"...human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.”
--E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
Fatima. 49 years before Star Trek first went on the air.
Roswell. 19 years before Star Trek first went on the air.
(I believe that will be the last time I attempt to paraphrase Shakespeare.)
39 years before Star Trek first went on the air.
14 years before Star Trek first went on the air.
Now, all those biblical allusions doesn't necessarily mean that Star Trek was a faith-based show. Several episodes seem rather critical of religion. Not Christian, Jewish, or Islamic religions, but fictional alien religions. Safer that way, easier to get past NBC's Standards and Practices. Still, these episodes offered lessons that could be applied to real-world creeds. In "The Return of the Archons" the Enterprise visits a planet that looks like it's still in the 19th century (19th century Atlanta, to be exact; the episode was filmed on the same set as Gone with the Wind.) The smiling, wide-eyed citizens, however, look more like 1950s Jehovah Witnesses who have run out of doors to knock. They considers themselves part of "the Body" (the wafers they serve at a Catholic Mass?), and worship a seldom-seen deity named Landru (God comes to mind.) These grinning zombies are kept in line by the Lawgivers, who dress like monks. Despite the looks of delight, the citizens aren't allowed to think for themselves, or engage in any pursuit of happiness that doesn't involve kissing Landru's absent ass. Except during the Festival, the only time of the year that they're allowed to let their hair down and raise a little hell (Mardi Gras, or...dare I say...Christmas?) It's later revealed that it's actually a millenniums-old computer to which the populace has subjugated its free will (a step up, I suppose, from subjugating one's free will to a millenniums-old book.) "The Return of the Archons" would serve as a template for two similar episodes. There's a tithe in the form of explosive rocks to a computer-God named Vaal in the aforementioned "The Apple" (be very careful when putting them on the collection plate.) "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" has a woman praying to an "oracle", which zaps her with an electronic implant if she disobeys (a step up, I suppose, from the more low-tech but equally implantable sense of guilt.) What makes these episodes different from the cautionary tales of Sinclair Lewis and E.B. White (actually, I'm not so sure the latter is meant to be all that cautionary as the heavenly hoax perpetrated is done for the worthy cause of saving a porker's life) is the role of technology, a somewhat ironic difference. After all, technology is a product of science, and science and religion are generally thought to be at odds with one another. But they can be brought together, especially if you want to pull a fast one on somebody. Christopher Columbus, knowing in advance of an impending lunar eclipse, told a group of natives apparently not all that versed in astronomy that it was a sign that the gods were mad at them for not providing the Genoan explorer and his crews with supplies. Other explorers pulled off similar ruses with natives. Captain James Cook (from whom the name "James Kirk" is derived) was mistaken for a god by a bunch of Hawaiians, and, rather than gently disabuse them of this notion, shot off a bunch of fireworks to prove he indeed was the right deity. Now there was no such religious ruses on Starfleet's behalf in Star Trek, thanks to the Prime Directive, which disallowed it, something that McCoy once bitched about: "Once, just once, I'd like to be able to land someplace and say, 'Behold, I am the Archangel Gabriel!'" Now, in the fifth Star Trek feature film, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew would find themselves in the same predicament as those gullible Hawaiians, minus the palm trees.
72 years before Star Trek first went on the air.
Four years before Star Trek first went on the air.
