4 years, 2 months ago
|And here we have the blow-up doll division. They're like collectibles; you're supposed to find them all.|
Only Star Trek
would have the gall to do the exact same goddamn story twice in the same month.
Of course, me having to deal with “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” here is mostly my fault, a result of me deciding to follow the show roughly in production order. This episode was filmed after “Balance of Terror” but aired long before, the latter show being pushed several weeks back such that it aired with material produced under the next showrunner. Really though this actually fits: “Balance of Terror” has far more in common with that crop of episodes than it does with this one, which is pure Gene Roddenberry, down to him doing a last minute hectic rewrite that actually ran contiguous with filming as he felt the script was unworkable. Of course you know where this is going: We follow up the greatest episode in the entire Original Series with a third-rate rehash of every second-rate, half-baked concept the show's done to date. Another logic versus emotions debate? Yup. An evil duplicate of Kirk who fools the crew? You got it. Theiss Titillation Theorem? This episode gives us the poster child! Sexism that ranges from the mild to the straight-up blunt? Of course. Loads and loads of Majel Barrett? Do you even have to ask?
We're not quite back into “The Enemy Within” territory of awfulness with this one, though there are several moments that come close. No, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” just feels haggard, tired and spent, as if it's just halfheartedly going through the motions and re-covering old ground, which you might recognise as decidedly not the most healthy position for a show to be in ten episodes into its first season. So, not only do we have Roddenberry writing again, we don't even get Roddenberry at the top of his game
. Delightful. One could argue I should go easy on this episode because of its tumultuous history: After all, Robert Bloch's original story was by all accounts never any good to begin with. One would be mistaken in making that argument. Poor quality at the start is a sign you should rethink the way you field story pitches, not the cue to give it to Gene Roddenberry and force it through production. That said, regardless of whether or not this episode *should* have been made (it shouldn't have), the fact remains it exists, I had to watch it and now I have to come up with something to say about it.
The only remotely interesting thing “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” adds to the very, very
well-worn territory of logic debates and “what makes us human?” musings comes through what can only be described as drunkenly stumbling into personal identity theory. The core ethical debate of the episode is whether or not the androids actually are human. Korby seems to think that if the androids can “pass” as human that's enough and in fact argues they are superior because they are infinitely reparable and have superhuman strength. The key moment comes when Korby reveals he has discovered how to essentially upload someone's consciousness into an android body, and that's akin to crafting a superior version of oneself. This actually falls into some basic intro level personal identity theory, namely, a classic puzzle that is often posed to undergrad philosophy students. The conundrum goes something like this: If you were in a devastating accident of some sort that rendered you either a paraplegic or on the verge of death, but your brain was undamaged, and the technology existed to transplant your brain into a new, healthy body such that this duplicate would have the same memories, experiences and experiential identity (that sense of being within your body and experiencing the world through it) you do, would that new person be you? This is in fact the exact scenario Korby faces in this episode.
This being Star Trek
, the show naturally makes a right mess of this. As someone who actually took personal identity theory as an undergrad and was given this same puzzle to work with, I can safely say the show doesn't have any idea how to handle this. The solution my professor gave us at the time, and one I'm inclined to agree with, is that no matter what your conception of the self, it actually doesn't matter whether the duplicate is “you” in the technical sense or not because the fact it has the same memories, personality and experiences things in the same manner you do means the duplicate is for all practical purposes you anyway and anything more is just tedious semantics (it may also be worth pointing out my professor was a Buddhist philosopher who didn't believe in free will or individuality either). But Roddenberry seems to think this is some horrible, dehumanizing thing, and we're never really shown any evidence that it is.
Kirk's primary objection seems to be that the androids, namely Andrea and Ruk, can be programmed, thus reducing them to unfeeling logic machines with no soul (well, that and the actually hilarious fear that the androids will rise up and overthrow their masters which not only made me literally laugh out loud from its blatant absurdity also means Roddenberry has gone and done Terminator
20 years early). But this is totally at odds with what we've seen from Roddenberry so far, who seems to on the whole favour distant logic to passionate emotion, or at the very least he does when it's dramatically convenient. Also, aside from this being a complete slap in the face to Spock, Kirk is also being incredibly facile here: Korby rightfully points out that Andrea and Ruk are constructed service drones built from the ground up to basically be computers, which is an entirely different thing than a human transplanted into an android body.
