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Star Trek TOS - Season 3 - Episode 14

Star Trek TOS - 3x14 - Whom Gods Destroy

Originally Aired: 1969-1-3

Kirk is confronted by one his heroes, now criminally insane. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 4.66

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Filler Quotient: 2, filler, but an enjoyable episode nevertheless. You can skip this one, but you'd miss out on some fun.
- There's no essential plot or exposition in this episode that renders it unskippable, but it's a decent episode, even though it could have been better.

- Garth mentions that he will rule a number of "solar systems." This is a common error. The term they were looking for is planetary system. The planetary system we live in is called the Solar System because our star is named Sol. As such, the term "Solar System" is a proper noun, not a generic term.

- The uniforms in the mental hospital are the same as the ones in Dagger of the Mind.

Remarkable Scenes
- Garth trying to beam up to the Enterprise and failing "the test."
- McCoy: "How can we be powerful enough to wipe out a planet and still be so helpless?"
- The insanity dinner.
- Garth blowing up Marta.
- Spock Vulcan neck pinching two people at once!
- Spock having to decide between two Kirks.
- Spock explaining to Kirk how he decided which Kirk was correct.

My Review
A rehash of Dagger of the Mind, complete with another impersonation of the warden and another agony chair. This agony chair is even the same prop that was used in Dagger of the Mind. It seems a number of medical breakthroughs have been made since the first season regarding the treatment of the criminally insane, as the asylum featured in this episode is stated to be the last of its kind. These remarkable breakthroughs are said to be enabled by a wonder drug that the Enterprise is on a mission to deliver to this asylum, only to be thwarted temporarily by the coup.

The existence of a miracle cure to general insanity sounds like a scientifically implausible idea up until you see how the ending of this story defines that: drug-induced amnesia. Taking a page from the nurture-always-trumps-nature book, the Federation has apparently decided that all insanity is caused by the accumulation of traumatic memories and that wiping away those bad memories will fix everything. The ethical concerns raised by this course of action are as fishy as the underlying scientific premise and certainly do much to assault the episode's credibility.

Setting that aside though, this episode isn't really about wonder drugs, miracle cures, scientific implausibilities, or poor medical ethics. If anything, that's all just a very poorly thought out afterthought of a premise for the real story which is about Kirk confronting his fallen hero. Garth effectively carries the whole episode. The actor does an excellent job building a character that is both menacing and funny. You can see what must be shades of his former greatness in him at times as he formulates tactics and commands his madmen while he prances around in a silly, regal fashion.

The episode is well paced and at times even profound. I greatly enjoyed the scene when Kirk pleads with Garth, trying to get him to remember his former self and insisting that he's not really responsible for the terrible things he's done. This is counterpointed brilliantly by impulsively terrifying actions by Garth, such as when he blew up Marta with a bomb after having spent nearly the entire episode flirting with her.

In this sense the episode succeeds at half its goals. Garth is successful in portraying a character who is compulsively irredeemable. The other half of the episode was an attempt to espouse a philosophy that Star Trek strives for which is that all people are redeemable. In this case the episode attempts the aforementioned poorly conceived scientific redemption drug but glosses over what the true consequences would be for deploying such a drug as a long term strategy.

I think it's safe to assume despite the fact that the Federation acted on this horribly unsound premise and seemed to see apparent success from it over a protracted time, that this strategy will eventually implode on them and relapses will take hold at statistically significant enough rates to get them to backpedal on the drug, as drug-induced amnesia won't necessarily address the underlying medical cause of some patients' insanity. Either that or the shady medical ethics will catch up with them and they will decide to stop doing harm in order to curtail their social problems. Or at least I hope so because if I see this obnoxious drug show up in another episode, I'm going to get pretty damn irritated.

There are other niggling issues with the story too, such as the totally ridiculous science behind Garth's shape shifting. We're expected to believe that all humans are capable of this "cellular metamorphosis" given enough study and training from a suitable master. Either that, or Garth isn't really human. At one point he referred to the landing party as "you Earth people," which I believe was meant to accentuate his craziness. However, there are so many aliens in Star Trek that look exactly like humans, maybe Garth isn't human!

Probably the most annoying part of the plot though is the two Kirks scene. Why Spock even bothered to talk to either of them is beyond me. The most obvious course of action is to simply stun them both and sort it out later. Kirk even orders Spock to do that by the end and rather than doing so, Spock simply shoots the false Kirk, confident that he has identified which is which. That seems like a pretty cavalier attitude for someone like Spock!

Overall the episode fits pretty solidly into the mixed bag category. You'll probably enjoy it if bad science doesn't bother you too much and Garth's breed of goofiness works as well for you as it did for me, but there certainly have been a whole bunch of better episodes aired by now.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From rpeh on 2010-07-16 at 9:27pm:
    It's worth noting that the title comes from the phrase "Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad". The original version of the phrase seems to have come from Sophocles, although the wording was slightly different.
  • From A. Rust on 2012-01-16 at 11:33pm:
    Apparently Charles Manson wasn't the only insane megalomaniac to draw inspiration from the White Album. I noticed that Garth's line "Marta, my dear..." was suspiciously close to the title of the Beatle's song "Martha, My Dear." The song opened side two of record one on "The White Album." Probably a coincidence, but the album did come out the year before this episode aired.
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2012-03-06 at 3:43am:
    So at the beginning, the bad guys come out of their cells, approach Kirk and Spock, then it cuts to the opening. When the episode resumes, Spock is being dragged away. What happened? I assume Spock was shot, but it's unusual to do it off camera.

    Anyway, I kind've like the episode. The part where the green girl is reciting Shakespeare (claiming it as her own) is reason enough to watch. We also learn a little bit of Kirk's background.
  • From Chris on 2018-01-09 at 7:15pm:
    Nice review! - but there's a lot a very bad science in Star Trek (some worse than others, true) and so I tend to just go with the flow regardless.

    I loved this episode simply for the dialog!
    "Gentlemen, you have eyes... but you cannot see! Galaxies surround us, limitless vistas, and yet the Federation would have us grub about like some ants on a... somewhat larger than usual anthill!"

    Come on, man!!!! That's gold!

    The interactions between Marta and Garth are hilarious especially when it came to the Shakespeare quote!

    Steve Ihnat (Garth) was truly a lunatic who played the part perfectly IMO.

    I loved the episode also because it gives more insight to Kirk's time at the Acadamy as well as more backdrop into the Federation's history.

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