Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 1.1.5: The Power Set

The Enemy Within

Star Trek Enemy Within

Drink every time this episode takes an appalling moral position.

(Content warning: discussion of sexual assault)

It started out as one of those rare, wonderful days that promises quiet. Promises fun, even. There aren’t many of those for a Starfleet captain. Occasionally, though, on maybe one stardate in a thousand, you get an easy shift. The orders come in to check out a brand-new planet, and there’s not a vampiric monster or an inconvenient temporal distortion or a wobbly cloud of malevolent intellect in sight. Everyone can just relax. A red shirt down here is just a fashion choice. You find yourself happily watching your crewmen laugh as they scrabble across alien rock, while your helmsman carries around a unicorn-dog alien for literally no reason other than he feels like it. It’s work, yes, but it’s fun too. Sure, sometimes people get a scrape on their palm and have to go inside for a while, but basically life is sauntering along just fine.

Then you’re surrounded by the beam of your transporter, and suddenly it and everything else goes wrong. 

ZAP!

Argh. I hate this episode so much. It’s an ugly, sneering disaster on every level. Only the bits with Sulu in it are any good, and that’s probably because Matheson didn’t write them. He used to complain about that subplot being stuck in every time he was asked about “The Enemy Within”, actually. You know, instead of apologising for this monstrous mess every chance he got, like he should have.

Everything that actually dribbled from Matheson’s pen here is completely execrable. I’m honestly not sure where I should start kicking at this crap-pile, but let’s start with how stupid everyone is this week. Scotty needs thrown out of the fleet and possibly though an airlock for his idiocy here. He’s worried enough about his bleeping doodads to call for specialised equipment to check it out, but beams the captain up before the testing even begins? Did he hurry out of the transporter room because of the stink of fail?

Might I interject here? I’d like to serve up a quick defence of Lieutenant Scott’s professionalism. Surely if he believes the transporter can suffer a minor fault and still be used safely, we should assume he knows what he’s doing. He understands how the equipment works, and we don’t. Maybe this kind of fault is usually analogous to a broken headlight. Sure, being one beam down isn’t ideal, and you’ll have to pay more attention to what’s in front of you if you’re heading off somewhere. But if you need to get somewhere quickly and driving is literally your day job, you’re not going to sit around waiting for someone to bring you a replacement bulb. Especially when you’re setting out at noon.

This argument would be a lot more convincing if Scotty’s impatient incompetence hadn’t gotten the captain split in two and almost killed. 

Yes, well. This is a central tension within the show, isn’t it? Within most sci-fi shows, really. Once you invent a technology, the ways in which it might go wrong becomes an obvious story hook. And so these inventions end up going wrong all the time. But that’s just how fiction operates. Within the Trek galaxy itself, transporters must work perfectly almost every single time. Otherwise people wouldn’t use them, obviously. Fiction simply focuses on the failures. This episode doesn’t suggest transporters or their operators are unreliable any more than Thunderbirds implies people shouldn’t be trusted with industrial machinery. Scott here simply fails to take into account a freak set of circumstances that may well until now have been inconceivable.

I’ll concede the point, if only because there’s so much bigger fish we need to punch into sandwich paste. After all, Scotty’s incompetence is nowhere near as atrocious as Kirk and Spock’s interrogation of Rand. First up: hey, Spock! Bang-up job forcing a woman who was almost raped to give testimony in front of the guy she’s identified as her attacker! Even more idiotically (though at least less cruel), they do so without at any point making the link between the transporter splitting the uni-mutt and the ship suddenly screening Kirk 2: The Gittening on all decks.

OK. I’m going to tackle that in reverse order, just to cut away the less important objection and leave us with the elephant in the room. Yes, it was a ridiculous choice to have the scene where Rand and Fisher accuse Kirk take place after he’s already learned the fate of Sulu’s horn-hound. That is not Mathesons’s fault. The director switched the scenes because he thought the act would end more dramatically with the revelation that an “impostor” is aboard. It was a poor call that clearly harms the story. But it’s also a simple case of a director taking a script written by someone unused to television and trying to make it work for that medium, with mixed results. I’m not saying the criticism isn’t valid. I’m just not sure it’s useful.

You’re prevaricating. I want to move on to what really matters. Let’s talk about the appalling spectacle of making Rand testify that her captain tried to rape her in front of that same captain. This is the scene before which William Shatner infamously slapped Grace Lee Whitney across the face so she could seem distraught enough. It’s also the scene that ultimately leads to Spock implying Rand enjoyed the “captain” trying to rape her. You want to try defending that?

No. Not even a little. It’s entirely indefensible. That much is beyond obvious. The fact the male lead physically assaulted one of the female regulars is utterly disgraceful, completely unacceptable, and a total betrayal of everything people want to believe this franchise is supposed to be about. No argument. The final moments of this episode too are thoroughly despicable.

And even beyond all that, the sickbay scene is a total failure, as you say. You don’t allow someone accused of attempted rape to directly question their accuser whilst looming over them. Habeus corpus is one thing, but literally letting an alleged rapist directly question his accuser while three feet away from her? I have no intention of defending that. I mean, I guess one could try spinning this as evidence that Spock is completely failing to understand human nature, and see it as further proof that the more intellectual of the Kirk twins isn’t functioning on anything approaching an acceptable level. Both of those I’d like to come back to, actually. Plus, I very much like the idea in fact that even a man who literally has nothing to him but intellect and compassion can’t understand what it’s like to be a woman forced to confront their would-be rapist. Clearly though, that’s not the intent of the scene, and aside from it being an despicably awful thing to do to and with Rand, the idea McCoy would allow any of this to take place in his sickbay is hard to credit.

Being credible clearly isn’t anything this episode could give a damn about. Not with respect to Rand, anyway. That’s what happens when your script doesn’t consider your female characters to be actual, y’know, people. Rand doesn’t exist in “The Enemy Within” beyond being something pretty for pseudo-Kirk to lust for and grab at. Certainly the long-term consequences of her experience are treated as completely irrelevant. Stuck on a ship obeying the orders of a man who looks identical to her attacker, with no chance of said attacker ever being put away? Who gives a crap, right? She’s only a woman.

Hell, no-one but Kirkinator 2: Total Lack Of Judgement Day even bothers explaining to her why no-one’s done a damn thing about the crime she’s reported. It’s despicable that the script apparently believes there’s nothing more that needs doing on this front.

I agree. It’s clearly terrible. Though I suppose it’s no more terrible than anything else being shown on television at the time.

Is that supposed to function as an excuse?

Merely an observation. 

Now who’s saying things that aren’t of any use?

My point is that when you pick out every outrage in the avalanche, diminishing returns set in. You can’t bristle against every injustice. You can’t get angry at everything.

Who told you that? How can you think that’s how things work? Of course you can get angry at everything. You’re supposed to get angry at everything. When everything is terrible, constant anger is the only rational response. It isn’t a vice. It’s a duty.

That’s a major part of what makes this episode so disgusting, actually. It parades scenes and ideas in front of us that are so appalling, righteous anger is the only acceptable response, and then it decides to lecture us on how anger is part of man’s “evil” side.

You don’t think anger is a problem? You don’t think history has proved ten thousand times over that misdirected rage can and does cause appalling damage? You don’t think constantly running with the needle in the red does more harm than good?

C’mon, don’t feed me that crap. You should be better than that. It’s “misguided” that’s the tell there. Anger is a vector. And it isn’t the magnitude that matters; it’s the direction. You point it toward the right target and we won’t have a problem. Angry people do the work. Angry people get things done. The idea that anger is a bad thing in and of itself benefits all the wrong people. The people who never want anything to change. The people who want you to meekly accept how things are and calmly go about your day as they bleed you dry.

I don’t think anger is a prerequisite for defiance, though. It might even be a drag factor, not least to your chances of getting anyone else to sign up to what you’re pushing for.

That’s an argument against showing anger, not about possessing it. And it’s not one I’m going to engage with. You’re trying to push this into a debate on tactics, and we need context for that. We’re parsecs away from that here. I’m not going to knock around the strategic benefits of deploying some righteous outrage off the back of an episode saying nothing more complicated than “Anger sucks LOL!”

Which brings me to my next point. Let’s talk about lust. Because that doesn’t get any more nuanced or progressive a treatment here than anger does. The idea that lust is evil is, if anything, even more calamitously stupid than what we’ve already covered. Lust is literally why we exist. Without lust the human race would consist of, like, twenty-three people, all of them bored and writing songs about how sitting around all day is more or less okay. And I know what you’re going to say next.

Do you?

You’re going to point out the colossal number of horrific consequences that lustful men have inflicted upon the world.

Actually, I was going to say that a lot here hinges on how exactly you choose to define “lust”, and I’m not sure an episode in which a recurring character is almost raped is the best time to be taking a stand in its defence.

Alright. Furious as I am with this episode, I shall choose my words with care. First of all, I know the transporter cock-up that’s split us in two hasn’t suddenly made either of us an expert, but I don’t think we should ignore the theory that says rape isn’t an expression of lust. Or at least that’s not the only or even the driving factor. It’s been argued that also functions as a method of control, and as an exercise of power. It’s misogyny made manifest; something done because you want women to “know their place”, not because you want them to sleep with you and they won’t.

This theory makes a lot of sense when applied here. Kirk is a classically handsome captain of one of the most powerful interstellar vessels in the quadrant. He surely can’t find it too tough to seduce the local alien talent each time he puts into port. At the very least he’d be one of the more popular johns at any starbase brothel he chose to haunt. Add in the teraquads of space on his hard drive to store the exact blend of pornography he favours, and it’s hard to believe Kirk’s problem is that he has no outlet for his sexual drive.

So why does Kirk Trek 2: Wrath Of Kant try to seduce his own yeoman? Even on the Enterprise there are plenty of other women Kirk could have pointed himself at. Instead though he chooses the one which he has the most obvious and personal power over. He then attacks her because she refuses to accept that power extends to her body. This seems at least as much about control as it does desire.

And even any part of this which isn’t about his rage over not having automatic access to Rand’s body because of his title is about his rage over not having automatic access to Rand’s body because he just wants her so badly. Maybe he would call that lust, maybe he’d call it love. Distinguishing the two can be tricky. Either way, though, here they’re just different words for demanding Rand surrender her own choices in the face of what a man thinks and feels. 

That isn’t on lust. You can’t blame lust for men thinking secretaries should double as sex objects (yes, yeomen aren’t secretaries; I’m just using the logic of the program itself).  You can’t blame lust for men believing all they have to do to acquire a woman is to want them enough, or that beautiful ladies are prizes a man earns for being successful enough or rich enough or nice enough. This isn’t a biological problem. It’s a cultural one.

So sure. Let’s play the definitions game. If you’re definition of “lust” is charging towards whomever you’re attracted to without the slightest thought to how they might feel about it – or if you assume they’ll be into it and get furious when they don’t play along – then yes, we agree on what the problem is. But where does that approach lead us? What good does it do us, here in a society which thinks it makes more sense to tell women to avoid triggering a man’s urges than to tell men to keep those urges under control? Why conflate a biological drive and a grotesque cultural failing? You’re just muddying some already very murky waters, and that too can only benefit all the wrong people.

None of this I disagree with in general, any more than I disagree with the fact that everything this episode does regarding Rand is indefensible. I realise that at best all I can do is argue that a couple of re-shoots and a few cuts to the aired episode you might end up with an episode that’s better than one might think.

With that said, then, I think we should note that, specifically in the case of this episode, it’s pretty clear that what’s being criticised here is that inability to control lust. Kirk has always had these feelings for Rand, after all, but it’s only after the transporter accident that he fails to keep himself in check. Even the powerful case of space-drunkenness he went through in “The Naked Time” didn’t cause him to treat her any differently.  Like his day drinking, Kirk attacking Rand is clearly a sign that he has lost his ability to rein himself in. The division we’re seeing here is clearly one between drive and self control: each half of Kirk has one without the other.

Which would be a perfectly acceptable set-up. Boring, sure, but acceptable. But that’s not what we’re told is going on here. Spock is unequivocal in his thoroughly wretched diagnosis: this is about good and evil. I’ve already covered how totally appalling anger and lust are slandered here, and I’m no happier about Spock lumping hostility in there either. That’s something else we should spend some time kicking into mulch, actually. Hostility too can be a virtue. There are some ideas, and people who spread them, who we absolutely should be hostile to. We don’t have to calmly debate every sneering monster who shows up wanting to discuss whether bigotry is really all that bad, or whether economic realities mean we just have to let people starve to death if they can’t find a job.

Pretty much everything Spock says throughout this episode on the subject of Kirk’s condition is a dumpster fire, in fact, from telling Kirk he shouldn’t trust his crew with the truth, right on through to insisting he knows the transporter didn’t kill Sulu’s pet chi-rhino because he can read the terror on its face.

I actually agree totally on that. Spock gets almost everything here badly wrong. But my response to that isn’t to decide those bits of the episode stink. It’s to think about why Spock fails so spectacularly to grapple with what’s going on here.

Let’s start with his comments about the need for secrecy if Kirk is to retain command. Spock’s position seems self-evidently ridiculous, not just because keeping the security teams in the dark about who they’re hunting down risks the captain’s life (or half of it at least), but because it’s being done in the service of an obviously foolish goal. Kirk quite simply shouldn’t be in command at this point, and Spock’s logic should lead him to that conclusion more or less immediately. 

So why doesn’t it? Because Spock too is split in half, as he keeps reminding us. His love for his friend is blinding him to the reality of what is necessary. 

This is then exacerbated by another of Spock’s blind-spots. I’ve never served in the military or on a boat, so my opinion on the nature of command is admittedly worth very little, but still: is it really plausible that Kirk’s crew would refuse to follow his orders if they learned that one time a transporter mishap led to his bifurcation? That seems implausible. Or rather, it seems tremendously cynical, and revealing of an exceptionally low opinion of humanity. 

But that’s exactly the kind of attitude we would expect Spock to have. It seems entirely in keeping with his identity as a half-Vulcan, half-human – along with all the baggage we know he’s dragging around because of it – that his opinion of the average crew-person in Starfleet would be so low he’d believe they’d turn on their captain at the first sign of weakness. Spock has been told over and over again by his parent culture how terrible and irrational and thoughtless humans are. It could easily not occur to him that a crew’s response to a compromised captain would be to rally round him rather than cast him aside. He hasn’t seen Dr McCoy’s reaction at that point, after all.

Right, McCoy’s reaction. Suggesting Kirk is so important they should let four other crewmen die while an alien canine gets autopsied. Thus making sure McCoy ends the episode almost as morally compromised as Kirk and Spock do after their questioning of Rand.

OK, yes. McCoy’s response here is completely not one of a competent physician. But it does at least serve a purpose in the episode as a whole, which is to contradict Spock’s position. We’re clearly not supposed to assume the first officer’s line runs parallel to the writer’s.

That’s grasping at straws.  It’s much more likely to be incoherence from someone who didn’t really know how to write TV.

Well, this is the guy who wrote I Am Legend, I wouldn’t assume he doesn’t know how to handle structure.  Keeping the focus on Spock, let’s note he’s entirely right that there’s some sort of connection between the qualities each Kirk has acquired. You know about the power set, of course.

Obviously. I’m the same mathematician you are. I’m just angrier. I do angry maths. How simple do you want this?

As simple as brevity allows. People aren’t going to enjoy this.

Fine. The power set list all the different ways you can pack a group of numbered objects into two numbered boxes. So if you’ve got two objects, there are four ways to pack them into two boxes. They can both go into the first box, or both into the second, or each can go in one box, which can happen in two ways depending on which box object one goes into. Every time you add an object to the group, you double the number of ways you can pack them, because for every way you could pack the last bunch of objects, you can do that again with the new object in box one, and you can do it again with the new object in box two. Mathematically, if we have n objects, we find the number of ways of packing them by multiplying 2 by itself times. If you don’t number the boxes, though, you divide that number by half, because now putting everything into box 1 is the same as putting everything into box 2, and so on.

Simple enough? Brief enough?

That’s not up to me. In any case, Spock mentions six qualities in his analysis of Kirk: hostility, lust, violence, compassion, love, and tenderness. There are 64 different ways to split those into two boxes, and hence into two captains. Two of those ways would give all six to one and leave the other one empty, admittedly, so let’s ignore those. That’s 62 ways you could divide those six qualities up, which collapses to 31 since it doesn’t matter which captain gets which set of qualities. We’re still left with 31 different ways to split these qualities between two Kirks so that both receive at least one quality. Both colloquially and in the strict mathematical sense, it certainly appears significant that the actual split is precisely down the line that much of society tells us divides “positive” traits from “negative” ones. Given the aim here seems to be discussing what qualities make a person fit to command a vessel, the fact we can invoke the power set to discuss the application of power seems rather nice.

I’m sure maths puns were at the front of everyone’s minds when they made this.

I will confess to a soupcon of facetiousness. But that’s not my only reason for bringing all this up. The implication here is actually much more positive than you give it credit for. What’s being argued here is that even if you took someone and purged them of what society says is bad- well, let’s just come out with it, what Christianity says is bad – the result would be a disaster.  Even in the most extreme case, when you take out literally everything we’re told is bad, and leave in everything we’re told is good, the resulting paragon of virtue simply cannot function.

Right, but in arguing these traits are a necessary evil, we’re still being told they’re evil. And again, that’s the exact word Spock uses: “evil”.

Yes, but he’s very careful to note he’s making use of human definitions and concepts. He foregrounds the fact that he’s operating outside his direct understanding. And it’s entirely possible to read his basic point as being that this categorisation of qualities is clearly ridiculous, and that “evil” qualities don’t just not stop good ends from being achieved; they’re actively necessary for those ends. Which seems pretty similar to what you’ve been arguing all this time.

I said that these qualities become positive when properly directed.

And Spock implies they become positive when properly controlled. I’m not sure the difference there is worth fighting over, especially when “controlled” is exactly the word you would expect a Vulcan to use.

But let’s go further. this ties very well into our theory that Spock is suffering from chronic depression. As before, I’m aware that depression is something that takes so massive a variety of forms there’s very little about it we could refer to as a common experience. But one form the black dog takes is to leech every positive feeling and state of mind away from you. At that point all your left with is misery, and anger, and hostility. Those things might not technically be negative in all or even most cases, as you’ve said, but when they’re all your mind can access, it certainly feels like you have no connection to anything remotely positive. It certainly feels like every interaction you have with anyone else just makes things worse as you use any methods necessary to push them away. Hell, in those straits it can absolutely feel that all you have left is your “evil side”. By this reading Spock isn’t diagnosing the captain so much as trying to reconcile himself with his own condition.

… OK. Fair enough. That’s actually rather nice. In no way is it believable as anyone’s intent, but it is rather nice.

Well, if believable and nice end up being mutually exclusive, I know which one I’d rather choose. But yes, we can agree it would preferable if the two could be combined more often.

Speaking of which, I think we’ve probably spent enough time bickering amongst ourself, don’t you?

Yeah yeah yeah. We’ve done the appropriate damage to this supertanker of effluence, I suppose. Time to go.

You’re happy to have me back inside your head?

I guess. You’re unbearable, but I’ll allow you might not be utterly useless.

How encouraged I am to hear you say that. Right, then. Just step onto the transporter pad like so… and… there!

ZAP!
GS Bloggers: Ric Crossman and Ric Crossman

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