|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.24 “This Side of Paradise” – (Original air date: Thursday, March 2, 1967)

TrekThisSideofParadise

Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “This Side of Paradise.”

  • On this date in history: The Rolling Stones top the US charts with #1 “Ruby Tuesday.” Meanwhile, Englebert Humperdinck rules the UK with “Release Me.”
  • The Vietnam War rages on, with atrocities committed by all players. The US mistakenly napalms the South Vietnamese village of Lang Vei, killing 135 men, women and children, and wounding another 213 civilians.
  • Reality is depressing. Let’s move on to our fictional space cowboy show.
  • The USS Enterprise arrives at Omicron Ceti III, expecting to find 150 colonists dead from prolonged exposure to deadly Berthold rays.
  • Berthold radiation is a fictional thing, created just for this episode. However, there is a German company, Berthold Technologies, which creates devices to measure light, nuclear radiation and microwave frequencies, among other products. I’m not sure if this is a coincidence or if one was named after the other.
  • Our navigator in this episode is Mr. Painter. He was never seen before or after this episode.
  • Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, DeSalle and Kelowitz beam down to the planet surface. There are no noobs here. You may remember DeSalle from “The Squire of Gothos.” He was the guy Trelane spoke French to. Kelowitz previously appeared as the leader of the search party on Taurus II, in “The Galileo Seven,” and as the only one of three tactical aides to survive the Gorn attack on Cestus III in “Arena.”
  • No one is obviously cannon fodder here. No red shirts.
  • This is another outdoor show. It looks like another Western set. Since Star Trek is essentially a horse opera set in space, that doesn’t bother me.
  • The large open meadow that appears in several sequences is in Malibu State Park in southern California. It was also in Planet of the Apes during the big cornfield hunt scene, and was used a lot in Gunsmoke. Other parts of this episode were filmed at the Golden Oak Ranch, commonly known as the Disney Ranch, which can be seen in nearly every television series you can think of, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, plus many motion pictures as well.
  • Parts of the episode were also filmed in Bronson Canyon, a part of Griffith Park, another frequently used shooting location. Incidentally, Jill Ireland, who plays Leila in this episode, married actor Charles Bronson about a year after this episode aired.
  • Our landing party beams down to a farm, which has wooden fences, paved pathways, clapboard buildings and a stable. They believe it to be deserted now, but are surprised when colony leader Elias Sandoval greets them.
  • End of teaser. It’s kind of a weak tea.
  • As Act One begins, Sandoval explains that the colony’s subspace radio hasn’t been working properly and that none of the colonists have been able to repair it.
  • Reasserting his position as my favorite Starfleet doctor, McCoy says, “On pure speculation, just an educated guess, I’d say that man is alive.”
  • The colonists that we see—nowhere close to the 150 we’re told are in the colony—all dress alike, in matching Dickies overalls with black t-shirts underneath. They look like members of a cult.
  • McCoy and Spock debate how the colonists could still be alive. The effects of Berthold rays are well-documented. The crew of the Enterprise would be safe for a week, but no one should be able to survive four years of exposure. Kirk tells the landing party that they had better find some answers.
  • After Sandoval leads Kirk, McCoy and Spock into the farm house, he says the colonists formed three different settlements on the planet, to protect against disease wiping out all of the colonists in one fell swoop. There are only forty-five colonists in this settlement. That somewhat explains things, but we didn’t even see evidence of forty-five.
  • That’s a reflection of budget, not a story clue. We’re supposed to think there are forty-five colonists here.
  • Leila Kalomi, the colony’s botanist, is inside the farm house. It turns out that she and Spock know each other. The Trek universe is a small place.
  • After the others have left to continue their tests and examinations, Elias and Leila talk about Spock, whom Elias refers to as the “Vulcanian.” I’ll still be happy when that becomes merely “Vulcan.” Leila knew Spock six years ago, on Earth, and she was in love with him. Of course, Spock never expressed his feelings to her; it is said that his kind have none to give, you know. He has no choice now, though, she says. He’ll have to stay with them on the planet.
  • See, it is a cult.
  • Meanwhile, Sulu and Kelowitz are standing outside a barn that appeared in several episodes of Kung Fu. Sulu comments that, when it comes to farms, he wouldn’t know what looked right or wrong if it were two feet from him. Which is ironic, because Sulu has been characterized in the past as a bit of a botanist himself, and one of those weird alien plants on the long stalks is probably about two feet away from him.
  • Kelowitz notes that there are no cows in the barn. Sulu says, come to think of it, they haven’t seen any animals. No horses, no pigs, not even a dog. Nothing.
  • Well, humans are animals, too. But, we know what he means.
  • McCoy, after examining nine men so far, says they are all in perfect physical condition.
  • Spock communicates back to Kirk, confirming Sulu’s observation that there seems to be a total absence of life on the planet, except for the colonists and various types of flora.
