The Mark of Gideon is another of those significant episodes of Trek. It’s not whether it’s good or bad, but that it is about something and gets the audience thinking. The episode offers us a deeply satisfying mystery before hitting us with a very real problem: overpopulation. Of course, the audience does have to take some things at face value to enjoy the episode, but the ideas are what count and for that, this is a good one.
So here’s the problem with the episode: Kirk is invited to be the first Federation member to come to the planet Gideon, a planet that is not currently a part of the Federation. Upon beaming down to the planet something “goes wrong” and Kirk finds himself on an abandoned Enterprise. He wanders the entire ship (excluding his own quarters – because that’s where the Gideon council chamber is – not the plaque on the wall when they come out), but finds no one… until a mysterious girl, Odona, starts dancing through the ship. Where is everyone? What’s going on? About half way through the episode, along with Jim, we learn the truth: Kirk had a deadly disease that they could harvest from his blood to help spread to the global population which could then help to reduce the population of a planet so cramped with people that there is nowhere to move. People want to die just to be able to be alone! The virus would be a gift!
Ok, so did you see the problem; the one that takes away from the believability of the episode? The planet is so cramped that the Gideonites built an entire replica of a ship for Kirk to wander for what was to be a very brief experiment; maybe a day or two at most. Seems like if they have enough space to build a ship that typically is home to 430 crewmen, the people outside the council chambers wouldn’t be so tightly packed, milling around with nowhere to go. But wait, did you forget one other problem? How did they build the ship so well that Kirk couldn’t tell he was on a fake? Remember, they are not part of the Federation and even if they were, are all Constitution class ships so different that their Captains wouldn’t know the difference?
Now, that’s not to say the episode isn’t bringing up a good point. Overpopulation is an important issue. Just in my youth we were at less than half our present global population. The problems that plague the episode go beyond the interesting premise, however. Kirk effectively asks why they don’t invest in condoms (short of the body-condoms everyone seems to wear with the exception of the council leaders and Odona). They explain that life is so sacred that they believe it should not be stopped, yet these people are so miserable that death is preferable. Seems like a real oxymoron to me. Do you bring a child into a world of misery? Now, that forces two more important points: one, typically food shortages are going to reduce the populace but maybe we can give that a pass because we really don’t know what these people eat. Maybe sunlight is enough to sustain them; just because they look like us, doesn’t mean they are like us! But then there’s the other issue: sex. Now, I’m not trying to be crude here, but if the planet is so overpopulated that no one could ever be alone… is this a public act? I mean, dare we even consider what their loos look like? (Let’s not even get into the plot point that the council leader was pretty insistent upon the fact that his daughter had to die, even though she could have lived and still supplied the virus as Kirk did!) I mean, these are unfortunately big oversights!
Beyond that, the episode has my absolute favorite moment of Kirk being chivalrous! To set the stage, Kirk opens a viewport and instead of seeing stars, faces stare in at them. It’s actually a very disturbing scene, but Kirk’s valor knows no bounds: he runs to Odona to hug her, while hiding his own face, rather than hers, from the terror!
For comedy, I also give points to Kirk looking out at a starfield and telling Odona he’s “not familiar with that quadrant”. That was like being dropped face down in the sand and being asked what beach you’re on. “I’m not familiar with these grains!” And what of the look on Jim’s face as he is wandering the empty ship, then sees Odona. I could hear his thoughts: “Dear diary: Jackpot!” It’s written all over his face. Also partly comedic and partly brilliant is Spock’s dialogue with the Gideon council leader. If there was ever an episode that demonstrated the art of diplomacy, it’s this one. The conversation as other crew members speak out while on an open channel made me laugh, while also making me realize how grossly unprofessional they were, but Spock and the councilor handle it like pros.
As I said, sometimes it’s not about whether the episode is good. It’s “is it significant” that we need to ask ourselves, and yes, The Mark of Gideon is significant. It does ask a question that we have to consider; how much can our planet take before we can’t sustain ourselves? At what point do we need to start wearing body-condoms like the Gideonites just to avoid being appealing to one another? And most importantly, will I ever be able to go into a hotel, find a Gideon bible, and not think to myself: “ah, the mark of Gideon!” ML
The view from across the pond:
This episode has a strong mystery to it. Kirk beams down and appears on an empty Enterprise. Seeing the ship so deserted feels very wrong and troubling. We then cut to another version of the Enterprise with everyone else there, so where is Kirk? Added to that, he has a strange irritation on his wrist, which he cannot account for.
When he finally gets some company, she’s female, of course. This is Star Trek, after all. At least the director managed to avoid filming her in soft focus for most of the episode. Women nearly always make the picture go blurry in classic Trek. Eventually the director couldn’t resist going into soft focus for a close-up shot, but by then Odona is the latest in a long line of women to immediately fall in love with Kirk.
“I want to ease your feeling of dread.”
