The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise find paradise… again.
Assuming that those of you reading this article did not follow me on the Uncommon Geek blog, today’s subject may seem as though it came out of nowhere. For context, my first real blog entry, as in one that can still be found online and one that I don’t think ought to be hurled into Sol, was a review of the Star Trek episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and I last left off in my quest to review the entire Original Series with the episode “Mirror, Mirror.”
As an aside, this article is also being written on a Tuesday, for three reasons: one, I need to catch up for the Sundays I’ve missed; two, I have a random day off; three, Tuesday is traditionally the new release day for media, and so as a veiled sort of tribute to my former job at a video game store, I plan to release posts that are media reviews on Tuesdays.
To the point now. “The Apple” is an episode I didn’t get much exposure to as a kid. Somehow whenever Trek reruns were on, this is one I consistently missed. Now, engaging with it as an adult, I can appreciate some of what it tries to do even if it falls way short, instead of obsessing over the redshirt deaths and pyrotechnics the way I would have as a child.
Like “Shore Leave,” the episode begins with the Enterprise crew investigating a planet, Gamma Trianguli VI, that seems like paradise, or the Garden of Eden, as Kirk is wont to refer to. In typical Kirk fashion, he and a landing party beam down straight away, proverbially diving into the unknown headfirst for a chance to walk on green grass and smell the flowers. It all seems peachy for a few minutes until a bit of local flora shoots a crewman with poisonous darts (seeds turned projectile, maybe?), leading Kirk to realize he might have been overly eager in beaming down to this planet. I’ll give him at least this much credit: he does feel guilty for the death of a crew member, and is not above doubting his decisions or command abilities if it means that it caused someone to die. In later Trek iterations, crew members die without so much as getting a second look or a mention by their commanding officer.
“The Apple” is easy to poke fun at fifty years later. It probably cost a lot of energy and money to build the set, but the jungle setting never quite approaches authentic for me. It’s easier to buy into a desolate planet being represented with cheap sets than a world that is supposed to be teeming with life. If this could have been shot on location like “Shore Leave” that would’ve helped. This episode also sets the precedent for redshirt deaths more than any before it. Four men wearing red die in ways that are amusing before they can be taken seriously. There is the aforementioned poison dart attack, then a lightning strike that instantly vaporizes like a phaser, a rock that doubles as a land mine, and finally a club to the back of the head.
Naturally, when one of the main characters is attacked, they will survive.
The crew eventually comes across the native people of this planet, the Children of Vaal, and I guess at this point the Prime Directive goes out the window. Trek is known for silly costumes and makeup, but the red paint and puffy wigs slapped onto these extras takes the cake for goofiest alien concept on the show, at least until we get to Season Three…
Buried in this mess of a show is an allegory about a society that has become a slave to a machine-god, and has stagnated. Somewhere in here is a message about what the extremes of religious servitude and the lack of creativity and free will can do to a people, but whatever interesting thoughts could have come from this are rendered moot when Vaal threatens to destroy the Enterprise. The subplot of some big bad thing on a planet destroying the ship unless Kirk and crew can resolve the problem on the ground is already tired by this point in the series, and unfortunately will be repeated again soon. We know the ship isn’t going to be destroyed; did audiences in the 1960s ever buy this? The only interesting bit that comes out of it is the first mention of the emergency separation sequence a ship like the Enterprise can perform (though unlike Picard’s Enterprise, pulling that move here is not something that can be undone).
Spock is the only person here that I can fully sympathize with. He sees the Children of Vaal as a functioning, happy, peaceful society, one that ought to be left alone because it seems to work for them. McCoy disagrees, arguing that they are stagnating, that they should be left to be free and grow of their own accord instead of according to what Vaal wishes. I would normally be inclined to agree with McCoy, as the Children are effectively slaves and are given no apparent purpose other than to feed Vaal, dance, and eat. But, because we know nothing about what Vaal is or its purpose beyond pure speculation, we don’t know if the Children’s ancestors built Vaal as a guardian, or as a nurturer to prepare them for a time when they were ready to evolve, or if Vaal was perhaps even a remnant of a more advanced race like the Preservers that was either misappropriated, or malfunctioned, or was damaged and reduced to only its most basic sense of self-preservation. I can see Kirk taking either Spock’s or McCoy’s side potentially, but the crisis with the Enterprise forces the plot toward only one resolution: Vaal’s destruction.
He looks hungry.
After the conflict is resolved, and the Children of Vaal, naive and wide-eyed, smile and laugh at Kirk as he gives them a poor explanation of the struggles ahead of them, we get a final slap in the face with an Old Testament metaphor. The closing dialogue with the big three suggests Kirk gave the Children knowledge of good and evil, or the apple from the Garden of Eden. This leads to a bad joke where Spock is compared to Satan. It all looks silly before it can be funny or thought-provoking.
“The Apple” is a mess, and is better used for a Trek drinking game (take a shot when a redshirt dies, take two drinks when someone gets awkward trying to talk about sex). The only things of value I can take away from it, is that there is merit to Spock’s logic in the episode (some societies ought to be left to their own devices if the people are happy and the system works for them) and that while I agree with McCoy on some points (I hate to see any society whose entire purpose is devoted to the worship and exultation of one being, to the exclusion of all else), it is worth considering that our way is not the only way, that it is not our place to force our thinking on another people. After all, as Spock astutely calls out, the Children only learned how to kill once the Enterprise crew showed up. Maybe without the entire useless B-plot we could’ve found out more about Vaal and saw our characters make a more informed ethical decision. As it is, this is an episode better off skipped.
Disclaimer of legalese:
Star Trek is a CBS/Paramount copyright. All images in this review posting are courtesy of either http://www.startrek.com, http://www.trekcore.com, http://www.imdb.com, and/or http://www.wikipedia.org. Images are used for informational and entertainment purposes only, and no copyright infringement on CBS or Paramount Studios is intended.