Star Trek: Metamorphosis

Star Trek Opening TitlesI was never sure why they didn’t call this “The Companion” until I started buying books about different series.  I have The Twilight Zone Companion and The Outer Limits Companion, among others. If this episode was called The Companion, it would have thrown off book titles for years. But I’m not sure Metamorphosis is a better title as the big change isn’t conclusively a good thing…

My memory of this episode was better than the episode itself.  I think the writer, Gene Coon, backed himself into a corner.  See the whole story is about this amorphous blob that’s in love with ultra-blue eyed Zefram Cochrane, pioneer of warp drive.  So in love, that it gave him back nearly 50 years, rewinding his 87 year old self to 35 years of age.  Then, knowing how sad he is still being trapped on a planet without other people, the Companion goes off to bring back more humans to keep him company.  Guess who that’s going to be?   They are now all prisoners of the Companion!  (That would have been a good title too!)

So let’s discuss the whole mission: “The Starfleet” has an ambassador (Nancy) who is some super-negotiator on a peacekeeping mission.  She happens to get sick from something so rare that she needs treatment and that means they need to do something fast.  (Reminder, she’s doing some peacekeeping, so I presume war is imminent somewhere!).  So “The Starfleet” sends Kirk to bring her back to the Enterprise in a shuttlecraft, even though McCoy comes along for the ride.  Let’s review: they send the ships medic basically in a cab to bring her back for treatment instead of sending him to perform the treatment.   The “cab” is slower than being transported which could have been explained somehow but noticeably was not.  The cab goes missing and there are thousands of possible planets it could be on!  Also, Nancy is so moody, she nearly becomes hysterical when she finds out that the Companion loves a human!   She’s a peacekeeper?!  HOW??   (I especially love when the shuttlecraft loses power and she demands to know what’s going on, when she’s in the same room as everyone else, all of whom have no idea what is going on!  Very observant negotiator!)

Plus I question the credentials of the crew a lot in this episode.  Kirk’s command is a big question mark for me.  His episodic mandate is to “seek out new life and new civilizations.”  Somewhere, he added a bit: “and wipe out any that hold us hostage!”  He says to Cochrane that he’ll “do anything I have to, to save all our lives” which clearly includes murdering the Companion.  Luckily he fails but I only say that under the assumption that the creature really is capable of love as we know it.  McCoy’s medical skills are questionable too.  “I blind man could see it with a cane!”  Sorry, what?!  I didn’t know blind men used canes to see with!!  And “the Starfleet” of the past make me wonder who was in charge of the uniforms: what the hell is that insignia on Cochrane’s shirt?  Lego Emblem Assembly kits must be a thing of the future!

When the realization dawns that the Companion loves Cochrane, he’s disgusted.  He says the Companion has been effectively forcing itself on him which didn’t bother him until he realized it was out of love.  (A one-night stand is OK, but long term is horrible!?)   McCoy seems to think Zefram is being a prude and says “you get used to these things!”  Do you?  So what is tantamount to rape is something we get used to if it’s by an amorphous blob?  You must be looking at this with a cane, McCoy!  To compound matters, the idea that the Companion is female is “a matter of gender”, but that hits two chords with a very jarring result.  First, only a female can love a male and vice versa, based on that comment, which may have to be re-written now, just to cover that love is gender-free.  Second, it also says that in the future, gender still plays a role at all, even as we meet other races, not all of which are likely to be binary-gendered.  I’m troubled by both concepts, but I have to acknowledge the time this was made.  Still, if we can go back and retcon real history, when will they target classic Star Trek to correct these errors of their time?

Ultimately the story is about love and that redeems it a bit, especially when Cochrane agrees to stay on the planet.  But there too, I find flaw: it comes off as more than a bit manipulative. When the Companion sees Nancy’s sickness is getting the better of her, it takes over and says “we are here” as if Nancy and the Companion occupy the same body, but there is absolutely no indication that that’s the case.  She doesn’t talk about anything to give Jim or McCoy reason to believe that Nancy is in there at all.  Not even two different voices; everything is the same voice and it just insists that the two souls are in the same body.  Nancy barely knows Cochrane and she plans to stay on the planet forever?   For all the Enterprise crew can tell, the Companion possessed Nancy’s body then used trickery to keep her there.  The best scene of the episode is when Companion/Nancy holds up her shawl to see Cochrane through it which simulates how she saw everything when she was the amorphous blob.  Other than that, the episode is cliché and falls apart under its own weight.

Seeing it as a love story is the only chance we have to accept this episode, but it never really illustrates it as well as it could have.  Kirk and crew leave Companion/Nancy and Cochrane on the planet and Kirk shrugs off that there has to be another diplomat out there who could do Nancy’s job.  I’m betting a war broke out somewhere and we just never heard about it.  Shame the same could not be said for this episode.  ML

The view from across the pond:

I have experienced the Star Trek universe in something of a topsy turvy manner, so I was already familiar with the character of Zefram Cochrane from First Contact. By accident I seem to have ended up watching his appearances in chronological order, because the events of the movie take place before this episode, from Cochrane’s point of view. That meant that the episode worked for me in a different way to contemporary viewers, who would have had no spark of recognition at the name, and would not have noticed the lapse in logic: instead of saying “he looks familiar”, Kirk should know the name without a second’s doubt, in the same way that any astronaut (or anyone at all really) would know the name Neil Armstrong.

