I’ll be honest: this episode made it on my priority list because it had a cat in it. Luckily it proved to have interesting fodder for feminist analysis, in addition to being fun and entertaining.
How could it not be, with Enterprise crew members on an away mission to what appears to be a haunted castle right out of a Halloween-themed B-movie?
Something’s feeling eerie to Kirk right out of the gate, as we open on the bridge. Kirk and Uhura are trying to contact Scotty and Sulu’s away team, which hasn’t been in contact in quite some time. After a minute, another away team crewman, Jackson hails them and says he’s returning on his own, but offers no explanation.
Kirk and McCoy meet him in the transporter room, but as soon as he materializes, he collapses and falls off the transporter pad. McCoy immediately declares him dead. I was shocked because I’d predicted him having at least a line before he died mysteriously, a victim of EATMS (Expendable Away Team Member Syndrome).
Suddenly, a disembodied voice is heard telling Kirk there is now a curse on the ship and they must leave “or else all will die.”
Dun dunn dunnnnnnn….
So what I would totally do in Kirk’s situation is take go with my top officers after the other away team members without taking any time to try to figure out what killed Jackson or what’s going on on the planet.
No, wait, that would be fairly stupid.
Yet Kirk goes ahead with this plan, beaming down with Spock and McCoy, leaving the Enterprise in the charge of….Assistant Chief Engineer DeSalle!
Boy, these TOS command structures make no sense to me. Was there something wrong with Uhura?
Down on the planet, Away Team #2 encounters a trio of wailing and cackling witches calling Kirk’s name and warning him to leave.
Spock is getting life sign readings coming from the nearby haunted castle so they head in. Almost immediately they encounter a super hissy and yowly black cat (see picture at top of post).
Back on the ship, Away Team #2’s lifesigns disappear. DeSalle and the others are shocked! This should not have happened! Sure it just happened to the first away team, but still!
AT2 falls through a comical hole in the floor and are knocked unconscious. When they awake, they are shackled in a medieval-looking dungeon.
They talk for a bit about why it would be that all the eerie things around them come from Earth culture. Like whoever made it knows what scares the pants off humans.
Their conversation is interrupted by Scotty and Sulu, who enter, glassy-eyed and pointing phasers at the group.
Sulu unlocks them veeeerrrry slooooowwwly and they are escorted from the dungeon.
Outside the dungeon Kirk goes to punch Sulu and try to escape, but the lights come on, revealing a bald guy with a goatee in fancy orange robes and with a sort of wand/sceptre and the black cat at his side.
His name is Korob and he knows who they are. During their conversation, it seems like he’s talking to the cat. He apologizes for being a terrible host and magics a banquet on the table. He says all he wants for them is to eat and enjoy the food. They sit but do not eat.
Korob says he arranged the witches and such to test the away team. He tells the cat to “go at once” and it runs away into another room. A few moments later, a woman in a black dress and amazing sea-foam green eyeshadow enters. Korob introduces her as “my colleague, Sylvia.”
Sylvia says she killed Jackson by creating an image of him and then thinking about it dying. She holds up a chain with a miniature model of the Enterprise and waves it slowly over a candle, then tells Kirk to hail his ship to prove her power. DeSalle and an extremely sweaty Chekov confirm how hot the ship is getting.
Kirk pulls the Enterprise free of the candle flame, acquiescing that Sylvia does have incredible telekinetic powers. He suggests away teams might come for them and Korob seals the Enterprise model in a plastic block. The real ship becomes trapped in a force field.
Sylvia orders them back to their cell but keeps McCoy with her. Back in shackles, Spock speculates that Sylvia and Korob haven’t actually been able to fully probe their minds – that’s why the images around them are more nightmare than reality. Spock and Kirk agree the two must be stopped.
A now “controlled” McCoy enters and escorts Kirk to meet with Sylvia. Keep in mind, Sylvia is an alien appearing to be a beautiful woman. Kirk is Kirk. Guesses where this is going to go?
If you guessed this, bonus points for you!
Sylvia is intoxicated by the physical sensations she’s experiencing in her new body. She also seems to have picked up some retro gender norms from probing the Enterprise crew’s subconscious minds. And has fully embraced them as her own. Luckily, Kirk is perhaps the best tutor one could have in this area.
Kirk: A woman should have compassion, but I forget you’re not a woman.
Sylvia: But you’re mistaken, Captain. I am a woman now. I come from a world without sensation as you and I now know it. It excites me. I want more.
She turns herself into different beautiful women to show she can be any woman he wants. As Kirk is flirt-arguing with her, she calls Korob a fool, not knowing he’s watching from behind a fluorescent pink screen.
Kirk asks why she doesn’t just probe his mind to get the knowledge she wants (what exactly this is is not clear).
Sylvia: No, not that, not for you. What I want is a joining. My mind to yours willingly. Think of the secrets you could learn. Think of the power that would be yours. Anything you can imagine, I can give you.
Kirk: You’re very persuasive. What happens if I go along?
Sylvia: Then everything would be ours together. I’ve never conceived of the idea of togetherness before. It excites me. You excite me. Why?
Kirk: For the same reasons you excite me. You’re a very beautiful woman.
His manly Captain charms winkle a secret out of her: her people are adrift without a device called the transmuter.
But she quickly realizes he’s using her and she casts him away. Even though she’s taken the form of a woman it’s unclear why she’d actually possess extremely stereotypical human female emotions. But she seems to – getting hysterical and threatening them. Her woman-scorned-ness puts them all in danger.
Luckily, Korob knows she’s gone too far. He helps Kirk and Spock escape but is crushed by a falling door. As they run through the haunted castle, they are pursued by a snarling house cat. Spock says she’s chosen the form because “the cat is the most ruthless, the most terrifying of animals, as far back as the sabre-toothed tiger.”
Sadly no one thinks to use the phasers as laser pointers to distract the cat (who is clearly Sylvia, in case that wasn’t clear). Instead, Kirk figures out the transmuter is Korob’s staff.
Suddenly they’re ambushed by McCoy, Scotty and Chekov. They defeat them all in an epic cheezy fist-fight but Sylvia uses her pendant to transport her and Kirk back to the banquet room, where she makes one last desperate plea for him to stay with her.
Sylvia: You fool. Don’t you know what you’re giving up? Everything that your species finds desirable. Look at me. I am a woman. I am all women.
Kirk: I don’t know what you are but you’re not a woman. You’ve tortured my men and taken their minds from them. You ask for love and return pain instead.
Kirk bashes the transmuter on the table and it shatters. Everything disappears around Kirk and the rest of the away team members stagger up behind him, looking normal again.
At their feet are two tiny aliens that look like the offspring of Cookie Monster and Cthulhu. They keel over and the away team returns to the ship.
What we learned from this episode:
- Robert Bloch (the writer) evidently had difficulty conceiving of an alien who looked like a woman and didn’t have stereotypically feminine behaviours and emotions
- Real women are compassionate. Also, they don’t generally turn back and forth into cats.
- It is very difficult to make the shadow of a house cat scary
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail