Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Star Trek at 50: This Side of Paradise

Season 1
Episode 25: This Side of Paradise
Filmed:  January 1967
First Air Date: March 2, 1967

Karen: Mr. Spock in love. What else need be said?

Karen: Well, OK, it's more than just that. Similar to "The Naked Time," everyone loses their inhibitions and basically goes awol. But this time, they all go to their happy place, even our favorite Vulcan. Was it a take on 60s drug culture? It seems so. When people are inoculated with the 'spores' they are blissful and contented - but not very productive. The colonists have done almost nothing for three years on Omicron Ceti 3, and the crew of the Enterprise, once under the spell, all decide to chuck it and beam down to the planet. This crew, said to be the finest in the fleet, suddenly abdicates all responsibility, and happily heads to the transporter to beam down and spend their time on the planet, staring at clouds. I suppose to many adults in the 60s, they probably thought that was a fair description of what was happening with the youth, with their own kids, back then!

Karen: Jerry Sohl came up with the premise and the story outline. Surprisingly, it had Sulu falling in love, not Spock. When the story was turned over to D.C. Fontana to turn into a full-fledged script, she immediately felt that it had to be Spock falling in love to really make an impact. Producers Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman loved it, and so the change was made. It's a wonderful showcase for the character, and for actor Leonard Nimoy, who was initially hesitant about the idea, but did a terrific job, particularly when the effect of the spores is violently stripped from Spock, and he realizes exactly what he's lost. 

Karen: Although this is typically thought of as a Spock episode, it is also a great vehicle for Captain Kirk, providing insight into his character as well. Above all, Kirk is driven by his dedication to his ship, and his mission. Of the entire ship's complement, it is Kirk alone who resists the spores' influence. Being the commander of the Enterprise is his paradise. He quickly shakes off the effects. But he must get his crew back. The Enterprise is nothing without the people running it. He knows he needs Spock to do this. The scene where Kirk provokes Spock into a fight in order to negate the effect of the spores is one of the most memorable of the season, with Kirk getting verbally abusive towards his First Officer, questioning his parentage and his manhood. It might be considered tame today but knowing these characters as we do, it's still hard to take.

Karen: "All right you mutinous, disloyal, computerized half-breed, we'll see about you deserting my ship." Whew! The only really flaw with this scene was the (once again) obvious use of stunt men for the two leads. It might not have been as noticeable years ago with smaller TV screens and standard definition, but with today's high definition format and giant screens, it is just painful.

Karen: Freed from the spores, Spock's sense of duty, and loyalty to Kirk, kick in. He helps the Captain rig a signal that will cause irritation in the crew on the planet and bring them out of their stupor too. But  Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland), the woman with whom he's become involved, is released by her discovery that Spock is no longer "one" with them (sounds a bit like 'Return of the Archons', doesn't it?). The Vulcan treats her kindly, but it's clear that the laughing, smiling Spock of the spores is gone. And both the dialog, and Nimoy's acting, let us know that he feels some dismay at this, even while he accepts it. The music that plays in this scene is the "Ruth" theme recycled from "Shore Leave", and it's quite effective here.

Karen: It must have been quite a shock to fans watching the show when it first aired to see the stoic Mr. Spock grinning and hanging from a tree branch, and smooching with a pretty girl. This could have been a disaster for Trek, if handled poorly, but instead, it was a breakout episode that gave not only Nimoy but Shatner chances to shine and expand their characters. 


david_b said...

Great review as always. This particular episode also allowed us some more of Leonard McCoy's 'southern gentlemen' personality to shine through, very entertaining. Again, a nice character study, doubling with both a topical-cultural message and moral argument on man and what happens when his ambition is taken away.

As a kid I had trouble watching the creepy way in which Spock is lured in and ultimately assaulted, but all in all as Karen mentioned, the entire 'half-breed' fight scene was very well done. The scene ends with one of the series' best lines..:

Kirk: "Well, if we're both in the brig, who's going to build the subsonic transmitter?"

Pat Henry said...

A great episode, probably remarkably cost-effective to produce with the planet scenes on the back lot of some Western series. The ending is notably melancholy for all its irony—"for the first time in my life, I was happy"—a downbeat we don't often see in the original Trek.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,

There’s a saying that sci fi is never about the future or about far flung worlds but about whatever is going on in the culture that makes it at the time, so SF is not a spyglass to the future but a filter on the present. 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Clockwork Orange, all the 50’s sci fi movies from the McCarthy era, Silent Running, etc etc are all of their era. Even the Matrix seems curiously last century with its preoccupation that hidden government is controlling everything that is going on (rather than completely unable control even the stuff it’s supposed to). In some cases it becomes hilariously clear with hindsight, when some long-forgotten issue of the day has been expanded to cosmic proportions.

I always think of this episode of ST as the poster child of this concept. It’s not just about the drug culture, but also raises the question of achievement itself. Is flying through the universe in a horribly be-weaponed battle ship actually more of an achievement than living in peace and harmony with those you love? Apparently so. It’s also obviously about flower power, but is there an undercurrent that the flower children are being manipulated?

A great episode. One of the ones we used to look forward to coming around again.


Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, great episode, with some truly great character moments. Don't really have much to add to the conversation beyond that.
I just wanted to add that I always liked that little quip at the end of that last quip, about Spock having another name that unpronounceable. I found that and his little smile amusing. And that was never really revisited again, was it? (I mean Vulcans have names in their own language which are unpronounceable to us - stands to reason though...)

Garett said...

Good episode, and great one for Spock's character. Is this one of the first episodes where we see Spock's Vulcan strength, in the battle with Kirk?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is another classic. I always like episodes where Spock gets to show some genuine feeling. Jill Ireland was great as Leila (although I read that her husband, Charles Bronson, was hanging around the set to make sure she didn't get TOO into character!)

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

Spock mentions his mother was a teacher - was it established yet that Spock was half human on his mother's side ? Or that the Vulcans chose to keep their emotions in check rather than being naturally emotionless ?

Anonymous said...

Great point Mike! Yeah, Nimoy and Shatner took turns hosting a Trek rerun marathon on the now Syfy channel back in the 90s IIRC, and they said that the atmosphere on this particular episode was really tense because of Charles Bronson being on set keeping a watchful eye on his wife Jill Ireland!

Colin, I stand corrected, but I do believe that those issues (Spock's half human heritage and emotional self control) were still being worked out as the show went along.

- Mike 'lemme guess, they're gonna remake the Death Wish movies too' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Martinex1 said...

I really liked this episode. I thought that the acting was top notch and that the characters' dichotomy and ultimate inner turmoil was well displayed.

Richard I think you make a great point about the cultural commentary. The show did a good job of subtly arguing the pros and cons of the positions while still being incredibly entertaining.

I have a question...I couldn't get a good look at what Kirk looked at that finally triggered his recovery. It looked like a competitive medal of some kind...what was it?

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