Cochrane of course shouldn’t still be alive in the time of Kirk and the Enterprise, but he went out into space to die and was rejuvenated by a cloud of electricity. Let’s unpack that a bit. Firstly, the idea of going to space to die because that’s where he felt he belongs is an interesting idea, and one that was recently touched upon again in Picard. Outer space seems empty and lonely to us, so it’s hard to imagine a time when it would feel like home – a place to go to die. Secondly, we have our cloud of eternal youth, and she’s the heart and soul of the episode. There’s no doubt that she is a she, either, although I’m not sure everyone would agree that “the idea of male and female are universal constants” any more.

At first the cloud is the villain of the episode, taking control of the shuttle craft and trapping Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Commissioner Nancy on the planet. But in the hands of a decent writer a villain is only a villain until we understand her motivations, and then she’s no longer a villain. This is an example of Trek being ahead of the game in the way stories are constructed, hailing from a time when villains on television were nearly all moustache-twirlers who were evil for the sake of it. Instead, the cloud has only ever done what she has done because she was lonely, and doesn’t want to be lonely again.

I love a good soppy romance, but a love story between a man and a cloud was always going to be a hard sell. For most of the episode it all felt a bit silly, with slightly icky undercurrents when Cochrane talks about being drained after their encounters. It didn’t help that the cloud talked a little like Spock (“your impulses are illogical”), making it even more difficult to understand it in terms of being “a lover”.

The romance element just about works in the end, with the cloud joining with Nancy, in order to live a human life. It would have been useful to have had Nancy’s perspective on all this. It is couched in terms of a union rather than a possession or taking over a dead body, but Nancy didn’t seem like the kind of person to want the domestic life. She was an important diplomat with a laser-like focus on her job, and doing some very important work. The idea of taking her from her job and turning her into a housewife is depressingly 1960s. Superficially it doesn’t feel like a huge loss, because she is a pain in the butt for most of the episode, and clearly expects the universe to revolve around her, but that doesn’t make it right. There is an attempt to justify it because she was going to die and the cloud has saved her life, but that doesn’t work either because the cloud put her in this position in the first place anyway. If the shuttle had stayed on course for the Enterprise she would have been fine. So this episode was missing that key element: an attempt to tackle the fate of Nancy in a way that didn’t simply define her as a female physical form and fair game to be turned into a wife. In amongst the happily-ever-after love story, it would have been useful to have some acknowledgement that an important diplomat was murdered in the process, or at the very least possessed, because I refuse to believe that she was a willing host. So a crime has been committed, but at least we have a clear motive:

“This is loneliness. Oh, what a bitter thing.”

This episode took bitterness and made it sweet. It’s just a shame that it did that by taking a diplomat and turning her into a housewife.   RP

About Roger Pocock

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4 Responses to Star Trek: Metamorphosis

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The sense of love seeming ultimately hetero in Star Trek’s future because of Metamorphosis, most especially in the light of how Star Trek and Doctor Who have now embraced same-sex love stories (particularly between Paul and Hugh in Star Trek: Discovery), is now enough for me to not bother watching this classic Trek episode ever again. That’s admittedly harsh and certainly for the easily nice intro for Zefram Cochrane (for whom James Cromwell’s performance in First Contact proved to be conflicting) which Glenn Corbett is always worth remembering for.

    I still liked Elinor Donahue as the Nancy/Companion too. But the classic Trek definitions for both male and female in this episode can indeed feel most forced for this classic episode. It makes me appreciate even more how naturalistically identifiable the love was between DS9’s Odo and Kira, which may more appropriately symbolize what McCoy meant about how intergalactic love could earn a better understanding. But in Metamorphosis, the Companion had to become human to be seen as a realistically loving being, which again shows how human-centric the Trek universe can unrealistically be.

    All in all, Metamorphosis can be best remembered as another reason why Roddenberry found an obvious retribution via The Next Generation’s phase for all the classic Trek’s faults. Thanks again for your very appreciable food-for-thought reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    • scifimike70 says:

      The closest Trek ever came as far I know to escaping its binary-gendered constrictions was a trinary-gendered race in Enterprise’s Cogenitor. But disappointingly, it didn’t have anything to say about the dynamics of love because it was yet another sad-for-the-sake-of-it drama on the Prime Directive. Especially when the promo for the episode was certainly promising. It can further prove why Trek nowadays can feel outshined by shows like Babylon 5, Farscape and Dark Matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Happy Star Trek Day!!! 🖖🏻🖖🏼🖖🏽🖖🏾🖖🏿🌎🌏🌍🌌☮️

    Liked by 1 person

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