Star Trek Re-Watch: “Elaan of Troyius”

Elaan of Troyius
Written by John Meredyth Lucas
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas

Season 3, Episode 13
Production episode: 3×02
Original air date: December 20, 1968
Star date:4372.5

Mission summary

Enterprise is on a top-secret mission to deliver Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, to the nearby planet Troyius, where she is to marry the Troyian leader to avert nuclear war between their peoples. The Elasians are reportedly “vicious and arrogant,” like the neighboring Klingons who dispute the Federation’s claim over the Tellun system. On the other hand, McCoy has heard that Elasian women have a “subtle, mystical power that drives men wild.” It’s up to Troyian Ambassador Petri to civilize the savage Elaan and instruct her in the customs of her new home.

Things start off on the wrong foot when an honor guard of Flash Gordon rejects beams over and demands that everyone in the transporter room kneel before Zod Elaan. When she materializes, the sight of her skimpy, shiny battle armor brings Kirk and his men to their knees after all. Kirk’s also stunned at how bossy she is, but in the name of diplomacy, he humors her and she grants him permission to show her to her quarters. He sends Spock on that delightful errand while he interrogates Petri about their surly guest. The whining ambassador assures him that the Federation is counting on the full cooperation of Kirk and his crew to peaceful interactions with the difficult Elasians. He requests they travel to Troyius as slowly as possible to give him time to work with Elaan, and hopes that he can butter her up with some wedding gifts.

Kirk returns to the Bridge and orders Sulu to proceed at .037 impulse power, offending Scotty because they won’t be needing his precious warp engines. Before the Captain can settle into the long, boring diplomatic escort service he was expecting, Spock arrives and informs him that Elaan hates Uhura’s quarters, which were secured for her for the duration of her visit because they were the most feminine rooms available. Uhura’s perturbed, but for all the wrong reasons.

Kirk visits Elaan to see what her beef is, and finds her throwing Petri’s wedding gifts at him. She refuses to wear the Troyian wedding dress and crystal necklace the ambassador tries to give her, annoyed by the room, her duty, and Petri’s general appearance. She orders her guard Kryton to throw him out, leaving her alone with Kirk. He can give as good as he takes.

KIRK: Your Glory doesn’t seem to be responding to instruction.
ELAAN: I will never forgive the council for putting me through this torture. Were you responding to my demand for better quarters?
KIRK: There are none better. I suggest you make do with these.
ELAAN: You suggest?
KIRK: There are no more available, but if that’s the only way you can get gratification, I’ll arrange to have the whole room filled from floor to ceiling with breakable objects.
ELAAN: I will not be humiliated!
KIRK: Then act in a civilized fashion.
ELAAN: I did not give you permission to leave!
KIRK: I didn’t ask for any.

Zing! He leaves her still stinging from his brutal treatment and finds Petri in the hall, complaining that he can’t deal with her anymore. Kirk talks sense into him with some helpful advice, nothing he wouldn’t do himself:

Then make her listen, Ambassador. Use a different approach. Stop being so diplomatic. She respects strength. Go in strong.

Always full of good ideas, isn’t he? Spock presents a problem that Kirk has a little more experience with: a sensor ghost that seems to be following Enterprise. Kirk speculates it might be another ship, but he can’t sink his teeth into this fresh mystery because he has to deal with the Troyians again, who are now making a nuisance of themselves in Engineering. He hotfoots it down there before Scotty says something they’ll all regret and smooths things over with Elaan, in his own fashion. He turns the encounter into a lesson about courtesy, an alien concept for the warrior woman, who has changed into another hideous outfit for her tour of the ship.

Thank goodness a Klingon ship appears to take Kirk’s mind off his unruly cargo! That explains the weird sensor readings. For now, the enemy ship seems content to lurk and intimidate, matching their course and speed. The Captain has to turn his attention back to more overt dangers, when Security reports a “disturbance” in Elaan’s quarters—which turns out to be Ambassador Petri with Elaan’s dagger in his back. The bride has taken diplomatic matters into her own hands.