  • Okay, no other life. Berthold rays. We get it. Kirk makes the analogy, after hearing an agricultural report stating that anything will grow in the soil but the colonists are planting barely enough to cover their needs, that this is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with pieces all of one color. This suggests that people still put together puzzles in the future.
  • McCoy points out that Elias Sandoval’s previous medical records revealed that he had scar tissue on his lungs and that he had an appendectomy. His current examination shows no such scar tissue and his appendix has apparently grown back.
  • Wait. What?
  • Spock is with Leila out in the field, taking tricorder readings. He says there’s not even insects here. Yet the plants grow. Leila says that she can explain why the colonists haven’t died. Spock presses her, but Leila remains evasive.
  • Kirk tells Sandoval that he’s received orders to evacuate all personnel from the colony. Sandoval refuses to leave.
  • Leila continues to lead Spock towards the answers he seeks. The pink flowers are visible near them. Leila promises that the thing she’s going to show to Spock gives life, peace, and love.
  • Spock calls that a “happiness pill.” And, as a scientist, Leila should know that that’s not possible.
  • Leila says she was one of the first to find the spores. On cue, one of the flowers spits its spores at Spock, who clutches his head and falls to the ground as if in pain. The pain passes quickly and then Spock is suddenly euphoric. He professes his love for Leila and the two kiss passionately. End of Act One.
  • As Act Two begins, Kirk begins to execute his orders to evacuate the colonists to Starbase 27. Against their will, if necessary, as it begins to look like it will be. Kirk asks Sulu if he knows where Spock and DeSalle are located. Sulu doesn’t know, but McCoy says that DeSalle said something about going to examine some native plants he found.
  • Kirk calls Spock on his communicator.
  • Spock ignores his communicator as he lies in Leila’s lap, cloud-gazing. He notes that one of the clouds looks like a dragon. He saw one on Berengaria Seven. Spock has never before stopped to consider the beauty of things such as clouds and rainbows. This is a new experience for him.
  • You know, the spores don’t sound all that bad to me.
  • When Spock answers his communicator, he says, “Yes, what did you want?” Very un-Spock-like. When Kirk asks his location, Spock says, “I don’t believe I want to tell you.” Kirk, angry, orders Spock to return to the settlement in tens minutes, to which Spock responds: “No, I don’t think so.”
  • McCoy, bucking for promotion to Captain Obvious, says that didn’t sound like Spock at all.
  • Kirk says Spock left the frequency open, which will act as a homing device. Kirk, Sulu and Kelowitz go in search of Spock.
  • There’s a Leonard Nimoy homage in that sentence. Google “In Search Of . . .”
  • They find him, hanging from a tree branch and goofing around and laughing with Leila. He seems pretty happy.
  • Back at the settlement, DeSalle brings a bunch of the happy flowers to show McCoy.
  • Spock is now wearing the cult outfit. Where did he get it, and when did he have time to put it on? That would suggest that Leila brought it with her and that, at some point, Spock would have been—gasp!—naked in front of her. Did those two have sexual relations? What a shocking late-’60s development.
  • This spore-influenced Spock assures Kirk that there will be no evacuation. Kirk places his first officer under arrest. Then Sulu, Kelowitz and Kirk are dosed with the spores as well.
  • Sulu, who is frequently getting high (remember “The Return of the Archons”?) is the first to show the effects of the spores. Kirk isn’t affected at all.
  • Why isn’t Kirk affected?
  • Kirk leaves the group and returns to the settlement, where he finds McCoy beaming some of the plants up to the ship. McCoy’s drinking the Kool-Aid now, as well. Kirk beams up to the ship.
  • Kirk goes to the bridge and orders Uhura to put her through to Admiral Komack at Starfleet. Uhura says she can’t, all communications are out except for ship-to-surface, which they’ll still need for a while. Uhura admits that she short-circuited the communications, and then she abandons her post to join the others. Good for her.  Uhura never gets to take shore leave.
  • There are spore plants on the bridge also. Kirk angry.
  • Outside the transporter room, there’s a line of crewmembers. Kirk orders them to return to their stations, but they refuse.
  • This is mutiny, mister,” Kirk says. To which the crewman replies: “Yes, sir. It is.” End of Act Two.
  • As Act Three begins, Kirk is trying to communicate with McCoy to find out the physical-psychological effects of the spore infection. But, McCoy, now on the happy pills, isn’t interested, because everything is perfect.
  • When Kirk tells McCoy that he bet he’s even grown his tonsils back, McCoy says, “Sho ‘Nuff.” Really. When McCoy’s perceptions are altered, whether by spores, drugs, or strong drink, he tends to become even more of a Southern country doctor. To Kirk, he says, “Hey, Jim boy, y’all ever have a real cold Georgia-style mint julep, huh?”
  • Back at the farm house, Kirk finds Spock and Sandoval having tea. Spock explains that the spores actually thrive on Berthold rays. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The spores need a living body to inhabit, and in return they give complete health and peace of mind. The colonists have no need or want. Spock adds that it’s a true Eden, where there’s belonging and love.
  • I can see that. What’s wrong with belonging and love, and the absence of need or want, Kirk?
  • Kirk’s thesis is that man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is. Man needs a challenge.
