Watching some 60’s TV that would air during my youth, I remember having a crush on two women from Batman. Or should I say a woman and a girl? Namely, Catwoman played by Julie Newmar (last seen in Star Trek in the hilarious Friday’s Child), and Batgirl, played by Yvonne Craig, as this week’s Orion Slave girl, Marta. Yet, while she is immensely fun to watch in all her corny insanity, it’s Garth … that’s LORD GARTH… himself that really is the main attraction in Whom Gods Destroy. It’s the over the top campiness of this episode that really wins me over. The episode is heavy on sitting around and being silly including having an Andorian and a Tellerite playing charades like a Platonian (um, a rickshaw! I’m sure it’s a rickshaw!) but it somehow works largely due to the casual craziness of Garth; a maniac who is up there with the greats like Emperor Cartagia (Babylon 5) or Soldeed (Doctor Who). Steve Ihnat is fantastic as the former Starfleet captain; another of Kirk’s childhood heroes! And Garth is just so charismatic that I could not see him as a villain. Well… until he got away with the unexpected murder of the episode’s damsel in distress. (And I was not happy with him calling her a “stupid cow” either!)
So the mission, should Kirk choose to accept it, is a dream come true: deliver a drug to a planet of inmates that will eradicate mental illness forever. Whoa! Talk about thinking big! They arrive on Elba II and establish synchronous orbit. (So there is something other than standard!) Elba II is another penal colony run by another governor with another chair of mental torture from season 1’s Dagger of the Mind. (They also have a batch of Tholian Web suits to wear around the planet!). I begin to think I need to spend time on these psychiatric planets. First there was Doctor Helen Noel, my #1 Star Trek crush in Dagger of the Mind, and now on Elba II we have Yvonne Criag as Marta. (Probably my #2 Trek crush. I find the Orion women beautiful! Call me insane, my wife does, and look on the bright side: free entry to the Elba II colony!) But even if I am a few coupons short of a pop-up toaster, I can still recognize some of the nutty things that happen in this episode. For instance, the knife fight with Marta wherein she gives Kirk a chance to grab her arm. Or during the same fight, when Spock Vulcan neck pinches her, and then leaves her on the ground with the knife still in hand. That’s a wild and crazy move right there, huh? Or what about a planet that has a force field around the entire thing to keep 15 inmates locked up. 15 you say? I counted 8: the Tellerite, the Orion, the Izaran, the Andorian and these 4 goofballs with bad hats and worse outfits. Powering a forcefield for an entire planet to protect it from invasion… that’s crazy! I mean it wasn’t as if it was preventing them from leaving! The toxic atmosphere and the lack of a conveniently placed electronic thumb* prohibited even the most determined hitchhiker from escaping this place!
You know what else is crazy? Forcefields on doors that allow inmates to walk right through them, as Kirk does. He’s clearly standing beyond the limit of the light. Maybe the barrier wasn’t really up! Garth seems quirky enough that he might have been testing Kirk! Another nomination for craziest Trek moments? Garth was rehabilitated by a race that taught him to heal himself on a cellular level. As such, he learns how to use that skill to look like whoever he wants… complete with clothing changes. Watch as he changes from short Donald Cory, in his medical garb into tall LORD Garth, with his fur coat and phaser! Neat trick! Maybe he can transform into an electronic thumb* after all! But then he’d need to know the secret never-before-needed password to get off the planet anyway, so fat load of good that skill would be!
I’m being nitpicky! It’s like saying Garth is crazy because he wears two different colored boots! Come on, Dr. Jacobi wore glasses with two different colored lenses in Twin Peaks and he was the epitome of sane! Then Spock has to determine which Kirk is the real one when Garth morphs into Jim. Captain Genius asks Spock how they overcame a mission and Spock quotes a famous maneuver. How about asking “what did we do with the Tribbles in season 2?” Or “what killed my brother?” Or “who was Edith Keeler?” Or “what did we have for breakfast before coming here today?” So much shared history, and Jim basically asks Spock a question that requires not even a passing knowledge of one another but a guess at the recommended procedure from a manual! And these are two men who consider each other brothers??
Yet that may have been a highlight moment in the episode for me. Kirk may speak figuratively but Spock both understands and appreciates the sentiment. It’s an idea that impacted my entire life and forged bonds of friendship that knows no boundaries in time or space. Brotherhood goes beyond the bonds of blood. There are people in my life that are both brothers and sisters to me and the friendship forged in Star Trek, a show I was watching from the ripe old age of 3, imprinted itself on me when I started to form bonds in my life. Oh, nothing can take away from my actual blood relations but both my sister and I have family that exists outside of the actual blood connections. So all this silliness on Elba II really just gives us one great idea: brotherhood is strong. It allows us to know each other, defend each other, and periodically allow ourselves to be hit on the head for on another. Well, that and it gave us a reference to Axanar which decades later would lead to a lawsuit between Paramount and fans of the series. I guess we can’t call Paramount execs “brothers”, huh? ML
* The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy has this to say about the electronic thumb: “A short squat black rod, smooth and matte with a couple of flat switches and dials at one end. It allows Hitch Hikers to flag down passing spacecraft to hitch a lift. The Thumb is used by Hitchhikers throughout the Galaxy to steal a ride aboard starships who’s operators have little interest in taking along extra passengers.. Half the electronic engineers in the galaxy are constantly trying to find fresh ways of jamming the signals generated by the Thumb, while the other half are constantly trying to find fresh ways of jamming the jamming signals.”
