“Elaan of Troyius”
Written & Directed by
John Meredyth Lucas
Season 3, Episode 13
Production episode 3x2
Original air date: Dec. 20, 1968
Recap: David Mack
Kirk and the Enterprise crew arrive at the planet Elas in the Tellun star system, with top-secret orders to chauffer Troyian diplomat Ambassador Petri and “cooperate” with him in “all matters pertaining to his mission.” None of the Starfleet officers are happy about this, nor do they understand the Klingons’ interest in the Federation-controlled system.
Uhura lets Kirk know the Elasians are ready to beam up but in a bad mood. Kirk has no idea what they’re angry about. Spock chalks it up to Elasian males’ reputation for being “vicious and arrogant,” prompting McCoy to wax ecstatic about Elasian women’s “subtle mystical power that drives men wild.” (Ah, yes—I love the smell of stereotypes in the morning….)
Kirk and his officers join Petri, who looks like a bleached Andorian sans antennae. Petri says it’s time to meet his people’s most feared and hated enemy, the Dohlman. Inside the transporter room, three men dressed like worker bees in a low-budget grade-school play materialize. The man in sparkly orange is Kryton, the Dohlman’s bodyguard. After being assured by Kirk that the Enterprise is secure, the Dohlman beams up.
A young woman in a silver bikini and Cleopatra wig materializes, suggesting that “Dohlman” is Elasian for “go-go dancer.” Everyone kneels…
Elaan, Dohlman of Elas, informs Kirk that on his ship he will speak when spoken to. Petri greets her; she blows him off, then gives Spock permission to show her to her quarters and grants Kirk permission to leave. Miraculously, Kirk refrains from killing her on the spot, choosing instead to step out to the corridor and interrogate Petri.
Petri explains that Elaan is to be wed to the ruler of Troyius in order to broker a peace between their warring worlds, which recently have acquired the means of mutual annihilation. Kirk and the Enterprise crew are to ferry her to Troyius for the wedding, but slowly, so that Petri can have time to teach her “civilized manners.” One gets the impression he’d have more luck trying to talk a hungry dog off a meat wagon.
Just about the only thing keeping Kirk from pushing them all out an airlock is the fact that his superiors have made it clear this mission’s success is vital to Federation interests.
Spock, now serving as the Enterprise’s concierge, tells Kirk the Elasians—in particular, the Dohlman—are unhappy with their quarters but will not say why. This ticks off Uhura, who had to give up her quarters for Elaan. Kirk, like a hotel manager hoping to prevent a petulant rock star from trashing her room, goes to find out what Elaan’s gripe is.
Kirk arrives to find Elaan rejecting Petri’s trove of royal gifts, and Petri’s façade of civility cracking like a fourteen-year-old boy’s voice on a big date. She throws everything not nailed down at Petri and Kirk and rages at the feminine trappings of the room. (My first thought was, “If she hates pillows, she’ll love the brig.”) After ejecting Petri, Elaan demands Kirk give her better quarters. He tells her there aren’t any and suggests she deal with it. As she grabs a pillow to hurl at him, he quips:
KIRK: If that’s the only way you can get gratification, I’ll arrange to have the whole room filled from floor to ceiling with breakable objects.
I do believe you’ve been pwned, Your Glory.
Petri is ready to give up on his mission, but Kirk gives him a pep talk that can be summed up as, “Grow a pair and show that brat who’s boss.” (In other words, he invites the weak-kneed Petri to sign his own death warrant.)
Lest viewers mistake the show for a sitcom, we get a hint of a real threat: Spock has detected a “sensor ghost.” Some unknown vessel seems to be shadowing the Enterprise. Gee, who do you think it might be…? Before we can dwell on that, Scotty calls up to complain that the Elasians are molesting his precious engines. James T. Kirk, hotel manager, heads belowdecks to put out another metaphorical fire.
