Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I Outlined Her Whole Campaign For Her (Where No Man Has Gone Before)

location:  TOS season 3, disc 6 (original cut); TOS season 1, disc 1 (final cut)
airdate:  22 September 1966
strange new worlds:  yes (the radiation barrier, not the planet)
strange new worlds so far:  2
new life:  yes
new life so far: 2
new civilizations:  no 
new civilizations so far:  1 
amokmindedness:  yes
amokmindednesses so far:  2

In Nicomachean Ethics VIII.7, Aristotle raises the question whether we should wish for our friends to become gods – and really, who hasn’t lost a few nights’ sleep over that question?  

The problem is that becoming a god seems like a good thing, and we should wish good things for our friends; but friendship can’t survive if the gap between the erstwhile friends becomes too great, as between human and god, so that friendship would commit us, counterintuitively, to wishing for friendship’s end.  Aristotle’s solution is that our concern is for the friend as the sort of being he is, and so does not properly commit us to wishing apotheosis for our friends; nor, given the loss of human connections that such a transformation would entail, would apotheosis be a genuine benefit to the friend, as he now is:

If a large enough gap in virtue or vice or wealth or anything else should arise ... they will be friends no longer .... This is especially clear in the case of gods, since they exceed others in goods to the greatest possible extent. ... Now in these matters there is no precisely defined line as to how far they will be friends, for when much is removed, friendship endures – but when the separation is great enough, as in the case of a god, it endures no longer.  Whence arises a difficulty:  Is it not the case that friends wish for their friends the greatest of goods, such as being a god?  For in becoming gods they would be deprived of their friends – and thus of goods, since friends are goods.  If, then, it was well said that the friend wishes goods to the friend for the sake of the friend himself, then the latter must remain whatsoever kind of thing he is.  So it is to the friend as being a human that he will wish the greatest goods.

Aristotle further elaborates, in IX.4, that no one should wish to become a god himself because he would not truly survive the change:

For existence is a good to the upright person, and each wishes good things for himself.  And nobody chooses to become someone else even if the person they became would have every good – for as things stand, the god has the good – but rather to be whatever one is.

(Aristotle may seem to contradict this judgment in X.7, when he rejects the advice “to think human, being human, or to think mortal, being mortal,” arguing instead that we should “rather immortalise as far as possible, and do everything to live in accordance with what is supreme in us,” the divine element of intellect.  To explain how Aristotle’s various claims here are to be reconciled would take us too far afield for a Star Trek blog, but see my discussion in section 2 of this.)

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” dramatises Aristotle’s VIII.7 dilemma; it’s the story of a man struggling to maintain his friendship with a friend who is becoming a god. 

Like “The Cage,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before” strives to explore the boundaries of what it means to be human; but where in “The Cage” it is subordination to others’ power that falls outside the limits of the human, in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” it is the subordination of others to one’s own power that does so – just as Aristotle in Politics I.2 counsels us to avoid trying to live as either a beast or a god, a subhuman or a superhuman, since neither is compatible with the distinctively human mode of social cooperation through reasoned discussion.  (See also this.)  True humanity requires the rejection of both slavery and mastery.

Another philosopher worth mentioning here is Spinoza, since the episode brings him up explicitly.  Spinoza teaches that the proper goal of human life is the recognition of one’s own unity with the divine – which sounds like a goal that Gary Mitchell could endorse.  But Spinoza also holds that this goal involves overcoming the influence of the passions, which Mitchell sees no need to do, and that the proper attitude toward the divine is understanding rather than awe and submission, which fits ill with Mitchell’s forcing Kirk to kneel and pray to him.  Little wonder that Mitchell dismisses Spinoza as “childish.”

Star Trek’s second pilot comes in two versions, an original cut and a final cut.  The information on my blu-ray set says that the original cut was discovered only recently, but I’ve owned it on bootleg VHS since 1992.  (I know the date because I bought it during my year at the Policy Center in Bowling Green.)

Among the notable differences between the two versions:

●  In the original cut Kirk tells Spock, while looking past him at female crewmembers, that he might someday enjoy having feelings.

●  In the original cut Gary Mitchell is introduced walking down the hallway and reaching out his hand in a creepy groping gesture toward a passing female crewmember before ogling another; more on this anon.

●  The original cut begins with the following narration, including some information on the Enterprise’s usual duties, plus the first appearance of a famous phrase:

Enterprise log, Captain James Kirk, commanding.  We are leaving that vast cloud of stars and planets which we call our galaxy.  Behind us, Earth, Mars, Venus, even our sun, are specks of dust.  The question:  what is out there in the black void beyond?  Until now our mission has been one of space law regulation, contact with Earth colonies, and investigation of alien life; but now, a new task:  a probe out into where no man has gone before.

Of course that phrase, which is also the episode’s title, has a double meaning here; not just exploring uncharted astronomical territory, but also transcending the limits of the human. 

