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By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 17, 2006 - 7:35 PM GMT

See Also: 'Metamorphosis' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Kirk, Spock and McCoy take the shuttlecraft Galileo to pick up Commissioner Nancy Hedford, who has been sent by the Federation to negotiate a peace settlement on Epsilon Canaris III but who has contracted a potentially lethal illness. On the way back to the Enterprise, an energy entity forces the shuttle to land on an asteroid with a single inhabitant, Zefram Cochrane - the human who discovered warp travel more than a century earlier, though he appears younger now than he was when he died. Cochrane calls the energy entity the Companion, for it saved his life, provided food and sustenance and kept him company. He admits that the Companion abducted the Galileo crew because he was starving for human companionship. But Hedford is dying, so Kirk attempts an attack on the entity so that his crew can escape. Cochrane reluctantly agrees to help fight it, but when the attempt fails, the Companion enters Hedford's body so that she can experience human love. Upon learning that Nancy/The Companion are now inseparable and cannot leave the planet, Cochrane elects to stay with her, leaving the Enterprise crew free to depart.

Analysis: What could be a fascinating study of love and how it manifests itself among profoundly different beings is sabotaged by the limitations of the episode's writer, Gene L. Coon, who cannot conceive of romantic love outside of a binary paradigm even when the "female" is a being without anything remotely resembling human anatomy or physiology. Not that Star Trek ever did a really good job dealing with the mysteries of love, sex, attraction and gender; with the exception of Deep Space Nine's "Rejoined", in which Jadzia Dax fell in love with a woman housing the symbiont to whom her symbiont was married several lifetimes previously and proved that Trill love is gender-blind, attraction on Star Trek has mostly fallen rigidly along male-female binary lines. Even in The Next Generation's "The Outcast", which saw Riker fall for an androgynous being punished for having a sexual preference, the androgyne was portrayed by a woman and given feminine traits, emphasizing that Riker's attraction was not to a being without gender but to a being who identified as feminine; the episode tackled social prejudice based on sexual orientation by turning the usual equation on its head, but still assumed that the "norm" for humans would always be attraction to an opposite gender.

"Metamorphosis" actually reminds me more than anything of Odo's love for Kira - another case where what could have been a profoundly alien definition of attraction and love kept being reduced to gendered binaries. Among Odo's own shapeshifting species, the individuals identify as male and female despite living in a great amorphous, undifferentiated pool most of the time, and when Odo was trapped in humanoid form, it was a male form with some typically macho frustrations when Kira chose to have a relationship with another man. In the end, Kira asked Odo to show her love as his people experienced it, which does not involve physical lovemaking as humans perform the act, and this creates one of the most moving and erotic moments in any of the series.

But "Metamorphosis" is generations behind that revelation, not only in series time. Here, Kirk has his suspicions about the nature of the Companion's attraction to Cochrane before they have even found a way to communicate - the bliss that covers Cochrane's face when he communes with the entity is a pretty strong hint - but he does not use the word "love" until the Universal Translator (using whatever standards of universality Spock and McCoy insist define "male" and "female" across species and cultures) decides that the Companion is female and gives it a feminine voice. This is odd because the Companion does not hold to traditional feminine stereotypes; the entity is extremely aggressive, while viewers don't get to see it in the nurturing capacity with which Cochrane himself associates it.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that Cochrane reacts with a kind of revulsion to learning that he is a "kept man" as it were, but it's very strange that after decades on this planet with the Companion fulfilling his every need - food, comfort, pleasure - he hasn't realized that its feelings for him could hardly be described as platonic. Only when it is "safely" in the body of the dying Hedford does he consider returning love for love rather than what he describes to Kirk as gratitude. He seems embarrassed that the other humans have been brought to keep him company, and it seems odd that in its sweep of space - presumably the Companion could have covered a greater distance - it chose a shuttle with three men and one dying woman who could not possibly pose a competitive threat. Though Cochrane finds her beautiful when he first sees her, one wonders how much this has to do with not having seen a female in a hundred years.

"Metamorphosis" isn't one of Star Trek's better-paced episodes; it's very slow particularly after the shuttle lands on the planet, while Kirk and Spock try to figure out who Cochrane is and what he's doing there and McCoy tends to an increasingly sick, increasingly hysterical Hedford who is rather embarrassing to listen to in her crankiness...it's not clear at all why the Federation trusted such a selfish woman to negotiate an end to a war. When she is dying, she wails that she never experienced love, thus suggesting that it's a good thing the Companion took over her body (although the merger is defined as symbiotic, one doesn't get the impression that the Companion asked Nancy how it felt about sharing space with an alien, assuming that the sad, dying woman would welcome any second chance). It's fun to spend nearly an entire episode planetside, with only very occasional glimpses at the ship's rescue attempts, but it would have been interesting to see a bit more of the culture from which Cochrane came and the world the Companion created for him. Who cleans his house? Does he cook his own food or do the fruit and beans come off the trees already just the way he likes them?

The episode strains to be like "The Devil in the Dark" or "The Corbomite Maneuver", introducing an alien life form that has more in common with humans than they initially think and whose hostile moves turn out to be defensive. But there are too many questions left unanswered about the Companion - where it comes from, what it did for kicks before meeting Cochrane - how it keeps the planetoid and Cochrane in pristine condition, why it wants to be planetbound when it can travel unaided through space and lift shuttles to bring back. This entity sacrifices an enormous amount for love, taking on a short-lived humanoid form just for "the joy of this hour" holding Cochrane's hand; what is it about him that the Companion loves? He's clearly an exceptionally bright human, if he discovered warp drive; is he also exceptionally compassionate, profound, witty, sexy? Do any of those things matter to the Companion, anyway? We don't know, and we don't get to know the man well enough to begin to guess what she sees.

This would have been a much more interesting episode if Cochrane had been capable of love for the Companion in its non-corporeal form, if the human form it took was not female...but if Star Trek couldn't do that in the past decade, it certainly wasn't going to go there in the 1960s. So we get a passably entertaining but ultimately shallow little story about a man and his feminine twinkly light show. Is it worth wondering how Cochrane and his Companion will face such problems as illness and aging, contraception and childbirth, a food supply that may dwindle without a magical force to keep it growing? Nah. We're just supposed to accept the happy ending.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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