Star Trek: Plato’s Stepchildren

Star Trek Blue LogoIt was always amazing to me that whenever I’d turn the TV on to see Star Trek, it seemed Plato’s Stepchildren was on and I find it to be one of the hardest episodes to watch.  I know it’s got the historical significance of “the first televised interracial kiss” (at least here in the States) but the actual story is just tiresome.  I’m forced to agree with Spock’s lyric; this story is “bitter dregs”.  It’s effectively a story about absolute power corrupting absolutely which is never a dull topic, unless done with such humiliation to the actors that I cringe every time I watch it.  Michael Dunn’s Alexander is probably the best character to be introduced all season (so far) because Alexander is a great person and one you root for throughout and I very much wanted to see him on board the Enterprise but there is just so much to criticize even where he’s concerned.  “Where I come from, size, shape or color make no difference,” Kirk says sympathetically to his small friend, but that doesn’t stop Kirk ending the story having Scotty beam them back to the ship to this line: “I have a little surprise for you.”  That’s not all but let’s just talk about the plot first.

The Enterprise responds to a distress call to find a race of telekenetics who are some 2500 years old.  Having lost their mortality, they’ve become empty inside and enjoy torturing Alexander, a person of short stature.  They demand that McCoy stays with them on the planet because they don’t have anyone with medical experience around.  Kirk stringently denies their request doing what he does best: being a bully to people with more power than he has.  Does he try to offer a solution like in The Corbomite Maneuver when he offloaded a crewman he didn’t like that much?  No!   And don’t forget, we’ve seen this behavior from Kirk too many times to ignore it, from as early as season 1’s Squire of Gothos.  He refuses to even attempt negotiations!  Then, once he knows the inhabitants can even control the Enterprise, rather than come up with a solution, (like agreeing to letting McCoy stay, flying to the limits of transporter range, then beaming up the only human on the planet for a fast getaway), Kirk continues to be rude resulting in what I can only assume would have been an embarrassment for trained actors to go through.  Whether watching Kirk repeatedly smack himself across the face, or Spock violently quaking while kissing Nurse Chapel, or Spock’s tap dance number around Kirk’s head ending with a foot-on-nose routine or Kirk pretending to be horse and Alexander climbing on his back, riding him around as Shatner neighs… it’s all so hard to watch.  I can only hope that the actors laughed through it.  (Speaking of laughing, do we feel something is amiss when McCoy tells the Platonians that Spock is Vulcan and forcing him to laugh will “destroy him”?  Isn’t Spock half human?  Don’t Vulcans have emotions but try to suppress them, because they follow “logic” and not because of a medical condition?)

As if all that wasn’t enough, and believe me, it’s rough going on its own, this is the second story to speculate on the ancient astronaut idea first given to us in season 2’s Who Mourns for Adonis?  The irony is that this race supposedly showed up at the same time as Apollo in the aforementioned tale, which begs the question: were they related?  Is Kirk just anti-Greek, considering he treated Apollo with the same demanding attitude that he treats the Platonians?  If Apollo knew his friends were still around, maybe he could have had a happier ending.  And what should we make of the fact that these guy’s left during the ancient Greek era but throw in some nice French phrases too, for good measure.  (The pièce de résistance!)

Oh, I wish I could say I was done, but there are so many wacky moments that, if this was the canned episode to put on the networks, it’s no wonder growing up a Trek fan lead to a lot of teasing!  Recall, Uhura says she would often be scared until she heard Kirk’s voice coming from “all parts of the ship” but she sits in the room with him.  I mean, by Zeus, she turns on the inter-ship communication network!!  And remember all that stuff about Alexander?  At the end, when Kirk obtains his telekinetic power, he doesn’t use it to pull the knife from Alexander’s hand?  No, he uses Alexander as the weapon carrier pushing him back to Parmen while Parmen tries pushing Alexander back to Kirk.

Hang on, it’s ain’t over yet!  Kirk is wearing a toga for the entertainment spectacle.  When he wins the day, he pulls a communicator out from somewhere…. (I hope he hasn’t been spending time with Captain Jack Harkness…!)  And what was the resolution?   Parmen tells Kirk they will be good because he sees the error of his ways, to which Kirk says “I don’t believe you” and then he leaves!  So… huh?  Are you doing anything about it, Jim, or just coming back to the Enterprise with a “little surprise” for Scotty?  Presumably, the idea that they were taking the only non-telekentic back to the Enterprise deprives Parmen and his people of anyone to push around.  (Not that Parmen couldn’t pull the Enterprise out of the sky the minute Kirk got back to the ship.)  And how long do these abilities last?  Can Kirk use them in the next episode?  Of course not!  Nothing in Trek really carries over or the Enterprise would have a nice cloaking device by now!

