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.
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