Star Trek: The Original Series

"Whom Gods Destroy"

2.5 stars

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 cliché, 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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27 comments on this post

Alex
Thu, Apr 10, 2014, 2:31am (UTC -6)
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.
dgalvan
Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 4:41pm (UTC -6)
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.
Paul
Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 8:48am (UTC -6)
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 -6)
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.
Outsider65
Mon, Sep 26, 2016, 12:20am (UTC -6)
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.
Rahul
Fri, Jul 7, 2017, 2:19pm (UTC -6)
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 -6)
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.
Jerry H
Sun, Nov 12, 2017, 1:19am (UTC -6)
My TOS buddies can't understand why this episode is in my top 10.

The answer is plain and simple - it contains 3 of the most compelling and entertaining scenes of all time. All 3 take place in the control room:

1. Garth as Kirk attempts to beam up when Scotty issues the "Queen to Kings level 3" directive

2. Garth as Spock and the real Kirk attempt to beam up when Kirk becomes suspicious

3. Garth as Kirk and the real Kirk are confronted by Spock who is confused as to the identity of the real Kirk.

Unfortunately the rest of the episode is fairly weak filler although Steve Ihnat, who plays Garth does a masterful acting job. If those same 3 scenes were used in a more meaningful plot, we'd be talking about the #1 ranked episode by far.
Trent
Wed, Nov 22, 2017, 7:33pm (UTC -6)
I agree with Jerry above; this episode - like much of season 3 - has fantastic and intriguing ideas, and little scenes which rank amongst Trek's best, but just can't quite manage to pull together a completely good script. Tweak this script and jettison the filler and you'd have a neat game of cat and mouse.
Tanner
Fri, Dec 1, 2017, 7:00am (UTC -6)
Spock could have just stunned both of them. Where were all the other inmates after Spock neck-pinched those two? Surely Garth would have had orders to protect him at all times? Yeah, this planet has an impenetrable force field around itself? If that's possible, then why isn't Earth so protected? That would have been handy.
Trek fan
Sun, Dec 3, 2017, 8:57pm (UTC -6)
I absolutely love this episode, it's so much fun. But "Whom Gods Destroy" is also a thoughtful examination of the thin line between genius and insanity. I give it 3 1/2 or maybe 4 stars.

One thing I appreciate is that "Gods" teases the "take over the Enterprise" trope without actually carrying it out -- it's much more fun to spend the episode inside Crazy Town, where Garth is the mayor, than to devolve into a more standard ship takeover plot. Steve Ihnat is extraordinarily entertaining as Garth and his fellow inmates/cronies, drawn from the Federation's major races, are likewise colorful -- especially Marta. The bizarre banquet scene hints that Garth's crew may actually be incapable of carrying out the ship takeover even on the best of days, but we still feel Kirk and Spock are in danger because the nuts are so deeply insane.

As has been occurring with the most ridiculous scenarios throughout Season Three, Spock has some great deadpan moments in this one, especially his delicious response to the two Kirks in front of him. Nimoy and Shatner -- especially when Garth is impersonating him -- really shine in this one. I also like how Kirk devised the sign-counter sign with Scotty before beaming down, as his voice and/or likeness have been impersonated in so many episodes by this point that it's nice to see the series learning from its own history.

I also love how Garth's cure at the end makes it clear that he was simply "off his meds" during the story and had no memory of his actions. That's an utterly charming and unexpected angle for Trek: Sometimes people are evil just because they're having a bad meds day. But even off his meds, Garth is threatening enough to maintain tension in the story, and moments like his killing of Marta make it clear that he's a threat even when he's delusional about things like forming a fleet of allies with the Enterprise. This episode quite effectively plays off the universal fear of being trapped in an asylum run by the inmates, but maintains a sense of skewed fun throughout the runtime.

