Thursday, October 28, 2010

Indians In Space And Ancient Cultures That Protect Them: "The Paradise Syndrome!"

The Good: Moments of character, Essential plot, Most of the acting
The Bad: William Shatner's hammy overacting, Predictability
The Basics: Captain Kirk loses his memory, he finds himself on an alien world, thought of as a god by a tribe of Indians, including one woman he falls in love with.

There are few ethnic groups that Star Trek, or its many spin-offs have not dealt with and explored, at least peripherally. In fact, the only one that comes right to mind are the cultures of the Middle East. Yes, the Star Trek franchise is pretty much devoid of "Iraqis In Space." One of the more obscure groups to receive treatment on television that Star Trek paid attention to were the Native American Indians. While they were referenced in Star Trek The Next Generation, shown in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and intended to be a much bigger part of Star Trek: Voyager, the trend of making sure they were included in the Star Trek universe began in the Star Trek episode "The Paradise Syndrome."

The USS Enterprise arrives at an Earth-like planet that features a race of people who appear to be a conglomeration of various North American Indians living a simple life with no idea that Kirk, Spock and McCoy have beamed down. They are also ignorant of the significance of an obelisk nearby. Ancient and powerful, the alien "temple" is a novelty to them, but Kirk believes it to be significant in the Enterprise's mission, which is to stop an asteroid that is headed for the planet. Kirk, unfortunately, falls into the obelisk, has his memory erased and is abandoned by McCoy and Spock who have to go to destroy the asteroid before it becomes an impossible task. Kirk, however, awakens and stumbles out of the obelisk when they leave and he encounters Miramanee, a priestess who believes Kirk is someone else. Under the new name Kirok, Kirk begins his new life as an Indian while Spock and the Enterprise try to destroy the approaching asteroid. Of course, Kirok and Miramanee fall in love and that love is beset with tragedy as Spock and the Enterprise return.

"The Paradise Syndrome" has some interesting moments of concept. While Kirk is presumed to be a god by the tribe, he retains enough identity to know that he is not (and interesting character implication at the very least). However, when a plot convenient drowned child leads Kirok to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the tribe is convinced Kirok must be a god. It's a surprisingly clever observation that techniques one culture takes for granted might well be viewed as extraordinary in another.

Similarly, the notion of losing identity is nothing new to television stories. In "The Paradise Syndrome," it is pulled off well because of the level of immersion Kirk is subjected to. Here a character pretty much stops searching for any other identity and accepts that they are a part of the very different place and circumstances they find themselves in. That's refreshing to watch, even by today's standards.

But what is conceptually the most clever is the idea behind the episode in relation to the race known as The Preservers. Mentioned for the first time in "The Paradise Syndrome," the Preservers are a race in Star Trek used as the "out" for why all of the alien races look similar. Here, they are introduced as a legendary race who took valuable cultures and tried to make sure they were, well, preserved. So, fearing the incursions of the white man on the Native culture, the Preservers presumably moved some of the Indians to this distant planet. We can buy that. The clever aspect that no one has truly duplicated since is the idea that because the planet they are moved to is plagued by asteroid collisions, the Preservers must leave something (the obelisk) behind to protect them. It's clever, the idea of having a savior so far-sighted and yet to have a problem with that as well.

The characters work well in "The Paradise Syndrome," especially the relationship and conflict between Spock and McCoy. By this point in the series, the writers have a pretty strong handle on the Spock/McCoy reason vs. logic relationship and in "The Paradise Syndrome," writer Margaret Armen plays that conflict quite well. Spock is able to appeal to McCoy's sense of emotionalism to make his argument by coherently illustrating how difficult it is to destroy the incoming asteroid. The logic of abandoning Kirk and trying to save the planet makes perfect sense and McCoy's hotheadedness fades reasonably. The two play off one another well as characters.

Part of the reason for that is that actors Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley have a great on-screen chemistry. Nimoy is able to make virtually anything sound reasonable and Kelley is wonderful at portraying raw emotion. In this episode, the guest stars who play the tribe on the planet are all pretty impressive.

Notable among them is Sabrina Scharf, who plays Miramanee. Scharf manages to play a strong woman without ever appearing limited by the role. She plays a character who is supposed to be somewhat less evolved technologically and in the ability to conceptualize and she does it in a way that the viewer never feels like she is insulting the viewer or the culture she is portraying. More than just a hot chick of the week, Scharf adds substance to Miramanee that makes her seem like she would be a fitting partner for Kirok, if not Captain Kirk.

In fact, one of the few detractions from "The Paradise Syndrome" is the acting of William Shatner. As Kirok, Shatner seems to believe he has license to go over-the-top with his performance and through much of the episode, he seems silly.

It's not enough to sink this piece, though. Instead, "The Paradise Syndrome" stacks up as one of the better episodes of the third season and an overall decent story for any viewer. One need not know Star Trek to be able to appreciate the amnesia/identity story this episode presents.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third and final season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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