The question of whether, in the wake of Mitchell’s transformation, the gap between Kirk and himself has increased past the point where the attachment of friendship is still appropriate is part of the episode’s ongoing disagreement between Kirk and Spock.  Here we first learn of Spock’s view that feelings cloud clear reasoning, and of his people’s rejection of emotions (initially presented as failing to have them, rather than repressing them).

Josh Marsfelder interprets the episode as taking Spock’s side against Kirk’s. but I don’t read it that way; it seems to me that in representing the debate between Kirk and Spock over whether to risk the crew out of compassion for an individual (a debate that still echoes in the most recent Star Trek movie), the show neatly avoids taking sides between “logic” and “emotion” – as is further symbolised by the fact that Kirk’s “illogical” method of playing chess can defeat Spock’s.   (To say that the results prove Spock’s approach to Mitchell correct would be to confuse ex ante with ex post justification.) Mitchell, in effect agreeing with Spock, tells Kirk that “command and compassion is a fool's mixture,” but Kirk insists on the value of compassion to the end:  “above all else, a god needs compassion.”

The dispute between Kirk and Spock echoes the ancient disagreement between Aristoteleans and Stoics.  For the Stoics, emotions represent distortions of ethical perception; if they lead us to act in the same way that unhampered reason would recommend, they are supernumerary, whereas if they lead us to act differently, they are pernicious.  Hence the Stoic ideal of apatheia, absence of emotion.  For the Aristoteleans, by contrast, while emotions can lead us astray, they belong to the soul’s rational part and can also play a positive cognitive role, illuminating the moral landscape (for some of the reasons for the Aristotelean position, see this and section 1 of this), and so the ideal is not apatheia but metriopatheia, properly measured emotion.

The characters of Kirk and Spock (Spock especially) are effective dramatisations of the Aristotelean and Stoic positions, respectively.  When Kirk asks “what makes you right and a trained psychiatrist wrong?” Spock replies:  “Because she feels; I don’t:  all I know is logic.”  For Spock, feeling is an impediment to correct perception.  For Kirk, by contrast, a failure to feel for Mitchell would constitute a failure to recognise and acknowledge his relation to his friend:  “we’re talking about Gary.”  But Kirk is not blind to the dangers of excessive emotionalism; when Dehner chides him for listening to Spock’s warnings about Mitchell, Kirk replies that it is his “duty, whether pleasant or unpleasant, to listen to the reports, observations, even speculations, on any subject that might affect the safety of this vessel.”

When I say that the show doesn’t take sides between Kirk and Spock, I don’t mean that it’s neutral or ambiguous on the question of whether the total rejection of emotions is a good thing.  Clearly the show is, rightly, on the side of metriopatheia against apatheia (though apatheia is still treated with respect, again rightly – not so much for rejecting emotion as for being so dedicated to reason as to be willing to reject emotion should that turn out to be what reason requires; and the show never makes us want to see Spock entirely converted to Kirk’s approach, any more than vice versa).  But the show’s preference for metriopatheia is consistent with either Kirk or Spock being right on any particular issue; since Kirk grants that emotions can distort, his commitment to metriopatheia in general doesn’t rule out Spock’s having the correct view of whatever emotional influence is at issue between them at the moment.

Moreover, Spock’s commitment to Vulcan apatheia is not absolute, as he will increasingly come to recognise Kirk’s approach as appropriate for Kirk, even if not for himself.  Kirk’s decision to maroon Mitchell on Delta Vega is his concession to Spock’s perspective; Spock’s final line “I felt for him too” is his concession to Kirk’s.

But the episode actually offers us two different ways of thinking about Mitchell’s transformation.  One narrative strand stresses the contrast between the old and new Mitchell.  According to this strand, Mitchell was a genuinely good guy whose friendship with Kirk was likewise genuine, and he bears no responsibility for his transformation.  This is the strand that dominates when we see the easy camaraderie between Kirk and Mitchell in the elevator; when we hear of Mitchell’s risking his life for Kirk on Dimorus; and when Kirk and Spock agree at the end that Mitchell “didn't ask for what happened to him.”

But the other strand stresses the continuity between the old and new Mitchell.  This strand emerges in the sense we get that Mitchell all along has not been a particularly nice person.  We witness Mitchell’s unlovely side in his demeaning description of Elizabeth Dehner as a “walking freezer unit” merely because she rejects his advances (even though there’s nothing particularly frosty about her response – if anything it’s somewhat flirtatious).  Of course we could chalk this up to Star Trek’s usual sexism, but it’s by no means clear that Mitchell’s attitude is meant to be endorsed; it’s not as though Kirk says it, for example.  (Unfortunately, Dehner later partially endorses Mitchell’s comment by saying, apologetically, that “women professionals do tend to overcompensate” – and would that this were true on the show, as then Yeoman Smith wouldn’t behave so unprofessionally as to need, or allow, handholding from Mitchell as the ship heads into danger.)  But if we combine Mitchell’s freezer unit comment with his groping gesture (in the original cut) and his story about sending a female classmate to derail Kirk’s academic performance, Mitchell comes across as a narcissistic, manipulative asshole from the start, and his ascension to godhood merely involves an intensification of traits he already possessed.

