Star Trek Re-Watch: “The Apple”

“The Apple”
Written by Max Ehrlich
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Season 2, Episode 5
Production episode: 2×09
Original air date: October 13, 1967
Star date: 3715.3

Mission summary

A survey team consisting of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Yeoman Landon, and more redshirts than usual beams down to the surface of Gamma Trianguli VI. There have been reports of strange sensor readings from the planet, and the Enterprise has orders to investigate and establish contact with the inhabitants. Everyone is immediately impressed by the lush vegetation; apparently the entire planet is just as fertile, with an average temperature of seventy-six degrees, which reminds McCoy of the Garden of Eden. The group is about to head for a nearby village when one of the security officer notices a flower behaving oddly. It turns and nails him right in the chest with poisonous thorns. So long, Hendorff.

Things aren’t great up on the Enterprise either. Engineer Scott informs them that an electromagnetic field from the planet is interfering with their antimatter pods. While he investigates, Kirk figures they might as well finish their mission, but maybe they’ll try being careful for a change. Spock picks up subsurface vibrations on his tricorder, which deepens their curiosity. And who better to solve a mystery than a security officer named Marple? Kirk sends him and Mallory to scout around.

Spock’s tricorder also indicates that they’re being watched from the bushes, but the spy is too fast for them to catch. Turned on by the verdant life around them, Chekov puts the moves on Yeoman Landon, while Spock is more interested in the cleavage of a rock he picks up. After he breaks it in half, he tosses a piece into a clearing, where it explodes! He carefully puts the other half back down by the side of the path, where it can’t hurt anyone, and they press on.

Things just get worse from there, on every level. Scott informs them that a signal from the planet is rendering their engines inert, “like a pail of water on a fire.” It seems to be coming from the village they’re heading to, but before they can reach it another plant shoots thorns at Kirk. Spock shoves him out of the way and takes the proverbial bullet. He collapses and McCoy pumps him full of “masiform D,” but fails to revive him. Unsurprisingly, they’re also unable to beam back to the Enterprise. The transporters are also inhibited by something on the planet. Scott grumbles, “The way it is now, we couldn’t beam up a fly.”

Spock miraculously wakes up, complaining about McCoy’s “potions,” then thunderclouds roll in just as miraculously. Lightning strikes Kaplan, finally proving that some higher power has it in for redshirts, and the skies clear. Mallory calls in to say he’s found a primitive village, but his communicator goes on the blink. He comes running back excitedly to tell them about something else he’s found, when he trips over an exploding rock that someone carelessly left on the path and dies. Mallory’s father apparently helped Kirk get into Starfleet Academy, so the captain is particularly upset by this senseless death. He blames himself, and Spock tries to cheer him up with a pep talk.

The spy returns, but this time Kirk manages to corner him, a tribal man who looks like an overgrown Oompa Loompa in a towel. Kirk hits him and the man actually cries. “You struck me. With your hand,” he whimpers. Kirk promises not to do it again and the man identifies himself as Akuta, “the eyes and the voice of Vaal.” He has metal antennas protruding from the sides of his head, the better to hear Vaal with. Akuta tells them he leads the “feeders of Vaal,” a small group of people living in the nearby village.

Scott calls in with another emergency: a tractor beam is pulling the Enterprise toward the planet. They can barely maintain their distance with the power they have, and without warp engines there’s no chance of escape. Scott, still obsessed with flies, tells them, “We might be able to pull out with warp drive, but without it we’re like a fly on flypaper. Even worse, we’re starting to lose ground.” They have only sixteen hours.

Kirk suspects Vaal may have something to do with their troubles. Akuta takes them to a cave mouth shaped like a giant serpent’s head, an access point to the subterranean power source running the planet and threatening their ship. It’s surrounded by a force field except when the people of Vaal feed it. Until Vaal develops an appetite, they retire to the village for more answers, food, and rest. They discover that the people there have no concept of children, since they need no “replacements,” Similarly, they don’t understand the concept of love, at least not as Chekov and Landon explain it. Replacements and “the holding, the touching” are forbidden by Vaal.

McCoy determines that these people aren’t aging and are in perfect health, which is usually the sign of something gone horribly wrong. Spock proposes that their lifestyle is a good trade for keeping a powerful machine like Vaal fed and happy. The doctor is offended by their slavery and stagnant culture, but Spock reminds him that he shouldn’t judge them by his human standards. He says they have the “right to choose a system which works for them.”

With the Enterprise still unable to break free, Kirk doesn’t have much of a choice at all. He sides with McCoy, insisting that they must ignore the Prime Directive and destroy Vaal for the good of the people. The feeling is mutual: Vaal gives Akuta instructions to kill Kirk and the others; after two of the natives learn about “touching” with their lips from watching Chekov and Landon, it’s clear the strangers are a dangerous influence. The tribal people have never killed before, but Akuta’s instructions from Vaal are simple enough to understand: bash their heads in with sticks. (“Bonk bonk on the head,” if you will.)

Kirk tries to talk to Vaal, but Vaal zaps Spock in the back with lightning. He shakes it off with only some second degree burns, whether by virtue of his Vulcan physiology or the color of his shirt. Marple is not so lucky—he’s bludgeoned to death by Akuta in the village with a shiny stick. The rest of the team, those without rigorous Starfleet security training, easily elude the villagers’ clumsy attempts to club them then imprison them in a hut. Spock comments:

The good doctor was concerned that the Vaalians achieved true human stature. I submit there is no cause for worry. They’ve taken the first step. They’ve learned to kill.

Scott has cobbled together every ounce of energy for the impulse engines, but is only able to maintain orbit for another hour. Kirk wallows some more about his failure as captain: “They’ll die because I couldn’t see a warning sign. I had to follow orders, always orders.” Vaal summons his people for feeding time, which gives Kirk an idea. If they can starve the machine, they might drain his resources enough for the Enterprise to break away. Scott miracles up some power for the phasers and Kirk orders him to fire on Vaal to force it to exhaust its remaining power.

After what seems like hours of sustained fire, the phasers penetrate Vaal’s force field and burn out the cave itself. The sun comes out and Spock proclaims, “No power generation at all, Captain. Vaal is dead.” The Enterprise is free, and so are the Vaalians. But they’re understandably concerned:

AKUTA: But it was Vaal who put the fruit on the trees, caused the rain to fall. Vaal cared for us.
KIRK: You’ll learn to care for yourselves, with our help. And there’s no trick to putting fruit on trees. You might enjoy it. You’ll learn to build for yourselves, think for yourselves, work for yourselves, and what you create is yours. That’s what we call freedom. You’ll like it, a lot. And you’ll learn something about men and women, the way they’re supposed to be. Caring for each other, being happy with each other, being good to each other. That’s what we call love. You’ll like that, too, a lot. You and your children.
SAYANA: What are children?
KIRK: The little ones? Look like you? Just go on the way you’re going. You’ll find out.

They laugh, so we know everything will be all right, though there are bound to be some very confused people after a few weeks of “love,” if they even live that long. Back on the ship, Spock repeats his doubts that they did the right thing. He suggests that they have given the people of Vaal the apple that drove them from their own Garden of Eden.

KIRK: Are you casting me in the role of Satan?
SPOCK: Not at all, Captain.
KIRK: Is there anyone on this ship who even remotely looks like Satan?
SPOCK: I am not aware of anyone who fits that description, Captain.
KIRK: No, Mr. Spock. I didn’t think you would be.


I had to double-check my DVD set to make sure a third season disc hadn’t accidentally slipped in there. From the moment we saw the flower attack Hendorff in the teaser I knew this was going to be a terrible episode. One look at Akuta confirmed it.

