Star Trek Re-Watch: “Whom Gods Destroy”

Whom Gods Destroy
Teleplay by Lee Erwin
Story by Lee Erwin and Jerry Sohl
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

Season 3, Episode 14
Production episode: 3×16
Original air date:  January 3, 1969
Star date: 5718.3

Mission summary

Kirk and Spock beam down to Elba II, a planet that houses an asylum for the “few remaining incorrigible criminally insane of the galaxy.” The asylum is in a sealed complex because Elba’s atmosphere is poisonous: presumably a feature and a not a bug. Kirk and Spock are bringing Dr. Donald Cory, the governor of the so-called colony, a medicinal cure for the crazy people left there. (I’d guess Dr. Cory was on someone’s shit list since all he governs is a group of 15 psychopaths, but maybe the alternative was Triacus?)

The newest arrival to the funny farm is Garth of Izar, a former fleet captain for the Federation and a hero of Kirk’s. Kirk would like to meet him, so Dr. Cory leads his visitors through the Rogue’s Gallery: an Andorian rockin’ a bright red pimp coat, a pig-faced Tellarite, and a green Orion slavegirl named Marta who seems perfectly rational until she tries to explain that Dr. Cory isn’t Dr. Cory at all. Silly girl. But when they reach the last cell, they find a battered and beaten Dr. Cory inside, suspended in mid-air! A broing and camera shake later, the Dr. Cory they thought they knew appears in his true form: Garth of Izar, or as he prefers to be addressed, “Lord Garth, Master of the Universe.” He locks Kirk in the cell with Dr. Cory, releases the other inmates, and has his droogs drag Spock away.

In the usual villain way, he explains that because his original crew mutinied against him he’s going to capture the Enterprise and hunt each of them down to kill them. Kirk knows that the Enterprise crew would mutiny against him, too, but Garth has a plan for that, and a broing and a camera shake later he looks just like Kirk. Delighted, he takes Marta and heads to the transporter room.

Now stuck in the cell with Dr. Cory, Kirk has a few questions he wants answered. Well, maybe just one:

KIRK: How does he manage to change form at will?
CORY: The people of Antos taught him the techniques of cellular metamorphosis to restore the destroyed parts of his body. By himself, he later learned to use the technique to recreate himself into any form he wished. The first time we knew about it was when a guard, seeing what he thought was me in Garth’s cell, released him.
KIRK: He was such a genius. What a waste.

Garth, looking like Kirk, makes it to the transporter room and hails Mr. Scott. But there’s a glitch in his plan:

SCOTT: Scott here, sir.
GARTH: Beam me aboard.
SCOTT: Aye, sir. Queen to queen’s level three.
GARTH: I said beam me aboard.
SCOTT: I said, queen to queen’s level three.
GARTH: We have no time for chess problems. Beam me aboard!
SCOTT: I’m following your orders, Captain. Queen to queen’s level three.

He didn’t even get to the riddles! What kind of starship captain was this Garth fellow? He tells Scott he’ll check in later, and proceeds to have a complete toddler tantrum on the floor of the transporter room. This makes everyone feel awkward, including the audience.

Scotty knows something is up, but they can’t penetrate the planet’s security forcefield, so they’ll just have to sit back and kill time.

Garth calms himself down and goes back to Kirk, extending a dinner invitation to both him and Spock. Kirk doesn’t have much choice, so they all meet up in the dining hall. There, the Andorian is using the Tellarite as a wheelbarrow–this actually seems an improvement after the horseriding episode–and Marta takes something of an interest in Kirk. This drives Garth into a jealous rage and they proceed to have a domestic dispute in front of the whole group. Then he commands her to dance, magic, dance. To ease the tension and add some filler, she obliges.

Ten hours later*, Garth offers her to Kirk like some kind of sleazy pimp. Kirk decides to lighten the mood by asking why Garth attempted to obliterate the Antosians, who healed him when he was sick and gave him this amazing ability to transform himself. Diplomatic, that one. Garth says only that he offered them a galaxy and they rejected him. Kirk makes a half-hearted attempt to soften the mood by praising Garth’s victory on Axanar, but then walks it back with a dig:

KIRK: But my first visit to Axanar was as a new fledged cadet on a peace mission.
GARTH: Peace mission! Politicians and weaklings!
KIRK: They were humanitarians and statesmen, and they had a dream. A dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars, a dream that made Mister Spock and me brothers.
GARTH: Mister Spock, do you consider Captain Kirk and yourself brothers?
SPOCK: Captain Kirk speaks somewhat figuratively and with undue emotion. However, what he says is logical and I do, in fact, agree with it.

Awwww.

Spock makes the mistake of criticizing Garth and is dragged away from the dinner for it, but Garth doesn’t want to ruin the mood. He gives Kirk some wine to loosen him up, and then suggests a little invisible 3D chess! Way to show your hand, Garth. Kirk’s no fool and dances around the answer, but Garth becomes enraged again and decides to make the captain “long for death.” He has his henchmen drag out an old prop–the torture chair from “Dagger of the Mind.” Shockingly, it has the same function. He demonstrates it on Dr. Cory, first.

Kirk of course is as stoic as Portia and despite the pain, refuses to reveal the answer to his little security system. But Marta can’t watch the proceedings–she seems to have taken a liking to Kirk–and begs for him to be released. She vows to get the answer out of him with her own… techniques.

Later, Kirk is lying in a plush bed and as he comes to, Marta gives him a glass of water in the sexiest way possible. She says she lied to Garth to get him to stop hurting Kirk and proceeds to, er, use her assets. But mid-kiss she reaches beneath the pillow and pulls out a dagger! Kirk struggles with her but soon Spock arrives, freed earlier by Marta. He nerve pinches her, grabs her weapon, and leads Kirk towards the control room. They take out a guard on the way, make it to the control room, disable the forcefield around the planet, and make contact with Mr. Scott.

Scott asks for the password again, but Spock remains silent.

Kirk, suspicious, tells Scotty that Spock will give the password. When Spock can’t, he cuts the signal, re-enables the forcefield, and reveals himself as Garth! Kirk tries a new tack this time: he reminds Lord Garth, Master of the Universe what it was like to be Captain Garth, fleet captain, noble and heroic. Garth reminisces a little but shrugs it all off: he wants power, and he wants revenge, and he’s not going to take some rosy-colored remembrances in their place.

He decides that Kirk isn’t respecting him properly because he has yet to be crowned. So he convenes all of his followers (all ten of them…) in the dining area, and using a dining table and a stool as a throne, crowns himself Master of the Universe. He names Marta his consort, and in a bid to win him over, names Kirk the heir apparent. When Garth’s mood darkens, though, he orders Kirk dragged out of the room by the Andorian and the Tellarite.

They take him to the control room (for some reason), and in a last ditch effort Kirk lunges for the control panel–but is stunned by a phaser for his efforts. Garth comes in seeming very pleased with himself and has his assistants pull up a chair for Kirk. He has something to show the captain. He pulls out a tube filled with tiny crystals: the most powerful explosive ever invented. And as a test of its power, he’s decided to use a human sacrifice.

Drawing back a curtain to the outside, Garth shows us Marta being dragged through the landscape by men in atmospheric suits, choking on the poisonous atmosphere. She has a single crystal bomb in her necklace. She struggles against the two guards pitifully, and eventually Garth decides to put her out of her misery–and detonates the bomb. She explodes and nothing is left behind.

Kirk is moved but not enough to hand over the Enterprise to this madman, so Garth gets him where it hurts. He orders the assistants to bring in Spock. Back in his cell, Spock pretends to be passed out on his little bed. The Andorian and the Tellarite drag him, one arm each, out of his cell, and Spock uses the opportunity to nerve pinch them at the same time! Armed and ready, he makes it to the control room and faces off against Garth–only he’s not there.

Spock sees two Kirks.

