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Episode 58 – TOS 3×03: “The Paradise Syndrome”

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So we’ve been looking forward with – not anticipation? More like trepidation? Dread? knowing this episode was coming up pretty soon, and here we are: The One Where Kirk Gets Amnesia and Cosplays A Hollywood Native American. To give you an idea of the level of cultural sensitivity on display for this episode, the alternate episode title was “The Paleface.”

Is this episode, super, super-racist? Why, yes! How did you guess?

Kirk in a Native American costume that exceeds the definition of the word stereotypical.
Just to give you an idea: this happens.

 

So to summarize, briefly: there’s an asteroid headed for a planet that is home to a pre-warp culture. The Enterprise is going to divert the asteroid and keep it from killing everyone, which is apparently nbd in the 23rd century. Cool. Fine. I’m with you.

Except then for no reason at all, even though they are on an extremely tight schedule (this is mentioned at least three times in the first five minutes of the episode), Kirk, Spock and Bones beam down to gawk at a) the weird alien monolith that seems strangely out of place on a world with no industrial development and b) the natives, who look curiously like pre-European-contact Native Americans of the These-Are-What-We-Had-In-Wardrobe tribe and write an ode to how “idyllic” and “uncomplicated” their lives seem. (This is the first mention of The Preservers, aka: the omnipotent aliens who went around plucking up “primitive” cultures and preserving them in situ on other worlds, who we can only assume were invented to retroactively explain away all the highly questionable Alternate Earth writing decisions so far.)

Kirk, Spock and Bones across the lake from the village.
Should we, white men, feel funny about this framing? …nah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re in a hurry, so naturally Kirk has to trip through a hole and get lost, forcing Spock and Bones to leave him behind in order to keep their appointment with the planet-killing asteroid,

Kirk gets himself electrocuted, gets amnesia, and emerges from the monolith to be greeted by the tribe’s priestesses, one of whom promptly falls in love with him. Kirk – or rather, Kirok, as he comes to be called – gets adopted by the tribe as their new, uh, wizard? And worshiped as a god? and it only gets worse from there.

Miramanee (played by an actress in brownface makeup) and Kirk.
Naturally, the one canonically white dude gets immediately worshiped as a god. Nothing uncomfortable about this at ALL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For what should be pretty obvious reasons, we were not huge fans. In addition to being ultra-terrible and full of holes big enough for a starship captain to fall through – the conflict makes very little sense, when it turns out that the planet had an asteroid deflection machine all along, and Spock comes to the solution mainly via inspirational lute-playing – but rife with the kind of infantilizing characterization of Native Americans/First Nations people that should give any decent human contact humiliation. Kirk’s whole character arc in this episode is a desire for a condescendingly-idealized “simpler life” that’s handily delivered to him by amnesia and being slotted into a position of power and basically worshiped as a god. Not to mention the rampant brownface and the fact that the sole female guest star exists only to…

…no. I could go on. But honestly, you can probably guess, and if we had to watch this, so do you.

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