Star Trek: The Cloud Minders

Kirk: "My diplomacy is somewhat inadequate."
McCoy: "Well, it's pretty hard to overcome prejudice."

A forgettable episode. In fact, I had forgotten most of it. All I remembered was a completely unbelievable Spock romance in the cloud city of Bespin. And maybe something about class warfare, which was the best part of the episode.

So on the one hand, we have the privileged cloud-dwellers, waltzing about in impractical clothing enjoying their privileges and creating bad art, while on the other hand we had the underclass, the toiling underprivileged miners, clamoring for their rights to no avail. To make it worse, McCoy discovered that the miners were breathing a gas that made them both stupid and violent. The real mystery was how Ardana ended up as a member of the Federation when their culture was so completely antithetical to Federation principles.

Both classes were symbolically represented by the two female guest stars: the vapid, idiotic Droxine and the fiery, rebellious Vanna, both of whom were addicted to purple and blue eye shadow. I'm not quite sure why the writers felt they had to throw three seasons of Spock characterization out the window and have him immediately smitten with Droxine's "purity and sweetness," although thankfully he realized fairly early in the proceedings that she was Marie Antoinette in training before we were saddled with an uncomfortable love scene. Spock and Droxine did have a discussion of her beauty overcoming his pon farr cycle that practically made me shudder. You remember pon farr? That thing that Spock would never, ever discuss with anyone, much less a strange woman on an alien planet?



Kirk definitely won the love interest sweepstakes with rebel leader Vanna, who eventually (after being kidnapped along with High Advisor Plasus and being forced to breathe zenite gas for a few hours) came around to Kirk's way of thinking. But sadly, while Kirk did manage to get the all important zenite before leaving, nothing really changed for the Troglytes, except that they became a little better equipped to demand their nonexistent rights. These things take time, though, and I suppose it was more realistic than if Kirk had changed their entire social and economic structure overnight.

Ben P. Duck says:

I watched this episode with a feeling of deja vu; I had mostly forgotten the details, yet it seemed naggingly familiar. Here is what I remembered: some vague idea that the MittRomneyian rich people were floating around in their cloud city of Bespin while the "Occupy the recycled Mine Sets" group caused trouble and held drum circles. Then Lando invites in the Empire and it goes all to hell. But this turned out to have been some sort of nightmarish mash-up of the episode, the 2012 US Presidential election and my best of Billy Dee Williams film loop. Still, it seemed to be awfully relevant to 21st century America.

Take the subject of labor unrest, which this episode does engage in in some interesting ways. It's a topic which actually crops up a couple of time throughout the series. It's perhaps most prominent with the unsafe conditions in the mines back in "Devil in the Dark," and by unsafe I mean the Horta was eating the miners, which when you think about it means the Trogs probably shouldn't be complaining, what with the Federation workplace standards being what they are.

Anyway, I thought these conflicts had a resonance which frankly, even as late as 2007, would have garnered very little sympathy. But now, the distance between the ruling class as they float blithely above and the workers below is literally insurmountable, a feeling it's hard to avoid even as it makes today's income disparity in America seem manageable by comparison. That the very air that they breathe makes it impossible for the two sides to do anything other than try to beat each other to death only adds to the problem and provides another apt metaphor. It makes me wish for a solution as simple as breathing masks for many of our society's own problems.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 5818.4. A visit to the planet Ardana to acquire the zenite to save Merak 2 from botanical plague. The episode title, "The Cloud Minders," is an interesting double entendre, and the plot reminiscent of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

— The McGuffin of a substance that is desperately needed to save lives has been done before, most recently just two episodes ago in "Requiem for Methuselah."

— The Troglytes had cool protective eyegear and head scarves over... were those the jumpsuits from "The Devil in the Dark"? Females on Ardana, even Vanna, tended to favor suspended halter top thingies with long capes fastened behind them. The Stratos sentinels were wearing gray blankets with black belts and knee boots topped by mortarboards covered with gray shower caps. Those hats were nearly as bad as the vinyl cootie catcher hats in "A Taste of Armageddon."

— (I did like Vanna's off-white minidress with the symbols around the neckline. Much better.)


— Stratos was profusely decorated with art work. Unfortunately, it was mostly clunky sculpture occasionally accented with disruptor trowels. I sort of resent the idea that artists and art lovers (which would be me) were completely oblivious to the lower classes. Most artists are dead broke and actually dress somewhat like the Troglytes. (Not me.)

— We almost, but not quite, had site to site beaming.

Quotes:

Spock: "Remarkable. The finest example of sustained anti-gravity elevation I've ever seen."
And he wasn't even talking about Droxine's halter top.

Droxine: "I have never before met a Vulcan, sir."
Spock: "Nor I a work of art, madam."
Wow. How incredibly flirtatious and un-Spock-like.

Spock: "This troubled planet is a place of the most violent contrasts. Those who receive the rewards are totally separated from those who shoulder the burdens. It is not a wise leadership."
This monologue was like a log entry, but without the log. Also un-Spock-like.

Droxine: "Your eyes are not accustomed to light, just as your minds are not accustomed to logic."
Yeah, that makes sense.

Vanna: "But soon the atmosphere will go. We'll die."
Kirk: "Die from something that can't be seen? You astound me, Vanna."

Certainly not the worst of season three, but not among the best. Two out of a possible four trowels,

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

3 comments:

Jerry Modene said...

Horrible episode - made worse by the knowledge that David Gerrold's first draft showed how interesting it could have been. It was originally supposed to be an allegory on rich vs. poor and have a lot more political commentary in it (remember, this was 1968) and there was no easy, facile solution to the problem, just as there is no easy, facile solution in real life.

The rewrites, though, blamed the whole problem on the zenite gas and, as David wrote in "The World of Star Trek", (paraphrasing here), "We'll just give them all some masks and they can go on picking cotton like good little darkies."

Spock's shameless flirting with Droxine was embarassingly painful to watch.

This episode is easily in my bottom five.

Anonymous said...

According to one of Shatner's penned memoirs on the show, towards the conclusion of the series, the writer despised Leonard Nemoy (how that is possible is beyond me), and as a result, included ridiculous parts for Spock that degraded his character. This is one such episode.

tinkapuss said...

Oh dear. Another one I liked as a teenager and still enjoy today...although I agree that Spock's character was completely compromised here, especially so because Droxine was a drip. The Romulan Commander was a much more believable crush.

When I teach Orwell's "1984" or "Metropolis", I use lots of pop. cultural imagery to convey a variety of dystopian concepts to the students - one of the ones I use is this episode; having a cloud city above and toxic caves below is a pretty-obvious metaphor for Marxist ideology.

I also enjoy that Droxine at least begins to realise that having only peace, love, and happiness in the clouds is not as desirable as experiencing the range of emotions, hardships, and suffering that comes with being humanoid. Without the dark caverns we cannot appreciate the lofty clouds.