Wednesday, November 19, 2008

TOS Rewind #23: "This Side of Paradise"

Our latest installment:  This Side of Paradise (03-02-1967)

There was no drink this time ("who wants to counteract paradise, Jim-boy!"), but if I had my act together, I'd have come up with a Mint Julep. 

Andy and I did a podcast for this one last year:  check it out here.

Eric begins this time:

This will be a short review. Not because “This Side of Paradise" isn’t a good original Trek episode. Actually, it’s in my top twenty (maybe ten) favorite episodes, but Doc and Andy already did a podcast that covers it very nicely.

All in all, it’s a good story. The science is best left unexamined, but the intent is to look at what happens when people are offered (or in this case, thrust into) paradise. Does it work? Can they be content?

But before we get to that, a few thoughts about the character development in this episode. Spock gets the spotlight and the girl, both of which are good to see. We get a rare glimpse at his human half and the “self-made purgatory" he lives in thanks to Leonard Nimoy’s wonderfully sympathetic performance. Spock’s loneliness and quiet dignity are quite touching, and his gentleness with Leila Kalomi (especially when he has to reject her) gives a clue to why the character was, and perhaps still is, so popular with women. I also heard an interview with Nimoy where he said that he got a great many letters from teenagers in relation to this episode, most likely because Spock’s isolation and feelings of being alone and misunderstood quite understandably resonated with teenage kids.

So now to the premise of the story: humans are not meant for, or well-suited to, paradise. The only reason the colonists and the Enterprise crew are happy and content in the idyllic existence provided by the spores is because those same spores drug them into euphoria. (A none-too-subtle dig against the 60s counter-culture.) And when the influence of the spores is broken, everyone is dismayed and ashamed at their lack of productivity and progress. Kirk sums it up by saying:

"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."

My response to this is: why? Of course I’m a hedonist, but this episode doesn’t explain why peace and happiness and the healthy pursuit of pleasure can’t go hand in hand with progress. We as a race, Americans in particular, struggle and fight and claw because we can’t see out of the desperate, insanely competitive box our ancestors put us in.

So, despite the fact that “This Side of Paradise" is a good story and one of my top twenty episodes, I don’t agree with its conclusion. If humans must “scratch for every inch of the way", it’s because we choose for it to be that way, not because there’s some unwritten law that decrees it must be that way.


I don't really have much of anything new to what I said on the podcast, but I'll summarize.

Growing up, I don't remember this being a real favorite, though Spock beating the crap out of Kirk had its allure.  It was a lot of people in jumpsuits, romance with fluffy flute music, and some fake spore-throwing plants.  So, not a lot of space action.

The obvious read, which Eric got into, is the mankind vs. paradise theme, which has been done before in Trek.  Humans were offered paradise and walked out on their own, with a swift kick in the ass by Kirk (typical!).  Just like "Return of the Archons," the people are in an involuntary paradise where very little seems to get done.  Both episodes end with comments about getting on with what they're supposed to be doing (running a farm colony/building a society).  In comparison however, the folks on Omicron Ceti III sure seem to have a better time (maybe they occasionally got rape/pillage fun time on the farm).  The Communism vs. Individualism (American) idea is more solid here.  Hell, they all wear the same jumpsuits and work on a coop farm.  They could also be a group of Amish (oops, there's religion again!).

Another obvious variation on this is the idea of the spores as drugs.  Pot would be the one that comes to mind.  I seem to remember one of the crew talking up the plants in a stoner-like voice, "take a close look at these plants, sir!"  (Dude, check out these plants!)  And of course when Kirk snaps Spock out of his high, he realizes how wrong it is while still recognizing how good it made him feel while he was under its influence.

Speaking of Spock, this is obviously a real character piece for Spock.  The spores unlock his emotional human side so he can have a fling with Leila, a woman from his past.  The scenes with the two of them romping around in the California grass are nice and whatever you may think of the concept, Nimoy makes the most of this role here.  If it wasn't for the hippy-dippy effect of the spores, I'd have a hard time buying that Leila is any kind of scientist.  She does, however, get lots of soft focus on her closeups and that same flute-string music we've heard before.  Very old-school.

McCoy gets to revert to his folksy booze-swilling self, which is a lot of fun.

Kirk somehow avoids the effects until the end.  Apparently his potential loss of the ship broke the spell.  One has to ask:  wouldn't there be other people on board, faced with the prospect of never seeing their families again, who also would have had this reaction?  Oh well, Kirk has the will and he saves the ship again.  The scene in the transporter room where he has to piss off Spock is inspired. 

"Does she know what she's getting, Spock? A carcass full of memory banks who should be squatting on 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."  Squatting on a mushroom?  Wow, that's harsh!

In the end I have to agree with Eric.  This doesn't seem so bad, even if it sounds horribly boring.  No matter what Kirk might say, there are worse lots in life than to lay about under the trees with the occasional shift at the co-op farm. 

Damn, time to get back to work!

Next time:  "The Devil in the Dark"

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