TOS: S3E21: “The Cloud Minders”

In which uncomfortable parallels are drawn, an allegory barely ages at all in 50 years, and I make myself sad. A lot. 

Stratos: It's No Bespin, But There's No Darth Vader Either (Probably). Paid for by the Stratos tourism board.

Stratos: It’s No Bespin, But There’s No Darth Vader Either (Probably).
Paid for by the Stratos tourism board.

Kirk is on the way to save a planet from an all-consuming botanical plague, looking for another Medical MacGuffin on Ardana. Ardana has a cloud city, but Kirk is trying to avoid protocol, because bureaucrats have literally never done anything but almost get his crew killed and his ship blown up. Instead, he and Spock beam down to the mine where they can acquire their MacGuffin in peace.

Yeah, I couldn’t keep a straight face, either. Especially once they start talking about how Stratos is a city whose chief industry is Art and which has abolished violence. Meanwhile, the ‘Troglite’ miners haven’t delivered the Xenite. I have the sinking feeling I’m about to watch Star Trek’s take on The Time Machine, but with fewer Morlocks chewing the bones of Eloi.

Pictured: Trappings of the wealth gap.

Pictured: Trappings of the wealth gap.

So the Troglites, who are all wearing spiffy eyewear that would be way more at home in Johnny Mnemonic, attack Kirk, who needs to be rescued by an Aristotole-looking dude from Stratos. Shockingly, a rigidly stratified society with extremely obvious trappings of the wealth gap has fallen to internal conflict and civil war. #occupyStratos. I may be making that joke too early, but given how often I complain about an episode having not aged well, it’s shockingly unsatisfying to see one that looks like it’s going to be very relevant indeed.

A Troglite is caught on Stratos, claiming to be a repairman, but when harshly questioned about the rebel leaders, throws himself off a cloud to fall to his death rather than submit to Stratos justice. While Spock hits on the governer’s daughter (above) Kirk wrestles one of the Troglite rebels on his bed. No, that’s not a metaphor. She tried to cut his throat with a chisel. Actually, I stand corrected. This is an enlightened and equal society. The Governor’s daughter is hitting on Spock.

"Stratos does not engage in torture." Pictured: Enhanced Interrogation

“Stratos does not engage in torture.”
Pictured: Enhanced Interrogation

So, ever been talking with someone and they just throw out some incredibly racist bullshit on the assumption you’ll agree with it? “Of course the Troglites couldn’t possibly be allowed to live on Stratos. They’re not used to light or heat, so it would be wasted on them! They’re so violent, too, not like us Stratos-dwellers!”

Every joke I come up with about this episode makes me sadder.

Kirk comes to a head against the governor of Stratos over their unFederation-like attitudes and beams up in a snit. The governor, chief representative of a race too advanced for violence, orders Kirk shot on sight if he shows up on Stratos again.

In fact, McCoy’s research has determined that the presence of unrefined Xenite causes mental impairment and emotional outbursts in adults, which is reversible once the presence of the Xenite is ameliorated. It’s as if the episode were an allegory for how the failings of the lower classes are primarily environmental factors caused by the very poverty they are condemned for not being able to escape from.

Of course, now we have to deal with the in-universe ramifications of the Federation not doing the research into an ore in common use to determine the environmental hazards associated with mining it. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it makes for a nice second-layer allegory about the willingness of a first-world nation to overlook the conditions that enable such status.

The epitome of rationality.

The epitome of rationality.

Anyway, Kirk offers a filter mask to the Troglites to try to fix the whole situation, but nobody bites. Instead he gets captured, gets free, collapses a cave on the Troglite leader and beams the Stratos leader in there with him to… further negotiations. There is, of course, a flaw in this plan. It relies on one of the three people in the cave full of intoxicating stupid-gas notice that they’re being affected by intoxicating stupid-gas. The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that this is not a good bet.  Shatner’s ability to chew the scenery without losing any teeth corroborates this.

Kirk gets the Xenite to go save that other planet, and the Troglites all get their masks. The Stratos dwellers and the Troglites are still incredibly pissed at each other, but fortunately the women of the episode are more sane than everyone except Spock, and the shouting abates for long enough that the episode can end. Hey, it’s a start at a lasting solution, which is better than the Occupy movement ever got.

Did we miss something awesome?