Star Trek Re-Watch: “This Side of Paradise”

“This Side of Paradise”
Written by D.C. Fontana (story by Nathan Butler and D.C. Fontana)
Directed by Ralph Senensky

Season 1, Episode 24
Production episode: 1×25
Original air date: March 2, 1967
Star date: 3417.3

Mission summary
The Enterprise is tasked with a rescue mission to an Earth colony on planet Omicron Ceti III, which is being bombarded with lethal Berthold rays that disintegrate animal tissue under prolonged exposure. They don’t expect to find any survivors, and on first glance it seems that all 150 colonists are in fact dead, as there is no response to their hails. Brief exposure to the radiation should be safe, so Kirk beams down with a landing party consisting of Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Sulu, Mr. DeSalle, and Mr. Kelowitz. They wander through the empty streets of a small town farming community, which oddly resembles a Hollywood backlot. Kirk laments the apparent loss of life in the colony, “another dream that failed,” but then a man appears and welcomes them to the planet. He identifies himself as Elias Sandoval, the leader of the group that left Earth four years before.

Sandoval isn’t surprised to see them and immediately offers a tour of the place. McCoy assures Kirk that as impossible as it seems, the man is very much alive, but Spock is just as certain that the Berthold rays should have killed him. There are “(n)o cures, no serums, no antidotes. If a man is exposed long enough, he dies.” They need more information, so they follow Sandoval as he shows off the town, one of three such settlements, divided in order to improve their chances of survival. Sandoval introduces them to their botanist Leila Kalomi, a blonde farm girl who already knows Spock. Judging from the soft light on her and the dramatic camera zooms on Spock, they go way back (wink wink, nudge nudge). Kirk reminds Sandoval that they have to assess the colony and its inhabitants. The man approves their tests and recites something from their tourism pamphlet:

I think you’ll find our settlement an interesting one. Our philosophy is a simple one, that men should return to a less complicated life. We have few mechanical things here. No vehicles, no weapons. We have harmony here. Complete peace.

Sulu and DeSalle are poking around the buildings looking for clues, anything that looks wrong. Sulu says, “When it comes to farms, I wouldn’t know what looked right or wrong if it were two feet from me.“ Hypothetically speaking, of course, because two feet away from him are some interesting flowers, which don’t look at all suspicious. What is unusual is the fact that there is no livestock anywhere in the settlement, including in the barn. Spock later reports the same observation, which is even more alarming because reports indicate that the colonists brought animals with them for breeding and food.

Meanwhile, Sandoval and Leila have an ominous conversation of their own, where the man asks her about her history with the “Vulcanian.” She admits that they knew each other six years ago, but that if she loved him, it didn’t matter because he has no feelings. Sandoval asks if she’d like Spock to stay with them and she tells him he won’t have a choice.

McCoy has also made some strange discoveries of his own:

I’ve examined nine men so far, varying in ages from twenty-three to fifty-nine. They’re all in perfect condition. Text book responses. Heart, lungs, excellent. Coordination, excellent. Reflexes, excellent. If there are many more of them, I could throw away my shingle.

He decides to examine the medical records of the colonists, while Kirk goes to inspect the crops. It turns out that this is a perfect world: anything will grow in the soil and they have both moderate climate and rainfall year round. DeSalle confirms that they’re growing a variety of crops, but it wouldn’t be Omicron Ceti III without another curious detail: they’re limiting their amount of farm land to produce only what can support the colony’s immediate needs. Kirk mutters, “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle all one color. No key to where the pieces fit in.” McCoy calls him with another piece: not only is Sandoval in perfect physical health, he’s actually been reset to factory defaults. Pneumonia scars on his lungs have disappeared, and his previously removed appendix has grown back!

That just about does it. Kirk tells Sandoval that they have orders to transport the colonists to Starbase 27. Sandoval refuses, and deftly dodges Kirk’s question about the missing animals with the response, “We’re vegetarians.” Off in a field, Spock tries to pump Leila for information about how they’ve survived, but she is similarly cagey, only interested in talking about her feelings. He, in turn, brushes aside her attempts to get him in touch with his own feelings with his standard, “Emotions are alien to me. I’m a scientist.”

