By 1967, America was in the depths of a weird struggle with sexual identity. Woodstock was coming, the hippies were rising and people were still grappling with Kinsey’s several decades old study on sex. Deviancy was becoming something people were aware of but they were comfortable with so little of it.
Television was one of the places that this struggle manifested itself most clearly. I Dream of Jeannie featured a readily visible navel as well as cleavage and Bewitched featured a man and a woman sleeping in the same bed whose actors were not married in real life. Meanwhile, Glligan’s Island brought a mostly exposed Mary Ann to the screen every week. No one knew how to respond and the shows occasionally faced protest from advertisers and viewers but in a world without more television options, people were stuck with what was on. They were uncomfortable, but didn’t have a choice.
I think this sense of general confusion as to what the new sexual standards in American television were leads to what makes “The Apple” such a bizarre episode. The writers set up to make an episode almost entirely about fucking, realized they couldn’t and ended up creating something much stranger.
So, the Enterprise stops by Gamma Trianguli VI and Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Chekov, Crewwoman of the week/Chekov-love-interest Landon, and a host of soon to be dead red-shirts beam down for a scouting expedition to check out the planet. Things seem to be perfect and McCoy quickly makes the Garden of Eden reference everyone was looking forward to. Naturally, things start getting dangerous and plants are shooting deadly darts into red-shirts and eventually into Spock, who survives only because of his half-Vulcan ancestry. Everyone’s on edge and things only get worse as rocks start showing themselves to be landmines.
Kirk wants to get the crew off of the planet, but Scotty says that something is effecting the ship’s antimatter drive and not only can they not beam back up the team, but it appears that the ship is falling out of orbit and may be coming down to the planet. Kirk and his crew need to figure out what is going to take out the ship.
They get the chance pretty quickly when the crew catches sight of one of the natives. Kirk sets a trap and punches the native who expresses nothing but confusion from the attack. He introduces himself as Akuta, the leader of the feeders of Vaal, and explains to the landing team that his people are lead by Vaal, a sort of God who takes care of the environment as well as the natives. Akuta shows them the dragon-headed god but says that Kirk cannot speak to the deity. The party is led to the village where they are introduced to the other natives, who, because this is Star Trek, don’t understand the idea of love and are puzzled by Kirk’s questions of why there are no children on the planet.
You’ve probably guessed it by now if you’ve watched any television ever, but particularly any science fiction. Vaal is a computer that provides everything that the people of the planet need and has instilled rules and laws into them that are in keeping with computer programming. The people only do what they need to survive and nothing more. The problem comes once again in the details. Did Vaal spawn the humanoids on the planet? Did they come here and lose their memory of love? Are they a second or third generation of the original settlers and haven’t been taught the ways? Any real attempt to rationalize their lack of knowledge of love or children turns up flat and creates problems with buying into the settlers having had a long-lived society. McCoy is appalled that they are forced to sacrifice their humanity like this to live under Vaal, but Spock believes that the people are healthy and happy with their lives and the crew has no real grounds to try to change the lives of people who seem to be pleased with the way their lives have turned out. It’s an interesting question and one that Star Trek has gone back to many times when the crew comes across a new society very different from their own.
The crew starts to wonder the implications of the society; with Landon questioning what would happen if one of the villagers were killed in an accident, y’know possibly from any number of the super dangerous plants or fucking rocks littering the planet. Spock posits that Vaal would give the people instructions as to how to get a new person into the world, but it sits really funny. The people are so independent that it doesn’t seem like they would understand how all of this would work. It sits even stranger after the next scene when two of the natives see Chekov and Landon kissing. They’re confused at what it is and they suggest that they should just give it a try. They both like it, although it seems confusing. What basis do they have to reference?
Intimacy is weird in all cultures. I had a conversation with a girl I was dating about hand-holding, how it’s evolved from parents leading their kids across the street and to keep track of them, but as we get older, it’s like a means of ownership or a displaying of affection for strangers and bitter Star Trek bloggers to gawk at. This can be a strictly Anglican thing though. Different cultures do things differently. I guess close contact between people is generally enjoyed for most people, but would that really be something that a culture that has never experienced love or sex could get into on the first time?
Regardless, the lovebirds get caught by Akuta who starts to get wiser to the interlopers influence on the natives. He decides they need to get their sticks together and start killing some of these blasted spacemen. They exterminate the last red-shirt and Kirk holds them off, ordering Chekov and Landon to keep an eye on them while he and Spock try to deal with Vaal. Spock warns that destroying Vaal would be a huge violation of the Prime Directive but that has never stopped Kirk from helping a society become more like America, I mean Earth, I mean Starfleet, I mean, something.
The Enterprise is losing their position in orbit and Kirk believes that Vaal is running out of power, so he orders Scotty to fire the phaser banks at the structure which apparently shuts it all down. Spock declares the computer to be dead and the ship starts to regain the power that Vaal was drawing from it. The villagers are released and Kirk explains to them that they will need to take care of themselves and start fucking to keep that society going. They’re confused but Kirk just tells them, “yeah, you’ll figure it all out,” and then they all leave, hoping that things proceed normally, and that’s about it.
It’s a pretty average episode all things considered. The sexual stuff sits pretty strange and there’s a lot of really weird off-putting humor that seems just a little bit out of place here, but overall, it’s a mostly fun episode that just happens to be a little too close to episodes like “A Taste of Armageddon” and “The Return of the Archons.” All things considered, that’s not a bad group to be in.
Literally every male red-shirt dies in this episode. It’s awesome.
They really try to mine all the humor out of Chekov that they can. I guess that’s what happens when he doesn’t have that terrible fucking wig on.
“Garden of Eden, with landmines.”
Next up: “The Doomsday Machine” which probably has an overly descriptive title.