Elaan risks her life by denigrating the role of starship engines and engineers in front of Scotty. Before the enraged Scotsman can turn the Dohlman into haggis, Kirk intervenes. Elaan balks at the interruption: she has granted the Enterprise crew permission not to kneel in her presence—what more do these peons want? Faster than you can say, “Your head on a plate, Dohlman,” Kirk defuses the tense situation…
…only to return to an even more tense situation: Spock’s “sensor ghost” has moved closer to the Enterprise. Kirk returns to the bridge in time to see the ghost materialize on the main viewscree: it’s a Klingon battle cruiser. Dun-dun-dunnnn!
Just when Kirk thinks his day can’t get any better, security reports a “disturbance in the Dohlman’s quarters.” Kirk puts on his “hotel detective” hat and heads back belowdecks. The Elasian guards try to prevent him from entering, but then Elaan exits—enabling Kirk to see what the fuss is about: the knife that Elaan has stabbed into Petri’s back.
In sickbay later, McCoy gives Kirk the good news: Petri will live. Uhura gives Kirk the bad news: the Federation high commissioner is en route to Troyius for the royal wedding. Meanwhile, a few feet away, Nurse Chapel asks Petri what men see in Elasian women that makes them put up with their crap. He explains it’s a biochemical infection: Elasian women’s tears have an aphrodisiacal property. Kirk misses that bit of mission-critical intel. Then Petri gives Kirk the worst news: if he wants Elaan to wed the ruler of Troyius, teaching the brat manners will now be Kirk’s problem.
Kirk finds Elaan doing her best impression of Henry VIII crossed with Paris Hilton on a long-weekend bender, and informs her that he’s taking over her instruction in etiquette. She balks and insults him; he asserts his authority and calls her on her crap. She reacts by bitch-slapping him, and he responds by slapping her.
Don’t act so shocked. After all, Henry Higgings had to slap the Cockney out of Eliza Doolittle’s mouth in My Fair Lady, right? Mary Poppins made her point by spanking the Banks children into a stupor, right? Anna taught the royal children of Siam by burning them with cigarettes, right? Right. Nothing to see here. Let’s move on.
Back on the bridge, Kirk opens hailing frequencies to challenge the Klingon ship that’s tailing them, but gets no reply. Down in main engineering, Kryton sabotages the Enterprise’s engines. An engineer tries to stop him, so Kryton kills him.
Kirk pays another visit to Elaan, but her guards refuse to let him enter and shove him away. Then Spock stuns them from behind with a phaser shot, proving that Elaan really does like ’em big and stupid.
Kirk goes inside and disarms Elaan as she tries to stab him. She locks herself in the bathroom and demands he never touch her again. He says that if he does, it will be to administer a spanking (but not to worry, he has a lot of experience with that sort of thing, and he usually buys a lady dinner first). She tries to send him away, and he threatens to send Spock in his place. That gets her to emerge from the bathroom and make a confession: she doesn’t know how to make people like her. Will he teach her?
And then… she starts crying. Uh-oh.
Kirk consoles her, and then he makes a terrible mistake: he brushes the tear from her cheek, and you can see on Elaan’s face that she knows she owns this guy now. No more eating off a plate or drinking from a cup for her! She gets the smitten skipper to promise to tell her more about spanking, and then they suck face.
Belowdecks, Kryton finishes breaking stuff in the engine room, so he calls the Klingons to let them know the Enterprise is hosed and ready for a major ass-whupping. The bridge crew detects Kryton’s signal, alerts are sounded, and Kryton is captured. Threatened with having his schemes revealed by a Vulcan mind-meld, Kryton breaks free just long enough to disintegrate himself with a phaser. Kirk wonders, What was Kryton trying to hide? He sets Scotty to work checking for anything Kryton might have messed with.
Elaan tells Kirk that Kryton was of a noble family and wanted to marry her. Furious about Elaan’s arranged marriage, Kryton sold out to the Klingons to prevent it. That still doesn’t tell Kirk why the Klingons are involved. Meanwhile, Elaan reveals that she has chosen Kirk—he’s her ticket out of this lousy arranged marriage (she hopes). She pounces on him, but their make-out session is interrupted by Spock and McCoy, who don’t buy Kirk’s story about conducting a surprise inspection of the Dohlman’s tonsils.
