“The Paradise Syndrome”
Written by Margaret Armen
Directed by Jud Taylor
Season 3, Episode 3
Production episode 3×03
Original air date: October 4, 1968
Recap: David Mack
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to a planet so Earth-like it’s covered with Terran plants. They also find a phallic, metal obelisk festooned with alien glyphs (a distant cousin of the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Spock says its interior is impervious to scans and that it was built by a civilization with technology superior to that of the Federation, which would seem to be anyone capable of making an iPhone.
The trio seeks out the nearest group of life-forms, who appear to be Native Americans—a colony comprising traits of the Navajo, Mohican, and Delaware tribes, according to Spock’s expert eye.
The boys can’t linger and spy on the natives, however. They need to get back to the Enterprise to stop a massive asteroid (codenamed “Custer,” if anyone in Starfleet has a sense of irony) that’s on a collision course for this pretty blue world that Kirk would like to turn into his personal retirement villa.
Before heading back to the ship, Kirk stops for one more look at the obelisk. As per Starfleet standard procedure, Spock and McCoy let the captain wander off on his own. After all, what could go wrong?
Kirk soon finds out. As he tries to contact the Enterprise, a trap door opens under his feet and dumps him into the belly of the obelisk, whose “alien” controls look a lot like the ones on the Enterprise, except for a few crazy squiggles on the walls. The captain touches the wrong panel as he stands up, gets himself electrocuted, and misses the bus back to the ship.
Spock and McCoy realize Kirk is AWOL. Sensor sweeps of the planet’s surface and multiple search parties find no sign of the captain, or of any pubs or women’s colleges where he might be hiding. With time running out to save the planet, Spock calls off the search. McCoy throws a fit at the idea of abandoning Kirk. Spock makes him see reason by illustrating the planet’s complex astrophysical dilemma with a pair of rocks. He could’ve used the rocks to bludgeon McCoy unconscious in half the time.
Later, Kirk awakens underground, in the dark, with no memory of who or where he is, or how he got there; it’s a predicament he faces every time he goes on shore leave, except this time he still has his pants on. He climbs some stairs and the trapdoor opens, letting him out of the control room. His emergence from the obelisk is witnessed by a pair of amazingly European-looking “Native American” women, who get down on their knees and do their best impressions of the Land O’ Lakes butter maiden. One of them, we will soon learn, is Miramanee, the priestess of the nearby village.
While Kirk basks in the adoration of his new groupies, Spock makes the Enterprise crew push the ship to its limits so they can keep their appointment with the big, dangerous rock. (How hard can this job be? Bruce Willis and a team of misfits in a built-by-the-lowest-bidder rocket cracked a bigger ball than this one in just under two weeks.)
Back on the planet, Kirk (a.k.a. The Paleface with No Name) has been mistaken by some of the natives for a god. In typical Kirk fashion, he does not correct them. One angry dude, Salish the medicine chief, wants to test Kirk’s godhood. Then Miramanee brings in a drowned boy; Salish pronounces the kid dead. Kirk resuscitates the boy by using CPR. Once the natives realize Kirk is saving the kid and not merely molesting his corpse, they diss Salish by making Kirk the medicine chief. Salish is about as pissed off as any man would be after getting fired and seeing his job taken by an illegal alien.
Incidentally, the job of medicine chief comes with a cool headband that’s remarkably elastic when one realizes these people should not yet have invented synthetic fibers.
Far away in space, Scotty tells Spock all the reasons why the Vulcan’s plan to stop the asteroid won’t work and will frag the Enterprise. Spock takes a page from the James T. Kirk Playbook and orders Scotty to proceed anyway. Lo and behold, the attempt comes up short, and the ship winds up busted and limping backward at quarter impulse. Way to break the ship, hero.
Back on the planet, Miramanee adds insult to injury by letting Salish know that not only has Kirk taken his job, but now she’s breaking her engagement to Salish so she can wed Kirk. Later, she tells Kirk a story of the “wise ones” who brought her people to the planet long ago. Their conversation is interrupted by the tribal chief, who finally asks Kirk’s name. The captain’s memory is still Swiss cheese, so he stutters his reply, and the chief decides Kirk’s name is “Kirok.”
That’s right—Miramanee was going to marry a dude whose name she didn’t even know.
Two months pass. On the Enterprise, Spock spends a lot of time studying pictures of the obelisk and ignoring McCoy’s furious rants about “the captain” this and “the captain” that. On the planet, Kirk—excuse me, Kirok—gets cut in a knife fight with Salish, who growls, “Behold a god who bleeds!” Never mind that—behold a grown man who can’t get over a bad breakup.