They argue over who the real captain is:

SPOCK: Queen to queen’s level three.
KIRK 2: I won’t answer that. That’s exactly what he wants to know.
KIRK 1: Very clever, Garth. That’s exactly what I was going to say.

Spock quizzes them on battle maneuvers, but they both seem to know the answer. With nothing he can ask that only the real captain would know, Spock changes his mind:

SPOCK: Gentlemen, whichever one of you is Captain Garth must at this moment be expending a great deal of energy to maintain the image of Captain Kirk. That energy level cannot be maintained indefinitely, and I have time.

Some agonizingly long fully clothed Kirk-on-Kirk man-wrestling ensues. And continues to ensue for like, an hour*. Finally, one Kirk lifts a chair over his head and aims it at the other Kirk. Both plead with Spock to recognize them as his captain–but the man without the chair tells Spock to stun them both, because it’s the only way to save the Enterprise.

Spock shoots the one with the chair. He is, surprised, revealed to be Garth.

They reunite, and Spock hails the Enterprise. Kirk correctly gives the right chess move to Scotty, and all is well.

Some time later, Dr. Cory administers the cure to Garth, who is suddenly docile but confused, and doesn’t seem to remember any of what happened over the last few hours. Good enough, they seem to think, but Kirk expresses some disappointment that Spock took so long to figure out who the right Kirk was:

SPOCK: The interval of uncertainty was actually fairly brief, Captain. It only seemed long to you. I was waiting for a victor in the hand to hand struggle, which I assumed would be Captain Garth. Because of your depleted condition. Failing a resolution to the struggle, I was forced to use other means to make my determination.
KIRK: I see. Mister Spock. Letting yourself be hit on the head, and I presume you let yourself be hit on the head, is not exactly a method King Solomon would have approved. Mister Scott, ready to beam up.

*Time elapsed may be shorter than it appears.

Analysis

The title is a classic Greek cliche, usually falsely attributed to Euripides and generally paraphrased as: “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.”  Yeah, okay. Given that this episode has absolutely nothing in common with the kind of moving high tragedies of the ancient Greeks, my guess is the writers went through Bartlett’s looking for the keyword “insane,” found that one, wiped their hands proudly, and stuck it on the script.

This episode lost me right from the premise. So mental illness is curable, except for these fifteen criminal masterminds? Let’s be generous here and assume that the conflation of mental illness and criminal violence is accidental and unfortunate. (Because wow, is that unfortunate. And by unfortunate I mean appalling. Criminal behavior and mental illness do not go hand in hand as a matter of recourse.) Aside from our friend Garth, who seems to have started as a nice guy before being corrupted by the power from Antos IV, I don’t see anyone there with mental illness. Marta’s sexual and a little self-aggrandizing, but aside from the randomness with which she tries to stab Kirk (where did THAT come from? If she stabs her lovers, wouldn’t Garth be dead by now?) she doesn’t strike me as the kind of Nero figure you’d think would be hanging around here. I mean she spends the entire episode being berated and then pimped out by Garth–who wouldn’t feel a little stabby at that point? And the rest of the inmates look… bored. Isn’t this supposed to be the home of the fifteen most violent and brutal crazies in the galaxy? Why are ANY of them okay with being lackeys? I would assume a group of arrogant, power-hungry psychos, kind of like the folks in “Plato’s Stepchildren,” who’d murder each other over breakfast.

The real injustice done here is against Spock, who’s forced into the kind of Watson buffoon role that he doesn’t deserve. Okay, so the double nerve pinch is pretty cool, but it completely fails to make up for his inability to do anything but piss off Garth in the dinner scene (they were hatching a plan, briefly, and then suddenly… it stopped?). The worst is the “climax,” which I use in the loosest possible sense of the word, where he’s shoved aside like a sack of red shirts and proceeds to do absolutely nothing for the five hundred years* it takes for the two men to fight it out. He can’t come up with one thing that only the real Kirk would know or be able to answer? Not one? I can think of a hundred.

