Complete Health and Peace of Mind? TOS #25: This Side of Paradise

The Enterprise visits an Earth colony whose inhabitants, infected by alien spores, live in idle contentment; one of whom met Spock and fell in love with him years before.

  • The Enterprise approaches the planet Omicron Ceti III, where a group of colonists from Earth settled several years before, prior to the discovery of deadly “Berthold rays” there that by now should have killed them all. But when Kirk and company beam down, they’re greeted by the happy, healthy head of the colony, Elias Sandoval.
  • It’s curious to see on the bridge yet another navigator, this time named Painter. Chekov became the regular navigator in the 2nd season, but the first season, perhaps it was cheaper to pay bit players to say a line or two each than to pay a regular cast member; and of course the expansion of regular cast members only came as the show succeeded to get to a 2nd
  • Naming the planet here Omicron Ceti III is curious, because Omicron Ceti is a real star, more commonly referred to by the name Mira, and perhaps the most famous variable star in the sky. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mira) It’s fairly unlikely a habitable planet would be in orbit there. It’s also odd that the settlers on the planet, or any planet with a Bayer designation (e.g. Alpha Centauri, Gamma Orionis, etc.), wouldn’t have invented a single commonplace place for their new home (like “Earth” instead of “Sol III”).
  • The episode is shot on location, partly at Golden Oak Ranch (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Oak_Ranch), a large facility owned by Disney specifically for film and TV production, and located just off Highway 14 in Newhall (on the way to Vasquez Rocks, from LA). The script has the colony devoted to a ‘simple way of life’ to justify the appearance of wooden farm buildings, and lack of 23rd century technology.
  • Coincidence! One of the colonists is a young woman named Leila Kalomi, who met Spock on Earth 6 years ago – and fell in love with him, despite his inability to reciprocate. Spock recognizes her but remains impassive.
  • The landing party notices the lack of animals. McCoy gives the settlers physicals and is amazed by their excellent health. Kirk gets orders from Starbase to evacuate the colonists – but Sandoval, unconcerned, refuses.
  • And then Leila takes Spock to ‘explain’, and takes him into a field where the large flowers explode their pods into Spock’s face. Spock collapses in pain – “I am not like you!” – but the effect takes hold, and Spock realizes to his amazement he can respond to Leila’s feeling for him. “I love you… I can love you!” And they kiss.
  • This episode has a nice balance of threat, emotion, and humor, as in the next scene when Kirk comes looking for Spock, finding him hanging from a tree branch, and can barely believe his eyes. “I gave you an order to report!” he barks. Spock replies casually, “I didn’t want to.”
  • McCoy and Uhura both get turns expressing the effects of the spores; McCoy turns into a southern gentleman, drinking mint juleps; Uhura into a spacey saboteur, as she wrecks the communications panel (so Kirk can’t call for help).
  • Kirk, the last one left uninfected, tries debating. Sandoval talks about their “complete health and peace of mind.” And that’s paradise, Kirk asks? They have no wants or needs. “We weren’t meant for that,” Kirk says, “Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.” This is an interesting philosophical premise – though not an inarguable one. So what if “man stagnates”? Most of human history has been only about getting enough to eat, surviving diseases, and ensuring the next generation. It’s only the adventurers like Kirk who think that’s stagnation.
  • At the same time, the issue reflects the difficulty of telling stories without conflict. Trek had by this time already established the idea of “prime directive”, the idea that the Federation should not interfere with other societies – but individual episodes keep finding reasons to ignore it, as in “The Return of the Archons”, and in 2nd season’s “The Apple”.
  • Kirk has a great scene on the bridge, as he realizes he’s the only one left on board. He can’t pilot the ship by himself; he’s marooned. “I’m beginning to realize just how big this ship really is, how quiet.”
  • But then he’s blasted by the spores and converted, just like all the others. “I’ve joined you” he tells Spock. There’s a strong undercurrent in the theme here of the effects of drug culture – remember this is the 1960s.
  • But then there’s a scene I’ve never entirely understood – despite summaries of it. Kirk is ready to activate the transporter, to beam himself down. He flicks some switches; something seems to be wrong. Some kind of fury wells up within him, and he cries out in frustration, “I… can’t… LEAVE!”
  • Wait, why? I’ve seen this before as Kirk reacting to some problem with the transporter. Or is it instead that Kirk’s inner devotion to his ship wells up against the idea that he is about to leave the ship forever? If the latter, I don’t think it was well enough played.
  • In any case, something gives – you see Kirk realize it — and he realizes he’s free of the spores’ effects. And quickly realizes how to make this happen for the others.
  • And then the famous scene in which Kirk instigates a fight with Spock, via crude insults, to instill powerful emotions to overcome the spores. And then the plan to beam subsonic transmissions to make everyone on the planet irritable and fight-prone.
  • Meanwhile there’s the very sad scene in which Leila is beamed aboard the ship and realizes that Spock is free of the spores. Spock seems genuinely sorrowful, and tries to explain. “I am what I am, Leila. And if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”
  • And Leila’s anguish and sorrow causes her to be freed from the spores as well.
  • She asks Mr. Spock if he has another [first] name. Spock ruefully replies, “You couldn’t pronounce it.”
  • The upshot confirms Kirk’s opinion of this supposed paradise. After a scene in which Sandoval tells McCoy his services as a doctor will no longer be needed, and McCoy replies, with one of his best lines in the entire series, “Would you like to see how fast I can put you in a hospital?”, they fight, and Sandoval comes to. And immediately realizes, about their original plans for the colony, “We’ve done nothing here.”
  • And Kirk underscores it as the Enterprise departs. “Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. …”
  • But Spock gets the last line, asked about his experience on the planet, he says, almost wistfully, “I have little to say about it, captain. Except that for the first time in my life, I was happy.
  • Music notes:
  • We hear the “Charlie X” wonder theme as the landing party initially is led through the settlement.
  • Most of the scenes with Leila Kalomi are scored with the one prominent love theme Trek had by that point, the one written by Gerald Fried for “Shore Leave”.
  • Sights of the pod flowers are accompanied by the twangy Talosian theme from “The Menagerie”.
  • Two or three times with hear the “Miri theme”, the library track by Joseph Mullendore first heard, IIRC, when Kirk discovers the girl Miri hiding in a closet.
  • Spock’s infection by the spores, and his pain, is scored to “Vina’s theme” with a throbbing pulse underneath.
  • As fights break out on the planet, we hear the “Corbomite” cube theme.
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