Kirok weds Miramanee, chases her through the woods, and utters the least convincing declaration of happiness I’ve ever heard. His bliss is tainted by his troubling dreams of “the strange lodge that moves through the sky.” Fortunately, Miramanee knows just what will cheer him up: she’s knocked up, and it’s his!
Yeah, because that’s never scared off Kirk before. (cough… Carol Marcus and her son, David … cough)
As the asteroid nears the planet, the skies darken, the winds howl, the ground trembles, and cats cohabitate with dogs. The natives know something bad is afoot, and Miramanee tells Kirok it’s his job to get inside the obelisk and flip its switch. He protests he doesn’t know how, but that is not what the tribal leader and Salish want to hear, so Kirok winds up on top of the obelisk, shouting, “I am Kirok! I have come!” Not only does the obelisk not open its door for Kirok, it has the bouncer tell him he’s not on the list.
On the Enterprise, Spock tells McCoy the symbols on the obelisk are musical notes by an awesome band—I mean, a mysterious civilization—known as the Preservers, who passed through the galaxy, rescuing and transplanting “endangered cultures.” (Somewhere, I fear, is a planet where “Disco lives forever!”) This, apparently, explains why the natives of every planet the Enterprise has visited for the past two years have been humans.
Back on the planet, Salish runs as a Tea Party candidate, turns the natives against Kirok, and helps them pelt their rejected god and Miramanee with rocks. (Good thing these folks are descended from the “peaceful” Native American cultures, or else they might’ve scalped our hapless captain.)
Then Spock and McCoy appear from transporter beams and scare off the natives. It’s hard to tell what shocks the duo more: seeing Kirk in buckskin, or hearing him call for his wife. Spock jump-starts Kirk’s memory with some Vulcan mind-mojo, and then he tells Kirk the obelisk is the asteroid-deflector that protects the planet. In what can be described only as a cosmic coincidence par excellence, the secret phrase to open the trapdoor is “Kirk to Enterprise.” Apparently, the Preservers were Star Trek fans.
Kirk cuts off a classic Spock technobabble, and Spock hotwires the obelisk, which repels the asteroid and saves the planet. Hurray! But then Kirk learns that Miramanee and her unborn child both will die from injuries sustained during the stoning. She dies in his arms, sparing him the disgrace of abandoning his family by returning to his ship or the burden of being slapped with alimony and child-support payments. Fade out.
Mockery aside, this episode’s ending is very somber and more than a bit touching. Despite some off-note moments in his performance throughout the episode, William Shatner plays the sorrow of the episode’s final scene with subtlety and honest emotion. Also, the revelation of the Preservers was one of the coolest throwaway bits from the original series, one that went on to become a key component of the Star Trek universe. There are a lot of groan-worthy episodes in the show’s third season, but I don’t think this one is as bad as many accuse it of being.
David’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Analysis: Dayton Ward
It occurred to me as I sat down to watch this episode that it’s been a number of years since I’d last seen it in its entirety. I went in fully prepared to be greeted by another “third season stinker,” but “The Paradise Syndrome” actually does have several nice things going for it.
A bulging fistful of original series episodes feature cultures that have evolved in ways very similar—if not outright identical—to that of Earth. The “inside the box” explanation for this was something called “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development,” which is sort of Star Trek producer code for “Do it this way, and we can use existing props, wardrobe, and backlot sets for our alien planets.” While this conceit did help to provide enjoyable outings like “A Piece of the Action” and (to a lesser extent) “Bread and Circuses,” it also gave us “The Omega Glory.”
“The Paradise Syndrome” falls somewhere in the middle of such stories, mostly because the explanation for the apparent parallel actually makes a bit of sense. The theory put forth is that the planet’s inhabitants—a mixture of different Native American tribes—were brought here by an ancient, advanced race known as “the Preservers.” Spock’s studies of the obelisk and the glyphs decorating its outer surfaces reveal to him that the Preservers once traveled the galaxy, retrieving specimens from various primitive civilizations who, for one reason or another, were facing extinction. The Preservers then took the representatives collected from such societies and transplanted them to other, compatible worlds as a sort of interstellar conservation measure. This idea is interesting on its own and well-deserving of more attention than it receives in the episode. McCoy even puts forth the idea that the actions of the Preservers are the reason why there are so many humanoid species scattered throughout the galaxy, as opposed to the prevailing theory that there just aren’t a whole lot of non-humanoids who are members of the Screen Actors Guild. The doctor’s hypothesis does, in fact, plant a rather nice continuity seed that eventually is revisited—at least to a certain degree—in “The Chase,” a sixth-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
As for the episode itself, it’s hard to argue this isn’t one of the better-looking entries of the series. One aspect of the story’s production that really helps its execution is its extensive use of on-location production. Not counting a brief scene in one of the series’ final installments, “The Paradise Syndrome” was the only third-season episode to feature any scenes filmed outdoors. The “planet exterior” scenes were filmed at what today is called Franklin Canyon Park in Los Angeles, and sells the notion of visiting an idyllic, tranquil planet far better than if the budget had forced the use of the ever-reliable “Alien Planet Set” on Stage 32. As for the beautiful lake visible in establishing shots as well in the background throughout the episode, it’s the same one Andy Taylor and his son Opie can be seen walking past at the beginning of every episode of The Andy Griffith Show.