Mitchell invokes the first strand when he tells Kirk that “morals are for men, not gods” – i.e., that his change in behaviour is due to his having transcended human limitations.  But Kirk invokes the second strand when he argues that Mitchell’s apotheosis is dangerous because it removes barriers to “the ugly, savage things we all keep buried” – in other words, it gives free rein to tendencies that are present in Mitchell already.  So is Kirk relieved of his duties of friendship toward Mitchell because Mitchell’s transformation has destroyed the basis of that friendship – or because it has shown that Mitchell was never properly Kirk’s friend? 

There’s a similar ambiguity as to why Dehner is reachable when Mitchell isn’t.  Following the first strand, we could say that she simply had, through no merit of her own, a lower ESP profile from the start, and so was less affected by the galactic barrier and underwent a less complete apotheosis.  Following the second strand, we could say that Kirk’s appeals to compassion reach Dehner and not Mitchell because from the beginning she has a superior character and a less manipulative, dehumanising attitude toward other people.  (A third possibility, given the show’s ethos, is that Dehner is more compassionate because she’s a woman.  A fourth, actually raised by Kirk, is that she sees the dangers of apotheosis more clearly because she’s a psychiatrist.)

Miscellaneous observations:

Spock is the only returning character from “The Cage.”  There’s a new ship’s doctor, not yet McCoy.  This episode introduces Kirk, Scott, and Sulu.  Shatner would have been best known to sf fans for rather un-Kirk-like roles in two classic Twilight Zone episodes, both penned by Richard Matheson (who’ll be writing for Shatner again a few episodes from now).

The first pilot featured a human protagonist imprisoned by beings with superior mental powers; the second pilot features a being with superior mental powers imprisoned by a human protagonist.

There’s a nice bit where Mitchell in sickbay is being monitored on a viewscreen, and he eerily turns and watches the viewers back.  Last time the Talosians were watching Star Trek (as are Kirk and Spock at the beginning of this episode); this time Star Trek is watching us.

The shining-eye effect on Mitchell and Dehner is quite effective – if painful for the actors.

The written information on the viewscreens (crewmembers’ backgrounds, the text of Spinoza’s Ethica) is surprisingly detailed, considering that audiences at the time were in no position to freeze the picture to read any of it.

The paper printouts from “The Cage” are mercifully gone; now they use what are presumably supposed to be microform containers but at least look like hard-cased floppy disks.  Likewise, lasers have given way to phasers.  Warp speed is now called “spacewarp” instead of “timewarp.”  The ship’s computer is referred to as “Mr. Spock’s computer,” a proprietary designation it will soon lose.

The identification of Kirk’s middle initial as “R” will later be ... revisited.

With Spock retconned as a member of an anti-emotional people, the grinning is gone; but he still smiles a bit more than he will later.  Spock also speaks of having a human ancestor rather than a human mother, but we are free to interpret this as simple reticence on his part.

The galactic barrier appears to be confined to the horizontal; why doesn’t the Enterprise try flying over or under it rather than through it?  (Likewise, 26 years later in Star Trek VI, we may similarly wonder why the Excelsior flees horizontally, rather than vertically, from the horizontally-expanding Praxis explosion – and indeed why an explosion in weightless space would expand horizontally, rather than in all directions, in the first place.  The dangers of two-dimensional thinking were briefly highlighted in the Mutara Nebula scene in Star Trek II, only to be forgotten thereafter.)

There’s a clumsy exposition scene where Sulu has to explain the concept of geometric progression to people who would presumably know it.

Mitchell’s description of Kirk as having been a bookworm at the Academy seems (mildly, not radically) inconsistent with later depictions of him.


  1. FANTASTIC commentary. Really loved this, Roderick. My only nitpicks are in the random observations at the end. Sulu's clumsy exposition: that's actually how I learned that concept, so I have to give him a pass on that one. And you neglected to note lots of fun stuff about Spinoza: 1, that Mitchell characaterizes it as "long-hair stuff," 2, that Kirk likes Spinoza, and 3, that post-barrier Mitchell finds it "quite simple, really" - LOL!

    1. I did mention his finding it "childish." But is it clear that Kirk likes Spinoza, or is Spinoza just an instance of the general category of long-hair stuff that Kirk likes?

    2. Re Sulu: yes, but you weren't a member of a starship crew.

  2. I took it as Kirk liking Spinoza - you've obviously seen it more recently than I have, but if memory serves, Gary says "I'm finally getting a chance to catch up on some of that long-hair stuff you like." Kirk peeks at the screen and says inside of a couple seconds, "You? Spinoza?" So I took it to mean that Kirk knows and likes Spinoza.