TOS: S3E4: “Whom Gods Destroy”

In which shapeshifting can be taught, the writers have madness on the brain, and you’ll have to kill us both, it’s the only way to be sure.

The Enterprise is apparently bringing a potent antipsychotic to Elba II, where the last of the incurable criminal madmen. Since we already went there in “Dagger of the Mind,” let’s talk about two things: what makes a prison in Star Trek, and how the 23rd century tries to treat criminals.

Elba II has a poisonous atmosphere, so breaching the facility would kill the person who attempts it. Transporters exist, but can be scrambled by force fields, os obviously there’s a force field over the facility. Since we know from Patterns of Force that it’s possible to make a phaser beam out of two communicators and a light bulb, we should also expect to see a certain degree of equipment control.

The asylum's first inmate was whoever game up with that color scheme.

The asylum’s first inmate was whoever game up with that color scheme.

In the 23rd century, prison sentences seem to be almost entirely rehabilitative. We recall from “Dagger of the Mind” that the doctor was experimenting with rewriting personalities in order to return the body, if not the person, to society. Although that went incredibly and predictably balls-up, we see here a different experimental track. There’s a charming naivete to this prediction that we’ll get far enough some day that the only remaining crime will be to mental sickness that might be curable with a drug. I’d like to live in that world, but once you start really thinking about it, it’s hard to imagine what actual post-scarcity might be like.


Meet Garth of Isar, who used to be a starship captain. One of Kirk’s heroes, in fact. Sadly, it looks like he got the space madness. But first, they pass Marta, who gives us the indications that the asylum’s warden might not really be who he says he is. Maybe she’s just a madwoman. Or maybe she’s in league with Garth but trying to give away his plan just to help Garth gloat, in some sort of weird illusion where Garth looks like a small portly asian man. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, I mean, someone could, I guess.

It looks like the inmates are really running the asylum here. Garth, in particular, switches back and forth between the Royal We and colloquial speech. Given how balls–out insane he is, being able to change his form to look like Kirk is going to be a very short-lived ploy. Extremely short-lived, since Kirk was clever enough to set up a password-countersign before he’d allow Scotty to beam him back aboard.

Scotty is not that smart. He follows the orders, but he’s visibly puzzled as to why Kirk didn’t give him the countersign. With Spock incapacitated on the surface, it’s up to Montgomery “I don’t understand what countersigns are for” Scott and Leonard “Eyebrow grimace” McCoy to melodramatic their way into a B-plot.

Garth knows that green girls make the best consorts.

Garth knows that green girls make the best consorts.

The next several minutes are going to revolve around Garth trying to get the password, and Kirk alternately working with Spock to try and escape. We’re going to get a bunch of madness and chewing the scenery, and also green girl dancing.

I’m going to take a moment on set design. Doors, in particular, are appear to be a primary means of designation other-ness, in Star Trek and in science fiction in general. These are all at odd angles and remind me of nothing as much as german expressionist film. Nothing looks balanced and proprtional, which would strike me as the worst possible architectural design for an asylum.

This will only hurt a lot...

This will only hurt a lot…

Speaking of charming naivete, there’s something just wonderful about a society that treats all criminal action as mental illness, and then treats mental illness with space-ECT. It’s like having capital punishment but then swabbing the injection site with alcohol to make sure death row inmates don’t get the last-minute three-second ‘flu. –

Garth almost manages to outmaneuver Kirk by pretending to be Spock and being in the room when Kirk gives the countersign to Scotty, but Kirk picks up on it in time. There’s a moment where it looks like Kirk is going to be able to talk Garth down before he snaps back into it and starts listing dictators he’s better than, including two post-Hitler names, Lee Kuan and Krotus.

Among Garth’s claims is that he’s invented the most powerful explosive in history. It’s hard to imagine how you could come up with a more powerful explosive than a matter-antimatter reaction, since the energy release from that is supposed to be literally every joule of energy contained within the equivalent mass. He nevertheless demonstrates the power of his fish gravel by blowing up the only woman on Elba II, because madman.


Well, check to see which one isn't wearing a man-girdle.

Well, check to see which one isn’t wearing a man-girdle.

next gambit is a classic, possibly because of this very episode. Garth shapeshifts into Kirk. Too bad there’s no way for him to tell them apart. Like a prearranged countersign, or a phaser which can be set on stun to knock them both out and see who reverts to being Garth, or at least locking them both up and seeing which one goes utterly mental and has a tantrum. What a shame there’s no way to tell who’s who, is what I’m saying.

Fortunately, Spock susses the right one despite being so hopelessly outmaneuvered, and they’re able to deliver another load of the medicine and cure everyone. Hooray!

Did we miss something awesome?