Star Trek’s Take on Mental Illness

Star Trek’s Take on Mental Illness
Star Trek TOS: Whom Gods Destroy

Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 3, Episode 14

Whom Gods Destroy

The Federation concocted a medicine to cure all mental illness – quite the development, right? – so Kirk and Enterprise headed to the planet Elba II, which was essentially an asylum. Dr. Cory, the governor of the colony, explained therapy wasn’t working, so he was excited to receive the medicine. 

One of the patients, Garth of Izar, was once someone Kirk admired, reading his work while in training for his role on Enterprise. Kirk wanted to chat with Garth. 

Coy provided a tour of the facility, showcasing all the patients are their various mental maladies. But it was a trick. Garth somehow posed as Cory, who was in confinement because Garth was evidently in charge. And this was all in the introduction of the episode. 

So, now Kirk and Spock were trapped with mentally unstable folks. Like several episodes before, Kirk and Spock encountered captivity on a foreign planet. 

Garth could shapeshift, taking on the physical persona of Kirk – seemingly just to mock the captain. In Star Trek, shapeshifting was called cellular metamorphosis. Because Garth knew this trick, this was now another episode of “Two Kirks,” which had been used by screenwriters a couple of times in previous seasons.

Plus, looking like Kirk, Garth could communicate with the crew on Enterprise while the men and women believed they were conversing with their captain. Not a good outlook for Kirk and Spock. 

GarthKirk failed to convince McCoy back on Enterprise he was actually Kirk after he failed to use Kirk’s customary countersign. Right after that, because Garth was unstable, he hopped off camera and flipped out. He quickly ceased the manic episode, declaring to his crew a seizure of Enterprise was imminent and that he’d break all of the real Kirk’s bones. 

Kirk and Spock reluctantly joined the Elba II patients for dinner, where they did a bunch of bizarre stuff. They acted like toddlers and performed odd dances. Also on the agenda? Shakespeare. The group attempted to act out some Shakespearian acts, but these were also terrible.

At the dinner, Kirk and Spock began whispering their plan for escape. Garth then rolled out a “rehabilitation chair,” that seemed like Star Trek’s take on shock therapy. Garth tossed Dr. Coy in the chair for a zap. Kirk was next. 

Garth’s motive for using the chair as a weapon was to obtain the countersign needed to appease Scott back on Enterprise. Kirk wouldn’t budge, resulting in a prolonged zap from the energy in the chair. 

Kirk passed out from the torment, nursed back to health by Garth’s blueish-green-skinned companion, Marta – who unsurprisingly had the hots for Kirk. She tried to seduce Krik, so again, the screenwriters were playing the hits. Amid the potential seduction – they were on the cusp of getting down to sensual business – Marta pulled out a dagger. Spock intervened, thwarting the insane woman’s violent sexual act. 

Freed from Marta’s sadism, Kirk and Spock radioed back to Enterprise. Scott requested the countersign for confirmation, but there was a twist. With the cellular metamorphosis routine, Spock was actually Garth. Kirk sniffed it out. 

Later, Garth began a fascination with Spock because of his intelligence. He figured he could try getting the countersign from Spock – a bold strategy considering Spock’s brainpower – and pitted Spock against real-Kirk and shapeshifted-Kirk. To determine which Kirk was authentic, the three men played a game of “If you’re the real guy, tell me this past thing we did together.”

Spock got the drop on Kirk’s selflessness and thus blasted the accurate target – the GarthKirk. McCoy beamed down to the colony, administering the mental health medicine on all of Garth’s mean – and even Garth. 

The parable? Sympathy for mental illness. Garth wanted to take over Enterprise – by any means necessary – and he could’ve been reasonably killed as penance. But this is Star Trek. The mentally-troubled antagonists were inoculated, not punished via vengeful act. 

Amid the backdrop of American culture still infatuated with Western television and movies – pieces of art that often celebrated violence and retribution – Star Trek chose rehabilitation. 

Themes: 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).