They’re the least platonic friends the Federation has ever encountered. This week, we press Plato’s Stepchildren between the virtual pages of the Mission Log.
Tags: Plato's Stepchildren, The Original Series, The Original Series Season 3, TOS
Your analysis on this episode was phenomenal! I also find this to be an incredibly powerful episode in its darkness, though I am unable to watch it because of how disturbing I find it to be. A note on “the kiss”: I absolutely hate this kiss. I am fine with it in the context of the episode, but as a cultural phenomenon it makes my skin crawl and sets my teeth on edge. I have always thought, but never heard/read any commentary or analysis to this effect: as a part of the story, this kiss is an act of rape. As you two have discussed before, it’s the late 60s and there are things that cannot be shown on television, but this is sexual violation. Not just of Uhura, but of all four characters forced into a physically intimate situation that none of them want to be in. In a way, it is even more horrible for Christine and Spock, for whom there exists an unrequited love. It was mentioned by one of you in this episode how cool it is that Chapel is one of the few characters with an actual sustained character trait in her love for Spock, but not how that fact would make this moment unbelievably painful for her, as well as for him (anyone who has been on either side of unrequited love may relate, though it is overshadowed by what is happening next to them).
All of this, of course, is being played out as a part of
general torture and humiliation. The characters are physically and emotionally tortured, as is the audience. It is just as horrible to me when Spock is forced to injure Kirk, as the unfulfilled bit of terror at the end with the men and women (I think the audience is meant to see violence against women as worse, as they are perceived as “weaker”). To make it even more morbid, as one of you said, this is all a snuff film! Plato’s Stepchildren are getting off to it. All so impressively dark for the sixties.
So… for this, an act of rape, humiliation and torture to be heralded and applauded as the “first” interracial “kiss” on television is incredibly problematic when you consider the sexual aspect of race relations in this country. Black women were and have been disproportionately the targets of sexual violence for much of American history, and black men had only recently been lynched by mobs for consensual sexual relationships with white women. Of course, Kirk is not himself violating Uhura and the storyline does not follow directly the topic of lynch mobs, but still, that context cannot be ignored for such an important moment. Yikes. Why on earth does everyone love it so much?
I have 2 and a half more months of working from home. I hope to be caught up by then!
Also, you likely have seen this, but an interesting first-hand backstory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hKKkGhEDoU
It is interesting, right, how all we tend to focus on is the fact that the kiss took place and not the context. The one I think we mentioned that happened before – Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis – was just a couple of friends sharing a friendly kiss, nowhere near the terrible overtones of what was going on with “Plato’s Stepchildren.”
For sure. Like I said, in the context of the episode isolated, I don’t mind the kiss. It is an incredibly powerful way to show this particular type of control and humiliation. But in the cultural context, with the writers/producers knowing it would be the “first” interracial kiss, having it be a moment of violation is horrifying. I hear people say all the time, “Well, it was kind of a cop-out because they were under alien control.” I see this as less of a cop-out and more of a horrifying take on the potential of interracial love being portrayed as rape and torture.
Not to mention the imagery of a white man threaten to bullwhip a black woman. SO disturbing.
I came to your podcast late and as a part of my personal 50th anniversary re-watch, I started with TOS. So, I started listening to your podcasts from the beginning. Thanks for all the effort you put into the shows, we fans appreciate it (I’m sure). A couple of times, I thought about commenting about one thing or another, but I listen at work and usually lose the thought when my masters pull my strings! In any event, as this episode included the liberal application of Lord Acton’s aphorism about power + corruption, I finally put pen to paper (kinda). This quote is usually misquoted and it’s a major pet peeve for me. Most people say “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” or words to that effect; however, what he said was: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men” At the risk of coming off as smarmy, didactic, and/or pedantic, there’s a subtle, but distinct difference. Acton was writing to a cleric about the abuses of both Crown and the Pope and he distinguished between just plain ol’ power, which might corrupt given the facts and the people involved, etc., but that the “absolute” power of monarchs of all stripes would corrupt absolutely. Those crazy kids the Platonists had “absolute” power and were corrupt clean through, while people like Kirk or Spock or rather, more likely, some of the bad CO’s encountered by the Enterprise (the guys in bread and circuses and the omega glory) might or might not be corrupted by power. Anyway, sorry for the speech, but . . . Another thing I’d like to call to your attention, unless I’m mistaken, in the trivia John remarked about — I think he said Dionysus, but I may be wrong, going to Hades to retrieve his dead love, who John called Euripides. I think he meant Eurdyice (of Orpheus and Eurydice fame). Anyway, can’t wait for your MacGyver podcasts when you f-I-n-a-l-l-y get down with Star Trek!
Thank you, Ken, for the additional notes! Jeez- I forgot MacGyver was on the list! What’s a few more years…
I’m a very new listener and fan, too (I’ve kind of become addicted to this podcast).
Since I’m also an hellenist, I just wanted to make a small precision: in the play “The Frogs”, it is indeed Euripides, the playwright (not Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife), whom Dionysus wants to retrieve from Hades. Euripides was often the butt of jokes in Aristophanes’ comedies. At the end of the play, after a debate about who was the best playwright between Aeschylus and Euripides, Dionysus decides that Aeschylus will be the one to be brought back from the dead.
Thanks for joining us, Rose – and thank you for the details on “The Frogs.” Nice to have someone who knows the classics!
Wow. This is one episode that I really can’t bring myself to rewatch. As I’ve grown older, and the elements of goofiness and absurdity get eclipsed by the dark, disturibing currents and undercurrents behind it. Part of it was due to the fact that I grew up on edited syndicated episodes, which cut out scenes such as Spock’s emotional response to being manipulated (also, I moved to the UK, where this was one of a few episodes banned from broadcast). Watching it later, the full impact – that Spock and Kirk had basically been the victims of the psychic equivalent of a sexual assault – becomes clearer.
It doesn’t stop me from doing my usual nitpicking, of course: like, how does psychokinesis make people sing, when it mostly seems to be crude efforts like making invisible wires float shields and lyres around? And what was with the Platonians saying two or more couldn’t team up to overthrow Parmen because their powers couldn’t work together, when they could have just tag-teamed their psychokinetic attacks, or have one of them trip him up while the other neck-chops him or something…
No, it’s disturbing in ways I never expected to see on a 50 year old TV show. Seeing the couples forced to kiss while you can hear the Platonians laugh and comment about what’s going on shouldn’t affect a man nearly as old as it, but it does. Strange, that.
WOW ! Banned from Broadcast ! Was this during it’s original run – or while she was in syndication ?
From the start. For many years, the episodes “Miri,” “Plato’s Stepchildren,” “The Empath,” and “Whom Gods Destroy” were banned in the UK. Star Trek was considered a children’s program and these episodes were deemed too intense for minors. The episodes’ subject matter was also unacceptable “because they all [deal] most unpleasantly with the already unpleasant subjects of madness, torture, sadism and disease.” They did get broadcast at special screenings in conventions at this time, though.
I think Michael Dunn saves this episode. At times the episode seems immoral, obscene and ridiculous. Dun on Kirk’s back wailing like a horse. Yet at other’s it seems genuinely respectful, like when he refuses the power that oppressed him.