Thu
Jan 6 2011 5:25pm

Star Trek Re-watch: “Whom Gods Destroy”

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyWhom Gods Destroy
Teleplay by Lee Erwin
Story by Lee Erwin and Jerry Sohl
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

Season 3, Episode 14
Production episode 3x16
Original air date: January 3, 1969
Stardate 5718.3

Recap: Dayton Ward

The Enterprise has arrived at Elba II, home to an asylum that holds the Federation’s handful of truly criminally insane prisoners. Apparently, the ship comes bearing gifts, in the form of a new medicine which may well wipe out mental illness forever. You and I know that’s a load of buffalo bagels, because we see some of the fashion choices which, in a century or so, will be popular among Federation citizens. I’m looking at you, Wesley Crusher and your Sweaters of Doom.

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyKirk and Spock beam down to the asylum, which is surrounded by a protective force field that prevents unauthorized transporter use to and from the facility. With the shield once again engaged, the asylum’s director, Dr. Cory, threatens Kirk and Spock with dinner, because you have to know that asylum food is full of win. Along with the rest of the idle chitchat, Cory tells of the facility’s newest inmate, “Garth of Izar,” a former starship fleet captain who, of course, is one of Kirk’s heroes and whose missions are required reading at the Academy. Ever notice how all the people Kirk read about at the Academy end up being complete tools when he encounters them on this show? Think Garth will buck the trend?

Kirk asks to see Garth, and Cory leads them into the prison block. They walk past an Orion woman, Marta, who proclaims that Cory isn’t really who he claims to be. Dismissing her as a total loon, they proceed on to Garth’s cell, where Kirk and Spock are surprised to see…Cory! He’s looking pretty haggard, and he’s just sort of dangling there in a way that makes it look as though he’s having a rather uncomfortable affair with the business end of a Louisville Slugger jammed…well…let’s keep this PG-13, okay?

The Cory outside the cell starts laughing and then transforms into Garth, who then proceeds to release the other prisoners from their cells.

Whoops.

When we get back from the opening credits, Spock is being dragged away, having been phasered by Garth. Kirk’s now imprisoned with the real Cory, forced to listen as Garth yammers on and on about being the leader of the future masters of the universe. He wants Kirk’s help in taking command of the Enterprise so he can go hunt down his former ship and crew and make them pay for their having mutinied against him and sending his crazy ass to a padded Jefferies tube. Kirk, naturally, wants to know what Garth is smoking, but then Garth pulls out his special trick: he’s a shapeshifter! According to Cory, Garth learned the art of changing his form from the inhabitants of Antos IV, and used his ability to gain control of the Elba II facility. He can look like anyone, including Kirk, which is what he does before walking off in a laughing fit.

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyBut hey, there’s more to getting aboard the Enterprise than simply looking like her dashing captain! When Garth, posing as Kirk, contacts the ship and orders to be beamed up, Scotty replies with a three-dimensional chess move: “Queen to Queen’s Level Three.” Zoiks! It’s a password/countersign trap! His dastardly plan foiled, Garth responds as all true masters of the universe would in this situation, by throwing himself to the floor and having the sort of full-blown meltdown normally reserved for when little Johnny in the toy aisle at Walmart when he doesn’t get that cool Transformers™ thingamahoozit he wants.

Once he calms down, has ice cream and maybe a Prozac or twelve, Garth “invites” Kirk and Spock to be his guest at dinner. The “guests” are treated to a series of goofy antics which are the sort of lame activities that take place when there’s nothing on TV, the karaoke machine is busted, and nobody can find a deck of cards or even a Twister mat and some baby oil. I’m almost ready to run out into traffic at this point, but I decide to hold off on that when Marta starts shaking her groove thang.

Wait. What was I talking about?

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyThe dancing carries on long enough for me to start wondering if Paula Abdul might show up and tell Marta she’s going to Hollywood, before Garth tries pimping her out to Kirk. Yeah, like James Tiberius Boot-Knockin’ Kirk needs anybody’s help in the hooking up department. Doesn’t this guy even watch the show? Apparently not, because Garth’s big plan is to make Kirk and Spock his best buddies, you see, but the ensuing discussion only serves to reinforce the point that Garth is, you know, freakin’ crazy.

So, as you can guess, things sorta sour from there.