In some ways, this episode recalls the strong Season One episode "Dagger of the Mind," although that was about psychiatric experiments on high-security prison inmates whereas "Gods" is simply about a mental institution. Kirk even ends up in a psychiatric torture chair in both episodes. But while I like Helen Noel and the whole story of "Dagger" quite a bit, I find James Gregory's prison psychiatrist villain to be a bit unconvincing, as his motivation for being evil is never once made clear. One thing we can say for "Gods" over "Dagger" is that Garth's megolamania is always clearly motivated by psychiatric instability, and yet the story ends with some sympathy for him. Kudos to the screenplay for maintaining some realism in the midst of all the nuttiness of "Gods," hinting at deeper complexities beneath the character actions.
peet
Mon, Aug 13, 2018, 12:23pm (UTC -6)
I get annoyed with the passwords-of-the-week that come and go as needed.
peet
Mon, Aug 13, 2018, 12:44pm (UTC -6)
...Also annoyed when "Insane" is used as a kind of catch-all term for any and all wacky behavior and it always involves thinking you're Napoleon. The nature of Garth's madness is never really explained. Also I would have enjoyed him "waking up" more so we could see him sane.
peet
Mon, Aug 13, 2018, 12:52pm (UTC -6)
Though I have to say I really love this episode, mostly because it frightened me as a child. And Garth and Marta do come off as tragic. A few really memorable lines. I love how Spock manages to endure all the illogic of the situation. I was really looking forward to the Anaxar fan film until it got shut down after Paramount/CBS(?) decided it was getting too big for its britches, as "Sane Garth" was a character in it.
Startrekwatcher
Wed, Feb 20, 2019, 11:59pm (UTC -6)
2 stars. Idea in principle for this episode is a potentially interesting one but the actual story executed around it fizzles. The best part were some of the inmates
Springy
Wed, May 29, 2019, 11:16pm (UTC -6)
One of the absolute worst. Repetitive and mind numbingly boring, with cringe worthy acting.

Bottom of the barrel. I envm


I would watch it again if you paid me, but only if you paid me. At least $25.
Sarjenka's Brother
Sat, Aug 31, 2019, 8:32pm (UTC -6)
I'm sorry Garth killed Batgirl.

She was fun crazy.
Sleeper Agent
Mon, May 4, 2020, 3:38am (UTC -6)
SPOCK: Please forgive me, but exactly where is your fleet?
GARTH: Out there waiting for me. They will flock to my cause, and for good reason. Limitless power, limitless wealth, and solar systems ruled by the elite. We, gentlemen, are that elite, and we must take what is rightfully ours from the decadent weaklings that now hold it.

Boom! The first true barn burner of Season 3. Love it, absolutely love it.

IV of IV
Sen-Sors
Mon, May 4, 2020, 5:02pm (UTC -6)
Party on, Garth
Chris Two
Tue, May 19, 2020, 9:47am (UTC -6)
I had completely forgotten this episode since the last time I watched it, and now I know why. It's utterly over-acted, cringe-worthy dreck. Very reminiscent of Dagger of the Mind, even down to Kirk being strapped in a chair and having his brain scrambled. And at the end, why doesn't Spock just stun them both? It's an excuse to get Kirk to fight himself. Half a star, only because of the (really tame) Orion slave girl dance getting it banned by the BBC.
chrismypro
Sun, May 24, 2020, 4:39pm (UTC -6)
I cant recall any other episode where a beam up password was used. And at the very last scene, when the real Kirk asks for a beam up, Scotty won’t ask for the password anymore.

How convenient...

Other than that, I loved some of Spock’s lines (“where exactly is your fleet?”), plus the fact that at the dance scene he looked utterly bored.
Trish
Tue, Oct 27, 2020, 7:25pm (UTC -6)
I have long thought that Voyager's writers missed an opportunity to make use of Spock's line about Vulcan children dancing in nursery school. When Neelix pleaded with Tuvok to dance, Tuvok should have said he had not had need of such an exercise since early childhood.

I can see how dance could be an exercise in physical and mental discipline and might speak to the Vulcan sense of structure.
Trish
Tue, Oct 27, 2020, 8:00pm (UTC -6)
Another observation:

This watching was the first time I recall noticing that in a few, mostly solo shots, Marta's green color is more vivid and covers not only her skin but also her teeth and the whites of her eyes, while in most shots in which she appears with other characters, it looks more like a relatively drab color only on her skin.

I wonder, did they change their mind about how to produce the green skin effect partway through shooting, and didn't bother to reshoot the scenes already in the can?
LandoSystem
Wed, Oct 28, 2020, 1:03am (UTC -6)
@Trish, my best guess is that in certain shots they lit her with a green light.
Mal
Wed, Jan 13, 2021, 8:13am (UTC -6)
Prelude to Axanar

The Four Years War Part III

Mal’s review before Jammer's


“Yeah sure I’ll tell you. They called me Queen Bitch Whore of the Federation.”