Out in the corridor, McCoy and Spock get Kirk to admit he touched Elaan’s tears, and then McCoy explains to Kirk just how much trouble he’s in. Kirk tells Bones to find an antidote to Elaan’s control over him while he and Spock go to the bridge to face off against the Klingon cruiser, which is closing in fast.
On the bridge, Kirk is about to take his ship into battle when Scotty reports on Kryton’s sabotage: the Enterprise’s antimatter fuel pods are rigged to explode the moment the ship engages its warp drive. The Enterprise is stuck at sub-light against a much faster foe. This is gonna get ugly…
…or not. At the last moment, Kirk orders his men to hold fire, and the Klingons cruise past without firing a shot. Spock speculates that the Klingons never intended to attack, merely to goad the Enterprise into causing its own destruction. Clearly, the Klingons aren’t ready to plunge into open war against the Federation—but they are willing to resort to sabotage and murder to gain control over the Tellun system. The question remains: Why?
Adding to Kirk’s problems is Elaan’s presence on the bridge. He gets testy when Spock suggests she shouldn’t be there, but then the captain reins in his hormones and reasons with Elaan that she should go to sickbay and stop distracting him. For her own good, of course.
In a turbolift with Elaan, Kirk confirms that he will complete his mission and see her wed on Troyius, but he also confesses that he won’t be happy about it. Then Scotty interrupts with more bad news: Kryton’s sabotage has fried the ship’s dilithium crystals. No crystals means no main power—ergo, no warp drive, no weapons, and barely any shields.
So, of course, that’s when the Klingons order the Enterprise to surrender and prepare to be boarded. There’s no point calling Starfleet for help; doing so would only confirm for the Klingons that the Enterprise is helpless, and help could not possibly arrive before the ship is destroyed. Kirk stalls by continuing on course to Troyius and issuing a bold challenge to the Klingons—who call his bluff without blinking. So much for that plan.
Down in sickbay, Petri pleads with Elaan one last time to don the ceremonial necklace he brought her, as a token of respect for their peoples’ mutual wish for peace.
Elaan returns to the bridge wearing her fourth (or is it fifth?) outfit of the episode, with the Troyian necklace as an accessory. Kirk confronts her, and she says she wants to die with him. Well, isn’t that sweet? (If a bit defeatist.) “We’re not gonna die,” Kirk tells her. She looks as if she almost believes him—and then the Klingons open fire and start beating the daylights out of the Enterprise.
Things look bleak until Spock picks up some strange energy readings—from Elaan’s necklace. She says it’s a worthless trinket made of “common stones”…which Spock confirms are raw dilithium! Well, isn’t that convenient? Spock takes the necklace down to Scotty to fix the engines.
Kirk yammers at the Kingon commander to buy time, with little success. Scotty puts the raw, crude crystals into place and warns they might work, or they might explode. Kirk takes his ship into a head-first showdown with the Klingon cruiser, gambling everything on the element of surprise. The ruse works, Kirk and crew hand the Klingons their hats, and Elaan can’t believe that Kirk is satisfied with a mere victory and refuses to finish off the Klingon ship.
The Enterprise reaches Troyius, and Kirk bids Elaan farewell. Before she beams down, she gives Kirk her dagger, because such things are not worn on Troyius. (Reminds me of one of my college girlfriends, whose prized possession was her butterfly knife, but that’s another story…) Elaan and Petri beam down with her guards.
Later, before the ship leaves orbit, an ecstatic McCoy steps onto the bridge and informs Spock that he has concocted the antidote to Elasian tears. Spock rains on McCoy’s parade by pointing out that Captain Kirk no longer has any need of the cure:
SPOCK: The antidote to a woman of Elas is a starship. The Enterprise infected the captain long before the Dohlman did.
