The three officers discuss their situation in their room when suddenly they are summoned – and by “summoned” I mean “telekinetically dragged” – to Parmen’s throne room. Upon arriving, Philana gifts them a variety of Greek artifacts as thanks for saving Parmen. Parmen himself apologizes for his earlier behavior and promises that the Enterprise will be released shortly. As the landing party turns to leave, however, he stops them to ask that McCoy stay behind. After another, more heated exchange, they once again turn to leave, but McCoy realizes he can’t move. Parmen has no intention of letting the doctor go. He drags McCoy to his side and forces Kirk and Spock to don laurels, dance, and generally humiliate themselves. This includes forcing Kirk to grovel and Spock to laugh and cry. As the second act ends, Kirk is on all fours whinnying like a horse as Alexander rides him around the room.
Later, the three are recovering from their earlier ordeal – both physically and emotionally – when McCoy offers to stay behind in order to secure the safety of his friends. Kirk scoffs at the notion. All else aside, It’s painfully clear now that Parmen can’t be trusted in the slightest. Alexander concurs, having realized that the problem is not with him and his lack of mental powers (as he always thought it was) but rather with the other Platonians. Fed up with his mistreatment, he breaks a vase, intending to cut Parmen and as many others as he can. Kirk talks him out of it, though, and Alexander is moved. He’s not used to people considering his well being.
After asking a few questions of Alexander, Spock deduces that the Platonians abilities are gained over time by consuming the native food, that whatever biological mechanism enables them to process this element is impacted by Alexander’s dwarfism, this explaining his lack of powers. McCoy runs a scan to compare Alexander’s blood with Parmen’s and finds that the only difference of consequence is the presence of a broken down form of kironide. McCoy devises a way of quickly increasing the kironide levels in his, Spock’s, and Kirk’s systems, but they have no way of knowing if or when it might take effect. When offered a shot of his own, Alexander refuses, asking only that the Starfleet crew take him along if they do escape. They are interrupted by the arrival of Nurse Chapel and Lieutenant Uhura, clearly under Platonian influence.
Kirk, Spock, Chapel, and Uhura are now in an audience chamber in Greek-style clothing. The kironide shots have yet to kick in as the Platonians fill the seats. Determined to convince McCoy to join them, Parmen again sets about humiliating the other officers, first by forcing Spock to serenade Chapel and Uhura (with a song composed by Nimoy). The four are then paired off – Spock with Chapel and Kirk with Uhura – and forced to kiss. Next, Parmen brings forth an assortment of weapons. Kirk and Spock take a whip and a branding iron respectively and as they menace their partners, Alexander grabs a knife and attacks Parmen.
He’s spotted before he can do any harm, though, and the proceedings are interrupted as Parmen prepares to have Alexander gut himself. Just then, though, the shots kick in and Kirk is able to intervene. An indignant Parmen attack’s Kirk with a knife – wielded, of course, by Alexander – in what quickly becomes a telekinetic tug of war, which ends with Kirk overpowering he Platonian leader, who pleads for mercy. Parmen yields, releasing the ship and agreeing not to trouble others. Now free, they return to the ship with Alexander and leave orbit.
Okay, so the episode itself is fine. It’s not bad, but nor is it exactly reaching for greatness either. It’s pretty middle of the road, all things considered, which in and of itself wouldn’t be a problem. Except that it’s an episode with a reputation and a firm place in TV history. Given that, it’s the sort of show that you’d hope would be better than it is. But frankly? Aside from the kiss, it’s not an episode that’s memorable for how good it is. No, if it’s memorable for anything, it’s for how bloody weird it is.
Now I want to be clear. The “Ancient Greece planet” thing isn’t particularly weird. It’s ‘Star Trek’, after all, the show that gave us the Gangster Planet, the Twentieth Century Rome planet, the Nazi planet, and so on. Hell, this isn’t even the first time they’ve done an Ancient Greece planet. No, the weirdness comes from the Platonians powers, or rather how they choose to use them. What it comes down to is that the various degradations the Enterprise crew are subjected to tend to come across as unintentionally funny. I mean, just look at some of the screenshots I included. It’s not that being forced to do these things wouldn’t be humiliating, but it goes so over the top and into the bizarre that it becomes hard to take it seriously. It’s hard, for example, not to laugh at Shatner slapping himself in the face, and yet that’s your act break. It’s the cliffhanger that’s supposed to get people to stay tuned through the commercials. And I’m sorry, but watching Shatner crawl around and make horse noises with a little person on his back is just funny. But at no point do I actually get the impression that I’m meant to be laughing at that.
But lest you think I’m beating up on William Shatner, I do want to give him credit for a subtle (you heard me) acting touch. When Kirk is himself, he sounds, well, like Kirk. Just as you’d expect. But as the Platonians exert their mental influence over him – and particularly as he struggles against it – Kirk’s lines are delivered in a much more hammy and (for want of a better word) Shatner-y manner. Nimoy, meanwhile, gets all the mileage you’d expect out of Spock being forced into grotesque displays of emotion.
But of course, the episode is famous for the kiss. So let’s talk about Shatner and Nichols’ history-making lip action. Because there is more to unpack here than you might expect. The kiss is sort of a microcosm of the episode itself, in that it’s not what you’d expect when you see it billed as “the first interracial kiss.” As Peter David had Uhura glibly sum up the matter in an early nineties ‘Star Trek’ comic, “Some telekinetic aliens in togas made us.” It’s actually kind of disappointing in that regard.
I’m reminded, actually, of ‘Batman v Superman’ in a way. You see, ‘Batman v Superman’ is a bad movie. And that’s not a great thing in and of itself, but it is what it is. It becomes a bigger problem in a meta sense, however, because it is the first time Batman and Superman have ever met on the big screen. That’s the kind of thing you only get to do once, and this is how they did it. Likewise, this is (or at least is remembered as) the first interracial kiss on American television, and the best you could manage was “some telekinetic aliens made them do it”?
Add to that that the kiss just sort of happens. It manages the unusual feat of feeling both perfunctory and really uncomfortable. You know, what with to total lack of consent or romantic interest on either side. There’s some debate over whether this was a sort of pre-emptive concession to anyone who might have been offended by a more genuine kiss, but whether or not that’s the case, it makes for a messy combination, and that’s more than a little unfortunate given its historical standing (which we know was very much on the mind of those making the episode).
But even the discomfort doesn’t register the way it ought to. In fact, the simultaneous kiss that the Platonians force between Chapel and Spock is far more effective in that regard (though not nearly as well remembered). Even setting Nimoy aside (after all, that man could wring pathos out of anything), Majel Barrett plays the scene very effectively. After all, her character has been defined, nearly since her introduction, by her unrequited feelings for Spock. She says it herself, she’s wanted to get close to him for what seems like forever, but this is the last thing she wanted.
But enough from me. What did you make of ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’? Am I being too hard on its quirks or too forgiving in light of its claims to historical significance? Let me know in the comments and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next ‘Final Frontier Friday’!