Fortunately, the biggest injury is to Petri’s pride. He’ll have a full recovery in about a week, but he holds Kirk personally responsible for his brush with death and refuses to deal with Elaan again. He also musters the strength to tell Nurse Chapel why Elasian women are so desirable despite their strong wills and impeccable fashion sense:

It’s not magic. It’s biochemical. A man whose flesh is once touched by the tears of a woman of Elas has his heart enslaved forever.

Kirk learns that the Federation High Commissioner is planning to attend the wedding, which pressures him to pick up where Petri left off, only hopefully with less backstabbing. Kirk confronts Elaan as she dines on a meal of green chicken and colorful cubes, and attempts to teach her simple table manners. It ends in a slap fight, and her throwing a knife at him as he leaves. She still has so much to learn.

Meanwhile, the Elasian muscle Kryton sneaks into Engineering and fiddles with the grossly unprotected dilithium chamber. He probably isn’t trying to improve warp engine efficiency. An engineer interrupts him and Kryton easily breaks the red shirt’s neck and drags him out of sight.

Since the Klingon ship still refuses to communicate with them, Kirk pays Elaan another visit for the promised lesson on courtesy. He notes Kryton’s absence, but her other two guards refuse to let the captain pass. They can’t argue with Spock’s phaser though, and he orders the Vulcan to take the stunned men to the brig while he schools Elaan. She attacks him as soon as he enters her quarters, but Kirk knows this game and he wrestles her to the bed, with her protesting him touching her. He promises to spank her as punishment for her childish behavior, but she abruptly switches tactics and cries that she doesn’t want people to hate her. He comforts her and insists that she’s liked, but not well-liked, brushing a tear from her eye. A poison tear! A moment later he’s under her spell and they’re kissing and she wants him to tell her more about spanking. Oh boy.

An emergency call from the Bridge helps to snap him out of it: Uhura’s picked up an unauthorized transmission from Engineering. Visibly verklempt, Kirk pulls himself together and away from Elaan’s bed to investigate. They capture Kryton in Engineering and discover the dead crewman’s body, and Kirk immediately recognizes his alien communicator as Klingon. He orders Spock to come down to perform a Vulcan mind meld to get information out of the stubborn Elasian, but Kryton steals a phaser from a security guard and vaporizes himself. With no way to know what the spy was up to in Engineering, Kirk orders Scotty to check every relay.

Kirk returns to Elaan’s quarters for… information. In a shocking twist, it turns out Kryton was in love with her and betrayed them to the Klingons to prevent her from marrying the Troyian ruler. Kirk urges her to forget what happened earlier, but she’s very persistent.

ELAAN: I chose you, and you chose me. I have a plan. With this ship, you could completely obliterate Troyius. Then there will be no need for the marriage. And in gratitude, my people will give you the complete rule of this system.
KIRK: What kind of a mind could think of such a thing?

It seems she was only interested in Kirk for his weapon… McCoy and Spock catch them in flagrante delicto and talk to the Captain alone in the corridor. He explains what happened with the tear and his friends realize this is no ordinary love affair with an alien woman. The doctor promises to work on an antidote, though the effects are supposed to be permanent, while Kirk and Spock deal with the Klingon ship.

The enemy battlecruiser is finally approaching and Enterprise prepares for battle. Kirk orders a maneuvering speed of warp 2, but Scotty stops him in time—Kryton rigged the engine to blow up if they hit warp speed. The ship is handicapped to just impulse engines, and Kirk is handicapped by Elaan’s unexpected appearance on the bridge in still another outfit. The Captain and Sulu attempt to evade the Klingon’s attack, but at the last minute Kirk belays the order to fire phasers, and the enemy passes without attacking. They were obviously hoping to trick Enterprise into blowing themselves up with their sabotaged engine. Spock wonders why the Klingons want to control the system so badly, and suggests that Elaan probably shouldn’t be on the Bridge. Kirk retorts, “I’ll be the judge–” before coming to his senses and thanking his first officer for gently keeping him in check. He escorts his girlfriend to Sickbay for her own safety and so he can concentrate on completing his mission.

