In the episode, "Obsession," written by Art
Wallace, the meaning of obsession as first used in the original story submitted
Roddenberry, is not connected to any clinical, psychopathic definition. Wallace bases his story on Kirk's intensity upon solving a life and
death phenomena called "the creature," specifically the gaseous-cloud-thing that feeds upon human blood. It has all too many similarities to
the salt vampire in "Man Trap,"a creative criticism raised by Dorothy Fontana in her memos to Gene Roddenberry concerning the episode.
Wallace's manuscript presents no definition of obsession in his short story outline. The RFD of October 4, 1967, retains Wallace's title and
the theme of intensity. For purposes of good plot suspense, Gene Roddenberry insisted on a closer causal relationship between Kirk's
subjective state and the conception of the creature. The result is the attribution of an intelligence to the creature. The factor of intelligence
keeps Kirk from appearing like some crazed madman chasing an empty can of beans through the galaxy. Intelligence lends a credibility to
Kirk's obsession. The obsession appears as irrational to Spock and to McCoy, because of their predisposed stereotypes of a commander
who is in complete control over his own faculties and over his environment. Kirk's insistence on control makes his obsession appear neurotic
or psychopathic. Obsession is indistinguishable from intensity and its consequent obliviousness to the concern for others who simply cannot
understand the why behind Kirk's quest for the creature and his consequent need to kill it. If Kirk were to sit down and try to explain the
phenomenon, he would most probably be viewed as irrational. Either way, Kirk's behavior would leave his competency in question.
Kirk's motivation is also personal and embarrassing in nature. If a personal element
is introduced--"Jim and his
creature"--irrationality is the only logical conclusion to men of science who
have no personal
knowledge of the creature's intelligence and of its danger to mankind. For the first two acts, Spock and McCoy are
obsessed with Kirk's obsession because they do not share Kirk's inexplicable experience with the creature eleven years
ago as a young lieutenant assigned to the U. S. S. Farragut. To Spock and McCoy, not-knowing, coupled with Kirk's
amazing intensity, gives Kirk the appearance of an obsessive-compulsive neurotic. Kirk lacks patience and caution. His
intensity has obsessive moments and causes him to throw normal, destructive powers to the wind. Kirk should know that
phasers would be ineffective against a gaseous cloud capable of propelling itself in the vacuum of space. One of the characteristics
of obsessive behavior is the attenuation of other mental powers, including logic, will, and basic sensation. Obsession is an
in extremis, laser-like response of the unconscious that focus all personality factors on one goal or problem. The facts
that obsession is so selective and exclusionary is what makes it appear unnaturally intense for a Captain known for his
well-balanced thought-emotion dialectic. Obsession is one form of irrational behavior whose source lies in intense absorption
with one element to the exclusion of all other necessary, and more pressing, concerns. To others, Kirk is ignoring the scheduled
rendezvous with the U. S. S. Yorktown with vaccines needed to combat a plague on Theta-Seven. The fact that people will
die during a monster chase, a beast from Kirk's past and imagination, makes Kirk's actions look like dereliction of duty. His
career is on the line, as are thousands of lives, in a monster hunt. Problem: only Kirk really knows that the creature is indeed
"a creature," for the longest time, Kirk alone knows that it is intelligent. It is this esoteric knowledge that Spock and McCoy
are slow in understanding. Until Kirk's point-of-view is known, understood, and accepted as empirical truth will the obsession be seen as
an intense devotion to duty, not just
a compulsive need
of a man to expiate his eleven-year old guilt , blaming himself for the death of
his first commanding officer,
Captain Garrovick of the U.S.S. Farragut:
If I hadn't delayed [firing] it would have been destroyed!
McCoy: The ship's exec. didn't think so.
His log entry was quite clear on the subject.
'Lieutenant Kirk is a fine young officer,
who performed with uncommon bravery.'
Part of the
essence of obsession is the disparity between the ME'S view of a truth
(subjective guilt) and others'(NOT-ME) more
objective views of the same truth. Kirk is obsessed with guilt at being responsible for the deaths of Captain Garrovick and many
of the crew of the Farragut. Kirk lost a father-figure and, for eleven years, has repressed his guilt. The venture has raised that
repression from the immerlebensgeist into the level of consciousness. In confronting the gaseous creature, Kirk is confronting an intelligent creature and himself:
Don't you understand? It killed two
McCoy: Captain Garrovick was very important to
you, wasn't he?
Kirk: Yes, he was my commanding officer from the
day I left the Academy. He was one of the
finest men I ever knew....I could've
killed that thing if I'd fired soon enough
the first time ...
McCoy: You don't know that, Jim. Any more than
you knew Garrovick could have destroyed it.
Kirk: I owe it to this ship.
It is impossible
to separate obsession from Kirk's own acute sense of duty. The obsession could
only be created by the mind
of a perfectionist, like Kirk, whose sense of responsibility has always bordered on obsession. For Kirk, high intensity can
become obsession only when a repressed personal enemy within from the immerleben is forced rapidly, and without warning,
to the surface of consciousness.
Obsession lies in forcing the personal unconscious into others, thereby adversely linking other men to the personal obsession
with guilt. In this case, it is Ensign Garrovick, the former Farragut’s Captain's son, who, with the creature, makes Kirk's intensity
into an obsession. His treatment of Ensign Garrovick reflects a whipping-post for Kirk's own self-flagellation. He sees the young
ensign as himself, transferring past disciplining of the with the ensign. into present, one self into another. His disciplining of the ensign
reflects this self-identification with the ensign. Garrovick is the young Kirk. Kirk punishes himself in punishing Garrovick. The presence
of his first commander's son tortures Kirk's unconsciousness into a monstrous, consuming guilt that hurts others. Obsession involves
neglect of one's immediate familiars or harm to these familiars here--McCoy, Spock, Ensign Garrovick. There is no obsession if
others do not provide the objectivity of perspective to give an intensity its monstrous size and circumference.
you say it hovered?
And you missed a large, hovering
target at that distance?
Garrovick: Yes, Sir ... I ... well, I didn't
fire while it was hovering.
Kirk: You mean you froze?
Garrovick: No, I didn't exactly freeze, Sir.
Kirk: What exactly were you doing?
Garrovick: I was startled at first...maybe
for a second or so...and then by the
time I fired, the thing was already
moving ... I only ... hesitated for a
moment, Sir. I'm sorry.
Kirk: Ensign, you're relieved of all duties
and confined to quarters until further
Kirk spanks Garrovick and sends him to his room.
Even Spock admits hesitation is a characteristic of the human species.
Kirk is merciless; he is punishing himself, but hurting Garrovick's future in the service. The result is a "guilt trip" by Garrovick
in his quarters. Kirk is making others do penance for his sins of obsessive guilt. Obsession proceeds from a false assumption, i.e.,
that firing would have killed the creature eleven years ago; that firing sooner would have saved the Farragut’s Captain and half
of its crew. This major premise is false and is the cause for Kirk's Calvanistic behavior toward himself and Garrovick. McCoy's
absolution is not enough, but it opens the doors of Kirk's subconscious to the viewer:
McCoy: To be so obsessed
by a memory...You'll
destroy yourself, a boy you see as
yourself eleven years ago, your career ...
Kirk: I've got to kill this thing! Don't ask me
how I know that ... I just know.
Kirk's intensity borders on self-exorcism. Many
psychologists confuse obsession with possession. Obsession in Kirk, like the
angel of death, passes over, and becomes less destructive of Ensign Garrovick and others. Kirk is a perfectionist. The slightest
error is magnified in Nomadic fashion: Sterilize ... Sterilize ... Sterilize! Obsession and perfectionism are close in nature. Many
duty-bound captains, married to their ships, see obsession only as a form of complete, TOTAL dedication. Intensity will cease
to be mistaken for obsession when Garrovick is relieved of his guilt (by Kirk) after Kirk is relieved of his guilt by Spock, who
proves that firing, soon or late, would make no difference now ... or eleven years ago.
Captain, the creature's ability to throw
itself out of time sync makes it possible
for it to be...elsewhere...in the instant
the phaser hits. There is, therefore, no
basis for your self-recrimination. If you
had fired on time and on target eleven
years ago, it would have made no more
difference than it did an hour ago.
Captain Garrovick would still be dead.
The fault was not yours, Jim. In fact,
there was no fault.
rejects Spock playing "analyst," Spock's
are both absolution and exorcism. After Kirk's attack against
the creature, who stops and fights in space, Ensign Garrovick rates Kirk's attack as "ineffective.” Kirk, now having had time
to see the truth of Spock's analysis, exonerates Ensign Garrovick, thus forgiving self and junior officer as self:
what's your appraisal of your conduct
back on the planet?
Garrovick: I delayed firing.
Kirk: And if you hadn't delayed firing?
...no difference, Ensign. No weapon
would have made any difference. Then-
or eleven years ago.
observation about the creature and its time sync are both correct and are worded
with enough empathy with
Kirk's obsession, to have ethical significance. Spock's speech ends Kirk's obsession as defined by an egoistical mode of behavior,
whose subjective cause and effect are unscientific and maniacal. Obsession wanes when the obsessed loses his intense isolation from his fellow
officers (in this case), when
the obsessor receives logical and scientific basis in the fact of sensation.
crusade gave even his trusted friends--McCoy and Spock--moments of doubt. In the first two acts, McCoy and Spock show
signs of obsession, largely because of their concern for the Captain and for the plague victims on Theta Seven. Kirk's intensity
obviates a moral exigency. His behavior is causing deaths on Theta Seven. His intensity incapacitates reason's dominance.
The resulting irrationality causes Spock and McCoy to insist upon an explanation. McCoy takes Kirk's intensity personally because
Kirk's creature is killing crewmen, and the doctor eventually shows rage over the number of autopsies. Spock is more controlled
and insists on a careful study of the computer tapes regarding the tragedy of the Farragut:
This is professional, Captain. I'm pre-
paring a medical log entry on my estimate
of the physical and emotional condition of
a starship captain, which requires a
witness of command grade.
Kirk: Do I take it, Doctor ... that both of you or
either of you consider me unfit or
Spock: Correctly phrased as recommended in the
manual, Captain. Our reply, as also
recommended is ... Sir, we have noticed
in your recent behavior certain
items which on the surface seem unusual.
We respectfully ask permission to
inquire further and ...
Kirk: (interrupting, snaps) Blast it! Forget
the manual! Ask your questions!
Kirk resents the intrusion at first. McCoy is
especially personal, questioning his commanding officer's decisions, and, in his
own obsession, forgets a captain's established behavior. This is hardly the first time that Kirk was under enormous strain. Kirk
thrives on pressure. Intensity is a keystone of his character. McCoy refuses to acknowledge what Kirk's past behavioral patterns prove:
Kirk: It can't have just vanished!
McCoy: Sometimes they do, if we're lucky.
Monsters come in many forms. And you know
the greatest monster of them all, Jim?
Kirk: Get to the point.
McCoy: Jim ...when a young officer is exposed
for the first time, he's under
tremendous emotional stress ...
Kirk: Ensign Garrovick is a ship command
decision, Doctor. You're straying
out of your field.
McCoy fails to gain clemency for Garrovick and
exoneration for an Ensign Kirk who "insisted on blaming himself." In Act III,
after the creature attacks the ship, entering through the number two impulse vent, it attacks two crewmen. McCoy's obsession
with death, plus the Captain's seeming insensitivity, makes him ugly and "out-of-line"; McCoy is in error:
McCoy: One man has
a chance of survival.
The other is dead. You can add that little
price tag to your monster hunt!
Kirk: That's enough, Bones
McCoy: It's not enough! You didn't care what
happened, as long as you could hang your
trophy on the wall! Well, it's not on
it, Captain! It's in it!
The determination of the entity's
nature and of the now-proven intelligence makes McCoy the fool and Kirk the
Spock: May I suggest
that we no longer be-
labor the question of whether or not
we should have gone after the
creature. The matter has been ren-
dered academic. The creature is now
McCoy: 'Creature,' Mister Spock?
Spock: It turned and attacked, Doctor. Its
method was well considered and intelligent.
Spock and Kirk now concur that the obsession
has a true and intelligent obsessor, that Kirk's actions are befitting his duty.
He has not exceeded his authority. Kirk is no longer viewed as obsessed. The creature has proved McCoy a fool. In a rare
moment, McCoy says, "I’m sorry, Jim. I was wrong," and leaves the bridge. The mania of fault-finding ceases. The problem
at hand must be resolved. McCoy's apology ends the vendetta of mistrust and doubt against the Captain. A complementary link
between Kirk and Ensign Garrovick is now essential to resolve any of Kirk's remaining guilt. Having Captain Garrovick's son as
his security officer must be a personal nightmare for Kirk, who sees his past self in Garrovick. Imaginatively, it is as if the finger of
guilt has transferred from father to son. Kirk must resolve his harsh treatment of Garrovick, with the creature as the catalyst. In order
to effect re-integration, Spock must make sure that Ensign Garrovick lives. In doing so, Spock exhibits a willingness to sacrifice
himself for others--the needs of the many. He saves Garrovick from certain death by ejecting Garrovick and by confronting the
gaseous creature at the broken ventilator
order to justify Spock's presence in the guilt-ridden Ensign's room, a boring
hesitation is required: "The badly-needed humor counter balances Garrovick' s doubled sense of guilt: "He saved my life, Sir.
I should be lying dead in there, not him.”
Spock: I am gratified
that neither of us is dead, Ensign. Reverse pressure worked.
The vent is closed.
Kirk: Don't misunderstand my question, Spock ...
but why aren't you dead?
McCoy: That green blood of his!
Spock: My hemoglobin is based on copper, not iron.
McCoy: I'll bet he left a bad taste in the
creature's mouth, too.
Spock: Colloquially put, but essentially
Again, shades of "Mantrap" are evident where
Spock left a bad taste in the salt creature's mouth in the sick bay. Kirk
Garrovick that, "if you hadn't delayed firing? .. no difference, Ensign. No weapon known would have made any difference,
then--or eleven years ago. Report for duty, Mr. Garrovick." This exorcism relieves the elements of self-doubt and guilt in
both Kirk and Garrovick. Kirk, intense but not obsessed, orders pursuit to the Tychos Star System, to "planet four of that
system." That's the location of its attack on the U.S.S. Farragut. The obsession in Kirk irked his officers who kept reminding
the Captain of the need to transport badly-needed and perishable vaccine to the Yorktown for the plague victims on Theta Seven.
Obsession vanishes when the Captain's ethical
and professional priorities return to his consciousness. The creature is no
the cause of guilt; the apparent negligence of logical duty evaporates. This sense of unity of opposites re-establishes itself as Kirk
acknowledges priorities between the creature and the medicine. To Uhura, Kirk orders that Star Fleet be informed: "Give them
our tactical situation; inform them that I am committing this vessel to the destruction of the creature. We will rendezvous with the
Yorktown in forty-eight hours.
Evidence mounts that the creature will soon spawn and reproduce by fission, by thousands, not by simple mitosis, like the
creature in "The Immunity Syndrome." Anti-matter is ruled as the only possibility. As Dorothy Fontana also notes in her critique
of "Obsession," "An anti-matter/ matter explosion is not a feasible solution, given the gaseous nature of the creature. It is not
logical to draw the two guilt-ridden men together; the plot's solution demands that Garrovick accompany Kirk to the planet's
surface with the anti-matter bomb. The common, shared emotional structure makes the men look like two Kirks. Kirk wants to
spare Garrovick's life, and Garrovick wants to spare Kirk's life as both are self-sacrificial by nature.
Garrovick: The hemoplasm!
The bait's already
Kirk: We'll have to use something else for bait.
Garrovick: That thing only feeds on blood!
Kirk: Transport back to the ship, Garrovick ...
Garrovick: You, Sir? You're not going to be the
Kirk: I told you to get back to the ship! ...
Garrovick, I gave you an order!
(Garrovick "chops" Kirk on the back of the neck). (Infuriated, but alert):
Ensign, consider yourself on report. This
is no time for heroics. I have no
intention of sacrificing myself, at least
The resolution for "Obsession" requires that
both men reconcile, so Kirk tells Garrovick, "Meet me in my quarters. I want to
tell you about your father. Several tall stories I think you'd like to hear." As in Conrad's "Secret Sharer," the dualities of the
self are momentarily re-integrated, and a high sense of human character evolves in both men.
The gaseous cloud creature is not simply another obstacle to be overcome in "Obsession." The creature is both the obsessor
and the symbol of obsession itself. Obsession is a parasitical emotion sucking the very life out of men. In a sense, irrationality
wants one's strength. It is inseparable from blood and the unconscious. It has the characteristics of obsession. Primarily, it is
stated to be scientifically impossible in its composition. It should not exist by known laws of physics. The key term, "impossible,"
establishes the impossibility of Kirk's behavior as per given norms and stereotypes. It kills, yet it has a sweet odor, a sickly-sweet
odor, like honey. It's lure is its bait. Its “di-kironium" structure "does not exist except in laboratory experiments." It is able to change
its molecular structure. As Rizzo notes, "I lost it. Almost Iike something out there knows I'm scanning; it keeps changing itself into
something different. But this isn't possible. Nothing can do that.” Obsession demonstrates the possibility of an impossibility. In its victims,
every red blood corpuscle is gone from their bodies. The cause defines by Kirk is "something that can't possibly exist, but it does."
Obsession requires an irrationality in a man that is impossible, given the nature of that man. Obsession requires the inability or
unwillingness to explain the impossible simply because no natural explanation is possible. In this episode, obsession requires an
unresolved dialectic between objective fact and imagined, subjective definition. Chasing the creature, the impossibility, fuels
obsession because the creative
vies with the mandatory possible, i.e., the delivery of perishable medicine to
Kirk: Gentlemen, we are
remaining in orbit
here until I learn more about these deaths.
On my responsibility. I'm perfectly aware
it might cost lives on planet Theta Seven.
McCoy: You saw their color. There wasn't a red
corpuscle left in their bodies ... what
happened is medically impossible.
Kirk: I suggest you look at the record tapes for
past similar occurrences. You'll find the
U.S.S. Farragut listed casualties eleven
years ago from exactly the same
The gaseous cloud is physically impossible
because "to hide from a sensor scan, it would have to be able to change its
structure. Like gold changing itself to lead, or wood changing itself to ivory." Until the molecular shift theory is confirmed, Kirk is
isolated from possibility. The creature has qualities of an enemy within. In fighting the creature, Kirk is struggling within himself. The
death of the creature and the end of obsession coincide. Kirk has assimilated the impossible through the realm of conscious
confrontation with a creature from the unterlebensgeist. He sees his own shadow as an extension of his own obsession. He and
the creature are indistinguishable, almost no aesthetic distance. It is imperative that Spock share Kirk's unconsciousness as it
becomes conscious, thus giving objective validity to a heretofore thing from Kirk's buried life. Without confirmation of Kirk's
impression of "intelligence" by others, he is seen as obsessive:
Ensign, did you ... 'sense' any intelligence
in this gaseous cloud?.. Did you get any
subconscious impressions that it was a
creature, a living, thinking thing rather
than just a strange cloud of chemical
Garrovick: No, Sir.
Kirk: But you didn't come into actual contact with it.
Garrovick: No, I didn't, sir.
Without someone or something to
collaborate his theory, no one cares about Kirk's monster. Obsession involves a
of isolation because only Kirk possesses the knowledge, but he cannot prove his theories. As a result, the constant reminder from
Scott and McCoy about the imperative drug delivery adds to an impression of obsession in Kirk's behavior. It also creates
imaginative figments of persecution:
We're not leaving orbit, Mr. Scott.
Not that quickly.
Scott: The medicine for the Theta Seven colony
is not only needed desperately, Captain,
but it has a limited stability and ...
Kirk(interrupts angrily): I'm familiar with the
situation, engineer, and I'm getting a
little tired of my officers conspiring
against me to...Forgive me. Perhaps I
shouldn't have used the word 'conspire.'
Scott: Agreed, Sir.
Obsession involves loss of control
and overreaction to a stimulus; hence Kirk's reckless shouting at Chekov who is
a second scanner probe: "Then do it twenty times if that's what it takes! Such volleys of wrath to a junior officer are not
characteristic of a captain, especially not
Because the sciences, especially psychology, know so little about the sources and nature of obsession, Star Trek’s "Obsession"
and its other episodes dealing with obsessive behavior are breaking new ground in exploring this fact of the human immerleben, or
personal unconscious, as Jung conceives it. This episode is correct in stating a basic, working definition of obsession, since obsession
is a basic unknown. Spock' s definition has helped dictionaries in defining the term: "There are many aspects of human irrationality
I do not comprehend. Obsession for one. The persistent, single-minded fixation on one idea." The definition is now a classical one,
and is a major step in analyzing "Jim and his creature" as well as obsessive behavior in further episodes. Spock' s definition is less
ambiguous than any textbook definitions where no distinction is made between obsession and obsessive-compulsive behavior. Also,
obsession is invariably a neurosis. For example:
In obsess ion and compulsive neuroses, the
patient's chief discomfort arises from
thoughts which he does not accept yet cannot
avoid, and from actions which he cannot
resist. He may consider them silly and
ridiculous, or exceedingly painful or
humiliating, and shrink from them in
horror. If he attempts to resist the
compulsion he becomes extremely uncomfort-
able and may even suffer a violent anxiety
--(Maslow and Mittlemann, Principles of Abnormal Psychology: The Dynamics of Psychic
Illness (New York: Harper, 1941, p.387).
