I have a dog that is generally very gentle, good tempered and sweet. She sleeps a lot and enjoys playing Frisbee. The other day, I walked downstairs to see her playing with something in the back yard. She was tossing a brown and white sack up and down in the air. As I looked closer, it wasn’t a brown and white sack; it was a rabbit. Blood covered the dead animal and my dog’s face had a look of gleeful pride and suddenly my young pet was a killer.
It’s not as if this is some kind of uncommon occurrence for everyone. We are aware of the potential duality of man. We know that there are many impulses and actions that float beneath the surface of all people and anyone has the capacity to take part in horrifying actions if given the opportunity.
So, I guess that’s what makes “The Enemy Within” a relatable piece of television. Excellent genre writer Richard Matheson makes the duality of man painfully literal in the form of Kirk and, as I called him, Rage Kirk. The episode is good throughout, although they may hold onto the story a little too long after the climax, but overall, “The Enemy Within” serves as just as solid of a piece of television as “The Naked Time.”
The plot starts up with a transporter error creating a second Kirk and a second horned costumed dog, both exhibiting violent tendencies and some health problems. The transporter error has also probed that the system is unsafe and that Sulu and the rest of the landing party are going to have to stay on Alpha 177 until repairs are made. Meanwhile, the crew is stranded on a planet that’s temperature will descend to deadly levels by night.
Once again, a pair of objectives creates the tension and the writers are quickly realizing how effective this is. There needs to be a resolution, fast. However, this sort of story structure also allows Kirk to shine as a character, showing his relentless pursuit of correcting problems and his loyalty to his crew.
The difference between the two Kirks is made frank and immediately. Rage Kirk pounds brandy, treats McCoy like shit and brutally attacks Yeoman Rand, continuously telling her to give him what he wants (PS: It’s sexual). The attempted rape scene is once again, surprisingly brutal, and Rage Kirk is caught by one of the crewmen, but he incapacitates him and manages to escape to the engine room. Even after he is caught, Rage Kirk is violent, attacking Kirk when he is let go. Good Kirk, meanwhile, has lost most of his will to lead the crew and is operating solely on goodwill. The differences between the two are brought to the forefront, but the common thread is their mutual weakness. Without some sort of way to reverse the effects of the error, both Kirks will die.
Of course, there is a moral quandary to be addressed in the form of studying the two Kirks. Spock wants to see what is it that makes Kirk such an effective leader and he thinks studying the difference between the two personas will net some sort of finding. McCoy believes that this sort of experimentation on a human, particularly one that both outranks them and stands as one of their friends is not only unethical and thinks that the two should simply respect Kirk’s struggle. Spock explains that he has to deal with his human and Vulcan sides constantly, and it would be useful to examine the way a human works in regard to emotions by saying, “I have a human half and an alien half at war with each other. Personal experience, Doctor. I survive because my intelligence wins, makes them live together. Your intelligence would enable you to survive, as well,” which sort of make sense, except for the part where when Spock loses control he doesn’t end up trying to rape Yeoman Rand. He just cries. Loyalty to the captain wins out, and they perform no experiments, but the interesting relationship between McCoy and Spock continues to grow.
Loyalty is one of the main themes keeping the story alive. While Rage Kirk wants to pull the Enterprise out of orbit at the conclusion, the crew is able to realize the imposter pretty rapidly and Kirk returns to retake command. It’s a solid moment for Kirk, as viewers see the emotional side of him that will do whatever it takes to keep his crew alive.
There are stunningly few flaws in “The Enemy Within.” It’s a little disappointing to have another episode about competing personalities so soon after “The Naked Time” and some of the core idea is not that different, but the writing and action in “The Enemy Within” is so sharp that this can vastly be forgiven. Shatner is a little hammy as Rage Kirk, but the concern and uncertainty he embodies, as Kirk is pretty strong stuff. Really, the whole episode is Shatner’s playground and he manages to deliver a pretty tight performance on both sides.
“The Enemy Within” is an excellent episode that manages to drive home Kirk’s responsibility to the Enterprise as well as what makes him work as a leader. It’s as close as we’ve gotten to a truly effective character-building episode, and thank Jebus it works.
My biggest problem with the episode is Sulu’s stuff on Alpha 177. Apparently, all it takes to survive is wrapping up in blankets and heating up rocks. I think you’d have a little more than frostbite after getting up on the ship. It’s a pretty minor gripe that I’ll mostly just suspend my disbelief and ignore.
The dog-unicorn-cat-thing is really awesome.
Like in “The Naked Time,” the show really benefits from showing actions taking place rather than just saying that it took place off camera. We see Rage Kirk take the phaser and we see the dangers on the planet as Sulu freezes. It raises the stakes in a way that episodes like “The Man Trap” really failed to do.
Next Up: “Mudd’s Woman” which I assume will be too literal of an episode title to make a joke about.