Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Wolf in the Fold" (December 22, 1967)


Stardate: 3614.9

After Scotty (James Doohan) is injured in an accident in Engineering caused by a female technician, Dr. McCoy (De Forest Kelley) recommend therapeutic shore leave for him at Argelius 2, a port of call wherein the people are devoted to a hedonistic life style.  

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) arranges for Scott to meet a gorgeous exotic dancer, Kara (Tania Lemani), to help him recuperate.

However, after leaving a club with Scotty, Kara is discovered murdered, brutally-stabbed to death. 

Worse, Mr. Scott is found nearby, clutching a bloody knife. He claims to have no memory of the events surrounding Kara’s death.

Mr. Hengist (John Fiedler), an administrator on the planet hailing from Rigel, wants to prosecute Scotty for murder. However, Kirk and McCoy want more time to determine what is happened.  Unfortunately, there is a second murder, this time of a female Enterprise technician operating a psycho-tricorder.

Again, Scotty is the prime -- and only -- suspect.

Jaris (Charles Macauley), the prefect of Argelius, believes that his empathic wife, Sybo (Pilar Suerat) can use her unusual abilities to determine Scotty’s innocence or guilt. 

But during a séance, Sybo is murdered, apparently, again by Scotty.

Before her death, Sybo calls out the name “Redjac” and reports the existence of an undying, formless evil that throbs withthe  hatred for all life, but especially a hatred of women.

Scotty’s trial reconvenes aboard the Enterprise, and information from the library computer helps not only to establish his innocence, but the existence of a formless, monstrous spirit that feeds on fear. 

Sybo’s “Redjac” is actually Earth’s Jack the Ripper…


In some ways, “Wolf in the Fold” feels like two Star Trek (1966-1969) distinct episodes.

One episode is a fascinating tale about an amorphous life-form that feeds on fear, and moves from planet to planet, undetected.  

The episode, by Robert Bloch (1917-1994), thus provides the answer to the enduring mystery of Jack the Ripper’s true identity.  The notorious killer is an immortal, un-killable alien being.

The idea of a body-hopping life force feeding on death, terror and violence is a fantastic one, and is an influential concept in Star Trek.  The Enterprise encounters another energy being, one feeding on hate, in “Day of the Dove,” for example.

The episode has some fun touches too, like the "light boxes" in the clubs, which substitute for audience applause, for example.  Some of the photography, particularly during Sybo's seance, is also quite memorable.


And perhaps one of the creepiest moments in all Trek history appears in this episode. Redjac “possesses” the Ship’s Computer, and the briefing room screen displays a weird, Hellish vortex.  

Imagine being dependent on the ship’s computer for your survival.  And then imagine that it is controlled by the science-fiction equivalent of a demon.

Alas, “Wolf in the Fold” is also a second episode, and one that I would prefer not to write about in detail, but must.

Before I commence this discussion, I would like to point out that Star Trek (1966-1969) is a positive force for good in the world, and a series about the value of diversity and of people of different races, genders and ethnicities The series is fifty years old this year, and so far ahead of its time, in so many wonderful, significant, meaningful ways.

And yet, every now and then, Star Trek shows its age. Every now and then an episode comes up which feels very, very dated.

“Wolf in the Fold” is one of those episodes.


First, let’s examine the premise. Kirk and McCoy believe that Scotty could be a violent murderer of women, because of his injury, his concussion.  They believe this is possible, apparently, because the accident in Engineering was caused by a female crew member.  Therefore, he may now hate women and act violently towards them.

In a situation like this, I always like to reverse the sexes and see if the premise holds up with the switcheroo. 

Let’s imagine Uhura is injured by a male officer.  Would we expect her to hate all men?  Would Kirk and McCoy psychoanalyze her, and grow concerned that Uhura is now nursing a hatred for men?

Nope.

It’s a silly idea, frankly, that anyone with Scotty’s intellect and training would blame an entire sex for an accident (not a deliberate act!) by one member of that sex.  

He would be guilty of believing a stereotype, which is a failure to see the individual, only the group.  And we absolutely know from many examples in  Star Trek that this kind of thinking -- this kind of bigotry -- no longer exists in the 23rd century.

Secondly, let’s assume that Kirk and Bones’ theory about Scotty is applicable. Imagine that he could harbor a hatred for women, because of the accident. If this is the case, why send him off alone with a woman, Kara?  Isn’t that a bit dangerous, for her?  Aren’t Kirk and McCoy encouraging a situation, basically, where he could, in fact, injure her?

Sadly, the stereotypical thinking and attitudes towards women continues throughout the episode.

Consider: Argelius is a world in which male crew-men can go on shore leave, and basically hook-up with the natives, no strings attached.  I’m fine with that.  But what of the female crew members like Uhura and Chapel?  Are there male Argelians available to fulfill their needs?  Why don’t the female crew members get shore leave, and the opportunity to have casual dalliances with men?

Given the portrayal we see on screen, shore leave in “Wolf in the Fold” feels very much like a boy’s club.

It gets worse.


During the (excessively) long trial scene in the Enterprise briefing room, Spock reports that Redjac targets women because females are “more easily and more deeply terrified” than males are. 

My answer? I would like to see the data that supports that statement, please.

