Saturday, August 10, 2013
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Star Trek: The Animated Series: "Eye of the Beholder" (January 5, 1974)
The U.S.S. Enterprise sets course for the planet Lactra VII in order to discover the fate of a missing six member science team. The crew finds a Class-M planet capable of supporting human life, but more atypically, a variety of alien creatures living on the surface.
Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) are soon captured by the Lactrans -- giant, intelligent, slug-like aliens -- and held captive in an alien zoo.
There, they find that the missing science team is also being held. Worse, the team’s navigator is ill and possibly dying…
Now it is more important than ever to talk with the telepathic Lactrans, who consider humans a lower life-form, especially if Kirk and his team are ever to return to the starship.
The “people zoo” is a recurring trope in the science fiction genre, and has appeared frequently throughout television history.
The idea has been featured on The Twilight Zone (“People Are Alike All Over”) and even in Star Trek history, in the first pilot, “The Cage.”
The Animated Series presents its own people zoo variation with “Eye of the Beholder,” a tale which finds the Enterprise crew trapped in a cage while alien masters regard them with curiosity, and not a little bit of disgust too.
Written by David P. Harmon (“The Deadly Years”) “Eye of the Beholder” is a pretty run-of-the-mill episode of the Filmation Star Trek series, neither an overt insult to the intelligence (like “Mudd’s Passion” or “More Tribbles, More Troubles”), nor a high-water mark such as “The Survivors,” “The Slaver Weapon” or “The Magicks of Megas-Tu.”
“Eye of the Beholder” instead is a fairly routine show with an obvious message: both beauty and intelligence are in the “eye of the beholder.” All life-forms, it seem, judge that which is "different" as something as less intelligent, and even ugly. This is a fine message for a kid’s show on Saturday morning, but most adults will find the story conventional and a bit trite.
One nice quality of this episode is that the Lactrans resemble giant slugs, the lowest of the low here on Earth. It's a clever idea that something which we regard as so disgusting is featured here as the zenith of refined intellect and sensitivity. Therefore, the episode not only discusses prejudices based on appearances, but plays on viewer prejudices too.
Here, Spock is able to telepathically receive impressions of the Lactrans’ great intelligence, but communication is finally possible only after a Lactran child is imperiled, beamed up to the Enterprise transporter room. The message here is that sometimes advanced life-forms may not want to communicate with that which they feel is inferior, unless they must do so to preserve their own. Sometimes, we really need to have something at stake to consider communication, and thus compromise.
“Eye of the Beholder’s” ending scene also recalls the Original Series’ episode “Arena.” There, the Metrons informed Captain Kirk that humanity had much promise, and that in many centuries, humanity would be a welcome friend. Here, The Lactrans tell Spock that humans should return to their planet in twenty or thirty centuries…
Next week, a real classic of The Animated Series: “The Jihad.”
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