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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

6 Comments

  1. BerserkRL
    June 10, 2013 @ 7:20 am

    I've never wanted to take sides in the Shaw/Rattigan dispute over "plays of ideas" versus "plays of character." We'd be terribly deprived if we lost either.

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  2. tom jones
    June 10, 2013 @ 7:26 am

    I haven't seen this one for a while. if I remember correctly, Kodos executes some (half?) of the population of his planet because there isn't enough food to go round. But since no-one knows what he looks like, that implies that almost all the people he didn't execute died anyway, rendering his crime pointless. It would have been nice if the writers had picked up on that (did they explain why only about 6 people knew his face?)

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    June 10, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    Well, I like both too, and I think that's partially what this episode is about: It looks at performativity at all levels. And indeed next episode Star Trek gives us a straight-up character study.

    As for Moore, it's not his focus on characterization that I'm taking issue with here, but rather his focus on a particular kind of characterization that's more interested in seeing how far he can push people before they crack then exploring how they respond to a variety or spectrum of situations. This smacks a bit of 1990s grimdark fetishization to me: It's possible IMO to conceive of a character study that looks at something besides someone's deepest, darkest impulses. This is a thread I'll return to once he becomes a major creative figure of course.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    June 10, 2013 @ 7:36 am

    I don't recall the script giving any reason why only six people saw Kodos' face aside from implying he was an evasive, secretive person.

    As for his reasoning, Kodos was the leader of the colony so in his mind he was doing justifiable eugenics: He executed the people with the least likely chance of survival so those with the greater chance had enough food to sustain them. Of course, he later came to realise his error.

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  5. Alex Wilcock
    June 15, 2013 @ 1:48 am

    After posting altogether too much on Court Martial, I’ll stop after this one, but I wanted to drift back at least as far as an episode I both remembered very strongly and liked! And thank you for drawing out a lot of the reasons it must have stuck in my head so I didn’t have to. I particularly loved your arguments about the character being more than just the character people want to pigeonhole him as. It’s a fascinating piece about a fascinating story.

    Watching it quite recently, I can see a lot of flaws in it (the script’s all over the place, randomly firing off eugenics, and computers again, and fascism, and sex, and using, and murder mystery, and Tom with the eyepatch – what was that all about? To show he’s blinkered?), but it’s still awfully compelling. I’d never seen or read Shakespeare when I was a boy and would first have seen this, but I remember being excited by the references without knowing them and, again, I’m sure I must have responded to it for its theatricality (and the touch of horror in its gothic revenge, madness, despair and history!).

    On the one hand, it’s the one that really establishes ‘Kirk the Shagger’ – I can see your point about the theatricality queering that up but, really, it doesn’t convince me (when STNG did ‘the gay issue’ through the medium of shagger heterosexuality it didn’t convince me either). As I posted earlier on Court Martial, Kirk’s rampancy was a source of ribald-as-eight-year-olds got humour and was definitely a factor in stopping me identifying with the show. But on the other hand, lost Lenore – she’s definitely a Poe character as well as several Shakespeare ones I’ll come to – isn’t just the usual Woman of the Week, so she’s far more fun and far less sexist (or at least sexist in several far more interesting ways). And, OK, I’ll give you that both of them chatting each other up for ulterior motives while chewing the scenery more than each other is a scream, particularly when the OTT swelling romantic music starts to sound like Shatner’s ‘Shall I Tell You How To Handle A Woman’ and they talk about surging and throbbing [something else I noticed in terms of the series’ evolution: after several stories sort of approved of it, eugenics is a bad thing now].

    Lenore’s foreshadowed as Lady Macbeth, but for me the most interesting thing about her in a show based on Hamlet is that most of Hamlet role isn’t given to Kirk the lead, but to her. It’s the only production of Hamlet in which Hamlet and Ophelia are played by the same character. It makes up for her being so obviously nutty as a fruitbat from the start, long before her hilarious / disturbing SS maiden pigtails. But it is trying to do a Nazi war criminal drama in a very different way. “She’ll receive the best of care.” Unfortunately, we’ve already seen what that’s like from a story with another Lady Macbeth reference. She’ll probably end up taking over the asylum and running the galaxy.

    It’s very entertaining when Spock finally snaps at Bones to stop being a dick, too, as the doctor has been taking uselessness pills this week. Is Spock’s Shakespearean role Iago, stirring it? And McCoy as Falstaff? My very clever other half came up with several of the Shakespeare connections, so here are a few more of his to finish: Claudius and the ghost would traditionally be played by the same actor, but they’ve reversed it, with Kodos the evil tyrant being replaced by Karidian, the ghost, while Hamlet’s split into Kirk getting the doubts but Lenore getting most of the role right up to taking bloody vengeance ‘for her father’, and being destroyed by it.

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  6. Josh Marsfelder
    June 17, 2013 @ 7:52 am

    I love how you took the Shakespeare imagery even further and deeper: You're absolutely right of course, this is a delightfully oversignified bit of theatrical embellishment.

    In regards to Kirk, I'd like to stress my argument about his character queering up the show is explicitly applicable to William Shtaner and William Shatner alone: It's his overt performativity in deliberately playing Kirk overstated that allows for this reading IMO: It makes him larger than the role he's asked to play and turns Kirk into a drag action hero (well, that and blunt homoerotic subtext he and Leonard Nimoy increasingly build together: Come back when I look at "Shore Leave").

    As originally conceived Kirk is no different from Christopher Pike (as I believe I mentioned in my "Dagger of the Mind" post IIRC): It's Shatner who makes him a queer pop culture icon. In terms of Kirk's libido, that was something that was a studio mandate. For whatever reason, Desilu insisted Kirk have a girl-of-the-week, so he did. Apparently Roddenberry wanted him to have a long-term and complex relationship with Janice Rand, perhaps as an echo of his own relationship with Majel Barrett (although, as with anything Roddenberry says, take that with a moderately-sized salt mine).

    All of this is to say I don't like this aspect of Kirk any more than you do. In fact, it was also a primary reason I could never get into this show growing up. But starting this blog I made a conscious decision to be as redemptive to one of my least-favourite eras of the franchise I could and Shatner, much to my pleasant surprise, has been making it significantly easier for me to do so.

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