I love the writing of William Shakespeare. His plays tell stories with vivid characters that have delighted audiences for the past four centuries or so. But, even a fanboy like me will admit the Bard of Avon’s works haven’t always aged well. For all Shakespeare is (rightfully) praised for the universality of works like Hamlet or As You Like It, we still have to deal with various sixteenth and seventeenth century prejudices and ideas. That is especially true for a particularly problematic play called The Taming of the Shrew.
Likewise, I do love good Star Trek, but it also hasn’t aged well when it comes to the show’s gender politics. Women may be working on the Enterprise, but they still get treated as the “weaker sex” in some episodes, sometimes in a particularly blatant manner.
Naturally, when the original Star Trek decided to do a spin on Shakespeare, the show went with The Taming of the Shrew.
That’s really what “Elaan of Troyius” is all about. Two planets are ending a long term war by having the king of Troyius marry Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas. We’re told almost from the get-go that Elasian women are considered irresistible for reasons that are made clear later, for while Elaan is a physically attractive woman dressed up like a sci-fi version of Cleopatra, her attitude leads a lot to be desired. She gets angry and testy when people do, well, anything without her permission. That includes talking, entering, or exiting. And the ‘talking” thing means just talking to anyone in the room with her. Spock taking a moment to explain something to Kirk sets that tirade off. And as Elaan comes from a warrior culture, she wants much more opulence than she is given on board the ship (Uhura finds that insulting since she gave up her own quarters for this woman), and she completely lacks any sort of table manners.
Before I go any further, Elaan is played by an actress named France Nuyen, believed by many to be the first Vietnamese actress to appear on American television. She actually worked quite a bit with William Shatner outside this episode. She makes a good spoiled warrior princess, and when she does let her guard down, it isn’t that unbelievable that Kirk might try to comfort her. Likewise, one of her body guards is played by one Dick Durock, better know for his stunt work that got his him best known role, Swamp Thing, over multiple movies and a TV show. So, with that casting note out of the way, it’s back to my usual halfassed analysis.
That aforementioned lack of table manners is the real problem here. This woman seems to be full of nothing but rage and indignation. There’s a Troyian ambassador on the ship trying to teach her the proper customs necessary to be the king’s wife, and she doesn’t take too well to him before finally literally stabbing him in the back. He survives and even explains what makes the women of Elas so irresistible: it’s biological. Something in their tears, when they make skin-to-skin contact with a male, make said male fall immediately and irrevocably in love with the female.
So, we have our Chekov’s gun, and I don’t mean the guy on the phaser bank. And we know Kirk will now need to take the ambassador’s place in teaching this woman manners. And Kirk, well, he doesn’t play around, so we know he’s probably going to impress her somehow and he’s going to get hit with some tears. And that’s before we get to the jealous ex in Elaan’s entourage sabotaging the ship’s engine or the Klingons showing and demanding unconditional surrender. All this and Starfleet is counting on Kirk delivering the bride on time. There’s a lot to balance in this episode, and best of all, the episode actually seems to pull it off.
The tide turns when Kirk, after Elaan slaps him, returns the favor. She didn’t see that coming and runs off crying because no one likes her. Kirk instinctively comforts her and soon things go in the direction we always expect Kirk to take them when there’s an attractive woman involved.
But then there are the surprises. Despite being in love, Kirk manages to keep his head attached when the Klingons finally get tired of just following the Enterprise under a cloak. Elaan’s admirer, before he committed suicide, destroyed the Enterprise‘s dilithium crystals. There’s not enough power for the guns or warp speed, and the Klingons figure that out pretty quick. Why would the Klingons even care? Well, Elaan does Kirk a favor and wears the Troyan royal jewels and the things turn out to be pure dilithium, something Spock’s scanners pick up, and as Kirk guides Sulu and Chekov into a game of possum, Spock and Scotty fit the necklace into the ship’s power core. Sure enough, the Enterprise can return fire enough to damage the Klingon ship, and Kirk even gets to impress Elaan one more time by showing mercy, something her people aren’t used to.
So yes, even when under a chemically-initiated love sickness, Kirk can keep his head enough to save the day. Heck, he even figures out that if dilithium is a really common rock on Elaan’s world, it isn’t a surprise why the Klingons want to stop the wedding.
It probably helps Kirk knows the feelings aren’t real. McCoy is busy looking for a cure, but when the time comes, Kirk does his duty and drops Elaan off on Troyius, saying he won’t go to the wedding himself. And then comes the part where I start to wonder about the episode.
See, McCoy does find the chemical responsible and probably has a cure. But then Spock tells him it’s unnecessary because Kirk cured himself by simply going back to work. Apparently, Kirk was already in love with the Enterprise, and as such, he was never going to be beguiled anyway.
You know, that has long been the subtext to Kirk’s character on why his relationships never seem to last. But here, we see that affection for duty has apparently made him immune to what amounts to a love spell. And I just can’t buy into that, especially since it doesn’t always seem to be the case. But, if that’s the explanation the episode will give me, I guess I have to go with it. I can always assume McCoy gave Kirk a booster shot or something after the closing credits.