Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Is There In Truth No Beauty?"

**

Air date: 10/18/1968
Written by Jean Lisette Aroeste
Directed by Ralph Senensky

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

It's at about this point that the reduced quality of TOS's infamous third season becomes increasingly clear, as what initially appears to be a substantive Spock episode can't even find the right notes. This one focuses on an ambassador named Kollos (performed by a box with lots of blinding light inside) from a race "so ugly as to drive a man mad." Sort of weird, but, okay, I'll grant the story that detail.

Diana Muldaur returns as a guest character named Dr. Jones (that's Miranda, not Indiana), whose life as a human telepath took her to Vulcan, where she learned to control the powers that brought everyone's thoughts into her head. Now she plans to spend her life accompanying Kollos, whom she has come to greatly respect and understand. The problem with the episode is that it's all over the map and never figures out what it wants to say. First the story seems preoccupied with the situation surrounding a character's unrequited love for Miranda, and then his attempt to murder Kollos in a jealous rage and the resulting madness in him that ensues. Then the story shifts when the ship goes wildly off course and only Kollos knows how to get it back on track. This leads Spock to mind meld with Kollos to obtain the information, which leads him to madness.

Subsequently, only Miranda can save Spock's sanity with her mental abilities. The character analysis lies within Jones getting past the fact Spock has communicated with Kollos, with whom she previously shared exclusive mental intimacy. Some of the dialog works, but there's no clear train of thought, resulting in a ponderous mess.

Previous episode: And the Children Shall Lead
Next episode: Spectre of the Gun

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12 comments on this review

Mike - Wed, Aug 13, 2008 - 12:19pm (USA Central)
"Is there no truth..." is better than 2 stars. The narrative doesn't feel 'all over the map' to me, so that might be one reason I don't have a problem with it. The 'love story' ends early because the guy dies...but he led them outside the galaxy so they need help getting back. Simple enough and I don't see the problem (except for the stupid 'galaxy barrier' thing).

The music is extraordinary, as is some of the outrageous direction - the extensive use of wide-angle, the crazy zooms, and the like. Both music and aspects of the direction recall the great early 60s French avant-garde film "Last Year at Marienbad", and I'm stunned that a 1960s American television series would reference such an avant-garde film. This doesn't even mention the great acting by Nimoy, and some enjoyable scenery chewing from Shatner.
Strider - Mon, Jun 25, 2012 - 10:37am (USA Central)
I agree with Mike; it's better than 2--maybe 3. I like it when entities possess Spock's body and we get to see a new use of Spock's face and body language. Also, who can blame Miranda for being insecure around SPOCK, for goodness' sake? He was offered the job first and turned it down, and she was 2nd choice--who wouldn't be threatened by that?

I did think the whole "so ugly you'll go crazy" premise was stupid--why can't the alien just be of a form that people can't see without physiological damage? Why insert value judgments such as ugly into it?

And I also don't quite understand why people couldn't look upon the toolbox the ambassador was being carried in--I mean, the poor guy couldn't go to dinner with the other VIPs? He'd just have to sit in a chair and make conversation--there were 2 people who could interpret for him.

Paul - Mon, Nov 12, 2012 - 1:50pm (USA Central)
Caught this one in re-runs the other day. I'd probably go a little higher than 2 stars, but it's not a great episode. And there are three reasons for that.

Kirk's behavior in this episode is rather odd. Deciding that it would be best to distract Jones with his male charms was kind of dumb. It was like a parody of Kirk, really.

Also, all the fawning over Jones is just odd. It's like Kirk and McCoy have never seen a woman before!

Lastly, all the hand-wringing about the special visor was really strange. Why not just make sure the box stayed closed? And if it was so dangerous, why did Kirk stay in the transporter room when Spock beamed Kollos out at the end?
Lorene - Fri, Aug 23, 2013 - 10:22am (USA Central)
I thought the concept that physical appearance is the hardest prejudice to overcome was interesting. Miranda's line "Who's to say Karlos is too ugly or too beautiful to behold?" was a good example of the Star Trek philosophical/psychological concepts that the series was unique for.

