In the fifth episode of the first season of Star Trek, Kirk is split into two beings by a malfunctioning transporter unit, and it’s a disaster. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of rape.
Okay, this wasn’t a total disaster, but the idea at the heart of “The Enemy Within” – that human nature is a mixture of the moral and immoral – is executed in a way that gives us a ton of messy implications. If we’re to accept the thesis of Richard Matheson’s script, humanity has a good side and an evil side, and that lives in each of us in tandem. Which I don’t necessarily dispute! So when a magnetic malfunction rips Captain Kirk into two distinctive opposites, what happens? If Kirk’s good side is separated from his evil side, can the two beings survive without one another?
I like that premise! I do! And it was (sometimes) fun to watch William Shatner play with his own character’s portrayal be getting to be Evil Kirk. It was fascinating to have the central conflict be about how to put Kirk back together instead of making it as simple as it could have been. My initial thought was that all the crew had to do was kill Evil Kirk, but the doppelgänger split wasn’t a case where these were two independent beings. They were the same person. Again, I have no problem with this focus, and I think there are themes brought up because of it that were interesting to explore in “The Enemy Within.”
For me, though, things started to fall apart when Bones and Spock began to insist that Captain Kirk needed his evil side to function. It’s important to note that this moment is placed after the particularly brutal attempted rape of Yeoman Rand, which is its own disaster all by itself. It is jarring to see something so horrific portrayed on screen, and then have a bunch of characters insist that a character needs that side of him.
Perhaps it’s the placement of this episode in the airing order that also contributes to this. I’d only seen four episodes of Star Trek prior to “The Enemy Within,” so I can’t claim to be an expert on Captain Kirk’s characterization. But I thought that, up to this point, we’d seen Kirk’s dedication to protecting his crew. We’d seen his love for the Enterprise itself and his fear that he’d be a bad captain represented in “The Naked Time.” We know that he relies on the logic of Mr. Spock and the medical expertise of Bones. And we know that while he may be demanding at times, he acts with the best intentions. Which does matter in this context! The worst we’ve seen of Kirk so far is his violence towards Spock in the previous episode, and even that? It was meant to snap Spock out of the grip that the virus from Psi 2000 held him in.
There is not a single aspect of this that relies on Kirk being evil. If this episode is a rumination on the struggle between good and evil, I don’t understand how on earth I’m meant to accept that we need our evil side in order to function. Now, if we’re talking about the dual morality of humankind, I’m on board. I’m willing to entertain an exploration of the difficulty of coping with everyone’s own internal morality. But is that we see here? I don’t think so. Instead, Kirk’s “good” side begins to lose his sense of discipline, confidence, and leadership. Those are evil qualities??? I don’t believe that?
Granted, I should admit that there’s a personal aspect to this I couldn’t get past. I’m a rape victim, one who was told by my first rapist that I shouldn’t fight him. I find it sloppy that Kirk’s “lust” is argued to be an integral part of his identity and that he can’t live without it. I’m pretty sure that given Kirk’s shocked reaction to what Rand reports, he’s not at all okay with that being a necessary element of himself. Wouldn’t anyone who discovered this aspect of themselves want to purge it? I realize that this episode was penned a long time ago, and I’m not expecting perfection from it either. But lord, this wasn’t done that well. Of course, there’s a problem with the whole trope of using rape to put women in peril, which unfortunately has become a pervasive trope in genre works. Science fiction specifically hasn’t historically dealt with consent well at all! So I don’t know that I accept how this premise is executed over the course of this episode. And I could have used something in the script to say that Spock’s treatment of Rand at the end of the episode was forty billion times not okay. Yo, dude, I get that you’re a logical being devoid of emotions, but why on earth would you tell her that some of the things Evil Kirk said to her were interesting? No. NOPE.
There’s certainly plenty else in “The Enemy Within” that I found entertaining, though. I refuse to apologize for my ridiculous behavior towards that dog-creature. I REFUSE. It’s just so endearing to see how this show deals with special effects and costumes because… y’all, it’s so CREATIVE. It’s a literal dog dressed up in an absurd outfit, and I accept it as an alien creature, wholeheartedly. HOW CAN YOU HATE IT?
The Shatner double is fantastic, too, as is THE BEST Bones/Spock/Kirk bickering scene so far. Actually, that scene – where Kirk ponders relinquishing control – was such a great chance to explore the dynamic between the three of them and how it began to deteriorate when Kirk lost his sense of agency. Ultimately, Kirk always makes his own decisions, even if he does listen to Bones and Spock often, and it was disturbing to see him unable to make a choice at all. YES, GOOD WRITING, I LOVED IT. My favorite part of this episode, however, was the music. I loved the use of two musical themes for each of Kirk’s identities, and that gentle pulse that added to the tension of a number of scenes. SUPER GREAT.
So! Not the best episode. William Shatner was a trip to watch here, though, and I expect that there will be a lot of gifs of his evil face cackling at me.
Just as a final note, please take care if you choose to engage with Yeoman Rand’s storyline. My mods and I are not going to tolerate people being insensitive about rape, especially when there are plenty of survivors/victims in this community. I encourage people to simply not address it at all, as sometimes, the best thing you can do is say nothing at all.
The video for “The Enemy Within” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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