Here, Star Trek plays with the concept of paradise again. I lost count of the number of times that they mentioned that Gamma Trianguli VI looked “just like paradise,” but I got the point pretty early on. And it seems every time they see some grass and trees on this show they think they’ve found the Garden of Eden. Given the episode title, the Biblical theme is hammered to death, casting Kirk and the others as Satan who gives Adam and Eve the apple, the knowledge of good and evil. The analogy is strong, but not entirely accurate. Though they inadvertently expose the Vaalians to knowledge of kissing, they essentially kill their god instead of tempting them into disobedience. Kirk and McCoy are all about choice, but they make the decision for the Vaalians. To further muddy the comparison, Vaal itself is portrayed as a serpent, and it is the machine that teaches Akuta how to kill, not the landing party.

Spock supports Vaal because he also insists the Vaalians have the right to choose, but how does he know they agreed to become slaves to Vaal? We don’t know what happened in “the Dim Time,” but the Vaalians are so naive they were probably tricked into serving the machine. Where did Vaal even come from? Unlike most “computer controls society” episodes, it’s doubtful that these people created Vaal. Whether they deserve to be free or not, will they really be better off on their own? Without Vaal, will they lose their perfect weather and health, and consequently their lives? They’ll probably become just as dependent on the Federation as they were on Vaal.

The Prime Directive still seems undeveloped at this early stage. Spock calls it a “non-interference directive,” but they were under orders to contact the natives, which itself is considered interference later in Trek history. Even so, Kirk flaunts the spirit of it without much consideration. When you get down to it, his decision isn’t about what’s best for the Vaalians, but saving his ship and his inherent prejudice against computer intelligences. His lecture/sex talk to the Vaalians comes off as sanctimonious, as does his caution against letting machines do too much.

If that were the extent of this episode’s flaws, we might have gotten away with a decent episode, but it disappoints in several other ways. This episode disposes of redshirts more blatantly than usual, to a ridiculous degree; Scotty might say that the security officers were “dropping like flies.” And yet Spock gets poisoned by a plant, blasted by a force field, hit with lightning, and luckily escapes getting his hands blown off when he breaks an explosive rock. He’s either charmed or made of sterner stuff, so why don’t they have Vulcan security officers? Possibly because they’re really expensive. After Spock risks his life to save the captain’s, Kirk asks him (rhetorically) if he knows how much Starfleet has invested in him, to which he responds, “One hundred twenty-two thousand, two hundred—” What, exactly? Credits? Is that how much his salary is, or did they buy him from Vulcan? It seems like everyone picks on Spock in this episode, but the worst injuries were the ones to his dignity, especially when the Vaalians inexplicably laugh at him.

But there is some good dialogue in this episode, especially between Scott and Kirk when the captain threatens to fire him if the engineer can’t save the ship. The Chekov/Landon romance is cheesy, albeit an interesting bit of character development—though they might have pushed the awkwardness over discussing sex too far. These are adults, right?

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

Torie Atkinson: I didn’t buy the analogy of this episode either; there were too many muddled metaphors and too much awkward imagery. And the plot! Ridiculous from beginning to end—why does Vaal want to kill them in the first place? He kills off the redshirts but leaves the rest of the party alone, and by the time Akuta and his gang are sent as the feeble assassins it’s pretty clear that Vaal could, you know, send out a lightning strike or something without the need for inept mooks. Ultimately, I think my biggest disappointment is that we never find out where Vaal came from or why he’s there. Did the people create him and then it turned against them? Was it left there by aliens? Why does he need fruits and vegetables as sacrifice if he’s a machine?

I know that I’m going to get this episode forever confused with “This Side of Paradise,” which is a shame because “This Side of Paradise” is a much better episode.

Both include nasty plants, but both also stress the importance of struggle and challenge to life. Again, Spock defends the society as an ideal, and again McCoy criticizes it as a stagnant permanent adolescence. Having seen “This Side of Paradise,” it really highlights the weaknesses of this particular episode. Let’s do a quick compare. From “The Apple”:

KIRK: You’ll learn to care for yourselves, with our help. And there’s no trick to putting fruit on trees. You might enjoy it. You’ll learn to build for yourselves, think for yourselves, work for yourselves, and what you create is yours. That’s what we call freedom. You’ll like it, a lot. And you’ll learn something about men and women, the way they’re supposed to be. Caring for each other, being happy with each other, being good to each other. That’s what we call love. You’ll like that, too, a lot. You and your children.