I also liked the last interchange between Miranda and Spock about diversity is good, and that it is how our differences combine to give life beauty and meaning.
Jo Jo Meastro - Sat, Feb 15, 2014 - 11:53am (USA Central)
To me this was a brilliant, classic episode and I am surprised to see it only got 2 stars.

On the technical side we had absolutely fantastic direction and the whole thing was bursting with colour and style. For once we got some good guest actors with surprisingly complex characters and the plot always kept you captivated without the need of any contrived action.

As for my personal appreciation, I adored that exotic mythological flavour to the episode and scenes like the possessed Spock speaking of the loneliness of our flesh form gave me goosebumps. There's just this wonderful quality to it that I can't quite explain and I loved the philosophical themes.

The only negative was some mild hints of sexism but this can be forgiven in light of the fascinating dimension given to Miranda. I'd go as far as give 4 stars.
Paul - Mon, May 5, 2014 - 4:28pm (USA Central)
This could have been a classic. But there are a lot of weird scenes. The dinner dialog -- where Kirk and McCoy just drool over Miranda -- is quite odd, even for TOS. And, putting all the physical stuff aside, it's not as if Miranda is THAT charming. It's like Kirk and McCoy hadn't seen a woman in five years.

Also, Kirk's decision to distract Miranda while Spock prepares to meld with Kollos is kind of insulting. Miranda was an adult, after all.

The best part of this episode is Nimoy's performance as Kollos.
Markus - Sun, Aug 10, 2014 - 1:39pm (USA Central)
Completely agree with the last two comments. I found it an amazingly good and moving episode, but there are some oddities, especially the sexist-chauvinist behavior and surely this damn galactic barrier and "out of our galaxy"-stuff. Other than that it was great.
William B - Tue, Sep 16, 2014 - 3:27pm (USA Central)
Here's a little ambiguity: what is the question that the title is actually asking? Is it, "Is there no beauty in the the truth, i.e., is the truth ugly?", or "Is there, in reality, no beauty at all?"? In Ode to a Grecian Urn, Keats says that truth is beauty and beauty is truth -- that is all. In the episode proper, the point is raised that it's a bias that humans have, going back to the Greeks, that beauty and goodness are intertwined. I think the episode might well be ponderous as Jammer suggests -- but I find it very interesting, being basically a series of reflections on the relationship, if any, between those core concepts of truth, beauty and goodness.

Dr. Miranda Jones, whose name refers to Prospero's daughter in The Tempest, is a beautiful woman who chooses to communicate with a hideously ugly, but intellectually superior, alien Kollos of the Medusans. At different times, she is romantically courted by several human men -- Garvick, most notably, but also to a degree Kirk, as well as McCoy who also lusts after her. (For his part, Scotty seems way more interested in Garvick, in a dynamic that almost plays like a proto-Geordi/Leah Brahms relationship with lots of discomfort.) Kollos is an alien so different from humans that human conceptions of consciousness and values seem not to function around him; he is a being of pure abstraction. In other episodes, like in "Metamorphosis" or "Return to Tomorrow," beings that are significantly different from corporeal humans are revealed to be able to connect to humans on a personal level, even so, especially once they take on the form of flesh. But with Kollos, even his brief period of possessing Spock leads only to a momentary connection before he passes back into his box forever. He is remote.

