Star Trek Rewatch

Star Trek Re-Watch: “By Any Other Name”

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“By Any Other Name”
Story by Jerome Bixby
Teleplay by D.C. Fontana and Jerome Bixby
Directed by Marc Daniels

Season 2, Episode 21
Production episode: 2×21
Original air date: February 23, 1968
Star date: 4657.5

Mission summary

Enterprise follows a distress signal to a planet, but when Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Shea, and Yeoman Thompson beam down to investigate the source, they can’t find any life signs or evidence of a ship, only readings on some “small metallic objects.” Soon they do pick up two life signs, and a man and a woman enter the clearing. The man demands control of Kirk’s ship and presses a button on a box affixed to his belt, freezing the members of the landing party where they stand. He introduces himself:

I am Rojan of Kelva. I am your commander from this moment on. Any efforts to resist us or to escape will be severely punished.

Rojan releases them from their paralysis and explains he generated a neural field from a central projector. He wants to use Enterprise to traverse the galactic barrier and return to their home in the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, as a prelude to conquering the Milky Way—a journey of only 300 years, after a few engine modifications. Rojan’s people handily take over the Starfleet vessel, appearing from thin air and paralyzing the crew in the key areas of Engineering, Life Support, and the Bridge.

Kirk and Spock try to reason with Rojan, but he’s unwilling to work peacefully with the Federation to establish colonies for his people, and he insists that no messages can be transmitted through the barrier. He recommends they resign themselves to destruction, “the fate of the inferior in any galaxy.” Kirk and the away team are imprisoned in a cave, while he and his subordinate Hanar discuss the peculiarities of the bodies they’ve adopted for their journey:

ROJAN: These shells in which we’ve encased ourselves, they have such heightened senses. To feel. To hear. To smell. How do humans manage to exist in these fragile cases?

Meanwhile, Spock ruminates on the strangely “perfect human life forms” who have captured them and examines the prison bars, composed of a dense metal even their phasers can’t cut through, if they had weapons. They decide to steal a Kelvan control device so they can trace the source of the neural field. If they can locate and disable the central projector Rojan helpfully mentioned, they can improve their odds a little.

Spock attempts a Vulcan mind probe on Kelinda through the cavern wall, but her mind violently severs the link and sends him flying backward. As soon as she enters their cell, Kirk chops her on the neck and takes the device from her belt. They escape into the open—where the Kelvans freeze the captain. To punish Kirk, Rojan selects Lt. Shea and Yeoman Thompson to be “neutralized.”

The Kelvans transform Shea and Thompson into small white cuboctahedra, distilled to “the essence of what they were.” Rojan crushes one of them into white powder, explaining that destroying it will kill that person. He restores the other to human form, revealing that Shea has somehow defied the red shirt curse but Thompson is dead. It’s obvious which one Kirk wishes had survived as he sifts through her remains.

Back in captivity, Spock describes some of the scattered impressions he remembers from his brief contact with Kelinda’s mind:

A series of bizarre and exotic images bursting on my mind and consciousness. Colors, shapes, mathematical equations fused and blurred. I’ve been attempting to isolate them, but so far I’ve been able to recall clearly only one. Immense beings, a hundred limbs which resemble tentacles. Minds of such control and capacity that each limb is capable of performing a different function.

They come up with another plan to defeat their latest galactic invaders, the one that always works: reverse the polarity! They theorize that if Spock can rewire a medical neuro-analyzer on the ship, they might be able to jam the Kelvans’ projector field. Spock lapses into a Vulcan trance to simulate illness, and they call Hanar into the cell. He’s suspicious, but he agrees to beam Dr. McCoy and Spock back to Enterprise for treatment. In Sickbay, McCoy pretends to treat Spock for “Rigellian Kassaba Fever,” and when the Vulcan wakes himself up they begin work on the neuro-analyzer.

Rojan is ready to bring Kirk back to Enterprise, but first they take a moment to stop and smell the flowers.

KELINDA: These are lovely. Captain Kirk, what is it you call them?
KIRK: Flowers. I don’t know the variety.
KELINDA: Our memory tapes tell us of such things on Kelvan. Crystals that form with such rapidity, they seem to grow. They look like this fragile thing somewhat. We call them sahsheer.
KIRK: “A rose by any other name.”
KELINDA: Captain?
KIRK: A quote from a great human poet, Shakespeare. “…That which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet.”

The ship’s improved warp engines now go to 11 (again!), and they’re on a fast course for the galactic barrier. Scotty discovers the central projector in Engineering, but it’s encased in the same strange metal Spock studied earlier, so they can’t destroy it after all. The only alternative they can come up with is to flood the warp nacelles with positive energy from the matter-antimatter engines, so that when they reach the negative energy of the galactic barrier the ship will go kablooie.

Kirk is hesitant to give the suicide order. He stalls for time as Spock and Scotty press him to act, but ultimately he can’t bring himself to destroy his ship and crew just to stop the Kelvans. After a rough ride, the ship crosses the barrier and continues on its voyage to Kelva. Rojan orders Hanar to begin the “neutralizing operation” that will reduce all non-essential crew into inert cuboctahedra, making them easier to handle and stretching out the ship’s resources for its 300-year long trip. “Do you not agree that this is a better thing for them than exploding the ship as your engineer had thought to do?” Rojan asks Kirk. Only Kirk, Spock, Scott, and Dr. McCoy are spared, and even the doctor gets on Kirk’s case for not blowing them up. That’s no longer an option, and they can’t make another attempt at the projector because they need it to restore their crew.

In the rec room, a Kelvan named Tomar mocks them for eating food instead of nutritional pills. “Before you condemn it, why not try it?” McCoy says. He serves the Kelvan some food and… Mikey likes it! Tomar indulges in his meal enthusiastically, which strikes Spock as curious.

SPOCK: The isolated glimpses of things I saw when I touched Kelinda’s mind are beginning to coalesce in my consciousness. The Kelvans have superior intellectual capacity. To achieve it, they have apparently sacrificed anything which would tend to distract them. Perceptive senses such as taste, touch, smell, and, of course, emotions.
KIRK: But then Tomar shouldn’t be enjoying the taste of his food.
SPOCK: Yes. Quite correct, Captain. But they have taken human form and are therefore having human reaction.

Which gives Kirk the idea of “stimulating” their senses to confuse and distract the aliens. They each tackle a different Kelvan. Scotty takes Tomar under his wing, initiating him in the joys of binge drinking. McCoy doses Hanar with formazine shots that make him increasingly irritable. And Kirk does what he does best: he attempts to stimulate the female Kelvan Kelinda, but it doesn’t go exactly according to plan. He tries the old “apologizing with a kiss” trick, but she isn’t falling for it.

KELINDA: Is there some significance to this action?
KIRK: Well, among humans, it’s meant to express warmth and love.
KELINDA: Oh. You are trying to seduce me.

Rojan discovers them smooching, and Kirk beats a hasty retreat, embarrassed by the whole incident. But he may have had more of an effect than he thought. During a game of three-dimensional chess, Spock provokes Rojan into a jealous response to Kelinda’s interest in the captain. Later, Rojan orders her to avoid Kirk, but she refuses and he angrily grabs her arm. She seeks out Kirk in the rec room.

KELINDA: This cultural mystique surrounding the biological function.
KIRK: Yes?
KELINDA: You realize humans are overly preoccupied with the subject.
KIRK: Yes. We do think a great deal about it.
KELINDA: I’ve done some supplemental reading on it, and, er…
KIRK: You have a question?
KELINDA: Yes. I was wondering, would you please apologize to me again?

And that’s how Kirk got his groove back.

Under the effects of formazine, Hanar bursts onto the Bridge and yells at Rojan. Spock puts the Kelvan leader in an even worse mood when he intentionally rats on Kirk, mentioning that he last saw him in the company of Kelinda. “It would appear, sir, that you have little control over her,” he says. “Or perhaps Captain Kirk has more.”

In a jealous rage, Rojan breaks up their makeout session and Kirk slaps him, which devolves into a brawl. While they fight, the captain taunts the Kelvan, pointing out that he’s acting like a human and tries to goad him into using his neural device.

KIRK: Look what’s happened in the short time you’ve been exposed to us. What do you think will happen in three centuries? When this ship gets to Kelva, the people on it will be human. They’ll be aliens. Enemies!

Rojan insists he’s just doing his job, but the seed of doubt has been planted, allowing him to consider Kirk’s second offer for Federation aid in finding the Kelvans a suitable planet for colonization. The Federation will send a robot ship to Kelva to extend their offer of friendship, and Rojan and his people can settle on the planet where Enterprise discovered them. Kelinda tells Rojan she’ll be coming with him and apologizes to him the way Kirk taught her. The pleased Kelvan leader returns command of the ship to Kirk and they head for home.

 

Analysis

The title didn’t immediately tip me off to which episode this was. In fact, I accidentally watched “The Omega Glory” before “By Any Other Name” and mixed them up during the teaser. (In my defense, both episodes do show Starfleet personnel reduced to white powder.) When I saw Rojan and Kelinda on the planet I remembered pretty much everything following their takeover of Enterprise, though the tone at first didn’t mesh with my memories of the humorous efforts to stimulate the Kelvans that form the bulk of the episode.

The situation for the Enterprise crew is tense and engaging: once again, they’re the only defense against a devastating alien invasion. (Fontana and Bixby seem to borrow a page from Star Trek writer Robert Bloch and H.P. Lovecraft—mathematical equations and immense tentacled beings sound suspiciously like Old Ones.) But the Kelvan technology is so advanced, humans are powerless to stop them from taking the ship and incapacitating the crew.

Rojan is cold-blooded when he kills the Thompson-cuboctahedral to make a point, and his callous assessment of job functions for neutralization (“We have no need for communication.” Zap!) makes him a natural fit for corporate Human Resources if he needs a new job after botching the invasion. Ironically, it is human weakness that is the Kelvans’ downfall, coupled with their inability to handle the influx of new sensations and strong emotions. Of course, even with decades of experience, some humans never quite master their behavior…

Given the dark themes and serious nature of the episode, it’s surprising that “By Any Other Name” ends up as a comedy, but it certainly fits with the Shakespearean motif. It’s interesting that Shatner expresses sadness when he quotes Romeo & Juliet, “…that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” You can call a rose a sahsheer, but it’s still a rose. A Kelvan in a human body is still a human?

Much of the humor is excellent, particularly Kirk’s initial attempt to seduce Kelinda, Scotty’s scenes with Tomar, and Spock hinting at McCoy that they should leave the captain alone with the Kelvan woman:

SPOCK: Doctor, I’m due for another injection of stokaline.
MCCOY: Hmm?
SPOCK: Stokaline.

It’s also noteworthy that Spock serves as an advisor to Rojan as he does with Kirk—they even play chess together. Only in this relationship, the emotionless Vulcan is teaching the Kelvan about human emotion and inciting jealousy and anger. It’s appropriate that Spock is the one who realizes how to exploit the human side of the Kelvans, as he knows more than anyone how difficult it is to devote himself to logic with the distractions of his mixed heritage.

Some of the physical comedy is off—notably Tomar passing out after drinking the entirety of Scott’s liquor supply—but the main problem with the Enterprise crew’s “stimulation” of the Kelvans is that most of it isn’t necessary. Scotty is able to steal a device from Tomar, but then he passes out before he can deliver it to the captain. Hanar gets angry thanks to McCoy’s injections, but all he does is annoy Rojan a little, which Kirk is already doing a fine job of. And there are a few other Kelvans on board whom they don’t even interact with. The attempt to reverse the circuitry of McCoy’s neuro-analyzer also amounts to nothing; they were supposed to jam it, but once they find the central projector they talk about how their weapons can’t penetrate it. Does the casing shield it from their signal?

The major plot point that sticks out is Kirk’s decision not to sacrifice Enterprise to stop the Kelvans. Rarely do we see him so indecisive and torn over a command decision, and even his closest friends and advisors think he’s made the wrong call. Things work out in the end, as they do, but he probably did make a mistake. If he could have prevented a Kelvan invasion with the loss of just one ship, he should have. (Though I suppose Kelva might have sent another vessel eventually when they didn’t hear back from Rojan.) Not believing in the no-win scenario or in death as an option is one thing, but Kirk seems to think Spock and Scotty are nuts for even suggesting it.

Still, I found the episode both entertaining and intriguing enough to overlook its minor flaws and the recycled plot elements from previous episodes.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: I know the title’s from Romeo & Juliet, but didn’t this episode feel a lot more like Hamlet? I’ve never seen a more indecisive and weak Captain Kirk. It didn’t sit right to me that he wasn’t willing to self-destruct the ship. Granted, there would be no episode, but Kirk has always seen the big picture and acknowledged the burden of his position. He’s willing to plunge the ship into deadly space vortexes all the friggin’ time if it will save the Federation. What happened here?

The Kelvans are fascinating and I’m sorry they never return even in the later Treks. Their ruthlessness makes both the Romulans and the Klingons look like nothing more than schoolyard bullies. I especially loved that the Kelvan history brings up a few of the great science fictional problems with space travel: multigenerational ships, the emotional effect on a race that has grown up in the isolation of space, and the cognitive dissonance that goes with loyalty to an empire and culture they’ve never experienced. I was reminded of Contact and how Ellie Arroway is acutely aware that if she were to ever return to Earth, she would be an alien, an artifact, distant and different from the culture that produced her. It’s a terrifying thought and I liked that that became the pivot of the resolution.

Emotionally, a lot of things work. Usually red shirts just get zapped off, but here we (along with Kirk) actually watch them die. It’s distinctly uncomfortable, and I felt angry that Kirk didn’t try to do more to stop Rojan (a sentiment Kirk clearly shares, evidenced by the visible guilt on his face). The comedy was phenomenal—you can see how well the cast has come to relate to one another over the past year and a half. The banter, the body language, it all works much better than it did in the first season.

But despite all this the episode is ludicrous. Plot elements are introduced, then dropped; half the action is entirely unnecessary to the resolution; and Kirk’s reputation as a space-faring Don Juan teaching alien women how to love becomes, sadly, yet another catalyst for a pat ending. If “Return to Tomorrow” was a tightly focused laser beam, then “By Any Other Name” is like a plot colander. What ever happens to the medical device idea? Or Scotty successfully stealing the transmitter? Or the Kelvan that McCoy keeps giving the uppers to? The polyhedrons were obviously just an easy way to get rid of the rest of the crew for an episode—there is no reason the Kelvans would have actually let them continue on existing. For that matter, there’s no reason for them to let Kirk and the others exist, seeing as the Kelvans had no problem running the ship on their own. Even the Shakespeare reference fades from memory pretty quickly.

And finally, I don’t buy the ending. The Kelvans don’t seem interesting in much besides barking orders and generally being cruel to folks. They don’t even show an interest in getting in contact with their current government and homeworld. I don’t think they’d take a backwards planet in exchange for the chance to be ruthless conquerers, even if they’ve become squishy humans. Though I suppose a lot could have changed in 300 years—maybe their people have evolved into energy-based space douches.

Torie’s Rating: Warp Factor 3

Best Line: KIRK: “Immense beings with a hundred tentacles would have difficulty with the turbolift.”

Syndication Edits: Chekov reports something is penetrating the ship and Scotty orders him to increase power to the shields; Kelinda brings the landing party to the cave; Spock’s readings on the galactic barrier; some of the effects of crossing the barrier; two sections of Scotty and the Kelvan drinking; McCoy giving Hanar a second shot; part of Kirk and Kelinda’s second discussion of kissing.

Trivia: Two previous episodes are directly referenced, unusual for Star Trek: Enterprise’s previous visit to the galactic barrier (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and Spock’s use of a Vulcan mind probe to influence a guard on Eminiar VII (“A Taste of Armageddon”).

Scotty’s line, “It’s green,” is echoed by Data (without the use of a contraction) when he serves the engineer an unidentified drink in the TNG episode “Relics.” Picard later tells Scott it’s Aldeberan whiskey. A similar drink appears in the Enterprise episode “In a Mirror, Darkly” on the Constitution-class Defiant.

By the TNG episode “Where No One Has Gone Before,” maximum warp seems to match that of the Kelvan-enhanced engines, since they mention that a trip from Triangulum to the Milky Way would take 300 years.

This is the only appearance of Scotty’s quarters in the series, stereotypically decorated with a kilt, bagpipes, armor, and a wall plaque.

The idea to transform people into cuboctahedrals was inspired by a Mexican onyx dodecahedron that D.C. Fontana gave to Roddenberry which he played with while the writers discussed the problem of eliminating the crew.

Other notes: Fans might recognize Warren Stevens (Rojan) as Dr. Ostrow in Forbidden Planet and from appearances in The Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, and Science Fiction Theater.

Yeoman Thompson’s death as a cuboctahedral (and the attractiveness of the actress who portrayed her, Julie Cobb) was discussed on Alton Brown’s cooking show Good Eats.


Next episode: Season 2, Episode 22 – “The Omega Glory.” U.S. residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.


Eugene Myers thinks that if a machine is the source of your power, you should probably hide it better.

Torie Atkinson thinks that surely there are alien women out there who already know how to love, and is mystified that Kirk keeps finding the untaught ones…

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