Maslow is typical
in mistaking all irrational behavior as compulsive and abnormal. Although
irrational, Kirk's behavior is not without
reason, but is based on his personal unconscious. Maslow and other analysts equate obsession with the Pontius Pilate syndrome--
the obsessive cleaning of one's hands or hatred of one's mother for trauma suffered in "pottie" training. Obsession is never treated as
a sickness in "Obsession." Much of Kirk's behavior throughout Star Trek has obsessive qualities in that his intensity is an asset to his
command. He is not compulsive or impulsive. Norman Cameron is more enlightened in seeing the relationship between obsession
and the need for control and order in modern life:
whatever its origins, man's devotion to order,
repetition and ritual has played an essential part
in the evolution of modern civilization. We tend
so much to emphasize change in the history of
science and the arts that we often lose sight of
the equally important role played by man's ability
to repeat things exactly, without change, to
establish uniformities in what he does.
Scientific, artistic and ethical advances have
always depended upon the repetition of successful
techniques, upon preserving their continuity and
building them through cultural transmission into
a lasting tradition, a human heritage.
--(Norman Cameron, Personal Development and Psychopathology:
A Dynamic Approach. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1963, p. 376).
elements can be seen as "attempts to increase one's conduct, by observing
absolute conformity" (Cameron).
Kirk's obsession with guilt shows an attempt to undo his misdeed eleven years ago by not firing on time. Obsession can present
an attempt to obtain freedom from guilt. Cameron, however, would have to call a Kirk
"neurotic," without “pursuing the idea that
obsession has its bases in normalcy" "Obsessive compulsive reactions thus take
place beside other neurotic behavior as exaggerations, distortions and inappropriate uses of ordinary human trends" (Cameron).
Obsession can be an unconscious way of reintegrating ego disruption. Analysts do not stress the positive role of doubt (as does
Carlyle) in creating human development. Thomas Carlyle sees doubt as a symptom of modern life's shift between opposites. Far
from obsession being a neurosis, it is necessary, at intervals, to intensify doubt resolution and to create character growth:
A region of Doubt,
therefore, hovers forever
in the background; in Action alone can we
have certainty. Nay, properly, Doubt is the
indispensable, inexhaustible material whereon
Action works, which Action has to fashion into
Certainty and Reality; only on a canvas of
Darkness, such is man's way of being, could
the many coloured picture of our Life paint
itself and shine.
--(T. Carlyle, "Characteristics" (1831).
In trying to mechanize the irrational in man,
psychiatry ends in vortex of its own vernacular. As Kirk is portrayed, "the sign
health is Unconsciousness" (Carlyle). In reading scientific tomes that admit little about obsession, one might say, with the seer,
"Few mortals, it is to be feared, are permanently blessed with that felicity of 'having no system.”
Lest Kirk seem not in control, the director interpolates a sense of acute doubt and self-consciousness. Kirk is aware of the
unconscious at work:
Kirk: Have I the
right to jeopardize my crew,
my ship, for a feeling I can't even put
into words ... Have I made a rational
decision. Am I letting the horror of the
past distort my judgment of the present?
The real subject, the perceptive mental force at
work, is Kirk's intuition: "No man achieves Star Fleet command without
relying on intuition," says Kirk to himself. Doubt finds its path to resolution through intuition, another power of the
unterlebensgeist, unique in its potential. It can be mistaken for obsession, especially when self-doubt and guilt are present.
Here, repression is one aspect distinguishing obsession from intuition. Intuition is not obsession or repression or just luck.
It is an aspect of the unconscious and is considered to be knowledge of an order higher than logic. Intuition is a creative spirit.
It involves a sixth sense of creative intelligence. Kirk can "feel," can "sense" the creature’s evil and its intelligence. Intuition
does fill gaps left by insufficient scientific knowledge. In the case of an unknown, Kirk, though obsessed with guilt,
combines doubt with intuition and previous personal experience (sensation of creature):
report was in the tapes. As it
attacked us eleven years ago, as I
lost consciousness, I could feel the
intelligence of the thing. I could
sense its thinking, planning ...
Spock: You say you could 'sense' its
intelligence, Captain. How? Did it
communicate with you?
McCoy: ...The semi-conscious mind is a very
tricky thing. A man can never be sure
how much was real, how much is
Intuition involves a lot of “what if’s” and other unscientific hypotheses, but Kirk proceeds from effect to possible cause:
Kirk: Whatever it is, doctor, whatever it is, wouldn’t you
call it deadly?
McCoy: No doubt of that.
Kirk: And what if it is the same creature that attacked me
eleven years ago on a planet over a thousand light
years from here?
Spock: If it is an intelligent creature, if it is the same one;
if therefore it is capable of space travel, it could
pose a grave threat to inhabited planets.
fuse into a command judgement: “But in my command judgement, they still
outweigh other factors.
‘Intuition’, however illogical, Mister Spock, is recognized as a command prerogative.” McCoy leaves his medical log “open.”
In initial sensor probes for di-Koronium on the planet, sensors fail to find any creature. Kirk plays intuition: “Suppose it
camouflaged itself? Let’s further assume it is intelligent; it knows we’re looking for it.” The result is an adjustment to search
for the changes in molecular structure, a key to its sensate location later in the episode. Intuition helps reconcile opposites and
conflicting empirical, ex., “It seems to be in a borderline state between matter and energy—elements of both.” Intuition and the
creature have similar characteristics, especially the borderline state between opposites—the unconscious and the conscious factors.
Intuition + Logic > Creativity. Much scientific discovery begins and ends with intuition. It runs thegamut from the “hunch” to
gifted insight. Literally, intuition means, “to look into.” Jung calls it “a basic psychological function…that mediates
perceptions in an unconscious way” (Psychological Types). Spinoza and Bergson saw scientific intuition as possessing intrinsic
certainty and conviction and is the highest form of knowledge. As with sensation, Jung notes, it is an irrational function of perception,
and its character is “given,” in
contrast to the “derived” or “produced” character of thinking and feeling
contents. It is based on a definite state of psychic “
alertness” of whose origin the subject is unconscious. Immediate perception occurs when one is aware of nothing between his
awareness and the object of awareness. This intuition is rare. Mediate intuition involves some subjective inference or sensation.
The two are almost indistinguishable. Intellect is replete with intuition and vise versa. Immediate intuition is necessary to reason.
Jung defines two types of intuition: subjective or objective. Subjective intuition “is a perception of unconscious data originating in
the subject.” Objective intuition “is perception of data dependent on subliminal perceptions of the object and on feelings and
thoughts they evoke.” In Kirk’s case, objective intuition is at play, and it is mediated in nature. With Kirk, sensation of the gaseous
creature is concrete because his intuition mediates perceptions concerned with the actuality of the creature. Abstract intuition is
immediative and deals with perceptions of “ideational connectives.” Both concrete and abstract intuitions respond to given facts
and reference a “certain element of directive,” and act of the will, or a goal. Intuition has a complementary relationship to sensation
and is the “matrix out of which thinking and feeling develop as rational functions.” Kirk’s intuition is directed outwards, but is
intermittently introverted when turned inwards, i.e., obsession. When mixed with obsession, intuition can appear
irrational and beyond comprehension. For Jung, extraverted intuition is wholly directed to external objects. “Intuition is not
mere perception, or vision, but an actual creative process that puts into the object, just as much as it takes out.” Sensation is largely
suppressed. Kirk’s creature in “Obsession” is impossibility, but only in terms of its sensation and logic of being. Intuition makes
possibilities out of impossibilities. Jung notes, “…intuition tries to apprehend the evident range of possibilities, since only through
possibilities is intuition fully satisfied.” Intuition is, therefore, a product of the unconscious function of the human imagination.
It takes a “hopelessly blocked situation” and develops possibilities. Facts are useless new possibilities are opened for them.
The elements of character doubt and intensity appear as appendages. Of Kirk and his creature it can be said, “Neither reason
nor feeling can restrain him or frighten him away from a new possibility, even though it goes against all his previous convictions.”
Thinking and feeling are secondary functions, but they are necessary to compensate intuition’s supremacy by providing the
judgement of introverted intuition. The intensity of intuition breaks with the cessation of new possibilities, i.e. when the creature’s
character and destructiveness are resolved. Of men like Kirk, the intuitive man has (as Jung notes) a “capacity to inspire courage
or to kindle enthusiasm…the stronger his intuition, the more his ego becomes fused with all the possibilities he envisions. He
brings his vision to life, he presents it convincingly and with dramatic fire, he embodies it…it is not play-acting, it is a kind of fate.”
His intuition is from the imagination and is based on the “sheer intensity of perception”—a point upon which Art Wallace bases
his vision of Kirk in the first draft of “Obsession.”
The psychology of new possibilities senses change and new alternatives. In terms of Kirk’s creature, it extends to its
condition and direction. There is an emphatically shared intelligence whereby Kirk is able to discern new possibilities:
Kirk: The scent is different. Yes…yes, I think I understand
Spock: You don’t really believe you’re in communication with
the creature, Captain?
Kirk: I’m not sure what it is, Spock. But…you remember I
said the thing was alive. Perhaps it is not commun-
ication as we understand it, but I did know it was alive
and intelligent, and I think I know
The creature moves back through the number two impulse vent and leaves the ship at high warp speed. Kirk “knows”
where it is going:
Spock: It has changed course before to mislead us. Logic
would dictate, Captain, that…
Kirk: No, I’m playing ‘intuition again’. Compute a cause
for the Tychos Star System…at Garrovick’s quarters
when I said the scent of the creature was somehow
different, remember? Something in my mind said
‘home’! Yes…I don’t know how I know, but home
is where it fought a starship once before.
Intuition sets geography and direction, a scent of a former
battle, and the need for the creature to spawn. The
destruction of the creature is based on mediated, extraverted intuition, spurred, at first, by the intense dynamics of
positive obsession. Whereas obsession means to besiege the mind with a “persistent, single-minded function on
one idea,” it, when channeled by the dynamics of imaginative intuition, presents the possibilities of resolutions of
opposites in a victory of the faculties of the human unconscious. Jung, in On the Nature of the Psyche, presents a
direction for intuition that contemporary analytical psychology largely ignores:
In my experience, the conscious mind can only claim
a relatively central position and must put up with the
fact that the unconscious psyche transcends and as
it were surrounds it on all sides. Unconscious contents
connect it backwards with psychological states on one
hand and archetypal data on the other. But it is extended
forward by intuitions which are conditional partly by
archetypes and partly by subliminal perceptions depending
on the relativity of time and space in the unconscious.
“The Doomsday Machine”
Heroic action is paralysis; for
what worth now remains unquestionable with him?
At the fervid period when his whole nature cries aloud for action, there is nothing
sacred under whose banner he can act; the course and kind and conditions of free
action are all but undiscoverable. Doubt storms in on him through every avenue;
inquiries of the deepest, painfulest sort must be engaged with; and the invincible
energy of young years waste itself in sceptical, suicidal cavillings, in
passionate ‘questionings of Destiny,’ where to no answer will be returned.
--(T. Carlyle, “Characteristics” 1831).
Whereas McCoy speaks
of “Jim and his creature,” Spock speaks of “Commodore Decker’s planet killer.”
The phenomenon is
obsession viewed as possession of the individual by an apparently external force. The doomsday machine is his [Decker’s] monster.
The two episodes are sister studies of invasion upon or from the buried life or personal unconscious of a starship commander. Kirk has
a prior sensational knowledge of his gaseous creature; Decker has no foreknowledge of his possessor, giving him no stabilizing empirical
knowledge to counter his horror at experiencing the unknown. The machine catches Decker by complete surprise. He has no hunch or
intuitive insight to steer his confrontation. However, Decker and Kirk are both essentially alone, separated from Starfleet and civilized
moralities. Their actions are “command decisions.” Kirk’s creature has an intelligence; it is a living being with willful cognition. Its
actions are primordial, but “well considered.” Decker’s planet killer is not an intelligence or an intelligent or living creature. But it is
the product of an intelligence bent upon evil destruction. It can not be out-guessed or “sensed” by intuition or by instinct. It does not
think or reason, but
thought, a robotic device produced by reason. Both are almost identical in
effect and purpose. Both are parasitical,
self-perpetuating. Both “feed” on death and life with no redeeming principle. Both are evil; both are monstrous enemies to
order and reason. Kirk and Decker are obsessed with and possessed by the “thing.” “Obsession” and “The Doomsday
Machine” show opposite approaches to the problem of illogic and irrationality. Two different commanders have “Killing the thing”
as their objectives, but have different causes and processes in approaching the creatures from hell of the immerleben. A duality
of motivation separates an episode unique in its presentation of two Starfleet command officers, products of the same academy
and civilization, who (like Captain Tracey and Captain Kirk in “The Omega Glory”) are in conflict between each other and within
each other. It is almost like two diverse aspects of the personal unconscious confronting one another on a battlefield. Decker’s
incapacity to join forces and join minds is ultimately destructive of his ship, his crew, and himself. Even before the Enterprise arrives,
Decker is already obsessed by what his mind perverts into the enemy within. He is at war with himself and a horrifying vision that
distorts the wings of the machine, making the episode a personalized crusade of obsessive neurotic proportions that culminate in
suicide. Decker can not live with his shattered ideals, his guilty conscience, his impotency, in the face of darkness. Decker says,
“Good boy, Jim…Together we can kill that thing.” His limited hypothesis that the robot can be destroyed from without, using
phasers, is illogical. All his actions are products of a distorted mind. Obsession by the image of the doomsday device has destroyed
his confidence, his commandability and his mind. Whereas Kirk channels his obsession with prior knowledge and unifying intuition,
Decker destroys and is destroyed, partly because obsession perverts his
imagination and his reason. But
Kirk has at least two struggles: Commodore Decker and the doomsday machine.
struggle has become a metaphysical one, between states and destiny. Oedipus must walk eyeless and witless in the void. The
battle of machine against machine is second only to the battle of two Titans for dominance against an ultimate weapon from another
In a letter to John Meredith Lucas of September 6, 1967, Gene Roddenberry sees obsession in terms of literary precedents,
especially that of Herman Melville’s Ahab in Moby Dick. He suggests that an I-it relationship is too simple. An I-thou relationship,
however “because it takes [like Moby Dick’s ‘white whale’] on a personality…then his hatred of it is better motivated.” The war with
a “thing out there” (ST:TMP) can be classified and reasoned about, if not totally neutralized or understood. Hence Kirk’s cloud has an
“intelligence” about it, but Decker lacks Kirk’s redeeming intuition, and his planet killer radiates “pure anti-protons,” not allegorical
intelligence. It acts; it does not think. No communication is possible. It is important to note Spock’s wording that it is “Commodore
Decker’s planet killer” because the device and the commodore become increasingly inseparable. His final suicide is the last step in the
collision course. For Decker, the loss of reasoning objectivity becomes a crusade, a holy war. Decker is fighting hell: “They said
there’s no devil, Jim. There is! Right out of hell! I saw it!” It is an evil thing on a metaphysical level. Decker loses reasoning objectivity,
like Ahab trapped about the white whale. He is destroyed by his own obsession with a symbol of evil:
Kirk: There is no third planet.
Decker: Don’t you think I know that? There was, but
not anymore! They called me…they begged me for
help…four hundred of them…and I couldn’t …I couldn’t…
Scientific definition of “the thing” struggles with obsession, making science
seem second to Decker’s obsession with destroying the thing.
He reflects speculation in the face of the compulsive need to act with out thought:
Decker: If you’d seen it, you’d know. The whole thing
is a weapon…it must be.
Kirk: An alien ship…or is it alive?
Decker: Both…neither…I don’t know
is absorbed by objective definition, while Kirk wants to know why. The
thing is “essentially a robot…an automated weapon
immense size and power. “It is a Robot weapon that purposely destroys entire solar systems. Why?” Facts, speculations, fascinations
are dwarfed by Decker’s laser-like obsession: “Oh, forget about your theories! That thing is reading for the heart of our galaxy… What
are you going to do about it?” For Decker, it is also about the trauma of losing his first command.
What ensues is a power struggle among three entities—the thing, the Enterprise, and the Constellation—and among three men: Decker,
Spock, and Kirk. An ironic inversion, a Star Trek first, takes place wherein captains change commands. Kirk’s presence aboard the
battered Constellation permits Decker to assume command of the Enterprise via Kirk’s physical absence. At the basis of the conflict
is power—the Enterprise and the robot (power) and the constellation (powerlessness). All three crafts will be a necessity if the planet
killer and Decker are to be stopped. Decker no longer understands the nature of constructive power, of controlled energy. It remains
a mystery how and why Decker is permitted, by Starfleet regulations, to assume a new command in Spock’s presence and to relieve Spock.
Decker’s psychological and physical condition would factually and logically render him unfit for command, yet McCoy has no time
“examine” Decker. Regulations conflict as to command priorities. For Spock,
“we are only one ship. Our deflector shields are
strained. Our subspace transmitter is useless. Logically our primary duty is to survive to warn Starfleet Command.” Decker’s
obsession with destruction at all costs does not take into consideration his previous experience with the planet killer. He simply will
not accept the uselessness of conventional phaser attack against a neutronium shield robot: “Our primary duty is to maintain life and
the safety of Federation planets. Do you deny it?” Obsession is evident in Decker’s confusion over key facts and power priorities.
The hunt is now purely personal, and it is reason, in the form of regulations, that almost destroys the Enterprise too. Reason is
frustrated, and power is inverted as Spock is relieved of command:
Decker: Mr. Spock, I’m formally notifying you
that I’m exercising my option under
regulations as a Star Fleet commodore
and assuming command of the Enterprise.
Spock: You have the right to do so, but I would advise against it.
Decker: That thing has got to be destroyed.
Spock: You tried to destroy it once before, Commodore, and it
resulted in a wrecked ship and a dead crew.
Obsession is demonstrated in dialectic between “the book” and the truth.
Decker no longer translates knowledge into truth.
Truth is no longer allied with reason. For McCoy, insanity must be according to regulations. The obvious truth must be
documented. This scene where Spock is relieved of command is ironic if not wrong in its character conception. Decker’s
obsession borders on insanity:
Decker: I made a mistake then…we were too far away.
This time I’m sorry to hit it with fuel phasers
at point blank range!
Spock: Sensors show the object’s hull is solid neutronium
…a simple vessel cannot combat it…
Decker: Mr. Spock, that will be all. You’re relieved
of command. Don’t force me to relieve you
of duty as well.
There is veiled irony in Kirk’s
remark, while repairing the viewing screen aboard the constellation: “Yes, I
think… what the devil’s
going on…?” As seen from Kirk’s point of view, Decker’s attack posture is given greater irrational perspective as Kirk sees his
own ship on a suicide course.
Aboard the Constellation, Kirk and Scotty are performing minor miracles on a wrecked hulk. The attempts to restore eyes, ears,
and the power to the Constellation proceed in a busy, but orderly, manner—in sharp contrast to the struggles aboard the Enterprise.
The two captains and their two vessels are foils for one another. Opposites present a clearer picture of order and of disorder—two
opposing views and methods of attacking a common problem. As the Constellation attains maneuvering power, Kirk’s plan is to
distract the robot from its tractor-beam hold on the Enterprise. In a military pincer movement, both ships attack, but Kirk proceeds
with self-sacrifice and the crew’s safety in mind. He does not intend to die, but he comes close to being the next victim of Decker’s
obsession with destroying the thing. Just before local subspace communications are restored, the power struggle between Spock and
Decker peaks. The obsession with destruction at all costs conflicts with regulations about suicide:
Decker: But don’t you understand…? We’ve
got to destroy it!
Spock: But this is illegal. It is suicide…attempted
suicide would be proof that you are psycho-
logically unfit to command, Commodore.
If you don’t veer off, I shall relieve you on
that basis…we need more power.
As the Enterprise loses power, the
Constellation gains maneuvering power. Kirk attempts to scourge a ship and its
as Decker renews the conflict, thinking that “Between the two of us, we’ll kill that thing!” The struggle now enlarges to a
conflict between two starships which are supposed to be on the same side, with common tactics. The power struggle
between Spock and Decker is resolved technically by Kirk’s audial command to Spock to assume command over Decker’s
Kirk: Matt? What’s going on? Give me Mr. Spock.
Decker: I’m in command here, Jim.
Kirk: What’s happened to Spock?
Decker: Nothing. I assumed command according to
regulations, since your first officer was
reluctant to take the proper aggressive action against
Kirk: You mean you’re the lunatic responsible for
almost destroying my ship?
There is insufficient time and little power to avoid destruction by the robot. The robot seems forgotten as two captains battle:
Kirk: Not with my ship, you don’t. Mr. Spock relieve
Commodore Decker immediately. That’s a
Decker: You can’t relieve me and you know it. According
Kirk: Hang regulations! Mr. Spock, I order you to assume
command on my personal authority as captain of
In resolving the captain vs.
captain power struggle, Spock now has the power to resolve his struggle with
Decker. The standoff is
one of Star Trek’s most intense and most memorable scenes:
Spock: Commodore Decker, you are
relieved of command.
Decker: I don’t recognize your authority to relieve me.
Spock: You may file a formal protest with Star Fleet
command…assuming we survive to reach a Star
Base. But you are relieved. I do not wish to place
you under arrest, Commodore.
Decker: You wouldn’t dare…you’re bluffing…
Spock: Vulcans never bluff.
Decker: No, I don’t suppose they do. Very well, Spock,
the bridge is yours
This famous “bluff” scene is a victory of poker “over the book,” of Kirk’s
intuitive reason over Decker’s obsession. Kirk gambles
on Decker’s backing down in an order given by a captain to a junior officer in absentia. It works. The bluff causes Decker to lose
his second command, however. In claiming the Enterprise from Decker, Kirk forces Decker’s destructive obsession from an
outwardly oriented one to an inwardly oriented one.
Commodore Decker cannot live with what he has done nor with what he has become. The result will be a character who, in a
military context, treads the thin line between fanaticism and heroism. In reality, Decker’s psyche has become dissociated and
splintered, what T.S. Eliot called a “dissociation of sensibility.” Decker’s theft of a shuttlecraft is the final step in this obsessive
character’s disintegration. His obsession has some similarity to what a psychologist like Carl Jung called an “autonomous complex,”
where psychic manifestations form themselves out of their own material. Such autonomous complexes “are by nature unconscious…
they seem not to belong to the ego, i.e., to be qualities of outside objects or persons”(Jacobs 13). The true enemy loses its distinction.
What Decker does has no redemptive value. He attacks the robot’s internal mechanism, an action that is both an ultimate action and a
suicide: “You said it yourself, Spock—there’s no
way to blast through the hull of that machine. So I’m going to take this thing
right down its throat.” Inadvertently, in taking his own life,
Decker has turned everything inward. The shuttlecraft entering the mouth of the robot is symbolic of Decker’s own internalization of
his obsession with destroying the thing. The solution is derived by Kirk from the method of Decker’s death:
Kirk: Spock, listen…maybe Matt Decker didn’t die for nothing.
He had the right idea, but not enough power to do it. Am
I correct in assuming that fusion explosion of approximately
97 megatons will result if a starship impulse drive engine
Spock: No, sir. It would be 97.835 megatons.
Kirk: Will it be powerful enough to destroy the thing out there?
Spock: Negative, Captain. Its hull is pure neutronium. There is no
Known way of basting through it.
Kirk: Not through it, Spock. From inside it…
Kirk’s intuition stresses scientific fact with an imaginative
possibility—destruction achieved by rational application of facts towards
a remote possibility. Constructive action usually involves the concomitant presence of destructive power. Power must be used to
destroy power, just as Decker’s death was a prerequisite to saving the Enterprise and the galaxy. Redemption requires a death.
Internalization of psychic energy destroys Decker through obsession; whereas, intuitively applied energy can also be redemptive.
Intuition involves risk and the sacrifice of Decker and the Constellation. Kirk’s actions are no bluff. He is going to ram the
Constellation right down that thing’s throat:
Kirk: I intended to get a lot closer—I’m going
To ram her right down that thing’s throat.
Spock: Jim, you’ll be killed…just like Decker.
Kirk: I don’t intend to die, Spock. We’ve rigged
a delayed detonator device. You’ll have
thirty seconds to beam me aboard.
As Spock points out, the
transporter is malfunctioning. Beaming during such an explosion is, as Kirk
acknowledges, “a calculated risk.”
For pure suspense, the climax of “The Doomsday Machine” is a transporter nightmare where Kirk’s survival is precarious as the
Captain sits on board a ticking time bomb, ironically the symbol of Decker’s lost command. Death without redeeming purpose is
wasteful suicide. Death with a redeeming purpose is a necessity for progress. One is nihilism; the other is heroism.
Commodore Decker, had he lived, may have been tried for willful negligence and malfeasance of duty. He may have been
court-martialed for willful negligence and manslaughter. He knows that, had Kirk faced the same circumstances, intuition would
have prevented an “error in judgment.” In spite of Kirk’s plea to Decker that “No one expects you to die for an error in judgment,”
the episode “Court-martial” proves this not to be true. Decker knows this: “I’ve been prepared for death ever since I—killed my crew…
a commander is responsible for the lives of his crew—and for their deaths. Well, I should have died with mine.” Decker is an Hebraic
character who cannot live with his conscience and with what he has done. He has totally personalized the situations. A morality play
would totally understand the sacrificial tragedy of his death. A military court would never understand or accept his continued living.
Death can be a command responsibility. Decker cannot be damned for his loyalty, but his sense of priority is too late. He is destroyed
by his obsession, euphemistically and innocuously phrased as an “error in judgement.”
The story of
“The Doomsday Machine” is an intense study of the need for intuition in a
crisis. Man must maintain
the distinction between subject and object—the Me/Not-me dialectic. The apparent is not the real. For Decker, realism
is a trap. Efforts to explain need proof, so much so that one is unable to justify his conception of “that thing.” Doubts breed
doubt, and an abyss of hopelessness abounds. No explanation of inevitable error is acceptable to Decker. The robot is a
symbol of tyranny of the object, destruction of the subject. In Decker is the loss of the Me through absorption by the Not-me.
The balance between opposites dwindles in obsession.
Obsession is the human state that results in a loss of distinctions. It is also the loss of imaginative creativity, a loss of the vision
of possible alternatives—a form of psychic opthamalia. The ‘it’ becomes the ‘me,’ as no dialectical perspective arises. Carl Jung
calls this phenomenon “blockage” within the unconscious. Although Jung’s description is simplified, it is worth noting in light of
Star Trek’s series of episodes dealing with obsession:
This positive function of the unconscious is, in the
main, merely structured by repressions, and this
disturbance of its natural activity is perhaps the most
important source of so-called psychogenic illnesses.
The unconscious is best understood if we regard it as
a natural organ with its own specific creative energy.
If as a result of repressions its production can find
no outlet in consciousness, a sort of blockage ensues,
an unnatural inhibition of a purposive function…wrong
psychic outlets are formed …in hysteria it is chiefly the
psychological functions that are disturbed; in other
neuroses, such as phobias, obsession, and compulsion
neuroses, it is chiefly the psychic functions…
(Jung, Structure 364).
Dialectical intuition involves
a whole self with a self-as-intuitor and a self-as-intuited. The destruction of
one part of the
dialectic can cause blockage of psycogenic and knowledge processes. In “The Doomsday Machine,” imagination and
intuition suffer from the mechanical dominance and an overdose of realism’s objectivity. Decker’s blockage is an inability
to comprehend and to assimilate what is apparently external to the mind. It attacked the unconscious and no control ensues,
especially in a personality where the mind insists on the necessity for solution. Organicism is lacking where pure realism exists
without imagination’s organicism. Decker is insistent on “it must be destroyed.” There is a blindness to the indestructibilty of
the object. Obsession cannot be destroyed except by the recognition of absolute necessity. Obsession destroys the imagination
logic interaction. The logical directive says contact Starfleet and warn; obsession says it must be destroyed from without—
pure neutronium. Obsession cannot decode the duality of directives; it eclipses the intuitive solution of a third alternative. The result
is ego-destruction, futility, doubt, despair, and suicide. Suicide is the failure of realism’s approach. Obsession is less repression than
a disregard of elementary, instinctive processes. It is “Commodore Decker’s planet-killer;” it is his. One witnesses the tyranny of the
object, whereby it absorbs the subject, thereby negating the dialectic of creative thought. “As idealism…assimilates the object to the
subject and tends to a solipsism of the object…Both are one equally indigenous to life; idealism is as natural as realism. Life, in fact,
creates the opposition, but it also knows how to reconcile it” (Urban 90-8). And for the Starfleet record?
“Commodore Decker died in the line of duty.” Poor Matt.
“The Doomsday Machine”)
“In vain thou deniest it…thou art my brother. Thy very hatred,
thy very envy, those foolish Lies thou talkest of me in thy splenetic
humour: What is all this but an inverted sympathy?”
--(T. Carlyle Sartor Resartus 244-45).
At first glance, “The Empath” is an unsettling scenario of sadism and masochism. Euphemistically, its picture is reminiscent of the poet: “To
think and much it grieved my heart what man has made of man” (Wordsworth “Lines Written in Early Spring”). The obsessive similarity of
pleasure and PAIN attracts and repels: “there are traces of personalities in the manifestations of the unconscious…the unconscious personates
Jung, Integration, 16). Gem is such a character. The episode occurs largely underground—symbolic of an underground game, an enactment
of a nightmare. However, it is also a study in the concept of aesthetic/psychical distance in art. The German word for empathy is Einfuehling,
a gift of mental symbiosis with other persons. In The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler calls empathy “a nicely sober, non-commital term for
designation the rather mysterious processes which enable one to transcend his boundaries, to step out of his skin as it were, and put himself
into the place of another” (Koestler 188). Empathy is a manifestation of the unterlebensgeist, and as such, it enables Gem to think and
to feel as McCoy and Kirk think and feel. The picture of Gem is better dramatized than the character and motivations of the Vians. In an
act of Machiavellian contrivance, the Vians pervert human reason into a chamber of horrors, a useless laboratory of experiments and human
victims in an effort to save the inhabitants of one Minara planet from an imminent nova. For their deadened intellect, creation can be
achieved only by death. Their quest
is for feeling emotions, but they can do so only
vicariously. They have lost the “prime ingredient,” so they must seek it in
with the Talosians in “The Menagerie,” they have lost the capacity to experience the realm of the unconscious—man’s capacity
to dream and to grow from his powers within. Man is a survivor. The theme is the destructive power of conscious ego without
the redeeming element of imagination and inner life. In an effort to save life, the Vians destroy life. And yet, the Vians are
working to save life? The image of the cross, made by Kirk and McCoy suspended in the air by chains and manacles perverts
the Messianic image of the redemptive power of pain and suffering. One of the episode’s greatest failures is that the scenes of
sadistic pain adumbrate the inherent goodness of man’s willingness for self-sacrificing with a purpose. The results are scenes of
sadism without redeeming reason. The Vians have the characteristics of Dr. Korby, Dr. Adams, Sylvia, and all the Dr.
Frankensteins of the world. The dream reflects opposites. The unconscious’ tendency is to unify opposites from the a priori
unconscious represents empathy by its opposite, pain. Ironically, the Vians ignore the pain/pleasure dichotomy. The Vians
are a reversal of Logic—a catacombs underworld of Roman games. Kirk, McCoy, and Spock do not see salvation because
pain, when viewed logically and consciously, is sadism. Even if the end justifies the means, the consciousness of traditional
ethics rejects the means (pain) as evil, and therefore, as unjustifiable and morally repugnant. Pain transcends logic. Hence,
Spock is downplayed to a minor figure—unusual. Logic apparently needs an interpreter. Also, Spock is limited in his
capacity to identify the illogic of the immerleben. Despite his elfin ears, he is not a creature of the nightmare world. The Vians’
resembles that of the human unterlebensgeist in that these creatures of
sophisticated intelligence tend to unify the opposites
of pleasure and pain, life and death. They must be given more credit for their insight into the workings of man’s obsessions.
Salvation requires both life and death. They are indistinguishable. The study of human evolution is filled with fictional and
actual laboratory experiments where disasters actually produce a solution. Madame Currie’s experiment with radium
produced her own suffering and death, while simultaneously bringing mankind into the atomic age. Such experiments are
happy accidents, Thomas Aquinas’ concept of the fall from grace—felix culpa. We learn, hopefully, from such laboratory
experiments as the ones conducted upon Gem and human “guinea pigs.” Sacrifice becomes necessary for human progression.
Witness the world of Pasteur, for example. A lot of trial-and-error preceeded Edison’s enlightening inventions. Jeckyll and
Hyde are fictional manifestations of the unity of opposites. The character of Gem, the empath, embodies the tendency of the
unconscious to unify opposites. She is the third, or integrating element that unifies within herself the opposite worlds of the
Vians and of the Trekkers. Her love nullifies the pain of others by making it her own, thus dissipating evil into good. Empathy
fulfills opposites. Hence, she is the pearl of great price by turning the dank world of death into life for herself for her planet,
and for the Trekkers. She symbolizes the way in which the human unconscious works. This factor of pain is further offset by
Gem’s absolute purity of beauty. Dramatically, she appears lying on a cross pattern on a circular platform, and she is encased
in light and bright colors. Her beauty is only heightened by the wounds that appear and disappear on her body. Gem’s suffering
is very Job-like, and her
instincts for self-sacrifice do exceed her
instincts for self-preservation. The fact that the Vians do not perceive this
evident fact shows
their deadened sensibilities. The “Key ingredient” is always some instinct, not some reason. Instinct saves Gem’s planet, not isolated
intellect. The fact that Gem is a mute enhances her beauty of instinct. Her love lies in the doing, not in the speaking of emotion.
Self-sacrificing must be a deed, or it is not a fact. The fact that Gem is a mute is analogous in that the dream and the unconscious
ignore the isosceles, comfortable world of logic; they are non-verbal in nature, creating unusual analogies, such as beauty and pain
in Gem. As a study in the unconscious, its manifestation must be visionary and non-verbal. John Keats experienced this same
sense of the concomitancy of instinctive attraction to pleasure and to pain in “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” With eloquence, Keats
describes the twilight, ante-chamber of which empathy and obsession are manifestations as the “Chamber of Maiden-Thought”:
However among the effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous
one of sharpening one’s vision into the heart and nature of Man—of
convincing one’s nerves that the World is full of Misery and Heartache,
Pain, Sickness, and oppression—whereby This Chamber of Maiden Thought
becomes gradually darkened and at the same time on all sides of it many
doors are set open—but all dark—all leading to dark passages—We see
not the balance of good and evil.
--(Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, May 3, 1818).
above paragraph describes the dark vision of pain in “The Empath.” Long before
Jung was born, Keats and his fellow Romantic
poets had described this sense of pain evolving from the unterlebensgeist. This twilight world makes men feel as if “we are in a mist.”
It is in the twilight world of underground man that we feel what Wordsworth called “the burden of the
Mystery.” We feel that “still sad music of humanity” where William Blake says
that all creation “groans to be delivered.” For
Roddenberry’s empath, one might say, with Keats, that “his [Wordworth’s] genius is explorative of those dark passages." Thus
Keats’ Grecian urn “cannot thus express/ A flowery tale more sweetly that our rhyme,” i.e., the beautiful object transcends the
poets own power of verbalization. Its story is visionary, beyond logic. As with Gem and her muteness, the poet says, “Heard
melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ are sweeter.” Keats loses his physical distance from the urn, and as with empathy, the
distinction between the Me/subject and the Not-Me/object wanes into an imaginative marriage of opposites. He becomes one
with the urn because the urn presents a Platonic ideal world of no change, of non-consummation. There is no mutability, no doubt,
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not trace
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, tho thou hast not thy bliss,
For even wilt thou love, and she be fair!
urn provides the poet with a world without pain. Only the restoration of
psychical distance and the loss of subconscious flow
prompt the poet to back away and to reject the vision of the urn: “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thoughts/ As doth eternity:
Cold Pastoral!” the return, at the end of the poem, is a reassertion of Hebraism’s sense of pain and suffering. “the Empath” is a study
in the Hebraic obsession with pain. Viewed logically, the episode is simply an inordinate depiction of a neurotic sado-masochism.
Gene Roddenberry himself regrets that such an impression was not the point intended. Only as a study of pain’s role in the
unterlebensgeist is the episode salvageable, because only in the contest of
a sun going nova, if an entire solar system minutes
from total annihilation, does pain seem acceptable and necessary as the anti-chamber to salvation for Gem’s planet. Pain is an
irrational phenomenon. Modern science is still impotent in pain’s dark chamber because it is difficult to speak rationally about an
rrational phenomenon. It is the means of pain’s infliction upon intelligent things by other intelligent things that makes pain a nightmare
of sadism. As Erich Fromm has noted, most of western civilization is becoming anesthetized. We take a potpourri of pain---killing drugs
to dull the horrors of living. Ours is an opiumated, valiumized, and aspirinized society of socially normalized neuroticism. The modern
obsession is with the deadening of the senses and the alleviation (and hopeful elimination) of pain. In this cultural-societal context, the
pain, all too amply visible in “The Empath,” seems less significant. The obsession with inflicting pain is visible in the opposite obsession
with painlessness. A growing society must retain pain. All great civilizations from ancient Egypt, to Rome, to the present, were based
on the retention of pain and of painful spectacles. To reject pain is to reject the body: to eliminate pain is to lessen man’s humanity.
A man’s creative genius, as Keats points out, is great when it explores this “Chamber of Maiden-Thought,” for without darkness there can
be no light. The Vians’ obsession with inflicting pain faces the opposite determination, inherent to Gem’s nature, to accept the sufferings
f others and to take them (to empathize) into herself.
Indeed, misapplied instinct can be unfortunate if it becomes an egocentrically applied experiment. In a rare instance in the original
Trek series, Kirk, in “The Empath,” is the voice of the misguided, i.e., he is wrong in his instinctual deductions. It is Kirk who insists upon the
scenarios of pain as relentless sadism. As a result, Kirk’s character serves to misguide the viewer by seeing the experiment without his usual power of intuition:
Kirk: What purpose can be served by the death of our friend
except to bring you pleasure?…this arena of death you
have derived for your pleasure—will it prevent that
Kirk’s insistence on pain as a perversity certainly has it historical precedents
and foundations. The episode’s director’s visualizations of
pain on McCoy and Kirk tends to support reason’s misuse of pain. But Kirk is omitting the underground world of instinctual pain. Admittedly, it is difficult
for a man in pain to see into pain’s higher nature and purpose for man’s immerleben. Modern literature, especially pre-Existential and Existential, sees
pain largely as perversity. In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground (1864), the main character lives in an imagined hell where he seeks a
"slap in the face” or a “wall” against which he can bash his head in order to satisfy his perverted instincts for constructive action. Pain comes as a
misconstrued palliative for his own obsession with pain. His world is that of an inner hell:
But it is just in that cold, abominable half-despair, half-belief,
in that conscious burying of oneself alive for grief in the
underworld for forty years, in that acutely recognized and yet
partly doubtful hopelessness of one’s position, in that hell of
unsatisfied, introverted desires, in that fewer of oscillations,
of resolutions determined for ever and reputed of again a minute
later—that the savor of that strange enjoyment of which I have
spoken lies (132).
narrator takes pleasure in his pain. He refuses to seek medical care for his
toothache partly because he will not reconcile himself
distortion of his instinct for self-preservation:
There is enjoyment even in a toothache…I had a toothache for a
whole month and I know there is. In that case…people aren’t
silently spiteful but moan; the moans…are not candid but
malevolent. And it is in their malevolence that the whole
point lies. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression
in those moans; if he did not feel enjoyment in them he
would not moan…Those moans express in the first place
all the aimlessness of your pain, which is so humiliating
to your consciousness (132+).
It is this “consciousness” that
Kirk experiences. He experiences the “malevolence” and the “aimlessness of
…pain” and suffers its
“humiliation”; however, in his humiliation, Kirk blames the Vians, not himself, as the pleasure seekers Dostoyevsky’s underground
man provides some insight into the Vians’ cold observation regarding the deaths of Linke and Ozata: “Their own imperfections killed
them. They were not fit subjects.” The Vians suggest that it is in ourselves that we are this and this, that the pain is a matter of instinct,
that “you yourself are somehow to blame even for the stone wall.” Pursuing the toothache metaphor, pain is an instrument for modern
consciousness, therefore having it has redemptive qualities because the moans “express the consciousness that you have no enemy to
punish, but that you do have pain; the consciousness that in spite of all possible auto-suggestionist you are in complete slavery to your
teeth, that if someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off aching.” Pain is a creature within primitive man and it heeds its own master,
its own slave. If one’s tooth goes on aching “another three mouths…if you are contumacious and still persist, all that is left you for
your fortification is to beat yourself, or beat your wall with your fists.” This produces in others, in voyeurs like the Vians, jeers and
ultimately “an enjoyment which sometimes reaches the highest level of voluptuousness.” The underground man of Dostoyevsky’s
novella, though perverse, sees into the perversity of the pain of contemporary consciousness. Unlike Kirk, however, he sees pain’s source and its essence.