From “This Side of Paradise”:

MCCOY: Well, that’s the second time man’s been thrown out of paradise.
KIRK: No, no, Bones. This time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can’t stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.

And we have a winner!

Something I did find really interesting, however, was Kirk’s paralyzing guilt throughout the episode. He chastises himself early on for the death of Hendorff, repeating over and over that he could’ve prevented it all if he had just seen the warning signs:

SPOCK: You are under orders to investigate this planet and this culture.
KIRK: I also have the option to disregard those orders if I consider them overly hazardous. This isn’t that important a mission, Spock. Not worth the lives of three of my men. I drop my guard for a minute because I like the smell of growing things, and now three men are dead. And the ship’s in trouble.
SPOCK: No one has ever stated that Starfleet duty was particularly safe. You’ve followed the correct and logical course, done everything a commander could do. Self-recriminations—Captain, our friend is back.

But it doesn’t stop there—he seems about to break when he learns that the Enterprise has exhausted all of its options: “Four hundred people. They’ll die because I couldn’t see a warning sign. I had to follow orders, always orders.”

I wonder, then, if they were trying to set up Kirk as a parallel to the people of Vaal. Are men always trapped by forces greater than themselves, whether manmade or divine? Or is it simply a reminder that choices have consequences, and that the desire to wander in paradise inevitably leads to tragic consequences? I wish a better episode had tackled these questions.

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

Best Line: McCoy: “Well, there goes paradise.” (In response to the news that touching is forbidden.)

Syndication Edits: Chekov asking Spock what’s happening when Kirk goes to look for their spy; part of the walk in the jungle before Spock finds the exploding rock; Spock puts the unexploded half of the rock on the ground, they move on, and the bushes rustle; some captain’s logs after commercial breaks; part of Mallory’s conversation with Kirk over the communicator; Kirk and the others being taken to the village; some of McCoy’s analysis of the Vaalians’ age; feeders leaving the village; part of Spock and McCoy’s argument in the bushes, including McCoy’s comment about them living unchanged for ten thousand years; Landon upset over the ship burning up; some of the conversation about teaching the Vaalians to reproduce; some of the phaser attack on Vaal; Akuta praising Vaal; Kirk’s line, “There’s no trick to putting fruit on trees.”

Trivia: Footage of the Enterprise firing its phasers was recycled from the previous episode, “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Spock’s lightning-burned shirt was auctioned off at a science fiction convention in 1967. Due to 1960s television regulations, Yeoman Landon was only allowed to kick people instead of punching them. (Well, it was good to see her fight off her assailant, at least!) The original story outline for this episode featured premises by A.E. van Vogt.

Other notes: One of my favorite moments in the episode is catching Kirk’s line: “Discard the warp drive nacelles if you have to and crack out of there with the main section, but get that ship out of there!“ Apparently, the Constitution-class Enterprise could separate its saucer section in emergencies, like the Enterprise-D. (I wonder if “auxiliary control” as seen in “The Changeling” is where they would operate the drive section from.) We wouldn’t see this dangerous procedure until TNG’s pilot episode “Encounter at Farpoint.” It was repeated in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II” and Star Trek Generations.

Previous Episode: Season 2, Episode 4 – “Mirror, Mirror.”

Next Episode: Season 2, Episode 6 – “The Doomsday Machine.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

Oompa Loompa doompa dee do
Eugene Myers has watched this for you
Oompa Loompa doompadah dee
He thinks the next one is better to see

Grunka lunka dunkity doo
Torie’s got some friendly advice for you
Grunka lunka dunkity dee
Let’s skip right on to “The Doomsday Machine”

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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 blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.