Kirk and Kara continue to argue over the disposition of Spock’s brain. When Scotty provides a distraction, Kirk recovers his phaser, though even with the tables turned, she is no more cooperative. Seemingly at an impasse, McCoy volunteers to put the Teacher on and perform the surgery that will save Spock. Spock, however, warns that the differences between Human and Eymorg anatomy may prove too much, that the Teacher could do as much harm as good to McCoy. But the doctor insists, and so they proceed. Newly imbued with knowledge, McCoy races against the clock to complete the operation. As Kara frets about her people’s future, Kirk assured her that they won’t die. They’ll simply have to learn to fend for themselves, just as the Morgs have. Suddenly, McCoy realizes he’s losing the knowledge from the Teacher. With Spock’s vocal chords and speech center reconnected, the Vulcan is luckily able to talk the doctor through what remains of the procedure. With the surgery complete, Spock begins to explain the history of the local culture and the episode mercifully ends.
Well, that was rough.
Before launching into the summary, I asked, essentially, whether or not ‘Spock’s Brain’ “holds up.” In the sense that it is not, in fact, a secret classic, diamond in the rough, or any other sort of overlooked gem you care to name, yeah, it holds up. When they told you ‘Spock’s Brain’ was bad, they were not lying.
Now, I will admit (as I often do) that I’ve had sort of a longstanding fascination with ‘Spock’s Brain’. When I was first discovering ‘Star Trek’, one of the ways I saw new episodes was by renting the VHS releases from Blockbuster. Yes. I’m that old. Now, my neighborhood Blockbuster had four episodes available, ‘A Piece of the Action’, ‘The Devil in the Dark’, ‘The Doomsday Machine’, and ‘The Ultimate Computer’. These tapes also included “next episode” trailers, though for whatever reason they were massively out of sequence. So according to this arcane logic, once of these tapes (I can’t for the life of me recall which) included a promo for ‘Spock’s Brain’. I remember being taken by the absurdity of it and to this day Kara’s reading of “Brain and brain! What is brain?!” is lodged in my own brain, with a mixture of bemusement at the fact that this is a scene that exists and amazement that Marj Dusay was ever able to deliver that line with a straight face.
Sometimes that nostalgia is enough to save an episode, or at least leave me with a certain affection I probably wouldn’t have based purely on its merits. That’s just not the case here. Much of that is down to the sheer absurdity of the episode’s premise. Not even the ticking clock established in the first act is enough to maintain a sense of tension, though it’s not for lack of trying. The whole thing is just that ridiculous. To be sure, it’s not without its moments. And it is enjoyable in a “bad movie night” sort of way. But make no mistake, this is the farthest thing from a good episode. One shudders to think how dire it might’ve been without Gene Coon’s influence.
Ah, but I can’t let this episode go without mentioning the sexism. Boy howdy, the sexism. If you’re the sort of person who gets a kick out of reading the Lee/Kirby ‘Fantastic Four’ comics and picking out all the times Reed voices some… let’s say “outdated attitudes” toward Sue, then this is the episode for you! To be sure, ‘Star Trek’ was never immune to a bit of Sixties Sexism, but ‘Spock’s Brain’ is positively dripping with it. Just look at the dynamic between the Morgs and Eymorgs. Sure, there’s potential in a civilization that’s been sex segregated for thousands of years, but in this case? It’s handled in quite possibly the most stereotypical way possible. Brutish, borderline articulate men on the one hand, and helpless, idiot women on the other. And when I say “idiot women,” I’m not setting out to be degrading. The portrayal of the Eymorgs goes beyond merely childlike. Suffice to say that when Luma says “I know nothing about a brain,” you believe her. You know how we sometimes say “it’s like the episode isn’t even trying to be subtle”? Well in this case, it’s like the episode saw subtlety and then ran screaming in the opposite direction. And speaking of a lack of subtlety, there’s the remarkably paternalistic attitude with which Kirk upends the Eymorgs’ entire civilization. While he’s not wrong that generations of dependency on a computer have left them stymied and dysfunctional, that doesn’t make him any less condescending about the whole thing. It’s a very “white man’s burden” state of affairs, and suffice to say, I expect better from ‘Star Trek’.
But enough about ‘Spock’s Brain’, what does your brain have to say? Did you like the episode? If you did, why? I am genuinely curious. Enlighten us all in the comments, and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next installment of ‘Final Frontier Friday’!