Vians, the apparent enemies, are not enemies of civilization, but are more its
enlightened products. Seeing through and
beyond pain is the key to their uncanny insight into human nature. They search for the “prime ingredient.” Both Kirk and the
Vians are necessary opposite/complements. The Vians do not fully see that Gem’s instinct has indeed earned life for her planet:
“To offer is not proof enough,” says Lal. The Vians see instinct, but their empiricism has lulled their instincts into a terrifying
dormancy. Gem, through Kirk’s interpretation, reinkindles these instincts:
Kirk: If death is all you can understand, then here are four
lives for you…you’ve lost the capacity to feel the
emotions you brought Gem here to experience. You
do not understand what it is to live. Love and
compassion are dead in you. You are nothing but
Vians also complement Kirk’s theory of useless sadistic experimentation by
reinkindling in Kirk the nature and definition of the
prime ingredient. In his obsession with pain, Kirk has momentarily forgotten his species own best and inherent qualities. Through
instinct, pain can be redemptive. However, Kirk’s impassioned condemnation of Tharn and Val as dead intellect is inconsistent
with Kirk’s character as dramatized and with his limited perceptibility of pain as death. The brief speech is dramatic, but it does
ot quite ring true. An intelligence as evolved as the Vians' already has enough insight into the nature of human passion to set up the
Kafkaesque penal colony. Thus, it is unlikely they would not recognize this prime ingredient as Gem endures the pain of the dying
McCoy, saving his life despite his protestations. They see the prime ingredient in Kirk as he rushes toward the Vians: [Act II]
Lal: Their will to survive is great.
Tharn: They love life greatly, to struggle so.
Lal: The prime ingredient.
should they not see the prime ingredient in Gem in Act IV? Kirk’s position
implies a dialectic of two instincts: (1) self-preservation;
(2) self-sacrifice. For Kirk, the Vians’ arena of death is one of human sacrifice, not self-sacrifice. But Kirk’s words belie his actions.
He and McCoy are a little startled to learn of their myopia and Freudian priggishness. As Spock notes, “Everything that has occurred
here has been caused to happen by them [Vians]. This was all a great laboratory and we have been the subjects of the test.” What
Kirk does not recognize is what he, Spock, McCoy and Gem have been doing unconsciously, simply by being true to themselves
and to their instincts. They love life and place self sacrifice above self-preservation by instinct. They did not even have to think about it.
Only late does Kirk understand the nature of the test and the compliments paid to human nature as being worthy of survival:
Lal: His death will not serve it. But her willingness to give
Her life for him will. You were her teachers.
Kirk: We were? What could she learn from us?
Lal: Your will to survive, your love of life, your passion to
know. They are reordered in her being…each of you
was ready to give his life for the others…your actions
were spontaneous. Everything that is truest and best
in any species of beings has been revealed by you. Those
are the qualities that make a civilization worthy to survive.
Lal and Tharn respectfully use the word “instinct” throughout the episode, ex.,
“An instinct new to the essence of her being is
generating.” “Compassion for another is becoming part of her functioning life system.” The play’s dramatics have Lal and Tharn s
ee a metaphysical distinction between the instinct for self-preservation and the instinct for self-sacrifice. From the
view of primitive man, the
dialectic is resolved and probably never exists because the love to live and the
live to love are inseparable.
As Georgia Johnson says, “For living is but loving/ and loving only living” (“The Poet Speaks”). It is not important, as Lal momentarily
insists, “to see whether her instinct for self-sacrifice has become stronger than her instinct for self-preservation because, as Spock notes,
the test “is complete. Gem has earned the right of survival for her planet. She offered her life.” Proof need not incur death. The
Trekkers have proved their love for life and their determination to survive. The Vians, the Trekkers, and Gem learn the value of life
and love as one, unifying experience. In a line in the 7/23/68 script, one unfortunately omitted in the final screening, the Vians, through
Lal, expresses “the first glint of warmth in his eyes” and says, “The one emotion left to us is gratitude. We are grateful we can express
it to you. Farewell.”
“The Empath” goes beyond its obvious obsession with pain into the world of instinctive marriage of emotion and its symbolic value.
Empathy is perhaps the ultimate human product of the human imagination. In empathy, self becomes selflessness, and differences are momentarily
diminished as they merge into a primitive beauty beyond reason’s comprehension. Empathy is a little-explored phenomenon and has only recently
been receiving scientific attention. Empathy is an essential facet of the human imagination’s creative act first explored by the Romantic poets of the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Empathy is now an acknowledged aspect of human intuition. Definitions always deal with “subject”
and “object,” a relationship best analyzed by Immanuel Kant. Modern definitions coincide with Kant’s philosophical views, ex., “Intuition is
dentification.” Better, intuition is “an inside identification with the object” during
the creative act” (Sliker 1972).
Intuitive insights result from “identification…breaking down distinctions
between subject and object”
(Clark 156-69). The highest form of empathy is not psychical projection where the subject, in his experience, feels that he is at one
with the object wherein the subject feels what the object feels; it is the highest experience noted by Martin Buber, where the I-It
relationship becomes an I-thou relationship. In the case of Gem, the empathic identification is between two subjects, not between a
subject and an object. Gem experiences the complete McCoyness of Dr. McCoy, all his pain, all his being. She is, in this sense, the
empath and the significance of the episode’s challenging title. In his book, Intuition: How we Think and Act (Basick, 279), Tony Basick
stresses that intuitive understanding uses feelings evoked through empathy: “The view [is] that intuitive information is accessed through
appropriate feelings and these appropriate feelings are evoked mainly subconsciously through empathy with the concrete objects
characterizing a situation” (279). Gene Roddenberry’s empath is a far-reaching and daringly new study for its time. The episode
precedes contemporary scientific interest, but pursues earlier explorations by I. Kant, S.T. Coleridge, John Keats, William Wordsworth,
and Thomas Carlyle. Science begins to apprehend art when empathy is defined as “…the imaginative transposing of oneself into the
thinking, feeling and acting of another and so structuring the world as he does” (Dymond 127+). It is also a functional tenet of Buddhist
philosophy that, in empathy, “what is seen and the one who sees are identical” (Suzuki 85-128). In empathy, as portrayed by Gem,
the identification process involves the maintenance of the individuality of both subjects, such as Gem and McCoy. Tony Basick also points
out what has been called the Hebraism, a concept first coined and defined by
Matthew Arnold in Culture and
Anarchy, i.e., that empathy is a primordial phenomenon with a strong
body-based mechanism. Empathy
involves an “imagined extension of [the] body” to include the object or subject of intuition. Empathy yields intuitive understanding by imagining
one’s body boundary to be extended to include the object or subject of empathy. Roddenberry’s Gem has these abilities. Her empathic
powers can be seen as kinaesthetic empathy that gives rise to intuitive understanding. Here the empath puts herself in the empathé’s shoes
by assuming his posture. This empathy is triggered by “kinaesthetic cues” that reinstate the same Hebraic, bodily experience, i.e., in this case,
Gem assumes Kirk’s and McCoy’s wounds. She is a kinaesthetic empath. The identification is both empirical (kinetic) and aesthetic (artistic).
Gem is a triumph of artistic proportions because her imagination is so intense that the “cue,” the wounds and pain, causes total response of her
immerleben as manifested and symbolized through her body. Beyond science lies the mystical curative empathy. Gem is pain’s anodyne.
Beauty takes pain unto herself and dissipates it totally, turning the pain of matter into the transcendental energy of a world without imposed
pain. This is the world of Romantic literature where art transcends any science. Gem’s empathy is almost Messianic and miraculous, and
imagination is the force that turns death into life. It is a para-religious phenomenon of man’s unterlebensgeist. The religious thematic element
brackets the entire play, one in the teaser and one in the last scene of Act IV. The characters of Dr. Linke and Dr. Ozaba are too easily
overlooked after the teaser, but Linke, whose name denotes empathy’s nature, suffers from boredom: “I don’t think I can stand another
week in this God-forsaken place.” Linke’s remark would seem an everyday
conclusion, except for his use of “God-forsaken,” because Ozabo’s wit
predicates the presence of God who, as the deity, overhears Linke
and decides to make his presence known by an earthquake. Ozaba’s reply is both witty and important in setting a sense of a divine or paradivine
presence at work as the Minarian star system enters a nova phase. Were it not for the subsequent disappearance by Linke and Ozaba, the reply
by Ozaba would be a bit jocose. The quote from Psalm 95, verse 4 emphasizes the importance that human instinct, visible via faith, places on the
spiritual, unscientific aspects of natural phenomena, such as the earthquake and the imminent nova. Man is still mystified by great natural phenomena,
especially gigantic and destructive ones. Such workings of nature were, and are still, the subjects of tribal worships. Even if modern science can
explain what happens in an earthquake, he still retains primordial feelings about their causes. These phenomena were the works and spheres of ancient
gods. The teaser contains a rerun of a two-week old complete tape showing two men of two races, whose approaches to religion enhance the
dialectical opposites so important to the nature of man and his beliefs. Psalm 95:4’s statement—“In his hand are the deep places of the earth”—
is both dramatic and appropriate for the nature-man dialectic constructed by this teaser. Ozaba feels the worship of an Old Testament God.
Ironically, Psalm 95 is a song of praise and joy to the Lord. The psalm is a quest for stability: “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a
joyful noize to the rock of our salvation.” The second verse repeats “joyful noise,” an oxymoron descriptive of Ozaba’s reaction to the destruction
to the Minarian system that he is monitoring. His hands are on the “deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also” (3). “The sea is his , and
made it: and his hands formed the dry land” (5)..All those affected by
the Minarian cataclysm have this truth in common, as Ozaba implies,
God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today if ye will hear his voice.”(7). The psalm is also the Lord’s warning to an
incredulous man to “Harden not your heart.” The God of creation
in Genesis is also the God of wrath. When the Vians later say that it was
Ozaba’s “own imperfections that killed them,” a strange incongruity results. The psalm’s last two verses tend to support the Vians unexplained remark:
Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said,
It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not
known my ways:
Unto whom I swear in my wrath that they should not enter
into my rest.
Ozaba’s godly feelings contrast with Linke’s merely verbal, empty use of “this
God-forsaken place,” although the line describes the little
hut in the
wilderness and the sense of loneliness Linke and Ozaba share. Ozaba’s mind unconsciously and instantly recalls the psalm, presenting two different
nstinctual reactions to the earthquake. The subsequent disappearance of the men from the hut adds mystery and terror to Ozaba’s words. Psalm 95,
in the context of the teaser and in light of subsequent events, is a writer’s coup d’écrire, adding great substance to the play. The second religious
reference bracketing the episode, at its conclusion, is also Biblical. This time Scotty and Matthew team up for a winner. Kirk ponders “that fantastic
element of chance that out in limitless space we should have come together with Gem.” Spock counteracts “chance” at the hands of “a civilization as
advanced as the Vians.” Scotty unifies the dialectic of instinct vs. contrivance by fusing and by transcending both views in his quotation from St.
Matthew 13:45-46 with the “story
of the merchant who when he found one pearl of great price, went out and sold
all that he had, and
The analyzing is between Gem and the pearl of great price, saying in essence that Gem was worth the struggle and the selling of the things of this
world for the pearl. The quote from St. Matthew is a brilliant metaphor to summarize what really happened on the planet. The pearl counteracts
death and the nova’s cataclysm. One must, however, note the parable’s context. The words are those of Christ to his apostles and it is the “kingdom
of heaven” that is compared to the merchant who sells all his possessions to purchase the ultimate beauty of heavenly redemption. For it little profits
a man to own the whole world and lose his immortal soul. The New Testament ends “The Empath” just as the Old Testament began it. One offers
"joyful noise” to a Lord who is a rock, to a Lord who rules the hills, the deep places of the earth, the sea, and the dry land. The second is both a warning
and a promise that true value lies in heaven, Gem, the pearl of great price. It points to self-sacrifice and worldly sacrifice to attain the greater spiritual goal
of empathy with eternity in the mind of its God. Thus, the Biblical quotations are uncanny in their affinity and message of the real value of “value” in the
annals of human exploration. Kirk misses Scotty's analogy of intuition almost completely. His comments that “she [Gem] was all that." But whether the
Vians bought her or found her makes little difference. She was of great value, “is bathos, if not insanity.” The “value” is instinctual, not mercantile.
Kirk has strange lack of intuition in this episode. He reflects only his personal obsession and a sense of unreflective detachment. Dostoyevsky’s
underground man is not terribly awry of
St. Matthew and Scotty’s pearl of wisdom is stating what may be the blindness of the heart in Ozaba’s psalm:
I ask you…listen to the moans of an educated man
…suffering from a toothache on the second or third
day of the attack, when he is beginning to moan not
as he moaned on the first day—that is, not simply
because he has a toothache, but just as any course
peasant, but as a man affected by progress and
European civilization, a man who is divorced from
the soil and the natural elements…I should have
found for myself a form of activity…drinking to the
health of everything good and beautiful
Again, empathy is pain’s anodyne.
It is not simply that as McCoy quips, “I find it fascinating that with
all their [Vians’] scientific knowledge
that it was good old-fashioned human emotion that they valued the most.” Empathy is not simply a rejection of science; it is an intuitive identification indigenous
to man’s creative act. The pearl of great price is empathic art; she is beauty whose Hebraic body and Hellenic beauty disarms pain and destruction.
Gem, the empath, is perhaps best described by the poetic master of the aesthetic experience:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness…
Therefore on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind into the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the human dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our darkest spirits
(Keats “Endymion” I,1-13).
(Finis “The Empath”)
Like a friend in a cloud
With howling woe,
After night I do crowd,
And with night will go;
I turn my back to the east;
From whence comforts have increas’d;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain.
(Wm. Blake “Mad Song").
“Operation—Annihilate!” written by Steven Carabatsos, is a study in
the quest for a constructive solution to a multitude of destructive
It is a study in the irrational forces, from the unterlebensgeist, that attack and destroy civilizations, planet by planet, in a straight line from the outer limits
of space toward the heart of “our” galaxy. As with V’ger, Nomad, and the doomsday machine, the goal of civilization’s Trekkers is to destroy “the Things”
attacking and murdering all inhabitants. These “creatures” which resemble once-over-lightly fried eggs, are intelligent, a facet played down in the episode’s
final screening. Their actions are, like those of Kirk’s gaseous cloud, intelligent and well-considered. It is their corporate, wholistic intelligence, of which each
creature is like a cell in a massive rain, that makes annihilation a survivalist imperative. Since these “Things” resemble rubberized objects used to scare grammar
school girls , they will be called the vomit creatures. The name, although not entirely logical, is descriptive of the entity and the function. The vomit creatures
symbolize the invasion of light (ex. the Denevan sun) by dullness, invading the subconscious mind and from opening the Pandora’s box of man’s normally hidden
and controlled immerleben. The episode is a study in the irrational psyche as the invasion forces the inner selves to surface. People do not behave in their
darkness as they would in the light of reason (the sun). The Denevans are no
longer in control of themselves. Many have died; others are
in the shadows of buildings. The episode is a study in obsession on an individual basis and on a societal basis. The psychopathic state called obsession is
both the problem and the symptom of the problem. The episode is a dark study of civilization’s thin veneer of rational control. The invasion turns order into
chaos, heaven into hell. It is obsession in the form of an outer and inner invasion of man’s heart of darkness. Obsession is the result as civilization’s pilgrims
meet Mr. Kurtz.
Mr. Spock’s classical definition of obsession as the persistent, single-minded fixation with one idea is both correct and flexible. Gene Roddenberry’s
study of obsessions is of pioneering nature, except as found in other great literatures, such as works by William Blake, Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy,
and Joseph Conrad—pioneers in the study of man’s instincts. Roddenberry’s episodes dealing with obsession coalesce the few earlier psychiatric works but
defuse a concept not well defined until after 1970. Science is slow to acknowledge the prevalence of obsessive behavior. To a great extent, the term is still
ill-defined, its inner sources almost totally unknown. In this episode, the obsessions are with the following: (a) mass insanity (by Trekkers and Denevans);
(b) Kirk’s personal obsession with his kin—brother Sam, Aurelan, and Peter; (c) Kirk’s official and martial fixation with finding a way to annihilate the
annihilators; (d) pain, on mass scale and on personal scale (Spock); (e) survival; (f) non-sequiturs: laws of science as “no sense”; (g) Oedipal need to know;
(h) the unknown; (i)
impotency as helplessness; (j)
obsession qua obsession; (k) Hebraism as body vs/w/o Hellenic balance; (l)
The first fixation is the “overall pattern of mass insanity destroying civilizations” headed for the heart of the galaxy. McCoy sees “no medical or
scientific cause,” but Kirk sees “a definite pattern…a systemic progression” of the mass insanity from planet to planet. The figure of the Denevan,
who deliberately head his one-man vessel into the sun, sets the pattern for the nature of the problem and, ultimately, for its resolution. It is important
that there be an unsolvable problem to trigger obsession’s fixation, thus forcing man’s energies in one direction. The obsession breaks only when the
problem becomes a solvable problem that the fixation may, ironically, solve. It is important, too that the Denevan’s suicidal journey be deliberate.
Spock notes, “He does not seem to be out of control…his course is straight for the sun.” Obsession has a regular pattern. The man is a victim of the
mass insanity and yet his path is a controlled choice because the problem has become a solvable one: “I did it… Its finally done! I’m free! I won!”
Kirk keeps insisting on the Denevan’s suicide by stating that the Denevan freed himself. He was not freed by the sun; he freed himself. The distinction
in the script is important because it establishes the fact of rational control that counterbalances the mass insanity. This deliberate act sets the goal of the
mission—freedom to control, not to be controlled. Kirk asks, “That Denevan headed deliberately into the sun. Why?” McCoy’s answer of mass
insanity’s probable presence on Deneva implies the act of a crazy man. Kirk senses the irony of a man who is willing to die to achieve freedom.
He “won” his freedom. It is a controlled act amid mass insanity, and Kirk
the irony. The key to freedom is the sun, a unifying symbol for the entire
episode. Like the sun’s nova in “The Empath,” the sun
of construction and of destruction. It symbolizes an age of reason, and it will eventually destroy the evil vomit monsters that inhabit the bodies of their human hosts.
The Denevan pleads, “take it out… take it out…please…please,” and the sun does take it out, but only at the expense of a human life. The evil lurks in the
shadows; it fears the sun—a dialectic of light vs. dark, freedom vs. enslavement, emerges as the episode’s metaphysical conflict. The sun must provide freedom,
but will it provide freedom without death?
Before Spock is attacked and infected by the vomit creature, two Denevan scenes occur that served to illustrate the “mass insanity.” Upon first beam down,
the Trekker landing party is attacked by a handful of Denevan citizens who are shrieking, screaming, and wielding clubs while yelling:
Run! Get away! We don’t want to hurt you!
Go back! Look out…go away! Please!
They’ll get you! No! Get away from here!
We’ll have to kill you!
fixation, which, as obsession, will later blind him into blinding Spock
(temporarily), emerges. “There’s something
wrong.” This irony
lies in a medical inconsistency within the stunned Denevans’ bodies. McCoy notes that “their nervous systems…unconscious like this, there should be just routine a
utonomic activity.” But McCoy sees a scientific aberration, i.e., that “even in their unconscious state they’re being violently stimulated.” Spock's immediate
fixation is with a paradox of logic in the Denevans themselves. While threatening to kill the Trekkers, they simultaneously plead for them to get away lest
they get hurt. As Spock
notes, “Their attitude was inconsistent with their actions…they seemed most
concerned for our safety.” They are wishing to save and to kill
They want to help, yet they carry clubs. This is evidence of a fragmented, divided ego structure. They know what they are doing, but they are not in control
of their bodies. Their divided egos are at odds with their behavior. Mass insanity, in this first Trek episode on the subject, is obsessive-compulsive behavior,
but becomes “insanity” in its sustained, uncontrolled nature. Their paradoxical thoughts and behavior resemble dementia, a technical medical term. Insanity is a
far more common term which, though misused, is far more common in American mass media; hence, insanity is used in lieu of dementia. Insanity, though
popular, is a legal term not used technically in medicine. American law still struggles with a definition of insanity, but it does argue for a degree of mental
derangement of “unsoundness of mind,” permanent or temporary, that makes a person incapable of what is legally regarded as “normal,” rational conduct
or judgment. In psychiatry, dementia refers to a loss or impairment of mental powers due to organic causes. In this case, the vomit creatures are the organic
causes causing ego impairment. If sustained, obsession shares some of dementia’s symptoms. But obsession tends to pass once the “toxin” is removed, once
the “trigger” for the single-minded fixation is recognized, once the insolvable problem (killing the creatures) becomes a solvable one. When this occurs, obsession’s
fixation turns directly to solving the problem. Once solved, the obsession disintegrates. The Denevans who attack the Trekkers border on a neurotic state
because their “attitude is inconsistent with their activities,” and because neurosis includes obsessive-compulsive behavior, anxiety, phobias, and dissociations.
