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The Trek Nation - The Apple

The Apple

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 20, 2006 - 9:29 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Apple' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: After a scouting mission reports unusual readings from Gamma Trianguli VI, Kirk is ordered to investigate the planet. He leads a landing party that at first believes it has found a paradise, only to lose security officers one by one - the first to a plant that shoots deadly spores, another to a lightning bolt that seems to have been aimed right at him, yet another to an exploding rock. Yet the planet's inhabitants are peaceful and childlike; their leader, Akuta, weeps when Kirk strikes him. Akuta, who calls himself "the eyes of Vaal", explains that they live to serve a godlike being who appears to them as a giant stone serpent but which Spock determines to be an underground computer of immense sophistication. Because Vaal controls everything from the weather to the bacteria on the planet, the Feeders of Vaal do not age or die - nor do they reproduce. Vaal orders the Enterprise officers killed and tries to knock the ship itself from orbit by draining the antimatter pods, but Kirk realizes that Vaal requires the Feeders' offerings of food in a very real sense for sustenance to power its reactions. After refusing to allow Vaal to be fed, Kirk has Scotty destroy the computer with the ship's phasers and tells the Feeders of Vaal that they are better off growing, having children and dying.


Analysis: The score is now Kirk: 3, God: 0...or perhaps Kirk: 4, depending on whether you count the godlike computer Landru in the same category as the godlike computer Vaal. It's hard to evade similarities between "The Apple" and such episodes as "The Return of the Archons", "This Side of Paradise" and the very recent "Who Mourns for Adonais?" - all involve themes concerning at what point an alien or artificial influence's powers might be considered godlike, and all illustrate clearly Kirk's values about what makes a living, thriving civilization...something he places ahead of Starfleet's noninterference directive.

Because of these similarities and because of some cheesiness in the script and filming (that red sky, the plastic plants and the papier-mâché head of Vaal are particularly ill-served by the clarity of DVD), "The Apple" is not a particularly good episode. It is, nonetheless, an enjoyable one, if a guilty pleasure. Personally, I can watch it just for the scene where Spock yells "JIM!" and flings himself into the path of the deadly flower spores, which fortunately don't act as quickly on green blood as red; immediately afterward, McCoy saves him with an injection, Kirk lectures Spock on the illogic of not simply shouting for him to get out of the way and Spock complains that McCoy's cure is turning his stomach. There are several such entertaining moments among the central trinity, another being when Vaal hits Spock with a lightning bolt and Kirk must carry him back to the Feeders' camp, where McCoy comments that the burn must sting, leading Spock to snap that the doctor has a talent for understatement.

Kirk is cross with himself for much of the episode, apparently believing that he should have been able to tell that the planet held hidden hazards; the red-shirted body count for "The Apple" is rather high even for the original series which regularly disposed of interchangeable ensigns. The exception in this case is Chekov's girlfriend-of-the-week, Yeoman Landon, who gives him an excuse to brag about the talents of the Russians and an opportunity to demonstrate hanky-panky to the followers of Vaal, for whom love is forbidden, inspiring two of them (including a young man played by David Soul, later of Starsky and Hutch fame) to try it out.

There is so much that is unclear to me about these seemingly perfect specimens who apparently have no sexual impulses, even the sort that lead human children to play doctor. Do the women menstruate? If so, don't they wonder what for? If not, can Kirk and McCoy be so certain that they could reproduce if only they'd try? I won't get into wondering about evidence of male fertility, though the passionate prudery of "The Apple" is quite amusing; Landon can't even say the word "sex" in the course of a clinical discussion about it, and there's a gooey equation of sex and love that seems rather disingenuous. The Feeders of Vaal understand affection and warmth toward one another; what's missing is physical intimacy, and perhaps it's a sign of my own fallen state that I find it impossible to believe someone wouldn't have figured out some aspects of it, like kissing, without having to watch Chekov and Landon demonstrate.

Kirk is less concerned with the natives discovering that they are naked than with everything else that goes along with the knowledge of good and evil, which he seems to feel is a great loss to them. He sees no irony in the fact that one of their first new lessons in untold millennia is how to kill, as Vaal gives Akuta rudimentary instructions in bashing the strangers' skulls in. Of course it doesn't take trained Starfleet officers long to defend themselves, though not before the loss of yet another red-shirt, but can a machine as sophisticated as Vaal really think that such a discovery will begin and end with strangers? Now that the Feeders have found out about love and death, it's a pretty sure bet that desire, jealousy, passion and frustration will follow, and these children have learned to murder without having any context for right and wrong.

Thus, while Kirk clearly violates the Prime Directive ten different ways, it's harder to condemn him for such here as it is elsewhere. The seeds of dramatic change for this society are sown as soon as Starfleet orders contact with the planet, for Vaal feels threatened and makes his people change accordingly. Kirk, Spock and McCoy joke at the end about the demon who ruined paradise, with Spock implying that it was Kirk (for destroying Vaal) and Kirk implying that it was Spock (for having pointed ears), but the serpent in this garden really is the obvious one, the one who teaches his followers to kill. What's doubly interesting is that he is in a very real sense God: he controls the weather, the soil, the plants, he has made his people immortal and content.

And Kirk hates him for it. For all his grousing about how paradise isn't (he's upset about the exploding rocks and stuff, while McCoy wryly jokes, "Well, there goes paradise" when he finds out that sex - err, love - is forbidden), Kirk despises the idea of people living placid and happy like the humans in the aptly named "This Side of Paradise." He insists, "We owe it to them to interfere!" His selfish reasons for wanting to do so get oddly repressed; Vaal has after all trapped his ship and is bringing it down, leading to a funny yet bittersweet moment where Kirk tells Scotty that he's fired for being unable to work one of his usual miracles. It would almost be easier to swallow Kirk attacking Vaal for the same reasons he attacked Apollo, for threatening his people, than because this society is not conforming to his personal standard of growth and development. It's all the more troubling that he leaves without even the token team of advisors like the ones in "Miri" to counsel the childlike natives left to figure it all out for themselves in Kirk's brave new world.

It's hard to take the episode quite so seriously, though, given the bright red smiling natives, the instant thunderstorms and the exploding rocks. My son announced when the red-shirt was fried by lighting that there was nothing left but a pile of ashes, just like when Pizza the Hutt used acid on the miners in "The Devil in the Dark." Who can help giggling a little?


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.