Mind control. Comes up often in Star Trek. You could say it's right there in the pilot "The Cage" when the Talosians, through the use of illusion, make Captain Pike think that a disfigured woman is a beautiful Rigellian princess, a pretty girl-next-door type on the farm he grew up on, and a sexy, green-skinned Orion. "The Man Trap" and "Spectre of the Gun" also have Enterprise crew members trapped in hallucinations orchestrated by others. However, in these episodes the characters seem to retain their critical thinking skills, which eventually allow them to see through the deceptions. Still, there's plenty of other instances where they do bend to the will of others. In "Charlie X" the title character compels Spock to recite Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven". In "The Return of the Archons" both Sulu and McCoy become senselessly simpering followers of Landru. An alien entity turns Scotty into Jack the Ripper in "Wolf in the Fold". In "Day of the Dove", another alien entity convinces Chekov that the Klingons killed his brother--despite him being an only child! Scotty has a crush on non-regular cast member Mira Romaine in "The Lights of Zetar" and takes it hard when her mind is taken over by an outer space energy storm. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Chekov's mind is taken over by an...eel (eww!) However, it's James Kirk whose free will takes the most beating throughout the series run. In "Dagger of the Mind", he's brainwashed into believing he's madly in love with the starship's psychiatrist. In "A Private Little War", he's brainwashed into falling in love with a female witch doctor. Kirk wipes an aphrodisiacish tear off the face of the title character in "Elaan of Troyius" and, you guessed it, falls madly in love with her. (As for all the women he madly fell in love with in episodes not involving mind control, well, that was just Kirk being Kirk.) Now there are instances where the Enterprise crew members are the mind controllers rather than the mind controllees. Well, one crew member: Spock. When on the verge of being executed in "The Omega Glory", the Enterprise First Officer compels a woman to turn on a communicator, allowing help to beam down. In "Requiem for Methuselah" he makes a grieving Kirk forget a lost love. Spock's able to do both of those things through his "mind-melding" abilities, the same mind-melding abilities that Sybok in The Final Frontier possesses, which he has used on the three ambassadors, and other nominally independent minded folk he's come across.
Kirk and his retinue, including Spock (who seems to know Sybok) are now hostages themselves, and are taken back to the Enterprise. At least Kirk's given the opportunity to warp-evade Klaa's Klingon Bird-of-Prey. Once that crises passes, Kirk manages to knock the phaser out of Sybok's hands. Spock grabs it but refuses to use it on Sybok. Afterwards, locked up in the brig, Spock explains to fellow prisoners Kirk and McCoy that Sybok is family, his long-lost half-brother. Or more like long-exiled, as he was kicked off of Vulcan for his illogical pursuit of emotion. Having taken over everybody's minds but Kirk's, Spock's, McCoy's, and--I'm not sure why he was also skipped over--Scotty's, Sybok explains his grand plan, to take the Enterprise to Sha Ka Ree, the Vulcan version of Heaven, where he hopes to be granted an audience with God himself. Unfortunately, this particular Heaven is in the radiation-prohibitive Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy, from which no being has ever returned, at least not with their hair follicles intact. Kirk thinks he's crazy but there's not much he or Spock or McCoy can do about it, locked away as they are. Scotty, who apparently is still able to move about freely on the ship, blows a hole in their cell, and the three are able to escape. Scotty, for some reason, doesn't go with them, walking in the opposite direction before getting knocked unconscious by a low-hanging beam. Flying up an elevator (or in 23rd centuryese, turbo) shaft by way of Spock's levitation boots, Kirk and McCoy make it to an emergency transmitter, from which they send out a distress signal to Starfleet Command. Unfortunately, it's intercepted by Klaa, who now knows how to track the Enterprise. Sybok and his lackeys (which by now includes a brainwashed Sulu) show up, and, instead of immediately re-arresting Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, tries to talk some reason into them--by way of mind control. It works on McCoy but Spock is able to resist. Before Sybok can go to work on Kirk, McCoy snaps out of it. Sybok doesn't seem to mind. To Kirk's amazement, the Enterprise does indeed make it through the Great Barrier in one piece. Sybok now gives command of the ship back to Kirk, knowing that he's now too curious about this Sha Ka Ree/Heaven to turn back. From orbit it looks like a blue disco ball. Well, that's some people's idea of Heaven, though many a fundamentalist preacher (or Classic Rock fan) might consider it the opposite. Whatever it is, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Sybok take a shuttle down to this strobe light of a planet, and, sure enough, a giant head claiming to be God Almighty shows up. Sybok naturally feels vindicated. It's when God starts issuing his commands that things go awry.
GOD: And how did you breach the Barrier?
SYBOK: With a starship!
GOD: This starship...Could it carry my wisdom beyond the Barrier?
SYBOK: It could. Yes!
GOD: Then I shall make use of this starship.
SYBOK: It will be your chariot!
