Star Trek Rewatch

Star Trek Re-watch: “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”


Is There in Truth No Beauty?
Written by Jean Lisette Aroeste
Directed by Ralph Senensky

Season 3, Episode 5
Production episode 3×07
Original air date: October 18, 1968
Stardate 5630.7–5630.8

Recap: David Mack

The Federation Taxi Service dispatches the Enterprise to ferry home Kollos, the mentally sublime but physically horrific Medusan ambassador to the Federation. Because any human who so much as glimpses a Medusan will go insane, only Spock is permitted to greet the arriving diplomat, and then only while wearing a visor left over from the ship’s recent screening of Avatar in IMAX™ 3D.

Kirk beams up Larry Marvick, one of the designers of the Enterprise’s engines. After they leave, Spock dons his shades and beams up Kollos and renowned psychologist Dr. Miranda Jones, whose chief function seems to be portering Kollos in her carry-on luggage.

While helping Dr. Jones carry the Ark of the Covenant Kollos’s box to guest quarters, Spock reveals he turned down the invitation to be Kollos’s new psychic friend in favor of remaining aboard the Enterprise. Nonetheless, Spock wants to say “hello,” so Kollos cracks his lid and gives him a Pink Floyd laser show. Star Trek episode Is There in Truth No BeautyThis makes Dr. Jones jealous; she tries to read Spock’s mind and accuses him of wanting to take her place. He assures her he does not, and that he has detected her telepathic ability. (A telepathic psychologist? Jeez, how much does she charge per hour?)

Spock departs, leaving Jones with Kollos. As soon as he’s gone, Jones takes off her protective visor and stares into Kollos’s light show. If crazy could be detected by the ship’s sensors, the Enterprise would be at Red Alert.

The crew throws a dinner party for Dr. Jones. In attendance are Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Marvick. Jones cooly deflects Kirk’s awkward sexual advances, talks of her training in Vulcan mental disciplines, and accuses Spock of wearing an IDIC pin, the most revered of Vulcan symbols, just to piss her off.

As dinner continues, we learn the Federation hopes that by finding ways to mind-link with the Medusans, the noncorporeal aliens can be employed as starship navigators, thereby enabling starships to go farther and faster than ever before. McCoy protests it’s crazy to have humans serve beside beings “so ugly” that the sight of them causes madness. Kirk and McCoy offer some patronizing toasts to Jones, who ignores Kirk and turns McCoy’s toast back upon him with icy finesse.

Then Jones has a vision of Kollos’s box and declares in a creepy monotone, “Someone nearby is thinking of murder.” Of course, she can’t say who’s thinking it, who they were thinking of murdering, and whether it would be with the wrench or the lead pipe, in the parlor or in the billiards room, but we’re supposed to take her word for it. Thanks, Doc.

Jones excuses herself and declines offers from all five men to walk her home. Once she’s gone, the Enterprise officers get a fresh dose of jealous-crazy from Marvick, who then calls it a night.

Marvick pays a late-night visit to Jones. He begs her not to go away with Kollos. She brushes him off. He kisses her, and she reacts like a constipated Vulcan. Then she realizes he is the one harboring murderous intentions, but she doesn’t know toward whom. (Though it’s not hard to guess. I mean, c’mon—she just spurned him for a light show in a box. A box that would fit neatly down a garbage chute or out an airlock.)

In what might go down as history’s most poorly planned murder attempt, Marvick sneaks into Kollos’s quarters, draws a phaser (Why the hell is a civilian engineer carrying a phaser?), and aims at Kollos’s box. It’s a great plan, right up until the moment the box opens and Marvick goes completely nuts. (If he’d only set his phaser into an overload feedback loop, stood beside Kollos’s open door, lobbed in the phaser like a grenade, and then made a run for it, none of this would ever have happened.)

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know, Marvick flees Kollos’s quarters and goes to main engineering. Scotty hands the man control of the Enterprise’s engines just before hearing Kirk announce that Marvick is “dangerously insane.” Whoops! Scotty tries to tackle the guy and gets his butt kicked. Marvick supercharges the warp drive and accelerates the Enterprise to Totally Ludicrous Speed.

Star Trek episode Is There in Truth No BeautyKirk, McCoy, two security guards, and Jones go to engineering and open a can of whupass on Marvick. They take him down, but it’s too late: the Enterprise has left the galaxy and become trapped inside a massive lava lamp. Then Marvick collapses, and McCoy utters the line for which he is most famous: “He’s dead, Jim.”

Later, Spock tries to explain to Kirk what has happened, but instead he ends up uttering an egregious TECHNOBABBLE EPIC FAIL:

SPOCK: When we exceeded warp speed factor nine point five, we apparently entered a space-time continuum.

Really, Spock? A space-time continuum? You don’t say! Tell me more, Spock. Does it have three spatial dimensions and a fourth, temporal dimension? Is it composed principally of matter? My heavens, Spock, you’re a veritable font of useful facts today.

Long story short: the Enterprise is way outside the galaxy; it can’t penetrate the galactic barrier to get home except at warp speed, but they can’t navigate properly at warp speed because of “sensory distortion.” Or, to put it more poetically:

CHEKOV: A madman got us into this, and it is beginning to look as if only a madman can get us out.

Ask and ye shall receive, Pavel: Kirk speculates that Kollos’s different sensory nature might enable him to overcome the distortion hampering the ship’s navigation. That leads Spock to propose he mind-meld with Kollos—in effect, become a fused entity with the ambassador, one that has the knowledge and sensory capacities of both beings at the same time—in order to pilot the ship home.  The only hazards are the risk of being unable to disentangle their personas once blended, and the fact that Miranda Jones will go right off the deep end at the mere thought of Spock getting between her and Kollos.

Because the jealous Dr. Jones has tremendous telepathic power, the Enterprise crew needs to distract her while Spock forms his mind-link, lest Jones screw it up. How does one distract a lady aboard the Enterprise? By sending her on an impromptu date with Kirk, of course. And what a fun date: He offers her flowers, and she dismisses human romance as a “struggle.” Jones makes Vulcan women look like the gals of Jersey Shore.

Jones figures out what’s going on, and she rushes to stop Spock. Confronted by Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, she claims she can learn to pilot the ship rather than let Spock meld with Kollos. That’s when McCoy spills her secret: Jones is blind. She “sees” by means of her beaded dress, which is actually a sensor web linked to her brain. She can do many of the things normally sighted persons can do—but piloting a starship is not one of them.

At Kirk’s request, Jones lets Kollos make the decision—and the Medusan chooses to meld with Spock for their mutual salvation. On the bridge, Spock melds with Kollos and freaks everybody out by smiling and quoting Lord Byron. Then he gets down to business and flies the ship home. A perfect plan well executed.

Then Spock/Kollos delivers a moving and lyrical comment on the sentient condition:

SPOCK/KOLLOS: You are so alone. You live out your lives in this shell of flesh. Self-contained. Separate. How lonely you are. How terribly lonely.

Before the moment gets any heavier, Kirk asks Kollos to dissolve the mind-link, and Kollos agrees. He returns to the box. There’s just one little problem: Spock/Kollos has left his protective red visor on the helm console. Kirk shouts for Spock to close his eyes and not look at Kollos, but it’s too late—the damage is done. Spock wigs out and beats up half the bridge crew before Kirk stuns him with a phaser.

Now only one person can fix Spock’s scrambled noodle: Dr. Jones. But will she? Or is she still too pissed about Kollos fusing with Spock? Kirk confronts her, forces her to face the ugliness in her own heart, and motivates her to put it aside—not only for the good of Spock but for her own soul.

Her effort to restore Spock’s mind proves successful. Spock returns to duty, Jones melds with Kollos, and she and the ambassador finish their journey. Kirk bids her farewell with a rose, prompting this exchange:

JONES: I suppose it has thorns.
KIRK: I never met a rose that didn’t.

