Next up in my examination of the original series Star Trek is the early second season episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Like “The Apple”, this episode also explores religion, the ancient Greek religion to be exact. The story, however, isn’t anti-religious in tone. Indeed, it features one of those rare times in TOS when someone makes a positive reference to the Christian deity. Instead, the episode appears to be more about domestic abuse than about religion.
The story begins with the Enterprise visiting Pollux IV, an unexplored world, where they encounter a mysterious, disembodied hand floating upwards from the planet’s surface. They stare at the hand for quite some time, speculating what it is rather than taking any evasive maneuvers, and thus when they do try to escape, it’s too late. I don’t know about you, but if there was a giant hand reaching out towards me I’d probably at least step out of the way. The Enterprise crew is caught in one of those deer in the headlights moments though, and they let the hand grab the ship, holding it in place with a force field. Further hilarity ensues as the disembodied head of a man appears and invites them to the surface.
With no other options available to them, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Chekov (in full Beatles wig glory) beam down to the planet, along with Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas, played by the beautiful Leslie Parrish, to find that their host is none other than the Greek god Apollo, illustrious in a shimmering yellow toga. It seems that the ancient Hellenic deities were aliens who impressed the primitive tribes of Greece with their superior technology and abilities. They left Earth and returned home after man stopped worshiping them. After years of waiting for mankind to call for them again with no results, they finally decided to undergo a process which is very similar to how the Ancients in Stargate ascended, all of them except Apollo, that is. He continued to believe that humans would someday turn back to their gods, so he waited. Apollo is thrilled to have humans who can worship him again, and he plans to hold the entire Enterprise crew on the planet to do just that. Naturally, Kirk isn’t happy about it.
The fly in the ointment to all this is Palamas. Palamas is a very interesting female character in the world of TOS, and any interpretation of her character needs to be multi-faceted. We’re introduced to her in the episode’s teaser, where we discover that she is the ship’s anthropologist and archaeologist. She’s also the target of Scotty’s affection. It’s very rare that Scotty gets the woman, and in this episode he makes up for it by being extra creepy and inviting her for coffee in front of the entire Bridge crew. Way to go, Mister Scott, for trapping a woman into a date.
Kirk and McCoy react to Scotty’s love interest by commenting on how it would affect Palamas’ future in Star Fleet. They exchange banter that someday Palamas will find the right man, and when she does, Star Fleet will lose a good officer, because, of course, a woman never works after she’s married. That was true in the 1960s, and so of course it will be true in the 2260s as well. A woman’s entire working career is aimed at finding a husband, so obviously when Palamas gets married she’ll throw away four years of Academy training and several years of active service for the life of a homemaker. This is one of the more blatantly sexist moments in TOS, and it seems silly in retrospect. Star Trek‘s far-reaching vision still treated women like helpless idiots.
Kirk and McCoy’s predication proves somewhat prophetic, though, when Apollio also takes an interest in Palamas, and she in him. The Greek god has been alone for so long that he naturally falls in love with the first woman he sees in a thousand years. He plans to make her a goddess and start a new race of gods with her. To this end, he transforms her uniform into a pink gown reminiscent of ancient Greek fashion. Palamas naturally coos over her new outfit as well as over this yellow-toga wearing megalomaniac, so much so that she wants to go along with his plan to bring the Enterprise crew down to the planet to live as sheep herders for the rest of their lives. That’s a woman for you: selfish and easily led astray by shiny objects.
The four male members of the landing party see through Apollo’s trickery though. He’s just a humanoid with an extra organ in his chest and some sort of immense power source. Scotty, in particular, takes exception to Palamas falling for Apollo and tries to challenge him numerous times, each time resulting in a lightening bolt to his body. You’d think Scotty would learn, but he never does. He keeps coming back for more, and here we begin to get into the abuse angle of the program.
Apollo calls the male crewmembers his children, and he deals out stern punishment for their disobedience. He’s quick to anger, and he likes to hurt people, people who can’t get away from him without earning even more retribution. It’s reminiscent of the classic cycle of child abuse. Apollo’s abusiveness goes even further towards Palamas, though, and she herself falls into the stereotypical pattern of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship. She knows he’s bad for her, yet she convinces herself she wants to remain with him. Kirk finally makes her see the light, however, and orders her to help drain Apollo’s power by making him angry. She’s scared and reluctant, but she carries out her duty, and Apollo goes into a frenzied rage, brewing up a storm to knock her down and sending gigantic see-through images of himself to bear down on her.
Palamas’ efforts allow the Enterprise to punch holes through the giant hand and to fire phasers at Apollo’s temple, which is the source of his power. Palamas manages to stagger to the rest of the landing party while all this is going on, and Scotty has to rescue her, thus completing her helplessness. His power now gone, Apollo “ascends,” leaving the humans to return to their ship. Kirk regrets having to do what they did, and Palamas sheds tears.
Palamas is another example of a TOS woman whose selfish actions make her the center of the ship’s weekly predicament. Overall, she’s beautiful, helpless, attracted to power, easily led astray, fickle, and submissive, which is just the type of woman TOS prefers. I swear they used a cookie cutter to create their female guest for each week.
Episode rating: 3.5 of 5
Red shirts dead: 0
Scared female moments: 1
Spock embarrassment moments: 1
McCoy getting irate moments: 2
Scotty being creepy moments: 4