This Side of Paradise (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

Episode: This Side of Paradise – Season 1, Episode 24 (1967)

Director: Ralph Senenski

this side of paradiseTeleplay: D.C. Fontana

Story: D.C. Fontana and Nathan Butler (Jerry Sohl)

The Enterprise visits a defunct agricultural colony on Omicron Ceti III to retrieve the remains of a bunch of irradiated colonists – but they’re not dead! Not only have Berthold rays failed to liquefy Elias Sandoval (Frank Overton) and the rest of his blissful band, but the colonists are in perfect health. If three-quarters of a season of Star Trek have taught us anything, it’s that a man in perfect health has got to be hiding something.

Spoiler: it’s super-passive-aggressive flowers. A snoot-full of the explosive local bud induces peaceful contentment, a communitarian sensibility, and a kick’n pea-green jumpsuit. The first blast isn’t enough to convince Kirk, but Sulu takes to it like a drunk with his morning Schlitz. McCoy defaults to the “Ol’ Country Doctor” persona, complete with back-holler accent for some reason? With Spock’s latent hippie side on display, he’s too busy climbing trees and rolling in the hay with Leila (Jill Ireland) to follow orders. Pretty soon our Captain is the only one not in carefree mutiny.

Uhura has short-circuited subspace communications, so Kirk is really on his own until a third blast of flower power convinces him to join the happy commune. We see him pack more uniforms but leave his medals behind, he’s on the transport pad, but then: he can’t do it! The Star Fleet broomstick is wedged too far up his ass. But how will he induce strong negative emotions in the rest of his crew so they, too, can be purged of the affliction of total bliss and perfect physical health?

Did you guess “With punching?” Captain Kirk tricks Spock into transporting back to the ship, and then goads him into a fistfight via racial slurs.[1]  Cured, Spock helps the captain bombard the planet with ultrasonics to induce a murderous rage in everyone, and that’s the last stop on the Peace Train. Everybody off.

Once again, Kirk harshes a whole planet’s mellow with a lot of talk about human beings needing challenges and resistance to feel complete, that anything else is just stasis.  For our Captain, any joy in life lies in the journey toward knowledge – God forbid we ever get anywhere. I know Star Trek is the name of the show, but really: you’d think there might be room in the man’s heart to accommodate the colonists’ dippy, boring commune. As far as Star Fleet knows, they’re already dead, so why not leave them in peace?

This same period gave us The Santaroga Barrier (1968), a novel Frank Herbert used to explore the divergent value systems fermenting in the American counterculture.  It also features a protagonist trying to solve the mystery of a community where people seem “too happy.” But unlike Kirk, Gilbert Dasein eventually decides that blissful participation in a transcendental, communal subconscious is better than struggling along by himself. And Herbert was hardly the only one to preach this theme.

If the Gnostic union of the individual with the Godhead is a thing given only to the saints, aren’t the rest of us left with the simple consolation of other people? How do we learn to recognize what is best in each other, how do we harmonize our interests, how do we just get along? A few people somewhere find an answer, Spock is happy for the first time in his life, and Kirk comes along and kicks it to crap for their own good. Thanks a lot, you stupid fuck.

[1] If that sounds familiar, it’s because Kirk had to beat some sense into Spock back in “The Naked Time” in almost the exact same way. For a guy who went to such great lengths to build a multi-cultural cast, Roddenberry sure gets a lot of mileage out of the whole “Halfbreed” thing.

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Filed under Childhood Memories, Star Trek Original Series

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