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Episode 76 – TOS 3×21: “The Cloud Minders”

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Now in our home stretch for The Original Series, we come to a genuinely kinda good late-series episode, in which the Enterprise gets caught in the middle of a civil rights struggle that not-at-all-subtly mirrors the American civil rights movement, but in a floating cloud city.

Kirk and Spock look up at the city of Stratos, nestled in a cloud.
I’m not even going to criticize how hilariously off-scale the cloud city is because it just looks so cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federation member planet Ardana has a special mineral that happens to be the only thing that can stop a “botanical plague” on another Federation member planet. There’s a ticking clock, of course; they have maybe a day to get this done, or billions will die. So naturally, Ardana’s rebel faction of oppressed mole people (we here at NSMTNZ have a solid “never trust a mole person” policy but arguably they are wearing sunglasses and therefore not mole people) chooses right now to throw a wrench into the works.

So, on Ardana (which, given its deeply ingrained class stratification probably should never have been allowed to join the Federation in the first place??), those who enjoy the benefits of labour (city-dwellers) are separated from those who do the work (Troglytes). And my “separated,” I mean the wealthy elite live in a literal floating cloud city and the working poor are confined to the mines on the surface, where a gas given off by the planet’s only industry causes brain damage that the cloud people use to justify their oppression of the miners because they’re “mentally inferior.”

Kirk and Bones on the bridge
“Well, all our studies say the cave people have tiny brains.” “Did that data by any chance come from their cloud-dwelling dickface masters?” “…oh.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah, late Original Trek was not at all subtle in its criticism of institutionalized inequality. After all, cancellation was only four episodes out at this point.

There is some really amazing dialogue in this episode! We even get to see aliens talking to each other about their own cultural issues, which is bafflingly rare in TOS despite its explicit focus on, y’know, addressing cultural issues. There are some genuinely moving speeches about privilege and internalized -isms and racial bias in medicine and the cognitive dissonance necessary for casual oppressors and even some conversations that might qualify as proto-intersectional. There’s a lot of criticism of anti-intellectualism and some straight-up championing of socialist policies that would have been pretty damn risky at the time this was airing. It is one of the most self-aware episodes of Trek we’ve seen yet.

Kirk, Spock and Plasus, the leader of Stratos, stand on a balcony looking down at the planet.
Also, the production design on this one is gorgeous. Worth it for that alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end, Kirk, driven to the edge of reason by both sides refusing to actually reason, ends up solving the problem through creative kidnapping. But since he mainly only really endangered himself, and did it for the purpose of saving an entire other planet who didn’t ask for any of this, and also because it’s a plan that Jean-Luc Picard would have absolutely co-signed and rewarded with a bottle of wine, we’re going to give him a pass.

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