“This Side of Paradise” – TOS 1X25

Saddle up, folks, and get ready for a half-decent episode of classic Trek (with credit to writer Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana), featuring a cult-like colony of green overall-clad, super blissed-out humans, including a botanist who is desperately in love with Spock.

The Enterprise arrives at Omicron Ceti III to survey the remains of a human colony they believe was destroyed by Berthold rays. But when Kirk and the rest of the away team beam down, they find the colonists seem to be doing fine. They’ve got identical outfits: purple blouses and green overalls for the women and green jumpsuits for the men, plus they’ve built clapboard houses with gingham curtains and white picket fences and stone fireplaces and everything.  

They meet with the leader, Elias Sandoval, and botanist Leila Kalomi. The change in the soundtrack to lilting flute music and the surprise on her and Spock’s faces when they see each other make it clear they knew each other before. She stands in the weird Star Trek woman lighting where her eyes are lit but her chin and neck are in shadow and says: “It’s been a long time,” then looks down at the floor.

Jill Ireland as Leila Kalomi, softly lit

Sandoval explains that their colony is built on the principle that “men should return to a less complicated life”, with no vehicles or weapons and little technology.

Later, Sandoval asks Kalomi if she knew Spock and she says yes, on Earth, six years ago:

“Did you love him?” Sandoval asks.

“If I did, it was important only to myself.”

Sandoval gets a slightly creepy glint in his eye and asks, “Would you like him to stay now, to be as one of us?”

“There is no choice, Elias,” she says, “He will stay.”

McCoy is giving the colonists (including a non-speaking black man we don’t see again for the rest of the episode) medical exams and he finds out they’re unnaturally healthy. He starts to get suspicious.

Meanwhile, Spock and Leila are out in the fields and Spock asks her to explain how they survived the Berthold rays. When she says she’ll tell him later, he busts out a sexist and uncharacteristically illogical stereotype:

“I have never understood the female capacity to avoid a direct answer to any question.”

Leila remains perfectly serene and still refuses to give him information unless he tries to see things from the colonists’ perspective. She leads him  towards some weird-looking flowers.

“I was the first to find them…the spores,” she says. As Spock attempts to question her again, a flower ejaculates on him. He reacts in surprise and then clutches his head in pain. He doubles over. Then as suddenly as it started, the pain appears to pass and Spock looks up. He takes Leila’s hand and tells her he loves her.

A tropical flower sprays spores on Spock

Meanwhile, Starfleet wants Kirk to evacuate the colony because things are too good to be true and something about humanity needing a life that has challenges.

 But Sandoval is not going. Kirk notices Spock isn’t around and he tries to reach him on his communicator.

Spock isn’t answering because he’s lying, dressed in one of the green jumpsuits, with his head in Leila’s lap, pointing out shapes in the clouds while she caresses his hair.

Kirk goes out with a couple of the team to track him and Kirk tries to put Spock under arrest. Spock leads them over to the crazy spore flowers and everyone gets happy blasted, though Kirk seems to be immune for now.

He’s got an uphill battle, though, because the rest of the away team also got hit by the spores and McCoy has been beaming the flowers up to the ship. 

(I’m really confused as to how these spores work. Spock says they’re like a “happy pill” but why does that make McCoy drawl like a Georgia farmboy?)

The crew of the Enterprise is basically high on spores and getting ready to go join the colony. They refuse to obey Kirk’s orders. In anger, Kirk hurls one of the plants onto the floor.

Kirk paces the bridge, alone. He sits down at the helm and is blasted with spores again, from the flower he threw on the floor earlier. This never gets old:

A flower sprays Kirk with spores on the Enterprise bridge

He contacts Spock to say he’s coming down to join them, but when he gets to the transporter room he has an internal struggle and rages: “No! Can’t leave!”

For a brief moment he realizes strong emotions like anger can counteract the effects of the spores. He tricks Spock into beaming back and then throws off an impressive stream of insults, trying to get Spock angry enough to shake off the spores’ influence. After punching Kirk a couple of times, Spock snaps out of his trance. Kirk gets him to start building a communications broadcasting system but before they finish, Leila contacts him. Spock beams her up for a tearful goodbye.

Once the broadcasting system starts functioning, the frequency it emits starts making everyone on the planet angry. Brawls are breaking out all over the place. Awesomely, McCoy knocks Sandoval down while never spilling a drop of his mint julep.

Sandoval, now out of the spores’ influence, realizes he’s wasted years without making progress or advancing their society. He agrees to let the colonists be transported back to a nearby starbase.

We end with Kirk on the bridge speculating about the nature of human existence, and feeling bad for Spock, who admits: “for the first time in my life, I was happy.”

What we learn from this episode:

  • Spock’s commitment to logic doesn’t extend to eschewing sexist stereotypes
  • Kirk doesn’t really know how to do anything on his ship himself without his crew
  • Life isn’t worth living without challenges. As Kirk says at the end of the episode: “Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise.”

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail. Leila and Uhura both speak, but not to each other at any point.

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