She decides to show him what he’s been asking about, something he calls a “happiness pill” that “gives life, peace, love”—now in a convenient over-the-counter spore. (Ask your doctor for more information.) “Spores?” Spock asks curiously, as a pink flower spits a big cloud of them at his face. This gives him a terrible headache and he crumples in pain, hands to his head. He cries out in agony: “No, I can’t. Please, don’t!” A moment later, the pain subsides and his expression completely changes to one of amazement and…joy. Leila says:

Now, you belong to all of us and we to you. There’s no need to hide your inner face any longer. We understand.

“I love you. I can love you,” Spock says, then follows up this claim with a passionate kiss.

Impatient with Sandoval’s continued uncooperation, Kirk orders landing parties to coordinate the transport of all the colonists to the Enterprise. He tries to track down Spock, but Spock doesn’t want to be found. He’s changed out of his uniform since we last saw him, now sporting the colony’s classy jumpsuit, and is cloud-watching with his head in Leila’s lap. He ignores the captain’s orders to report back and resumes smooching his girl. Kirk is forced to trace the signal from Spock’s communicator to retrieve his errant science officer, who is clearly not acting like himself—a little too “mellowed.” And DeSalle has also gone missing, off to “examine some native plants he found.” Uh oh. A short while later he brings back some interesting pink flowers and shows them to Dr. McCoy…

Kirk is completely flustered when he finds Spock hanging from a tree branch, and continuing to refuse the evacuation. Kirk has Sulu place Spock under arrest, but Spock and Leila lead them to a couple of pink flowers, which vomit happy spores all over Sulu and the biologist, just missing Kirk. Sulu undergoes an immediate transformation, becoming part of the same Kool-Aid club that has claimed Spock and the colonists. Kirk stubbornly storms off with, “I don’t know what these plants are or how they work, but you’re all going back to the settlement with me, and those colonists are going aboard the ship.”

That might be easier said than done. When Kirk reaches the landing coordinates, he finds McCoy beaming plants up to the ship. He’s in a really good mood and his Southern twang has turned into a full-on drawl:

Hiya, Jimmy boy! Hey, I’ve taken care of everything. All y’all gotta do is relax. Doctor’s orders.

Discipline is also breaking down; Kirk orders a beam-up and the transporter chief replies with a relaxed, “Sure, if you want.” Things are far worse on the Bridge. Uhura is the only crew member at her station, but when he asks her to open a channel to Starfleet, she sweetly gives her best HAL-9000 impression: “Oh, I’m sorry, Captain. I can’t do that.” She has sabotaged long-range communications, leaving only contact with the planet below. When Uhura leaves, Kirk picks up a plant and hurls it angrily across the Bridge before leaving, too.

He finds the rest of the crew lining up outside the transporter room to beam down to the planet. He orders them to return to their stations and a crew member refuses. “This is mutiny, mister,” Kirk says. Totally unconcerned, the man replies, “Yes, sir, it is.” The captain realizes that the spores have spread through the ship’s ventilation, but for some reason he has not yet been infected. At the Omicron colony, McCoy isn’t interested in helping him puzzle out the “physical-psychological aspects of the infection,” more concerned with creating an old Southern mint julep. “Who wants to counteract paradise?” McCoy asks. He does confirm that his previously removed tonsils have grown back, though. Mellow Spock is a bit more forthcoming, with a crucial piece of exposition on the spores:

KIRK: Where did they originate?
SPOCK: It’s impossible to say. They drifted through space until they finally landed here. You see, they actually thrive on Berthold rays. The plants act as a repository for thousands of microscopic spores until they find a human body to inhabit.
SANDOVALl: In return, they give you complete health and peace of mind.
KIRK: That’s paradise?
SANDOVAL: We have no need or want, Captain.
SPOCK: It’s a true Eden, Jim. There’s belonging and love.
KIRK: No wants. No needs. We weren’t meant for that. None of us. Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.
SANDOVAL: We have what we need.
KIRK: Except a challenge.

