Season 1, Episode 1 – “Where No Man Has Gone Before”
In today’s fast-paced, modern world, it can be tough to know what to do in any given situation. Do I tell my girlfriend how she really looks in that sweater? How much of a tip should I leave the waiter who brought me fries instead of onion rings? What’s the right course of action if I wake a mad dictator from stasis after he’s spent over a century adrift in space? For life’s toughest questions, look no further than Trekspert Advice: The Federation Guide to Living for insight provided by the past’s vision of the future. After all, you never know when you’ll accidentally be switched with your Mirror-Universe counterpart.
In our first installment, let’s see what we can learn from James Kirk’s first televised adventure as captain of the USS Enterprise in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”…
Friendship can be a challenge. Sometimes, as we get older, the bonds and relationships we’ve formed with others grow and change in ways we can’t always predict, sometimes making us question what we should do. Say your old pal from high school—the one you used to go to cut gym with—started hanging with a different crowd, getting into some big trouble. Instead of just smoking cigarettes by the basketball hoops, he’d started breaking into cars, setting fires, and stealing medicine from babies, just because he’s a jerk now. You might want to reconsider your attachment to this monster who was once your closest ally. If this episode of Star Trek is anything to go by, we’ll be facing these problems for centuries to come.
In “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” Captain James Kirk is confronted with just such a problem, and in trying to deal with it, must choose between following his heart, or his head. As the episode begins, Kirk and his first officer, Mister Spock, are playing a game of three-dimensional chess. Kirk manages to beat Spock handily, in spite of Kirk’s refusal to play logically, and in spite of having to look at Spock’s ill-fitting turtle-neck.
Shirts that fit are overrated anyway.
Kirk follows his gut in chess and in life—and that, apparently, works. And it seems that Spock’s logic can’t quite compete with Kirk’s gut-based decision-making. That’s put to the test when the Enterprise rescues from the depths of cold space what looks to be a 200 year old Weber Grill.
Don’t clean it off before you start cooking. The dirt is where the flavor lives.
But, surprisingly, it’s not a grill, but is instead a 200 year old ship recorder from the S.S. Valiant, a ship that mysteriously went missing. As the recorder’s contents are uncovered by Spock, we learn that the Valiant suffered severe damage after being hit by a strange magnetic storm, and was eventually destroyed by order of its captain. Coincidentally, at nearly that very moment, the Enterprise encounters an ominous purple space cloud lying at the edge of the galaxy, close to where the Valiant self-destructed.
Could this have been the very magnetic storm that the Valiant encountered that led to its demise? Logic would suggest that, yes, it probably is, and maybe they should exercise some caution. Kirk’s gut, on the other hand, tells helmsman Gary Mitchell to head straight for it, Warp Factor 1. Mitchell and Kirk, we’ll learn later, have been friends since their time at the academy together, when Mitchell would send babes Kirk’s way to get him to loosen up a bit, meaning that Mitchell’s the one who set Kirk down the path of endless feminine conquest.
As the Enterprise approaches the barrier, the crew grows nervous that it won’t show up on sensors. Kirk, undaunted, barrels ahead anyway. Naturally, the galaxy barrier zaps the ship with space lightning and transforms Mitchell from this…
But Mitchell’s transformation isn’t just superficial: pretty soon he starts reading every book in the ship’s library, moving objects with his mind, and acting aggressively toward Kirk and Doctor Elizabeth Dehner, a psychiatrist who was also hit by the barrier’s blasts, but whose eyes have remained un-silvered. It’s pretty clear by now that Mitchell’s turning into a class-A creep, ranting and raving about his growing superiority over puny humanity, and yelling veiled threats at his friends. Needless to say, Mitchell is probably a space monster now.
“I don’t just undress you with my eyes. I subjugate your entire species.”
Even still, when Spock recommends that they kill Mitchell now, before he grows too powerful to be stopped, Kirk rejects the idea. He can’t believe that Spock can’t feel anything for Mitchell, their friend for years, and can make such a cold suggestion. Instead, the crew tries to maroon Mitchell on Delta Vega. Kirk and Spock miraculously subdue Mitchell…but they don’t kill him, because, you know, feelings.
This goes about as well as expected, and Mitchell manages to break free of his imprisonment, gloating, “you should’ve killed me when you had the chance.” Word. He uses brain-lightning on Kirk and Spock and escapes with his new girlfriend, Doctor Dehner, whose eyes have gone from normal-style to space-god-silver. Whoops!
Most first dates don’t start with plans to destroy the universe, but love is a funny thing.
Kirk pursues the pair with a phaser rifle and breaks through to Dehner’s slowly ebbing humanity, convincing her that she needs to help him destroy Mitchell, who’s shed his own compassion and embraced his powers of creation and destruction without regard for using them responsibly. While they fight, Kirk even tells his former friend that “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” not that it makes much of a difference. Fortunately, Dehner’s attempts to zap Mitchell seem to do the trick, and Kirk shoots some high-hanging rocks with his rifle and buries Mitchell alive. Somehow, this actually works. Dehner dies, her powers depleted, and Kirk beams away.
As they depart Delta Vega, Spock tells Kirk that, despite his cold, compassionate Vulcan logic, he felt for Mitchell. And Kirk replies, “I believe there’s some hope for you after all, Mr. Spock.” Neither man acknowledges the fact that feeling for Mitchell is what almost got the whole crew killed and created two malevolent, silver-eyed space-gods bent on exterminating humanity.
But, whatever. Let’s just add “silver eyes = bad” to the Starfleet manual and call it a day.
What does Gene Roddenberry want us to learn?
There are plenty of easy real-world events this episode points to: the unchecked power of dictators like Hitler and Stalin; the seemingly insatiable need for the United States and USSR to stockpile more powerful weapons. But a human being with more power, despite the ability to create and destroy with relative ease, becomes a monster, not a god. Power without wisdom and compassion results in a loss of humanity.
What have we actually learned?
Just because you used to hang out and score babes with him, if your buddy starts acting like Space Hitler (with the telekinesis and Force-lightning to back it up), you should probably stop answering his texts, maybe unfriend him on Facebook. And, you know, try to blow him out an airlock if you can.
Trusting your gut may be great for winning chess games and all, but it’s absolutely garbage for knowing when to dump your friends.
And maybe first send a probe into the creepy purple energy barrier at the edge of the universe—that’s just good sense.
Images: CBS Studios Inc.