Tuesday, October 22, 2013

TOS Rewind #58: "Is There in Truth No Beauty?"

Today we take a look at Is There in Truth No Beauty? (10/18/1968)

The podcast for this episode is here:

Since I continue to find this episode...um, annoying?...Eric gets to start us out:

This review was initially a real quandry for me. The question inherent in the title, "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" made me want to do a more in-depth analysis, but as I watched and rewatched this episode, I kept finding that this question gets a frustratingly shallow treatment. It wasn't until I thought of the 1999 movie "American Beauty" (which does a much more meaningful examination of the nature of beauty) that I realized the theme I was looking for is that beauty is not in truth, beauty is truth.

To be clear, I am referring to personal truth and inner beauty. One of several gripes I have with this episode (along with the misogyny, misandry, and atrocious dialog) is that it focuses on physical beauty, exemplified by Miranda Jones, or the hideous lack thereof, represented by Kollos. As Kirk says, "...most of us are attracted by beauty and repelled by ugliness. One of the last of our prejudices." And while this is true, physical beauty has little or nothing to do with a person's character, which is closely tied to a person's intrinsic honesty. And honesty goes hand-in-hand with truth.

Consider Miranda Jones, who is outwardly very attractive. So much so that she has the human males stumbling over each other to try to woo her. In fact, they're so busy thinking with their glands they don't notice her distinct, but carefully veiled, defensiveness and animosity towards Spock. She is filled with anger and resentment because he is more adept as a telepath, but she isn't honest enough to admit this, even to herself. And this isn't the only way Miranda is living a lie; as we find out later in the episode, she is blind but hides that fact thanks to a sensor net woven into her clothes. This is a blatant and entirely intentional deception, and it isn't until McCoy reveals her blindness that her internal facade of dishonesty begins to crack. Finally, when Kirk confronts Miranda about her unwillingness to help Spock, her inner ugliness is laid bare and she is forced to accept and embrace the truth. And it is this that makes her beautiful.

Ironically, it is Miranda who frames the contradiction between Kollos' appearance and his true nature. She asks if Kollos is to ugly to bear or too beautiful? And when Spock mind melds with Kollos, the answer becomes clear. Kollos is completely without guile. His confusion over communication via speech is because it is so highly susceptible to inaccuracy and misinterpretation. Kollos is utterly honest, and it is this truth that is beautiful in stark contrast to his physical appearance.

So despite the flaws in this episode, there is enough substance to answer the question: Is There in Truth No Beauty?


Annoying? Do tell...

What I see with this episode is an awkward attempt to combine some sci-fi elements with a treatise on we humans' treatment of beauty. At least what we consider to be beautiful, that is...

The episode certainly has its heart in the right place. The idea of truth and beauty, well-expressed by Eric above, I can offer no quarrel with. The idea behind the "Alien of the Week" , the Medusans (obvious and awful) is not new; Trek has had a number of non-corporeal beings before. But the way this being is used in a plot is a new twist at least. These aliens, while possessing very noble characteristics, are literally unbearable to look at. At least by we puny humans. Miranda has the physical beauty but is filled with petty jealousy and other emotional "ugliness". Okay, pretty good setup

The main problem is the way the characters handle this. Miranda's conflicts are done in such a shallow, soap opera-style manner that it feels like the writers were either being lazy by using tired (even in 1968) melodramatic tools or didn't think the audience would "get" the concept otherwise. If you doubt this, go back and rewatch the scene where McCoy reveals Miranda's blindness.

Speaking of tools, Marvick is probably the worst offender in the bad drama department for this episode. He seems a bit unhinged even before he settles into his role as plot device. Now, it isn't that surprising considering he's in a love triangle with Miranda and Kollos. Talk about a no-win scenario...but Marvick playing "insane" is laughably bad (with the help of some skewed camera angles and fish eye lenses) and quite obvious as the device to get the Enterprise into a bad spot. The "we've traveled outside the galaxy and can't get home" plot is pretty weak and since it's a device, let's just move right along...

Ultimately I think this one could have been pretty decent. The idea is solid and you really can't blame the usual Season 3 budget woes for the problems. The writing needed a serious rework and if you don't believe me, recall the awful dinner scene at the beginning where Kirk and the rest of the crew are acting pretty badly. Shatner and the rest are just, well, following orders. I'm sure I've mentioned before that I just don't enjoy Diana Muldaur and I'm not exactly sure why. Some of the time her performance works here but she often comes off as just plain unsympathetic. Part of that is due to the way the character is written but the actor does have something to do with it. D.M. rubs me the wrong way and I'm going to have leave it at that. Humph!

So, Eric has the better take on this one and I do hope that next time I'll have a little bit more of interest or value to say...

Next time: "Spectre of the Gun"

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