I know I have, on multiple occasions, pointed out instances where the nominally politically progressive Star Trek has aged poorly. Many times, it comes down to sexism. The series does usually get those accolades because of the racially diverse cast. The show has on more than one occasion shown an African American actor in a prominent role, often as guest stars.
But then there’s “The Paradise Syndrome,” and oh boy are we gonna see something that aged poorly.
The Enterprise crew is looking into a planet with a population that looks Native American. Heck, Spock’s later theories suggest they really are Native American, humans transplanted to another world by a mysterious race called the Preservers. McCoy thinks that may be the reason so many aliens look human.
You know, that may be the best in-show explanation the series ever gave for that.
Anyway, Kirk likes this world. It’s peaceful, the natives may be friendly (the crew avoids the natives so they remembered the Prime Directive this week), but McCoy remarks Kirk may be feeling something called “Tahiti Syndrome”. The idea is that some places look tempting for people with stressful jobs to just drop everything and move to.
I’ll just take a moment to point out that any planet the crew describes as “paradise” usually isn’t. There’s always something to ruin the perfection. Plus, they seem to find a lot of “paradise” planets. Maybe they need to learn some new adjectives. I suspect McCoy knows Tahiti isn’t really paradise either when he brings this up.
However, there is a problem here the natives don’t know about. Namely, a large asteroid is on its way. The Enterprise needs to stop the thing before it hits the planet and obliterates all life on it. Why they stopped to look around I don’t know. Maybe they just wanted to make sure they needed to by checking for sentient life first.
But then the problems begin. Kirk is standing near a strange obelisk, but when he calls up the ship, he falls down a trap door. Hitting some buttons on a console knocks him out. When he wakes up later, he has amnesia and can’t remember his own name.
As for Spock and McCoy, they can’t stay. McCoy wants to, but Spock points out they need to stop that asteroid, like, now. If they don’t, the asteroid will hit the planet in another two months or so and kill everyone, including Kirk. The time wasted looking for the Captain and explaining all that to McCoy means they have even less time to take out the asteroid. As it is, the Enterprise will need to hit maximum warp for far longer than the ship can usually handle.
Now, up to this point, it’s a fairly standard episode of Star Trek. Heck, most of the rest of it is as well. The mysterious obelisk will be key to finally stopping the asteroid. Spock will figure out how it works. Kirk, as foreshadowed, will find life on the planet pleasant, like the sort of place he would want to stay. McCoy will argue with Spock over the Vulcan’s refusal to rest after the ship fails to stop the asteroid.
If anything, I am inclined to blame McCoy for the Enterprise‘s failure. If they hadn’t wasted time looking for Kirk, the engines wouldn’t have burned out just trying to get to the asteroid. Then, maybe, they could have deflected it much more easily. It was nice seeing Spock come up with some plans, but until then, we flip back and forth between Kirk having a good time with a new romantic partner and Spock and the crew trying to stop a giant space rock.
In fact, Kirk’s amnesia isn’t complete as he keeps thinking he needs to be somewhere else, namely on a ship in space doing something. Even in a happy marriage with a kid on the way, he still thinks he should be commanding a starship. His sense of duty is that strong when he’s not doing the standard “someone on Star Trek is in love” bit which seems to be just running through some trees while laughing.
Or like Spock hanging from a tree.
So, with all this in mind, what is the problem? Even if Kirk’s new wife Miramanee ends up dead at the end of the episode, did we really expect Kirk to either leave her or bring her along for future episodes? Of course not!
What it comes down to is how the show portrays Miramanee and her people.
First off, they are supposed to be Native Americans. Given the time period, I’d be a little surprised if any of the actors actually were Native American. I don’t know, but I suspect most if not all of them weren’t.
But then we have them as basically the “noble savage” type. They take Kirk for a god. Not because of his lighter skin, but because he exited the obelisk at the exact wrong time. Their legends say the sky people (or whatever these people call them) dropped them off on this planet with the secret to the obelisk given to one guy to pass along from father to son. Unfortunately, the last one died before he could give his cranky son the secret.
But these people are worshiping a white man. And Kirk, though he does not remember his past, does construct a lamp, plan an irrigation system, and save a drowned boy with mouth-to-mouth. The natives don’t know this stuff at all. And when they finally do realize Kirk isn’t a god and try to stone him (killing the pregnant Miramanee in the process), it is the sudden appearance of Spock and McCoy beaming down that scares their superstitious kind away.
Really, that sort of stuff just clouds an otherwise decent episode. Can we in 2019 really enjoy an episode like this? I’d say the flaws well outweigh the strengths for an episode like this.