With so few significant new movie releases to follow, I have taken to some strange pasttimes, including the viewing of old classic Star Trek episodes. I was struck by two obscure episodes in particular. One is Who Mourns for Adonais?, and the other is Metamorphosis, both from early in the second (and best) season.
In Adonais, a crazed being, who is in fact the ancient Greek God Apollo, seizes control of the ship and of a landing party, consisting of Kirk and a few others, including a beautiful Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas. In due time Apollo “takes” her, with her degree of actual compliance being highly uncertain (the whole ship and landing party are under constant threat of death). Kirk and the others encourage her to court him further, and then to reject him, to weaken his spirits, which leads to his eventual loss of control. It is Carolyn’s cleverness that saves them, she has been through emotional hell, and then they spurn and forget her while returning to the ship.
I am very familiar with “Golden age” science fiction and how badly it treated women, not to mention classic Star Trek’s own reputation. Nonetheless watching this episode it struck me, as a 2020 viewer, that the main message is how unaware high-achieving men are of the sexual travails of coerced women, most of all the coerced women they so often rely upon. Really.
In Metamorphosis, Kirk is carrying a lovely female ambassador on a trip, and they are waylaid by a strange being on a strange planet. I’ll spare you the whole story, but the ambassador ends up meeting a male castaway she dislikes, an alien takes over the body and partly the mind of the ambassador, and the combined alien/ambassador decides to marry the castaway so they can live happily ever after on the strange planet (really). The ambassador never would have chosen any of that on her own, and it seems to me this counts as a lifetime of rape for her, not to mention imprisonment, exile, and having to share one’s life and thoughts with a deeply alien being.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are just fine with this! Admittedly, given the powers of the alien, they didn’t have much choice, but they are downright jolly — from Wikipedia: “When McCoy asks who will complete Nancy Hedford’s [ambassadorial] mission, Kirk shrugs and says, “I’m sure the Federation can find another woman, somewhere, who’ll stop that war.””
Brutal! The collateral damage on the distaff side deserves not a single mention or act of mourning, though otherwise Kirk will risk the whole ship to save the life of Bones or Spock or Scottie.
Again, I went away from the whole episode feeling this was a progressive rather than repugnant take on the whole narrative.
Perhaps it is I who am crazy, but I am beginning to think that “The Revisionist Sexual History of Classic Star Trek” remains to be written.
And maybe you prefer TNG, or some other later Star Trek version, but I tell you the 1967-69 version is far less “censored” and for that reason much more interesting to rewatch.