I knew it was coming and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Friday’s Child was an episode that I never liked as a kid and that memory stuck with me all my life. But watching Trek with a critical eye makes us look at these episodes a little differently than we did when we were younger. There’s so much more to these stories than monsters of the week and science fiction action. This strange little episode looks at other cultures in a way we don’t often see in sci-fi TV. What do we get out of it? Well, a LOT of laughs!
The mission: go to another planet to get an agreement for mining. Keep in mind, this is the second story that needed a mining agreement… Knowing there’s a Klingon ship in the area, Kirk goes to the planet with Spock, Bones and Quickdraw McRedshirt. Quickdraw sees a Klingon and goes into panic mode faster than I do when a spider crawls on my desk. This warrants an instant response from the Capellans, killing Quickdraw and making Kirk angry. So angry, in fact, that after catching the dying man, Kirk just drops him to the ground a moment later. This just seems to further annoy Kirk and that anger gets taken out on McCoy. At least after chewing him out, Kirk apologizes, thus gaining some credit again as a good leader. But my problem with Kirk in this story is that he’s very prejudiced against the Klingons. As far as I can tell, he’s had more problems with his own people up until now. Think about all the episodes we’ve seen so far where humans have been the problem! (Since we’re dealing with an episode about mining, let’s just look at season 1’s Devil in the Dark where humans were murdering babies! Just sayin’…) By contrast, the Klingons have only appeared twice so far: Errand of Mercy, where the Organians played God and prevented a war and now this story. Why is Kirk so quick to hate these guys? What really compounds the problem for me is that I watched this on the very day I was discussing how great a leader Kirk was in Balance of Terror where he is very anti-racism and anti-prejudice. What have the Klingons done to him to anger him so much? To really add insult to injury, Kirk goes out of his way to kill the Klingon captain, so much so that Spock asks, “Revenge, Captain?” Kirk’s answer is frankly deplorable: “why not?” Maybe “why?” might have been a good response from Spock as Kras (the Klingon) has done absolutely nothing to warrant that ire!
Getting past this, however, the episode is far more enjoyable than I remembered. “Look, I’m a doctor, not an escalator!” McCoy has some of the best moments in this story, but he again proves to be of questionable efficacy as a doctor. First, Jim is being handed food by some random woman and McCoy waits until Jim nearly touches it to tell him it would be a challenge to the death with the woman’s closest male relative. Maybe a bit of forewarning, doc. Then when Eleen, played by Julie Newmar (yes, I know! Julie Newmar!!), smacks him in the face twice, he smacks her back. My wife was working on a puzzle at the time and looked up to see this scene. What could I say? “1960’s” was the best I could do. Better still, when Kirk asks what he did to be allowed to touch Eleen, McCoy says he gave her a “right hook”. Kirk’s surprise is evident: “never seen that in a medical book!” Lastly, when Eleen is holding McCoy’s hand, the look on Spock’s face is hilarious; a mix of disdain and disapproval. McCoy pulls his hand back almost as fast as Quickdraw drew his gun.
Kirk is still funny in this episode. He pulls the same tactic on both Spock and McCoy to gain results. He asks Spock if they can create a sonic boom with communicators, but Spock is skeptical. “Well if you don’t think we can…” Of course, Spock makes it work. To McCoy he suggests helping Eleen give birth, but McCoy doesn’t know Capellan anatomy that well. “Well if you don’t think you can handle it…” Of course, Eleen has the baby (one Spock is totally uncomfortable touching!) And this is also hilarious as McCoy tells her to think to herself, “The baby is mine, the baby is mine!” to which Eleen takes it that the baby is McCoy’s. Later even Spock gets a hilarious moment of indignation when he finds out the baby is named after both McCoy and Kirk: Leonard James! But I could have done without McCoy’s awful “oochi, woochi, coochi, coo”.
The supporting cast has their moments too. Chekov claiming the expression “fool me once” was a Russian phrase was comical and I always laugh when Sulu puts the Enterprise into Standard Orbit, because I always try to imagine the alternatives. Newmar’s MA-COY didn’t come off as alien as she may have intended it, and just sounded like someone struggling with English; a problem no one else on the planet had! Scotty actually comes off cool as a cucumber in this story, calmly approaching a problem and analyzing it. He knows his duty and won’t be fooled by trickery twice.
Overall, this episode was substantially more fun than I remembered it and I found myself laughing far more than I expected. I just wish Kirk wasn’t depicted as such a racist against Klingons. While I may not be a fan of Klingons, I certainly don’t think they are as bad as Jim makes out. I wonder if there was a war before these episodes that no one ever heard of! Maybe 50 years later, they’ll do a prequel series to explain it all! ML
The view from across the pond:
This week Kirk, McCoy, Spock and a random red shirt arrive on the planet of interesting headwear. Predictably the red shirt is dead within seconds, and that sets the tone. This is a violent race of aliens which Kirk is trying to do a deal with, not helped by a Klingon getting there first. The episode is therefore dominated by a lot of tedious fighting, and a big escape and capture. In the meantime Scotty is in command of the Enterprise, and appears to be a good, decisive, brave captain, although I’m not sure about the wisdom of recording his captain’s log in front of everyone, talking about his concerns. It seems an odd practice to do a big log in front of the crew; might be a bit disconcerting for them.
Scotty’s slice of the action is ultimately a big distraction, and in plot terms the only purpose it serves is to strand Kirk, McCoy and Spock on the planet. So that’s virtually the whole story out of the way, with nothing there to engage the brain, but luckily there is one aspect of this episode that is interesting, so that’s what I’ll focus on: Eleen and McCoy.
Theirs is such a fascinating and troubling relationship that it’s worth looking at in detail. First of all, Eleen has a lack of emotional connection to her unborn child. She hates it before it is born, and the unspoken reason is almost certainly that her pregnancy was forced upon her. Just look at her reaction when the chieftain is talking about a younger wife to provide him with a child. I think the actress understood the implications of that scene. Labelling this a story about a rape victim might be going too far, but it is certainly a story about a woman who is going to give birth to a child she doesn’t want, and that’s strong stuff.
It is immediately clear that McCoy is not in the least bit interested in Eleen’s feelings towards her child, or in her customs, despite studying them in detail. The slapping scene is horrific. It’s not as if he even explains to her why he is touching her in what is clearly an overly personal way for a woman who finds any kind of male touch inappropriate. Instead he treats her as if she is hysterical and irrational. She is neither of those things.
I have jokingly mentioned before that I’m not convinced McCoy is actually a real doctor, but this episode really does work better if you think of him as somebody who has had a little medical training and just wandered aboard the Enterprise by accident one day. He might have some knowledge about the mechanics of childbirth (although beyond that he clearly doesn’t, because he’s trying to interact with a sleeping baby), but I find it hard to believe in a doctor who doesn’t understand about asking for a patient’s consent before touching her, or explaining what he intends to do before he lays hands on a woman.
If you can stomach all that, things do conclude quite nicely, and at least this is a story that makes some attempt to look at female empowerment in the end. DC Fontana takes a character who is initially nothing more than a vessel for producing an heir, and takes her on a journey to a position of power and independence. It’s just a shame that her empowerment never extended to the right to say no to a touchy-feely doctor. RP