Mark Watches ‘Star Trek’: S03E03 – The Paradise Syndrome

In the third episode of the third episode of Star Trek, I did not think this show could do worse than “The Omega Glory” or the finale of “Spock’s Brain,” but lo and behold. This happened. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For talk of racism, racial stereotypes relating to indigenous people, and sexism.

Oh my god, fuck this episode.

What can you say about this endless disaster that hasn’t already been said? I’m sure that I’m not saying anything original here, and I feel even more confident that this is one of those episodes that most of fandom grimaces when they think of. Here’s the thing: even if you ignore the horrific racism built into this episode (AND THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO DO), it is still an abysmal story that makes no sense. Why is the Enterprise even here? If they’re so ignorant about the inhabitants of this planet, why are they trying to stop the asteroid? Why is no one concerned about the blatant violation of the Prime Directive? What’s with the bullshit claim that the Preservers scattered people about the universe? How can a person have amnesia like this but remember things like mouth-to-mouth or how to irrigate or how to make lamps or how to do ANY OF THE THINGS KIRK DOES HERE? How did this script ever make it onto the air, and how did anyone participating in it allow it to happen???

It’s a shame that all of the Spock/Bones scenes are stuck within “The Paradise Syndrome” because they’re genuinely intriguing. I love the idea that Spock has to cope with making a judgment call that resulted in something terrible. I love that Spock might actually be dealing with guilt. I adore whenever Spock and Bones have to work together like this!

But it doesn’t even remotely negate the endless parade of awful that was on my screen. I have never seen so many proudly-used racist tropes for Native Americans. There’s noble savagery. There’s the idealization of their “simpler” times. There’s the deliberate portrayal of these people as simpletons who can’t comprehend anything complex or intelligent. Then they’re violent towards the white hero because they’re actually violent at their core! Then we’ve got a white actress in brownface. Then we’ve got one of the most blatant white savior stories I have ever seen in my life. Kirk is literally worshipped as a god! He saves their children and makes their lives better than they were before and WHY ISN’T ANYONE FREAKING OUT ABOUT HOW THE PRIME DIRECTIVE WAS JUST DESTROYED?

You’ve got costumes that are just a hodgepodge of stereotypes. You’ve got an antagonist who is COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED THE ENTIRE TIME, but he’s never portrayed sympathetically. Then you’ve got one of the worst writing choices in Star Trek history: Miramanee instantly falls in love with Kirk, they get married (for real!!!!), AND SHE BECOMES PREGNANT WITH KIRK’S CHILD. The horrific implications of this in relation to American history is bad enough, but then you’ve got the miscegenation angle that was STILL A VERY REAL THING in the late 60s, and I can’t fucking believe this ever happened. Of course, because this is episodic television, and because the white hero cannot be tarnished by what happened on this planet, and because the woman is nothing more than a momentary plot development in this episode, the writers kill her and her unborn child off at the hands of the indigenous people. By the end of “The Paradise Syndrome,” Captain Kirk’s two month vacation away from the pressures of command, he is able to leave without having to be responsible for anything he’s done. A woman and her child are dead, this culture has been irrevocably changed and altered, and Kirk gets the dramatic swell of music, the romantic postures, and the sweeping heroism all wrapped up for him because he’s our white hero. It’s a stunning combination of racism and sexism, all meant to inspire sadness and sympathy.

Make no mistake: This is not a misstep. To claim this would imply that this was some sort of accident, a silly mistake and nothing more. Hollywood has been trotting out horrific stereotypes of the indigenous people in this country for a long time, and they often make it seem like these are a people from a time long past, ignoring the fact that indigenous Americans are still here. The casting of a white woman as a Native brown woman is not an accident either, and neither was the choice to portray Kirk as a hero. Someone consciously made that choice and denied an indigenous actress a chance to play her own kind. Which would not have alleviated the problems of the script, of course! This still would have been a racist disaster that invoked pretty much every negative trope imaginable. But the episode wasn’t created in a vacuum devoid of the prejudices of American society. No, you can see them all trotted out onscreen in this procession of mistruths and lies and bigotry. It’s awful, utterly so, and there’s nothing here that could quite possibly redeem the experience. It’s an abysmal story placed within a racist framework, and it’s a perfect example of how white writers can fail when writing about cultures that aren’t their own.

They put themselves at the center of them.

The video for “The Paradise Syndrome” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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