Star Trek TOS: A Couple of Lazaruses Vying for Salvation of Universes

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Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 28

The Alternative Factor

The Alternative Factor began with a bang, just like Errand of Mercy, as Enterprise shook violently. But Spock insisted this was a case was “nonexistence.” Spock studied a little further, determining the universe’s existence was seeming to teeter. Dramatic, indeed. Then, Spock spotted the movement of a human on the planet below the ship. 

Led by Kirk, a group of six beamed down to the uncharted planet to find the rambunctious human. The search committee found the man immediately, a delirious dude with a humongous goatee. They brought the man back to Enterprise for recovery, and Kirk stood by for an urgent message from Starfleet. 

Kirk’s bosses warned the crew of invasion, although the force that rocked Enterprise could have also been a natural phenomenon. Kirk doubted it, leaning toward the possibility of invasion courtesy of something or someone. 

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The goatee guy woke up, rambling about a monster on his planet. Goatee man was named Lazarus, and he insisted the giant creature was responsible for the wild force causing the intergalactic havoc to Enterprise. Lazarus, Kirk, and the security gang headed back down to Lazarus’ planet. There, Lazarus underwent a struggle — in a psychedelic-like music video haze — only he could experience. When the tryst ended, Lazarus had wounds and bruises. So, something was occurring, even though Kirk and the others could not see it. 

The group traveled back to Enterprise again, and the topic changed to dilithium crystals, which powered the ship. Lazarus adamantly explained crystals would help locate the source of the crystal. Naturally, Kirk was not a fan of handing over his ship’s lifeblood to a ranting fool. That irked Lazarus, propelling him to a rampage on other crewmembers. 

Time travel entered the dialogue as Lazarus explained it as his trade. Kirk and Spock started to believe a separate galaxy was indeed to blame for the cooky happenings. “Madness has no purpose” was the line used by Spock to account for the competing parallel universes. Lazarus was simply a product or microcosm of the phenomenon existing in both universes. 

The episode’s location was a “safety valve” between universes that “kept eternity from blowing up.” Kirk ultimately fought Lazarus back into his own dimension and destroyed the safety valve, trapping Lazarus and the other Lazarus in an eternity of fighting. 

This installment of Star Trek was either so heady that it confused itself — or simply wasn’t very good. It perhaps hinted at the perils of mental illness and the clinical insanity of a person, evidenced by the two Lazaruses battling each other as society [Kirk] jettisoned them to purgatory forever, untreated. Kirk put on his empathy cap once again, feeling bad for his decision to save his universe at the expense of the crazy Lazarus. That is — Kirk locked the insane man away and threw away the key. 

If The Alternative Factor wanted to be a parable on a person’s bout with insanity, it landed a few punches — just not every effectively. 

Themes: Parallel Universes, Mental Illness

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).