Here's how I read Miranda, then. Like many professionals and intellectuals, Miranda feels that she has to choose between a career of scientific and intellectual study and a life involving the heart and body. Both Kirk and Garvick suggest that she will ultimately be unfulfilled by a life bonding with Kollos, but the possibility that she might reasonably be able to do both -- to have human relationships with humans, and to practice the type of mental discipline required to understand Kollos and his abstract, intellectual being, and translate his knowledge to the rest of humanity -- is basically out of the question. With Kollos, Miranda can access "truths," about engineering in particular, that humans mostly don't have access to. But in exchange she loses touch with human notions of living. I think that this is a *particularly* resonant story idea with respect to women; there have been long strides since the sixties, but I think that it's still much harder for women to have both career and marriage, probably because of the emotional/caretaking role women are expected to have in a relationship, skills which don't always match up easily with the intellectual and energy demands of a hardcore academic/research career. Miranda is choosing the pursuit of truth over the pursuit of beauty, and she has a bunch of men whose entire *job* it is to seek out new life and so on telling her she should give beauty another shot and, hopefully, give up this silly truth thing.

Kollos is deeply, deeply ugly. Beauty is associated pretty clearly with humanity -- but more to the point, *human* conceptions of beauty are incredibly biased to humanity, but it's also a bias that humans are going to have difficulty getting over. On some level, our moral judgments are based at least a little bit on aesthetics, on what seems right, and on what looks natural and normal. When dealing with something really genuinely alien, really totally out of the range of normal experience, is it possible to be open-minded enough to accept that "ugliness" without judgment?

I think the episode's sort of scattershot approach to examining these themes makes a little more sense when we zoom out and see how elements introduced in one part of the story come out on another. The theme of jealousy, for example, first manifests in Garvick's human murderous jealousy at the fact that Miranda is being taken away from him by Kollos. Then in the second half of the story, after Spock has connected with Kollos and may die at any moment, it's Miranda's more subtle, and less obviously destructive, jealousy of Spock's intellectual ability to commune with Kollos that forms the basis of the main conflict. Jealousy, we learn, can take many forms. And Kirk insists that Miranda's jealousy is a kind of ugliness much worse than Kollos', and in so doing once again links goodness and beauty in a more metaphoric way -- but it's a link that also jolts her out of her shaky commitment to saving Spock, partly, I think, because Kirk has managed to find a truth about her which is itself ugly. The truth is associated with ugliness throughout the episode, including, at the end, *moral* ugliness, but taking glimpses at that truth is ultimately what saves the day, whether it's Spock carefully melding with Kollos to bring the ship back into the galaxy, Miranda accepting her human limitations that she can't fly a space ship, and Miranda noting and forgiving herself for her jealousy of Spock so that she can get over it enough to help him with all her effort and self.

That Miranda is blind and also psychic has certain mythological connotations (check out, for example, the TV Tropes page for Blind Seer), and her blindness is what cuts her off from human notions of beauty even as her telepathy (...is this the only pure human who's telepathic? I guess Riker had some degree of telepathic contact with Troi for like twenty seconds in "Encounter at Farpoint") puts her into close contact with the uncomfortable, ugly truths of the psyches of all around her. She's a lot like Tam Elbrum from TNG's "Tin Man," who also finds himself drawn to a strange alien as an alternative to the overstimulation of the minds of those around him. The whole thing is poignant -- she shuts herself off to "beauty," which is to say, human notions of what is "good" and "right" in an effort to become a pure academic, studying "truth" in form with Kollos. But even there, she's got human limitations, and she knows that her bonding with Kollos will never be as complete as Spock's. That she stays committed to her intellectual connection with Kollos even while knowing that it'll be incomplete is a minor tragedy, while also in a sense uplifting -- she's a professional woman who is not swayed from her goal, and I actually wonder if she's the best, most interesting one-off female character in the Original Series, with Edith Keeler and the Romulan Commander from "The Enterprise Incident" as the main competitors.

Miranda is an interesting mirror for Spock, who also finds himself cut off from humanity and compensates for it with intellectualism and even a strong rejection of human notions; but like Miranda, he's still human enough to have human biases and human "ugliness" within him, which keeps him apart from his fully Vulcan side. I think the episode doesn't necessarily plumb the depths of the Spock/Miranda parallels as far as they go, but there is something special about these two. Miranda reflects the no doubt large amount of Trek fanbase who basically *want* to be Spock, want to be Vulcans, and yet find their human frailties get in the way; for her to be able to accept that, yes, she finds herself jealous of Spock for being born (half-)Vulcan, but that she will still devote herself entirely to saving him, is an impressive demonstration of the redemptive power of forgiving oneself for being imperfect yet still trying one's best. And I think that's a lesson that Spock, so intent on denying his human side much of the time (though by this point in the series he's a little more cool with it, I think) can learn.

I think the episode is still a little strange, and somewhat low-key. But I like it quite a bit, and find it moving in an odd way. I would probably go for 3 stars.
Andy's Friend - Tue, Sep 16, 2014 - 4:25pm (USA Central)
John Adams to Thomas Jefferson
September the 2nd, 1813

"Now, my Friend, who are the άριστοι [aristocrats]? Philosophy may Answer "The Wise and Good." But the World, Mankind, have by their practice always answered, "the rich the beautiful and well born." And Philosophers themselves in marrying their Children prefer the rich the handsome and the well descended to the wise and good.

What chance have Talents and Virtues in competition, with Wealth and Birth? and Beauty?

[...]

The five Pillars of Aristocracy, are Beauty Wealth, Birth, Genius and Virtues. Any one of the three first, can at any time over bear any one or both of the two last.

Let me ask again, what a Wave of publick Opinion, in favour of Birth has been spread over the Globe, by Abraham, by Hercules, by Mahomet, by Guelphs, Ghibellines, Bourbons, and a miserable Scottish Chief Steuart? By Zingis by, by, by, a million others? And what a Wave will be spread by Napoleon and by Washington? Their remotest Cousins will be sought and will be proud, and will avail themselves of their descent. Call this Principle, Prejudice, Folly Ignorance, Baseness, Slavery, Stupidity, Adulation, Superstition or what you will. I will not contradict you. But the Fact, in natural, moral, political and domestic History I cannot deny or dispute or question.

And is this great Fact in the natural History of Man? This unalterable Principle of Morals, Philosophy, Policy domestic felicity, and dayly Experience from the Creation; to be overlooked, forgotten neglected, or hypocritically waived out of Sight; by a Legislator? By a professed Writer upon civil Government, and upon Constitutions of civil Government?

You may laugh at the introduction of Beauty, among the Pillars of Aristocracy. But Madame Barry says Le veritable Royauté est la B[e]autee [true royalty is beauty], and there is not a more certain Truth. Beauty, Grace, Figure, Attitude, Movement, have in innumerable Instances prevailed over Wealth, Birth, Talents Virtues and every thing else, in Men of the highest rank, greatest Power, and sometimes, the most exalted Genius, greatest Fame, and highest Merit."

I could not agree more.

Your opening question is an excellent one, William. All I can answer is that there is, in Truth, beauty. And that there is, in truth, Beauty.
Andy's Friend - Tue, Sep 16, 2014 - 5:18pm (USA Central)
[...and why did you have to comment on the one and only season of all Star Trek I don't have on DVD?!... :) I haven't seen this one in quite a while (about five-six years), so I'm sorry, but I am at a loss for anything to say about this particular episode. I remember it as one of the better or best of the season, along with "All Our Yesterdays", but that's unfortunately all. However, Edith Keeler doesn't necessarily strike as the best one-off female character from TOS. As I don't have S3 on DVD I can't even remember "The Enterprise Incident" nor the Romulan commander you mention; I personally think more of Vina from "The Menagerie" and Andrea from "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", and, for very personal reasons, Droxine from "The Cloud Minders", my earliest Star Trek memory, when I was six years old, and the very episode that made me an overnight fan of Star Trek. Keeler is of course memorable, but that is also because the episode is very much so, too; but I personally find Vina's and Andrea's situations far more interesting. I'm not talking about acting skills or lines of dialogue, but the sheer weight of the situation; I've always had a great deal of sympathy both for Vina and Andrea. Needless to say, "The Menagerie" and "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" are two of my favorite TOS episodes. But "Is There In Truth No Beauty?" is one of the few from S3 I can actually vaguely remember, and favourably at that, so I'm guessing I'd give it three stars just like you would.]
Andy's Friend - Tue, Sep 16, 2014 - 5:48pm (USA Central)
@William B.: About your opening question: I did a quick search, and this is what I found:

Jordan (I)
from "The Temple" (1633), by George Herbert (1593-1633)

"Who says that fictions only and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
May no lines pass, except they do their duty
Not to a true, but painted chair?

