Infinite Diversity, Finite Combinations 2.1.7: Pineapple Head

The Infinite Vulcan

Star Trek The Infinite Vulcan

“More like asparagus head, surely, Bones?” “But Jim, then no-one will get the reference!” “Ooh, say you’re a doctor, not an alien-head-describer!” “…No.”

Well, that was… quite something. Yessir, this is definitely a thing that exists. I watched it twice, just to be sure.

Beginner’s Luck

I don’t entirely mean it as a criticism when I say it’s obvious this is Walter Koenig’s first writing gig. There’s no getting around it being mostly a criticism, though. Koenig’s inexperience shows almost everywhere here, from his handling of exposition to him letting the plot trample all over both logic and character. If nothing else, it should be standard practice to immediately fire any TV writer who wants someone to wink at the camera at episode’s end.

On the other hand, there’s a certain charm to how totally outside of the ordinary everything here is. It’s like Koenig was listening in on a regular Trek writer’s fever dream, jotting down their mumbled nonsense and squeezing it into a screenplay. The retlaw and the plant-based bat-spaghetti-beasts are weird enough, but the decision to make Keniclius’ cloning procedure turn people into giants is as fabulously unnecessary as it is completely unexplained. Even the race of intelligent. ambulatory plants are delightfully oddball, for all that Koenig wasn’t happy with Roddenberry forcing their inclusion.

That said, fun as the Phylosians are, it’s not hard to see why Koenig looked askance at Roddenberry’s justification for forcing them in, which essentially boiled down to “We couldn’t have done this in the old show”. That might almost certainly be true, but there’s an obvious and expansive gap between what can be done and what is worth the doing. Roddenberry’s basic point that everything is (to some extent) equally easy to draw cuts both ways. It lets you make far greater use of spectacle, but that very freedom degrades spectacle’s innate value. I mean, for most people there’s a hard and low ceiling for how much impressive visuals work as an end in themselves anyway. Once everything is equally easy to generate, everything is equally unimpressive. I’m not saying animators can’t astonish us, by any means. But I’d argue the way they do it is through design and craft. Drawing creatures that can’t be replicated with a latex costume really isn’t the kind of thing one applauds.

So yes, Koenig has a point. On the other hand, it seems more than a little strange that he’s the one making it. It’s perhaps tricky to listen to complaints about mistaking possibility for necessity from the man who gave us POINTLESSLY GIANT SPOCK. The ungenerous characterisation of Koenig’s objections is that they represent nothing beyond a new writer’s resentment that someone far more experienced edited his work.

We try to avoid ungenerous characterisations here, however (honest!). Let’s instead make the assumption that Koenig was genuinely trying to make a point with this story, and became frustrated that Roddenberry kept getting in the way. Helpfully, this immediately raises our central question for this episode. What could this exercise in the feverish non sequitur possibly be trying to say?

“People Are A Problem”

In fact, the answer is potentially quite a lot. “The Infinite Vulcan” might lack for coherence, but it doesn’t lack for commentary.

First of all, the idea some worthless eugenicist would, after getting kicked off Earth for pushing crap about “the perfect specimen”, start cloning himself to extend his pathetic life and feel the need to recreate himself as a literal giant is absolute gold. It’s just the most perfect Freudian response to him thinking he’s possessed of a towering intellect all the little people who just think him a racist jerk can’t recognise. “Think I’m an idiot, do you? Well try saying that now I’M TWELVE FEET TALL!”. It underlines how pathetic these people are in isolation, how thoroughly their supposedly rational philosophy is born of their own deep-seated neuroses and fears of inadequacy. Usually they deal with this by getting into groups and constantly telling each other how tough and smart and uncowed by political correctness they are. Absent a bigot support network, however, Keniclius has to recast himself in Titanic proportions simply so he can look himself in a very very high mirror. Hell, by the look of the Phylosian ships, Bumper-Size Spock would struggle to even fit through the doors, meaning Kenclius is letting his hang-ups actively interfere with his ludicrous scheme.

(Of course, the spacecraft doors also seem too small for the dead Phylosians the plague survivors show our heroes. We could hand-wave this away by suggesting the Phylosian form might be tremendously more flexible than ours, but even we could lower every door frame by a foot or so and almost everyone could still fit through; we don’t do it because why on earth would we? There’s also the fact that all the buttons/panels etc. in the alien city seem to be at exactly the right size for the much smaller surviving Phylosians to reach. My guess is that there were two forms of Phylosians, divided by size into a ruling and a working class. I think the idea was always for the smaller Phylosians to be loaded into the rockets and launched out into the galaxy to “fight for peace” whilst the rulers sat around congratulating themselves on how enlightened and moral they were, and sticking their roots into all the best mud. Like just about every other ruling class, then. Except the mud bit. Probably, I mean. I don’t get invited to those sorts of parties.)

This criticism of Keniclius’ plan is taken a step further at the end of the episode when Spock XL is revealed. I can’t tell you how much it delights me that Koenig doesn’t flirt for a moment with the idea that a clone of Spock would be interested in signing up with Keniclius. The tension at the conclusion stems from whether the original Spock will die, not whether his duplicate will decide to help out a fascist. Because of course he won’t.

Star Trek The Infinite Vulcan 2

“I’m crushing your head!”

It’s worth spending some time unpacking just why this is so wonderful. Firstly, it’s a direct repudiation of the type of uses the Vulcans are generally put to, the one’s I’ve been complaining about almost since this series began. Here, the IDIC is not mere lip-service paid to diversity by a people clearly disinterested in any approach but their own, but the central plank in reminding the brain-fogged Spock that peace through invasion is impossible, and that only terrible people pretend otherwise.

More than that, though, it’s straight up hilarious that Keniclius finds what he considers “the perfect specimen” and discovers that his own definition of perfection includes totally rejecting his life’s work as unacceptable. It reminds me of all those people who are convinced democracy can never work because it forces politicians to play to the crowd, and who insist that what we need instead is a benevolent dictator. Someone who doesn’t need to be popular, and can therefore make the hard choices, but who’s nevertheless wise and kind enough to make sure everyone gets what they deserve.

Such a person doesn’t exist. I mean, obviously they don’t. The idea is utterly absurd, front to back. No one person can possibly understand enough about our species’ infinite diversity in infinite combinations to be allowed unchecked power. To believe otherwise and call it “logic” is monstrous perversion of the word, and having Costco Spock understand this within seconds of become self-aware is a fabulous swipe at everyone who secretly (or not so secretly) believes society would be better if there was one guy in charge who could just tell everyone to do what they’re told.

(It’s always a guy with these people, obviously. It’s also always someone who happens to look just like them and sound just like them and think just like them. No-one who pushes the benevolent dictator idea ever suggests a black trans man with mobility issues should get the gig, FOR SOME REASON.)

It’s clear then that Keniclius’ ideas are dangerous and wrong. That doesn’t mean they can be ignored, though. An idea doesn’t have to be smart to cause havoc. Keniclius’ brand of weaponised inferiority complex can infect and kill a democracy if left to fester. This is what eugenics does as a movement; it tries to find a society sympathetic enough to allow it to grow within it before strangling its host. This is why so many insist eugenicists can’t be allowed to be part of a democratic debate. By their very nature, they don’t believe genuine democracy should exist. Political parties which subscribe to eugenics are not participants in democracy, they are a cancer seeking to overcome and destroy it.

This is represented here through the inverted War of the Worlds trope of Keniclius getting nearly every Phylosian killed with his deplorable mammal-cooties; his philosophy is as much a disease as the streptococcus he carried. Except… the reading of Keniclius as being so utterly beyond acceptable he poisons an entire society just by visiting it seems to flounder when it’s revealed the Phylosians were also all about creating a giant space fleet to impose peace at gunpoint. Isn’t it rather hard for an idea to metaphorically infect and destroy a society that’s already sympathetic to it?

Well, no. Quite the opposite. Keniclius’ horrific ideas are always most damaging to societies that have a compromised immune system. It’s hard to convincingly argue against the idea of a master race when you’ve already decided it’s OK to send your military to attack any other society that isn’t behaving the way you’ve decided they should. Ideas like Keniclius’ can only grow when they’re planted in fertile soil, no pun intended.

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Lie

But if all of this slots so well together, why did I say the episode lacks coherence? It’s because after all this good stuff about how terrible Keniclius is, and how much damage people like him do, Kirk – and Koenig – are simply far too nice to him. This is a man who was thrown off Earth because he still supported the horrifying ideology responsible for a third world war that exterminated millions.  A man who’s spent centuries wandering space trying to find someone to form the biological blueprint for a galaxy-conquering horde of genetic supremacists (ten quid says he was specifically searching for the Botany Bay itself). Keniclius isn’t going to give up on this plan of his super-race bringing order to the galaxy just because he’s been told there aren’t any wars on right now. Keniclius wants war. War is the point. Eugenics is inseparable from fascism, and the very foundations of fascist thinking require there to be an existential struggle in every direction against the enemies of the people. If a war doesn’t exist, it needs to be invented. You can’t maintain a fascist state without constant reference to some kind of existential struggle- no-one’s going to accept society needs to be completely reordered if everyone is getting along just fine. Suggesting Keniclius would abandon his plan upon learning no-one is officially at war is to take fascist rhetoric about achieving peace through violence seriously. And that’s one more way of lending them legitimacy, which this franchise and pretty much everything that exists ever should explicitly refuse to do.

There’s also the issue of Kirk suggesting that “to bring life is at least as important as bringing peace”. I’m not going to get into whether that’s actually a remotely sensible thing to say, but it’s absolutely not the angle Kirk should be taking. What he should be doing is pointing out that Keniclius’ whole life has been dedicated to achieving death on an unimaginable scale, and maybe he should try breaking into a new career of not being a murderous scumbag. I realise Kirk is just trying to talk to Keniclius on his own terms, but that doesn’t make it better. It’s not up to us to meet tyrants halfway. I also understand Koenig wants to show that Keniclius can be redeemed. With no actual understanding of what the villain needs to redeem himself for, though, or any reason to believe he would want to try, the effort falls flat.  It’s not just that the good ideas elsewhere in the episode are badly served by the ending. They are being actively undermined.

Like “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” before it then, “The Infinite Vulcan” has plenty of interesting things to say, but does so in so scattershot and problematic a way that the whole fails to satisfy. It’s doesn’t even have the cohesion to be curate’s egg. It’s a curate’s omelet, stuffed with chorizo and cheese and peppers but also broken glass and Nazi knick-knacks.

Still, many people get far further into their writing careers without turning out anything as odd and chewy as this. “The Infinite Vulcan” is worth admiring on those terms, if nothing else. Plus no-one gets sexually assaulted, so there’s always that.

Ordering

1. The Infinite Vulcan

2. What Are Little Girls Made Of?

GS Blogger: Ric Crossman

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