These people are, as the producer’s notes to this episode stipulate, plain, ordinary
civilians but “transformed by
their inner agony, their faces warped and twisted by pain which borders on
insanity.” They tread both sides of
the delicate line
between obsession and dementia, varying with the degree of pain. The term dementia has a degree of correctness because the violent and dissociated thoughts
and actions are due to externally induced organic causes, i.e., the vomit creatures whose tentacles intertwine their spines and nervous systems, inducing them to
act uncharacteristically. The outstanding symptom is lack of self-control or the unruliness of effects. Dementia includes a narrowing of consciousness that is very
similar to obsessive fixation. It is a “restriction of clarity to one idea, with abnormal increase in the indistinctness of all subsidiary associations. Dementia causes
delusions, and hallucinations here induced by an organic cause. Jung’s comments about delusions include references to Spock’s definition of obsession: “ The delusions
may be paralleled…by the obsessive idea, and also by the nervous-minded prejudices based on affect, which are so often met with in hysteria, and finally by the
stubbornly asserted bodily pains and ailments” (Jung, Psychgenesis, 82). For Jung, the pain belongs to a repressed complex disguised by displacement.
The obsessive shows that some complex is repressed as hysterical symptoms are asserted. The delusional assertions of the hysterical Denevans are displacements.
The scene inside the building where the Trekkers encounter Kirk’s brother Sam, his wife Aurelan, and their son Peter raises the theme of induced insanity.
If the invasion of Sam by the vomit creatures did not kill him directly, the obsessive fixation brought on by the attack kills him. The inwardizing fixation on
anxiety and pain is self-annihilating, causing severe self-doubt and hysteria. Aurelan’s obsession with keeping the creatures from entering through the
ventilation systems exacerbates her nervous dysfunction to the point of agony
and death. Insanity is defined in the episode by a loss of her
Agony and hysterics predominate vividly and dramatically. The invasion from without creates an invasion from within. Irrationality becomes annihilative.
The director’s notes are forceful: “…Aurelan is completely hysterical, unable to talk, sobbing wildly, half-crying, half-laughing, completely out of touch with sanity.”
he characters of Aurelan and Sam make the insanity a personal experience for Kirk, and a personally dramatized illustration of what the insanity does to
individuals. Her fixation exaggerates her pain, but not before key information is given: “They’re here! They’re here! Please…keep them away!” But who
are “they?” Aurelan, in agony, defines them as, ‘Things…horrible things…visitors brought them…their space vessel …not the crew’s fault…the things made
them do it.” The lack of human, objective correlatives make “things” more terrorizing because of the alien nature of the invaders. They are simply indescribable
from a rational viewpoint. Aurelan notes the parasitical nature and purpose of the “things”: “They need us to be their arms and legs…They’re forcing us to build
more ships for them…Don’t…let them…go any further.” As with the attacking Denevans, Aurelan’s concern is not for herself, but for others. Her “prime ingredient”
is self-sacrifice to avoid spreading pain to other people and other civilizations; apparently, there are many who survive the attack because they are “of the body,”
controllable and hence controlled by the vomit creatures. They are mindless slaves. Apparently too, others like Aurelan and Sam fight the infestation, refusing to
build ships so that others may live. Some Denevans, lacking self-control, become susceptible to outside control and outside manipulation. Those with higher
intelligence and stronger wills fight the “things” as
as circumstances permit. Being obsessed with their pain, many become regressed
into childlike narcissism. The survival of the child,
Peter, is an interesting
curiosity. Because his age precludes full ego development, his inability to fully distinguish between opposites is a salvific factor. The mature adults, capable of fully
understanding the causes and effects, are most vulnerable to obsession. The good doctor’s hypo cannot be underestimated in meliorating trauma. Also, the complete
obliteration of Sam’s family would be dramatically counter-productive. A child means the possibility of survivors and of a future for the Kirk clan. Aurelan’s dying
testimony, coupled with her feminine sensitivity, with her heightened sensibility, breeds sheer terror, much like the scene of Scotty and the bloody knife standing
over the multiply-stabbed body of the Argelian dancing girl in “Wolf in the Fold.” Aurelan “stiffens…her eyes wide in terror and torment…she screams in unutterable
anguish.” The panel indicators drop to zero. (2nd R.F.D. of 2/13/67). She is free at last.
The third encounter with Denevan’s induced insanity (dementia) is a brief, sharp encounter between Spock and one Denevan, Kartan. The scene has a special
poignancy as a one-on-one encounter between a Vulcan, in agony but controlling the pian, and a Denevan deep in obsession’s fixation, beyond sanity. Brandishing
a key wrench which contains two of the three symbols of a Celtic cross, Kartan is unlike the first and second Denevan groups in that he has no compassion and is
not concerned with Spock’s safety. Kartan will kill! His dementia is total with symptoms of functional psychosis. He’s totally mad. His character is negated and
transformed by agony. He has lost his fight; the pain is too much. Spock and Kartan show obsession’s dialectical nature. One’s fixation is constructive;
the other’s fixation is destructive
FSNP (Famous Spock Neck Pinch) is defensive and temporary; Kartan’s weapon
contains oblivion’s finality. He is deadened
by the attack
of an autonomous complex; thus he loses “fonction du réel,” becoming dead to his environment. The attack by the vomit creatures possesses the
neurological system like a metabolic toxic whose effect shows itself in a large tendency to automatization and obsessive fixation. The complex, Jung
notes, absorbs the activity of the cerebrum, so that a “debraining” takes place. In all probability, Kartan had a predisposition (repressed) to hysteria
and his complex creates forms of automatism in the motor system. The result is psychic disintegration and possession by the object, the “things.”
The battle of the Denevans with dementia fades into the play’s background at the end of Act I. The camera’s focus shifts to the vomit creature’s
hurting through the air, attacking Spock squarely in the back with great force. The episode’s study now shifts to Spock and his induced obsessive-
compulsive behavior. Spock’s personal agony raises the issue of “The Naked Time” of emotion vs. control in Vulcan philosophy. Spock faces the
camera with a look of unutterable agony on his face. The director’s notes stress, “His hands claw at his back; his entire face is alive with the effort
o control himself…he pitches forward, falling to his knees…and SCREAMS a scream of sheer agony.” All of Act II is a study in Spock’s
obsessive-compulsive behavior as it pertains to his Vulcan nature. The struggle has sharp parallels to Kirk’s struggle in “The Enemy Within,” but
now it is Spock who is confronting his enemy within. As McCoy notes of Spock, “Either he’s fighting us or something inside of him is fighting us.”
Spock’s body is full of “tentacles, growing—entwining all about his nervous system.” We learn that the creature leaves a stinger and takes over
the victim rapidly. McCoy is obsessed with
doubt and inadequacy because the
attack is beyond the reach of his surgical knowledge and empirical abilities.
This obsession blocks
vision to alternatives. He views Spock’s condition as an unsolvable problem. It is a case of total psychical blockage: “I’m sorry, Jim. The labs,
all the science departments…we’re all stumped.” Kirk is still obsessed with Peter’s condition. A disoriented Nurse Chapel is obsessed with her own
incapacity, thus seeing Spock’s escape from sickbay restraints as an armed and dangerous all-points bulletin: “Bridge, this is Sickbay…Mister Spock
just left here. He’s delirious, possibly dangerous!” Kirk’s fixation is stereotypical and autonomatized. Curiously, he seems little concerned for Spock’s
well being: “All decks, security alert! Locate and restrain Mr. Spock. He may be dangerous; use phasers on stun if necessary.” Kirk’s reaction has a
basis in fact as Spock, with his subtle Vulcan physique, tries to take over the ship: “I must…take ship down…I don’t want to!
The episode now centers on the K-3 factor and Spock’s obsession with his Vulcanism and his human half. The K-3 factor is pain; the K-3 indicator
registers the level of pain, and, in Spock’s case, the K-3 flies to the top of the scale. The sheer intensity of the pain causes dementia: “Now that’s what he’s
been going through. I’ve never seen anything like it. No wonder the poor devils go mad,” says a shocked McCoy.
Obsessive-compulsive reactions are often caricatures of everyday actions and goals. They are often attempts to get control over situations, over one’s
behavior or to impose regularity or conformity over oneself or related events. Repressed guilt may request freedom through rituals or self-imposed penalties.
What Spock does is an induced hyperbolization, exaggerations
daily events. The vomit creatures take repressed, or subconscious, conflicts
and force them to the surface, i.e., into the conscious level.
he buried life is exhumed and the results are not always decorous. Conflicts become externalized. The induced pain of the vomit creatures threatens
ego disintegration. “Obsessive compulsive reactions consist of apparently useless but irresistible repetitious acts, words or thoughts, whose aim is to
reduce tension and anxiety” (Cameron 376). Cameron lists three means to this end. The first is by indulging in something forbidden. Spock is being
deluged with pain. To not contend it is to deny his Vulcan heritage. He invades the bridge, at the creature’s painful behest, in an effort to take over the
Enterprise. The second way to reduce tension and anxiety (via obsession) is by denying such indulgence or guarding against it. Spock offers “my weakness”
in trying to control the ship. Although he cannot probably deny his act, Spock guards his actions by saying, “I simply did not understand.” Such an act
was a result of his human half, which “is proving to be an inconvenience, but it is manageable.” He guards against any future emotional outburst because “…e
ven now…the creature…all of its thousands of parts…now is pressuring me. It wants this ship. But I am resisting.” The last method in obsession’s attempt
to lower tension is by punishing oneself for having had the impulse to indulge. Spock’s public confession of his human half is part of the ritual of handling a
heretofore repressed dialectic between his two selves: Vulcan and human. There is shame in demonstrating human emotion, as shown in “The Naked Time”
and “Amok Time.” If emotion is expressed, as in “Amok Time,” it must be according to ancient cultural ritual which permits controlled release of repressed conflicts.
For Spock, a more Platonic philosophy, a theory of the relationship between mind and body, evolves.“ I am Vulcan. The
mind…is superior to the body. There is…no pain” (2nd R.S.D.,
2/13/67—deleted in screening). Spock’s punishment is the agony he
in fighting to control the body’s pain. His Vulcan, Hellenic theory of rational control conflicts openly with his Hebraic half, his flesh, his faith, his conscious,
for control: “I…am…a…Vulcan. There…is…no…pain.” Pain is a thing of the mind; therefore, it is not real. This same self-control theory saves Spock,
Kirk and McCoy from death, at the hands of the Earps, at the gunfight at the Ok Corral in “Spectre of the Gun.” Thus, Spock demonstrates the textbook
symptoms of obsessive-compulsive reaction. His guilt also leads Spock into volunteering to beam down to Deneva for a specimen-gathering mission. Guilt
also aids his logic in the last act where Spock volunteers to be the human host for the sunlight test. He found the sacrifice of eyesight (temporary) as an equitable
exchange for freedom from external control and pain. His Vulcan dominance of mind over body, intellect over pain, is restored and the conflict is placed back
with the immerleben as a repressed complex. For over two acts of the drama, Spock’s obsession for order forces a confrontation with Scotty in the
transporter room (“Freeze right there, Mr. Spock, or I’ll put you to sleep for sure!”) A brief confrontation with Kirk is an attempt to raise logic’s control:
Kirk: Mr. Spock, I gave you an order to stay in the sickbay.
Spock: Until the pain was gone, captain. It has been discontinued,
Spock’s logic is equally effective against Dr. McCoy:
Spock: One of the creatures will have to be captured and analyzed
…Since my nervous system is already affected…as you
pointed out, Doctor…I don’t believe they could do much
more to me.
McCoy: Jim, this is ridiculous. He should be in bed. I don’t
want my patients running around…
Spock: I am in complete control of myself. The fact that I am
here proves that I don’t belong in bed.
Kirk: Mister Spock…your logic, as usual, is inescapable…
McCoy: That man is sick…and don’t give me any
damnable logic about him being the only one for
Kirk: I don’t have to, Bones. We both know he is.
has obsessive doubts about how long he can continue to control the pain. He
also has obsessive ruminations about his own split
and his own scientific ability to solve the vomit creature dilemma. Hence, he is quick to volunteer to collect a creature sample from the planet surface
for laboratory examination. Spock has always retained a disposition to self-doubt because of his inherent, split personality. Normally, he manages to
keep his human half submerged or channeled into constructive energy and work. This Vulcan-human character uses his contraries to breed progression,
as William Blake notes. At other times, often on both subconscious and conscious levels; Spock’s obsession with his dialectical nature creates an
obsessive-compulsive neurosis which Freud called a private religion. Rarely, however, does the doubt or guilt last long, nor does it breed stasis.
Spock’s constructive unity of opposites within the ME is his major asset, making him “the best first officer in the Fleet.” The possession of Spock’s
nervous system is an attack on the balance within his ego structure. It exacerbates the inconvenient human elements, raising them to the surface, or
conscious level. As Cameron points out, “obsessive-compulsive reactions are often called guilt neuroses” because Spock, as with most intelligent
human beings, is overly concerned with good vs. evil, of self-approval and self-disapproval. This is just like textbook psychiatric obsessions with
toilet training! Spock’s obsession is with a guilt arising from the limitations imposed from within by his human half.
vomit creature’s attack has made the human half the dominant half. Thus
conscious control is related to his disapproval of and doubts
this inferior self. In more Freudian terms, there is ego regression and the superego reacts, creating tension and further ego disintegration. An eruption
of this regression occurs when Spock exceeds tolerance under the induced pain of the alien’s attack upon his central nervous system. This repression
of his human emotions and immerleben becomes insufficient. The “obsessive compulsive defensive organization does not succeed in containing id impulses
or their derivatives in unconscious fantasy. Neither does it succeed in blunting or deflecting the intolerable pressure from a regressed superego” (Cameron, 405).
The id impulses and superego directives must find constructive vents or ego integration is jeopardized. Such defensive mechanisms as displacement, reaction
formulation, isolation, undoing of the act (ex. trying to take control of the ship), and rigidity becomes evident in Spock’s reactive behavior. His
obsessive-compulsive neuroses make public the dialectic of forces normally hidden. In “The Empath,” the Vians’ obsessive compulsive regression
produced an ego-superego conflict regressed via sado-masochism. The vomit creatures themselves may symbolize this preconscious, infantile state of
discharging punitive impulses. The repressed is now expressed. In Spock, the regression expresses consciousness of unconscious (or repressed) conflict between
Vulcan and human, between pain and control. The obsessive-compulsive regression also effects a process of “secondary thinking” in Spock who becomes fixated
and preoccupied with ruminations or philosophical dialectics about primitive notions, especially concerning the Platonic, Berkleyan, Kantean, Blakean, Shelleyan
of subject-object, of mind-body, of reason-emotion, ex., “I am a Vulcan…there is no pain.” “Pain is a thing of the mind.
mind can be controlled.” The K-3 factor—agonizing pain—is one example of
absorption in secondary thinking. It is primitive and
“I have my own will, Captain. Let me help.” The absorption with control is a defensive mechanism aimed at re-establishing ego dominance. The pain, Spock
claims, “has been discontinued by me.” Spock fights it, wills it away. The truth lies in a brief one-on-one between Spock and McCoy. Spock quips, “Doctor,
your medical skill and curiosity are quite admirable, but I assure you I am all right.” McCoy answers “You may be controlling the pain…but you’re far from alright.”
The entire Denevan population and the Trekkers are all obsessed with one common denominator—pain—a great equalizer and leveler, death’s vital mate. Pain is both
a public and a private religion in “Operation—Annihilate!” Guilt is rampant because creative intelligence feels impotent to negate the cause of the pain. The episode
implies Hebraic man’s predisposition toward obsession with pain. The vomit creatures cause an inherent human condition to become a dominant factor, no longer
capable of being repressed. In a self-conscious individual, the obsession becomes obsession with obsession itself. The creatures are one’s enemies within. Living
as an intelligent human being in a contemporary post-lapsarian world is an inherently painful process. It is rarely a question of whether pain exists, but how much and
in how many ways. To live, to be more fully human, pain is necessary for character growth. But as an obsession, pain can cause “blockage,” thus impairing or destroying
all that is human in man. Obsession ends when the unsolvable problem becomes a partially solvable one. This is true of Spock’s own struggle, and with the struggle
of Hebraism without a counterbalancing Hellenism, as anodyne. Defensive behavior must turn to offensive
behavior. When an entire culture or civilization consists of obsessive,
regressive characters, “mass insanity,” whether as cause and/or effect,
surface into conscious chaos. The problem without is the problem within. The death, the annihilation of the vomit creatures, can coalesce obsessed
individuals into a corporate, creative act of annihilation that simultaneously restores life and a sense of communal normalcy, gregariousness, and function
iinterdependence. Obsession affects only a part of a personality, but mass insanity destroys parts and wholes. The irrational must be put back into its proper
box, its proper perspective. Balance between Hellenism and Hebraism must control the infantile once again. Obsession with the body causes a guilt. Pain is the
toxin, the triggering device, for the mass insanity. Given both dialogue and director’s notes, there are no fewer than seven references to mass insanity (largely in Act I),
thirty eight references to pain (overt), and fourteen references to agony (overt). These do not include implied references and dramatizes, but unverbalized,
pain and agony, such as screaming, screeching, and contorting faces, autonomic reflexes, etc. Spock, Peter, Deneva are one world with two devils:
Old Adam, the carrion crow,
The old crow of Cairo;
He sat in the shower, and let it flow
Under his tail and over his crest;
And through every feather
Leaked the wet weather;
And the bough swung under his nest;
For his beak it was heavy with marrow.
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It’s only two devils, that blow
Through a murderer’s bones, to and fro,
In the ghost’s moonshine
In his famous essay, On Liberty, John
Stewart Mill says, “Strong impulses are but another name for energy. Energy may
to bad uses; but more
good may always be made of an energetic nature than of an indolent and impassive one.” Energy complemented by interactive reasoning describes the quest by
Kirk, McCoy, and Spock for a cure to the mass insanity. Obsessions do not always denote irrational conditions or responses. The obsession’s effort to allay fears
or doubts can create a rational reaction, forcing the conscious and subconscious powers in a laser-like fixation aimed at solving a problem. Many psychiatrists have
stressed the Janus quality of the obsession. An inner resistance to the pain, in Spock’s case, creates an adamant, awesome concentration of faculties. The three main
characters now attack the problem via an analysis of the specimen Spock brings to the laboratory of the Enterprise. The solving of the problem involves the end of
Act III and the entirety of the last act; the solving process shows the positive side of an obsession when three highly intelligent men focus their different personalities
on one problem. The unterlebensgeist has a curative irrationality aimed at an irrational problem. Experimental evidence (especially with rats) shows that positivity is
evident when the behavior shows “fixation, preservation, absence of variability, resistance to extinction, and behavior constancy” (Mather, 302). In experiments
conducted by A. C. Wilcoxon and summarized by Mather, a newer and critical aspect of an insolvable problem is the “partial reinforcement of a response”
(Wilcoxon, 324+). Wilcoxon defines the essence of the Kirk-McCoy-Spock fixation in the episode’s last act, i.e., that the “insolvable
problem…constitutes just such ideal conditions for learning, “ especially if a
response is partially reinforced in a learning situation.
more effective than a 100% reinforcement. In terms of Spock’s pain, experimental data suggest that “any emotionally disturbing stimulus introduced in a problem
solving situation may fixate a response” (Mather, 506). Spock’s pain, although “controlled,” is a punishment that actually increases the Vulcan’s fixation on the
unsolvable problem a partially solvable one. But this is a beginning, and it permits Kirk to irrupt their fixations with alternatives. The fact that the fourteen labs
aboard the ship cannot restore the problem to Kirk’s satisfaction shows obsession’s negative impairment, so much so that Spock and McCoy are “stumped.”
They fail to see the obvious. The empiricists are victims partially to their own delimiting empiricism. Their logic lacks the intuitive facts needed to fully restore
the mass dementia. Both men are preoccupied and upset, but they do make some excellent deductions without which Kirk’s contribution would be unlikely.
The three must work as one. They must parallel the creature’s characteristics. The episode has been an intense study of the objects of the human nervous system!
The vomit creatures attack and control the spinal system, but the controller of this neurological mass is the brain which sits like an amorphous mass on top of the spine.
It contains the circuitry of pain or freedom. The vomit creatures usurp this brain’s function. But the creature specimen is, as Spock deduces, one brain with many parts.
Its power comes from the parts working in unison:
Spock: Interesting, gentlemen. A one cell creature…resembling more
than anything else, a huge individual brain cell.
Kirk: This may be simply one cell of a larger organism.
Spock: …and although it is not physically connected to the other cells
it is still part of the whole creature. Guided by the whole…
drawing its strength from the whole…simply, they resemble brain
cells…but they are in contact with one another, thus constituting a
brain. As they invade the bodies of their hosts, they multiply. As
they add more and more individual cells, the brain becomes more
and more sophisticated. More intelligent. And, quite probably,
These last few lines were edited
from the final screening, but they are important and perhaps should have been
of the creature’s intelligence gets left in the final screening. Also, the brain theme requires the explanation given by Spock. The lines are
not repetitious, but functional. The last act’s conflict is between two brains and/or between two aspects of one brain, i.e., within each man.
This is a cerebral match, a duel to the death. The creature, as Aurelan emphasizes in other edited lines, uses pain to control the hosts. The
brains of three men—Kirk, McCoy, and Spock—must act as one brain to counteract the one brain of the creature. All parts derive directions,
power, and intelligence from the whole. Oneness of concentration can counteract the isolative effects of obsession in Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
Acting as individuals, each alone cannot resolve the problem.