The view from across the pond:
As soon as somebody mentioned a medicine to “eliminate mental illness forever”, I knew we were in for another stinker of an episode here. We’re in the realms of a childish understanding of mental illness, one where everyone who doesn’t conform to a standard of normal behaviour fits into one category, labelled “bonkers”, and the whole spectrum of mental issues can be cured with one magic treatment.
Long-term readers of my reviews might be thinking this is all a bit hypocritical, because I’ve been known to say how little interest I have in which particular bit of technobabble writers come up with to turn a fantasy plot into a sci-fi one. That’s basically what’s happening here, and generally I find complaints about science in sci-fi not making sense to be missing the point and attempting to make everything boringly rational. However, I’m more than happy to come across as hypocritical here, because there are areas where you can’t just fudge the science, and one of those is mental illness. If you do, then you’re just demonising anyone with mental issues as crazy monsters, and that’s exactly what happens here. It also doesn’t help that Garth is able to magically change his appearance, lazily cobbling together two fantasy ideas and disguising both as science fiction with some scientific-sounding words. Then we have the usual Star Trek problem of sexism, which besets almost every episode. Here it’s more casual than deliberate, with the following admittedly amusing exchange:
“I am the most beautiful woman on this planet.”
“You’re the only woman on this planet, you stupid cow.”
I’m not sure it was wise to draw attention to the gender balance in Star Trek quite so clearly as that.
Those are the major complaints out of the way, and the episode does have its entertaining moments. If you can accept a portrayal of mental illness that is just generic nutters, Steve Ihnat (Garth) and Yvonne Craig (Marta) do very well with that, and are really funny together, particularly when Marta is claiming she wrote a Shakespeare poem and Garth is getting exasperated with her. They are a great double act. Ihnat also does well with moments where he loses his cool, best of all when he finds out that he needs a password to get onto the Enterprise and ends up smashing his fists on the floor. OK, it’s overacting, but it’s a lot of fun.
All the doppelgänger stuff towards the end is not exactly original, and relies on Spock failing to ask any questions that only Kirk could answer. Never mind about a strategic decision, how about something personal and specific to one of their previous adventures? Most illogical. But I enjoyed the battle of the Kirks, and prior to that the fake Spock actually came very close to taking me by surprise, although by that point the episode had sagged in the middle and I probably wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been.
I don’t know what to think about the ending. On the one hand, it’s more of the same laziness around the issue of mental illness, treating it as if it’s one little virus that can be cured, which is pretty revolting, but on the other hand I do like the attempt at redeeming the villain in that way, making the very important point that somebody perceived as a villain could simply be mentally ill and perhaps deserves to be helped rather than destroyed. Again, though, that’s all a gross simplification of anything approaching reality. In the end, I think the word that best sums the episode up is lazy. The writers cobbled together a couple of sci-fi standard tropes, and just did the obvious stuff with them. The episode is quite fun at times, but that’s because those standard tropes are tropes for a reason: they work well as pulpy entertainment, but the first two seasons of Star Trek led me to expect a bit more than that from the show. It’s like nobody’s really trying any more. RP
I recently re-watched Whom Gods Destroy on Netflix. For a particularly troubling Trek episode that was still popular enough to in inspire the fan-based Axanar, it proves how surprisingly effective the Trek universe could be in reaching our hearts despite all its complications. One obvious issue is the tradition, for lack of a better word, of how the SF universe dramatizes insanity. Steve Ihnat for how gloriously camp his performance was made Garth an all-out megalomaniac desiring to conquer the universe. I might have favored such otherwise stereotypical villainy at the time I made my version of Zodin for Continuum City. But when you’re involving the very serious issues of mental illness, it does indeed put much of this episode in a bad light. A medicine that cures such mental illness may realistically be a blessing in that sense even if the science behind it seems more magical. But Ihnat makes the role a lot of fun and it’s also nice to see that Yvonne Craig as an equally good actress can be more than just Batgirl.
The distinguished Keye Luke is also very good casting as Cory. Thank you both for your reviews on this one which have covered some very important ground. The day when all mental illness may be finally cured is a day that I will personally look most forward to. Especially in the most decent and humane ways that we in our Star Trek spirits can make possible.
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