Star Trek Re-Watch: “Shore Leave”

“Shore Leave”
Written by Theodore Sturgeon
Directed by Robert Sparr

Season 1, Episode 15
Production episode: 1×17
Original air date: December 29, 1966
Star date: 3025.3

Mission summary
The Enterprise stumbles upon a lush paradise planet, green and peaceful. Aside from strangely lacking in any animals or other life forms, the planet is reminiscent of Earth. Since the ship’s crew has had a grueling three months, Kirk agrees to survey the place as a possible site for shore leave, which is a little mysterious since there’s absolutely nothing to do down there. I guess there’s no Risa yet. Sulu and McCoy beam down to take some readings, and everything seems to check out…just a little bit too well. “It’s like something out of Alice in Wonderland,” McCoy remarks.

Then, out of nowhere, a huge white rabbit appears, checking its gold watch. “I’m late!” he cries, and runs off. The rabbit is followed by a little girl in blue. McCoy looks absolutely terrified.

McCoy reports his sighting to Kirk, who laughs it off as a trick to get him down to the surface and rest, and refuses to take the bait. Spock enters to discuss a matter of some importance: a crew member “who’s showing signs of stress and fatigue—reaction time down 9-12%, associational reading norm minus 3…He’s becoming irritable and quarrelsome, yet he refuses to take rest and rehabilitation.” Spock agrees that he has that right to refuse, but Kirk interrupts him:

Kirk: A crewman’s right ends where the safety of the ship begins. That man will go ashore on my orders. What’s his name?
Spock: “James Kirk.” Enjoy yourself, Captain.

Tricksy Vulcanses.

Kirk beams down with a new yeoman, Tonia Barrows, who aside from her physique is entirely a waste of space-time. She repeats everything the captain says, only more flirtatiously. They meet up with McCoy, who shows them the footprints of the giant rabbit, to prove he didn’t imagine the whole thing. Kirk admits that it had to have been more than illusion, and eventually finds Sulu having some target practice fun—with an old six-shot revolver.

Kirk: Where did you get it?
Sulu. I found it. It’s a crazy coincidence, but I’ve always wanted one like this. Found it lying over there…

That doesn’t seem suspicious or dangerous at all! Kirk takes away his toy (Takei’s dejected face is really something), and they divide up to investigate the area.
Kirk teases McCoy about the rabbit, and we learn a bit more about Kirk’s past:

Kirk: What’s the matter, getting a persecution complex?
McCoy: Well, I’m beginning to feel picked on.
Kirk: I know the feeling. I had it at the academy. An upperclassman there—one practical joke after another and always on me—my own personal devil, a guy by the name of Finnegan.
McCoy: And you being the very serious young—
Kirk: Serious? I was absolutely grim, which delighted Finnegan no end.

Guess who they meet next!

McCoy and Kirk split up, the better to make sure no one can corroborate anyone’s findings. In no time Kirk stumbles across none other than Finnegan himself, and oh my what an asshole he is. His entrance is marked by Irish pipes (did no one think that would be offensive?), and he dances around like the puckish jerk he is, then hits Kirk square in the jaw. You immediately want to punch him in the face—but don’t worry, we’ll get there.
Meanwhile, McCoy and Kirk both hear a woman screaming, and discover Yeoman Barrows bloodied and upset. Her tunic is ripped across the chest, and she explains that none other than Don Juan came to her. Kirk tells McCoy to stay with her and runs off to find Sulu, who left in pursuit of the cloaked assaulter.

Kirk stumbles upon a rocky outcropping, and finds a beautiful woman dressed in long robes. It’s Ruth, a flame of his from fifteen years ago, and she hasn’t aged a day. Before they can get, ahem, reacquainted, he contacts the landing party and tells them to rendezvous in the glade where they first beamed down. Spock then contacts him because  has learned that there is industrial activity beneath the surface, and it’s draining the ship’s power.

Meanwhile, McCoy flirts shamelessly with Yeoman Barrow, in a scene so inappropriate and unsettling that I can’t really describe it. This is what transpires:

Barrow: I was thinking, before my tunic was torn, that in a place like this a girl should be… oh, let’s see now, a girl should be dressed like a fairy-tale princess with lots of floaty stuff and a tall hat with a veil.
McCoy: I see what you mean, but then you’d have whole armies of Don Juans to fight off… and me, too.
Barrow: Is that a promise, Doctor? (sees outfit on tree) Oh, Doctor, they’re lovely. Look at me, Doctor—A lady to be protected and fought for. A princess of the blood royal.
McCoy: You are all of those things… and many more. They’ll look even lovelier with you wearing them.
Barrow: Doctor… I’m afraid.
McCoy: Now, look, I don’t know how or why, but the dress is here. I’d like to see you in it. Why don’t you put it on?