The process of solution is the return to the sun, the symbol upon which the play begins. The end is in the beginning. The solution
lies in the Apollonian symbol of rational control. Kirk’s intuition, coupled with careful empirical deduction, eliminates other sources
of solution based on an already proven fact, i.e., “The Denevan who flew into his sun cried out that he was free…that he had won.
That’s the angle to work on.” In a take-out found in the 2nd R.F.D. of 2/13/67, Kirk links death with intelligence, a theme virtually
nonexistent in the final screening:
Kirk: Make no mistake, gentlemen. These things must be killed even
if they are intelligent beings, their intelligence is brought by the
death of others.
omission of an intelligence theme probably avoids plot conflicts arising from
the prime directive and interference with other intelligent lifeforms,
but the insertion of intelligence adds the degree of malevolence requiring annihilation of aliens (intelligence <>death). In the return to the sun, Kirk is
“faced with the most difficult decision of my life.” The ship’s labs, under the supervision of Spock and McCoy, leave the captain with two alternatives
to one problem. As Kirk notes, “I cannot let it spread beyond this colony. Even if it means destroying people down there.” Annihilation of Deneva is the
captain’s duty. It is customary in such an emergency to contact Starfleet, but for some reason, perhaps plot suspense, Kirk never does so . Necessity
conflicts with the prime directive. Is he being another Kodos? To kill a few so that others may live? McCoy sees annihilation in his visual moral tone:
“If killing five people saves ten, it is a bargain. Is that your simple logic, Mr. Spock?” Spock can find no way to annihilate the vomit creatures. There are
two alternatives: (1) let it spread; (2) kill all Denevans, including Spock and Peter who are infected. It is a case of the good of the many superseding the
good of the few. The captain is caught between two facets of an unsolvable dialectic. Spock’s personal obsession and his personal fatalism see no choice
or the captain. In a take out of the 2nd R.F.D., Spock says, “Captain, you have no third alternative.” Kirk insists that there is some aspect of the sun which
read the Denevan while he was still living.” In an obsession bordering on rage, Kirk crucifies Spock and McCoy for their myopia:
Kirk: Gentlemen, I will accept neither of those alternatives
I cannot let this thing expand beyond this planet.
Nor do I intend to kill a million or more people to
Stop it! I want another answer. I’m putting you
Gentlemen on this hot seat with me! I want that
Kirk’s third alternative must be a way “to destroy the creatures without killing
their human hosts.” Otherwise command responsibility will
cause him to kill
over a million people. Kirk is livid over what is obsession’s effect in McCoy and Spock’s empirical abilities at simple deduction regarding the return to the sun.
The incapacity of McCoy and Spock is appalling:
McCoy: I’m sorry, Jim. We’ve been over and over it, made
every conceivable test…
Spock: And therefore I request permission to transport
down to the planet surface. I also suggest your
nephew accompany me…
Kirk: Request denied!
Spock: I do not make this request lightly. I do not know how
much longer I can hold out against the pain. But
I do know what the boy will go through should he
Kirk: Request denied!
arrives at the third alternative while intensely fidgeting with a device in his
quarters. The light flickers on and off. Bingo! An idea turns
problem (Spock’s dual alternative into a completely resolvable one, due in part to a creativity that contains deductive, empirical elimination with intuitive insight—
and some luck. One positive effect of certain obsessions is a heavy concentration on the nature of the problem. This is the other face of obsession’s famous nature.
Pain also increases the concentration, increasing Kirk’s motivation and involvement. He realizes the impotency of his scientists. Some evidence supports the new
theta “high level of drive” drives human beings to “find a solution” (Mather 316). In Star
Trek, Kirk’s intuition is a first and necessary stage of creativity. Also for Kirk, especially in this episode:
The intuition is followed, in scientific and mathematical creativity
and also in creative problem-solving, by the logical verification of
the intuition. The selection of analytic methods for verifying
the intuition and the direction of their use is also guided by
turns obsession into creativity. Like Percy Shelley’s view of the Romantic
imagination, it has the “power of attracting and
assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void for ever craves fresh food”
(A Defense of Poetry, 1821). These intervals and interstices are linkage to combine opposite or diverse elements into a new synthesis.
The subject forms a linkage with the object. The unity forms a solution. One psychologist’s definition of creativity arrives at the same
basic process, seeing creativity as:
Serendipity, similarity and mediation—forming of associative
elements into new combinations…any ability or tendency which
serves to bring otherwise mutually remote ideas into contiguity
will facilitate a creative solution.
Science will call forming associative elements, Shelley’s interstices, by giving
mediating links, synectics. Science is slowly acknowledging
human imagination as mankind’s major creative faculty. Intuition is one facet, one function, of the irrational side of the human immerleben. Kirk’s arrival
at the third alternative breaks the delimiting dialectics of blind science and internalizing obsession. The creativity is an intuition verified by intuitively
guided analysis (Mednick & Basick, 313):
And one more thing you haven’t mentioned. It [sun] is bright.
It radiates a blinding light, if you’re close enough…
McCoy: Nothing lethal about light.
Kirk: Not to me. But down on the surface the creatures stayed in the
shadows for the most part. Suppose they weren’t simply hiding;
Suppose they’re sensitive to light! Light like in a sun…
Kirk: No, but you can move the equivalent of a sun to Deneva.
Spock: Yes, in essence it can be done. A string of satellites around
The planet…with burning tri-magnesite and trevium.
The light experiment
destroys the vomit creature in the ship’s laboratory, but someone who is
infected must be exposed to the same light,
hus duplicating the conditions on the planet—one million candle power per square inch—thus Spock can wear no protective goggles.
McCoy is horrified at a second set of alternatives without a third alternative: “Do you know what one million candle power per square
inch can do to your optic nerves?” The Hebraic dilemma is between death and blindness. McCoy feels “it is the only thing we can do.”
The return to the sun destroys Spock’s enemy within: “The creature within me is gone. I am free of it…and the pain. And I am
also quite blind.” Spock considers the swap of freedom for freedom with blindness “an equitable trade.” The preliminary test requests
on the creature’s remains should have been consulted before the test on Spock was conducted. McCoy’s obsession with his
incapacity and with ethics has caused a scientific blunder of monstrous proportions. He acted impulsively without knowing the facts.
McCoy's fatuousness during the entire problem solving process shows poor character conception. He seems to serve little plot
function as if the director simply ignored the character or did not construct a causal basis for McCoy’s thoughts and actions.
If well-considered and deliberate, McCoy’s actions are
ineffectual, his actions incompetent and culpably negligent. McCoy withdraws,
blaming himself for blinding a man whom he dubs “the best
first officer in the fleet.” He is bitter, and broken:
McCoy: Oh, no…I threw the total spectrum of light. It wasn’t necessary.
I didn’t stop to think that only your kind of light might have
Spock: Interesting. First as dogs are sensitive to certain sounds which
humans cannot hear, these creatures evidently are sensitive to
light which we cannot see.
Kirk: Are you telling me that Spock need not have been blinded?
McCoy: I didn’t need to throw the blinding white light at all! Spock, I…
Spock: It was my selection as well. It is done.
Kirk’s fury, “Bones…take care of him,” has to be seen on the screen. His fury
leaves him speechless, an understatement. The victory
thing's dying appears bittersweet in the wake of Spock’s blindness. But Gene Roddenberry uses an Horatian deus ex machina. After all, there
are more adventures to come. As Kirk records the alien creatures on Deneva have been destroyed, in walks Mr. Spock, quite able to see. With
his only bright statement of the episode, McCoy is still mystified (he did not cure Spock’s blindness) by Vulcan physiology: “The blindness was
temporary, Jim. There’s something about his optical nerves which aren’t the same as a human’s…unusual eye arrangement. I might have known
he’d turn up with something like that.” The “that” is an inner eyelid and hereditary trait due to the brightness of the Vulcan sun. “Totally instinctive…
we tend to ignore it as you ignore your own appendix,” quips Spock phlegmatically. A Star Trek conclusion calls for the needed comic relief from
a tension-filled episode, largely at McCoy’s expense:
Kirk: Mr. Spock, regaining eyesight would be an emotional
experience for most. You, I presume, felt nothing?
Spock: Quite the contrary, Captain. I had a very strong reaction.
My first sight was the face of doctor McCoy bending over me.
McCoy: hmm…Tis pity brief blindness did not increase your appreciation
of beauty, Mr. Spock
return to the sun brings “Operation—Annihilate!” full circle, from life, to
death, back to life, and beauty is restored. McCoy does
not know whether to exalt or regret everything:
Kirk: What’s that, Doctor?
McCoy: I said please don’t, Spock. I said he was the best First Officer
in the fleet.
Spock: Why, thank you, Doctor McCoy…
Kirk: You’ve been so concerned about his Vulcan eyes, doctor, you
forgot about his Vulcan ears!
episode has been a tale of mass dementia with its effects on human obsession.
The symbol of light shows the dual nature of a force
that can be life giving and death giving. The end emphasizes Spock’s eyes because it is critical that the good see the evil that lurks in
civilization’s shadows. The eyes tell the story, a complex tale that demonstrates that man cannot stand too much reality, that there is the
need for the third alternative for the needs of the few and for the needs of the many. Eyeless in Gaza, Oedipus has his greatest sight
and greatest pain. Wisdom comes of pain. The body of Hebraic man, the clay of his irrational sphere, is his hell and his heaven:
‘For whether thou bear a sceptre or a sledge-hammer, art not thou
ALIVE; is not this thy brother ALIVE? There is but one temple
in the world,’ says Novalis, ‘and that temple is the Body of Man.
Nothing is holier than this high form. Bending before men is a
reverence done to this revelation in the Flesh. We touch Heaven,
when we lay our hands on a human Body’”
(T. Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, 1833).
Obsession: Insanity vs.
"Dagger of the Mind"
In “Dagger of the Mind,” one confronts the first of two Treks that
deal with a non-specific legal state of mind called insanity. Here
appears as a maniacal quest for the truth of one’s inner mind, an obsession with proving that the main character, Dr. Simon Van Gelder, is indeed
sane and that the physician, Dr. Tristan Adams, is insane. The theme of obsession is based on the ironic reversal of sanity vs. insanity: the “patient” is
“insane” and the healer is “sane.” The only sane people in the world are labeled insane; while the only insane people in the world are labeled sane.
Fine minds are locked away forever simply because that mind is ingenious, honest, and a threat to the Dr. Adamses of the world. So they are put in funny
farms and gulags because they are individuals and are creative personalities. Simon Van Gelder is one such example of a society ridding itself of a ferociously
obsessed man, obsessed with proving Dr. Adams’ crimes against humanity in his own little “Devil’s Island” on Tantalus V. Van Gelder is a scientist; Adams
s a megalomaniac, a paranoid schizophrenic who plays god over people whom the rest of the galaxy wants to forget. Society tends to incarcerate whoever
does not conform to the conventions of the times. Both men are obsessed: one for the good; one for the evil. Obsession, when reality is no longer a reality
outside the mind, presents a psychosis. The unconscious creates blockages whereby all elements not contained within the obsession are dismissed and are
overridden. One becomes the hallucination, the delusion that is indigenous to the paranoid personality. All great Treks, including “Dagger,” have revealing
titles that are
to what Henry James calls “the figure in the carpet.” Shakespeare, once again,
provides the title for this episode, and therefore
the writer’s choice of interpretive keys to this drama about delusions. The parallels between Macbeth and Adams are flexible and
emphatic. The key is the definition of reality as a mentalized creation vs. reality as an objective phenomenon. Macbeth is brooding
over the deed he is about to perform—the murder of King Duncan:
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw
(Macbeth, I, i: 33-41).
Macbeth compares the dagger of the imagination to the palpable one in his hand.
The scene from the play stresses the difference
between hallucination and objective reality; although, in a sense, it takes both to kill as Macbeth sees the deed in his mind, thus
making regicide a matter of hallucinated premeditation. The delusion, as Macbeth notes, “marshal’st me the way that I was going,/
And such an instrument I was to use.’ The wolf moves “like a ghost,” and the “very stones prete of my whereabout.” Alas too,
Dr. Adams penal colony becomes the real dagger of death, while the dagger of the mind is the world of Van Gelder’s obsession.
He refuses to forget; he remembers the pain; his tortured personality craves freedom from the bondage of his own mind. It is
Van Gelder who best echoes Macbeth’s realization, “Methought I heard a voice ‘Sleep no
more!” Of Van Gelder as a victim in his neural neutralizer, Adams too may say,
“I have done the deed."
The neural neutralizer presents the delusion of forgetfulness that is really mental emptiness. Adams creates the human horror of loneliness. He creates pain in order
o enforce forgetfulness. Van Gelder, aboard the Enterprise, fights to remember—his name, his education, his very individuality. The neural neutralizer eclipses light
from the mind. It erases memory. Lethe (forgetfullness), Dr. Adams’ assistant, never smiles or changes expression: “I love my work.” This is the Siren song of an
emptied mind. The smiling lovebirds Kirk notes strolling through the corridor are walking blanks. Van Gelder begs Spock to open his tortured mind: “I know…but they
erased it…subverted me, but I won’t forget…I’ll die first.” Van Gelder demands “asylum” from the asylum. McCoy’s healthy skepticism . “Jim, that doesn’t quite ring
true. I don’t believe him." Van Gedler’s obsession is with Adams’ subversion of science and of the human personality. He destroys minds, empties them, then replaces
emptiness with his own delusionary suggestions. Megalomania destroys science. The image of the hand and the dove on the uniform of Adams and his staff is a cruel
symbol. It is part of the prosecution of a paranoid schizophrenic mind. Adams’ toast to his visitors is both untrue and sadistic:
To all mankind…may we never find space so vast, planets so
cold…hearts and minds so empty that we cannot fill them
with love and warmth.
imagery of emptying and of filling permeates the episode. Adams’ cure is “to
bury the past,” to shift memory patterns. It is an
assumed fact that Van Gelder and Adams, as
professional associates, differed as to the fact of and method of emptying and
filling. The emptying destroys all individuality; it turns troubled
automations whose faces are absolutely blank. The lack of inner expression in outer facial features reinforces Kirk’s suspicions and McCoy’s hypotheses
based on Van Gelder’s literate and clear descriptive agitation, enough to make McCoy doubt the reigning father of psychiatry, the legendary Dr. Adams.
Emptying and filling, mind and mindlessness, are metaphorically visible in name choices. Adams sins and falls. Tantalus V is located well below ground—
the devil’s sanctuary. Tristan or Tristram is Celtic, originally meaning tumult or din. Ironically, Tristan was a knight sent to Ireland by King Mack of Cornwall
to bring back the fair princess Isolde to wed the king. Tristan falls in love with Isolde. In Wagner’s opera, Isolde’s boat never appears. Tristan dies for
longing in Eliot’s The Wasteland to symbolize misplaced or unfulfilled love. Tristan Adams drinks his own magic potion. Misplaced love for one’s patients
can become obsession. Loneliness and isolation from civilization contribute to Adams’ dementia. Love becomes hate. Van Gelder’s name refers to a gelding,
a castrated animal. Van Gelder’s name denotes the emasculation of mind and body effected by the neural neutralizer. To geld is to weaken, to deprive one of
essentials in the Vulcan mind-meld; the gelding effect of obsessive dementia is described by Van Gelder:
We are Simon Van Gelder…He [Adams] can reshape any mind
he chooses…erases our memories…we grew so tired…our mind
so blank…our mind so empty…like a sponge…emptiness, loneliness
…wanting any word from him…love, hate, live, die, such agony to be
empty, so empty.
Simon is at once Simon of Cyrene
who was forced by the Romans to aid Christ in carrying the cross. It is also
Simon Peter, the rock
upon which a church
will be built. At the story’s end, Van Gelder returns to Tantalus V as its new director. From pain comes not forgetfulness, but a memory reborn from the
ashes of the Phoenix. Helen Noel gives a face that launched a thousand starships toward Troy, and Christmas, a time of birth. The names—some Biblical,
some mythological—point out the sanctity of the human mind, death, and birth—theoretical aspects and goals of psychiatry in an advanced society. The term
“Tantalus” is from mythology, a son of Zeus who was punished in hell, doomed to stand in water that receded when he went to drink it and branches of fruit that
he could never reach. Hence to tantalize is to torture by deprivation, to forever go without sustenance, fulfillment, to agonize forever—empty without filling.
Eli was a priest of Israel—ironic for this story.
“Dagger of the Mind” shows civilization in default, pure Hellenism without redeeming Hebraism. It shows the myopia of prejudice. Kirk calls penal colonies
“resorts” for sick minds and refuses, at first, to take any responsibility for Van Gedler’s rage for asylum. Spock simply sees Van Gelder as a package that should
be returned to its owner. At first, McCoy wants to study a real ‘crazy” up close. Civilization is squarely the culprit. “Not our problem,” Kirk chirps. Van Gelder
recoils with, “wash your hands of it…let someone else worry about him!” As Van Gelder escapes from the crate in the transporter room, the clichés begin. He’s
a “potentially violent case,” “clever as well as extremely violent.” This is the same man who warns McCoy and Spock not to let Kirk stay overnight at Tantalus:
“Don’t let him stay…you
listen…warn your captain…Dr. Adams will destroy…death! This is hardly a violent
man. His concern is for others as well as for
himself. His obsession
has moments of clarity and a never-ending ring of truth. The tendency of an advanced society is to bury the nuts underground so none can see the sickness. We
hide our victims and the Kirks smugly think of resorts; whereas, the realists like McCoy tell the truth: “A cage is still a cage!” Insanity is the majority’s willed
dismissal of its collective responsibility. Madness is assumed, ex., Van Gelder is “extremely violent.” Are “they” not all alike? Send him to Adams; he will cure
him. Van Gelder, horrified by first hand experience of hell, states a gutsy reality: “I’m not going back…I’ll die first.” This is a positive obsession born of pain but
nurtured by a scientific understanding of Adams’ dementia and the empirical effects of what looks too much like an electric chair—the neural neutralizer. The
episode condemns the Pontius Pilate syndrome of simply washing one’s hands of the responsibility for another man’s life…and his death.
The presence of Dr. Helen Noel as Starfleet’s expert on penology and criminology adds an important dimension to the episode’s definition of delusion
(dagger of the mind) and empiricism (a dead king and Macbeth's bloody hands). Dementia is a matter of the heart as well as of the head. Emotions, glands,
and dreams are central to cure. Helen Noel’s choice of a mutually experienced Christmas party as a suggestion by which Noel and Kirk would test the effectiveness
of the neural neutralizer room shows Noel’s delusion that she was swept off her feet by Kirk and was taken amorously to his quarters. In reality, the party
was not amorously successful:
Helen: Captain, if your crew saw you carry me here…
Kirk: My crew is sworn to secrecy.
Helen: But my reputation. Just having met like this.
Of course it would be different if you cared
Kirk: Do you want me to manufacture a lie, wrap
it in a Christmas
package for you?
At this same point, Adams takes the controls from Noel and
retells the Christmas carol:
Adams: You’re madly in love with Helen, Captain—
You’d lie, cheat, steal for her, sacrifice your
career…Pain, do you feel it? You must have
her or the pain grows worse. Pain…your longing
for her…For years, you’ve loved her for years
Kirk: For years, I’ve loved you
Adams: And now she’s gone
Helen…! Don’t go, Helen. I need you!
Adams has replaced Noel’s romantic
delusion of fulfilling Christmas with another dagger of the mind—Helen’s love
and the loss of Kirk’s
career. What occurs is
a perversion of Kirk’s innermost mortality and conscience. It is a perversion of the natural order. More fundamentally, Kirk’s obsession with finding the truth shows
that obsession is largely a question of power.. A large part of Act IV is spent with Helen Noel seeking the colony’s power supply in order to neutralize the chair’s
ight of pain. Power is a major theme in “Dagger of the Mind.” It creates the energy necessary for pain or for love. Kirk says to Helen: “Megavoltage. Touch the
wrong line and you’re dead.” Kirk has finally focused. Helen Noel’s fantasies and flakiness are now a focused force to stop Dr. Adams. Her love for Kirk joins
with her respect for her tortured captain. She becomes methodical and thoughtful as she crawls through the air-conditioner ducts
the colony’s electrical power room. Part of the power motif points out that
mental illness is linked to the human brains own electrical
impulses. Power is
part of the
definition of delusion. Helen notes, in Act II, that Van Gelder is “suffering from neural synaps damage, as though his brain were short circuited. The R.F.D. of August 5,
1966 reads: “He’s suffering from something like a ‘short circuit’…an overload in his brain. It’s no wonder he has delusions about it.” The use and misuse of power is an
indigenous fact in the definition of sanity or insanity. When Helen Noel kicks the security officer into the megavoltage, she short circuits the entire penal colony. Adams dies
when Spock restores the power while Adams in under the neutralizer beam where he is destroyed by his own chamber of horrors. The second level to megavoltage/power
is the theme of “screens” in the play. Adams begins the tale of entrapment in a penal colony run by a mad scientist when this harmless remark is not so harmless in retrospect.
