I’ve mentioned in the past that the gender politics of Star Trek doesn’t always age well. The series still treats female characters as weaker or having specific gender roles that don’t always apply to the men. And then there’s an episode like “Wolf in the Fold,” and we have some real problems. Granted, there are much worse episodes still to come, but this one is pretty bad. And it’s not just bad on the gender issue, but also on how the natives of a planet the Enterprise is visiting come across. But then there’s the ending, and for all that it’s kinda weird, I also kinda like it. It’s too goofy for me to completely write off.
So, here’s what happens when Jack the Ripper shows up.
The episode begins with a lot of Middle Eastern stereotypes, most notably a bellydancer, entertaining a group of men including Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy. Apparently, the planet the trio are visiting is known for its rather…submissive women. Or something. It’s probably best not to think too hard about it. Apparently, Scotty needed some kind of therapy or something and this was Kirk’s idea on how to get his Chief Engineer some help.
That seems so wrong to me.
As it is, Scotty goes off with the bellydancer, only for a scream to ring out minutes later. Out in the foggy streets outside the cafe, Kirk and McCoy find the woman viciously stabbed to death and Scotty nearby holding a knife. Scotty can’t remember what happened at all. As it is, there hasn’t been a murder on this planet in ages, but that doesn’t mean much. The penalty for murder is death by torture, and yes, Scotty could get that. It doesn’t help when two other women, one the empathic wife of the planet’s prefect, also die horribly with Scotty nearby. It really doesn’t look good for Scotty.
So, what we have here are a series of murders. All of the victims are women. All die horribly of multiple stab wounds. Scotty is the only real witness, and he always looks guilty. Of course, Scotty isn’t guilty, and Kirk will go to any lengths to prove it. The whole thing sounds a lot like a slasher movie, complete with the reveal that the real killer is some kind of invisible, potentially immortal alien intelligence that can possess people. It lives off fear, and humanity once knew it as Jack the Ripper.
Did I mention Psycho writer Robert Bloch wrote this episode?
Now, getting Scotty acquitted actually involves moving the action to the Enterprise where Kirk and Spock manage with what clues they have to formulate the alien intelligence theory. It’s kinda silly. The fact that it’s the truth makes it both more and less silly. But this is an episode where a cafe looks like something out of a stereotypical Turkish bazaar and the outside looks like the foggy streets of 19th century London. That Redjac (Jack the Ripper) can possess the ship’s computer could make things worse. It ultimately doesn’t because Kirk, Spock, and McCoy think quick on their feet. Kirk can ask McCoy for tranquilizers for everybody. If no one is afraid, Redjac can’t really feed. McCoy gets the drugs to just about everybody, meaning we get to see Sulu’s “I’m on drugs!” face again. And Spock can keep Redjac busy by asking the computer to calculate Pi.
That tranquilizing thing is really silly. There’s a female stenographer present for Scotty’s trial on the ship, but when Redjac possesses a corpse that he’d presumably been animating the whole time, he tries to take her hostage. She just keeps laughing. Plus, McCoy just casually mentions Redjac could really hurt someone, allowing the only two undrugged people on the ship (Kirk and Spock) to act and take the entity out once and for all. Heck, Spock even manages to tranquilize Redjac.
And then, despite the deaths of three women, one of whom was an Enterprise crewman, Kirk opts to just forget all that and go back on shore leave. Unfortunately, everyone on the ship is still under the effects of the drugs. They shouldn’t go anywhere. He then basically tries to interest Spock in being his wingman. That goes about as well as could be expected.
The end result is an episode with a largely solid mystery and creepy set pieces that ends in goofy comedy mode, with stereotypes of women and Middle Easterners sprinkled throughout. Even if the fact women alone die at Redjac’s disembodied hands, there’s still a line about how women are easier to deeply terrify as they feel fear more readily than men. Who says that? Spock, so for the show it must seem to be true.
Despite all that, I still find the rather silly way Kirk and Spock defeat Redjac amusing. But that doesn’t change the fact that for all Star Trek is praised for being one of the more socially progressive shows on TV, it doesn’t always age very well. That will probably hold true even into more modern episodes. But at least for some of them, they were actually trying.