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This Side of Paradise

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 4, 2005 - 8:24 PM GMT

See Also: 'This Side of Paradise' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Arriving to investigate the fate of a human outpost on Omicron Ceti III, a planet recently discovered to be bombarded by deadly Berthold rays, the Enterprise crew is mystified to find the colonists flourishing though all their animals have died. Leila, a scientist of Spock's acquaintance, introduces him to a plant that generates intense pleasure and tranquility in those infested by its spores. Spock declares his love for Leila and his intention to remain on the planet; soon afterward, McCoy is infested as well and beams up dozens of the plants to the Enterprise, where the entire crew is affected and mutinies to join the colony. At first resistant, Kirk ultimately succumbs to the spores, but when he contemplates leaving the Enterprise forever, his wrenching emotional response breaks their hold on him. Requesting that Spock beam up to help him transport equipment, Kirk picks a fight with the Vulcan and then the two build a sonic device to sow irritation and anger among the crew and colonists. Once colony leader Sandoval is freed from the spores' influence, he recognizes that his agricultural colony has made little progress and tells Kirk that they wish to relocate.

Analysis: Famous - or perhaps infamous - as a rare "Spock in love" episode, "This Side of Paradise" serves as a peculiar sort of cautionary tale. It's on fine if familiar ground when it seems like a don't-do-drugs episode, with Spock telling Leila that there's no such thing as a happiness pill and the entire crew then falling victim to what's obviously an addictive psychotropic chemical in the spores. But then, at the end, Kirk's speech on how man isn't meant to live in paradise veers off into some weirdness about how humans have to fight and claw their way up, and the whole episode gets cast in rather uncomfortable light as a result. What happened to "We can admit that we're barbarians but we're not going to kill today"? In that light, when Leila turns on Spock's insistence that being free from the spores is supposed to be good for her, she seems quite sympathetic, and Kirk and Spock rather cruel.

This is another instance of Kirk imposing his will about how people should live upon others - not unfairly, as in "The Return of the Archons" and "A Taste of Armageddon", since his crew has been influenced by an alien plant and his ship and mission are at risk. But he isn't content to take back what's his, or even follow Starfleet orders. He is strongly judgmental of the lifestyle of the colonists, who aren't making progress according to his definition of human advancement. There's no reflection upon the value of the contemplative life, living in harmony with nature, people producing only what they need and sharing equally in tasks; of course it's artificial, since these people are living in a place where animals cannot survive, in a symbiotic relationship of sorts with alien spores, but the episode is overwhelmingly judgmental of "backward" lifestyles and reasoning. Spock does not stop at the end and reflect on the fact that maybe he should stop to look at clouds in the future. Not until Star Trek: The Motion Picture will he again verbalize the question, "Is this all I am?"

It is, of course, entirely possible that I am overthinking the meaning of the episode, for much of "This Side of Paradise" is an entertaining lark. Spock gets sprayed with spores, makes out with a pretty blonde, hangs from a tree, calls Kirk "Jim" in front of everyone and announces he has no intention of following his orders, though he sincerely hopes Kirk will join him in his newfound happiness...meanwhile McCoy reverts to the Southern accent of his youth, goes off to make mint juleps and refuses to poke into the miracle of a population with regenerative powers, while Sulu walks around blissfully studying plants and Uhura gleefully short-circuits the console that requires her to keep a receiver in her ear. It's entertaining to watch their giddy smiles, and even more amusing in contrast to a scowling, stomping Kirk whose crewman cheerfully agrees with him when he announces that the man's desertion is mutiny.

The pice de resistance is the fight into which Kirk goads Spock, trying to make the Vulcan angry enough to overwhelm the influence of the spores, which he has already logged may be quite dangerous. "All right, you mutinous, disloyal, computerized half-breed, we'll see about you deserting my ship," he announces, brandishing a pipe. Spock blinks at him and answers in his utterly endearing, logical style that half-breed may be applicable, but he's not computerized - he's a man - to which Kirk, who's just getting warmed up, demands, "What makes you think you're a man?" He then proceeds to slur his best friend's parentage, his brain, his "planet of traitors" - here Spock asks Kirk to stop - and the fact that he is disloyal, subhuman, and, worst, making love to a human girl. Either Kirk has spent the past several minutes hoarding insults to get under Spock's skin, or he's a little more needled than he'd like to admit to see his first officer hanging from trees, giggling and smooching...perhaps he's jealous that Leila never gave the legendary Kirk physique a second glance, or perhaps he's jealous that any woman could touch Spock emotionally in a way he can't.

In any event, he manages to get Spock riled up enough to smack him around, one of the more entertaining fight sequences of the entire series. Then, when Spock has shaken off the effects of the spores, Kirk congratulates himself on having gotten under that thick hide and Spock on having gotten away with belting his captain; Spock is concerned that perhaps they should both be in the brig, since striking a fellow officer is a court-martial offense, but Kirk defuses this with his usual triumphant humor and Spock concedes that it would be more logical to worry about deprogramming the rest of the crew. What strikes me about the latter part of this scene, after Spock is "cured", is that Spock is clearly still feeling strong emotions: he's remorseful, he's embarrassed, and Kirk is very attuned to this fact. He's also worried about Spock talking to Leila afterward, even though Spock is ostensibly free from passion for her.

Curiously, Leila seems not to notice when Spock's rejection drives the spores from her that he is still fighting his feelings. (She has her back to him - a lovely bit of directing, so the audience can see her face and Spock's without a cut.) He is sorry for her pain, but she isn't really hearing him when he says, "I am what I am, Leila" - he never agrees with her that he is incapable of giving of himself, in fact he proves her wrong a moment later when he brushes the tears from her face, but she wants him on her own emotional terms, and that is alien to him. She is manipulative - Spock says rather peevishly to her before he is affected by the spores that he does not understand the female tendency to avoid direct answers to questions - and yet she is sympathetic, showing Spock and the viewer a side of him that isn't entirely spore-generated.

There's quite a lot else to like in the episode - McCoy, for one thing, wryly telling Kirk that it's pure speculation and just an educated guess, but he'd say that Sandoval is alive, later insisting that he did not say he wished Spock would mellow a little when we've all heard him say things much stronger than that, and still later assuring Kirk in country doctor style that he's got everything taken care of while he cheerily beams plants to the ship. There's also quite a bit of pathos in Kirk fighting for his ship - Lenore is right in "The Conscience of the King" that at this stage no lover can compete with a starship, though it's interesting how much that will change, how Kirk will sacrifice the Enterprise with scarcely a second thought in The Search for Spock. He'll also change his mind about the worthlessness of simply living, at least for a little while, in the Nexus, but here it's not so much the artificial means of achieving inner bliss that he finds problematic - and it is problematic, in a place where no animals can thrive, where we see no children or creative growth. He's unwilling to contemplate the possibility of that kind of inner peace, which he associates with stagnation and death.

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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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