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July 13 2024


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The Paradise Syndrome

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at August 18, 2006 - 4:21 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Paradise Syndrome' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When Kirk beams down to an idyllic planet being threatened by an asteroid on a collision course, he inadvertently triggers an alien obelisk that erases much of his memory. While he is rescued and taken into a native encampment, where he is assumed to be a god from the ancient temple, Spock must cancel searches for the captain to take the Enterprise to try to destroy the asteroid before it can destroy the planet. Kirk saves a drowned child with artificial respiration, is granted the title of medicine chief and betrothed to the priestess Miramanee, whose resentful previous fiancé refuses to believe that he is a god and who leads the people of the village against Kirk when he cannot stop the skies from darkening as the asteroid approaches. Meanwhile, the Enterprise fails to shatter the asteroid in space and returns to the planet, which Spock hopes the obelisk may hold the key to saving. He and McCoy rescue Kirk from the furious mob and discover how to use the obelisk to deflect the asteroid, but Miramanee dies from the injuries she received while trying to protect Kirk.

Analysis: I had remembered "The Paradise Syndrome" as a less-than-terrific but reasonably diverting episode, with beautiful location scenery and a willful heroine, so it surprised me how much I disliked it this time around. McCoy tells Kirk at the outset that he's suffering from Tahiti Syndrome, a condition common to overworked leaders who long for a life that's peaceful, uncomplicated, "no problems, no command decisions", but it looks to me like Kirk - who kills everyone and everything he encounters that's treated like a god, from Landru to Vaal to Apollo - shares the fantasy McCoy expressed in "Bread and Circuses" of beaming down to a planet, declaring himself to be the Messiah and being worshipped with gifts, adulation and (in this case) the sexual favors of the prettiest girl around. It's pretty much exactly what Apollo wanted from the Enterprise crew, which Kirk resisted as being deadly to human progress.

The whole thing smacks of imperialism and it isn't pleasant to see Kirk stripped of his memories, rank and most skills yet maintaining a belief that he knows what is best for everyone and can do whatever is demanded of him, even if it requires godlike powers. No sooner does he arrive among these transplanted American Indians, brought to this planet in ancient times by a group Spock calls The Preservers and living very similarly to the way their ancestors did on Earth, than he's inventing the lamp they never developed for themselves, teaching them irrigation and what he considers to be efficient farming techniques, disrupting a social pattern by which they have lived for untold generations. By the time the episode goes hurtling over the top, with William Shatner shouting, "I AM KIROK!" (as Kirk calls himself on the planet), apparently believing that this alone will cause an asteroid to divert from its path, it's impossible for me to root for him.

And while Miramanee is reasonably self-possessed, making it clear to Salish that she chooses Kirk because she desires him as much as because it is her obligation as priestess to marry the medicine chief, she's awfully close to being one of the child-women for which Kirk shows an unhappy fondness: women like Shahna from "The Gamesters of Triskelion" and Rayna from "Requiem for Methuselah" who are blank slates sexually and naïve in the ways of the world, women to whom he can feel safely superior. To some extent even Edith Keeler fits this model, because Kirk can rest secure that he knows so much more than she does about the future of her era.

I try hard not to see Kirk simply as a skanky womanizer, particularly during the later episodes when his bedpost notches go up significantly. He clearly has respect for Uhura and Chapel's abilities, but he also takes a nasty kind of pleasure in bringing down powerful women like Sylvia from "Catspaw" and Kelinda in "By Any Other Name", even Lenore Karidian before he realizes that she's more pathetic child than femme fatale, and his preferred lovers of this era tend to be stereotypically needy, subservient or both. Two women from Kirk's younger days - Areel Shaw of "Court-Martial" and Carol Marcus of The Wrath of Khan - are notably stronger and smarter than this. Yet if Miramanee represents Kirk's fantasy of an idyllic relationship - a woman who takes pleasure in serving him like an acolyte to a god, whom he teases that he doesn't want to cook for him all day because it would interfere with their lovemaking, whose greatest gift as far as he's concerned is getting pregnant with their child, it's really quite unappealing. Compare it with Spock's liaison of just a week earlier with the Romulan Commander, who is his social and intellectual equal, and Kirk seems an embarrassment.

Which is not to say that "The Paradise Syndrome" doesn't have its pleasures. We hear tantalizing hints of a theme explored much more thoroughly in The Next Generation about ancient aliens who seeded DNA throughout the universe - in this case, according to Spock, Navajo, Mohican, and Delaware Native Americans - and see a culture that has apparently thrived in peace for untold centuries, without the hints of underlying strife and dissatisfaction from places like Tyree's world in "A Private Little War." It's a little annoying that they're dependent for safety on an alien artifact they can no longer use, but the obelisk is one of Star Trek's unforgettable unexplained mysteries, which even Spock's logic can only begin to crack in the many days it takes the Enterprise to return to the planet.

This episode also has beautiful scenery, with makeup and costumes that hold up well in high-definition (more than can be said for the miniature asteroid or the Styrofoam rocks hurled at Kirk and Miramanee). The struggle between Kirk and Salish with a river and mountains visible through the trees is certainly the loveliest fight sequence on this series, and Salish himself is an imposing adversary, strong-voiced and attractive; it's a shame Kirk remembered his Academy training well enough to trounce him in single combat so quickly. Miramanee seems strong and independent in large part because Sabrina Scharf plays her so well, to the point that it's hard to believe she could be killed by the same rocks from which McCoy saved Kirk so easily. If only we'd been given more of an opportunity to see Miramanee acting as a priestess, working with the tribal elders or even debating some of Kirk's plans to "improve" their civilization!

The other virtues of the episode are the scenes between Spock and McCoy, increasingly adversarial as Spock makes the necessary decision to abandon Kirk on the planet to try to save everyone else who lives there, then conciliatory as McCoy realizes that Spock may be punishing himself for his inability to destroy the asteroid, which may cost the lives of everyone on the planet and the ship. It's interesting watching Spock become more comfortable with human emotions as the series progresses, both those of others and the ones he won't quite admit to having himself. Spock may believe that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, but when Kirk is the one, he clearly wrestles with obeying this philosophy. And McCoy's quiet compassion for Spock's dilemma and later Kirk's loss is beautifully, quietly underplayed by DeForest Kelley.

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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.

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