I may have watched most if not all of the original series of Star Trek in the past, but I can honestly say I never really paid much attention to what season each episode appeared in. I have learned since then that many fans consider season three rather bad. Given the way I am doing things now, I do notice a bit more which season featured which episode, so I can honestly say that, with a few exceptions, every episode I distinctly remember not caring for too much came from season three.
Case in point, I remember not being overly impressed with “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” and not because that episode title seems like something of a tongue twister.
That said, now as an older fan I have a good idea why this one isn’t working out too well for me. Many of the episodes I didn’t care for all seem to be ones where the plot was stretched out a bit because there really wasn’t enough material to fill the hour. And then what material is there doesn’t work for me all that well.
But this episode does have an intriguing idea at its center. The Enterprise is carrying an alien ambassador across the galaxy to his next destination. His race, and “his” may not be all that accurate all things being equal, are wise, compassionate beings who are great at navigation. They are also, it turns out, amorphous things that are so ugly, they drive any person who looks at them to utter madness. Vulcans can look at them while wearing a special visor. Now see, that’s a fascinating idea. True, 1960s TV tech means when the show does “show” the Medusan ambassador, it does so with some quick flashes to weird colors and so forth, but the idea of an alien who can’t be looked at is a really interesting idea. True, the character spends most of the episode inside some kind of box, but the idea is an interesting one.
It’s also only a side concept. While, yes, two characters do look at the Medusan and go mad, that isn’t the real plot. Hell, one of them is Spock without the visor, so you know he’ll be OK later.
No, the real plot is the telepathic human traveling with the ambassador as his voice and general go-between. That would be Dr. Miranda Jones, a psychiatrist, and hey, kids! It’s Diana Muldaur again!
And it’s everything to do with her that throws me off. Jones is told repeatedly over and over again how beautiful she is. McCoy wonders how she can possibly condemn herself to a lifetime with such ugliness as the Medusans. She’s a potent telepath, looking to create a union of sorts between herself and the Medusan to allow him to better engage the galaxy. She has some clever responses, but the first guy who sees the Medusan is a jealous ex-lover who wants her love and loves her because…
You know, I have no idea.
Everything about this episode comes across as so superficial. Kirk suggests the only real prejudice left is against ugly people. Everyone says Jones is beautiful. To be sure, Muldaur is an attractive woman, so it’s easy to see why, but is that all she is?
What we see of Jones’ personality is someone who is extremely possessive of the ambassador. Spock, it turns out, was a rival for her position, but he turned it down because his duties on the Enterprise take precedent. He’s a Vulcan. That has to be the truth. Why does Jones not seem to believe him?
The real issue comes when the madman forces the Enterprise out of the galaxy at maximum warp. The only way back from an inky black void is to have Spock mindmeld with the ambassador and hope the Medusan’s navigation skills are as good as advertised. Jones repeatedly tries to block this request, saying she and she alone should do the mindmeld. But then McCoy explains she’s blind and can’t. It has to be Spock.
I will add the scene where Spock and Ambassador Kollos are sharing Spock’s body is actually pretty cool. Kollos marvels over the differences in perception, but still knows Kirk and McCoy very well. He stops to recite poetry to Uhura, prompting McCoy to proclaim it isn’t Spock. Then Spock asks if McCoy would assume Spock had never read Lord Byron. That, McCoy insists, is Spock. It also means for once Spock can smile and isn’t bad news. The navigation works, returning the Enterprise to pretty much the exact spot it left, and Kollos returns to his body.
But Spock isn’t wearing the visor and goes mad.
Spock grappling with the other men on the bridge is shown, for some reason, as a POV shot. There’s some really weird fight choreography in this episode.
Now, because he’s a Vulcan, Jones can maybe heal him. But she doesn’t. Why? Kirk gets in her face about her jealousy, and how she’s ugly on the inside and I might say, “Thank you for not being completely superficial about all this!” but that comes really late in the episode and is still a rather superficial character reading. I realize Jones is just a one-off character. But does that mean she can be reduced to just a beautiful-but-jealous woman? Why did her suitor love her? She doesn’t really have much in the way of defining characteristics, aside from wanting to be treated as an equal. Sure, she may have been trained by Vulcans, but she didn’t have their emotional discipline.
I dunno, I just don’t think this episode had enough plot for the entire episode. Did I really need to see Kirk try to romance this woman in the Enterprise‘s rose garden? Did we need to keep hearing people say the Medusans were ugly like that was the only thing they had going for them? This wasn’t a bad episode, but I am having a hard time seeing it as a particularly necessary one.