Kirk returns to the Enterprise alone and quickly realizes that everyone else has left the ship. Sitting in his chair on the empty Bridge, he begins talking to himself, recording a Captain’s Log entry assessing his dire situation—about the only thing he can do on his own:

The ship can be maintained in orbit for several months, but even with automatic controls, I cannot pilot her alone. In effect, I am marooned here. I’m beginning to realize just how big this ship really is, how quiet. I don’t know how to get my crew back, how to counteract the effect of the spores. I don’t know what I can offer against paradise.

His problems are “solved” when the plant he threw earlier takes its revenge by spewing spores all over him. A look of understanding and happiness passes over his face. He contacts Spock to tell him he’s joined them. In his quarters, Kirk packs a suitcase with his favorite green shirts, but his good mood changes when he pulls out one of his medals. Just as he’s about to beam down to the planet, he goes through an internal struggle: “No. No! I can’t leave!” He’s back to normal, and now he knows how to neutralize the happy spores—with strong emotion. But to try it on Spock could be dangerous: “Aroused, his great physical strength could kill.” Hopefully someone has warned Leila about that.

He calls Spock under the pretense of wanting to bring some equipment down to the surface, since they won’t be able to return to the Enterprise once he leaves. Spock agrees to beam up, and Kirk greets him with a hefty metal bar. He brandishes the weapon and begins insulting his first officer, calling him a “computerized half-breed,” “an elf with a hyperactive thyroid.” When he starts making fun of Spock’s parents, the Vulcan gets miffed.

KIRK: Your father was a computer, like his son. An ambassador from a planet of traitors. A Vulcan never lived who had an ounce of integrity.
SPOCK: Captain, please don’t—
KIRK: You’re a traitor from a race of traitors. Disloyal to the core, rotten like the rest of your subhuman race, and you’ve got the gall to make love to that girl.
SPOCK: That’s enough.
KIRK: Does she know what she’s getting, Spock? A carcass full of memory banks who should be squatting in a mushroom, instead of passing himself off as a man? You belong in a circus, Spock, not a starship. Right next to the dog-faced boy.

He finally gets through to Spock, who tosses him around the transporter room easily. When he’s about to bash in his head with a metal stool, he finally snaps out of it.

KIRK: Had enough? I didn’t realize what it took to get under that thick hide of yours. Anyhow, I don’t know what you’re so mad about. It isn’t every first officer who gets to belt his Captain… Several times.
SPOCK: You did that to me deliberately.
KIRK: Believe me, Mr. Spock, it was painful in more ways than one.
SPOCK: The spores. They’re gone. I don’t belong anymore.

Kirk asks if Spock can help him build a device to send a subsonic transmission over the communicators on the surface. But it’s been a while since there’s been a court martial, so Spock reminds him that “(s)triking a fellow officer is a court martial offense.” Kirk replies, “Well, if we’re both in the brig, who’s going to build the subsonic transmitter?” Good point.

Back in blue, Spock is working under a console on the Bridge when McCoy calls the ship. Leila wants to talk in person, so Spock beams her up. She seems to want to do more than talk, but when she hugs him, she knows he is no longer under the influence of the spores. She begs him to come down to the planet for another dose, but he refuses.

LEILA: I love you. I said that six years ago, and I can’t seem to stop repeating myself. On Earth, you couldn’t give anything of yourself. You couldn’t even put your arms around me. We couldn’t have anything together there. We couldn’t have anything together anyplace else. We’re happy here. I can’t lose you now, Mr. Spock. I can’t.
SPOCK: I have a responsibility to this ship, to that man on the Bridge. I am what I am, Leila, and if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.

It doesn’t take a universal translator to figure out he means, “It’s not you, it’s me. Let’s just be friends.”

Leila’s strong emotional outburst has freed her from the spores’ influence, but she still loves Spock. She asks him to about his real name, but he says, “You couldn’t pronounce it.” Translation: “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

The subsonic transmitter is a big hit. The inaudible signal subtly gets on the nerves of everyone at the colony, causing small fights to break out everywhere. McCoy gets into an argument when Sandoval tries to assign him a new job, since a doctor isn’t necessary with everyone in perfect health.

MCCOY: Oh, no? Would you like to see how fast I can put you in a hospital?
SANDOVAL: I am the leader of this colony. I’ll assign you whatever work I think suitable.
MCCOY: Just a minute. You’d better make me a mechanic. Then I can treat little tin gods like you.

