Alice and the White Rabbit

Disclaimer

This is a discussion of a non-“Free as in Freedom” popular culture franchise property with references to a part of that franchise behind a paywall. My discussion and conclusions are free, but nothing about the discussion or conclusions implies any attack on the ownership of the properties. All the big names are trademarks of the owners and so forth and everything here should be well within the bounds of Fair Use).

Previously…

The project was outlined in this post, for those falling into this from somewhere else. In short, this is an attempt to use the details presented in Star Trek to assemble a view of what life looks like in the Federation.

This is neither recap nor review; those have both been done to death over fifty-plus years. It is a catalog of information we learn from each episode, though, so expect everything to be a potential “spoiler,” if that’s an irrational fear you have.

Rather than list every post in the series here, you can easily find them all on the startrek tag page.

Shore Leave

We won’t be getting a whole lot out of this episode, as evidenced by how we’re kicking it off with a completely arbitrary display of unprofessionalism.

KIRK: A kink in my back.

(Barrows starts to massage it.)

KIRK: That’s it. A little higher, please. Push. Push hard. Dig it in there, Mister…

(Spock steps forward; Kirk realises Barrows is behind him.)

KIRK: Thank you, Yeoman. That’s sufficient.

There’s comedy, here, but also, Spock imagined that Spock would give him a massage on the job, which shines an interesting light on their relationship, especially when he’s put off finding out that the person rubbing his back is Barrows.

Meanwhile, it looks like the bar has been lowered in replacing Janice Rand. She had a couple of unprofessional outbursts, but there’s something particularly wrong with this dynamic. And, as we’ll find out later, it’s not just Kirk who she treats like she’s having a discussion at a singles event.

SPOCK: Doctor McCoy is correct, Captain. After what this ship has been through in the last three months, there is not a crewman aboard who is not in need of rest. Myself excepted, of course.

This is our fifteenth episode, two of which (The Menagerie, Parts One and Two) happened together, so this may indicate that the episodes were meant to reflect something close to a real-time schedule and that the stories represent a dramatic departure from the Enterprise’s routine that hasn’t been evident previously.

Also, Spock insists that he doesn’t need to rest.

MCCOY: Depending upon my report and that of the other scouting parties. You know, you have to see this place to believe it. It’s like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The Captain has to come down.

Alice in Wonderland—more properly, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—unless we’re talking about one of Disney’s 1951 animated feature—would have just celebrated its centennial when Star Trek was under development. So, it’s not too hard to imagine the writers believing it would be a story that would endure far into the future. Honestly, that’s believable even fifty years later.

Captain’s log. Stardate 3025 er, point 3. We are orbiting an uninhabited planet in the Omicron Delta region. A planet remarkably like Earth, or how we remember Earth to be. Park-like, beautiful, green, flowers, trees, green lawn, quiet and restful. Almost too good to be true.

“Omicron delta” is just a pair of Greek letters, so is meaningless unless it refers to coordinates of some sort.

More important, though, is probably the phrase or how we remember Earth to be, implying that Earth is no longer green. Given that The Menagerie has Pike referring to the massive amounts of parkland outside of where he grew up and The Cage (assuming it’s permissible in this discussion) identifies his home as being in reclaimed land in the Mojave Desert, that may suggest that this lack of greenery is a recent development, something happening to change Earth’s ecology in the thirteen years between the two scripts putting Christopher Pike on television.

SPOCK: Not necessary in my case, Captain. On my planet, to rest is to rest, to cease using energy. To me, it is quite illogical to run up and down on green grass using energy instead of saving it.

Granted, it’s not toxic masculinity, but I feel like “insistence that the etymology of a word must be highly relevant to its modern definition, despite the enormous number of words for which that is demonstrably untrue” is closely related…

SPOCK: I picked this up from Doctor McCoy’s log. We have a crewmember aboard who’s showing signs of stress and fatigue. Reaction time down nine to twelve percent, associational reading norm minus three.

KIRK: That’s much too low a rating.

SPOCK: He’s becoming irritable and quarrelsome, yet he refuses to take rest and rehabilitation. Now, He has that right, but we’ve found…

KIRK: A crewman’s right ends where the safety of the ship begins. That man will go a shore on my orders. What’s his name?

SPOCK: James Kirk. Enjoy yourself, Captain. It’s an interesting planet. You’ll find it quite pleasant. Very much like your Earth.