ELAAN: Would you have me wearing my wedding dress for another man and never see you again?
KIRK: Yes, Elaan.
ELAAN: Are you happy at the prospect?
KIRK: No.

Scotty calls to give him more to worry about: the dilithium crystal that regulates the matter-antimatter warp core is burned out and the assembly is fused. There’s no way to fix it, and they barely have enough power to maintain the shields for a few attacks. Kirk sends Elaan on to Sickbay while he heads back up to the Bridge and deal with the Klingon commander, who demands immediate, unconditional surrender.

In Sickbay, Petri pleads with Elaan to wear the Troyian necklace he brought her, and a moment later she returns to the Bridge wearing it and her blue wedding dress, insisting that she wants to die with Kirk. He kicks her off the Bridge, but she hangs out by the turbolift, watching as he gives maneuvering orders, prolonging their inevitable destruction as the Klingons’ repeated attacks weaken the shields. At their most desperate moment, Spock picks up “some very peculiar energy readings” from Elaan’s necklace. They examine the jewels and discover that the Troyian common stones are dilithium crystals! What a crazy, random happenstance! “The necklace is supposed to bring you luck,” she says, and it seems it does. Kirk asks for them and she agrees gladly.

The Captain tries to stall the Klingons and keep them alive while Spock and Scotty try to adapt the rough crystals to their warp core. Though the unusual shape of the crystals cause some power fluctuations, they hold well enough to surprise the Klingon ship with a burst of warp speed and a full spread of photon torpedoes. The tables are turned, and the damaged Klingon ship limps away. Elaan doesn’t understand Kirk’s decision to let them go.

Kirk says good-bye to Elaan and Petri in the transporter room. Still wearing her wedding gown and the lucky radan necklace, minus the two stones powering the ship, she offers Kirk her dagger as a souvenir.

ELAAN: Remember me.
KIRK: I have no choice.
ELAAN: Nor have I. I have only responsibilities and obligations. Goodbye.
KIRK: Goodbye.

She beams down to Troyius and things seem back to normal. In private, McCoy tells Spock he’s finally discovered an antidote to the Elasian love tears, and the Vulcan assures him it is no longer necessary.

SPOCK: The antidote to a woman of Elas, Doctor, is a starship. The Enterprise infected the Captain long before the Dohlman did.
KIRK: Mister Sulu, prepare to take us out of orbit.
MCCOY: Well, I doubt seriously if there’s any kind of an antidote for the Enterprise.
SPOCK: In this particular instance, Doctor, I agree with you.

Analysis

For some reason I was dreading this one, possibly because I remembered Elaan’s ridiculous costumes, or groaned at the transparent “Helen of Troy” reference, or simply because it has a shaky reputation, but I was surprised at how enjoyable and compelling the episode turned out to be.

It’s an odd sort of romance that reminded me of the Trojan War, My Fair Lady, Tristan and Isolde, and Cleopatra. Regardless of Elaan’s selfish motives for wanting Kirk, her feelings seem genuine, and though Kirk is forced to love her, he does so in earnest. As we’ve seen him shake off mind control in the past, and indeed he musters himself whenever Enterprise is in danger here, it’s possible that there’s some latent attraction on his part there that might have manifested in time even without the help of a love potion.

Shatner delivers a nuanced performance, expertly showing Kirk’s increasing frustration with the Elasians, his restrained passion for Elaan, and his conflict between desire and duty. He is weary, shaken, distracted—but never uncertain. Their love for each other, though artificially induced (even if Elaan repeatedly insists that they chose each other), is tragic because they can never be together. The lesson Kirk teaches her isn’t manners or courtesy, but compassion for others. Most of all, she learns about duty and responsibility. Like Elaan, Kirk is a slave to his mission, his ship, his crew, and his career, but while he embraces it, she rebels. In the end, Elaan accepts her fate, as Kirk accepts his. I was disappointed that Spock spelled it out for McCoy and the viewer, but it doesn’t diminish the message: Kirk’s only love is the Enterprise.

