Saturday, October 29, 2005

Star Trek: The Inner Ape and The Enemy Within

by William S. Kowinski

“The Enemy Within” is one of the foundation episodes of Star Trek. It premiered early in the first season of the original series, the fifth to be broadcast. It’s the “two Kirks” episode, the good Kirk and the bad Kirk split off from each other. Its treatment of human nature, of accommodating the dark side rather than denying it, has become integral to the Star Trek definition of what it means to be human.

The insights of this episode were given a new twist recently by a thesis contained in Our Inner Ape, a recent book by primatologist Frans de Waal. He contends that we actually have two inner apes---the heritage of two ape species with very different ways of dealing with the world.

The story and script for “The Enemy Within” were created by Richard Matheson, already an important science fiction and fantasy author, and a consummate professional as a movie and television episode scriptwriter. In 1966 he was probably best known as the author of the novel and screenplay for one of the better “radiation mutation” science fiction films of the 1950s, “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” directed by Jack Arnold, among the most imaginative and literate filmmakers of the period working in s/f and fantasy.

In addition to his scripts for genre series television, Matheson wrote the classic “Duel” for Steven Spielberg, and adapted “The Martian Chronicles” as a miniseries (prompting author Ray Bradbury to call him “one of the most important authors of the 20th century.”) He wrote the book and script for the 1998 movie, “What Dreams May Come,” and the script for “The Omega Man,” the second film adaptation of his novel, I Am Legend. He’s done the third adaptation of it for a movie scheduled for next year, currently with the novel’s title.

So let’s review the episode. This isn’t the “Mirror, Mirror” mirror universe bad Kirk/good Kirk, where the underlying theme was choice between two paths of conduct (as it was in Star Trek Nemesis, when Captain Picard confronts his clone.) In “The Enemy Within,” a transporter malfunction splits the Captain into two Kirks: a good one (intelligent, compassionate and brave and a very bad one (violent, all appetite and action, and obsessed with survival.)

Shatner plays the bad Kirk as an animal, crouching like an ape, delighted with sensory life. As soon as he gets off the transporter pad he runs his hands over the surfaces of the controls. He’s ecstatic to feel, and he wants more. He is governed by his appetites—heading for Dr. McCoy’s brandy, and then he sexually assaults Yeoman Rand before punching out a young male technician to make his escape.

The good Kirk is puzzled, he is drawn to stillness and contemplation. He can barely understand the evil propelling his double. When they meet, he advances with the certainty of reason. His evil twin cowers, then strikes out. Only Spock’s Vulcan neck pinch prevents him from killing the good Kirk with a phaser blast. (Nimoy invented the neck pinch in this episode, enlisting Shatner to demonstrate it to director Leo Penn, who used some imaginative shots to set the mood for this story. The script called for Spock to knock out the bad Kirk with the butt of his phaser. Nimoy felt Spock would find a more elegant way to disable an enemy.)

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