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Episode 79 – TOS 3×24: “Turnabout Intruder”

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Welcome to the VERY LAST EPISODE of the Original Series of Star Trek. On these episodes was based the entire, larger, extensive body of the Star Trek franchise. And while there is more Trek made after TOS than there is TOS, TOS was still the first to go where no one had gone before. Are you tearing up yet?

Great, because this week is definitely enough to make grown adults weep. Our villain of the week is Dr. Janice Lester, who spends 90% of the episode yelling that she should have been a man, which is either a wayyyyyyyy-ahead-of-its-time commentary on gender dysphoria or… just a sloppy, confused and contradictory version of Feminism By Men.

Basically, the Enterprise comes to Camus II on an emergency call, because the archaological expedition has been exposed to deadly radiation. Chief researcher of the expedition? Kirk’s old flame Dr. Janice Lester, who… really really hates him now.

Kirk leans over Janice in a bed.
“Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.” Uh… doesn’t it? Are we sure about that? We’ll never know because TOS canon is a FUCKING DISASTER.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fair warning: we mess up pronouns allllllll over the place on this one, mostly because the POV is squarely Elsewhere from where it should be.

Basically Janice hates Kirk because… okay, we’re really, honestly not sure. Because she dreamed of becoming a starship captain and was forbidden from doing so? Because she failed Starfleet’s famously-dreaded Psych Test? Because she… apparently specialized in Space Archaology? Because James Kirk scorned her and left her? Because she literally wanted to become James Kirk, up to and including killing him and wearing his skin as a suit?

Kirk and Janice are swapped using the alien machine.
I mean… all evidence suggests she favoured the Skin Suit option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janice is an incredible villain. She’s bombastic, clever, and she plans way, way, way ahead. She’s been plotting revenge for twenty years (though again, for what, exactly?), and may or may not have hunted down an ancient alien body-swapping machine for the express purpose of seeing that revenge to its fruition. The main problem with this story, though, apart from its pretty flagrant sexism, is that her motivations are never made at all clear. Janice is definitely depicted as being mentally unstable, and there are certainly notes of “female hysteria” layered over and under and through everything from the costume design to Janice’s dialogue to the other actors’ interpretations of her lines and their body language in relation to her. It’s definitely a relic of the time in which it was created, and the prejudices of its creators are really, really, really obvious, which is both depressing and bad writing.

This would be a very understandable, sympathetic motivation if it were made in any way clear. If this story was about a woman whose ambitions were thwarted for no reason other than her gender, we’d be cheering her on all the way. By all means, steal that guy’s body! Roam the stars with your scientist boyfriend! Become a space pirate!

Janice in Kirk's body romances Dr. Coleman.
Join me on an adventure into Bisexual Space Piracy. It’ll be awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But we can’t, because the writers couldn’t decide why she was doing anything she was doing, and because of the episode’s other big, big problem: no part of this episode, which is nominally all about Janice Lester’s Grand Revenge, is from Janice Lester’s perspective. When Janice’s body is on screen, it’s being inhabited by James Kirk. And even when Janice-in-Kirk’s-body is making speeches, everything is from the POV of the crew, and Kirk’s closest friends, seeing Kirk psychically possessed by a madwoman. Janice-as-Kirk gets no time alone without the Enterprise crew, and the one scene that contains only Janice!Kirk and her scientist boyfriend, the scene is from the boyfriend’s point of view, and is all about his moral dilemma re: Janice’s Safety vs. Janice’s Happiness (apparently body-swapping is hard on the nerves).

Nurse Chapel and a bunch of men stand over a Janice restrained in a sickbay bed. Problematic? Hell yes.
Every single hospital scene involving Janice Lester made me intensely uncomfortable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basically this episode, of all episodes, we wanted to be better, because if it had been from Janice’s POV, it would have been a lot easier to parse and understand and enjoy. As it stands, it comes out as a mess of men writing stories about women’s issues when they have never, to all appearances, either spoken to a woman or looked up the word “feminism” in the dictionary.

 

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