Why Star Trek: Discovery must deal with the legacy of Janice Rand

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Janice Rand is probably the most obvious victim of the strain of sexism and misogyny that ran through Star Trek’s early years – initially the programme’s female lead, Janice Rand was gradually phased out of the show across the first half of the season. She was on the receiving end of attempted rape, objectification, and frequently belittled and undercut by both other characters and the narrative itself.

Star Trek’s treatment of Janice Rand is fundamentally at odds with the utopian idealism that is so often sold as the franchise’s main virtue. For Star Trek: Discovery to now make attempts at returning to that 60s utopianism, it must by the same virtue address the legacy of Janice Rand within the narrative.

It’s become increasingly clear that Star Trek: Discovery is going to be very deeply entrenched in 60s nostalgia, returning to the aesthetic and many of the characters of The Original Series.

If Discovery is to do that, it’s going to have to address the failings of the original Star Trek – it’s going to have to put right what once went wrong.

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Star Trek Review: TOS – The Enemy Within (1×05)

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We have here an unusual opportunity to appraise the human mind, or to examine, in Earth terms, the roles of good and evil in a man.

Someone described this as “Jungian” on IMDb, and while I’d never claim to have the best understanding of Jung’s works, it feels like a pretty simplistic reading of his philosophies to apply them to this episode.

Because this is a quite a simplistic episode. It’s a reasonably well structured, albeit quite basic, run around of an episode; it’d be largely forgettable and essentially forgivable were it not for one fundamental flaw, which I imagine would be rather easy to guess for those who have been following my blog for a while. More on that later, though. Typically, I like to at least start these reviews with something positive, because I think it’s nice to find something positive in everything, and I do think it’s worth questioning whether or not the episode is entirely irredeemable. If nothing else, to try and find the positive will help me to figure out just what my opinion is.

It’s a step in the right direction in terms of the pacing and structure; I mentioned yesterday that Star Trek episodes have been struggling with this, but I think that The Enemy Within does a rather decent job of making sure that the episode fills its runtime reasonably effectively. Thankfully, as soon as the other Kirk is revealed, he does start getting on and doing things; this isn’t another Charlie X situation where we reveal the threat and then kinda just do nothing for half an hour. Here, at least, things are happening. You’ve even got the secondary plot with Sulu on the ground, although admittedly it’s used more to add tension to the rest of the episode as opposed to being explored in its own right. Still, though – it starts out as reasonably effective television.

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You can perhaps make the argument, to an extent, that it’s a good episode for the characters. To an extent it perhaps is; I think we got a much fuller view of Sulu here than we have previously, which I certainly appreciated. I’m becoming increasingly fond of Sulu, actually – quite possibly I may have a new favourite here. It’s also interesting to see Spock and McCoy’s different command styles, and their different suggestions to Kirk for dealing with the problem.

(I can’t help but feel, admittedly, there was a much easier solution to any problem – Kirk should have been confined to quarters, with Spock temporarily assuming command. Presumably there would have been medical reasons for McCoy to relieve Kirk, and it would have been a lot easier to handle the other Kirk if they didn’t both keep getting in each other’s way.)

As for the plot itself? Well, it was alright. Again, rather unsubtle, but equally, it’s one of the first episodes we’ve had that is trying to do something that comes from within the concept. This sort of transporter malfunction idea isn’t really the sort of option they’d have on a traditional naval show, and perhaps plaudits are deserved for that.

Of course, it would have been better with Spock, obviously. To separate him into the human and Vulcan sides of his character would have been a far superior episode to this one; it would have allowed for a very interesting exploration of his character, for one thing, but also I think would have prompted a more nuanced examination of those aforementioned Jungian ideas. Although having said that, it’s possible that we would have ended up with something broadly similar, so perhaps it wouldn’t have been a huge improvement.

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The episode’s main problem, you see, is the rather reductive view of good and evil put forth, as well as the fact that, because they need to link Kirk back up at the end, The Enemy Within has to argue the necessity of evil.

Which would be all well and good if the other Kirk hadn’t tried to rape Janice Rand.

There’s no other way to put that, I’m afraid, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s quite horrific, frankly; other Kirk is trying to overpower her, she’s cowering, hiding behind furniture, all of that. It becomes worse later on in the… almost the interrogation scene, I suppose, where “good” Kirk, Spock and McCoy are talking to Janice about the incident. It’s deeply uncomfortable, really; Janice is quite shaken about the event, and you end up getting some quite disturbing moments. Hell, we’ve even got a line where Janice says she “wouldn’t even have reported it”, had it not been for the other crewmember seeing it too. Shatner really misjudges one of his lines, to be honest; the moment where he says “look at me” should have been gentle and reassuring, but rather he delivers it as being more stern and commanding. Had it been any other line of Captain-ly dialogue, that may well have worked, but it’s totally unsuited for the situation here. Not only is Janice Rand nearly raped, Kirk makes it all about himself, and his own confusion around the event – she even apologises to him at the end!

(It’s far worse to see this when you remember that Grace Lee Whitney, who played Janice Rand, would later be sexually assaulted by a Star Trek executive producer; possibly, although not necessarily, Gene Roddenberry himself. There’s an even more insidious tone to it – the distinct feeling that actually, this isn’t quite fictional.)

