TREK-A-DAY: The Devil in the Dark
EPISODE TWENTY-FIVE: The Devil in the Dark
This one is a neat little episode; similar to The Man Trap, it’s a localized more intimate episode very reminiscent to a procedural show like The X-Files with a ‘monster of the week’ to deal with. Of course, there’s a Star Trek spin where the creature turns out to be merely protecting its young (leading to the fantastic Futurama Pobbles episode as well as just about every dragon film ever) but nevertheless it’s a strange little episode full of some memorable moments (Shatner actually cites this as his favourite episode). Most notably, is the creature itself, which looks like a chili-carpet and couldn’t be more classic 60’s sci fi:
Like a sidewalk in the entertainment district on Sunday morning.
And yes, it moves exactly how you think it would: by undulating hilariously.
The plot goes, that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to an important mining colony where miners are being killed by a mysterious creature which is actively sabotaging their operations. Kirk and Spock set out to destroy it, only to have matters get more complicated when Spock deduces the creature is the last of its species and thus killing it would essentially be causing extinction. This is a dilemma that will repeat itself throughout Trek, as our heroes struggle with their right to exist versus the equally valid right of alien species to exist as well.
The creature (a Hotha) is a silicon-based lifeform that lives in the rocks of the planet and is tasked with protecting the future of its race (all in strange orbs, which are later revealed to be eggs). Essentially once they are able to hurt the creature, Kirk finds that it bears no malicious intent; this is an important scene, as the bemused and curious Kirk is observing its reactions while Spock (previously advocating for the creature’s capture instead of killing) insists that Kirk kill it. There’s a real desperation to protect Kirk that is very telling of the depth of the two characters’ friendship, as Spock is unquestioningly willing to cause the extinction of a species to save Kirk. This turns out to be unnecessary as the creature shows no desire to kill them and when Spock mind melds with it, the creature communicates a desperate “No Kill I!” The meld, once properly established allows Spock to speak for the creature, which is highly intelligent and wounded, worrying for the future of the species. The miners have (of course) been randomly destroying the eggs (which contain the entirety of the species beyond our one Chili-Rug Monster) and leads Kirk to orchestrate an agreement between the Hotha and the miners, where the miners will help protect the eggs if the newly hatched Hotha help them burrow tunnels. A symbiotic relationship is set up (and McCoy who proudly declares he could “cure a rainy day” patches up the Hotha with concrete allowing it to heal) and we get a classic Star Trek ending, where human and alien have gained a better understanding of each other and themselves. Shatner is right in his estimation that this random, little episode contains a lot of the best of Trek’s intentions, messages, and purpose.
It also ends with a fantastic little scene where Spock admits that during his meld, the Hotha had the same reaction to human appearance that they had to it. But that she found his ears the most attractive feature. Spock then coyly adds, “I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was the only one…” There’s some more of that oft-used but nevertheless very fun banter between McCoy, Spock, and Kirk that really makes the show live.
Not bad for a ‘monster-of-the-week’ episode about an undulating chili-rug.