In the fifth episode of the second season of Star Trek, the crew finds paradise, and then literally seconds later it’s the worst thing ever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Well, that was a weird one.
I think my ultimate problem with “The Apple” is that it raises so many interesting questions and then doesn’t answer any of them. The potential here is ridiculous, and I didn’t get a sense of closure or satisfaction from the story. But I admit I have complicated feelings about what happened here. It’s fascinating as much as it’s frustrating, and if this episode hadn’t shown as much promise as it did, then I probably wouldn’t have been so conflicted.
To start things off, it’s clear that it’s difficult to divorce “The Apple” from the notions of colonization and imperialism that are part of this story. My absolute favorite scene in this episode is between Spock and Bones as the two discuss whether or not they can intervene to help the people of Gamma Trianguli VI. Hell, are they even being saved if the crew does choose to intervene? So it’s important to discuss the affect the Prime Directive has on this. The missions the Enterprise are sent on are about mapping the galaxy and exploring new worlds. Occasionally, they have to intervene in conflicts to protect others, but by and large, I’d say they avoid being an imperialistic force.
But there’s still a fine line between being an explorer and an imperialist, and that line absolutely blurs here. When multiple crew members perish because of the acts of Vaal, they’re largely convinced that they need to end Vaal’s control over the people of this world. Except… lord, it’s so much more complicated than that! As much as the crew wanted to categorize these people as “primitive,” thereby making it easier to deal with them, is that really the right term for them? Vaal manipulated the atmosphere so that the people who fed him LITERALLY DID NOT AGE and changed the soil composition so that the crops were healthy and abundant. In exchange, the Feeders of Vaal fed Vaal when it was hungry. (Do you know how long it took me to figure out that they were feeding Vaal those explosive rocks? That wasn’t made abundantly clear to me.)
So there is an element of mutual benefit to this exchange, one that is clear when the crew interacts with the Feeders of Vaal. They’re pleased with their life, though that’s of course because they don’t know anything else. But this episode rightly asks an important question: Do they need to know anything else to maintain happiness? I admit that the metaphor used to explore this – that of the apple in the Garden of Eden – is executed sloppily. But I do find it intriguing! Was Vaal actively limiting their freedom? Perhaps, but only if you analyze their society through the lens of Earth culture, and even then, the Enterprise crew are thinking about it in their own terms of western democracy. If all the parties are deeply satisfied with their arrangement, then is it moral for these outsiders to rip apart their society?
Granted, the reason they’re even reacting the way they are is because people are dying. LOTS OF THEM. It’s clear that Vaal saw these outsiders as a threat to the order it had created on Gamma Trianguli VI, and so it began to get rid of them while sucking power out of the Enterprise. So I do understand that at the very least, the Enterprise crew had to retaliate in order to escape. Even if they had been able to communicate? It’s possible that Vaal would not have let them leave.
But it’s in thinking of this that a lot of this falls apart for me. If Vaal spoke through radio waves to communicate with Akuta, couldn’t any of them have intercepted that? If Vaal needed to consume those explosive rocks for power… how? How did that work? What was inside of Vaal? HOW THE FUCK DID AKUTA GET THOSE ANTANNAE INSTALLED? How did this whole thing start? Did Vaal manipulate the soil to create those rocks? Because if that’s true, then wouldn’t it have eventually ran out of a power source? Because of this – and I admit that my overthinking the issue is why this doesn’t work for me – I began to believe that there had to be someone or some thing inside of that cave controlling everything. I mean… right??? Because I don’t understand how a semi-intelligent computer could do everything here. That reveal left me feeling unsatisfied and confused, and it was only made worse once Vaal is destroyed, and the people left behind are literally left behind with virtually no help or assistance or guidance. And I think that’s supremely fucked up. Even if they disagreed with Vaal’s existence in these beings’ lives, to just eliminate Vaal and leave this horrible vacuum behind seems rather crass of them.
Instead, the episode plays up the humor of kissing and sex because Chekov and Landon somehow find a planet that assassinates people to be the optimal make out zone. SORRY THAT IS AN UNFORGIVABLE DETAIL. The fact that any of these people still thought Gamma Trianguli VI was still a paradise AFTER A FLOWER SHOT A MAN TO DEATH is unfathomable to me, but apparently, it’s the perfect place to be romantic! No. NO.
Now, I didn’t think this was a terrible episode by any means. It’s just… it was weird. It’s hard to follow up “Mirror, Mirror” with this, but regardless of that, it’s still a strange story that could have done a lot more with the premise than it did.
The video for “The Apple” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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