Mr. Scott and Dr. McCoy get equally short shrift, appearing in maybe a full minute of screen time only to be utterly useless. I love when McCoy asks, “”How can we be powerful enough to wipe out a planet and still be so helpless?” GOOD QUESTION.

Though I liked Inhat’s turn as Garth, it should probably appear in Wikipedia as a great example of scene-chewing. I quickly grew bored with his predictable tantrums and fits and longed for just a smidgen of nuance and depth. He had more in common with Zoolander than Khan Noonien Singh. During the dinner scene, as he barks at Marta, you can see him trying desperately not to laugh. Low point: the complete lack of emotion during Kirk’s pleas to think of the man he was. That could have been a great scene. It wasn’t.

I was very much disturbed by Garth’s murder of Marta, which to me crossed a line from “Oh look, he’s a crazy maniac” to “Oh my god why am I watching this.” But more disturbing was the implication at the end that the “cure” of the Federation is basically a lobotomy. Garth wakes up and doesn’t seem to know who or where he is. He’s docile and complacent, empty. What the hell kind of cure is that? I’m reminded of Harvey–sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

We get a few things that never show up in Star Trek ever again: the countersign password idea (which is damn cool, cheap to implement, and fun to play, yet disappears forever) and the magical cure for crazy (you’d think it’d be part of the commodore daily regimen by now). We also get a dozen things we’ve seen a million times before: reused props (the chair, the outfits), more torture porn, the lesson not to have heroes, completely inexplicable plot turns, shallow references to both Shakespeare and the the Bible, and lingering open questions. (How is it that Garth can pull off a nerve pinch when he appears as Spock? Is Marta actually sincere about Kirk, the way that he thinks she is, or is it all a ploy set up by Garth? Why does Garth have any followers at all after he kills his right-hand woman?)

But like so many of the episodes that have disappointed, its mostly just boring. Half the episode is filler dance scenes, fight scenes, and needless emoting. The rest indulges in more torture–seriously, guys, what’s with the torture obsession??–and empty, uninspired rhapsodies about the ideals of the Federation. Sometimes it edges on the interesting, with Garth’s talk about rising above weakness and becoming a more perfect kind of man–but it’s been done better. (See: “Space Seed.”)

In fact, skip this, and just go see “Space Seed.”

Torie’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: It was interesting to watch this again, because all I remembered of it was the name Garth. (You’d think Batgirl as an Orion dancer would have been unforgettable!) I may have only seen the episode once before, and it obviously didn’t leave much of an impression. It’s a fascinating premise and much of the dialogue sparkles, but like the inmates of Elba II, something’s a bit off.

First of all, I was impressed early on by a couple of things. When Marta began shouting about Garth replacing the Governor, I thought for sure they were setting up an obvious plot twist that would take the whole episode to develop. I was pleasantly surprised when moments later they find the Governor in the cell and Garth shows himself, without drawing it out. I was also impressed with Kirk’s chess code, which is both consistent with the character and shows incredible foresight. And yet, if they expected the prison to be so dangerous, why beam down your two senior officers with zero security? (Granted, red shirts wouldn’t have been much help.) And why have them deliver the medicine instead of Doctor McCoy? He’s the one who ends up administering it anyway.

Naturally, it’s much easier to mess with just Kirk and Spock, and the whole password thing is an excuse to have Garth try to trick each of them in various ways to get the information out of them. It’s a flimsy plot, but if you just accept it–as you must accept that Garth can change his appearance at will–it’s a mostly enjoyable story that still manages to be tedious at times. I loved the split screen effects and the Garth’s transformations, and his outfit and performance are wonderfully outlandish. (Mismatched silver and gold boots! Punky Brewster would be proud.) The bizarre dinner scene reminded me a little of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and the episode follows a Carroll-esque sort of logic where Garth’s insanity clearly makes perfect sense to him. No wonder Spock’s criticism of the self-proclaimed Lord’s illogical behavior drives him into a rage. Their debate and the Vulcan’s generally snarky attitude and wry humor throughout are some of the most entertaining aspects of the episode. I also liked Garth’s use of “Fascinating,” just after suggesting he had to “establish a rapport” with Spock. Though I was just as confused as Kirk as to why Spock had such a hard time picking between him and Garth-as-Kirk, their exchange at the end of the episode was humorous and nearly plausible.