Spock’s concern for what might have happened to Kirk may be the defining moment of the episode.  He actually expresses hatred for the fact that he could have been responsible for Kirk’s death.  He almost seems more concerned than he did in Amok Time when he actually “killed Kirk”.  Sadly, I think this was the episode people associated with Trek which understandably created some disappointment for the viewers.  If this is what Trek was, no wonder Saturday Night Live made fun of Trekkies.  I’m going to gallop away from this episode and hope that next week brings us a bigger surprise…   ML

The view from across the pond:

Aha, so this is the famous interracial kiss. It almost seems like I grew up knowing about this moment in television history. Despite having never watched this episode before, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about The Kiss. What a shame it had to happen in this episode.

We now know that this was not the first interracial kiss on television. It’s not even the first interracial kiss on American television (it barely even qualifies as one of the first). Arguably, it’s not the first interracial kiss in Star Trek. OK, so it might not even be a kiss at all. Shatner and Nichols seem to be doing that old trick of turning their head away from the camera at the moment their lips (don’t) touch, and either way it can barely be described as a kiss. Their lips aren’t exactly locking, and Shatner is clearly making sure he just holds his face in the right sort of position, while keeping an eye on his captors. In context, that’s the right performance, of course. They’re supposed to be trying to avoid the actual kiss. They are being forced to do this. One thing this definitely is not, is a romantic kiss between two people who are attracted to each other, sadly. So this is far from being the big kiss I had always assumed it would be, but if it did something good for race relations in the USA then it’s still a moment to be celebrated. It is also very clear that the writer did have good intentions in this regard, as evidenced by Kirk’s chat with Alexander earlier in the episode:

“Alexander, where I come from, size, shape or colour makes no difference.”

In 1968 America, predicting a future where equal rights are absolute was actually a very brave statement to make. But at this point we have virtually exhausted the good things we can say about the episode. On paper this is another good idea, with the Enterprise encountering people who basically have total control over them. I can’t deny that it’s scary at times, and extremely disturbing, so the episode definitely makes an impact, but the idea is squandered because the story goes nowhere at all. Once we have established that the Platonians have control over the bodies of their victims, the plot development stops at that point, and virtually the whole episode is given over to, let’s face it, sadistic psychological torture scenes. It’s horrible to see Kirk and Spock utterly humiliated. You couldn’t really describe this episode as entertainment.

At first the enforced antics had me laughing, in moments where I probably wasn’t supposed to laugh. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of Kirk repeatedly slapping his own face, and Spock and Kirk’s Ministry of Silly Walks routine. But by the time they were doing an absurd, involuntary dance, they were being so humiliated and bullied that it had stopped being funny, and I didn’t want to be watching any more. And then we had a scene that surely crossed some kind of a line as to what should be shown on television, with a person of short stature riding on Shatner’s back while he brays like a horse. This is out and out one of the most revolting and disturbing moments I have ever had the misfortune to watch. Seriously, didn’t anyone involved in this train wreck think to say “enough’s enough” at that point? I do think it’s possible to push things so far that you reach a point where you’re humiliating the actors, and not just the characters.

Having thoroughly objectified Alexander, the Platonians then proceed to objectify the women. Nurse Chapel sums up the situation really well. She always wanted Spock, but not like this.

“For so long I’ve wanted to be close to you. Now all I want to do is crawl away and die.”

It’s just depressing isn’t it. What a nasty episode. It just revels in the torture for almost the entire running time, and then when Kirk and Alexander get their moment of triumph it feels hollow and tacked on at the last minute.

Living for a very long time made the Platonians “sadistic and arrogant”. What a miserable, bleak thought. What a miserable, bleak episode.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Star Trek: Plato’s Stepchildren

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Anything that I can possibly say about Plato’s Stepchildren has pretty much already been said by both of you. My biggest depression with the episode was how it depicted telekinetics as a power that can ultimately corrupt people. The movie Phenomenon was a nice remedy in that regard. I would love to have telekinetic power because it would solve a lot of my problems and I know for sure that I would NEVER use it for abusive purposes. It’s healthier for sci-fi to depict how having mentally advanced powers can truly benefit us and the universe. So that’s a good enough reason for me to never re-watch Plato’s Stepchildren.

    Thanks for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

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