Wow. Barrow: way to remind us of your utterly pointless existence! McCoy: way to coerce her into being more sexually pleasing to you! Just wins all around. But the mysterious dress isn’t the only thing that isn’t right appearing on this planet. Two crewmembers, Angela and Rodriguez, encounter an enormous tiger, and then Sulu gets attacked by…wait for it…a samurai. Yes, kids, a samurai with a katana goes after the Japanese man. I dearly hope that this is the most offensive paragraph I ever have to write. Kirk finds him, and with communications on the fritz, they head towards the rendezvous point. Spock beams down and joins them.

McCoy and Barrow come upon the glade (holding hands, no less), but no one is there! That is, of course, until a knight in full armor riding a horse is seen in the distance. McCoy assures Barrow, who is burgeoning on hysterics, “These things cannot be real. Hallucinations can’t harm us.” He holds his ground while the knight charges.
He gets lanced through the stomach and dies.

Kirk, Spock, and Sulu get there just in time to shoot the knight with the pistol, in an oddly funny scenario that nearly makes you forget that McCoy just died. Barrow finally bursts into hysterical tears, shouting that this is all her fault. No one tells her she’s wrong, of course, probably because she’s the woman so it probably was her fault. Strangely, neither Kirk nor Sulu seem to be interested in why she’s wearing a princess dress.

They inspect the fallen knight, but he looks more like a doll or a dummy than a real person. Spock explains, “This is definitely a mechanical contrivance. It has the same basic cell structure as the plants here, even the trees, the grass.” Kirk is confused:

Kirk: Are you saying this is a plant, Mr. Spock?
Spock: I’m saying that these are all multi-cellular castings. The plants, the animals, the people—they’re all being manufactured.
Kirk: By who? And why? And why these particular things?
Spock: All we know for certain is that they act exactly like the real thing. Just as pleasant…or just as deadly.

Rodriguez and Angela are still in the dark about the nature of the whole thing, and Rodriguez unwittingly summons up early-20th century planes. Angela, poor thing, gets gunned down by one of the planes.

Kirk sees Finnegan again and decides he’s going to have his vengeance, once and for all. He chases the Irishman to a rock outcropping, and they proceed to wrestle for dominance. Faces get sullied, shirts get torn…maybe this planet isn’t so bad after all! In the end Kirk manages to best his former tormentor. He keeps demanding answers from the guy, but gets none, until Spock shows up and points out that this is something Kirk has wanted to do for a very long time. He must’ve conjured it by just thinking about it. That took entirely too long to figure out, if you ask me.

They run back to reunite with the rest of the landing party, passing a tiger, a warplane, and a samurai. It’s sort of like an Animaniacs episode, where they run from set to set on the studio. Or a bar joke. Or a Sci-Fi Original Movie. Don Juan tries to kidnap Barrows again (yawn), but they fight him off.

Kirk commands his crew not to think of anything—to make their minds a blank slate. Then, the Stay Puft Marshmallow man appears! Just kidding, it’s a humanoid. He calls himself the Caretaker, and says that the planet is an amusement park, intended for play. They’ve repaired McCoy and Angela, and McCoy shows up with some Playboy bunny-esque space hussies. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, pimp extraordinaire! Barrow jealously forces them to leave, throwing her arms around McCoy.

The Caretaker has decided that Kirk’s race is not yet ready to understand the hows or whys, but agrees to let them carouse nonetheless. The captain orders the crew to begin beaming down for shore leave, for the best vacation of their lives.

This episode is essentially the first holodeck episode, and if you remember how those usually turned out (*cough*FistfulOfDatas*cough*), then you where to set your expectations. This ep was remarkable only in its offensiveness. I cringed in nearly every scene, from the female yeoman massaging Kirk in the opening, to the Japanese man being chased by the katana-wielding samurai. Even the Irish pipe music when Finnegan appeared was too much. So he’s Irish, and that’s supposed to make him an asshole? Barrows, the new yeoman, only ever seems to think about romance, and then gets nearly raped by Don Juan. Yay, the woman’s fantasy is of course to be the princess in the castle protected by the great white knight. No freaking thank you. And Bones should know better. His come-ons to Barrows were inappropriate and creepy. He treats her like a doll for dress-up, to amuse and delight him. So much for equality in the workplace, eh?