Is it no verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbours shadow coarse-spun lines?
Must purling streams refresh a lover's loves?
Must all be veil'd, while he that reads, divines,
Catching the sense at two removes?

Shepherds are honest people; let them sing;
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for prime;
I envy no man's nightingale or spring;
Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,
Who plainly say, my God, my King.


[from eNotes.com:]

"Herbert's "Jordan (I)" is very difficult to understand because understanding the poem depends completely upon understanding the allusions that pepper the poem, the allusions that are scattered throughout. Remembering that Herbert was a devout Christian Anglican and minister, after resigning his parliamentary career, it is easier to understand the first and central allusion in the title: Jordan. There are two "Jordan" poems and both discuss writing poetry.

"Jordan" is thought by most critics to allude to the Jordan River that is important to the people of Israel in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old, the people of Israel cross the Jordan to get to the "promised land," and, in the New, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan at the beginning of his ministry. The general opinion, then, is that Herbert is setting up a poem about the divinely inspired potential of poetry as being regenerative and as giving renewal, if, that is, poetry could stop being what he saw it as presently being, which was that poetry was false.


"Who says that fictions only and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?"

In the first stanza, Herbert contrasts the Jordan allusion--the potential for poetry to give spiritual renewal--to poetry that is fictitious, false and artificial. There is debate about some of his allusions in this stanza but he seems to be invoking images of sonnets to loved ones who have artificial beauty (false hair) and images of poems that praise this falseness; he seems to be lamenting this falseness in persons and in poetry: "Is there in truth no beauty?" He seems to criticize the structure of poetry, compare it to a winding, circular staircase and suggesting poetic structure is overly complicated. He seems to suggest that in poetry reality is embellished, that it can't be plain reality: "Not to a true, but painted chair?"

It is clear now how allusion is present in every line and through the allusions in the second stanza, Herbert seems to be criticizing poetic conventions and cliches. Many critics take "enchanted groves" as an allusion to the convention of pastoral poetry that praises the rural lives of shepherds and shepherdesses. Herbert seems to see this as part of the falseness of poetic convention and cliched lines, like "purling streams refresh a lover's loves." Ironically, since Herbert is considered a metaphysical poet, the last two lines seem to criticize the conceits of metaphysical poems, which make unusual comparisons between two things to arrive at one truth.

The third stanza alludes, again, to pastorals and to the second stanza itself. He is suggesting that while pastoral poems may go too far from reality, shepherds are themselves "honest people" who should sing as they like. Yet, he says that he rejects poems with riddles to solve and cliched phrases, like "nightingale or spring." The last two lines seem ambiguous to critics. Some say they allude to Herbert who wants to write plain, straightforward poetry. This explanation seems unlikely to other critics who suggest Herbert is further criticizing poets who drop rhyming and write in plain lines without rhyme: "Who plainly say, my God, my King."

This latter opinion makes a good deal of sense as it accords with the syntax of the three lines: envy no man, let them, who. It also accords with what we know of Herbert's poems, which speak honest truth but surely do not do it in a plain and straightforward way."

It's past midnight here in Scandinavia as I'm writing this and I'm frankly tired, and as I said I haven't seen the episode for years, so I won't even try to say anything meaningful, and just leave the interpretation up to you. What do you make of the poem, and how does it relate to the episode, in your opinion?
Dave in NC - Tue, Sep 16, 2014 - 6:57pm (USA Central)
@ Andy's Friend

That is a good poem. Thanks for sharing.

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