Easy now. Calm down. While we’re puzzling all this out, Spock is being so un-Spock-like that McCoy actually has to agree with him most of the time, although Spock still has the most motley crew in Starfleet to deal with. At one point Scotty goes off muttering to himself because he feels like his equipment has been insulted, an incredibly childish reaction for one of the most senior officers on the ship. McIdiot doesn’t have a clue about allowing the senior officer to negotiate with the ambassador, and can’t resist putting his nine rotten eggs in. I loved Hodin’s response to the situation:
“There was considerable interference with your transmission. A lot of noise drowned out what was said.”
“Noise” sums up just about anything McCoy ever says very succinctly. But Spock is really odd in this one. He suddenly turns into the most cynical person ever, coming up with opinions like this:
“We must acknowledge once and for all that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis.”
… and this:
“Diplomats and bureaucrats may function different but they achieve exactly the same results.”
He later violates an order from Starfleet without a second thought (which is a great plot development that is completely undermined by having no consequences whatsoever). Most illogical. I think this shows, once and for all, that Spock’s friendship with Kirk now takes precedence over everything else, and that’s a very strong aspect of the series. Either that, or he’s completely mad. After all, he delivers a big log on the fake Enterprise. Couldn’t that have waited for later? Also, whenever he squeezes out a First Officer’s Log, his lips never move, so they come across as if they are just in his head. I think he’s probably insane.
Definitely insane is Odona, who saves her dying words for a man she just met, instead of her father, who is standing in the same room. Also probably insane is Hodin. Just look at this line of thinking: when Kirk suggests sterilising people to put a stop to the severe overpopulation on the planet Gideon, he says, “every organ renews itself. It would be impossible.” Fair enough, but then Kirk says this:
“Let your people learn about the devices to safely prevent conception.”
We all know what that means. Hodin’s answer is that, “the people of Gideon have always believed that life is sacred.” So which is it? They won’t put something on it, but they want to engineer fatal illnesses to wipe out a big chunk of the population. How is that a belief in life being sacred? It sounds like an excuse to me. He might as well say he’s “allergic to latex”.
This was still a really enjoyable episode, though. In fact, I think it’s easily the best of the third season so far. There are lots of really creepy moments, especially all those faces looking in from outside the Enterprise, and even the sounds coming from outside the ship are scary. It all feels so wrong. Once we know what’s going on it becomes a much less interesting episode, and my mind started wandering onto irrelevant details such as how amusingly short Spock’s trousers are, but at that point we’ve already had the best part of 40 minutes of great drama, with a strong mystery. Of course, the biggest mystery of all is why all those people are milling around outside, jostling each other for position. They really need to just sit down and read a book or something… or maybe a blog. You never know, we could have the solution to overcrowding right here. Stay at home, and read The View from the Junkyard. RP
For one of the nicest love stories that Kirk has ever had, The Mark Of Gideon is a most memorable episode. For one of the most important issues that the classic Trek has ever tackled, it was enough to encourage the SF universe to make more use of it like Soylent Green. Another question that can come to mind is why the Gideonites couldn’t solve their problem by colonizing other worlds. After all, it works for Earth humans in the Trek universe. And quite undeniably there must have been a plenitude of possible cures for the Gideonites’ curse on some of those other worlds. When such an episode is so homed in on a main character like Kirk being seen as a pragmatic sacrifice, even with the understanding of how openly desperate the Gideonites have become, we can feel thankful that Kirk and Spock finally prevailed in showing Hodin a more appropriate solution through Odona. It was a good episode for the classic Trek’s final and most troubled season. Thanks for your reviews.
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Agreed, the plotting on this one is very dodgy, but the atmosphere is so genuinely unsettling it almost make sup for it. The first time I saw this episode as a kid I didn’t really understand it at all… but that scene where all those faces start staring at Kirk and Odana through the monitor screen really creeped me out.
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While I agree, I think my memory of it is creepier than what it was last time I watched it. Like I said, the fact that Kirk FAILS EPICALLY to hide Odana’s face from the scary thing makes it far more comedic than it probably was intended to be. But a very important episode, I think, even if slow moving. ML
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Here’s the thing that makes this episode so ridiculous for me. It’s not the fact that this overpopulated planet found the space to build an exact duplicate of the Enterprise. It’s the fact that the simplest solution to their problem never seems to occur to them. Which is namely, “Could the Federation assist us by relocating our surplus population to other planets?” THAT’S the obvious solution to Gideon’s problem. But I guess if they’d realized that, we wouldn’t have to have a discourse that was meant to be metaphors about then contemporary issues of overpopulation, birth control etc. Moral of the story is don’t let Cyrano Jones write an episode!
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That is, of course, the easiest option but that could even come later. Frankly, it’s down to the Gideons thinking to ask first. Kirk might even recommend it, but that would come after the events of the episode since the morons who kidnapped him threw him right into a fiasco before ever asking for help. (Proof that other planets have bad leaders too!)
The flip side of that is that once the Gideonites realize they can expand, a race that doesn’t die would rapidly spread like a virus.
I didn’t realize Cyrano Jones wrote that one! ML
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“Cyrano Jones a Star Trek episode writer?”
“He simply could not believe his ears.” 🙂
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It is sad but interesting when we think of how Star Trek’s portraits of such agendas don’t really hold up so well. Much of our classic sci-fi has tried to impress us in the extraordinary areas so much that it often misses some marks in sufficient realism.
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