On that note, the Enterprise warps away to its next adventure, and we… FADE OUT.
This was a much stronger episode than my snark-filled recap might lead one to believe. It has action, comedy, and drama rich with conflict. The dialogue crackles, and guest-star France Nuyen’s superb portrayal of Elaan invites favorable comparison with such Shakespearean leading ladies as Cleopatra and Beatrice.
But let’s not mince words: this episode is about as sexist, chauvinistic, and borderline racist as original series Star Trek gets. It plays on stereotypes of women in general and Asian women in particular, and it depicts Kirk’s slapping of Elaan as a righteous act.
So, why am I giving this episode so favorable a rating? Well, as I said before, it succeeds on the technical merits: good acting, great pacing, and wonderful special effects. And as atrocious as the Elasian men’s costumes are, they are offset by the variety and quality of Elaan’s wardrobe. Yes, I can imagine this episode ranking high on many modern viewers’ lists of Star Trek’s most offensive hours…but it also scores high on pure fun. So there.
David’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Analysis: Dayton Ward
My, but that William Shakespeare’s had some kind of influence on Star Trek in all its various forms, hasn’t he? Few adaptations of the Bard’s canon are less subtle than this reworking of The Taming of the Shrew. In this version, Captain Kirk is given the unenviable task of transporting Elaan, a reluctant bride-to-be and a young woman of royalty on her home planet of Elas, for an arranged marriage to the leader of Troyius, the planet with which Elas has been at war. It’s hoped that the marriage will bring an end to the conflict and allow the worlds to live in peace, but you have to wonder whose boneheaded idea this was. That much is never really explained, just as no light is shed on how the people of Troyius are supposed to just accept their ruler’s new wife. According to the Troyian ambassador, Petri, his people hate and fear “the Dohlman of Elas.”
Speaking of Petri, every time I hear that name, I think of Rob Petrie from the classic 1960s sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show. I kept waiting for the ambassador to trip over an ottoman or something. Instead, Petri’s curse is to act as a sort of mentor to Elaan during the Enterprise’s voyage to Troyius, teaching her the customs of his world. The setup, though only a couple of steps away from being declared ridiculous, is saved from crossing that line by the humor to be mined from the concept, and the episode largely succeeds in this endeavor. Well, I suppose one could find it funny when Elaan, no doubt less than enthused at the prospect of enduring Petri’s fussy nitpicking and disapproving scowls as he tries to teach her the ways of his people, decides to stick a dagger in his back. Despite this setback, things get kicked up a notch when Kirk finds out a high-ranking Federation official will be on hand for the impending wedding, and it’s now up to him to “indoctrinate” the headstrong Elaan in the ways of Troyius. That’s when this party really gets started.
As I said, there’s actually a great deal of humor in this episode, most of it supplied by William Shatner. Kirk’s array of teasing, sardonic comments are directed mostly at the obstinate Dohlman as he does the best he can at teaching Elaan how to be a prim and proper member of Troyian society. We suspect that the good captain would rather be doing anything—sword-fighting Klingons, dancing around in a dress while Spock sings “Maiden Wine,” drifting through a parallel dimension in a space suit that’s running out of oxygen—to avoid enduring this madness. Both Shatner and France Nuyen play up these early scenes without going overboard, and some of their responses and facial expressions during Elaan’s temper tantrums still give me a chuckle.
It’s only when the Dohlman reveals a vulnerability, a need for people to like her, that Kirk finds himself on what he thinks is comfortable footing. Of course, that’s when he falls right into Elaan’s trap: Her Tears of Seduction™. It’s interesting to note that once she has Kirk under her “spell,” she affects a much calmer and more mature demeanor, and one realizes that her earlier theatrics were as much a simple plea for attention as they were dissent over the role she’s been ordered to play in interplanetary politics.
