The first STAR TREK television series in more than a decade, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, premieres on September 24. To celebrate, we here at ComicsVerse are bringing you all things TREK all month long. Today, we consider just how much our perspectives on TREK change as we age.


People grow up, something the journey past the mid-way point of my 20s reminds me of daily. Even though age brings some unpleasant things — taxes, debt, and prostate exams — it does bring new perspectives to bear in life. Such is the case with how I watch STAR TREK episodes these days.

The Wrath of “Space Seed

It all started with a memory.

To celebrate leaving my graduate student dormitory, I hosted a double feature of “Space Seed” and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN on the giant TV therein. The idea for this event came from a memory I had with one of my best friends three years before.

CLICK: Want to read how STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN got made? We went to a screening with Nicholas Meyer, the director!

This friend had never seen THE WRATH OF KHAN and wanted to, hearing good things about it. Knowing I was versed in THE ORIGINAL SERIES (TOS), he asked me if we could watch it together. I agreed, but only on one condition: that we watch “Space Seed” first. “Space Seed,” I explained, was the TOS episode where we first meet Khan. Not only do you get to see some awesome character acting, but you get an understanding of who Khan is and why he hates Kirk so much. Therefore, one night, during our senior year of college, we found an empty classroom and watched both.

EPISODE
“Space Seed” includes my favorite Dr. McCoy moment: “Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind.”

What I remember most about that night was how much fun we had with “Space Seed.” We laughed as we imitated Ricardo Montalbán’s voice and odd stretching patterns for opening a door. We smirked when the 1990s were mentioned and wondered if the historian who Khan seduces knew anything about boy bands and Britney Spears. It was a good, long night, and one of my favorite memories from college. Naturally, then, I wanted to share the same experience with my grad school friends.

So, when I watched “Space Seed,” at the tail end of grad school, I was ready for fun. I wanted to see who would try the first crack at Montalbán’s accent. But that didn’t happen. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, either.

That night, it wasn’t just guys watching guys on TV. I had another best friend with me, my “work wife” from lab (her phrase). From the moment Khan makes his first move on Lt. Marla McGivers, she starting calling him out on what he was doing. It was the first time I heard words like “sexual predator” and “manipulative” applied to Khan — and she was right. What Khan does is creepy, disturbing, and wrong.

READ: Many years later, STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE would examine sexual assault. Don’t miss our analysis!

How had I missed that? How come I didn’t remember that? Sure, I didn’t glorify Khan’s behavior, but I wondered if not even remembering that was a worse transgression.

So it made me wonder: what else had I missed in the series that weaned me on science fiction and sustained me as a fan all these years later?

I chose to rewatch five episodes of THE ORIGINAL SERIES that I remembered as being okay but couldn’t remember too well. How would my impressions change watching them now than before when I watched them years ago? What could I learn from this? What could I say about my own growth as a person from my high school and college days to now?

“Devil in the Dark”

  • Credits:
    • Director: Joseph Pevney
    • Writer, Producer: Gene L. Coon
    • Season: 1, Episode 25
    • Year:  March 9, 1967
      • Stardate: 3196.1

My first exposure to “Devil in the Dark” came in high school while I was on the phone. “Hold on,” I said. “Captain Kirk is attacking a rug.”

EPISODE
Kirk and Spock launch a phaser attack against the monster of Janus VI.

A year or two later, when my dad and I were watching it during our weekly viewing, I learned the rug was a monster. Other than that image, I didn’t remember much except the major development of the episode. Kirk and company were fighting a silicon-based creature that began to attack people because they had disturbed its eggs.

On Rewatch

So, when I started this episode, I thought I’d sit back, relax, and feel smug in remembering its major plot device. Except I was wrong. Very wrong. In my notebook, I wrote “Spock jumped on silicon life early (12 minutes).” Strangely enough, what I had remembered as the denouement of the episode was not the case. What’s really at stake isn’t so much the discovery of a scientific phenomenon, but empathy.

READ: We took the time to look at how STAR TREK examines it’s own take on humanity — do check it out!

It’s what drives the climax of the episode. At first everyone — the pergium miners on Janus VI to Kirk himself — wants the monster dead. It’s not until Kirk meets the creature deep in the mines that he begins to realize the creature is not just a wounded animal but one possessing temperance. When Spock attempts a non-contact mind-meld, he can only summon one emotion, “PAIN!” Later on, while Spock’s mind is fused with the creature’s, it gives it’s species’ name: horta. Through Spock, we hear it call the humans what they called her: “devils, monsters.”

It wasn’t the science that this episode was about — it was about the role empathy can play in understanding, not just across species, but across differences that go as deep as the atomic level.

It’s interesting that I didn’t remember that.

“Miri”

  • Credits:
    • Director: Vincent McEveety
    • Writer: Adrian Spies
    • Producer: Gene L. Coon
    • Season: 1, Episode 8
    • Year:  October 27, 1966
      • Stardate: 2713.5

“Miri” was never one of my favorite Star Trek episodes anyway, but thinking on it, I wasn’t sure why. It was certainly one of the first episodes I saw, as my dad owned it on videocassette.