Kirk cannot communicate with the Enterprise because of the notorious security screen: “I don’t think you’ll be able to get through the security screen, Captain. There!
Now try it.” The viewer is struck with the early event of the transporter officer trying to beam down material to Tantalus V. He forgot about the security screen and is
chided by the Captain for forgetting penal colony procedures. The security screen represents entrapment and, like a Berlin wall, is a double-edged sword. Insanity is
partly defined by one’s entrapment within a security screen. He is trapped. Nothing gives out, and nothing is permitted to enter without lifting the security screen. It keeps
the public out and the inmates in. “A cage is a cage!” The lack of exposure in and with “normal” social contexts is both a cure and the symptom of brain short-circuitry.
The result is no progress mentally and no communication with a reality outside delusion to prove one’s sanity
through productive social interaction with one’s own kind. The security screen
keeps the devil in and the cure out. The force field is
also the wall that an
demented person projects around himself. It is the protection of the blockages that impair one’s mental horizons, that focus power into one ruling obsession. When
considered as a metaphor for a perverted mentality, Kirk’s remark “Megavoltage. Touch the wrong line and you’re dead” makes sense on many levels of understanding.
On the Enterprise, Spock has assembled a security team, but all are kept from action until Helen Noel fries the security guard, opening the screens. The ring of insanity
in the asylum is relieved as Spock notes efficiently, “Enterprise. This is Spock. Force Field has been eliminated.” Kirk is freed from the room, but Adams dies as power
is restored, but without security screens. When one lives in the world of Edgar A. Poe’s “The Black Cat” or “The Cast of Amantillado,” the ultimate nightmare is classical—
entrapment in Bedlam or being the only sane person in a world gone insane. Under Dr. Adams’ light, light becomes perverted into darkness. Light brings pain and loss.
Power runs our lights; power can also distort, can short-circuit cranial and social evolution. This has been a drama about power as obsession and as dementia.
As Lady Macbeth loses her grasp on reality, she sees the core of the problem of power:
Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One Two
-why, then ‘tis time to do’t. Hell is murky.
Fie, my lad fie! A soldier, and afeared? What need
we fear who knows it, when none can call our power
to account? Yet who would have thought the old
man to have had so much blood in him?
(Macbeth, V, i:39-45).
With the death of Adams, “Devil’s Island” is just
an island, and perhaps Tantalus will suffer less. With the death of Macbeth,
Malcolm assumes the throne.
With the death of Adams, Van Gelder becomes director of Tantalus V. The infamous room is dismantled. McCoy makes a nonsensical remark in the last scene
hat still shows that a healer can be naïve: “It’s hard to believe that a man could die of loneliness.” “Dagger of the Mind’ is a well-acted drama that explores the
ortices of mental illness, especially obsession. Although modern medicine has done wonders in increasing the human life span, there is little use in living long without
one’s mental faculties in full running order. It is like being given immortality without eternal youth. The voyage into Tantalus V is a daring and often accurate analysis
of man’s dark world within. As Kirk responds to McCoy’s naïve remark, one can die of loneliness. Adams is proof. The dialogue shows Kirk’s new-found
identification with mental illness. He no longer says, as he did to Van Gelder early in the play, “It’s not our concern.” But others are not so alert:
Helen: The machine wasn’t on high enough to kill.
Kirk: But he was alone. Can you imagine a mind
emptied by that thing…and without even a
tormenter for company?
Helen: I understand.
not hard to believe that a man can die of loneliness. No, “not when you’ve sat
in that room.” A “Dagger of the Mind” is a concern
if a dagger, like that of
Macbeth, kills a king.
The “Dagger of the Mind” sets the course and marshals Macbeth on to his dead. The mental reality may be a para-reality, but it often exists first and its toll destroys the minds and
lives of Macbeth and his wife who walks off the palace ramparts, totally mad:
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze but the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
(finis "Dagger of the Mind")
“Whom Gods Destroy” is
considered as one of the contributors to Star Trek’s disastrous third season.
One questions this premise; however, “Whom Gods Destroy” enjoys an unusual success almost solely by the superb acting abilities of Steve Ihnat, who turns a tawdry script into
a monstrous edifice of credible madness with all his swift changes of mood and gesture. Like his lionized tyrannical heroes of the past—Hitler, Napoleon, Lee Kwan, Krotus—
Garth becomes a hero of Grecian tragic proportions, both attractive and horrifying, both noble and murderous. He is both Titan and Prometheus, a god and a devil. There is the
sneaking admiration for Garth because of his quondam charm, beauty, and genius. He is not unlike Milton’s Lucifer in Paradise Lost, who chooses to reign in hell rather than serve
in heaven, a latter-day Khan without a world to rule. Garth of Izar is a Titan (First Draft) whose energies have no constructive outlet. Like Othello, Garth is a martial figure, a noble
warrior, whose services are rejected when no longer needed, whose noble mind grows into madness as civilization leaves him, like Napoleon, a prisoner on the island of Elba II. He is
Trek’s Napoleon and its Black Knight.
The theme of the dark imagination’s world of obsession finds its greatest house of Usher in this episode. Its general theme is imagination’s designated hell—unmitigated, all-prevailing
madness. Obsession’s most obstructed product is insanity. The episode of Garth is an advanced and daring look into a world that still eludes both psychologists and criminologists alike. What
insanity? When is a person shipped to Elba? “Whom Gods Destroy” is the second
of two Treks that deal with asylums for the
criminally insane (cf., “Dagger”…). This episode
is more deadly and gives credence to the cliché: “The inmates are running the asylum!” The term insanity is not a medical term; it is a legal one. The legal profession considers the
term to mean of unsound mind. As one who is criminally insane, Garth labors under a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and liability of the act he
performed, that he did not (or does not) know the quality of the act, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong (PA. Statutes). Garth, in attempting to destroy the entire
planet of Antos Four, is deemed insane because he plans to commit genocide and his crew refuses to obey the then-starship captain’s orders. He has ill sense of the value of human life.
His destruction of the asylum’s guards, by ordering them into the poisonous atmosphere outside the dome, is done with enjoyment. His murder of Marta, beautiful and deadly as a serpent,
by the use of his newly-invented high explosive, is cruel by civilized standards. His prediliction for human sacrifice at his coronation as Lord Garth, Master of the Universe, shows that
homicide is so great as entirely to destroy his perception of right and wrong, amounting to a delusion controlling his will making the commission of the act a duty of overwhelming necessity
(PA. Statutes: Com v. Barner, 1901, 49A. 60,199 Pa.335). Part of the concept of insanity that Star Trek is trying to establish is a character whose body, mind, and behavior endanger
the lives and well-being of its fellow man. From the point of view of lexicography, insanity signifies unsoundness of mind, derangement of the intellect, madness—a matter under action
that modifies or does away with
individual legal responsibility or capacity (Corpus Juris Secundum,32).
“Legal insanity is a disorder of the intellect, and is distinguished
from moral insanity, which is a ‘disorder
of the feelings and propensities’” (Forman 274). Star Trek adds a special level to its drama of insanity by taking a note from the Corpus Juris Secundum, 32:594-95 that:
Insanity is a disease. Insanity is not a crime. According to
the great current of modern medical authorities, and so
generally recognized by law, insanity is a physical, and not
a mental, disease of the brain…it has been called a disease
of the mind, or rather the effect of a diseased mind… there
be insanity resulting from some violent cause which
does not itself affect the structure of the brain.
not very clear in this episode about the crime for which Garth is incarcerated,
just that his crew (while he was Starfleet captain) refused
to obey his orders. Fortunately, they
did so mutiny. In take-outs from the First Draft of 9/5/68, Garth was “horribly maimed” in an accident. Now mental disease has a palpable biological cause—an accident. The
people of Antos Four “virtually rebuilt and restored him.” The cause of the insanity is a physical trauma. Garth attempted to destroy the entire planet with all its inhabitants “for no
apparent reason.” Insanity is physiologically based and caused. Also, Trek stresses motivation, i.e., that madness is an action perpetrated “for no apparent reason.” This
non-reason is the reason that is reason enough. His behavior toward Cory, Marta, Spock and Kirk must be determined and examined in light of biological cause and the law of
“no apparent reason.”
Garth of Izar has some of the classical, accepted (but poorly understood) characteristics of paranoid schizophrenia. His personality is dissociated and the ego splits. He suffers
depreciation of value. The fragmented ego causes the rapid changes from one
personality to another, from one mood to another. He has prolonged delusions and hallucinations,
delusions of persecution, megalomania, and delusions of grandeur. His obsessiveness has deteriorated into malignant narcissism. Garth manages to do evil with élan and style. In
the paranoid personality, the delusions of great power, wealth and egoism are well-organized, persistent and unmodifiable via the irrational personality traits. For Carl Jung, the
“incompatible contests” derived from the unconscious are “antipathetic to consciousness.” These incompatible contents can cause repressions. Jung further notes:
The unconscious is best understood if we regard it as
a natural organ with its own specific creative energy.
If as a result of repressions… its products can find no
outlet in consciousness, a sort of blockage ensues,
an unnatural inhibition of a purposive function…
as a result of the repression, wrong psychic outlets
(Jung, Structure, 364)
The Paranoid (Swanson 8), the authors list seven characteristics of the
paranoid mode of thinking: (1)Projective thinking. Garth
transfers blame from himself to Starfleet, t
o fellow inmates. What one cannot accept, it projects on others. Garth becomes “unable to distinguish between his inner tension and external pressures” (9). And (2) Hostility.
Garth sees minor slights as major catastrophes. His low self-esteem makes him hate others. He even thrives on adversarialism with Kirk. And (3) Suspiciousness. Smith quotes
Shapiro in that “the suspicious thinking of the paranoid…includes…rigidity, a directness of attention which is constantly searching, bias, and hyper-alertness and
hypersensitivity. And (4) Centrality. This involves Garth’s grandeur and
megalomaniac tracts. Lord Garth’s “court,” his coronation, are part of his pseudocommunity.
He has an “acute need to deny his insignificance (16). And (5) Delusions. Garth is extremely intelligent and his thinking has a certain logic to it. His delusions are also
logically constructed, ex., plans to capture the Enterprise and capture the universe. He also embodies the Trek characteristic of “no apparent reason.” And (6) Loss of
Autonomy. Garth is afraid of losing control. He is obsessed with dominance and submission, superior and inferior. Even his chair has to be placed in the highest position.
He likes rituals and elaborate games, especially with his ability as a metamorph. And (7) Grandiosity. Garth is “Master of the Universe;” he is god; he is perfection. Delusions
of grandeur are often compensatory postures for feelings of unworthiness. He even points like a child at times. He must save his shattered ego by mistrusting all others but himself.
A key to this story of Bedlam is its title. The source is primarily Greek. The original source of “Whom Gods destroy” is a fragment from Euripides: “Whom the gods destroy,
they first make mad.” This translation appears in Boswell’s Life of Johnson, 1783. The linkage of the godly curse of insanity to man, i.e., insanity as fate to live is more horrible
than any fate to die. Dying, as esteemed in Greek tragedy, is not the tragedy. Death is simple; it might be an escape from suffering. However, living the insanity is hell. Rather
than being murderers, the gods reshaped tragic figures to live for their crimes. Only with the pervasiveness of Shakespearean tragedy, with its strongly Christian temperament,
is death deemed to be the ultimate tragedy. A fragment
Aeschylus mentioned by Plutarch (De Audiend Poet., 106) reads: “Whom God
would destroy, he first makes mad.” Most readers
are aware of the maxim through
Longfellow’s Masque of Pandora (Pt. vi, I. 58): “Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad.” The gods, especially Zeus, visited persistent men by torturing
the men by banishing understanding from their minds. In Antigone, Sophocles notes the curse of one such as Garth of Izar: “Whom Jupiter would destroy, he first drives mad.”
For some, that thinking is part of the paranoia being prosecuted onto some divine source. The “fault” is projected onto divinity, and thereby away from the self. The madness
is also a duel with an incomprehensible fate. In the case of Garth, the cause is stipulated to be an accident that destroys his physical integrity. The mental illness has a physical
cause. But this makes Garth unbearable to himself first—to others later. One poet notes the sense of isolation and rejection felt by the ostracized individual:
Like a friend in a cloud
With howling woe,
after night I do crowd,
and with might will go;
I turn my back to the east,
From whence comforts have increas’d;
For light doth seize my brain
With frantic pain
(Wm. Blake “Mad Song.” 1783)
The godliness of
Garth, his tortured sensibilities and hallucinations, in Greek tragedy, would be
too insuperable for any human or mechanical
or earthly cause. The notion is that
the gods did it. The episode’s title also raises the issue of the heroics and noble stature of Garth, especially as a former starship captain whose maneuvers are standard and
necessary reading for Starsfleet officers. If the gods would ruin a man’s mind, there must be some godly jealousy of Homeric
proportions in the man himself. Herein, the episode streams Garth’s
brilliance. He is a genius and his genius is indistinguishable from
his insanity. Indeed, his genius at
adapting the technique of cellular metamorphosis makes him both fearful and brilliant in the eyes of others, including the hedged respect of Governor Cory. In a take-out
(First Draft, 9/5/68) in Act I, Cory tells Kirk that only a formidable intellect and willful adaptation could have given Garth the current ability to change form at will. Cory
notes: “Garth has a tremendous ego and a brain that is unique in the Galaxy. He may be a madman, but he was and is a genius.” Garth’s ego agrees with Cory’s opinion
of Garth: “Captain, even you must admit that I am a genius.” His new explosive however, is his evidence for the observation. In Act III, Kirk admits to Marta that
Garth “is a madman. A genius, perhaps, but still a madman. He will lead you to destruction.” Genius makes madness its sister. Most geniuses are randomly obsessive,
but genius is often indistinguishable from madness. Lord Byron provides an often-quoted description of Napoleon that describes Garth (one of Trek's Napoleonic figures)
and his hell exited on Elba. The insanity is indigenous:
But quiet to quick bosoms is a hell,
And there hath been Thy bane; there is a fire
And motion of the soul which will not dwell
In its own narrow being, but aspire
Beyond the fitting medium of desire;
And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,
Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire
Of ought but rest; a fever at the core,
Fatal to him who bears, to all who ever bore
(Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, 111,42).
For Garth, the above fever “makes
the madmen who have made men mad/ By their contagion.”
“Whom Gods Destroy” is a study of insanity defined more basically as the misuse of human power and energy. Power is the episode’s dominant theme, as it also appeared
more sporadically in “Dagger of the Mind.” Cory sets the stage of two Titans struggling on Elba—one to keep Garth in, (Kirk) the other to return from Elba to France for another
Waterloo (Garth). Two starship captains locked in battle, two talents in an eternal game of galactic chess. Queen to queen’s level three (Q-QL3) is the sign/moment. For the
entire play, Garth screams for the countersign, the countermovement in the chess scenario—truly a Grecian spectacle. There is also the subtle hint that, in different circumstances,
a Garth is what a Kirk might become. Kirk has not yet yielded to the temptation to play god, but he has the power. The physical potential is there to break, to crack under pressure,
to misuse a starship’s awesome power for personal gain. In a symbiotic way, Garth is Kirk’s alter-ego. Both men are creatures of power. In Garth’s case, according to Cory:
…his disease has placed him permanently in a world of
fantasy but it also gave him the force needed to change his
fantasies into reality…the Antos people restored his body
but may inadvertently have done something to his mind.
Power exaggerates the paranoid
fantasies. Power makes Garth’s insanity a true threat to humanity. He can be
anyone or anything he dreams
to be. He makes the fantasy work! The
field theme appears in this episode, but is portrayed less dramatically than it
is in “Dagger…” The force field keeps Garth in and
civilization (the Enterprise) out of Elba II.
The chess game is the key to the force field—the blockage between sanity and insanity. Q-QL3. Garth senses the power of waste: “The Federation would have us grub away
like some ants in a somewhat larger than usual ant-hill. But I am not an insect. I am the Master of the Universe and I must claim my domain” (Act III). Garth has a point. He
cannot grow, but his growth would be a fantasy and yet a cage is a cage. Garth’s delusions both give energy to his malignant egoism and make its expansion impossible. Lord Garth
as the black King on the chessboard, is checked as long as Kirk’s queen is on queen’s level three. The result is move, check, move, check for the black lord of dread darkness.
Power too, though perverted, can appear as beauty. Marta’s dance, reminiscent of the Orion slave girl’s dance in “The Cage,” is beauty in motion. But she mimics Shakespeare,
has form without substance, lies without truth. Garth is king over a kingdom of fools, and he says to Marta, “I may have you beaten to death…You’re the greatest liar I’ve ever met.”
That same liar, who claimed to have written Sonnet 18, says in the episode’s opening scene, that Kirk is making a mistake:
Garth: Captain, you’re making a mistake. There’s nothing the matter
with me. Can’t you see just by looking at me?
Spock: She sounds rational enough, captain.
Marta: I am rational…he isn’t really Governor Cory at all.
has power to seduce. Her love ensures enduring fidelity. Insanity is the power
of the lure of apparent rationality. Insanity may not
have an end, but Garth’s little show
on Elba II (island of Napoleon's exile) has an
architecture to it. Marta is also power’s victim, one pellet, one life. She’s
insanity’s paradox; as Garth notes, “True, she is as
deadly as a poisonous serpent…but she is also a beautiful woman, and you have held her in your arms, Captain.”
The power game continues, briefly between Spock and Garth. Spock’s logic can be trying to a rational being, but to the
insane? The conversation involves a conflict regarding the limits of power:
Spock: Captain Garth
Garth: Lord Garth!
Spock: As you wish. At any rate, you must be aware of the fact
that you are attempting to recreate the disaster that resulted
in you becoming an inmate of this place.
Garth: I was betrayed and treated barbarically.
Spock: On the contrary, you were treated with justice and with a
compassion you displayed toward none of your intended
victims. Logically, therefore, one must assume…
Garth: Enough. Remove this animal!!!
Garth’s reaction is ironically
logical. Garth is a relentless power-broker as the Lord seeks the countersign:
Garth: By the way, I assume you play chess?
Garth: So do I. How would you respond to Queen to queen’s level three?
Kirk: There are, as you know an infinite number of counter moves
Garth: I’m interested in only one
Kirk: I can’t, for the life of me, imagine which one.
Garth: ‘For the life of me’ is a well-chosen phrase. It could literally
come to that, Captain.
The power play goes on. Q-QL3?
Power is also the chair. The chair from “Dagger…”
reappears as an instrument of therapy; it sooths blockage and Cory admits that,
“It helped many men back
to health.” But Garth has added “certain refinements” and transforms ultrasonic waves into an instrument “exquisitely painful” without doing permanent physical damage.
Pain is power:
Garth: Interesting, isn’t it? The pain is real and it can be prolonged
Indefinitely because there is no actual destruction of tissue…
[with Cory in chair] Now as you can see he has not been
harmed physically. Yet the memory of the exquisite torment
remains. Q-QL3, Captain?
Sexuality is power. Marta, seeing Kirk tortured, tries her female
arts on Kirk. Reason? Survival via Q-QL3: “My Lord Garth,
listen to me! If I can get him to tell
me what you wish to know!” His power is based on the knife. She is far more effective at playing the game than Garth realized. Yet, all the while, Garth is playing his
coronation, his consort, and her fate. Her sexual vitality is more powerful than the force of Scotty and the Enterprise, who are impotent to alter or to help end the game of
chess. For with Marta, to love is to kill. Knowing Kirk will overcome the queen’s attack, Garth metamorphoses into another Spock in time to rescue Kirk from Marta’s knife.
Kirk is unsuspecting of the convenient “rescue” until “Spock” cannot find Scotty the countersign as prearranged. The force field is momentarily off. Kirk counterattacks with
that ploy of reasoning with Garth vis-à-vis Garth’s past greatness, like that of an Othello:
Something sure of state…
Hath puddled his clear spirit; and in such cases
Men’s natures wrangle with inferior things,
Through great ones are there object…
Way, we must think men are not gods…
(Othello III, iv: 145-155).
It is not in recalling Garth’s noble victories and noble nature. The story uses the rebirth
Garth: I can’t remark. It’s –almost as if I died and was reborn.
Kirk: You were the finest of the star ship captains. You were
the prototype, the model for the rest of us.
Garth: Yes—I do remember that. It was a great responsibility,
but one I was proud to bear.
Kirk: And you bore it well. And the disease that changed
you is not your fault and you’re not truly responsible
for the terrible things you’ve done since then.
Garth: I—I don’t want to hear any more of this. You—you’re
weak and you’re trying to drain me of my strength.
Kirk: No! I’m not. I want you to find what you once had. I
want you to go back to the greatness you lost.
Garth: I am Lord Garth, Master of the Universe!
good knight’s gambit. The scenes of Lord Napoleon Garth on Elba culminate in
the coronation and in the Titan's ploys. Kirk’s
with Garth raises Garth’s staure
as a man of noble nature with tragic proportions. On Elba, the little corporal waits for time and history’s recall to glory.
Power is a coronation, farcical as it is. Power is an explosive, and powerful it is, the “most powerful [explosive] in history.” In killing Marta, Garth has lost all audience
sympathy. His insanity becomes unforgivable in its total disregard for and irreverence toward human life. His past achievements won him admiration:
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:
She swore, in faith, ‘twas strange, ‘Twas
‘Twas pitiful, ‘Twas wondrous pitiful;
She wished she had not heard it yet she wished
That heaven had made her such a man….
She loved me for the dangers I had possessed,
And I loved her that she did pity them
(Othello I, iii: 160-8).
Marta, like Desdemona, “hope my noble lord esteems me honest”? Or, insanely,
like Emilia in Othello, do the insane victims of
insanity with unreason feel “the wrong is
but a wrong i’ th’ world/and having the world for you labor, ‘Tis a wrong in/Your own world, and you might quickly make it right.”?
Power is logic. Kirk’s “stubbornness defies all logic. Logic. There’s the key. Your friend Spock is a logical man. A very logical man.” Garth admires Spock’s detatchment
from the Elba spectacle, but uses Spock’s friendship for Kirk as a ploy for Q-QL3. The climax of Q-QL3 is the titanic battle between the two “Kirks”—the final power struggle
for kingship. The mental and verbal blame deteriorates into a physical brawl with Spock awaiting the duel of the Titans. Logic says that one Kirk is expending a lot of energy
to look like Kirk and “that energy level cannot be maintained indefinitely, and I [Spock] have time.” Therefore power/energy is insanity’s main ingredient, just as it is logic’s victory.
Spock stuns Garth who quickly resorts to his real form. Garth thrived on insanity. The medicine that Cory gives Garth, as the tragedy concludes, shows “reversal of arterial
and brain damage.” There is hope, but the picture of Garth calmly sitting in the restored chair is disturbing. He has lost his Byronism. Garth under medication is “docile,” the
very compliance he averred when he destroyed the original medicine.
Garth: Should I know you, sir?
Kirk: No, Captain.
has forgotten. The spectacle has ended. Napoleon is still in Elba. Does an
insane world beckon a sane man? As Byron puts it, is this
the madness that makes men mad?
Would king Solomon have approved of Spock’s method of solving the two Kirk’s mystery?
“Whom Gods Destroy” has given millions of people an insight into
insanity—its beauty, its grace, its lies, its delusions, its horror.
It is a profound study of an area of
the heart of darkness. It took bravery to produce such an episode. As in “The Enemy Within,” Garth is Kirk’s irrational half, a potential future view of an enemy within.
It is a story of accidents, disease, and the corruption of absolute power. Garth is not a freak. There are others like him, many in high offices. Man’s human status lies in
his use and abuse of the collective unconscious. Deception is all too frequently the norm in “normal’ society. Elba II is a societal reality. Kirk is Garth’s “heir apparent,”
and as such Garth presents Kirk with a look at a possible future picture of himself. There is humor too in Marta’s dance to Vulcan school-children who are not quite so
Essentially, the Greeks saw genius as a gift from the gods and madness as a curse from the gods. The Americ plainsIndians neverharmed a madman because he was
considered one chosen by god. Insanity sometimes creates reverence. Again, Byron muses on Napoleon (at Elba?) and readers in this world:
There sunk the greatest nor the worst of men,
Whose spirit antithetically mixed
One moment of the mightiest, and again
On little objects with like firmness fixed
Extreme in all things! hadst thou been betwixt,
Thy throne had still been thine, or never been;
For daring made they rise as fall: thou seekdt
Even now to reassure the imperial mien,
And shake again the world, the thunderer of the scene!
(Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage 111, 36).
Q-QL3 : Q-KL1
(finis “Whom Gods Destroy”)
"The Mark of Gideon”
Of this late (72nd)
Trek, Spock’s maxim of “strewn with gaping defects in logic” might well apply to
its erratic thinking,
flavored plot and lack of symmetrical integrity. It is
one of those episodes that give Trek’s third season a wasteland aura by some critics. Trek could have well survived without "Gideon"; however, its significance covers issues of
heated political and moral significance. It implies more than it states; it raises more questions than themes it addresses. It is also an obviously low-budgeted flick, with few characters,
no new settings or special effects. Lastly, characters seem to do things for no logical reason. Hodin speaks of more than his people when he says, “We are desperate.” Desperation
can produce obsession, as it does on Gideon, and obsession continues to follow Spock’s definition of a persistent, single-minded fixation on one given idea. Heretofore, obsession has
been largely a matter of specific individuals and their monsters. Here, however, obsession is a cultural matrix, a lifemark, Gideon as one collective human obsession.
The object of the obsession is numerology—numbers! Too many x’s and/or too few x’s. The episode’s title has more drama than the episode, but the episode is a Euclidean satire,
a nursery rhyme, a fairy tale. Numbers. Let us count the ways? No! Let us count the people! Gideon’s obsession is a Mathusian and Biblical nightmare dealing with overpopulation
and underspacement. There is not an inch of land on Gideon not biologically infested (Nomad would love a tour of Gideon) with humanoids. It is overpopulation without what
Malthus called “checks” on growth—all based on ethics. The numerology obsession is two–pronged: political science and Biblical ethics.
Political science (“The Dismal Science”) is a source of satire and is a
satirical object where Lilliputian minds
argue over numerical games. The satire appears as numbers and obfuscation. The problem with the episode’s
story is indicative of the obfuscation that political science produces. It is a “Catch-22” of who is who, of how
many are, of where it is or is not, who is where or where who should be but is not. For example, there is the
uncoordinated game of coordinates. The captain’s original beam-down coordinates:
Uhura: They [Gideons] have provided us with the coordinates for beam-
(in Transporter Room)
Spock: May I have them, please?
Uhura’s voice: 8TJ
Uhura’s voice: D20
Uhura’s voice: 079
Kirk: Let’s go, Mr. Spock
course, the Gideon council says Kirk never arrived, blaming the Captain’s
“disappearance” on Spock’s
incorrect decoding of the encoded coordinates. In the interim, according to Gideon’s plan (Hodin and the
Council’s plan) is to get Kirk “alone” aboard a fabricated Enterprise. From Kirk’s point of view, there are too
few people. After all, there is no crew, no bodies in uniform… in both cases, the numbers are “wrong.”
Spock, in an uncharacteristic role of diplomatic de-obfuscationalist, plays Hodin’s game:
Spock: He was beamed directly to your council chamber. Please check
Spock: Coordinates confirmed…
(Checker: Something gone wrong with the Transporter. Captain Kirk’s
lost somewhere between the Enterprise and
the planet.—take out)
Final Draft, 10/21/68).
Numbers then create obfuscation, ex., who is where? Would you say that again? It couldn’t
possibly be! Spock dare not
openly accuse the obviously devious and prevaricating Hodin of the untruth, that
he is lying:
Hodin: We gave you the exact coordinates that should have brought.
Captain Kirk directly into this very room.
Spock: I am not questioning that, Sir.
Hodin: If he is not here, that is your own responsibility, Mr. Spock, and
that of your staff.
Spock: I do not deny that, Sir. I am not attempting to blame your
Hodin: We are glad to hear that.
next numerological obfuscation: What and where is "Gideon.?" It is a “paradise,”
but sensors are forbidden
to sensate. No peeking allowed. Gideon is not a member of the Federation. It has, according to Hodin, a “
jealous tradition of isolation from all contaminating contact with the violent nature of the planets of other star
systems.” The obfuscation: the wars between star systems “no longer prevail in our galaxy (Spock). Spock
is told to “look to [his] machinery.” And Hodin calls Scotty a “very excitable repairman!” The best diplomat
is a “fully-activated phaser bank”—that line from Scotty in this episode would have lessened the obfuscation.
Hence his silence. However, Spock’s humorous understatement and bathos provide the best dialogue:
“We must acknowledge once and for all that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis.” The first three
and a half acts of Gideon are living evidence and testament to this maxim.
Obfuscational numerology is a ménage à deux—Kirk meets Odona on the fabricated Enterprise on a
planet where there is no room for a land-locked and person-locked spaceship of
Enterprise’s dimensions. Diplomacy among too many and about one leads to
diplomacy between two
that are too few about too many. Kirk, who should be wringing Odona’s pretty pigtail for absconding a
Starfleet captain, talks and acts like a maître d’ who is “of the body.”
Kirk: What are you doing on my ship?
Odona: Is this entire ship yours?
Kirk: Not my personal property, but I’m the Captain.
Odona: And you have it all to yourself?
Obfuscation is “who owns the ship?” Obfuscation is also more boring:
Odona: You are hurting me, Captain…Kirk.
Kirk: I’m sorry. James Kirk, and I didn’t bring you here.
Odona: If you didn’t bring me here…
Kirk : That’s right. Who has brought you here? I don’t know.
Obfuscation is “The name is Bond, James Bond.” “A train of though brought me
here.” Numerology is “you”
and “me” equal “what” and “how”—all based on coordinates that obfuscate the Captain’s whereabouts, his
behavior, and the point (if any) of the tawdry dialogue. Odona is a fraud. Why doesn’t Kirk intuit this
immediately? Result: more obfuscation. Numerological obfuscation? Yes, and one is still less than one.
Numerological obfuscation continues as the game of coordinates goes on:
Spock: Prepare to beam aboard a member of the Gideon Council.
Hodin: Thank you. Proceed, Krudok.
Spock: 875…Mr. Scott.
Scott’s voice: 875
Scott’s voice: 020
Spock: 709, Mr. Scott. Energize.
Numerological obfuscation now requires, for the sake of certain obfuscation,
that each series of coordinates
be stated three times by three different characters! The obfuscation continues because there are no proper
coordinates for the lost Captain:
Spock: Your assistant has arrived safely, your Excellency. And I am
now ready to beam down to Gideon.
Hodin: Now, now, now…Mr. Spock. Not so fast. That is quite a
different matter. We agree to allow one representative on our
Spock: Sir, our Captain is still missing. And now I demand to be
allowed to transport to Gideon as we agreed.
Hodin: Forgive me, Mr. Spock, but I have overstepped my authority
to make such an agreement… .
so three acts drone on, each less exciting than the last. Finally Spock,
without permission, uses the
original coordinates for Kirk’s beam-down, enters the fabricated Enterprise. It is only when Spock finds Kirk,
who has finally been told what the obsession with numbers has to do with the obsession for numbers of people
(the porthole dialogue and Malthus) that truth emerges. For Spock, Kirk is in great danger:
Spock: This replica of the Enterprise…to so confuse his mind as to
make him susceptible to some extraordinary experiment. It is
my intention to locate the Captain and warn him before the
experiment reaches it conclusion, which logic indicates, means
the end of the Captain’s life as he knows it. (ex. Ships log, sd. 5423.8).
Spock is the first to see that Kirk’s political dilemma is one with his ethical
dilemma. This awareness is
necessary if numerological obfuscation and its labyrinthine games are to make any human sense. Could it
be that the writers of this episode built a web of verbal agony and mental vacuity to spin a core-point that
could have been made more simply?
Then what is the political science? Answer: The
Malthusian Nightmare! Over-population. Gideon's
problem: too many people. Gideon’s cure: obfuscation, then the reintroduction of disease into their antiseptic
culture and atmosphere. Death is almost non-existent, almost unknown. Immortality is, ironically,
Gideon’s nightmare. The reality of political science is a planned “check” toward life cessation, what Malthus
called a “positive check.” Briefly, in 1798, one Robert Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of
Population. The fears set forth by Malthus were not originally his, and most literary writers (Carlyle, Dickens,
Coleridge, et.al) were the humanists on this issue and fought to defend the notion that restraint or controls on
birth were politically (and morally) unsound and unproven. The mark of Gideon denotes a line or stake or
boundary marker, especially in British political economics. The mark is a scourge, also—a wound as well as
an unsolved problem. It stresses visibility and punishment and torture. The mark of Gideon is also two
pitchers, a torch (or lamp) and a trumpet (to be explained soon). Robert Malthus’ theories are no longer
theories on planet Gideon, but not all of the physical abnormalities are present. Malthus’ main thesis said that “…
population, when unchecked, increases in geometrical progression of such a nature as to double itself every
twenty five years.” Second premise was that: “ the means of subsistence under circumstances the most
favorable to human industry, could not possibly be made to increase faster than in an arithmetical ratio.” The
“Essay” compares the two powers of reproduction and the production, with the disproportion between the
geometric rate (2,4,8,16,32) and the arithmetic rate (2,3,4,5,6,etc.), especially of food production much
of the numerology
number games in “Gideon” can be construed as satires on Malthus
ratio-mathematical takes in his Essay.
Were there solutions to bring the rates into closer accord? Yes, but only possible ones. In the First Essay,
…the power of population being in every period so much superior,
the increase of the human species can only be kept down to the level
of the means of subsistence by the constant operation of the strong law
of necessity, acting as a check upon the greater power
(Second Essay, Vol I, II).
Malthus was concerned with the spectre of starvation and the need to “check”
geometric increase in population.
On Gideon, as presented, one sees through the porthole of the replicated Enterprise people dressed like Woody
Allen “sperm cells” in a famous movie, pushing and shoving, looking for space, but the picture is not the deathly
mayhem of a New York City subway at 4 p.m. on a business day. Also, the concern is not with food or starvation.
How can there be room to grow food on Gideon if there is not enough space for its people packed together?
Have they transcended their humanoid forms? Again, no logic is visible when the problem contradicts supply
When numbers become numbers of people and when a sense of suffering
are discussed (but not
dramatized), the human aspects of political science appears:
Odona: All my life I’ve dreamed of being alone.
Kirk: Most people are afraid of being alone.
Odona, one is fine; for Kirk, one is too little. The entire play emerges as a
study in opposite theories
of life. For Odona, death is life; for Kirk, life is a struggle against death:
Kirk: Can you remember, Odona, why your people dream of being alone?
Odona: Because they never can be…
Kirk: What makes it impossible to be alone?
Odona: Because there are so many of us…so many…there is no place
…no street…no mountain…that is not filled with people. Each
one of us would kill in order to find a place alone to himself.
They would willingly die for it—
Malthus spoke of “checks” to population overgrowth, but Hodin must make a
“positive check” that is a cultural reversal: “We
are trying to readjust the life cycle of an entire civilization.”
The crisis of Gideon lies in the awareness of the issues of political science and the offsetting, blocking awareness of
Gideon’s moral imperative. In Act IV, the “dismal science” conflicts with ethics, creating the rationale for obfuscation—
the need to change their ethics: “We cannot deny the truth of that which shaped our evolution. Gideon is a people who
have a contemporary relevance. They are “pro-life” believers: rabid Catholics, Southern Baptists, reverse right wing
moralists who cannot grant themselves the choice of “free choice” in the begetting of children to the aging living of oldsters.
On Gideon, science has evolved from ethics:
Hodin: …the people of Gideon have always believed that Life is sacred,
that the love of Life is the greatest gift. That is the one
unshakeable truth of Gideon. This overwhelming love of life
has developed our regenerative capacity and our great longevity.
Scientifically, a para-immortality is biologically the reproductive matrix.
Ethically, they cannot kill. In taking the fatal virus
from Kirk’s blood and injecting it into Odona, Hodin thought that her disease would infest others, bring new life by death.
Biologically, Hodin felt that his daughter’s death at so young an age would “bring forth the dedicated young volunteers.
The serum in their new blood will change Gideon, and it will once more be the Paradise it was.” Their all-life ethic caused
the population to grow “until now Gideon is encased in a living mass who can find no rest, no peace, no joy.”
“The Mark of Gideon” has relevant clarions of political science and
of Biblical ethics. Kirk, following Malthus’
suggestions of “preventative checks” to excessive population growth inquires about “new techniques to sterilize men
and women.’ Kirk cannot understand Gideon’s ethics regarding birth control, sterilization, and, of course, abortion
(implied, but not specifically stated in the episode). Because of their ethics, Gideon’s people have organs that renew
themselves, thus making birth control methods ineffective—“every organ renews itself. It would be impossible,” notes
Hodin. The politically scientific solution is the reintroduction of disease: “You [Kirk’s] blood will provide it.” Gideon’s
people’s regenerative systems, autonomic in nature, body forth their pro-life ethics:
Hodin: We are incapable of destroying or interfering with the creation
Of that which we love so deeply—life in every form from fetus
to developed being. It is against all our traditions—against all
our natures. We simply could not do it.
The plea of Hodin for Kirk to stay on Gideon as an eternal blood donor is not warmly received. But the onus
of obfuscation has yielded to a smoky veil. Now the very lines, quoted earlier, make sense:
Kirk: You are mad.
Hodin: No, we are desperate.
Mark of Gideon” is reflective of, and is as relevant as, Roe v. Wade. The
volatile issue on Gideon is a proposed look
at the future prospects of a timeless dilemma between the stakes of science and the thorns of mortality. However, on
Gideon, Malthus and life have the same attorney.
Lastly, the ethics of Gideon require a footnote on
the play’s best line—its title. “The Mark of Gideon,” not subtly,
is found in the Old Testament, Books of Judges, vi-viii, and focuses on the word of Adonai to Gideon and on Adonai’s
own words to Gideon. The Midianites had managed the land and “destroyed the increase of the earth…and left no subsistence for Israel, neither sheep
nor ox, nor ass” (vi, 5). “And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites” (vi, 6). Adonai promises Gideon that Israel will slay the Midianites.
For God, however, there was a political problem. The Israelites outnumbered the Midianites. Such a lopsided victory might cause an image problem: “lest Israel
vaunt themselves against me saying, Mine own hand hath saved me (vii, 2). Twice, Adonai tell Gideon what its mark is:
Judges vii, 2: And the Lord said unto Gideon, The People that are with
Thee are too many…(viii, 4: and the Lord said unto Gideon, The People are yet too many)
chose the three hundred who lapped water like a dog (vii:5-6). To this day, the
mark of Gideon is “The people are too
many.” Their victory was accompanied with a trumpet in each man’s hand, with two empty pitchers. Today, these emblems
are the mark of Gideon.
finis “The Mark of Gideon”
Conclusion to Chapter Four
The imagination is
the most forceful, yet the least understood, of the human mental faculties. It
is responsible for human
creativity, spontaneity, and joy. It is also one door to man’s dark side. Mark Twain once compared man to the moon, with
the light side that he keeps hidden from others. Man's Hebraic half is his strength, energy, body, faith, duty, fire, and conscience.
It is as Mathew Arnold originally defined it, strictness of conscience. It is the world of his actions; it is man as the Biblical Lot,
a character of faith, of rebellion, of action. The poet, William Blake, in the Proverbs of Hell, notes that “He who desires but acts
not breeds pestilence.” From the lighter world of song into the dark inner-world of Jung’s collective unconscious, man is still
very human, very mortal, very fallible, very fallen:
My spirit is too weak—mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep,
Of godlike hardship tell me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky
(John Keats, “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” 1817).
It is the world of Machiavellism,
the world of Romanticism and Existentialism. The imagination can be like a
The wilderness has a mysterious tongue
Which teaches awful doubt or faith so mild,
So solemn, so serene, that man may be
But for such faith with nature received;
“Mont Blanc” 1816).
man became more civilized, darkness like Jack-the-Ripper followed man into the
final frontier. Man is not always happy
with his behavior, wondering if Darwin were marginally correct when he wrote: “But these can hardly be a doubt that we are
descended from barbarians.” With the introduction of obsession and the fall into complete insanity, Star Trek remains an
awesome testimony that “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin” (Darwin, The Descent
of Man. 1871).
However, as Thomas Carlyle notes, doubt is the inexhaustible material whereon action works. Keats called man’s ability
to act without certainty “Negative Capability.” If T.S. Eliot sees early twentieth century man inhabiting a wasteland of his own
making, then action becomes more difficult and more necessary, for “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.” One sees life in the
very eyes of death. Change is frightening and necessary. It is also consoling:
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar
(A.L. Tennyson, “Crossing the Bar”: 1889).
students of Trek and of the world’s great literatures, “Poets are…the founders
of civil society and the unevents of the arts
of life and the teachers who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true” (P.B. Shelley A Defense of Poetry
It is the function of the imagination to let man dream. “Poetry awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the
receptacle of a thermal unappreciated combinations of thought” (1810). Shelley, one of many Romantic influences on the
world of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, holds the theory that great literature “lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the
human imagination is intelligently embodied in all of Roddenberry’s works, but
are best seen in the episodes
analyzed in this chapter. But the voyage does not stop here. One must now reconsider and recollect that without
contraries is no progression. Therefore, imagination (die Vernunft, Hellenism, the unconscious) must have its
opposite/complement (Hebraism, der Verstand), just as matter requires anti-matter to create focused and vibrant energy
to continue to boldly go where no man has gone before. Helm! Steady as she goes! Warp factor one, Mr. Sulu!
(finis Chapter IV: D--Obsession)