Costume designer William Ware Theiss certainly earned his pay for this episode, considering the array of clothing he was required to provide just for the Dohlman of Elas. The various ensembles sported by Elaan are very fetching, particularly that blue number. Yo. That said, the praise for Elaan’s clothes can’t be extended to that of her guards. Egads, but who decided orange and glitter made for intimidating body armor? It wasn’t until I did some research for this piece (thank you, Memory Alpha) that I learned that the “armor plates” of the guards’ costumes actually were red and orange plastic place mats. Red and orange? I suppose we can blame those on the hippies, too. Damn those kids and their music! As for Petri, his outfit makes him look like a constipated genie, with a hairdo that’d make Donald Trump sit up and take notice.
The episode contains several plot points we’ve seen before, most of them coming from the second season’s “Journey to Babel.” As before, we have a mysterious, ghostly vessel shadowing the Enterprise as the starship plays host to a contentious and fragile diplomatic situation while ferrying political VIPs. Both episodes feature saboteurs who kill themselves before they can be forced to reveal too much information about their superiors. It’s too bad Captain Kirk didn’t have Jack Bauer working for him, eh? The bad guys—Klingons this time, rather than Orions—attack the ship, and Kirk is forced to deal with them while operating in an impaired condition (rather than recovering from a severe knife wound, he’s still dealing with the effects of Elaan’s tears and his “love” for her). And once again, with the Enterprise damaged from weapons fire, Kirk manages to bluff the enemy ship into coming close enough that he can deal a crippling blow to turn the battle in his favor. You know, it’s always fun to sit back and watch Jim Kirk outmaneuver an opponent, even when you realize that the tactics he’s employing are cribbed from Starship Combat for Dummies.
And about those Klingons: hardcore Treknophiles know that “Elaan of Troyius” marks the first actual use of the “official” model for the Klingon battle cruiser. Though the episode was the thirteenth to air during the third season, it was the second to be filmed. Its use of several new optical effects necessitated its being delayed in the broadcast order, and because of this, other episodes that used the model to a lesser extent were aired ahead of it. Indeed, “Day of the Dove,” which was broadcast as the seventh episode of the season, uses footage originally filmed for this episode.
Of course, as is often the case with the original series, we can’t help but view this episode through a modern lens, which serves only to expose more than a bit of rampant chauvinism on display here. Setting aside the obvious example of the Elaan’s forced betrothal to the Troyian ruler, when we snicker at Kirk’s comment to Spock that the only logical women in the entire galaxy are to be found on Vulcan, we’d be idiots not to acknowledge that it’s an incredibly sexist thing to say. Whenever my wife hears Kirk threaten to spank the Dohlman unless she starts minding her manners, she smacks me just on general principle and out of an instinctive desire to protect the Sisterhood. Both Kirk and McCoy offer observations about women in general and Elasian women in particular that would probably get them kicked in the junk today. About the only person on modern television that I can imagine making such remarks without some kind of repercussion is serial womanizer Barney…wait for it…Stinson on How I Met Your Mother.
As for the Dohlman’s power over Kirk, we know it’s fleeting. Episodes such as “The Naked Time” and “This Side of Paradise” have already shown us that Kirk’s love for his ship is greater than the passion he’ll ever feel for any woman. Some people might find that noble or even romantic, whereas others might feel the need to quote John Bender from The Breakfast Club: “So, it’s sorta social. Demented and sad, but social.” I can sympathize with the good captain, as I experience unrequited feelings of yearning for that sweet ’65 Mustang Shelby Fastback I watched a neighbor restore one summer while living in Georgia.
I know, I know. Oversharing again, right?
Though not the most thrilling episode, and despite certain unfortunate elements that conspire to forever mark the original series as a product of its time, “Elaan of Troyius” is certainly not a third-season “stinker.” Combining a nice balance of humor, drama, character introspection and action, it accomplishes its mission and largely manages to entertain from start to finish.
Dayton’s Rating: 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 pretty sure he dated Elaan’s soul-sister in college—and feels lucky he lived to tell the tale.
Dayton Ward tried to get his wife to wear Elaan’s slinky blue dress, and she smacked him again.