On top of that, the show can't even keep its own
ethics straight, let alone Korby's: A big part of the climax involves Kirk “confusing” Andrea by displaying affection for her (alright, he does it by forcing himself on and sexually assaulting her) and pointing out to Ruk that he's acting out of vengeance, not orders to protect. This would seem to imply that the androids *are* in fact capable of human emotions and experiences, they just need to learn about them, so this invalidates basically everybody's arguments. Furthermore, the fact Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation
is an android and nobody on that show (well, none of the regulars anyway) ever questions his sentience, experiential self or capacity to be human just makes me resent this episode all the more.
A saner objection for Kirk to raise might be concern that the androids have bodies that are built out of digital machines instead of being naturally occurring parts of the universe, but, as Captain Picard will also one day point out, human bodies are still machines of a sort: We're just machines built out of biochemistry instead of positronics. No matter which way you argue, however, the fact remains “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” is hinging its core ethics debate on wildly fantastic speculative future technology that places it about as far away from saying something remotely contemporary or relevant as it is possible to be. Even from a purely philosophical perspective instead of a futurist one, personal identity theory is a fun thought experiment, but I'm far more interested in the lived experiences of real people and material social progress and this episode has none of that.
What it does have is some solid acting from Majel Barrett, who clearly appreciates finally having a part of some significance to work with. She's good enough at conveying Chapel's conflicted affections for Korby we almost overlook the fact Chapel's presence here makes absolutely no narrative sense. The script writes her, and Barrett plays her, as still very much in love with Korby and the denouement shockingly seems to imply Chapel was ready to abandon her post on the Enterprise
to live with him. But the last time we saw Chapel she was confessing her love for Spock (who she seems to have no feelings for in this episode at all) and gave no indication she was dealing with being engaged to someone she hadn't seen in a decade. Once again, the show gives Barrett a highly emotional scene she sells quite well, but gives it absolutely no context, history, development or follow-up.
On a different note, it is more than a little suspect that this script, which was predominantly written by Roddenberry, gives Chapel (Barrett) a complex love story with a man she swears she knows inside and out (which is admittedly there to sell the android plot) and than has her become immediately jealous and catty as soon as Andrea shows up (indeed, Korby even straight up says “I cannot love Andrea! There's no love there!” which is as hilariously on-the-nose as it is painful to watch). I was kind of hoping I could redeem Chapel's confusing and contradictory romantic aspirations by retroactively making her polyamorous, but thanks to her scenes with Andrea I can't. No, what this feels like to me is Roddenberry's and Barrett's relationship details slipping into the show, which is frankly nothing anybody really needs to or wants to see. As for the rest of the cast, William Shatner has settled into a groove and is just doing his job at this point. His job is to be a gloriously over-the-top ham sandwich, but we expect that of him now. Everyone else is either absent or barely gets any screentime.
“What Are Little Girls Made Of?” is tough to get too angry about. It's bad, but it was probably always going to be bad given the hectic behind-the-scenes situation during filming. Stress and sloppiness are no excuse for the ethical missteps it makes, of course-if anything that's even more reason to condemn it. But it's honestly not as bad in these areas as Roddenberry has been in the past, and it's frankly refreshing to finally have a script from him with which I can have a reasoned, academic disagreement instead of screaming incoherently until I pass out about how horrifically privilege blind it is. More to the point, we're rapidly approaching the end of Roddenberry's tenure as showrunner of Star Trek
, and while some of these problems never quite go away they'll at least very soon cease to be quite as central to how the show works (we'll have some new problems to worry about, but one thing at a time here). And, if nothing else, this episode does give us some more of the show's iconic moments: Andrea is one of the most memorable characters in the Original Series, as is the penis-shaped rock Kirk uses to attack Ruk. If I've learned anything about this show, it's that setpieces like this will live on far longer than any philosophical questions it raises, or indeed my pillorying it for not being up to my standards.
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