In the twenty-fifth episode of the first season of Star Trek, the Enterprise is asked to help with a monster preying on miners. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
THIS IS THE GREATEST, I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT WHAT THIS EPISODE CHOOSES TO BE. LET US DISCUSS THE REASONS WHY.
Here’s a format that sci-fi/genre shows will use for YEARS to come: people are plagued by a monster! Let’s call in the experts to deal with it because WE CAN’T. It’s basically a proto-X-File, as far as I’m concerned. It is! Just stick Mulder and Scully in this episode, and you’ve got the exact same dynamic between Bones, Spock, and Kirk. It’s perfect, someone go write this fanfic.
The use of Janus VI is brilliant for a number of reasons. It’s exciting! I loved the matte backgrounds that suggested an enormity to the place. But for an episode that’s largely about trying to find a murderous monster, I couldn’t imagine a better place to put this than a claustrophobic mine. The whole episode has this grim, dark feel to it, and once we find out what the creature is, it’s even more fitting that “The Devil in the Dark” is set in a gem-mining facility. But that also provides a thematic advantage to the plot: the people mining here have a bottom line to meet, and it informs the way they initially treat the Horta and her offspring. Their job is ultimately more important than anything else. It also affects their interactions with Captain Kirk, as well as adds tension to the whole narrative. Once the circulation pump is stolen, there’s more suspense because of the threat of evacuation. Basically? It all comes together thematically and visually, making this one of the strongest episodes this season.
A Threat to Science
I offer up this theory: If Spock had not been so vocal about his own refusal to kill the Horta because she was the last of her species, I don’t think Captain Kirk would have taken the path he did with the creature. Over these twenty-five episodes, I’ve watched how Captain Kirk relies on Spock and Bones to inform his decisions, and the best parts are when they help him out without him necessarily realizing that they make him a better captain. Kirk went into those tunnels and caves with one goal in mind, and that was to exterminate the threat to the pergium mining. It was through Spock’s suggestion that Kirk began to consider that killing this rare creature might actually do more harm than good.
The Creature Itself
If the Horta had not been designed to be fairly hideous to a human, I also don’t think this would have worked as well as it did. One of the neat things about how this story unfolds is that on the surface, the Horta is ugly, intensely violent, and rather creepy. We have no other context for it, though! We just know that it rapidly sneaks up on people, blankets them in a ton of corrosive fluid, and the victim burns down to virtually nothing. I love monster movies that wait to show you the creature, but only when it’s pulled off well. And this one definitely is. It’s just so much weirder than I expected! But that’s the whole point. The Horta is not a cute, cuddly creature, so it’s harder for these people to sympathize with it, to understand it, or to anthropomorphize it.
Which is why Spock is so important.
Just stunning, y’all. Leonard Nimoy absolutely sells the scene, since he’s able to convey the intense pain and sadness that the mother Horta is going through. It’s one of those things that is ludicrous to describe, but the actual scene is heartfelt and powerful. Spock mind-melding with the Horta is definitely going to be one of the best things this show ever did. Plus, the act is a way to allow these characters to understand the Horta. In Spock’s case, it’s more like empathy, since he feels what the Horta feels.
I still think it’s hilarious that Captain Kirk requested that Bones come down to level 23 for a “patient” that needed help, but decided not to tell Bones what he’d be working on. The look on Bones’s face alone was totally worth it. But can we talk about how incredible Bones is? He comes up with a way to make a cement cast of sorts for the Horta’s wound, and he doesn’t question it. He just dives in to the strangest case he’s ever had, and he makes it happen.
I love these characters so much.
The resolution to this plot is charming and a great allegory for respecting what’s lived before you. Kirk successfully convinces the foreman and his fellow miners that they need to live in symbiosis with the Horta and her offspring, not only because this is their only habitat, but because they can benefit from their existence. It reverses the perception these people had of the creature. We were meant to fear the Horta in the early scenes, and I definitely fell right into that. But this creature was only defending herself and lashing out in despair after the miners broke into her lair and killed many of her young before they hated. It re-contextualizes what we’d seen before.
It’s not lost on me that this theme of working together also applies to Spock, Kirk, and Bones. This episode is almost entirely about the three of them, and the reason they were able to pull off what they did was because they worked together. Spock used his mind-meld; Bones used his medical knowledge; and Kirk used his sense of reason and courage. Plus, Spock came to respect the Horta for being such a logical creature, and I refuse to be bored by all the beautiful jokes made at Spock’s expense. IT’S SO WONDERFUL.
The video for “The Devil in the Dark” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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