France Nuyen also works well in this role. She’s haughty and demanding, exotically beautiful but difficult to like. The victim of an arranged, loveless marriage, it’s no wonder her every action is a tantrum. Over the course of the episode she subtly softens, losing none of her commanding presence but becoming a leader people would follow because they want to, not because she bullies them into it. Her love scenes with Kirk are gentle and affecting, winning our sympathy by the end, when she is not the Dohlman of Elas, but finally Elaan of Troyius.  Her Troyian husband had better watch out! I also liked Jay Robinson’s turn as Petri, and I liked the character too until he got all mopey in Sickbay.

There are some clear flaws in this episode, notably the awful costumes, particularly the Troyian body armor and all Elaan’s outfits except for her blue wedding dress. It’s hard to take a show seriously when it looks so campy, but beneath the surface the story more than makes up for it. The coincidental discovery of the dilithium crystals is a bit weak, but it was justified well enough to not detract too much, and it’s a nice symbolic touch to have Elaan and the Troyians contribute to the success of the Enterprise‘s mission. (On the other hand, I don’t understand why they don’t carry spare crystals around if they’re so fragile and important, and I thought the whole chamber was fused beyond repair!) I found the battle scenes taut and convincing—a real glimpse into the “realistic” sort of space battles we wouldn’t see until Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, demonstrating strategy over firepower.

Overall, this episode was unexpectedly moving, especially the simple, touching gesture of Elaan putting on her wedding dress to die at Kirk’s side. It reminded me in many ways of the excellent Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “The Perfect Mate,” in which Picard has an even more tragic romance with a woman promised to another to stop a war.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: If you’ve ever wondered what a Helen of Troy/ Antony and Cleopatra crossover fic would be like, “Elaan of Troyius” is your answer.

While the marriages of Helen of Troy and Cleopatra both start wars, the marriage of Elaan is supposed to avoid one: but being a plaything for cloak and dagger diplomacy isn’t much consolation to the raging, arrogant Dohlman. To be honest, I was with her on this. She behaves like a spoiled child and is generally unpleasant to be around, but asking her to uproot her existence to marry a man she’s never met but has been trained her whole life to loathe seems shockingly unfair. It’s never really clear what the Dohlman’s role is supposed to be, but “sexual peace offering” probably wasn’t on the list when she signed up. I imagine the situation she finds herself in here is frightening and distasteful enough that most anyone would rebel, too, and I was appalled that no one–not even Kirk!–seemed to have sympathy for what they were demanding of her.

Perhaps that’s why I reacted so negatively to her character arc. She’s admittedly manipulative and mildly psychotic, but cartoonishly so. She’s an exaggerated Bridezilla. I wish we knew a bit more about what her life was like before–she’s obviously the child of incredible privilege (plenty of which seems undeserved!), but how is it she’s at the whim of a Council? Who is she? Kirk’s jibe that women anywhere but Vulcan are “irrational” sets the tone of the sexism that flourishes by the second half of the episode. Of course the Elasian women have “mystical” power over men, because obviously there’s no other reason men would reward or be attracted by that kind of behavior. (I’m always baffled to see it, but I’ve met a few Elaan types, and they didn’t have biochemical tears to win their lovers.)

Elaan is aggressive and independent. She commands respect and obedience, albeit excessively so. And by the end, we learn that the only way to tame the shrew is to berate her–to humiliate and demean her. To treat her like a child, order her around, and force her to accept her circumstances without complaint. What she needs is a strong man to put her in her place, and that’s what Kirk gives her. To make matters worse, the racist undertones of Asian women being subservient and meek  (or, if they aren’t, they’re monsters) are wince-worthy today. Elaan, guided by the strong and manly hand of our Captain Kirk, eventually falls into her role as an obedient and submissive wife.

Kirk repeatedly tries to set this up as a parallel to his duties, but that’s a ridiculous false equivalency. Kirk signed up for his position, and in exchange for accepting the rules and hierarchy it requires, he’s granted immense personal freedom and the respect of everyone he works with. Elaan, on the other hand, is expected to give up everything and gain nothing–her obedience is rewarded with what exactly? She loses the respect of others, the power she commanded, and the individuality and freedom she so enjoyed before. Perhaps she’ll live a privileged life, but she’ll never be herself again. As much as she abuses it, she must trade away her empowerment entirely.