He decks Sandoval and they both come to their senses. Sandoval suddenly realizes that their last three years on the colony have been wasted, that they’ve accomplished nothing. Since they can’t stay on the deadly planet without the protection of the spores, he tells Kirk that they’ll leave for Starbase 27, in the hopes that they can finally complete the work they were meant to do. As an added bonus of their exposure to the plants, they’re all still in perfect health.

Back on the Bridge, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy reflect on what they’re leaving behind.

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.
SPOCK: Poetry, Captain. Non-regulation.
KIRK: We haven’t heard much from you about Omicron Ceti III, Mr. Spock.
SPOCK: I have little to say about it, Captain, except that for the first time in my life… I was happy.

I had low expectations for this episode, since I mainly remembered it for the silly pink plants and Spock’s uncharacteristic behavior. When it began, I worried that this was going to be another story about the evils of technology and the benefits of an “uncomplicated life,” but it surprised me with its thoughtful exploration of the burden Spock carries as a Vulcan, as well as its questioning of what pushes humanity to improve itself.

The heart of the episode is Spock’s heart, his transformation under the influence of the happy-making spores. He struggles with the changes in him at first, in physical and mental anguish as his emotional barriers are stripped away. When he succumbs to it, he seems as amazed as we are at his ability to love—or his ability to allow himself to love, at least. Despite the apparent mind link to the spores and the other colonists, he revels in new experiences: the physical enjoyment of Leila’s company, and the simple pleasure of climbing trees and watching clouds with the woman he loves.

I’ve never stopped to look at clouds before. Or rainbows. You know, I can tell you exactly why one appears in the sky, but considering its beauty has always been out of the question.

Being controlled by the spores may not be all that bad. In fact, belonging to a group, however weird and cultish, must be very enticing to Spock, since he has never fully belonged anywhere. His mixed heritage has made him equally out-of-place on both Vulcan and among humans. When Kirk frees him, he actually seems a bit disappointed: “The spores. They’re gone. I don’t belong anymore.” He’s giving up a lot, including community and his love for Leila, which he must feel for her deep down; the spores don’t change his feelings, they just enable their expression. This is the other extreme of his emotional distance, fully embracing his human side; for the purposes of this episode he is unable to consider a compromise between the two. Spock’s admission that his time on Omicron Ceti III is the first time he’s experienced happiness is incredibly moving and depressing.

So what’s so bad about the spores? They aren’t malicious, this is simply the mechanism they’ve evolved to survive. They offer happiness and perfect health for their hosts, with no major negative side effects—except for the loss of motivation, and the potential for unwanted pregnancies (unless they also serve as contraceptives for happy lovebirds). With nothing to strive for, the colonists and Enterprise crew idle their time away, maintaining their bodies as hosts for the spores and tending to the plants that keep them alive. This may not be a very fulfilling existence, but is it too high a price for paradise? This sort of existence is clearly Kirk’s idea of hell.

It’s Kirk’s medal, the symbol of his accomplishments and his drive to better himself, that begins to undermine the spores’ influence on him. When they first arrive on the planet, Kirk says there is nothing sadder than failing to realize a dream, but it appears that it’s even sadder not to dream at all. Humanity seems driven by the pursuit of happiness, but our desire for something may be more important than achieving it.

Aside from the intriguing examination of the human (and Vulcan) condition, this episode featured lovely cinematography, from the idyllic meadows on the planet, purposely evoking the Garden of Eden, to the eerie scenes of the abandoned Enterprise Bridge—as well as the carefully composed shots drawing focus to the pink flowers in the frame. It also features some terrific dialogue, making it difficult to choose a best line, though McCoy continues to get the real zingers. My only nitpicks are the question of where the Berthold rays are coming from, and how Kirk gets back up to the Enterprise if everyone has already left it.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: What a bittersweet episode. On the subject of Spock, we see how his mixed-race heritage has meant a seemingly irreconcilable loneliness, doomed to never fully be part of any world. While I think we all struggle with competing visions of what would make us happy (the alienation he feels is universal), the conflict here is amplified because it’s so specifically about Spock’s constant internal conflict between his Vulcan half and his human half. The insults Kirk uses to rile him up are racist remarks, including “half-breed,” “planet of traitors,” “subhuman race,” “elf,” and more. He compares him to a circus freak, an animal. They’re all comments about his ancestry, and they’re all comments that specifically dehumanize him. His insults reminded me of the similar tactic used in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”

This comes up again when Spock chooses to describe his life to Leila as “a self-made purgatory.” I found it ironic for two reasons: Purgatory, of course, is that limbo between the two diametrically opposed worlds of Heaven and Hell (just as he is trapped between the Vulcan and Human ways of life); and because in the most literal sense he purged himself of his own emotions, and he recognizes that there is a price to be paid for that decision—a sort of Limbo. Most strikingly, Limbo is a kind of prison, and the spores do in a sense free him from it. When he comes back to his senses, you’re supposed to be happy that he’s himself again—but it’s clear that never again will he have the opportunity to fully be one with a group in the same way, and must return to be trapped in his own body and psyche—a prisoner of the limbo he made for himself. I expected the ending to include a line about him ultimately belonging on the Enterprise, but that never happened…

The inverted Eden trope as well as the belief that men need struggle and challenge echoes “The Menagerie” (and I think “The Menagerie” did it better, frankly). With the paradise idea, I can’t help but wonder if the whole Eden parallel is supposed to be a criticism of religion. As in “The Return of the Archons,” you have a seemingly conflict-free group of people, cult-like in their devotion to each other and to the creator of that peace (here, a plant; there, a computer). The “one of us” chants and entreaties to “belong” evoked, for me, specifically religious overtones. Kirk notes at the end that they weren’t booted from Paradise, they rejected that. Is it also a rejection of religion, the framework that gave us that foolish ideal? Just a coincidence?

To the less weighty bits: the Kirk/Spock fight and the McCoy zingers were really top-notch. I think my favorite was the argument over the new Spock:

KIRK: No. I thought you said you might like him if he mellowed a little.
MCCOY: I didn’t say that!
KIRK: You said that!

Also awesome: Sulu fighting with an agricultural paddle.

The biggest WTF moment for me was when Leila asked to beam aboard the ship because she has “never been aboard a starship before.” Uh, how did you get to that planet?!

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

Best Line: McCoy: On pure speculation, just an educated guess, I’d say that man is alive.

Syndication Edits: Establishing shot of the colony; some walks and reaction shots; a bit of Kirk and McCoy’s conversation after his examination of one of the colonists; Leila telling Spock she missed him, and his response that they should all be dead (such a romantic); bits of Kirk and Sandoval arguing about leaving the colony; Kirk ordering Spock to report back immediately; Kirk tapping his communicator after Spock doesn’t answer (too bad, this is cute!); the conversation between Kirk and McCoy as Kirk asks Bones to help him find a way to “counteract” paradise; Kirk packing his uniforms (like anyone would cry if he left that green vomit suit back on the ship!).

Trivia: Nathan Butler is a pseudonym for Jerry Sohl, who was unhappy with D.C. Fontana’s rewrite of his script. In his original draft, first titled “Power Play” then “The Way of The Spores,” Sulu was infected by the spores and fell in love with Leila. Obviously, that doesn’t make much sense. “This Side of Paradise” is also the title of a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, part of an old expression describing an exceptionally pleasant place. Though Spock’s name is not revealed in this episode, nor in any other, D.C. Fontana revealed in an issue of the fanzine Spockanalia that his family name is the unpronouncable “Xtmprsqzntwlfd.”

Other notes: The shot of the empty Enterprise Bridge from this episode was used in the TNG episode “Relics,” when Scotty calls up a holodeck simulation of his old ship. This is the episode referenced in the notorious “Get a Life” sketch on SNL, where the question asked of William Shatner was, “When you were preparing to beam down to the planet, and you opened your safe, what was the combination?” Leonard Nimoy has related that Charles Bronson was on set during his love scenes with Jill Ireland (then Bronson’s girlfriend, later his wife), to “keep an eye on her.”

Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 23 – “A Taste of Armageddon.”

Next Episode: Season 1, Episode 25 – “The Devil in the Dark.” 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 blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.