Star Trek: The Original Series

"Whom Gods Destroy"


Air date: 1/3/1969
Teleplay by Lee Erwin
Story by Lee Erwin and Jerry Sohl
Directed by Herb Wallerstein

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Kirk and Spock beam down to the Elba II penal colony to deliver a new medicine that may cure the insane patients who are imprisoned there. Unfortunately, the megalomaniacal Garth (Steve Ihnat), one of the insane who was once a starship captain, has other plans and takes them prisoner. Garth subsequently uses his ability to change his physical form and masquerade as Kirk, planning to take Kirk's place as the Enterprise captain.

If you accept the magical plot concept of a human who has acquired the ability to shapeshift (complete with the proper clothes, etc.), you might find this episode somewhat entertaining. The Dual Kirk Plot is a cliche, but Garth nevertheless makes a good villain, torturing the colony administrator and launching into fury after his plan is halted via Kirk's "chess game" security.

Some of this is hopelessly corny and overplayed, especially Shatner's take on the Garth-as-Kirk tantrum. But I did at times enjoy Ihnat's character, as he pronounces himself "Lord of the Universe" and, in one particularly cruel scene, blows up Marta (Yvonne Craig), his own partner in crime. But, insane or not, Garth gets off too easy. It all bears very little scrutiny, but the lively glib entertainment level keeps the show afloat.

Previous episode: Elaan of Troyius
Next episode: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

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7 comments on this review

Thu, Apr 10, 2014, 2:31am (UTC -5)
This episode reminded me of the two episodes involving the quartet of mental health patients Dr. Bashir treated on DS9. Either way, I found this episode entertaining, in part because of the interesting makeup and costumes worn by some of the guest characters, as well as the redressed Enterprise set.
Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 4:41pm (UTC -5)
The maniacal Lord Garth was, in my opinion, a better and more memorable villain than was Khan in Space Seed. A shapeshifting nutcase bent on universal domination? That would be an interesting character to re-visit.
Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 8:48am (UTC -5)
This really could have been a great episode, because there are some good ideas -- and it's kind of cool to see Kirk and Spock SO totally out of control. Even the hammy performances by some of the guest stars can be explained by the fact that they're playing crazy people.

My main complaint has to do with how the Enterprise is completely incapable of rendering assistance. McCoy and Scotty have some dialog about what they could do -- but I find it hard to believe that the protective field would need to be so big to secure 15 people on a barren planet.

This is also an episode that doesn't quite fit with Star Trek history. Dialog from Kirk, Garth and Spock seems to indicate that a war within recent years -- where Kirk and Garth fought -- helped forge (or at least strengthen?) the Federation. This is in contrast to a lot of TOS history, not the least of which Carol Marcus's line from Star Trek II about how Starfleet had kept the peace for 100 years.

Finally, Kirk and Spock should have been able to find a way to foil Garth in the control room without needing a fight. Spock could have asked Kirk the first weapon used in "Amok Time," or countless details that are likely not kept in any official recording.

William B
Mon, Nov 3, 2014, 4:00am (UTC -5)
If there's an interesting idea in "Whom Gods Destroy," it's that certain temperaments may make a person great in one set of circumstances and horrible in another. Garth seems to have gone completely insane as a result of an injury, but one thing that the episode does return to at a few points is that Garth's megalomania may once have been ambition, his total instability a milder kind of restlessness, his irrationality bravery. In times of war, when there were external foes to throw himself against, Garth may not only have been more able to function, but if we believe Kirk and Spock, was even an incredible, important man, doing great work, essentially fighting for the possibility of a new era of peace which, as it turns out, he would not be able to function in. If we read his insanity in those terms, of a man who never quite recovers from "war injuries" and from the type of thinking that goes along with constant battle, Garth comes a bit more into focus.

Another thing that I do find interesting about Garth is one of the problems when talking about insanity: what exactly does it mean to "cure" someone of insanity? It's one thing if a person has thoughts and feelings that they very much do not want, or are unable to function in certain respects that they can recognize. But Garth believes that those around him, those peaceful people around him, are cowards, and that his hyper-aggressive hyper-expansionism is the only "true" way to live. The problem there is that certain types of madness are such that those caught within it cannot see themselves as mad, which does not actually mean that they aren't mad; it's clear that even setting aside the immorality of Garth's philosophy, his ambitions are out of touch with reality. Still: it's my understanding that there is some correlation between certain kinds of mental illness and certain kinds of creativity and intelligence, and so there is an open question of how much is lost in administering the medicine to Garth. Given that Garth is, while still crazy, a dangerous, murderous psychotic, it's not as if I'm advocating letting him loose. But it's hard to know how to read the way Garth responds with his memory wiped, with a docile kind of confusion, at the episode's end; I don't know if we're supposed to view this as hopeful, or recognize that something of what made Garth of Izar a war hero has probably been crushed in this particular medical treatment, administered against his will. Given that he's as dangerous as he is, even in a cell, it's maybe the least bad option. The episode is maybe still intended to show us a Garth who seems like he can function properly, and for us to cheer on the miracle of one day having cured mental illnesses entirely, but I have doubts.

