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The Trek Nation - The Cloud Minders

The Cloud Minders

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 19, 2007 - 10:21 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Cloud Minders' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise arrives at the planet Ardana to pick up a shipment of zenite necessary to halt a deadly plague on another Federation world, but the zenite has been taken and hidden by the Troglytes - the working-class citizens of Ardana, who work in the mines, kitchens and repair stations while the upper-class leaders and intellectuals live in Stratos, a city in the clouds where life is entirely devoted to leisure. Plasus, the planetary leader, tells Kirk that the Troglytes are mentally inferior and tortures Vanna, a female leader of the rebels who was at one time a servant of himself and his daughter Droxine. But when Vanna attacks Kirk, he realizes that she is intelligent and committed to fighting for the rights of the Troglytes. He also learns from McCoy that the zenite being mined on the planet's surface emits an odorless gas that is affecting the intelligence and temperament of the miners. When Kirk offers Vanna masks in exchange for the zenite, she takes him hostage, but Kirk turns the tables on her and has Plasus beamed into the mine. When the gas begins to affect them all, both Vanna and Plasus are forced to realize that the differences between Troglytes and Stratos dwellers have been caused by the gas and major changes are necessary to repair their world. Kirk obtains the shipment of zenite and goes to cure the plague.


Analysis: If you're only going to watch one third-season Star Trek episode about the complications arising when the Enterprise must retrieve medicine to halt a plague, make it "Requiem for Methuselah" rather than this one. "The Cloud Minders" isn't as terrible as I had remembered from youth, for I recall hating it with the fiery heat of Vulcan's sun. During this re-viewing, it surprised me early on to find myself watching and finding the episode both relevant and interesting. And then Droxine arrived.

To be fair, Droxine herself is not really the problem. Yes, she's a thoughtless bimbo in an outrageously skimpy outfit with an annoying voice and even more annoying little-girl mannerisms, but she's by no means the most embarrassing portrayal of a futuristic woman on Star Trek. What's intolerable is that there is a character named "Spock" who interacts with her and says the most painfully idiotic things! He looks like the first officer of the Enterprise, and he appears to be played by Leonard Nimoy, but we get no explanation why he appears to be mentally diminished without even breathing the fumes from mining zenite. He goes ga-ga the moment he sees Droxine - his very first words to her are to call her a work of art, echoing her father's little joke, except Spock seems to believe it. He babbles to himself, thinking aloud that "the high advisor's charming daughter Droxine" is "incomparably beautiful and pleasant" like the rest of Stratos and wondering "if the lovely Droxine" could "retain such purity and sweetness of mind" if she knew of the suffering on the planet's surface.

And if that wasn't bad enough, this Vulcan who only spoke to Kirk about pon farr under the most dire of circumstances, swearing the captain to secrecy, telling him that it is a thing no offworlder may know and Vulcans do not even speak of it among themselves - Spock didn't even tell his doctor and good friend McCoy but left the chief medical officer to figure it out on his own! - this very same Vulcan sits and chats blithely with Droxine about it as a form of flirtation. "The seven-year cycle is biologically inherent in all Vulcans," he informs her pleasantly. "At that time, the mating drive outweighs all other motivations." When pouting Droxine then asks whether nothing can disturb that cycle, Spock announces, "Extreme feminine beauty is always disturbing, madam." It's important to note that Spock isn't chatting Droxine up in the hope of learning something useful about the Troglytes, her father or the zenite shipment, the way he opened up to the far more intelligent, sensitive and like-minded Romulan Commander while he was trying to distract her from Kirk's planned theft of the cloaking device. This is just Spock - SPOCK! - thinking with the wrong head.

And boy, does it diminish the episode. It makes Spock seem slow and stupid in other areas, such as his confusion about why the protestors would destroy artwork to make a statement about life on Stratos versus life on the surface. It makes an unfortunate contrast with Kirk's far more intelligent attempts to get through to Vanna, with whom the captain has far more chemistry than Spock displays with the work of art, since Kirk for once attempts to use both charm and logic at the same time. (Spock, bursting in on Vanna's unsuccessful abduction attempt at a point when Kirk is trying to find out why the Troglytes resent the Enterprise, asks whether he's interrupting anything!) Droxine, who seems reasonable if stupid at first, shows her true nature and tells Vanna that Troglyte eyes are not accustomed to light just as Troglyte minds are not accustomed to logic, and Spock just stands there listening while Kirk goes on a crusade for social justice that involves violating the Prime Directive in a variety of ways. Oh, Spock tries halfheartedly to convince Droxine that Troglytes can understand justice while Kirk is passionately objecting to Vanna's torture by the supposedly nonviolent Stratos dwellers, but he mostly sounds like a besotted egghead. It's no accident that Kirk is the one Plasus wants shot on sight if he returns.

I won't even get started on McCoy, who speaks casually of the fact that Troglyte intellect ratings are so low that he doesn't know why Kirk would bother negotiating directly with them before casually mentioning that mining zenite probably has something to do with why. It's no wonder Vanna and her allies won't trust these Federation buffoons! It's quite clever of Kirk to force Plasus to experience how the Troglytes live first-hand, ordering Spock to beam him into the mine where he has trapped himself and Vanna, but then he leaves to go cure his plague, wagging a finger and suggesting that some Federation bureau of industrialization might be helpful, ignoring the fact that Plasus didn't so much not believe that the zenite gas caused retardation as not care about what happened to the Troglytes. It seems apparent that ten seconds after Kirk beams up, Vanna is going right back into that torture device that one of her allies committed suicide to avoid and the Troglytes are staying down in the mines without their masks, where they'll likely never be able to organize a real revolution against those living in the clouds.

It's nice to see an episode that attempts to trace the causes and tactics of terrorism and how to deal with it. But these terrorists are preposterously idealistic despite the invisible gas that supposedly makes them hysterical - they attack sculptures rather than officials, they leap off buildings rather than using their mining tools for demolition, they have no plans to kill their hostages - The Next Generation's Bajorans, and later the various cultures fighting the Dominion War, provided far better parallels with real world events. And Plasus is portrayed as entirely hypocritical and unreasonable, not as a sympathetic man trying to protect a way of life he has inherited - his order to kill Kirk for asking too many questions underlines his pettiness and the sense that he knows he's up to something the Federation wouldn't approve of. Even assuming that the screening process to be admitted as a Federation member was it looser in Kirk's era than Picard's, it is hard to believe that a planet which in essence practices slavery was never asked any hard questions about its practices. I really can't be sorry that Kirk does break the Prime Directive!

There's potentially a really good episode here, in which a society that essentially practices the classical humanism of the ancient world (where the intellectuals could sit around writing plays and philosophy while others cleaned their latrines) comes up against the desperate situation of a plague and must evolve or die, but the plague is set off in the distance and the underlying issues are never brought to the front. We root for Kirk because the Stratos dwellers are such obvious villains despite being very pretty, but the larger questions of what standards have been and should be set for Federation worlds are left to the side in favor of Droxine asking Spock about his sex life. It's lazy, sloppy writing, yet another example of the slow slide into obscurity of Star Trek's third season.


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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.