I remember the conflict. There was some illness that affected the landing party of the Enterprise. I remember Yeoman Rand was there and that she wished Kirk would look at her legs. I also remember the kids and how weird they were. There was an older girl, Miri, and an older boy – but I couldn’t remember his name.

On Rewatch

There was a lot I had forgotten. First of all, the episode was on an Earth facsimile, arrested during “the mid-1960s,” to quote Mr. Spock. 300 years before, a virus had killed all the adults,  as an attempt to arrest and/or slow aging entirely, as McCoy and Spock would uncover.

CLICK: Dr. McCoy often lends his hand on away missions. CLICK HERE to see how other doctors have fared in STAR TREK!

I also forgot just how creepy Kirk appears in this episode. The main character is Miri, of indeterminate age, but clearly old enough for Kirk to charm (read that as “not”). It’s known that the disease affects the children the moment they enter puberty. Miri, even if she is 300 years old, just begins to contract it during the last act of the episode. This means that, despite her age, she still has the mental maturity of a 12-13 year old, the average age of puberty in 1970.

I won’t outright declare Kirk’s behavior as pedophilia, but it comes off as super-inappropriate and hella creepy. I get being charming, but using a nod and wink to get Miri to sharpen pencils and clean a table is just bizarre. I’m not saying TOS is stellar at characterizing women — and I get that Kirk is a bit of a rake — but seriously, man, what are you doing?

Maybe don’t hold her hand, Kirk.

I walked away from this episode liking the premise and the story arc with McCoy and Spock. Nevertheless, I just couldn’t get over Kirk’s unexplained weirdness.

“Who Mourns for Adonais?”

  • Credits:
    • Director: Marc Daniels
    • Writer: Gilbert Ralston (Gene L. Coon — uncredited)
    • Producer: Gene L. Coon
    • Season: 2, Episode 2
    • Year:  September 22, 1967
      • Stardate: 3468.1

I first watched this episode with my dad in high school, and at the time, I thought it was the coolest thing. As a young student of Latin, learning about mythology, thinking that Apollo and the other Greek gods could have been aliens visiting Earth blew my mind. Bear in mind this was before I ever laid eyes on Mr. Tsoukalos and his ancient aliens.

Even still, I remembered a fun episode where Kirk and Apollo went back and forth over freeing the Enterprise and her crew from the grips of a giant green hand. I remember that there was some regret about having to defeat Apollo in order to escape.

CLICK: Want more mythology in space? Read our review of the latest issue of HERCULES: WRATH OF THE HEAVENS!

On Rewatch

What I forgot — or at least heeded very little — was the female lead of this episode, Lt. Carolyn Palamas. It’s a shame that I forgot, because it’s cool to see a woman given plot power in THE ORIGINAL SERIES.

Episode
Lt. Carolyn Palamas in another tense scene with Apollo.

Unfortunately, I think I forgot about Carolyn because her story gets muddled by the fact it’s not told. Her character is set up to choose between personal desire versus duty to one’s job. In good story fashion she recognizes this conflict (albeit via Kirk), makes a a decisive choice to sacrifice her desire, and saves the crew. She’s a very cool character.

Yet the characters who get most of the lines in the episode are the male landing party and Apollo. They really don’t do anything but argue and get mad. Part of them getting mad involves the idea of ancient aliens. I remembered that story because that’s the story that gets the focus. Watching it now, I really wish it was Carolyn’s.

In the end, I felt “meh” about the story. It had some cool ideas and good acting all around, but it ignored its strongest character.

“The Omega Glory”

  • Credits:
    • Director: Vincent McEveety
    • Writer: Gene Roddenberry
    • Season: 2, Episode 23
    • Year:  March 1, 1968
      • Stardate: Unknown

This was another episode that I first saw in high school. I remembered aliens on a Class M planet trying to lead a revolt. The most memorable part of the episode, however, was why I wrote “FREEDOM!” in my watching notes. A major plot point of this episode involves the freedom documents of the United States. This stuck out to me because I’ve always had a soft spot for the history of the American Revolution. The words of some of those documents, for better or for worse, still give me goosebumps today.

On Rewatch

The episode wasn’t too different than how I remember it, other than a few setting facts I forgot. The aliens fighting over the planet are the tribal Yangs and the city-dwelling Kohms. The world continues to exist multiple centuries after biological warfare killed off most of the planet. A Star Fleet officer, desperate after losing his entire crew from the pathogenic remnants of the war, makes a shocking discovery. On this planet, neither Yangs nor Kohms age.  With nothing left to lose, he betrays the Prime Directive, teaming up his phasers with the Kohms to slaughter the “savage” Yangs. After he establishes order,  he plans to sell the product that keeps the aliens alive for so long, whatever that may be. The imagined payoff is worth disobeying his vows. 

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy eventually draw the uncanny connection between the parallels of this planet and Earth’s history. They draw the connection between the Yangs being the “Yanks” and the Kohms being the “Commies.” In this case, to paraphrase Spock, the Yangs lost the war that Kirk’s planet avoided fighting.

