I am not going to do a scene by scene review of this episode as someone eminently more qualified has already done this.
this review will discuss is the morality of Kirk and Spock actions in
this episode and whether this episode really succeeded in portraying a
story about how power can corrupt a good man and about the need for
The main message of this episode is that power
corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That you shouldn't give
people too much power because if they abuse it, the consequences will
be unimaginably bad and this was portrayed by having Gary Mitchell
developing god-like powers which eventually led to him being insane with
power which led to Captain Kirk killing him.
However I believed
that this episode ultimately failed with that message. This is because
Kirk and Spock jumped the gun. From the moment that it was established
that Gary Mitchell had superpowers, Kirk and Spock were having
discussions about stranding him on a nearby planet and run away as well
as killing him. This was long before Mitchell did anything bad at all.
prejudged Mitchell saying that Mitchell will eventually treat human
beings as ants and therefore we should kill him before he has the chance
to kill us.
Spock was right that it was certainly possible that
Mitchell could become evil and had every right to be cautious. However
you can not preclude the possibility that Mitchell may end up using the
powers for good, or he could also become someone like Dr. Manhatten who
was neither really good nor evil. The fact is Spock can not 100% say
that Mitchell will definitely become evil just based on the fact that he
has powers. At that point of time, Mitchell broke no law (there is no
law against being arrogant) and the crew of the Enterprise decides to
strand him on a planet without any due process.
Now just because
it's a bad idea to give people god like powers in case they will abuse
it, doesn't mean if someone develop powers they will definitely abuse it
and that we should kill the person beforehand just in case the person
will turn evil. Imagine if X-men portrayed humans who wanted to kill
mutants just in case they abuse their powers as a good and necessary
thing. There’s no way people would call that moral and yet this was
exactly the message this episode was portraying.
displaying that power corrupts absolutely, what we ended up seeing was a
witch hunt leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now let look
at what makes a witch hunt. We had a member of the crew who was
different. Garry Mitchell suddenly become more intelligent, obtain
photographic memory and can move objects at will. However like all witch
hunts, instead of trying to learn more about the difference and what
causes the change. The crew reacted with fear, the fear that the person
who was different to them will hurt them. Despite the person helping the
crew (by pointing out the problem with the shock absorber), their fear
led them to persecute Mitchell. They sedated him; left him stranded on
the planet and then rigged the facility where he was held captive with
explosive just in case Mitchell wanted to escape.
Mitchell’s action throughout this episode was purely self defence even
when he was killing Kelso (because he was rigging the facility with
explosive) until the final battle with Kirk (who also intended to kill
him as well).
Although Mitchell may well be showing signs of
corruption and megalomania, the action of our heroes pushed him in that
direction. The actions of Kirk and Spock made it hell of a lot easier
for Mitchell to make the evil transformation. When Kirk screamed to
Mitchell “Above all, a god needs compassion.” Did the crew show him any
compassion? Did the crew give Mitchell any reason to not treat them with
This episode just ends up showing a self-fulfilling
prophecy. Mitchell was developing powers. Spock said that he will end up
abusing it and will treat us as ants if we don’t do something and
because the crew assuming that Mitchell abusing his powers and acted
accordingly, Mitchell started to abuse his powers.
didn’t show that power corrupt, it shows that if you treat someone like
crap, they will respond in kind. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
Mitchell only started to see them as ants to be extinguished after the
Kirk and the crew tried to strand him on the planet.
are a utilitarian, what Kirk and Spock done in this episode was morally
wrong. Stranding a crew member on a planet and then rigging the area
with explosive for simply developing powers without hurting anyone is
Now the only way out of this, is to take the “ends
justify the means argument” and say that Kirk has to take the immoral
action to preserve the safety of his ship and to serve the greater good.
There may be some justification that Kirk took the pragmatic options.
the problem was that this episode didn't take the "In The Pale
Moonlight" or “City On The Edge Of Forever” type angle where Kirk was
force into an unethical but necessary action to protect his crew. If the
episode portrayed Kirk action was immoral and Kirk admit he done an
immoral act at the end, maybe I would have been more lenient and
possibly liked this episode even more even if I still disagreed with the
However the episode wasn’t about that. It was about how “God needs compassion”
episode was preaching about being compassionate and how the more
powerful you are, the more important it is for the person to have that
Having an episode preaching about compassion while also having an ends justifying the means message is incompatible.
can’t on one hand have Kirk lecturing Mitchell about the necessity of
compassion and have him showing no compassion by stranding Mitchell on
that planet just “in case” the person may abuse their powers in the
future because that’s just pure hypocrisy. If you going to have that
message about compassion and how power corrupts, you have to expect the
heroes to act compassionately and use power appropriately. Kirk should
have only stranded Mitchell on the planet after Mitchell done something
wrong not beforehand.
Some people may point out that Kirk did
show compassion at the end when he paused during the fist fight with
Mitchell. However that was when the horse was already bolted when that
type of compassion is just foolish.
This is the way I would have done the episode.
Mitchell got his powers, I would have had Kirk getting along with
Mitchell and still be friends with him. However, Kirk recognises that
Mitchell shouldn't have these gods like powers because no human should
ever have these powers as we aren’t ready for it. Therefore he orders
the doctor and the psychiatrist to work together to learn more about
Mitchell’s condition and try to find a way to stop his growth in power
and perhaps a cure to reverse his development. Initially Mitchell
actually supports Kirk’s plan, after all he is a student of Kirk.
instead of him telling Kirk to go kill Mitchell or strand him. Have
Spock just warn him that history has shows that when you give people
power that more likely than they will abuse it gives people the freedom
to reveal all aspect of their personality. That Kirk has to be prepared
that he may not like what he will soon discovers about Mitchell and we
have to keep an eye on him. Kirk uncomfortably agrees and make sure he
has arm guards around sick back at all times.
starts to use these powers. Firstly he used some of the power for good
and perhaps has a situation where Mitchell ends up saving the ship.
However those experiences changed him and he starts to believe that he
deserves to have this and he is entitled to this power. That this power
given to him was for a reason, that he was meant to have these powers to
lead the human race to a new era and that he doesn’t want a cure. Kirk
refuses to let him keep the power and refuses to let him “lead” the
human race. This ended up leads to Mitchell attacking Kirk and the
guards (perhaps killing one of the red shirts) but Kirk and the security
guards manage to sedate him. Only then do they decide to strand
Mitchell on the planet. The episode then continues as normally leading
to Kirk sadly killing his best friend. The message could end up with
Kirk telling Spock “Do you think so little of human nature, that it is
impossible for us not to abuse power when we have it?” Perhaps Spock
gives a response that humans may have advanced socially and
technologically over the last hundreds years but human beings will
always be flawed beings and power always reveals those flaws.
this episode was done that way, the final Kirk speech would have far
more meaning when he was telling Mitchell about "where's your
compassion, a god must have compassion". The episode would have shown
the process of power corrupting an essentially good human being and give
a message why humans should never be given too much power and the
importance of compassion.