I could go on about the flimsy plot, the unsatisfying conclusion, and yet another occurrence of the “space douche” phenomenon (super-advanced race uses is time to toy around with the Enterprise; see “The Corbomite Maneuver”) but none of that really compares to how offensive it is to just about everyone. Men fantasize about beating the shit out of each other; women fantasize about getting ravaged and worshipped as princesses; and the Asian guy imagines having to battle samurai. That’s it? That’s all there is to the human subconscious?

I’d forgive it if we didn’t know from “The Enemy Within,” “Dagger of the Mind,” and “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” that they’ve touched upon these ideas before in a much more interesting, thoughtful, and considerate way. It’s hard to believe that Theodore Sturgeon wrote this, though the original idea for the episode sounded much more interesting. According to The Star Trek Compendium, the original outline included McCoy getting dragged down below by a creepy set of mechanical arms, and one of the things to appear was a crewmember’s mother (rather than a love interest? I do not know). Kirk gets them out of the situation by concentrating on wanting to know everything, to which the Caretaker appears to answer his questions. In that version, the planet is 1000 years old, and completely automated—an unattended program. Much more interesting, don’t you think?

All in all: hard to watch. Maybe it was funny in 1966, but worthless women, attempted rape, and racial stereotypes don’t make me laugh one bit.

Torie’s Rating: Warp Factor 2 (It did let me use the half-naked man-wrestling tag again, so I bumped it up)

Eugene Myers: This is appropriate to review now, since Fleet Week is just wrapping up in New York. As a comedic episode of Star Trek, “Shore Leave” mostly delivers. I was really enjoying myself for the first part of it, much more than I had expected since I had some unfavorable impressions lingering from my childhood (mostly I remembered the White Rabbit and Yeoman Barrows’ princess getup). I cracked up when Barrows gave Kirk a back rub and he thought it was Spock, but this does make you wonder if he’s accustomed to Spock massaging him on the Bridge. As we see in Enterprise, Vulcans do have a particular talent with neuropressure massages…

McCoy’s reactions to the White Rabbit and Alice are precious, as are his flirtations with Barrows. (“My dear girl, I am a doctor. When I peek, it’s in the line of duty.”) There are a lot of other terrific moments, such as Spock tricking Kirk into beaming down for R&R, the anachronistic delight in seeing a 23rd Century spaceman shoot a medieval knight with a police revolver, and McCoy with his chorus girls (who did not amuse Barrows in the slightest). I was also pleased to see another ethnicity represented by Lieutenant Esteban Rodriguez.

So where does it all go wrong? The episode builds a sense of mystery and raises tension as people are actually killed by their “hallucinations.” It’s also great to learn a little more about Kirk’s past via his run-ins with the mischievous Finnegan and his former love Ruth, and add some depth to Sulu, who appreciates old weaponry as much as plants. But the episode started to lose me when it implies that Yeoman Barrows wants to be ravaged and/or rescued. The attack by Don Juan where her tunic is nearly torn off feels out-of-synch with the humorous tone of the rest of the episode, and there are a lot of other weird manifestations that don’t quite fit. Who dreamed up that tiger and the fighter planes? Did Sulu really have to be chased by a samurai warrior?

Ultimately, the episode fails because the explanation for the odd occurrences and the goofy antenna we see tracking the crew’s movements is as disappointing as finding out it was all just a dream. Not only is this planet some kind of advanced amusement park that can manufacture anything people imagine and resurrect the dead, but the planet’s Caretaker won’t explain how any of it is done because “your race is not yet ready to understand us.” That is such a copout. On top of that, tickets to Six Flags for us today are ridiculously expensive, but these aliens let anyone visit their planet whenever they feel like it? Without even posting instructions?

In the end, this episode is as forced as the laughter following Mr. Spock’s final comment that Kirk and the others are “most illogical.” Ha ha ha, we haven’t heard that one before, Spock.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp Factor 2

Best Line: “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”

Syndication Edits: Kirk holding Ruth is cut a bit short, and two captain’s logs (the stardate one and the supplemental log entry later) got axed. Weird, seeing as they left in the insane amount of half-naked man-wrestling.

Trivia: This was principally filmed in two places: “Africa, USA,” a private facility that they painted up with red spray paint to make it look more alien, and Vasquez Rocks, a California park.

The woman who is Angela here appeared in the previous episode as the woman who lost her fiancé (though she is presumably playing different characters).

Other Notes: Theodore Sturgeon also wrote “Amok Time.”

Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 14 – “Balance of Terror.”

Next Episode: Season 1, Episode 16 – “The Galileo Seven.” 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 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.