I’m sure no one was shocked to learn that Garth was a starship captain before he lost his mind. Those guys must have the highest rate of mental breakdowns in the Federation. The depiction of madness and the cure is somewhat simplistic (how can medicine reverse brain damage, exactly?), and the idea of medicating the mentally ill was still a newish concept at the time, though institutionalizing them was unfortunately the standard method of keeping them out of the way. It’s an intriguing concept in conjunction–or more likely contradiction–with “Dagger of the Mind,” where they established that criminals are “rehabilitated” through mind wipes. Both approaches seem at odds with Gene Roddenberry’s vision, and shows some of the cracks in Paradise that are often explored on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which also highlighted the challenges of dealing with shapeshifters. On the other hand, it was nice to see an Andorian and a Tellarite getting along, sort of. Peace through shared insanity?

Finally, I liked the way Spock ultimately identified his captain, through Kirk’s concern for Enterprise and its crew, and it was touching how Kirk and Spock made a point of addressing Captain Garth by his rank at the end. I sort of wish that Garth’s true image had been revealed as scarred and misshapen, masked by his extraordinary abilities much as the Talosians do for Vina in “The Menagerie, Part II.”

Was I the only one who kept wondering if Garth was a fan of He-Man, since he kept talking about how he wanted to be the master of the universe? It made me laugh every single time.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3

Best Line: GARTH: You wrote that?
MARTA: Yesterday, as a matter of fact.
GARTH: It was written by an Earth man named Shakespeare a long time ago!
MARTA: Which does not alter the fact that I wrote it again yesterday!

Syndication Edits: None

Trivia: The line at the end about Spock getting hit on the head refers to a previous draft of the episode, in which Garth essentially one-shotted the Vulcan. Nimoy protested vehemently, saying his character had never appeared that weak, and refused to do it. The line stayed, hence the confusion.

Nimoy had numerous issues with this episode.  He wrote a memo to the producers complaining of the recycled concept (and props!) from “Dagger of the Mind,” but was mostly upset with the extent to which the script–especially his own character–were dumbed down in order to include more man-wrestling sequences. He felt Spock should have been able to figure out who the real Kirk was, probably through a series of logical questions, rather than sheer luck.

If you can believe it, that original draft was more violent and even stupider than the one they went with. In it, Garth of Titan throws his fellow inmates out of the protective done and watches as they slowly suffocate. He also creates a simulated hell out of a cage to torture Dr. Cory in, and the inmates displayed more obvious symptoms of mental illness.

The first poem that Marta recites is “Sonnet #18” by our favorite poet to flog in this series, Shakespeare. The second is “In Midnights of November” by A.E. Housman.

Elba, of course, refers to the island where Napoleon was exiled to for about a year after his forced abdication. Off Italy, it was decidedly not poisonous and is in fact pretty gorgeous. Way better than St. Helena, anyway.

This episode was skipped in all UK runs of the series until 1994 because of its violent, sadistic content.

Other notes: Steve Ihnat, who played Garth, appeared in just about every television show of the decade. He appeared in The Chase and In Like Flint (with Yvonne Craig, who played Marta).

Craig herself was a former ballerina (hence the obligatory dancing scene) and perhaps most famous as Batgirl. She briefly dated Elvis Presley. She had been considered for the role of Vina in “The Cage” because of her dancing skills.

Keye Luke, here as Governor Cory, appeared in The Good Earth and had a recurring spot on Kung Fu as Master Po, Caine’s teacher. In the TNG era he was considered for the part of Dr. Noonien Soong, Data’s creator, but in the end they decided that Brent Spiner could pull off the triple(!) role of Soong, Data, and Data’s evil twin Lore.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 13 – “Elaan of Troyius.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 15 – “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

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.

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 adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.