It was an offensive throwback to argue that being a wife is an uncompromisable obligation and duty and that one’s own feelings and wishes are entirely irrelevant. I was reminded of the kind of post-World War II propaganda we see in Mildred Pierce (fantastic noir, shockingly sexist). Want to be aggressive, independent, and self-sufficient? Fat chance. That’s not where you belong. Your duty and obligation is to be a subservient and loving wife–and you have to accept that no matter who you are, or what power you command, or what the circumstances happen to be. The ending was sad and sweet, as a newly humbled Elaan says goodbye, but I was unmoved for Kirk. He may have no choice but to remember her, but he can move on with his life in a way that she never will. I don’t think anyone could argue she didn’t need a good taste of humble pie and a real curb to her abuses of power–but the role she’s forced to assume, presumably forever, seems far more harsh than even a Cleopatra deserves.

Blech. I feel like I need to wash the archaic gender role stench off of me and re-read A Doll’s House or something.

It’s hard to imagine my saying anything nice at this point, but above all else it’s an enjoyable outing–engaging, with a fantastic battle scene, a wonderful guest star in France Nuyen, and some really choice moments with Petri in particular. I even liked McCoy feeling put out at the end that there’s no need for the antidote. I’m sure he could still market it on Elas and make a pretty penny…

Torie’s Rating: Warp 3

Best Line: PETRI: There cannot be peace between us. We have deluded ourselves. Captain, when I am near them, I do not want peace. I want to kill them.

Syndication Edits: The last half of Kirk and Petri’s conversation outside Elaan’s quarters; Spock announces that the Klingon battlecruiser is matching their speed just before Kirk is summoned by Security to Elaan’s quarters; Petri blaming Kirk for his injury and stating he’s going to remain in Sickbay; Elaan orders Kirk to return her to Elas and he refuses; some establishing shots of the Klingon vessel and Enterprise and Kirk’s inquiry about the Klingons’ intentions; Kirk asks Uhura to locate the source of the transmission and Spock finds it; Scott asks if they can call Starfleet for help, and Petri offers Elaan the necklace again; the Klingons’ final demand for unconditional surrender; Scott whines about the dilithium crystals being dangerous and Kirk tries to stall the Klingons by asking them to ensure Elaan’s safety.

Trivia: This is the only episode of any Star Trek series to have been written and directed by the same person. Lucas’ original episode title was “Helen of Troyius,” intended as an SF adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew and Antony and Cleopatra.

This is the first time McCoy asks Spock, “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” He asks the same question in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film.

This is the first appearance of the Klingon ship, as designed by Matt Jefferies, though “Day of the Dove” aired before it with recycled footage of it. The fliptop Klingon communicator only appears in one other episode, “Errand of Mercy,” which is probably why Kirk has trouble working it.

Not only do we see Uhura’s quarters for the second (and last) time, but we also see her bathroom–sort of, probably–which is never directly shown on Star Trek.

In a deleted scene, which appears in the Blish novelization, Spock serenades Elaan with a Vulcan love song on his lyre, piping the music into her quarters to try and calm her down. In the original script, he reveals that he lost an all-Vulcan music competition to his father, and that Vulcans have “natural rhythm,” which impresses Uhura. (Images and script from the excerpted scene are available here.)

SPOCK: In ancient times, the Vulcan lyre was used to stimulate the fury of the mating time.
KIRK: We’ll need some stimulation–very fast. The Federation High Commissioner’s on his way to Troyius expecting to attend a wedding.

This takes place before the scene where Kirk finds Elaan eating, which plays exactly the same except for her commentary on the music: “What is that sickening sound?”

Other notes: The novel Firestorm by L.A. Graf is a sequel to this episode.

Robert Kennedy was assassinated while this episode was filmed, which shocked guest star France Nuyen, one of his supporters.

The Saurian Brandy bottle seen in this and other episodes is a George Dickel commemorative “powder horn” whiskey bottle.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 12 – “The Empath.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 14 – “Whom Gods Destroy.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr.

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.