It is, to be honest, a rather disgusting thing to have come out of Star Trek, and it feeds into a general trend I’ve noticed with Janice Rand as a character; presumably by virtue of her being a pretty blonde, she’s on the receiving end of a lot of sexism and misogyny. It was bad enough in Charlie X, but this is on quite another level – it’s treated as such a normal thing, even something for Janice to just sort of get over; at the end, after all, it’s just brushed off. Not only brushed off, it’s played for a bloody laugh – Spock makes a joke about it! Spock! Christ.

For all that we tout Star Trek as being a glimpse into a utopian future, a series that was made by a group of visionaries, it’s at times quite blatantly not. Because this is an episode that posits that it’s okay for the lead character to try and rape another character (who was, let’s not forget, at this time considered the romantic lead of the show), being made by a group of people who presumably saw no issue with what they were doing.

You know what? It doesn’t matter if this is well made, or better structured that the prior episodes. Those minor positives do not outweigh the huge negatives. This is an episode that deserves to struck off the record – not just quietly forgotten, but actively disowned.

0/10

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Star Trek Review: TOS  – Charlie X (1×02)

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There are a million things in this universe you can have and a million things you can’t have. It’s no fun facing that, but that’s the way things are.

What becomes evident, even as early as this second episode, is how important the actors were to the success of Star Trek, particularly William Shatner. I must admit, I’ve always been a Picard guy (with a great deal of appreciation for Sisko, of course), but I’m absolutely starting to look at Kirk in a new light. Shatner does a great job portraying Kirk as a calm and easy going individual, but at the same time there’s a firm and assured sense of authority to him. He’s not really the immature, womanising scoundrel that pop culture seems to paint him as – or at least, not yet. Kirk has, thus far, come across as an entirely able Captain, and indeed quite a good one too.

I’m also growing quite fond of Dr McCoy, in no small part because of DeForest Kelly’s performance; he’s charming and charismatic, and it’s a pleasure to watch him on screen. You can clearly see the chemistry he shares with Kirk, we’re also starting to see some of that infamous banter between McCoy and Spock. Spock, incidentally, has long been a favourite character of mine, so it was nice to see him in a slightly expanded role, following on from last week.

It seems to me, then – and I imagine I’ll be throwing out a lot of hypotheses like this over the coming weeks – that part of the reason for the longevity of Trek is these actors, and the life they imbued in their characters. Clearly, it’s still early days yet – we’re yet to properly see Scotty, for example – and certain aspects are still being worked out, but it does seem to me that this was a fairly important part in securing the future of the franchise.

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Certainly, though, while I might point to the performances of our regular cast as being one of the reasons why Star Trek proved to last so long, I’m not all that convinced that anyone would be pointing to this episode in particular. The fact of the matter is that it’s… well, it’s not great. It’s okay, I guess, but while The Man Trap suggested a reasonably entertaining space navy television show, this was… just kinda meh.

The problem is most evident in terms of the pacing, I think. While the mysterious Charlie X is a decent hook, there isn’t really a lot being done with said hook; it becomes quite obvious to the audience quite early on that Charlie has mysterious powers – it’s heavily hinted as soon as he arrives, and confirmed not long after – so it’s not exactly accurate to say there’s a building tension across the episode. In a way, it’s almost frustrating that it takes the crew so long to cotton on to what we already know, and indeed somewhat aggravating that when they do find out, they don’t really do much about it. I found that particularly odd, actually, in light of the previous week – Kirk placed a lot of emphasis on protecting his crew, and was clearly quite angry about their deaths. That was, in the end, why he killed the Salt Vampire. Yet here his actions don’t quite seem consistent with that, as Charlie is making crewmen disappear (we don’t really get any confirmation as to whether or not the majority of them return, only Janice) and Kirk essentially just takes it all in his stride. You can fairly easily make the argument that he was just trying not to provoke Charlie, of course, but it remained just a little weird.

One thing I did appreciate, mind you, was Kirk’s talk to Charlie about love being a two-way street, and how it’s important to pay attention to what both parties want. It’s a pretty basic message, which should be obvious, but given the fact that it isn’t – even today – I was glad to see it there. That was far more in line with the progressive Trek I like to remember.

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Other than that? Well, there were a few little things that stood out to me. I found the interactions between Spock and Uhura to be quite interesting, actually; I’ve always felt that the relationship between the pair in the new series movies was a tad superfluous, and more than a little out of nowhere. Watching these early episodes for the first time, though, and you can see that there may well have been more to the Spock/Uhura relationship in the original series than we tend to credit it with. Certainly, it was there in The Man Trap (albeit in something of an egregious manner) and here again you’ve got Uhura and Spock singing to one another. So, that was interesting to note.

I also want to just point out, by the way, that Kirk totally shouldn’t have won that game of Chess. He was, after all, in Check; any move he then makes would first require him to move out of Check. I suppose it’s possible for him to do that at the same time as checkmating Spock, but from looking at the pieces, that didn’t really seem to be the case. (Then again, I don’t really know much about 3D Chess.) I find it entertaining to think that Spock’s general exasperation wasn’t at losing, it was at Kirk getting it wrong – or perhaps at Kirk deliberately getting it wrong, so he could go away and leave Spock with Charlie!

Ultimately, this was… it was okay. The main crew were decent; Charlie far less so. In terms of the actual plot, it was lacking, and I think it’d be quite easy to get bored if you’re not already invested in it to some extent. Certainly, I’d never show this to a friend in the hopes of getting them to appreciate Star Trek, because frankly it’s more likely to lead them to dismiss the show entirely.

But, you know. It’s fair enough to just have “okay” episodes.

6/10

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