TREK-A-DAY: The Enemy Within
EPISODE FIVE: The Enemy Within
What qualities make a great leader? It’s a question we’ve struggled with in fiction since time began; in The Illiad and The Odyssey the Greeks meditated on many leadership styles, from the conquering hero, all arrogance and shortsightedness (Agammemnon) compared to reason and guile (Odysseus). Elections always bring this to mind as well: what kind of person do we want at the helm of the country, province, state, or city? Smear campaigns explore exactly this question, targeting the negative qualities of each candidate with absurd abandon.
In today’s episode, the crew of The Enterprise gets a taste of this first-hand as Captain Kirk is sub-divided into a good and evil version through transporter mishap (Yep, first transporter mishap! Head’s up, Barkley!) The evil Kirk is a bit silly: he’s a womanzing, drinking, yelling Kirk, as opposed to our regular womanzing, drinking, yelling Kirk…expect he’s underlit and wears eye-liner.
But the debate about what qualities define a leader are excellent. The writer, legendary sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, of I Am Legend fame (damn I love how randomly the best writers of a generation just end up on shows of yesteryear. Like when Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke wrote for Playboy) never lets the debate collapse into black and white: evil Kirk attempts to rape Yeoman Rand (secretly a main character in the series, who knew?), but good Kirk -though compassionate, caring, and able to self-sacrifice- is almost unable to function as a commander. His passion, drive, and decision-making abilities are encompassed in the evil Kirk. Though he is animalistic, both Spock and McCoy recognize that these qualities kept in careful check are necessary for a leader. The good Kirk, though capable of calming his doppelganger down in quite a touching way (soothing the genetic inferior’s pain and fear as he is dying), he is actually pretty useless, drifting about the ship unable to do much of anything other than worry about his increasing indecision. It’s how a lot of Star Wars fans feel about the light and dark side of the Force; though we dig the Jedi, the Sith always get better powers in fights: lighting and air-choking are much more impressive than ‘I can push you back a ways’ and ‘I can lift things’ both abilities which are also available to the Sith. So too does good Kirk have to come to terms with the fact that without evil Kirk, he’s nothing.
This all leads up to the first “Which one do I shoot?” encounter on the bridge between the two Kirks, gives Shatner a chance to flex his screaming muscles (his evil version’s “I’M CAPTAIN KIRK!” might as well have been an audition for “KHAAAAAAN!”)
Yes, yes you are Captain Kirk.
We also get the second instance of a crewman getting to play an evil version of themselves (McCoy being the first in The Man Trap). There’s also an awesome B-plot involving Sulu and an away team on a rapidly freezing planet who can’t be beamed up for fear of splitting them as well. In addition to giving Sulu some more awesome one-liners in the face of death, this plot highlights how well this series uses it’s B-plots to raise the stakes and tension in the main plot: even though the issue of Kirk and his double is the main feature, there’s an urgency that is added by the crewman’s plight that really takes things up a notch. It’s unobtrusive and highly effective and indicative of something Trek will do quite often in years to come.
There is a little bit of weirdness (thanks 60’s) between Rand and Spock at the end where he kinda suggests she might have had a thing for evil rapey Kirk…they don’t make much of it and I think they are trying to imply that Rand has feelings for Kirk too, but it’s done in a clumsy and insensitive way. Good work, Spock.
This is also a great episode for continuity errors: Kirk beams up without a badge, then has one! He’s scratched on the left cheek, but in the showdown they clearly got the angle wrong so they flipped the evil Kirk shot meaning his scratches are on the right cheek. Awkward.
Also, there’s this space dog. (Who suffers the transporter accident and dies. Another victim of those goddamned death trap transporters.)
But all-in-all, despite the little blips, it’s a great episode by a sci-fi legend. The central argument is well thought-out and exploredAwesome.
Special side note: Space dog even spawned a meme on lol dogs: