Star Trek TOS: A Familiar-Sounding Pandemic on Faux Earth
Star Trek — The Original Series
Season 1, Episode 9
Another episode portraying duality was evident at the onset — the crew encountered a planet that looked identical to earth. Six crew members transported down to the faux planet, marking the first time Star Trek actors appeared on an Earth-like place on camera.
The place was inhabited by Star Trek’s version of zombies, albeit sad ones that were rather emotional. Naturally, Captain of Empathy, Kirk, felt bad for the poor creature. The situation was not helped when the zombie died on the spot.
A terrified young girl informed Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and the others that a pandemic ravaged Faux Earth, resulting in mass death of the people she called “Grups.” Kirk was in peak form, treating the scared woman with tremendous courtesy and paramount gentlemanly kindness.
The reward? His hand scabbed over as Kirk became a host for the virus that eradicated the Grups thanks to his close proximity to the woman. Spock’s continued exceptionalism was lited up — again — as he was not afflicted by the blue scab. Everyone else was hit by the virus.
Well, as it turned out, the previous citizens of the planet monkeyed around with fate, attempting to prolong their lives. It backfired. Adults died off, whereas children made it to puberty because they aged very slowly. An awkward moment in Miri arose when the crew inferred that the terrified girl was attracted to Kirk — but she was really 300+ years old. Wrestle with that for a while. A girl too young to lust for Kirk was also one that should be dead per her biological clock.
This installment of Star Trek also eerily parallels the COVID pandemic — inadvertently, of course — as the virus affects older humans at a faster and grimmer rate. Up to puberty, children are mostly fine as hosts of the ailment. Sound familiar?
As human adults, the crew is also embroiled in a race against time before death from the virus. They determined one week was their timeframe. Time is always a central component of a pandemic — time to discover a vaccine or antidote, time to prepare for fallout from the effects of the virus, time for medical professionals to understand the severity of the disease, etc.
Amid the chaos, Janice also revealed her attraction to Kirk. She admitted, for the longest time, she wanted Kirk to “look at her legs.” Miri (the terrified girl) watched on as Janice announced her crush, causing her to experience jealousy. She channeled that jealousy into a vengeful plot against Janice and Kirk. Hell hath no fury.
Very-young-but-very-old Miri seemed to love Kirk in a Lolita capacity. Kirk pivoted, though. He explained the chronology of the disease — children die when they hit puberty — with a fatherhood cap bestowed upon his head, reminiscent of his interaction with Charlie Evans in Charlie X.
Then, Kirk was led to a bunch of kids by Miri — in a classroom setting no less — where he doubled as a dad, schoolteacher, and diplomat. The rugrats were rebellious and violent (almost like contemporary pandemic deniers) — but ultimately convinceable. The children relented as Kirk took them to Dr. McCoy — who already solved the pandemic with his successful “vaccine.”
The crew left the kids on Faux Earth under the pretense they already lived full lives. Leave them be.
Kirk disarmed the murky Lolita storyline, explaining to Janice at the end of the episode he “never gets involved with older women.”
Final note: The “vaccine” developed by Dr. McCoy probably should have been called an “antidote.”
Themes: Virus Management, Jealousy, Ignorance of Youth
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).