Mark Watches ‘Star Trek’: S02E11 – Friday’s Child

In the eleventh episode of the second season of Star Trek, Bones, Spock, and Captain Kirk must navigate an increasingly complex negotiation that’s further complicated by confusing cultural norms and the presence of a Klingon. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Trigger Warning: For talk of violence and consent.

This was a surprisingly layered episode, one that packs a whole lot into just an hour, and like “Journey to Babel,” it also just works. There are certainly a few weird moments along the way, but I think that’s intentional. There’s supposed to be an element of culture shock to “Friday’s Child,” and instead of demonizing the Capellans, we get a chance to try and understand this culture.

Multiculturalism is at the heart of Star Trek in a lot of ways, since the Enterprise is supposed to be categorizing the races and species in the universe. At the same time, the Federation plays into a narrative of imperialism at times, and I think this episode shows us how the Federation’s need for growth can easily clash with the cultures they come across. The negotiations in “Friday’s Child” felt fairly similar to the ones in the previous episode, since the agreement being discussed would cover a mining contract. The Federation has material needs, and they offer up their protection in exchange for those goods and services. I do think it’s important that the Federation is determined to respect sovereignty here, and it is the prime difference between them and the Klingons.

But just because you intend to be a positive force doesn’t always mean you end up being one. This episode opens with a shocker when we discover a Klingon has already beat the Enterprise to the Capellans, and a crewmember violates the world’s customs and is promptly killed. BY FLYING DISCS OF MURDER. And thus, the negotiations are off to the worst start possible before THEY EVEN TECHNICALLY START. It makes matters a lot more difficult than they already were, and that’s not even taking into account the Klingon.

When negotiations do begin, it was clear to me that the Enterprise had walked into a disaster, one they’d have to be delicate about if they were going to succeed in obtaining a contract. The Capellans value honesty above most things, but their brutal society also values strength in all its forms. So it’s appealing to them to deal with a Klingon, who doesn’t offer up anything that contradicts their own customs and mores. Let’s be real here: If it weren’t for Bones’s familiarity with the Capellans, the negotiations wouldn’t have lasted beyond the initial meeting. Bones is the one who keeps everything held together. (Barely, I should say, but a lot of what happens here is clearly out of his control.)

Namely, it’s Bones’s interactions with Eleen that help make this episode so personal and ultimately saves the day. Through Eleen, we learn of some of the more shocking aspects of Capellan culture, namely that once her husband was killed, she had to be killed, too, since she carried Akaar’s heir. She submits to her own death with absolutely no reluctance at all, and it deeply upsets the Enterprise crew. That’s how they discover another cultural more: no man is allowed to touch a Teer’s wife at any time. Honestly, this is just one disaster after another, isn’t it?

But there’s nothing else here that was potentially as disturbing as the entire subplot involving Eleen and her baby. Bones states quite outright that Eleen despises her child, and while little reason is given for this, it’s easy to assume that this is because of her culture. It’s an incredibly difficult subject to breach, but for the most part, I actually think the show handled it well. We had a context for her behavior, and the scenes between Bones and Eleen were mostly played for humor, which helped to avoid demonizing her for being different and having different values from humans. It’s not always done well. That moment when Bones slapped Eleen was really jarring to watch, though I think a case could be made that the Capellans value displays of brutality, so Bones knew that. But still, that has a much different implication when you’re watching it on television, especially since she’s protesting Bones touching her and he refuses to respect that she doesn’t consent to it. Yeah, that was a bit too uncomfortable for my tastes.

Things got a bit muddier in the final third of this episode. I found myself not at all interested in the subplot involving the Enterprise being led away from the planet by a fake signal. I figured it out pretty quickly, and it seemed to have no bearing on any characterization. It was just a method to prevent Captain Kirk from communicating with anyone. As for Eleen’s motivations, I think I understood what she wanted to do here. After she gave birth, she had a moment of clarity and knew she couldn’t raise that child, or maybe she didn’t want it. But she surprised me when she said she killed her child and the Earth men. If her plan had succeeded and Kras had not intervened, she would have spared all of their lives, which I interpret as being a huge deviation from Capellan culture. Had Bones affected her that much over the course of this episode? Or was it convenient for her to just leave that all behind and offer herself up to death?

It’s a bit confusing, and I do wish the script was a little more direct here. Still, the ending is a happy one, since Eleen comes to accept her child, names it after Kirk and Bones, and Spock is utterly annoyed with everything because of it. Really, the exploration of a culture that was so drastically different than human culture was what made this episode so fascinating. It’s ambitious to attempt this much worldbuilding in just a single hour, but any worldbuilding that gives people those adorable blonde ponytails is fine by me.

The video for “Friday’s Child” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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