watching, risking insanity. This made no sense. Especially when they actually cleared the corridors when Kollos arrived.

— Diana Muldaur previously appeared in "Return to Tomorrow" as Dr. Ann Mulhall/Thalassa, but she had different hair so we weren't supposed to notice. She also played Dr. Pulaski in season two of Next Generation. Also with different hair.

Quotes:

Miranda: "What is ugly? Who is to say whether Kollos is too ugly to bear or too beautiful to bear?"

McCoy: "He's dead, Jim."

Kollos/Spock: "And Uhura, whose name means freedom. She walks in beauty, like the night."
McCoy: "That's not Spock."
Kollos/Spock: "Are you surprised to find that I've read Byron, Doctor?"
McCoy: "That's Spock!"

Three out of four classical references,

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

1 comment:

Jerry Modene said...

This was never one of my favorite episodes, but it does have its moments. I've never really cared for the characters that Diana Muldaur plays on Trek, though; they all come across as a little too smug for my taste. I wonder, given that she was probably Roddenberry's most-often cast guest-actress (she also appeared in GR's "Planet Earth" pilot) if he didn't have a "thing" for her.

A lot of people have noticed that Kirk was risking insanity by lingering in the transporter room when Kollos left. One of the early fanzine stories ("A Rose for Miranda") sequelizes this story by, in fact, having Kirk go insane as a result of his having stuck around. Naturally, Spock gets him back to sanity (I don't remember how; I'd have to dig out my old copy of "Star Trek Lives" for the plot synopsis).

The third-season budget-cutting was in full force, as evidenced by the re-use of the "leaving the galaxy" special effects. They never say they are leaving the galaxy; the implication is that they are in some sort of dimensional rift. I used to say, well, if you go Warp One into the Barrier ("Where No Man Has Gone Before") you get thrown back; if you go Warp Nine, you get stuck in the barrier (the new effect they used for transition scenes in this episode); to get through the Barrier, you have to have Kelvans soup your engines up to do Warp 13 and then it's easy. ;)

As for the IDIC - the cast resisted the introduction of the symbol into the show; according to Nimoy, the original scene was overly-long and expository and both he and Shatner had to lobby hard to have it cut down to the bare minimum. GR was, of course, trying to come up with some goodies for marketing for his mail-order company (Lincoln Enterprises) and needed a little on-air "product placement" for the IDIC (it worked; I have one myself) and I'd guess that Nimoy, as a classic "artiste" resented the insertion of commercialism into his craft. And I should note that the IDIC was never seen in any other episode of TOS.

I'm really enjoying your reviews and the opportunity to share my own tidbits and stuff. Thank you, and keep up the good work!