Spock and Jones share a moment, and it’s clear that she at last has found peace and insight. Best of all, we get the definition of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination):

MIRANDA: The glory of creation is in its infinite diversity.
SPOCK: And the ways our differences combine to create meaning and beauty.

They exchange classic Vulcan valedictions, Spock beams her and Kollos back down to his homeworld, and the Enterprise departs on its next adventure. FADE OUT.

This is one of my favorite hours of the original Star Trek. I’ve always loved the core idea behind this episode: we need to confront and overcome our own prejudices. I remain impressed by the technology of Miranda Jones’s sensor-web dress, which was a sort of precursor to Geordi La Forge’s VISOR in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The acting and writing were also a pleasure in this episode; only the hammy music and directing during the “madness” sequences detracted from an otherwise exemplary adventure.

David’s Rating:Warp 5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

Star Trek episode Is There in Truth No Beauty

Analysis: Dayton Ward

I’m not as enamored with this episode as is David. When I watched it several months ago after not seeing it for more than a few years, I came away deciding that while it wasn’t among the series’ worst episodes, it still was largely forgettable. For the purposes of preparing this review, I watched the episode again, but prior to that, I read a couple of reviews from other sources. Those reviews were very favorable, so I decided that something must be loose in my brain pan, and I’d try to watch it with fresh eyes and an open mind. I still don’t love it, but I’ve acquired a new appreciation for things the episode gets “right.” Of course, we’re just coming off “And the Children Shall Lead,” without a bye week, so I’m definitely feeling charitable.

First, the notion of a non-corporeal being is interesting in and of itself. Such things are almost old hat to Star Trek at this point. We’ve had gaseous clouds that want to kill us (“Obsession”), disembodied psycho killers looking to bum rides in whatever available warm body presents itself (“Wolf in the Fold”), and even ethereal cougars just looking for somebody to love (“Metamorphosis,” and cue Freddie Mercury, while you’re at it). Ambassador Kollos, however, presents a twist on the notion, in that any human who looks upon a Medusan with unshielded eyes goes insane. The only real knock against that concept is the name of the ambassador’s race. Medusan? Really? I’ve never been a big fan of alien species being named after some obvious physical characteristic. I mean, imagine if they’d decided to go that route with say….the “Mutant” from the 1955 classic This Island Earth:

This Island Earth

See what I’m saying? Okay, then. Moving on….

Setting aside that bit of unfortunate naming fail, though, such a being is a welcome addition to Star Trek lore, and a nice change of pace from the usual assortment of humanoid aliens that were a budgetary and technical necessity of 1960s television production.

Another positive aspect of this episode is Dr. Miranda Jones, the ambassador’s human companion, as ably portrayed by actress Diana Muldaur. No stranger to Star Trek, Muldaur already had guest-starred in the second-season episode “Return to Tomorrow.” Twenty years after this episode’s original airing, she would take on the role of Dr. Katherine Pulaski, Beverly Crusher’s (temporary) replacement as the chief medical officer of Jean-Luc Picard’s Enterprise, for the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Taking full advantage of the material she’s given here, Muldaur turns in a compelling performance as the troubled, insecure, even lonely Miranda Jones. Her suspicion and jealousy of Spock’s greater telepathic talents and ability to meld with Kollos—something she’s not able to do—is obviously meant to communicate to us some hint of the difficult times she suffered as a youth. Her supposed “handicap,” coupled with the obstacles to be navigated when one is a telepath, doubtless brought with them any number of challenges with which to contend. Muldaur’s depiction of Dr. Jones’s blindness is also convincing, offering subtle hints to her character’s true condition from her arrival on the ship. David already mentioned the sensor web Jones wears throughout the episode, which allows her to move about and sense and comprehend her surroundings. It occurred to me while watching the episode that the technology is never seen again. I suppose VISORs and ocular implants eventually would make such devices irrelevant, to say nothing of the ability to simply clone a new pair of eyes (or perhaps grow them from adult stem cells). Maybe the sensor web is the Sony Walkman of the 23rd century.

