“Shore Leave” is, at its heart, a fairly straightforward adventure episode of the original Star Trek. It’s a lot of fun, and emphasizes the importance of actually taking a break once in a while. The fact the episode was produced at a time when Gene Roddenberry himself was on a much-needed vacation is thematically just right. I just want to put it out right here and now that I do really like this episode. In fact, take much of what I am about to say as tongue-in-cheek.
Because now I want to talk about the implications…
See, this episode strikes me as one that maybe shouldn’t be thought about too hard. It’s a more fantasy-based episode than the hard sci-fi of other episodes, and it does work as long as you don’t think about it too hard.
Basic plot: the crew of the Enterprise is in need of some shore leave, and a newly discovered planet seems like a promising place to go for some rest and relaxation that everyone on the ship needs except for Spock (is Spock the only alien on the ship?). McCoy, Sulu, and some other random crewmen were already checking the place out, and there are no animal or intelligent lifeforms that anyone can find, but then McCoy sees characters from Alice in Wonderland, and more weird stuff happens when Kirk and his current Yeoman (this one flirting successfully with McCoy) beam down. Kirk wants to make sure the place is safe before he lets the rest of the crew come down. But there’s a power draining field of some kind, stranding some of the crew on the planet. Spock can barely beam down to offer his own assistance.
The end result is, despite the appearance of McCoy and a female crewmember dying, that a more advanced lifeform built the entire planet as an amusement park. Nothing there is actually dangerous. The planet just produces things that visitors imagine in order to relax and have a good time.
So, hey, what are the implications I was talking about?
Well…what is wrong with the imagination of the Enterprise crew?
OK, McCoy initially mentions Alice in Wonderland and his and Kirk’s efforts to track the White Rabbit’s path is harmless enough, but then we get to everyone else.
First off, Sulu apparently imagined a handgun because, apparently, he collects weapons. Between this and his love of fencing, I am kind of concerned about Sulu right now. He’s perhaps a lot more dangerous than he lets on.
Still, Sulu doesn’t aim his newfound gun at anyone. Kirk ends up using it to bring down the knight that seemed to skewer McCoy, but let’s look at Lt. Rodriguez, one of the other crewmen on the planet looking around. He seems to keep running into things like man-eating tigers and World War II-era fighter planes that seem to get their jollies strafing people. The other female member of the crew seems to be flirting with him, but really, this guy keeps thinking about things that would kill him. Maybe keep him somewhere else.
Kirk’s new Yeoman, Barrows, thinks of Don Juan, and that guy attacks her because, well, he’s probably going to do something unsavory. Did she want that to happen? Did she later want a knight to run down and kill, however temporarily, McCoy?
By the by, Don Juan rips Barrows’ uniform, and a scuffle with his former bully at Starfleet Academy rips Kirk’s own uniform. And the uniforms rip in the same place. Then again, Barrows’ uniform is repaired later, so there’s that.
And hey, when Sulu isn’t dreaming of collecting more weapons, he’s apparently thinking about samurai warriors.
But most of the stuff that appears centers around Kirk. His old bully is one thing, and Kirk finally beats the young man in a fistfight. But he also thinks about a lost love (it’s not Star Trek if there isn’t some kind of lost love every so many episodes). Kirk says he hasn’t seen her, and she hasn’t aged, in 15 years. How old is Kirk anyway? He was romancing a 19 year old recently. Plus, he was looking for Sulu when he remembers this Ruth person? I am glad to see Kirk has his priorities straight when Sulu is missing.
And knowing as he does at the end that Ruth isn’t real, why does he go off with her? Is he going to…do things with her?
The episode also theorizes that advanced minds need play, but Spock doesn’t. Are Vulcans less advanced mentally or psychologically?
And on one final note: how awesome would it have been if it wasn’t really Spock who beamed down to the planet’s surface to help? What if Spock obeyed Kirk’s (increasingly immature and distracted) orders and stayed on the ship, and the Spock who appeared on the planet was there because Kirk or Sulu or whoever really wanted Spock there because the Science Officer would be a good guy to help out in a scenario like this? Wouldn’t that be cool?
Anyway, I really like this episode, but you really shouldn’t think about it too hard…like I clearly just did. Dangit.