READ: What if the Yangs had won? WE STAND ON GUARD #1 may give you a taste of that world!

To me watching today, the episode ended up being a rather heavy-handed allegory of the Cold War. This would have been fine, but the message got lost with the introduction of the mad Star Fleet captain. What should have come off as really cool — the discovery that the Yangs revere the Freedom Documents as sacred texts — got muddled and weird. It felt a bit forced.

Even still, the parallel between the Yangs and the United States lets Kirk shine. At the end of the episode, Kirk rebukes the Yangs for treating the documents as sacred without acting on the words expressed therein. This is because they seek to make the Kohms pay for their century-long crimes against their tribe once Kirk defeats the mad captain and the Kohms fall back. I agreed with Kirk’s somewhat corny speech back then, and I still do today.

“Look at these three words written larger than the rest, with a special pride never written before or since. Tall words proudly saying We the People. That which you call Ee’d Plebnista was not written for the chiefs or the kings or the warriors or the rich and powerful, but for all the people!” — Captain James T. Kirk

Therefore, my opinion of this episode didn’t change much at all upon re-watch. Like a lot of Star Trek, it presented a really cool idea, but once you know the idea, the story looses oomph.

“All Our Yesterdays”

  • Credits:
    • Director: Marvin J. Chomsky
    • Writer: Jean Lisette Aroeste
    • Producer: Fred Freiberger
    • Season: 3, Episode 23
    • Year:  March 14, 1969
      • Stardate: 5943.7

“All Our Yesterdays” was one of my dad’s favorite episodes, I think, because we also had a book-on-tape version of the imagined sequels. Written by Ann C. Crispin, these books followed the offspring of Spock and Zarabeth — a shocking follow-up from the episode.

This all happened, as I could recall, from Spock and McCoy getting transported back into the ice age of a planet some 5,000 years into the past. Because of this, Spock began to revert to the primitive characteristics of Vulcans — things like indulging his desires for flesh, both of the nutrient and carnal type. Or, to be a little accurate, finding common ground with a woman who also felt alone for most of her adult life.

CLICK: The isolated alien is a recurring theme of STAR TREK. Don’t miss our analysis!

On Rewatch

I had forgotten all about Kirk’s ordeal. He gets trapped in a medieval period and gets thrown in jail, accused of being a witch. His story isn’t so much for character development as much as it is for stalling the captain. McCoy, of course, is out cold for most of the episode.

It was an okay episode that contained nothing too shocking and too groundbreaking. STAR TREK had dealt with Spock’s emotional side before, but this episode took it in a different direction. I think because the romance was the main story that drove and challenged the plot, that’s why I remembered those story details the most.

Spock and Zarabeth share one final moment before their separation.

What did I learn from all of this?

In the end, my good memories of STAR TREK filtered out the bad or uncomfortable. Internet pundits would call upon nostalgia glasses to explain this, but for my satisfaction, I can’t leave it at that.

For me, science fiction has always been about using new ideas as the premise for telling stories. In my mind, this lets me distinguish it from fantasy, where settings and worlds shape the narrative. That paradigm comes from STAR TREK, which formed my schemata for what science fiction would look like. This changed slightly after college, but more on that in a moment.

Because of this view of the genre, I was obsessed with the new ideas of the show. It’s no wonder, then, that it was the ideas behind each episode that I remembered most. Silicon-based life, purple-splotch diseases, ancient aliens, freedom, and unexpected closeness — these concepts fed my imagination and opened my mind to what was possible in fiction. Indeed, a love for ideas helped lead me to seek formal training in science, a path that would take me to my “Space Seed” discovery at the end of my graduate training.

CLICK: If you’re wondering whether STAR TREK will persist well into the future, decide after reading our analysis of why it endures!

But between high school and graduate school came another major shift in my life: friendship. It’s true that I had some friends in high school, but moving around a lot, I never took the time to develop major friendships. Feeling a little like Spock, a weird alien who never fit in, I kept close to what didn’t change in my life: logic, schoolwork, and my favorite stories — STAR TREK being one of them. The friendships I made once I got out on my own pushed me to new understandings of myself, my actions, and even my own long-unchallenged ideas. Through arguments, tears, depression, and even romance (gasp!), I felt myself uncover my own human side, just like Spock did every so often.

So it makes sense that the parts of STAR TREK I didn’t remember — both the slimey in “Space Seed” and “Miri” and the goodness in “Devil in the Dark” — would resonate more with me these days. They represent both extremes of humanity: capacity for evil and capacity for good, traces that lurk inside all of us and every human institution we’ve ever created. These are the stories that are universal — simply having a cool idea to explore is insufficient on its own and quickly fades from memory. The cool ideas need to go a step farther and say something about our shared human experience.

I will always love START TREK, warts and all as the saying goes. The way I watch episodes will likely change with each year I tick on my own mission, but that’s okay. Even though some stories are stuck in time, I am not.

And I know just how I’ll get there, too:

STAR TREK

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