Saturday, October 29, 2005

Good Plus Evil

The simplistic idea of drama focuses on conflict, and the simplest as well as most comforting conflict is between the good guys and the bad guys, the good Force and the Dark Side. That all humans have both good and evil within them is often a theme or a subtext in more sophisticated dramatic storytelling. Critic Stephen Schiff sees it as the essential quality of Film Noir, for example. “No movie can rightly call itself noir unless it locates the nexus of weakness and evil in hero and villain alike,” he writes, “unless it convinces us that we are all capable of terrible deeds, that the fiend is merely the good guy turned inside out.”

If you’ve seen the new Sherlock Holmes TV movie, “ The Case of The Silk Stocking” (broadcast in the U.S. recently on PBS) Rupert Everett as Holmes has this noir flavor.

But this Star Trek episode extends the idea beyond this relationship of opposites. It begins to define how they relate, and how they need each other. As he observes the good Kirk becoming more indecisive, Spock proposes a theory with a barely controlled aggressiveness: Kirk is losing his force of will because his power of decision comes from his negative half.

Spock defines the bifurcation: “His negative side, which you call hostility, lust, violence, and his positive side, which earth people describe as compassion, love, tenderness.” Then he asks, “What is it makes one man an exceptional leader? We see indications that it is his negative side that makes him strong---that his evil side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined, is vital to his strength.”

This is the apparently dispassionate analysis of the logical Vulcan. But he finishes with a cryptic comment that ends with a double meaning. “If I seem to be insensitive to what you’re going through,” Spock says to the good Kirk, “understand, it’s the way I am.”

Kirk faces losing his command unless his two sides can be reintegrated. Yet it sickens his good side to accept this. Later when he is alone with Dr. McCoy, he expresses it. “I have to take him back inside myself, I can’t survive without him. I don’t want to take him back! He’s a thoughtless, brutal animal! Yet it’s me! Me!”

Bones has brought them each a glass of brandy. “Jim, you’re no different than anyone else. We all have our darker side. We need it. It’s half of what we are. It’s not really ugly—it’s human. Yes, human. A lot of what he is makes you the man you are” McCoy is forced to agree with Spock, “Your strength of command lies mostly in him.”

“What do I have?” the good Kirk asks. “You have the goodness…” “Not enough!” “The intelligence, the logic---it appears your half has most of those, and perhaps that’s where man’s essential courage comes from. For, you see, he was afraid. You weren’t.”

This is another unusual and intriguing idea. We often think of courage as being physical, as “animal courage.” But McCoy suggests it is a product of consciousness.

Spock picks up this theme when he insists that the good Kirk must take the bad Kirk through the transporter, despite the risk that both may die. They learned of the splitting phenomenon when an animal beamed up from the surface also had a second, snarling self. When they tried to reintegrate them, the single animal returned dead. Spock insists the animal died of shock, frightened by the reintegration it couldn’t understand. “You have your intelligence controlling your fear.”

After McCoy insists this is only a theory, Spock pays off his earlier comment. When he said, “this is the way I am,” he meant his life dealing with two halves is "the way I am." “Being split in two is no theory with me, Doctor. I have a human half as well as an alien half, submerged, constantly at war with each other...I survive it because my intelligence wins out over both, makes them live together.”

The good Kirk takes the chance, and the transporter magic reintegrates the two halves into the single decisive but good captain, who saves Sulu and the other men who have been freezing to death on the planet below while all this was happening aboard the Enterprise.

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