Other aspects of the production are also deserving of praise. The Preserver obelisk is an impressive set piece, full of mystery and unlike anything else created throughout the run of the series. Production designer Matt Jefferies and his team did a wonderful job of matching the obelisk’s exterior shots to the set built to represent the enigmatic object’s interior chamber. As for the asteroid threatening the planet’s existence, it doesn’t really look all that menacing, resembling as it does the misshapen head of a renegade Melkotian (“Spectre of the Gun”). For those who dig it, though; worry not. You’ll be seeing it again later in the season, when it stands in for the “worldship” Yonada in “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.”
The costumes worn by the planet’s native inhabitants are visually striking, the tanned leather accented by intricate bead and feather work being an intriguing change of pace from the single-color jumpsuits and otherworldly gowns and dresses normally put forth by costume designer William Ware Theiss. I’m sure a lot of those costumes either were borrowed from the studio’s vast wardrobe, thanks to numerous western films and television series, or at the very least enhanced with some of Theiss’ trademark flair, and they work marvelously here.
One nice bit of detail is William Shatner’s hair: You’ll notice that as the episode progresses and Kirk’s stay on the planet extends from days to weeks, that his hair seems to grow a bit and becomes scruffier, and he loses his iconic “Starfleet-style” pointed sideburns.
Speaking of Shatner, he brings a wonderfully nuanced performance to his “dual role” in this episode. As the ever-dutiful if somewhat tired Kirk gazing upon the unfettered beauty around him, he looks ready to stake a claim and build a cabin somewhere along the lake. After Kirk’s accidental encounter with the ancient Preserver technology and the wiping of his memory, Shatner puts forth a believable air of bewilderment and uncertainty, particularly when he’s looking as though he’s struggling to latch on to fleeting hints of a past life which are attempting to reassert themselves. Finally, when the captain is faced with the death of the woman he loves and who now bears his unborn child, Shatner affects a level of grieving that’s more restrained than what we see Kirk enduring as Edith Keeler dies at the end of “The City on the Edge of Forever.” It seems more authentic here, and Shatner plays the moment with just the right balance of sensitivity and sadness.
Equally noteworthy are Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, adding yet another slant to the ever-evolving relationship between Spock and McCoy. Though they bicker like brothers, their mutual respect—as always—finds a way to shine. Perhaps feeling guilty over the decisions he made or failed to make so far as deflecting the asteroid are concerned, Spock pushes himself to decipher the mystery of the Preserver obelisk while foregoing sleep and food. McCoy sees what his friend is doing and holds his own form of intervention (which in Bones-speak means he told him to extract his head from a certain body orifice they wouldn’t have been able to mention on TV back in 1968).
Most of the guest stars turn in strong performances, but Sabrina Scharf is a standout as Miramanee. The only fault I can find is not with Scharf’s own effort, but in the part she was given to play. I would’ve liked to have seen her with a greater role in the tribe, either with an expanded look at her position as a priestess, or even as a “medicine woman” or other village leader. Tribal women were trained to protect their children and the community from attacks by other tribes, too, so it might even have been interesting to see Miramanee face off against Salish herself, rather than having Kirk best him in their fight.
“The Paradise Syndrome” is one of only nine of the third season’s 24 episodes to feature a new, full musical score, rather than reusing or “tracking” music created for earlier episodes. It would also mark the last work for the series by composer Gerald Fried, whose contributions to the original Star Trek include music for such episodes as “Shore Leave” and “Amok Time,” including that episode’s iconic “fight theme” which continues to be the target of homage and parody to this day.
Neither one of the very best nor the very worst installments of Star Trek’s final season or even the series as a whole, “The Paradise Syndrome” is a solid if not action-packed middle-of-the-road outing for Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew. It’s graced with fine production values and solid performances, all of which help to elevate it above some of the final year’s truly weaker episodes.
Dayton’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.
David Mack is the author of numerous Star Trek novels and the cowriter of two episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He wonders daily what his life would be like if he’d earned a degree in something other than film and gotten a real job after college.
Dayton Ward … is … KIROK!