This episode is notable for introducing the concept of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,” or IDIC, a basic tenet of Vulcan philosophy that celebrates the limitless potential of pluralism to be found in all its myriad forms throughout the universe. While the idea is one worthy of the many messages Star Trek conveys, the medallion Spock wears to honor Dr. Jones has something less than a noble origin. As the story goes, Gene Roddenberry introduced the medallion into the story so that he could then market and sell replicas of it via his mail-order merchandise company, Lincoln Enterprises (which still operates today as Leonard Nimoy apparently protested this action to no avail, but the episode succeeds in celebrating the IDIC philosophy it espouses. The Jones/Kollos relationship, as well as the demonstrations of how different people possessing different abilities can work together, manages to overcome any commercial agenda behind the medallion.

Star Trek episode Is There in Truth No BeautyThere’s very little action in this installment, so we’re left with lots of scenes with people standing or sitting around and talking, interspersed with the occasional insanity-induced skirmish. This’d be okay, except that a lot of the dialogue put forth in these exchanges is…well…bad. The “welcome aboard” dinner held for Dr. Jones definitely contains some eye-rolling moments, with Kirk and McCoy each trying to one-up the other in their attempts to garner the doctor’s attentions. She sidesteps Kirk’s legendary charm and McCoy’s “Southern gentleman” demeanor, and even manages to turn the tables when the men try to give her warm fuzzies with sappy toasts and whatnot. The scene with Marvick and Jones where he professes his love for her, and tries to convince her that he’s better for her than some ethereal dude in a box, is particularly cringe-worthy. Things only get worse for Marvick after he takes a gander at Kollos and goes off the deep end. Spock, too, for that matter. The wild camera angles denoting both characters’ point of view while in the grips of their respective madness help to sell the notion, but the bombastic music and over-the-top acting end up detracting from the overall effect. My gripe about the music is painful to admit, given that there’s a great deal of the music scored for the original series that I absolutely adore.

“Is There in Truth No Beauty” is also one of the third season’s numerous “bottle shows,” or episodes shot entirely on the existing Star Trek sets in order to contain production costs. In this case, there’s not even a visit to the beloved planet set on the other soundstage to break up the monotony. Instead we’re treated to several long, lingering static or tracking shots of the Enterprise corridor(s), with most of those filmed through a fish-eye camera lens in order to convey the viewpoint of someone affected by viewing Kollos with unprotected eyes. Other times, the effect is used because…well, just because. Still, these and other atypical camera angles are nice to see, as more often than not they’re missing from most Star Trek episodes after the high standards set during the first season.

Setting the story entirely on the ship also exposes another aspect of the series’ third-season budget-crunching mentality. The corridors, which in early episodes seemed crammed almost to overflowing with crewmembers, are now utterly barren. There’s at least some justification for this early on, as the story calls for the crew to vacate the corridors when Kollos is being moved about. However, he spends most of the episode in his quarters. So…where is everybody? In the bowling alley?

Though not a direct sequel to this episode, the twelfth issue of the first Star Trek comic-book series from Marvel Comics from 1982 features a non-corporeal lifeform, Kadan of the planet Phaeton, whose inhabitants, like the Medusans, are receptive to telepathy as well as being accomplished interstellar navigators. In this story, Janice Rand is married to Kadan, and Kirk even has a conversation similar to the one between Marvick and Miranda Jones, in which the captain expresses concerns about the Phaetonian being unable to meet his former yeoman’s “physical needs.” That captain, always looking out for the ladies, eh?

Anyway, while I’m quite happy to say that a fresh viewing of “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” increased my appreciation for what the episode managed to accomplish, its overall execution still leaves me a bit cold here and there.

Dayton’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 6 — “Spectre of the Gun.” 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.

David Mack came into this world naked, helpless, and unable to provide for himself, and as a freelance writer is rapidly reverting to that state of existence.

Dayton Ward is more than a little disturbed by the imagery David’s bio evokes.


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