Garth turns the conversation to the topic of chess, and asks Kirk how he might respond to the move “Queen to Queen’s Level Three.” Wow. That was subtle, eh? When Kirk plays coy, Garth brings out his latest invention: the Recliner of Doom. It’s a chair fitted with some kind of neuro-whatchamagizmo which supposedly helped with the mental rehabilitation of some Elba II patients. Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyNaturally, Garth’s made certain “modifications” to it, and demonstrates those refinements on the already beat-up Dr. Cory. I’m guessing the same guy who built this thing also designed the chairs without seatbelts on the Enterprise, as the RoD features no visible means of restraining its occupant.

When torturing Cory doesn’t get Kirk to answer the chess question, Garth throws him into the chair and fires it up, but gets nowhere with our mighty captain. That’s when Marta steps up and offers to ply Kirk with her “wares.”

In the immortal words of GeorgeTakei, Oh, myyyyyyyy.”

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyNow alone with Kirk, Marta tries her hand at seducing him, but then somebody somewhere remembers that she’s supposed to be off her nut, too, at which point she pulls a knife and tries to stab Kirk. The captain fights her off just as Spock arrives and gives her that good ol’ Vulcan Nerve Pinch. Hey...where’d he get that phaser he’s carrying? Never mind that now.

The pair make their way to the control room, with Spock stunning a guard along the way and allowing Kirk to get his own phaser. When they contact the Enterprise and Scotty poses the chess question, Kirk says that Spock will give the countersign. Doh! Spock is really Garth, that sneaky shapeshifting kidder. Kirk tries to stun him but his phaser is dead; part of Garth’s elaborate ruse. While attempting to mollify Garth and distract his attention, Kirk makes a move for the force field control panel but doesn’t get there before Garth stuns him. Nighty-night, Jimbo. When Kirk awakens, it’s in time for Garth’s self-styled coronation where he appoints himself “Lord Garth, Master of the Universe.”

I want that on my new business cards.

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyAfter the ceremony, Garth has Kirk taken to the control room, where he offers a demonstration of an explosive he’s created, which he claims is the most powerful such weapon ever devised. He’s given Marta a necklace containing a small portion of the explosive compound, and had her taken outside the facility and beyond its pressure dome. Now exposed to the planet’s poisonous atmosphere, Marta can only wait, helpless, until Garth detonates the explosive.

Damn. With friends like that….

Deciding that Kirk’s too stubborn ever to give in to him, Garth decides to attempt forcing Spock to give him the information he wants. When the guards come for him, Spock feigns unconsciousness long enough to be removed from his cell, and then...Pah-POW! Double Vulcan Nerve Pinch FTW!

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroySpock arrives at the control room to find...two Kirks waiting for him. Both Kirks attempt to convince the Vulcan that they’re the real Kirk, and why Spock doesn’t just stun both men is one of those questions that just keeps bugging you, like, “Who shot JFK?” or “Why do we even know Kim Kardashian’s name?” When Spock turns his back to the dual Kirks, one of them (Garth, presumably, but at this point, I’m not betting on any horse) knocks him to the floor before both Kirks start to fighting each other. I mean, I guess it’s fighting. I haven’t seen a scuffle this lame since stumbling across this bit of cinematic greatness during a bout of insomnia one night.

Spock keeps watching this bit of stupidity play out for another minute or so before Kirk finally says what we’re all thinking: “Shoot us both!” Spock responds by shooting one of the Kirks, which turns out to be the right guess, as the unconscious “captain” then morphs back into Garth. With the situation well in hand, Spock contacts the Enterprise and finally answers that chess question that’s been bugging us for an hour: “Queen to King’s Level One.”

(By the way, this sign/countersign thing? An awesome way to pick up a date at a Star Trek convention. Just sayin’.)

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyMcCoy arrives and administers some of that fancy cure-all drug to the Elba II patients, while Dr. Cory has finished treating Garth with the chair/mental massage thingee, which has been restored to its proper operating condition. Garth emerges from the treatment looking like he’s just smoked a bowl and is looking for White Castle, after which Cory takes him back to his cell. Kirk yanks Spock’s chain about taking so long to figure out the whole “choose the right captain” game before calling to the Enterprise for beam-up. The ship warps out of orbit and we… FADE OUT.

Mmm…White Castle.


Wow.

One of the highlights of re-watching some third season episodes is that it’s given me a new appreciation for some installments that I had either dismissed or forgotten or unfairly maligned over the years. I’ve come away with fresh perspectives on a couple of the stories we’ve screened so far. This episode ain’t one of them.

The premise, as my partner in crime Mr. Mack will shortly explain, is ludicrous on a number of levels. The entire episode smacks of a 20-minute idea stretched to fit 52 minutes, filled with bland dialogue and uninspired performances, with the notable exception of Steve Ihnat, who plays Garth with unrestrained relish while leaving no bit of scenery unchewed.

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyThe lovely Yvonne Craig (the best Batgirl, by the way) also throws herself into the role of Marta with enthusiasm, but everyone else is little more than wallpaper. That Spock must act like a complete idiot in order to trigger the climactic fight between Kirk and Garth is nothing less than a wholesale disservice to the character, though Leonard Nimoy does manage to ring some nice deadpan humor out of the episode’s final scene.

Long story short? This is one of those Star Trek episodes that Star Wars fans throw back in our faces when we give them grief about Jar-Jar Binks.

Now, about those White Castle sliders….

Dayton’s Rating: Warp 1.5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

 

Star Trek episode Whom Gods Destroy

Analysis: David Mack

There is so much about this episode that is absurd, one hardly knows where to begin. The inanity starts in the cold open, which tells us that the Enterprise crew is delivering to Elba II a medicine that the Federation hopes will “cure mental illness for all time.” This is beyond ridiculous. How is one medicine supposed to cure all forms of mental illness in persons of all species and genders and ages, for all time? Garth was right to destroy it—it sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Putting aside the notion that the Antosians could teach Garth their technique for “cellular metamorphosis,” thereby enabling him to shapeshift his own body to mimic other humanoids, how does Garth transform his clothing? Is he perpetually naked and merely simulating clothing? Though I admit it is unfair to judge a 42-year-old TV series by the visual-effects standards of today, the blurring of the entire screen to conceal the jump cuts that shift Garth from one form to another are appallingly cheap-looking.

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyLet’s take a moment to talk about the costumes, shall we? What was up with the Andorian in the red-boa wrap? Or the Tellarite in silver pajamas? Not to mention Garth’s ridiculous fur-trimmed coat. The one nice costuming touch for Garth was attiring him in one metallic-blue boot and one gold boot—a sly visual nod to his unstable nature. And I would be lying if I denied that Yvonne Craig was flattered by the skimpy outfit that William Ware Theiss gingerly taped onto her.

I hear you saying, “Stop picking on the minutia, Dave. How were the performances?” Consistently mediocre. Steve Ihnat’s take on Garth of Izar’s madness was to shout most of his lines. William Shatner seems to have had the time of his life throwing a tantrum as the transformed Garth after failing to have himself beamed up to the Enterprise. Yvonne Craig probably gave herself a headache from maintaining a wide-eyed expression of shock for five days of filming. Leonard Nimoy sustains a perfectly blank mask of boredom. Keye Luke plays Dr. Cory as if suffering from a prolonged bout of indigestion.

My second-favorite moment in the entire episode was listening to Spock gently mocking Marta’s dancing by likening it to dances performed by Vulcan children in nursery school:

SPOCK: Of course, the children are not so … well coordinated.

However, the best moment, in my opinion, was this exchange:

GARTH: We, gentlemen, are that elite—and we must take what is rightfully ours, from the decadent weaklings that now hold it!

SPOCK: Captain Garth—

GARTH: Lord Garth!

SPOCK: (beat) As you wish.

Nimoy’s delivery is so unfazed, so flat, that his disaffection in the face of Garth's megalomania is hilarious.

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyThe budget constraints of the third season remain glaringly apparent. Despite telling us there are a mere fifteen inmates and a handful of staff at the Elba II facility, we see only Garth, eight of his minions, and Dr. Cory. I suspect we are meant to infer that Garth exiled the rest of the staff and inmates outside, to perish in the planet’s poisonous atmosphere. While this makes sense, it makes the episode feel barely populated. It’s also very hard to take Garth and his thugs seriously when one knows they are outnumbered fifty to one by the crew of the Enterprise.

I also find myself wondering why Marta’s dancing sequence went on as long as it did; it seemed like the sort of thing a producer or director does when the episode comes up short of story. Also, when footage needed to be trimmed for the syndication edits, I’d have expected this scene to be first to hit the cutting-room floor.

It was vaguely amusing to hear Garth tell Marta not to beg Kirk, because begging would be “degrading,” when only minutes earlier he had offered Marta to Kirk as a sexual plaything. Yeah, because pimping her out wouldn’t have been degrading at all.

It’s still not clear to me why Dr. Cory stayed in the torture chair after Garth’s minions took their hands off him. There are no restraints to keep Cory in place. If the chair’s torture is so painful, why doesn’t he leap from the chair? Is Cory a secret masochist? Moments later, Kirk also makes no effort to leap from the chair during torture. What was he waiting for? A rip in his shirt?

In fine Star Trek tradition, Garth’s list of notable but failed conquerors starts with names recognizable to the audience—Alexander, Napoleon, and Hitler—and then continues with names that imply a fully realized future history, “Li Quan and Crotus.” Frankly, I’m surprised the producers forgot to reference Khan Noonien Singh, but I guess that was par for the course in the days before serialized continuity became the norm for TV series.

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyI doubt anyone would ever hold up this episode as a realistic depiction of mental illness, but there is one moment that, beyond all the others, convinces me that Garth really is just as insane as he is purported to be: the moment be blows up Marta as a demonstration for Kirk. Seriously, when the entire population of your brave new world has only one woman—who, despite being a touch homicidal, is also damned sexy—what kind of a lunatic would you have to be to blow her up? The only way this makes sense is if Garth figured that by ridding the planet of women, Kirk would no longer have any reason to stay and would hand over the security countersign just so they could all get back into the proximity of some XX chromosomes.

This episode marks the only time that Spock ever simultaneously neck-pinches two aliens of different species, and it’s definitely one of his “crowning moments of awesome.” Unfortunately, it’s followed seconds later by one of Spock’s biggest blunders. Presented with two Kirks—one real, the other a shape-shifted Garth—the solution to the tactical dilemma is obvious: Spock should set his phaser to heavy stun and shoot both men. Neither will die, Garth will be revealed, and Spock will be free to beam down the security detail and have Kirk beamed up to safety. Instead, he turns his back, is ambushed, and then finds himself unable to tell the scuffling Kirks apart. Part of what makes this so unfortunate is that the ensuing fight scene is excruciatingly lame, and if only Spock had used a bit of logic, we might have been spared the whole sorry mess.

Star Trek episode Whom Gods DestroyEventually, Kirk says to Spock, “You must shoot both of us! It’s the only way to ensure the safety of the Enterprise!” Spock responds by stunning the other Kirk. But isn’t such a gambit exactly what Garth might have done? Why didn’t Spock do as he was ordered and shoot both men? It is rumored that Leonard Nimoy wrote some strongly worded memos to the show’s producers and its network executives, complaining about this scene. Apparently, whatever words he chose weren’t strong enough—proof that sometimes profanity really is necessary.

The episode’s ending is also quite disturbing. After receiving treatment with the Federation’s new mental panacea, Garth of Izar doesn’t seem sane or rehabilitated so much as stoned, memory impaired, and possibly brain damaged. If this is what passes for psychiatric medicine in the 23rd century, I think it leaves a lot to be desired…just like this episode.

David’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1 to 6)


Next episode: Season 3, Episode 15 — “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” 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.


Dayton Ward is still waiting for those White Castles.

David Mack would have someone erase this episode from his memory if not for the risk that, unaware of its suckitude, he might end up watching it again.

16 comments
Dale Snell
1. Lurkie
Ah. This episode. I remember watching this one when it was first aired. I thought then that it was cringe-worthy, and I see no reason to change my mind now. It does have one thing going for it, though: it isn't "Plato's Stepchildren" (*shudder*).

As for the lack of people flinging themselves out of the low budget Aurora Chair, I always figured that the thing did something to the voluntary nervous system. Saves all the money that would have been wasted on straps and buckles. Or something. :-)
Stefan Jones
2. Stefan Jones
My family didn't have a color TV until I was pretty much over Trek. And I didn't see this episode after the repackaging / CGI treatment.

So I never knew that Marta was, you know, green.

Hey, wasn't that neon-equipped chair also used in Dagger of the Mind? Maybe it has some kind of powerful butt-suction device to keep patients in place.
Dale Snell
3. Lurkie
@Stefan Jones: I believe you're right, they did recycle the chair from "Dagger of the Mind". They did a lot of recycling during the third season.

My family didn't have a color TV either. Star Trek was long out of production by the time we got one. When we did, I was amazed at how colorful Star Trek was. :-) I remember reading that when Star Trek was first being filmed that they would look at the sets through a special filter. The idea was to make sure that the colors looked distinct from each other when viewed in black and white. Pretty much necessary, given that most televisions at that time were black and white only.
Dayton Ward
4. daytonward
"Hey, wasn't that neon-equipped chair also used in Dagger of the Mind? Maybe it has some kind of powerful butt-suction device to keep patients in place."

Well, that's the sort of thing that's gonna keep me up nights....
rob mcCathy
5. roblewmac
it's bad but 1? this gets a 1? it's bad but Garth is a fun bad guy so i'd boot up to 2. That said I REALLY don't like Spectre of the gun.
Stefan Jones
6. ChristopherLBennett
I always figured the chair had some kind of forcefield restraints.

As for why Spock didn't just go ahead and stun them both, that's only a good idea if you can be absolutely certain that the stun will be nonlethal. Realistically, there'd probably be some slight chance of fatality, especially since Kirk was presumably been weakened by imprisonment and torture. So Spock didn't want to take the risk of stunning Kirk if he didn't have to. Probably not what they had in mind, but it makes sense.

Still, the episode is plenty screwed-up. How do you "teach" someone to be a shapeshifter? Why do they need to put a forcefield around a whole planet for one small outpost? For that matter, how can they generate that much power? And the whole "most powerful explosive ever" stuff is nonsense (they've already got antimatter, the ultimate destructive substance) and serves no purpose. I just dismiss it as a madman's false claim.

But surely the episode deserves a full bonus point for giving us Yvonne Craig as an Orion dancer.
Stefan Jones
7. Phleck
I think a missing ingredient of this episode is Doctor McCoy; the compassion he would have expressed for the Elba II patients might have given the show some emotion. Adding a few redshirts to blow up instead of poor Marta might help too, or another landing party member who's Garth's son, or really almost anything that added more story, no matter how cliched.
And Tellarites have worn those comfy, stretchy silver pajamas ever since their first appearance in Journey to Babel.
Dayton Ward
8. daytonward
^ The lack of McCoy is an excellent observation. You'd think he'd be interested in seeing the effects of the drug on the patients, and accompany Kirk and Spock to the colony.
He would have tried to appeal to Garth with a genuine desire to help him, of course, but the more I think about it, now I can hear him saying something sarcastic to Garth or Marta at some choice moment, particularly during the dinner/coronation scenes, or at the end when confronted by the "two Kirks." Some back-n-forth between those two could have been priceless, especially during one of Garth's more self-absorbed moments. And just imagine his reaction to Spock's "apparent" indecision before deciding who to stun.

De Kelley often helped to bring some much needed humor and humanity to a particular scene, and his presence often served to soften some of the more ridiculous moments. I think having him here would have helped things tremendously.
Kristoff Bergenholm
9. Magentawolf
I'm rather bugged by this sudden sign / countersign nonsense - is there some particular reason that Scotty was expecting Kirk to be impersonated? (More-so then usual, that is...)
Stefan Jones
10. a-j
Magentawolf - after the Dagger of the Mind debacle, Kirk probably had standing orders that a sign/countersign system had to be used whenever he entered a secure mental health facility.
btw, this episode and Plato's Stepchildren were not shown in the UK for many decades and for a long time were only available on a VHS edition. Imagine my excitement when I finally found a copy, imagine my sorrow... no the memory is too painful.
Dayton Ward
11. daytonward
^ From the "Be Careful What You Wish For..." file. :D
David McIntee
12. Lonemagpie
I have absolutely no memory of the other 48 minutes that don't involve Yvonne Craig dancing. Funny, that.

As for the chair - maybe the first thing it does is fry the motor centres of the brain sat in it.
rob mcCathy
13. roblewmac
Learning shapshifting COULD be explained by Garth MAYBE not being human. Now I admit that's shakey but may work.
Stefan Jones
14. RonnieC
I really enjoy the Kirk fight scenes where you can so clearly see the stunt double fighting!
Stefan Jones
15. Jay Young
There is an interview with Nimoy in the pages of Star Trek Lives where he goes on at some length about exactly what he said in those memos and why. He enumerated several reasons why this scene as filmed was way out of character, a form of "lying to the audience" and an insult to viewer intelligence. This part of the original script was thrown out by director Herb Wallerstein, who must have been a big fan of "The Enemy Within". Nimoy said Wallerstein simply wanted a scene where Kirk is fighting Kirk and the audience doesn't know which is which.

If you want to see the original script, it's in Blish's Star Trek 5.
Stefan Jones
16. herkimer
Whom Gods Destroy is actually one of my favorites of the original series. Some funny dialogue and scenes, as when Marta reads the Shakespeare sonnet. Steve Ihnat is also a highly entertaining mad man.

Search Youtube for Steve Ihnat and you'll find him in a number of interesting TV roles in the 60's, including a very good Outer Limits episode where he plays alongside Robert Duvall. I've gained a lot of respect for Ihnat as an actor watching him in those many roles.

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