  • If that’s true, it seems to be a recipe for never feeling satisfied. Not to get all philosophical here, but if the spores are genuinely offering the things that Sandoval and Spock claim, rather than the illusion of these things the way hard drugs often do, then what’s wrong with them? Perfect health, happiness, contentment and love seems to be the finish line we’re all looking for.
  • Kirk returns to the deserted ship. The Memory Alpha website informs me that the shot of the deserted bridge before Kirk arrives in the turbolift was the image used in the TNG episode “Relics,” when Scotty recreates the Enterprise bridge on the holodeck. I never realized this was a special effect on TNG. I just assumed they had recreated the set. Technology is amazing.
  • Speaking of Scotty . . . Kirk calls Scotty in the scene without getting a response, and it occurs to me that Scotty hasn’t appeared in this episode at all.
  • Kirk ends up getting dosed by the spores again and this time falls victim to their effects. He’s suddenly happy and ready to join the others. But, something makes him angry and he’s able to shake off the effects. He realizes that violent emotions and anger are the key to breaking the spores’ hold on his crew.
  • He pauses to record another Captain’s Log detailing his plan to turn Spock, at the risk of his own injury or death.
  • He hails Spock and asks him to beam up to help move some of the ship’s equipment. He greets Spock in the transporter room with a metal pipe in his hand. Then he proceeds to throw many insults at the Vulcan.
  • Mutinous, disloyal, computerized half-breed” is one of these.
  • Overgrown jackrabbit, an elf with a hyperactive thyroid” is another.
  • You don’t have the brains to understand. All you have is printed circuits.”
  • Simpering, devil-eared freak whose father was a computer and his mother an encyclopedia.” We barely have encyclopedias now, let alone in the far future.
  • When Spock protests that his mother was a teacher and his father an ambassador, Kirk continues to pile it on: “Your father was a computer, like his son. An ambassador from a planet of traitors. A Vulcan never lived who had an ounce of integrity . . .You’re a traitor from a race of traitors. Disloyal to the core, rotten like the rest of your subhuman race, and you’ve got the gall to make love to that girl.”
  • Wait. Make love? Hey, that confirms it. My fan fiction would have Leila bearing Spock’s love child. Use that, J.J. Abrams.
  • Kirk’s still not finished. “A carcass full of memory banks who should be squatting in a mushroom instead of passing himself off as a man. You belong in a circus, Spock, not a starship. Right next to the dog-faced boy.”
  • This reference to Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, who was around at the end of the 19th century and barely relevant in 1967 much less now, is what finally pushes Spock over the edge. He begins throwing Kirk around the transporter room after bending his metal pipe with his bare hands, Superman-style. Then, he returns to his right, logical senses—no longer experiencing that damned distracting happiness and contentment. Great work, Kirk.
  • Now we’re in our final act. Working together, Kirk and Spock create a subsonic transmitter to induce anger and intense emotions in everyone on the planet.
  • Of course, since Spock has returned to his senses, he and Leila break up. She says she never even knew if he had another name. Spock says she couldn’t pronounce it.
  • It’s possible Spock’s name is actually S’chn T’gai Spock, but that isn’t canon. I’m not even certain how that would be pronounced, but I’m going with “George Takei.”
  • The people on the planet begin getting into fistfights, and then they are “cured.” Sandoval and the others no longer offer any resistance to relocation.
  • During our customary bridge outro, McCoy quips that this is the second time man’s been thrown out of paradise.
  • Kirk says that this time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can’t stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.
  • That’s a mouthful. 
  • But, they didn’t actually walk out on their own.  Jim Kirk played God and made the decision to walk out for everyone.  Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it.
  • The final scene usually ends with a smirk and a chuckle. Not this time. When Kirk asks Spock for a comment, we get one of the saddest lines of dialogue in all of Trek.
  • Spock says, “I have little to say about it, Captain, except that for the first time in my life I was happy.”
  • Damn.

In spite of my problems with the internal logic of this story—such as there’s no demonstrable downside to the spores, just a lot of positive effects—I like this D.C. Fontana-penned episode a lot. I realize that the idea of alien plants taking over people wasn’t fresh even in 1967. The first Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie was already over a decade old in ’67 (the Jack Finney novel was published in 1954). And, this trope continues up to today, even. It was even a part of my beloved Mass Effect video game series in the Thorian mission. But, I liked how it was done here.

What would have made it better, for me, is if more parallels between the spores and illegal narcotics was drawn. Perhaps if the spores were slowly killing the colonists rather than just giving them perfect health and happiness. Maybe the television network wouldn’t allow such a thing at the time. I prefer to retcon this episode and pretend that was the case rather than accepting Kirk’s “fight, struggle, claw and scratch” speech as gospel. That point-of-view seems pretty dismal for Trek.

Not one of my All-Time Best Trek favorites, but a good episode. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

One thought on “|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.24 “This Side of Paradise” – (Original air date: Thursday, March 2, 1967)

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