KIRK: Excuse me.
GOD: It will carry my power to every corner of creation.
KIRK: Excuse me...I'd just like to ask a question...What does God need with a starship?
GOD: Bring the ship closer.
KIRK: I said...What does God need with a starship?
MCCOY: Jim, what are you doing?
KIRK: I'm asking a question.
GOD: Who is this creature?
KIRK: Who am I? Don't you know? Aren't you God?
GOD: You doubt me?
KIRK: I seek proof.
MCCOY: Jim, you don't ask the Almighty for his I.D!
GOD: Here is the proof you seek!
The general consensus among Star Trek fans is that The Final Frontier is something of a dud, especially when compared to the three films that precede it. I agree. Where I disagree, as I did with the first Star Trek film to make it to the big screen, is the exact size of this dud. I grade the film as close but no cigar, whereas most of the reviewers on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes grade it as a cigar that blew up in their faces.
Yet such mind control is hardly foolproof. When it's Kirk's turn to be brainwashed, he simply declines the request by stating: "...That I've made wrong choices in my life? That I turned left when I should have turned right? I know what my weaknesses are. I don't need Sybok to take me on a tour of them [...] Pain and guilt can't be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They're things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away. I need my pain!" For Spock's part, he allows Sybok to go ahead with the mind-meld. His pain is his very birth--some memory he has!--when his father appeared to express disappointment at his newborn son's human qualities (well, Sarek, when you married an Earth woman, what the hell did you think was going to pop out of her womb, a thoroughbred?) Yet Spock knows what Sybok is up to, and besides, it's an issue he resolved a long time ago. He stays by Kirk's side. McCoy, or course, succumbs to the mind control, but only briefly. Now, he doesn't snap out of a trance or anything like that. He doesn't necessarily think Sybok is wrong, but he has a history with Kirk and Spock, a history that trumps any cathartic experience. In real life, it may take us all a tad longer to reclaim our own free will than it did for McCoy, but eventually we do. The young woman dumps the Lothario after she finds he's been seeing other young women behind her back. The consumer stops buying the product when it doesn't work as advertised. The citizens votes for someone else when the politician can't keep his promise. The convert closes his wallet and attends some other church when the preacher gets arrested by the vice squad. And once they're before the parole board, even former Manson family members have to admit that listening to Charlie wasn't the smartest thing they've ever done. The old adage, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me," is as good an antidote for mind control as any.
Besides, when it comes to giant heads of immense power...
...it'd been done before.
After dissing religion for nearly an hour and three quarters, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier does manage to end on a positive note regarding matters of faith, even if that note is positively banal:
MCCOY: We were speculating...Is God really out there?
KIRK: Maybe he's not out there, Bones. Maybe He's right here, in the human heart.
So, does that make the human heart omnipotent? The divorce rate must have really plummeted in the 23rd century.
Clearly, a fall from grace was overdue. After a strong first week in which Star Trek V: The Final Frontier grossed over $17.4 million, there was a somewhat hesitant second week in which it just grossed $7.1 million, and a truly decrepit third week in which it grossed a measly $3.7 million. It did end up being the 10th highest grossing movie of 1989, but, as with the first Trek film, expectations are everything, no matter how overly optimistic, and the creative team behind The Final Frontier did not meet theirs. Certainly not enough for Paramount to immediately and automatically green light a sixth film, especially not with the same bunch of aging actors. Yet the Trek brand was in no real danger, as a new hope (to borrow a phrase from a competing sci-fi franchise) had emerged from the phenomenon's very birthplace: television. Star Trek: The Next Generation was now up and running. After a shaky first season, it had improved in both the quality of the scripts, and the number of viewers watching. In fact, it was soon the highest rated show in syndication. That, the studio execs must have thought, was where the future of the futuristic franchise lie, and not with three old farts sitting around the campfire getting drunk on whiskey-infused baked beans. For a while there it looked like there might not be another feature film with the original Trek cast.
Until someone at Paramount looked at the calender and saw that an anniversary was coming up.
NEXT: Twilight of the Pop Phenomenon Gods