Rape culture, transporter accidents, and evil twins: Star Trek’s Worst Ever Episode

There are various different contenders for Star Trek’s worst episode; understandable, really, given there’s over seven hundred of them. Often people point to stories like Code of Honour, or Threshold, or These Are The Voyages, which won a recent fan vote to find the franchise’s worst episode. More often than not, people are inclined to highlight episodes from Voyager or Enterprise as the lowest of the low, in keeping with the poor reputation those iterations of Star Trek enjoy.

I’d argue, though, each of those choices are wrong – the worst episode of Star Trek, ever, isn’t from one of the spin-off shows: it’s actually one of the earliest episodes of The Original Series.

The Enemy Within was first broadcast on October 6th 1966, the fifth episode of Star Trek ever to air. You’d probably know it, if at all, as the one where Kirk gets split in two, with William Shatner giving fairly memorable performances as “evil Kirk” and “good Kirk”. It is, if not iconic, certainly well remembered in its own right; it’s widely regarded as being a decent episode, which is a good representation of the sort of camp fun and high aspirations of The Original Series, given that it offers a sci-fi twist on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, a few references to Jungian philosophical ideas as well, and an alien that is quite clearly a dog with some straws taped to the back of its head.

So far, so ordinary. It’s not exactly the sort of episode you’d term “the worst ever”, nor – as I put it in a recent review on my website“an episode that deserves to struck off the record – not just quietly forgotten, but actively disowned.”

But, you see, this isn’t just an episode with a silly run-around after a transporter accident; it affirms and normalizes rape and rape culture in a way unlike any other episode of Star Trek.

Around halfway through the episode, the ‘evil’ Kirk tries to rape Janice Rand; implicitly, then, the text is suggesting that on some level Kirk is a rapist, and that on a primal level male sexuality stems from a desire to rape. That the episode culminates with ‘evil’ Kirk – or more accurately, rapist Kirk – being reincorporated into ‘good’ Kirk, because apparently both aspects are necessary for the whole to function, does little to condemn these actions, but in fact actively validates it.

Following the rape scene, then, is an interrogation; Spock and ‘good’ Kirk are attempting to get to the bottom of what happened. It’s deeply uncomfortable and at times disturbing:

RAND: Then he kissed me and he said that we, that he was the Captain and he could order me. I didn’t know what to do. When you mentioned the feelings we’d been hiding, and you started talking about us. 
KIRK: Us? 
RAND: Well, he is the captain. I couldn’t just. You started hurting me. I had to fight you, and scratch your face. 
KIRK: Yeoman, look at me. Look at me, look at my face. Are there any scratches? 
RAND: I was sure I scratched you. I was frightened. Maybe
KIRK: Yeoman. I was in my room. It wasn’t me. 
RAND: Sir, Fisher saw you, too. 
KIRK: Fisher saw? 
RAND: If it hadn’t been. I can understand. I don’t want to get you into trouble. I wouldn’t have even mentioned it! 
KIRK: It wasn’t me! 

The text alone doesn’t quite convey how awful it is in the actual episode; there’s something about Grace Lee Whitney’s performance, visibly shaken, that makes it all the more uncomfortable. (Shatner’s “method” approach, slapping her between scenes to get her into ‘the right frame of mind’, probably didn’t help.) Consider those lines, though, and the implication of them: they openly refer to a systemic abuse of power dynamics, with Rand unwilling to “even mention it”, because Kirk “is the captain”, despite him “ordering” her and forcing himself upon her. That ‘good’ Kirk pays little heed to her concerns, and makes it solely about himself, is hardly a surprise given the way this episode has gone.

Finally, the closing lines make it clear how much of a product of rape culture this episode is. Not only do we see Janice Rand apologising to Kirk, as if what happened were her fault, Spock makes a joke about how the other Kirk had some “interesting qualities” to Janice. Grace Lee Whitney, who played Janice, probably summed it up best:

“I can’t imagine any more cruel and insensitive comment a man (or Vulcan) could make to a woman who has just been through a sexual assault! But then, some men really do think that women want to be raped. So the writer of the script gives us a leering Mr. Spock who suggests that Yeoman Rand enjoyed being raped and found the evil Kirk attractive!”

For all that we tout Star Trek as being a glimpse into a utopian future, a series that was made by a group of visionaries, it’s at times quite blatantly not. Because this is an episode that posits that it’s okay for the lead character to try and rape another character (who was, let’s not forget, at this time considered the romantic lead of the show), being made by a group of people who presumably saw no issue with what they were doing.

Ultimately, if Star Trek is to live up to its promise of a better future, then The Enemy Within must be left in the past.

Related:

Star Trek TOS Reviews

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