“Whom Gods Destroy” is an episode about the inmates taking over the asylum – the Enterprise visits a planet that houses the criminally insane, and Kirk and Spock are taken captive by the inmates’ leader, the megalomaniacal former Starfleet Captain Garth of Izar.
The only woman on the planet is Marta, an Orion who serves as a kind of consort to Garth, and it’s possible she’s the most complicated Orion woman we meet in live action Trek.
We first meet her in a psychedelic hospital gown, pleading with Kirk to let her out. She says the governor of the asylum isn’t who he says he is, and that there’s nothing wrong with her. Even Spock says she seems rational.
Turns out she’s right. Garth of Izar has the (ill-explained) ability to take others’ forms and has imprisoned Governor Cory.
Marta and the other inmates come up behind Garth as he forces Kirk and Spock into the cell with Cory.
She appears to have been working with him, but it makes you wonder: maybe Marta was never “crazy.” What if, like so many women through history, she was institutionalized for being different? In the terms of the amazing comic series Bitch Planet, what if Marta was just “non-compliant”?
What would have happened if Kirk and Spock had listened to her instead of assuming someone with mental health issues can’t possibly be saying something of value?
What if she didn’t actually want to follow Garth but saw that as her best shot for survival? It’s not long before it’s clear how abusive he is.
Marta: He finds me fascinating and you’re bothered by it. Admit it.
Garth: I may have you beaten to death.
Marta: No, you won’t, because I am the most beautiful woman on this planet.
Garth: You’re the only woman on this planet, you stupid cow.
Marta: Well, I’m the most beautiful woman in this galaxy!
Garth: You’re repulsive!
Despite the way he treats her, Marta knows she has worth: “I write poetry and I paint marvelous pictures and I’m a wonderful dancer.”
Garth asks her to prove that she’s telling the truth and she begins to recite a Shakespearean sonnet as if it was her own. I’m not 100% sure how the creators wanted the audience to react at this part. Are we supposed to laugh at this woman and her delusions? I hope instead that we’re supposed to root for her, to admire her resistance in the face of a man with incredible power, who reacts to her self expression by threatening to kill her with his bare hands.
But Garth changes his mind and instead orders Marta to dance for Kirk and Spock.
Spock: It is somewhat reminiscent of the dances that Vulcan children do in nursery school. Of course, the children are not so well co-ordinated.
Garth: She’s yours if you wish, Captain.
Kirk: Oh, er, thank you. That’s, er, very magnanimous of you.
There’s this gross dynamic when Star Trek depicts Orion women – a trader offers the Captain a woman as a sex slave, and the Captain doesn’t strenuously object. This is a supposedly better version of a human leader and yet he’s willing to tolerate an alien woman being treated as property. Of course in this case Kirk is playing along with Garth and he doesn’t initiate sexual contact with Marta. She initiates it, telling Garth she will discover Kirk’s secret through seduction.
But she draws a dagger on him right after kissing him.
And is only stopped by Spock’s neck pinch. Again it’s not clear what we’re supposed to think here. Marta appears to have arranged Spock’s escape to help Kirk, and yet she tries to attack Kirk, even knowing Spock is on his way.
Regardless of what the creators wanted the audience to think, it’s hard not to be appalled when Garth apparently kills Marta to demonstrate his power to Kirk.
This driven, creative, energetic woman who was determined to survive and have her value recognized, is killed. Although we didn’t really see her die – there is an explosion and she disappears so maybe, just maybe #martalives.
After a slightly silly ending where Garth makes himself look like Kirk and Spock must choose which Kirk to shoot, the good guys win and take the asylum back from Garth and his inmate minions. McCoy comes down and gives the inmates their injections that will “cure” their insanities.
Even with a 1960s understanding of mental illness, it is unbelievable to think you could have one medicine that would be a panacea for all kinds of mental illness. Today, it’s even harder to fathom, when we better understand that mental health is a product of our environment, upbringing and society as well as our biology.
But even if there was some kind of cure-all for our mental health, how would the Federation make sure this medicine is administered only to people who need and consent to it, not forced on people who are merely behaving slightly differently than the norm (see Lauren in the DS9 episode “Statistical Probabilities”)? What would the effect be on a unique, valuable personality like Marta’s? Would this medication just make someone like her less stabby, or fundamentally alter who she is?
Even though this episode doesn’t even begin to grapple with the ethics of mental health care, or the stigma of mental illness, I love it because it at least invites the discussion, and because it gives us a woman with mental health issues to admire, even if that wasn’t the intent.
On a behind-the-scenes note, as I was researching for this episode I came across this quote from Yvonne Craig in The Fifty-Year Mission: Volume 1 by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross:
I didn’t want him [Shatner] to touch me, he’s an awful man. Part of it is the fact that he just has no social skills. As long as I was painted green, he was trying to grab me behind flats on the sets. He invited me to his dressing room to have lunch the first day and it was the strangest lunch I ever had…he didn’t grab me or anything, it was just weird, and after that, when he wasn’t after me he’s giving me all this background about my character and telling me where he wants me to stand so that his best side is showing. It was just horrible.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail