In which I go off-topic a lot, the center of the galaxy is where religion lives again, and a race of energy beings has a rowdy black sheep with an unhealthy obsession over humanity.
I have a very good reason for showing this episode now. Actually, I have two. Maybe even three, depending on how you want to count. The first and second are that with the introduction of Q we have a Next-Generation context in which to view this older episode, and the next TNG episode we’ll go through, you and I, is pertinant. The third reason is that it’s being a very busy week and I needed filler. What, would you rather I missed an update?
So, a lot of Star Trek is about how humans do and should deal with the unknown. Should we cower in fear, or actively seek out even those things capable of destroying us, in order to learn more. This is one of the reasons Star Trek matters in a way that, and I don’t say this in order to rekindle a war that has been peacefully settled long since, Star Wars just doesn’t. I love Star Wars. All three of the movies were great. Shame they never made those prequels they were talking about. Gosh, I hope the new ones can live up to the impeccable legacy.
Anyway, the Enterprise is seeking out a region of continuous creation left over from ‘the explosion that created the galaxy.’ I hope that all my readers are aware that this is not how galaxies work, but at this point I can only sigh and say that it was the seventies and they were writers, not astrophysicists, and move on. No, actually, I won’t. Because while I can kind of handwave this and say they meant to say universe and then go off on how the Enterprise isn’t that fast (hold on to this thought, by the way) it is always a fun thought to me that trying to find the center of the universe is like trying to find the center of a soap bubble if you live on the surface of that soap bubble. And that soap bubble exists in more dimensions than McCoy can count to without taking off his shoes.
Anyway, the ship makes it to the center of the galaxy, which you’ll recall we find out later is where there is also a planet where the disembodied head of God lives, and is also surrounded by a barrier that no ship has ever crossed until a decade from this episode. Is it really tragic that I consider this episode more canon than Star Trek V?
The Enterprise is being buffeted around by a raw stream of matter and energy and eventually vanishes in a field of yellow light, briefly passes through the Phantom Tollbooth (I gotta watch that movie again) and arrives outside of time and space (ooh, and watch the next episode of Doctor Who) above a planet made of candyfloss. The ship’s computer, clocks, engines, and life support all fail because they no longer exist in a realm where those laws of physics are in effect. Then a satyr shows up.
He materializes on the bridge and starts talking about how much he loves humans because they’re so derpy, and says a magic word to fix the ship. He calls himself Lucien and pretty much assumes they were all looking for him specifically, and transports Kirk, Spock, and McCoy down to the surface. He has also ‘forgotten how much bodily integrity matters to you humans.’ From this, and especially well after the fact and with the context of Q, (hell, even in the context of the Organians) we can assume a couple of things. He’s a non-corporeal entity that exists on a level that human minds don’t interpret very well. He’s keyed into the laws of physics on an intuitive level and, if we want to be really techbobablicious, can likely manipulate quantum fields and probability, so that he ‘magically’ produces the apple he casually tosses to Kirk as he imparts the knowledge of his people (yaaay symbolism) out of raw quantum strings, or something.
Or maybe not, because they also have people whose jobs are to create love potions and build houses out of magic, so we’re still dealing with beings with some form of economy. Lucien explains that everyone is a specialist and their whole world is very ordered but lonely, and that a long time ago they showed up on Earth to make friends with the locals. They were able to work their magic on Earth, and Lucien loved Earth ttoo much. The others called him a troublemaker.
I trust I can stop dancing around the point? Lucien is the Devil in a deconstructionist vision of the bible, where Lucifer is more a Prometheus figure than an antagonist. But Lucien seems worried and sends Kirk and McCoy back to the ship, and tells them not to draw attention to themselves. So of course, Spock stands on a pentagram and tries to use magic. It’s worth noting that on any other day Spock would call magic illogical, but when confronted with evidence as incontrovertible as he has seen, he’s able to pivot everything he thinks he knows around ninety degrees. Soon everyone is using magic, including Sulu to summon up a beautiful woman. Snicker snicker.
Unfortunately, this is kind of what Lucien meant by ‘drawing attention to yourselves.’ An incredibly nasal disembodied voice gloats about how this time they won’t let Humans screw them over, and the entire crew is magicked through an acid trip to Salem, Massachusetts.
So now a bunch of god-like alien entities are going to stand in judgement over humanity, ‘the vilest species in all the universe.’ The prosecutor was apparently known as Asmodeous, so yeah, they’re pissed about how humanity built religion around being afraid of these magicians. The locals are afraid that humans will commit the same atrocities but now, being able to reach this region, could exterminate them. Only Lucien is more compelled by his curiosity and desire for the companionship of others than his fear of the barbarity of humans. A little trial scene, a classic TOS monologue exchange. The Megans decide that humans probably aren’t a threat, but that Lucien needs to be punished in isolation forever. Kirk rushes to his defense and there’s a magic battle. But it turns out that this was all a test, to make sure that humanity was actually practicing the compassion it preached. And since Kirk is essentially a forthright person, everything turns out all right in the end. Hooray.