Other thoughts, somewhat scattered: a lot of this episode really is just watching crazy people be crazy, and crazy as in: violent, psychotic, emotionally unstable, destructive in a way that suggests some self-destructive impulses. After the molasses-slow pacing in "Elaan of Troyius," it's nice to get something of higher energy. There is something effective in the way Garth and Marta turn on the ones they seem to be attracted to -- Garth killing Marta, Marta nearly stabbing Kirk. Spock's not wrong, in pointing out that it ensures that Marta ensuring that killing Kirk would ensure that no one else could have him; and I think something similar might be going on with Garth, who maybe kills Marta just to prove how horrible he is, maybe does it to guilt Kirk as much as possible, and maybe does it because Marta seemed to be genuinely attracted to Kirk. I also really like Spock's explanation of how he planned to take down the winner of the Kirk v. Kirk (Garth) duel. That Garth names Kirk his potential successor, and spends so much time in Kirk's guise, and that Kirk ends up as a romantic rival of sorts for Marta's affections, make it worth thinking about whether Kirk has something of Garth in him; Kirk is, after all, the person capable of fighting war, with an adventurous spirit and an ego somewhat inflated by command, who holds some similar ability to deceive and trick his opponents that Garth does. The difference, of course, is balance -- Kirk keeps these elements of his under control, rather than letting his understandable and healthy high self-esteem that comes with the responsibility of commanding a starship run away from him into ultra-solipsism. And part of the reason is that he has Spock -- Spock, who prioritizes logic, is the opposite of the deeply irrational Garth and Marta, and Kirk's use of logic and his openness to Spock's sound and logical advice is what keeps Kirk grounded in reality.

It's still a bit thin -- I've said a bit about it, but on some of it I feel like I'm reaching, more than usual. But it is entertaining and kind of weirdly effective. I think that 2.5 stars sounds right.
Mon, Sep 26, 2016, 12:20am (UTC -5)
I always wondered: if insanity is so easily treated and cured in the TOS universe, why was it always treated so seriously when a character was insane or went insane, or the possibility of being driven insane came up. After all, it seems like now only a temporary condition.
Fri, Jul 7, 2017, 2:19pm (UTC -5)
Fairly simple plot with some interesting scenes (Spock having to pick the right Kirk) as well as a great guest performance from Steve Ihnat as Garth -- really portrays the psychotic megalomaniac well. Marta was also an interesting character.

The story behind Garth is an interesting one I think - the man's clearly supposed to be a genius given all the praise Kirk heaps on him. But his quest for glory leads to some kind of accident and then he apparently tries to destroy a race and then, understandably, there's the mutiny of his crew. Might make an good episode on its own.

I wonder if the Antos race was ever picked up on by later Trek series as far as shapeshifters. Obviously with DS9, there's Odo but he's completely different.

Not too much to say about "Whom Gods Destroy" - good enough to get to 2.5 stars though. More fun with penal colonies like "Dagger of the Mind" -- a bit of humiliation as in "Plato's Stepchildren" and a pretty convincing psycho hell bent on conquering the universe.
Daniel B
Mon, Jul 17, 2017, 3:11am (UTC -5)
Beam-up passwords are like the subcutaneous transponders from Patterns of Force. Why not always use them? Sure was convenient they happened to institute them for this case when they had no idea they'd be needed ahead of time.

And then Spock was made a moron for not being able to figure out who is who.

And the middle third of the episode really drags. The hall of fools dinner scene is crap.

And yet I somehow liked this episode. It's not great but it's a neat little twist at the beginning and Garth is a very memorable character. And in Spock's favor he gets an understated character moment. Garth is ludicrously insisting he be addressed as "Lord". Spock simply shrugs and deadpans "as you wish" and calls him Lord Garth after that instead of stubbornly holding to a "you are not X therefore I will not call you X" principle. Garth looks partly disappointed and partly amused.

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