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Retro Review: The Lorelei Signal

Posted by Michelle - 06/05/11 at 12:05 pm


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Star Trek: The Animated Series

Season: 01 Episode: 04 (s01e04)

Original US airdate: 09/29/1973

The Enterprise visits a planet where a race of seductive women suck the life force out of men to remain alive.

Plot Summary: The Enterprise is sent to a region of space where a starship has disappeared once every 27 years. A signal from the Taurean system makes all the men begin to hallucinate visions of beautiful women. Kirk and Spock lead a landing party to a planet where they find the beautiful women, but the women drug them, take their equipment, and force them to wear headbands which drain their life force. McCoy estimates that at the rate they are aging, they will die within days. Spock manages to find a communicator and beg the Enterprise for an all-female rescue party. Meanwhile, on the ship, Uhura takes over command from Scotty, who like the other men on the ship is lost in visions. She and Chapel lead a team of women to the surface, where they threaten to destroy the women’s civilization if the men are not freed. The Taurean women explain that their race came from a dying planet and discovered that the Taurean atmosphere drained life force from the men while making the women able to take in the men’s energy. Every 27 years they must revitalize their own energy, so they lure in a starship and drain the life force from the men. Spock suggests using the molecular patterns in the Enterprise’s transporter logs to restore the men to their original pre-aged condition, and Uhura tells the Taurean women that they can be moved to a planet where they will live out normal humanoid lives.

Analysis: I have such a love/hate relationship with “The Lorelei Signal.” On the one hand, Lieutenant Uhura ends up in command of the ship, with Christine Chapel the chief medical officer – perhaps this experience is why Chapel ultimately decided to become a doctor. On the other hand, this female empowerment is contingent on a device so inherently sexist and heterosexist that it embarrasses me to think about it. Apparently women only get to command Kirk’s Enterprise when every single man on board is thinking with the little head – Scotty doesn’t even protest when Uhura deems him unfit for duty, he’s too busy daydreaming – and then every single man wants exactly the same thing, a young, long-haired blonde in a low-cut pantsuit with no particular personality or talent. Meanwhile, the Taurean culture, which apparently became a matriarchy only when the men were wiped out, is willing to accept change, leave behind everything they’ve built, and give up immortality not because of an abhorrence for surviving on murder, but because none of the women can fall in love or have babies.

It’s a very odd mix of titillation and timidity even for Star Trek, which for all its dancing green-skinned girls has always been prudish and backward rather than progressive about sexuality. I realize that it’s a cartoon and therefore intended for an audience of children, but if they’re going to see women used as sex objects to lure men to their deaths, they could probably handle something resembling real human behavior. You’d think that, rather than slacking on duty by daydreaming, the men would have been knocking each other out of the way in their haste to get to the transporter room and beam down to the planet of the sirens, and you’d think that there might have been some harassment of the women on the ship. Maybe the Taurean effects weaken in space, because otherwise, how come the women on the ship don’t start developing the same ability to drain life energy from the crewmen? The four men who do beam down seem less overwhelmed with desire than lazy and gluttonous, happy to enjoy a big meal on a pretty planet surrounded by attractive attendants. One gets the impression that regular shore leave might have saved all those starships from temptation.

There’s too much in common with the original series episode “Wink of an Eye,” in which a female-dominated culture also needs men, though in that case it’s only to reproduce (and there is actual sex – it’s the episode in which Kirk is seen putting his boots back on afterward). The Scalosians, too, plan to work their way through all the men on the ship, and aren’t nearly as foolish as the Taureans, who can’t find Kirk and the others on foot when they hide in a big urn-like installation in their temple, then reveal to Uhura that they have a device that can track the men which they apparently didn’t think to use earlier. I don’t really blame the Taurean women for being bimbos, they’re a victim of bad writing, just as it’s not Theela’s fault that she sounds exactly like Chapel, that’s just low-cost casting.

And I’ll overlook the silliness of the Immortality Gland that lets women absorb life energy from men, but the episode really drops the ball on Scotty’s transporter manipulation which allows aged crewmembers to beam back into their youthful bodies. Is there any reason one couldn’t take a person who has aged in a normal manner and beam him or her back into a youthful transporter pattern for his or her body? Now there is immortality! Of course, the way women are written in this franchise, they’d just use it to stave off wrinkles rather than to build great civilizations or create art or anything like that. It’s very frustrating that women are rarely empowered without it expressly being at the expense of men – even the revisionist Orion Slave Girl history on Enterprise simply reverses the roles. And all they ever really want is love and offspring. Not that either one is a bad thing, but can’t they have all the fun the men get to have, too? Why can’t Uhura end up in command not because it has to be a woman, but because her communication skills make her the obvious person to lead missions?

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