Rape culture, transporter accidents, and evil twins: Star Trek’s Worst Ever Episode

captain kirk the enemy within gene roddenberry transporter accident rape culture evil double sexism misogyny janice rand grace lee whitney leo penn richard matheson tos

The Enemy Within was first broadcast on October 6th 1966, the fifth episode of Star Trek ever to air. You’d probably know it, if at all, as the one where Kirk gets split in two, with William Shatner giving fairly memorable performances as “evil Kirk” and “good Kirk”. It is, if not iconic, certainly well remembered in its own right; it’s widely regarded as being a decent episode, which is a good representation of the sort of camp fun and high aspirations of The Original Series, given that it offers a sci-fi twist on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, a few references to Jungian philosophical ideas as well, and an alien that is quite clearly a dog with some straws taped to the back of its head.

So far, so ordinary. It’s not exactly the sort of episode you’d term “the worst ever”, nor – as I put it in a recent review on my website – “an episode that deserves to struck off the record – not just quietly forgotten, but actively disowned”. But, you see, this isn’t just an episode with a silly run-around after a transporter accident; it affirms and normalizes rape and rape culture in a way unlike any other episode of Star Trek.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing the early episodes of Star Trek. While I am enjoying them, I’m also finding them very, very frustrating – there are aspects of them that are just straight up awful and offensive and wrong. This is a pretty obvious example, and so I’ve been quite heavily critical of it.

For all that early Star Trek is very good, and it often is very good, I think we’re all a little too quick to make a hagiography of it – to say, you know, ooh, first black woman on TV ever, Martin Luther King loved it more than life, it was so utopian, how wonderful, and then that’s the end of the conversation. Much of that is true, but it’s not the whole picture, and it very much shouldn’t be the end of the conversation.

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