It’s interesting that Starfleet is this motivated to get people to take breaks. The idea of “mandatory fun” is funny, of course, but it’s also highly progressive, and ties nicely into the pain we saw Christopher Pike going through in The Menagerie.

KIRK: Restful. After what we’ve been through, it’s hard to believe a place this beautiful exists.

BARROWS: It is beautiful. So lovely, and restful. I mean, affirmative, Captain.

We get this reminder that the last three months have been rough and Barrows acknowledges that she’s not professional.

KIRK: What do you think you’re doing?

SULU: Target shooting, Captain. Isn’t it a beauty? Haven’t got anything like this in my collection.

KIRK: Where did you get it, Mister Sulu?

SULU: I found it. I know it’s a crazy coincidence, but I’ve always wanted one like this. Found it lying right over there. An old-time police special, and in beautiful condition. Hasn’t been one like this made in a couple of centuries.

Sulu isn’t just a fencer, but also has a firearms collection aboard the ship and apparently wanders around thinking about guns he wants to track down.

He obsesses over this particular gun—the Colt Official Police revolver—which would have been produced for about sixty years and producing many thousands of units. Since they’re made for use in law enforcement and light military use, it makes some sense that there aren’t many in original condition, but it seems strange that a collector like Sulu wouldn’t have any. Is gun collection a common hobby in the future?

KIRK: I know the feeling very well. I had it at the Academy. An upper classman there. One practical joke after another, and always on me. My own personal devil. A guy by the name of Finnegan.

MCCOY: And you being the very serious young—

KIRK: Serious? I’ll make a confession, Bones. I was absolutely grim, which delighted Finnegan no end. He’s the kind of guy to put a bowl of cold soup in your bed or a bucket of water propped on a half-open door. You never knew where he’d strike next. More tracks. Looks like your rabbit came from over there.

I’ve questioned previously what kind of screening process Starfleet could have, to end up with so many officers who completely drop the ball in their jobs and ignore the people around them who are obviously in distress. Given what we know about Gary Mitchell’s similar Academy days in Where No Man Has Gone Before, we should probably also wonder about the sociopaths they seemingly enroll and leave with no supervision.

When we meet him, Finnegan wears what we can presume is a cadet’s uniform, much like but distinct from the uniforms of the Enterprise and other Starfleet crew we’ve seen.

BARROWS: He had a cloak, sir, and a dagger with jewels on it.

KIRK: Are you sure you’re not imagining all this?

BARROWS: Captain, I know it sounds incredible, but I did not imagine it any more than I imagined he did this.

MCCOY: Sounds like Don Juan.

BARROWS: Yes. Yes. It was so sort of story book walking around here, and I was thinking, all a girl needs is Don Juan. Just day dreaming, the way you would about someone you’d like to meet.

Don Juan is a recurring fictional character dating to around 1630, a devilish man who obsessively uses his eloquence and ability to disguise his appearance to seduce women. That doesn’t seem like the sort of thing “a girl needs” while investigating the woods, but the version most likely to be prominent in the minds of the writers and audience is the 1948 Errol Flynn swashbuckler who’s merely a flirt.

Unrelated, but I can’t help but notice that the tree behind Barrows looks a whole lot like it’s been splattered with blood, but…that can’t be right, since it’s not mentioned. But with her ripped uniform and seeing Don Juan with a knife, I thought this was going darker than I remembered it.

KIRK: Ruth. Ruth, how can it be you? How could you possibly be here? You haven’t aged. It’s been fifteen years.

RUTH: It doesn’t matter. None of that matters.

Either Ruth has aged or Kirk’s Academy-days relationship was with a significantly older woman. Ruth is portrayed by Shirley Bonne, who would be thirty-two years old when this was filmed, only three years younger than William Shatner.

We don’t get any information on Ruth, but if her actor represents an in-universe age gap of about a dozen years and Kirk was the bookish, provincial student this episode and Where No Man Has Gone Before suggest, that hints at an unhealthy relationship.

In fact, while we have no evidence of this, this relationship could potentially refer to when Gary Mitchell “aimed that little blonde lab technician at” Kirk. Seeing someone he almost married would be reasonable grounds for the sort of distraction we see. For example…

RODRIGUEZ: Captain, a while ago, I saw well, birds, a whole flock of them.

KIRK: Don’t you like birds, Mister Rodriguez?

RODRIGUEZ: I like them fine, sir, but all our surveys showed—

KIRK: Then offhand I’d say our instruments are defective. There are indeed life-forms on this planet.

RODRIGUEZ: Sir, our surveys couldn’t have been that wrong.

This is a new spin on the distrust in technology. When faced with direct evidence of animal life and even likely human civilization, Kirk is not only completely dismissive of the sensor-based surveys, but also dismissive of someone who assumed they would be accurate at any level. He’s also not at all interested in finding the discrepancy.

BARROWS: That’s just it. It’s almost too beautiful. I was thinking, even before my tunic was torn, that in a place like this a girl should be, oh let’s see now, a girl should be dressed like a fairy-tale princess, with lots of floaty stuff and a tall hat with a veil.

MCCOY: I see what you mean, but then you’d have whole armies of Don Juans to fight off. And me, too.

BARROWS: Is that a promise, Doctor?

Hey, remember Tormorlen in The Naked Time and how he managed to nearly kill everybody on the ship because he decided that he needed to just randomly touch a bunch of stuff and then touch his face? Apart from his obvious inability to survive a coronavirus pandemic, Barrows putting on a random dress she found in the woods seems to potentially be significantly more dangerous.

Also, McCoy is way over the line, here.

Granted, I actually like the way the characters play off each other. She clearly instigated the banter and—unlike Kirk and Ruth—the dozen years’ difference in their ages isn’t that big a deal when the younger person is in their thirties. But…

He’s propositioning a colleague he’s directly assigned to work with, someone who’s lower in rank than he is, and doing so when they’re both supposed to be working on something specific. That’s an entirely new level of unprofessional behavior, and I’m including Sulu finding a random gun on the ground and deciding to take random shots into the distance for fun.

MCCOY: My dear girl, I am a doctor. When I peek, it’s in the line of duty.

What the heck is wrong with him!?

Now, this obviously veers further into plot analysis than cultural analysis, but since we started the episode with Barrows showing herself as lacking any sense of professionalism and then heading down to the planet where no less than five of the crew have at least tried to abandon their duties—Teller making fun of Rodriguez for doing his job, Sulu firing the gun, Kirk blowing off his crew to gape at Ruth, and this highly aggressive flirting between McCoy and Barrows—did the story miss an important plot twist where the crew discovers they’re being drugged or otherwise manipulated into being unable to focus? Because that would explain a lot about this story.

SULU: Captain, take cover! There’s a samurai after me.

Sure. Of course the Asian guy who imagines himself as one of the Three Musketeers and likes 20th century firearms was thinking about a samurai. Why not, right?

SPOCK: This is not human skin tissue, Captain. It more closely resembles the cellular casting we use for wound repairs. Much finer, of course.

KIRK: I want an exact judgment, Mister Spock.

SPOCK: This is definitely a mechanical contrivance. It has the same basic cell structure as the plants here, even the trees, the grass.

KIRK: Are you saying this is a plant, Mister Spock?

SPOCK: I’m saying that these are all multicellular castings. The plants, the animals, the people. They’re all being manufactured.

It sounds like at least Starfleet, and possibly the outside world, “repairs” wounds using custom-grown plant fibers to patch the body up for healing, but they haven’t quite mastered the technique, leading to significantly larger cells than we see naturally.

It’s possible that this is a subtle reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where the not-so-good doctor rambles briefly about being unable to work with the human body below a certain scale and so requires a body “about eight feet in height, and proportionably large.” I tend to think that he’s looking to reanimate a particularly large corpse, given the places he travels in the book to work, but another interpretation is that he needs to construct the body from over-sized cells.

RODRIGUEZ: Of all the crazy things. Remember what I was telling you a while ago, about the early wars and funny air vehicles they used? That’s one of them.

TELLER: Can it hurt us?

RODRIGUEZ: Not unless it makes a strafing run.

Fighter aircraft are an almost forgotten technology to our crew. It’s hard to imagine why the entire concept would vanish in the future, since air support is so obviously useful. However, this is speculation, but since Sulu tried to explain how his handgun works (“lead pellets propelled by expanding gases from a chemical explosion”), it’s possible that the energy weapons we’ve seen the crew carry—phasers—have displaced conventional firearms. And if that’s true, it would mean that ground forces could easily take down an enemy aircraft.

The fake pilot is an excellent shot, however. With only a few rounds fired, judging by the audio, it took down Angela Teller under fairly complete cover.

FINNEGAN: I’m still twenty years old. Look at you. You’re an old man.

The “old man” crack aside, Finnegan seems to cement the idea that the Academy is basically college, probably modeled on the Naval Academy or similar military academies that also function as colleges.

KIRK: I’m not a plebe. This is today, fifteen years later. What are you doing here?

FINNEGAN: I’m being exactly what you expect me to be, Jimmy boy.

“Plebe” cements the USNA comparison, but Kirk also referred to a fifteen-year gap when talking to Ruth, putting them in roughly the same context.

It’s not particularly relevant, but if Finnegan is as he was when he was twenty years old, it’s fifteen years later, and he was ahead of Kirk, that makes Kirk somewhat younger than William Shatner.

SPOCK: Just for example, when Rodriguez thought of a tiger…

Amusingly, the tiger has an extremely visible chain around its neck.

Similarly amusingly, Barrows has somehow managed to mend her uniform, only to conjure Don Juan again to tear it.

This interests me probably more than it should, but it’s a cute twist that the crew is now thinking about the things they think about, which seems to be a pretty significant bug in the system.

SPOCK: The term is amusement park.

CARETAKER: Of course.

SPOCK: An old Earth name for a place where people could go to see and do all sorts of fascinating things.

In addition to fighter aircraft, there are also no more amusement parks. This seems stranger than the technology shift, though, because amusement parks are basically just stationary outgrowths of traveling or periodic fairs, and those go back at least as far as Bartholomew Fair in 1133. We could argue that an amusement park has mechanical rides, but…this clearly does not, so I’m sticking with the fair.

CARETAKER: This entire planet was constructed for our race of people to come and play.

SULU: Play? As advanced as you obviously are, and you still play?

KIRK: Yes, play, Mister Sulu. The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.

CARETAKER: Exactly, Captain. How very perceptive of you.

I can’t decide if this exchange is an oversight or a subtle jab at Spock’s insistence that he doesn’t need time off. I mean, he’s standing right there and the show isn’t usually afraid to take the wind out of his sails on issues like this to teach the audience a lesson, but there’s no reaction shot and nobody picks up on it.

MCCOY: Oh. Them. Well I, er, I was thinking about a little cabaret I know on Rigel II, and…er, there were these two girls in the chorus line. And well, here they are. Well after all, I am on shore leave.

Rigel (β Orionis) is a busy place. There’s McCoy’s colony on Rigel II with a cabaret, Pike had that disasterous fight on Rigel VII (The Menagerie), and the lithium mine on Rigel XII (Mudd’s Women). I guess, if you’re going to leave a colony 860 light years from Earth, you’re going to use as many planets in the neighborhood as you can find…

KIRK: You say your people built all this. Who are you? What planet are you from?

CARETAKER: My impression is that your race is not yet ready to understand us, Captain.

SPOCK: I tend to agree.

We had hints of this earlier, but it’s interesting that everybody agrees that the caretaker’s society is so absurdly advanced that they can’t be understood well enough to even tell Kirk where they live, when the core technology—the cultivation of cells—is something already in use aboard the Enterprise and we’ve seen technology to create androids identical to people in What Are Little Girls Made Of? and even reads minds, so the difference between this civilization and humans is just a matter of scale, rather than anything qualitative.

It seems like the equivalent of finding a lost tribe of humans in some jungle, gain their trust, but refuse to tell them where you’re visiting from after they ask you about your boots.

SPOCK: Did you enjoy your rest, gentlemen?

KIRK: Yes, we did, Mister Spock. I think we did.

MCCOY: Indeed we did, Mister Spock.

SPOCK: Most illogical.

Wait, what!? This exchange is played as a big joke, complete with them sharing a big laugh as Sulu fires up the engines and we fade out, but none of it is funny.

Blish Adaptation

This adaptation comes from the twelfth adaptation, the final normal compilation before the all-Mudd book after Blish’s death, so there isn’t much devation, here. It’s a blow-by-blow recap, with only the smallest amounts of narration, such as…

Somehow in the pressure of final examinations and qualifications and his first cruise, he had lost her, and put away the regrets.

Fifteen years ago. She still looked exactly the same, the fresh, young, gentle creature who had wept so bitterly at their last goodbye.

Well, we get a decent sense of how this ended, now. And I guess Ruth is intended to be substantially younger than her actor. Oh, Teller is revealed to not be dead at the end, too, something the episode apparently forgot about.

Conclusions

This episode relies on 1960s culture to get its point across, so a fair amount of what we discover is indirect and deduced, rather than actually found in the text, unfortunately.

We get a little bit of insight into the technology, the idea of “repairing” a wound by filling it with cultivated plant cells.

The Good

While the opportunities to practice the policy seem to be fairly limited on the frontier, the medical staff carefully monitors the crew’s performance and interactions with the rest of the crew, using that information to require certain people to take time off before they burn out and—presumably—endanger the ship.

Sulu also goes back to the well of showing at least our main characters as having varied interests. In addition to fencing and botany, he’s also a gun collector and sharp-shooter.

The Bad

Most prominently, everybody in this episode is thoroughly unprofessional, except for Rodriguez. Barrows even acknowledges her lack of interest. Usually, we can at least count on Kirk to pull himself together, but in this case, we just get Spock dropping in at the end to set them all straight.

However, Spock continues to cling to toxic masculinity, insisting that he’s too tough to relax, even as he insists that Kirk needs time off. Before scrambling to point out that Kirk is the one showing signs of fatigue, let’s remember that Spock has advocated for multiple deaths, been tortured by Charlie Evans, had what amounts to a nervous breakdown over his repressed emotions, tried to trick Kirk into acting like a dictator, harassed at least one of his colleagues (who has notably left the ship), and mutinied to risk the death penalty for himself and four hundred of his colleagues in order to give a gift to a former commander who was insistent that he do no such thing. And even in this episode, he defends his workaholic tendencies by arguing over the dictionary definitions of the word “rest,” so that he can misinterpret the statement. Spock needs a vacation more than any of them.

The terrible behavior we see apparently goes back to the Academy, too, with Kirk remembering getting aggressively bullied by an upperclassman and nobody pulling him aside to talk about his relationship with a woman ten years his senior. And if she’s the blonde Gary Mitchell sent to manipulate him into a relationship, that’s even worse.

And speaking of relationships, McCoy is basically cornering Barrows to proposition her while they’re both on the clock trying to solve a serious problem. It gets even worse, when what he thinks about in his brief recovery are two young burlesque dancers (possibly strippers) he has apparently been interested enough in to reproduce their faces and bodies, which…yikes!

(To be clear, I’m not shaming the possibility of a fictional character associating with strippers. I’m shaming the implication that he’s been having persistent fantasies about strippers, which he saw on stage at some point in the not-recent past, to a degree that he can mentally reproduce their mostly naked bodies, discussed in the same episode he insisted that any “peeping” he might do with respect to a naked Yeoman Barrows would be for “professional” reasons.)

If we take everybody literally, Earth’s ecology has recently been thrown for a loop. Kirk marvels at the “park-like, beautiful, green, flowers, trees, green lawn, quiet and restful” planet, suggesting that calling it Earth-like is wrong and correcting his statement to “how we remember Earth to be.”

The Weird

The “moment” Kirk thinks he’s having with Spock massaging his neck is out of place on so many levels. Kirk’s comfort with the attention and shock when he discovers it’s someone else, combined with Spock’s amusement at the mistake, is really hard to read as the two of them being lovers. And episode writer Theodore Sturgeon was known for stories treating gay people as…well, people, such as in The World Well Lost, published June 1953 in Universe. But it’s also not something we follow up on, to my knowledge, anywhere else in the franchise, and certainly wouldn’t be permissible on NBC in 1966.

As mentioned, we name-drop…

  • Alice in Wonderland, referring either to the Lewis Carroll books or the 1951 Disney feature,
  • Don Juan, most likely the 1948 Errol Flynn movie,
  • The Colt Official Police revolver (the “Police Special”) with an indication that they and other firearms are extremely hard to find,
  • Some random samurai,
  • Fighter aircraft and how they’re now an obscure technology, and
  • Amusement parks and how they no longer exist.

So, the Blue Angels, bullets, and Six Flags are things of the past, but samurai, Disney adaptations, and watered-down Don Juan are still popular. It’s a choice…

Next

Next up, Spock argues about the trolley problem like a self-absorbed college student, while the writers apparently try to curry favor with Lucille Ball at Desilu by recreating one of her biggest movie roles in…The Galileo Seven.


Credits: The header image is Alice in Wonderland: Alice meets the White Rabbit by the Margaret Winifred Tarrant, first published in 1916.