- Captain Sonya Alexander


3 stars (out of 4)


Set about 20 years before the events of "Whom Gods Destroy,” this incredible 21 minute feature tells the story of the the Ambush at Inverness V at which Garth of Izar earned his nom de guerre. The all-star cast is incredible. Tony Todd (Jake Sisko in “The Visitor”) plays Admiral Ramirez, the head of Star Fleet. Todd's stirring speech at Archer stadium more than makes up for the fact that we never actually got to see Captain Archer make a speech in the Enterprise finale.

The feature also stars two nBSG alumni. Richard Hatch (Apollo in the original BSG, Tom Zarek in the reboot) plays the Klingon nemesis. He brings the same underdog anxious gravitas to his role as Klingon Supreme Warlord in “Prelude” as he did as Interim-President of the 12 Colonies on Battlestar Galactica. And the always fun Kate Vernon (Mrs. Ellen Tigh) plays a potty-mouth starfleet captain in exactly the style you hope for. Yes, she even tells us about her drinking!

Rounding out the all-star cast is Soval (Enterprise), played by the original actor from the show, and Martok-actor J. G. Hertzler plays an Admiral and has perhaps one of the funniest lines of the episode: “A Vulcan’s gonna go what a Vulcan’s gonna go. But the Andorians. They were happy to supply us the phasers.” Trust me, his delivery is hilarious!

The action SFX are top notch and clearly take inspiration from nBSG. There is a particular shot of a Klingon battle cruiser descending through the atmosphere that reminded me of Galactica falling through the sky above New Caprica City in Exodus part 2. Here is how @Jammer describes the scene from nBSG,

"In one scene, the Galactica FTL-jumps to a point high in the sky above New Caprica City, does a free fall while on fire.”

I would love to see @Jammer’s review of “Prelude to Axanar.” This feature certainly does a better job than all but the best of TOS season 3 episodes, and more than 90% of ENT and VOY, and it is far superior to all of nuTrek.

In "Whom Gods Destroy," all we learn about Axanar is a quick line from Kirk,

KIRK: I agree there was a time when war was necessary, and you were our greatest warrior. I studied your victory at Axanar when I was a cadet. In fact it's still required reading at the Academy.

GARTH: As well it should be.

I can say without reservation that “Prelude to Axanar” is better than, and will actually enhance your enjoyment of, "Whom Gods Destroy.”

Finally, I absolutely love the uniforms from this time period, a faithful call-back to The Cage. Seeing Garth in his prime, tell you how he earned his named is - without doubt - worth the price of admission.

https://youtu.be/1W1_8IV8uhA
Marcus
Fri, Feb 5, 2021, 5:42pm (UTC -6)
I’ve been re-watching the entire series in order on Netflix thanks to one undercooked bat, and this is the first episode that I found to be a bit lame. I can totally understand why Leonard Nimoy got argumentative with the Director over this one. After all, he was just some vacuum salesman so what would he know!?!

I can imagine that the senior execs at NBC must have been so uncomfortable with a show that totally went against the norms of the time! I mean they were pushing the edge of the known envelope for the 60’s!

I haven’t watched TOS since I was a little kid, and it brings back so much joyous nostalgia for me. I can remember being glued to a small black and white television watching Star Trek after school, and my grandfather walking in. “What are you watching on that gadget?” Star Trek Grampa. “Ahhh git on with you. Why ain’t ya out huntin or fishin? Why during the Great Depression we never had time to...blah, blah blah...”

You know what? Every kid in school knew who Spock was and did the Vulcan salute. Nobody cared what colour your skin was. Nobody could understand why the adults were so terrified of the Russians. Chekhov seemed like an okay dude... And yes, there probably were aliens.

For 1966, this series is awesome. I can’t believe they came up with this on min wage and no budget. Spock without a doubt is the best First Officer in Starfleet. Scotty is always going to have your back in a bar fight. He’s all in, all the time. I mean did he really lead 120 men off Juno beach and get shot 3 times? Who wouldn’t want Bones for their doctor? Sulu at the helm? Uhuru on the comms? And Kirk? Nope, your best is not good enough. I want that third option!

My wife says I don’t have enough emotions, but I’ll tell you guys what. When Shatner goes, I’m going to go where nobody can see me, and have a damn good cry...
Bob
Fri, Feb 5, 2021, 7:56pm (UTC -6)
I don't like the "We're here to deliver magical anti-crazy pills" set-up, and there are some other nitpicks like the costuming and makeup, but it's a fairly entertaining hour.

Dream casting for LORD Garth? Vincent Price. He was doing tv work by then and he would have owned that role.

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