Star Trek TOS Season 1, Episode 22: Sleeping Beauty

I ended up having a lot of negative emotions about this episode, certainly more than my initial plan to have fun with the campy original series promised.

Star Trek: ToS Season 1, Episode 22: Sleeping Beauty

(here’s a link for anyone having problems with the embed code)

Let me start with what I liked.

Bones gets one of the most iconic lines and scenes in the series. It’s character defining and hilarious given how much he chooses to complain about space danger. “Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind.” is delivered with such cool disapproval that I’m surprised Khan didn’t go back into hibernation right then and there. (Or fall in love with McCoy, but that’s neither here nor there.) Also, as a medical professional you’d be surprised how often this scene is #mood.

I’m also putting Marla standing up for Uhura and these supermen being super violent in the plus column, but with great hesitation. Women supporting women is all well and good, yet the narrative doesn’t support Marla, or her truly incomprehensible decisions. (If you want to -not without merit- argue that she was in an abusive relationship, the story shouldn’t push her towards her abuser and make it a path she happily chooses.)

On the same note, we get characters that are supposed to represent the human ideal, being egotistical jackasses. Those jackasses, however, are mainly non-white. Somehow making them non-white supervillains (emphasis on super) manages to be both revolutionary and a racist trope depending on what way you want to look at it. It doesn’t help that I can’t tell if their misogyny is a by-product of the 60’s -one the writers want to frame as wrong- though in any case having people named Khan and Joachim harm women is not a great look.

Khan is such a strange character. I feel like the show’s older format really did him a disservice. TOS is notorious for its exposition and given the fact they had many firsts it was probably necessary. However, with someone like Khan, one episode wasn’t enough to tell rather than show.

We hear tale of his great intelligence, but the show relies heavily on him being physically superior. He is physically superior yet gets taken out without much effort by Kirk and a plastic tube. If there is anything that makes him stand out across decades, it’s his charisma. That of course has far more to do with the actor than the writers.

His scenes with Marla could have made more sense if it wasn’t the 60’s and if we didn’t have so few of them. Yes, he’s charismatic, and yes, he’s the living embodiment of everything Marla has studied. It still makes little sense given his very early violent behavior, that his manipulation of her was so complete. Again, it should be argued that their relationship is textbook abusive, yet the show barely addresses it, and the escalation of abusive behavior is jarringly rapid.

Somehow the narrative weighs her romanticization of the past more heavily than reality and the culture of equality she supposedly grew up in.This is perhaps what most annoys me about the entire plotline. Abuse happens, but when we as a culture refuse to foster it, one would think there would be hope that it is dealt with and stopped.

If only the show had given her more agency the Milton quote could have applied to her.

Speaking of the Milton quote “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”, goes against everything every single starfleet officer stands for. We could have had so much more of a philosophical battle around that. In a way, Marla’s refusal to see further harm done to her fellow crew members that results in Khan being cornered alone and eventually defeated should have argued against the rationale behind ruling because of a supposed superiority.

A curled fist is stronger than a finger, or in starfleet’s case a high-five is more effective than a middle finger.(?)

I had hoped of writing more of these, but given the lack of participation in choosing other episodes on patreon I am perhaps going to do one last recap of an episode from the original series depending on when the next season starts.

Live long and prosper.

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