Again, let’s drill down on this single factoid for a moment. There have indeed been some studies conducted in which women reported being more scared (of horror movies, rats, spiders, etc.) than males were. 

However -- and importantly -- the same tests also reported that the female were more honest in their responses.

So basically, the women admitted to being frightened, where the men did not.

But again, for argument’s sake, let’s say that Spock’s point is accurate.  We must then ask: is his observation true of all women across the Alpha Quadrant? Are fearful women/brave men a universal constant?  Is it true of Romulan women?  Klingon women? Gorn women?

Like a lot of this episode, the remark doesn’t pass the smell test, or the test of time, actually.

Taken together, the preceding remarks, story-points and concepts lend “Wolf in the Fold” a distinctly sexist air in our current climate.  

Again, context is crucially important when examining any work of art. This episode wasn’t made with a 2016 understanding of the sexes. It was produced with a 1967 understanding.  That is clearly a mitigating factor.

Still, as I’ve written before, Star Trek is usually so forward thinking that even an occasional lapse like this one is disappointing.

And “Wolf in the Fold” has some other groaners too.  

The psycho-tricorder for instance. This is a device that can analyze and diagnose psychological conditions, and a patient’s state of mind at any given moment. 

In other words, one of these sure would have come in handy in “The Enemy Within,” or “Court Martial,” “The Man Trap,” or “Journey to Babel” or…

…basically any episode in which a crew-member or guest aboard the Enterprise may be hiding secrets of a crucial nature.

All Kirk or crew must do is whip out the psycho-tricorder -- a device never again mentioned in the course of the series, if memory serves -- and figure out exactly what is going on.

On a much broader scale, “Wolf in the Fold” has the same kind of shaky premise we saw in the aforementioned “Court Martial” and which recurs in later Trek series episodes such as “A Matter of Perspective” or “Ex Post Facto.”

Basically, who is going to really believe that Scotty (or Kirk, or Riker, or Paris…) is a murderer? Or that they are going to be executed, or jailed, thus making them unavailable for future tales?


Here, the matter is even more basic. Scotty could have committed the murders (possessed by Redjac) and yet still be, technically, innocent, since he was not himself.

Lastly, it's really great to see Scotty (and James Doohan) take center stage for an episode, but "Wolf in the Fold" isn't a great Scotty story, by any means.


Next week: “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

5 comments:

  1. John excellent review of "Wolf in the Fold". I liked that Jack the Ripper was finally being exposed long after his[it's] 1888 brutal murders, fascinating. The sexist issue of the script is a product of the '60s male writer.

    SGB

    ReplyDelete
  2. This episode was written by Robert Bloch, who based this episode on his 1943 short story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", which cast the Ripper as an immortal being who maintains his immortality by murdering humans over time. Bloch married this Lovecraft-like supernatural tale with "Psycho", which expressed his fascination with the mostly Freudian aspects of psychology that were culturally dominant at the time in explaining human behavior and relationships in the postwar period.

    The marriage unfortunately produces the stupid premise of Scotty-hating-women-post-accident that gets us into the meat of the Ripper story in this episode. Freudian-themed psycho thrillers were enormously prevalent in 60's cinema, from "Psycho" and "Marnie" to "Hush ...Hush, Sweet Charlotte", "I Saw What You Did", "Shock Treatment", "Blow-Up", and on and on. But those psychodramatic mystery themes unfortunately overwhelm the more interesting Ripper-as-immortal aspects of this story, which is the part that made sense as a Star Trek episode and would be done later to better effect in "Day of the Dove".

    It's very sexist, yes, but it's sexist in a way that reveals the kind of swinger's mentality that infused the thinking of many writers and producers in the genre to advance the idea that humans would "evolve" to live beyond things like social restrictions that govern male-female human relationships. Roddenberry himself had some odd ideas, to say the least, about how men and women would relate in the future, which he tended to use as an excuse for rotten behavior and personal peccadilloes when it came to women. In the 60's and 70's, women who weren't willing to be seduced or experiment with quaaludes or acid, or whatever the latest thing was, were accused of failure to be "with it" or "enlightened". The supposedly enlightened attitudes of the Argellians in "Wolf in the Fold" are a perfect example of this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Roddenberry was a freak, and not in a good way.

      Delete
  3. John,
    "I would like to see the data that supports that statement, please." I lol'd!
    "Gorn women"? In space, can anyone hear your mind being blown?
    It's difficult to dispute any of the points made in your review. I still find this to be an enjoyable entry, even a classic installment of the series in its very premise. I'm wondering if the sexism had to be shoehorned into the script since Jack the Ripper was known to be predatory towards women in particular? Perhaps a case of covering a lie with another lie, until the whole thing becomes one big lie?
    I'm going to put the psycho tricorder in the evidence file along with time travel from "The Naked Time" as defense to those who found magic blood and/or trans-warp beaming to be so egregious in Star Trek: Into Darkness.
    I'm also fond of seeing the entire crew of the Enterprise stoned into near hysteria to wrap up the show. Any episode in which Sulu says "Whoever he is, he sure sounds gloomy" can't be all bad.
    Steve

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed, I totally feel this one is a classic. For me the creepiest Classic Trek ever.

      Delete