I decided to watch and review “The Apple” after it was mentioned as an episode chock-full of red shirt deaths on a super-fun episode of All Things Trek featuring the creators of The Red Shirt Diaries.
“The Apple” does not have a complicated plot, so I won’t spend a lot of time on that. Basically:
- Away team beams down to Eden-esque planet, and makes sure you know how Eden-esque it is. Chekov is excited to spend time with his gf, Yeoman Martha Landon
- Four redshirts die after being attacked by trick flowers and comically exploding rocks.
- Away team meets “primitive” people festooned in plastic but non-attacking flowers and redface makeup, finds they are worshipping papier mache high school art project monster named Vaal
- Away team finds Vaal is a computer that is keeping the people on the planet immortal but also forbidding them from love/sex
- Away team + Enterprise kill Vaal because Kirk thinks people should not live in ignorance, despite Spock’s concerns about the Prime Directive
- Kirk and McCoy joke that Spock kinda looks like Satan.
- The End
Some parts of “The Apple” work better than others. Let’s start with the others.
What Doesn’t Really Work:
1. The People of Vaal/Vaalians
In Daniel Leonard Bernardi’s book Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future, he talks about how Trek has a long history of representing more primitive peoples as darker-skinned and more evolved beings as white (e.g. The Organians in “Errand of Mercy” or Q).
In TOS this is particularly evident in “The Paradise Syndrome.” Bernardi quotes Hayden White, who has written on depictions of the “noble savage”:
“White goes on to argue that the noble savage fetish ultimately ‘draws a distinction, in the nature of opposition, between normal humanity (gentle, intelligent, decorous, and white) and an abnormal one (obstinate, gay, free, and red).”
Unlike “The Paradise Syndrome”, the Vaalians are not directly compared to First Nations people of Earth, but I’d argue the fact that the Vaalians are wearing redface and pseudo-tribal makeup and living in grass huts makes them problematic.
Even though they are blonde, their skin is visibly and uniformly darker than any of the Enterprise crew in the episode (Uhura isn’t in this one) and they are depicted as ignorant, gullible, innocent, and in need of a civilizing influence from a group of white people.
2. 23rd Century Adults Are Unable to Talk About Sex Without Blushing
Even Spock, and it’s highly illogical! Here’s the discussion on what the Vaalians would do to replace a community member if someone died.
Landon: But these people, I mean, if they don’t know anything about. What I mean is, they don’t seem to have any natural…er. I mean, how is it…done?
Kirk: Mister Spock? You’re the science officer. Why don’t you explain it to the young lady.
Spock: Well, I believe it’s safe…*cough*…safe to assume that they would receive the necessary instructions.
Spock is a Vulcan and a scientist, and the rest of the away team are supposedly mature, forward-thinking adults. Blame the network censors for this if you must, but it is really eye-roll-worthy, especially when they get to the end and they just choose to leave the Vaalians with the following information:
Children (“replacements”) happen when a man and woman fall in love, which is basically when a man puts his arm around a woman. Or, you know, something vaguer:
Kirk: And you’ll learn something about men and women, the way they’re supposed to be. Caring for each other, being happy with each other, being good to each other. That’s what we call love. You’ll like that, too, a lot. You and your children.
Sayana: What are children?
Kirk: The little ones? Look like you? Just go on the way you’re going. You’ll find out.
3. A Few Other Random Quibble-Worthy Items
- After the first redshirt dies via poison attack flower, everyone kind of shrugs and says they just need to be more careful.
- Kirk repeats that he could’ve disregarded the orders to go to the planet if he’d considered it “overly hazardous.” Really? I mean, as a union activist, I’m all for giving people the right to refuse unsafe work, but it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense in Starfleet.
- Yet again, Kirk is a hypocrite when it comes to his subordinates’ romances, chastising Chekov and Landon for stopping to kiss, saying they didn’t come to the planet to “conduct a field experiment in human biology.”
What Really Works
Even though he can’t talk dispassionately and scientifically about sex, and even though his interactions with murderous flowers and exploding rocks are less dramatic and tense and more just…unintentionally hilarious, this is a great Spock ep.
He snarks at McCoy! He comforts Kirk in a way that gives me a whole new appreciation for K/S shippers! He makes important philosophical observations! He makes adorable facial expressions!
Basically he is all the best of Spock for an episode that isn’t really about him.
2. Martha Landon
I was interested to rewatch this episode after seeing Celeste Yarnall, who played Landon, speak at Star Trek: Las Vegas. She talked about how before filming she had used a beauty product on her nails that had made them horribly infected. A doctor had had to drill all the nails on one hand off at the root and she spent most of the episode nervously hiding the hand, apparently leading to an awkward fumbling in her kissing scene with Walter Koenig.
Anyway, Landon starts out a little weak in comparison to the others on the away team. She doesn’t get to really contribute to the plan and she repeatedly expresses her fear about the weird planet and being trapped on it.
Landon: Every time I think of the Enterprise burning up and us…
Kirk: Yeoman, you’re wasting energy.
Landon: Captain, we’re trapped.
Kirk: Sit down and have something to eat.
But gosh, I don’t think she really had a reason to be frightened because when the Vaalians attack the away team, she is no damsel in distress. Check out this action:
I was seriously impressed that we get to see her hold her own against two much larger men and emerge from the fight unscathed.
And then we never see her again, which is too bad. I’m just going to have to keep watching these gifs over and over.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail
(Martha Landon gifs via trekgate)