Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"Plato's Stepchildren"

***

Air date: 11/22/1968
Written by Meyer Dolinsky
Directed by David Alexander

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

As we all know, "Plato's Stepchildren" is most commonly remembered for providing television's first interracial kiss. All well and good, but how does the story stand up? Actually, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this fairly nondescript premise, in which Parmen (Liam Sullivan), a tyrannical leader of a small community of people with telekinetic abilities, decides he wants McCoy to stay against his will on this planet as their doctor. Story execution here is key.

After Kirk's initial defiance of Parmen comes a telekinetically induced humiliation brought to Kirk and Spock that is surprisingly well played. The degree of Parmen's villain factor is multiplied by tenfold when Uhura and Chapel are beamed down as players in a degrading entertainment spectacle alongside Kirk and Spock. What's particularly nice about this episode is that the plot falls together logically, and the characters' reactions to their predicament shows sensible thinking and quiet ingenuity. McCoy's way of fighting back makes sense and is applied with a cool head. Meanwhile, Alexander (Michael Dunn), the community's most often abused, turns out to be a deeper-than-expected source of sympathy—someone with a great deal of moral integrity.

The problem is that the episode lets its villain off way too easily. As Kirk says, Parmen is very good at making speeches, and given the extent of his cruelty, letting it all slide at the end lacks justice. A more satisfying ending would've found a way to strip Parmen of his telekinetic powers, thereby administering, without turning to vengeance or violence, a rational comeuppance.

Previous episode: The Tholian Web
Next episode: Wink of an Eye

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5 comments on this review

Strider - Thu, Jun 28, 2012 - 1:54am (USA Central)
I agree about the ending, but the remarkable thing about this episode seems to go unremarked everywhere. In the scene after the first set of humiliations, where Spock almost stomped on Kirk's head, then was made to laugh and cry--provoking McCoy's most vehement objection in the episode. Spock asks Jim if he feels anger, and Jim says yes. He asks McCoy, and he says yes, and hatred. Then Spock says that he, too, feels anger and hatred, and while they must channel theirs, he must master his. Then he crushes a stone sculpture.

Spock is all too aware that he could have been made by forces out of his control to kill Jim. He's already been there once--during the ponn farr. Add that to the humiliation of his own treatment and the misery of seeing Kirk degraded--that's about as close to an explosion from Spock that we've seen, at least while he's in his right mind. It was good writing, and stunningly well-played by Nimoy.
Paul - Mon, Dec 17, 2012 - 2:15pm (USA Central)
@Strider:

Totally agree. Shatner's good in this one, too. His dialog with Alexander is dead on and is more akin to Kirk from the first two seasons.

Agreed that Parmen was let off the hook too easily. But I had another thought: Couldn't Kirk and Spock retain their telekinetic abilities after they left (assuming they kept taking kironide)? The episode doesn't say that the powers are only usable on that planet.
Brundledan - Thu, May 30, 2013 - 2:28am (USA Central)
Hateful.

Hateful.

Hateful.

There aren't enough words in the dictionary to describe "Plato's Stepchildren". It is fifty minutes of pure, sadistic humiliation of our lead characters. The third season had its share of stinkers, but this is the only one of them that makes me wish the series had been yanked from the network schedule before the ep had a chance to air.

I can only imagine how many Trekkies who had worked so hard to get the show renewed sat in front of their televisions in slack-jawed horror that Friday night in November 1968, watching Kirk slap himself silly for thirty seconds and wondering what they had written all of those letters for.

Hateful.

(Even the interracial kiss this monstrous thing is known for isn't real. The shot is framed to obscure the fact that Shatner's and Nichols' lips don't actually touch.)
moonie - Wed, Mar 19, 2014 - 3:10pm (USA Central)
Terrible.
Jo Jo Meastro - Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - 10:35am (USA Central)
From what I can gather, this episode is very polarising amongst fans. I feel conflicted about what I make of it because its such a bizzare mixture of hilarious camp, genuinely uncomfortable dark content and a satisfying degree of thoughtfulness. Sometimes its all these things at once! I think it works in the end, even if you'll ask yourself what the hell am I watching on more than a few occasions (it reminds me of Lexx in that regard)!

I'm surprised that barely on-screen kiss gets so much recognition instead of the line about colour or shape or size aren't important and the depth and strength given to a perceived disabled character. That stood out the most for me, the kiss was too shy and self-conscious to really transcend the era imho.

I'll give this one a 2.5 stars for being unique and a well done adventure despite some OTT silliness along the way.

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